The sixteenth century was the age of autobiography and the self-portrait, of the voice of Montaigne, and the self-awareness reflections of Durer… It is also the period during which mirrors became a more common part of domestic life. This self-awareness does not (yet) equate with the objectification of the self, but with the achievement, rather, of ‘necessary distance’, which enhances an understanding of the self as part of a shared world of other, similar, beings.
everyone feels it force, but some are turned upside down by it. It makes such an intense impression on me that I prefer to avoid it altogether rather than try to resist it…the very sight of someone else’s pain causes me real pain, and my body often takes on the sensations of the person I am with. Another’s perpetual cough tickles my lungs and throat. I’m more reluctant to visit those I love and am bound to care for, when they’re sick, than those I care less about, and mean less to me. I adopt their disease that troubles me, and make it my own. *
Every healing intervention is motivated by suffering and hope – be it of the individual, family, friends, or a community agency. The value within suffering is that it contains a message of incongruence that awakens the motivation to heal. William James wrote that life is the manifestation of behaviors that attempt to avoid, overcome, or remove that which is seen to block us from that which we desire.
The discontent that is presented during the initial meeting with a therapist very often times is colored by, and hidden under, numerous layers of attempts to ease pain. Therefore, what occurs within the isolation of suffering is a compounding of the original problem. Overcoming the defenses that shield one from acknowledging suffering requires a presence similar to how a person standing beside a pure, limpid, serene pool of water contemplates the reflected surface images, observes the life within the water’s current, and notes the sediment’s composition; to do otherwise only serves to fortify protective shields such as rationalization, minimizing, justification, or defiance.
With this in mind, it was my purpose as a clinician to engage with a client so that together we identified the origins and entanglements of the presenting concern, awaken the motivation to ease discontent, and then identify therapeutic goals that are congruent with the client’s values, guiding principles, and moral guidelines. It is postulated; therefore, that the effective resolution of presenting concerns within a therapeutic environment requires a relationship that intentionally begins with the comprehension and acceptance of one’s discontent “as it is.”
“As it is” initiates a settling of internal criticism and disturbing feelings similar to the descent of sediment within a pot of muddy water. Consequently, to simply listen to a feeling, belief, or behavior “as it arises and as it is” is believed to be an effective way to begin a process of unraveling entanglements of thoughts, emotions, and actions. It silences troublesome intrusions and invites accurate empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard into the environment. Thus both the client and therapist are invited to emerge from their various shadows of anxiety, anger, grief, cravings, and confusion into a space of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a non-judgmental and non-distracted presence that remains in the moment, moment by moment. This congruent presence is a prerequisite for the “letting in” and “being touched by the other” that is the essence of therapeutic empathy. What is not often acknowledged is the courage it takes for both client and clinician to allow their defenses to fade in order for empathy to awaken as “being touched” has the potential to awaken each person’s vulnerabilities, loneliness, sadness, anxieties, shame, regret, anger, etc. Yet, when the barriers come down and the elements of mindfulness, empathy, and courage unite, a therapeutic environment is filled with creative, active, sensitive, and compassionate exchanges.
The Master and his Emissary