Hakomi homies

I have been interested in models for mental health care for many years, beginning in college where the approach was behavioral and not to my taste.  At that time I asked one professor if he could recommend some books on the history of psychology so I could learn more about where the field had come from as well as about other schools of thought within it.   Later I worked as a writer for the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and for Common Boundary, a magazine on transpersonal psychology.  And now I work in independent living, which is akin to the clubhouse model in mental health.  This model emphasizes connecting individuals with community and a range of practical resources to help them live the lives they wish given their disability or disorder.

Shortly before this stop on my journey, I joined an experiential training in hakomi body-centered psychotherapy.  This is a mindfulness-based approach sometimes called “assisted meditation.”  During a two-year training I traveled through new territory of emotion, psyche, and community.   With two excellent teachers and 22 brave cohorts, I left the achievement-oriented world and explored inner terrain I hadn’t known was there.

Hakomi drew me like a magnet.  As a yoga teacher and meditator interested in the emotional and spiritual effects of practice, it rang true for me as a method for freeing oneself of some reactivity, old beliefs, and behavioral patterns.  Observing the sensations of the body and the responses to statements and “experiments” in social interaction seemed a practical way to heal, to develop “new neural pathways” and to lighten up on the old ingrained ones.

The training was extraordinary but challenging for this introverted writer.  I had resisted group interaction most of my life, yet there I was, sitting in a very large circle “talking about my feelings” or someone else’s feelings. It was downright scary at times, but I was also awed.  The blend of teaching, experimenting, and sharing perceptions with others amazed me.  Where else, I wondered, would you find a group so willing to put their psyches on display and learn with others how us humans work, with all of our ingrained beliefs and perceptions and reactivity?  Where else would people be willing to let down old responses in the presence of others and make room for new ones?

Hakomi, which was created by therapist Ron Kurtz and is influenced by Buddhism, Taoism and even psychoanalysis, is a way of being with others, usually a therapist, in a mindful state, and noticing the sensations in one’s body as well as the thoughts and images that emerge.  Sometimes these things poke their heads up on their own, sometimes they arise as reactions to a statement or “experiment” designed by the therapist.  In this experience we begin to see how we are “organized” and what our core beliefs are.

The beauty in it is the principle of compassion for ourselves, the respecting of those resistances we have, and just observing them.  The gentle acceptance of the therapist allows all kinds of beliefs and reactions to arise and be “studied.”  Sometimes the noticing itself brings a shift in the belief.  In bringing mindfulness and compassion to one’s patterns, we see how they work, and we see the possibility of different conclusions and more choice in responding.

I often felt insecure and flawed sitting in a big circle and having to “share” my experience, but I learned, particularly I learned to give myself a break.  I learned from others that they all have their own patterns, that even those who seem most together have insecurities that motivate much of their behavior.  Forcing myself to talk, feeling analytical and scared, I watched myself perform, became more able to admit my discomfort to the group, and gradually to express a feeling or thought more spontaneously, with less analysis.

I loved the teaching and the one-on-one process. I gratefully soaked up words of wisdom about how we organize around our early experiences, about the dynamics and intricacies of anger.  Mostly I absorbed a capacity to be sloppy, to connect with others in the chaos and the tossing up of our fears and shames as just part of the human canvas.  To explore with others our childlike needs and how we manage them.  To dance without self-consciousness when we turned on some music and let ourselves move.

Ultimately, I came away more solid, more engaged with the world, and freer.  Being a hakomi therapist wasn’t for me, but hakomi infuses my yoga teaching, my writing, my meditation, and my interactions with others.  It changed me just like a year in a far-off land would: It pulled away my assumptions, my frame of reference, and let me experiment.  It gave me a more flexible sense of myself.  An invaluable trip, I’d say, this one with my “hakomi homies.”

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