I’ve been struggling with two philosophies that I hold dear, that are seemingly in opposition to each other, namely, Gestalt Therapy and Mindfulness. My initial impression was that the two are similar, but are they?
Present moment consciousness suggests we become an observer of the process of thought, without engaging in it. The exhibition of anger, tears and so forth should be witnessed but not engaged with, e.g. ‘Oh, I feel angry, Oh I feel happy.’ notice but not engaged with.
Gestalt proposes a ‘here and now’ approach to life, touching what is present fully and making full contact with what is. This all sounds very mindful. Part of this approach can involve allowing a polarity of feeling to fully express, that is to explore fully the expanse of possibility that we have for a particular situation (gestalt = situation) or feeling, including expression of that feeling. The expression bit doesn’t sound so mindful, I am picturing 1970’s therapy sessions, people throwing cushions around the room and screaming, flared trousers, moustaches, beards, shirts with collars for hand gliding. That approach doesn’t sit so well.
So, suddenly there appears this contrast to the practice of present moment consciousness and the gestalt therapeutic process.
Bringing these two aspects together
I think the difference in approach originates from differences in the useful quality of our zones of experience, e.g. the outer zone (trees, flowers, the wetness of the air, sounds) are all real and to be fully experienced, thus be very mindful of them. The inner zone, e.g. my body sensations, breath, emotions are also all real and thus to be fully explored. However, there is another zone, the middle zone which doesn’t really exists, we know this as ego. A nice quote from a group with Fritz Perls (Gestalt founder) solves part of the problem for me.
The neurotic suffering is suffering in imagination, suffering in fantasy. Someone calls you a son of a bitch, and you think you feel hurt. There are no bruises, no actual injuries. Its the ego, the vanity that has been hurt. When you say you feel hurt, you feel vindictive and you want to hurt the other person.
Ego can act fast, often without a conscious process. A feeling arises and we suddenly feel the need to express something. Emotional understanding is about observing the feeling ‘oh, I feel angry’ and then ‘where does that come from?’ Going deeper, can we then investigate their sources and their fuel? Why is there this need for a reaction? Whats actually taking place? I don’t mean purely intellectualising, but witnessing the middle zone of awareness, the realm of fantasy, those stories that form our reaction to events.
This I think is the same mechanism as conscious aware process, e.g. shining a light onto a neurotic suffering. However, much of a neurotic suffering is unconscious. If we have consciousness then we have the power to witness whats taking place and transform it.
In gestalt some of the powerful expressions are about bringing awareness to the unconscious patterns of behaviour. This could be something potentially powerful, shocking, explosive and challenging. But, what comes after, is a knowing, a consciousness. In Zen Buddhism they use a Keisaku (a paddle to strike you on the back) to bring about awareness during meditation or a Katsu (a shout), both seemingly harsh expressions are about awareness.
So I don’t think that Gestalt and Mindfulness are so diverse. I think the buddhist approach is to meditate on something to understand it, e.g. to engage with it fully ourselves internally. The gestalt approach is similar although often involving outwards expression. Both probably are appropriate means of understanding the middle zone and in doing so becoming less engaged with it and more engaged with ‘here and now’.
I suppose that raw expression can be problematic. I am picturing a couple in a relationship having arguments again and again about the same stuff, this could represent a lack of processing or worse that something is still unconscious. This could but a strain on the relationship if both parties are not invested in the process of unravelling unconsciousness, especially as each will be unconscious of different aspects of their ego, thus a large degree of love, patience and acceptance is required. Meditation can be a more peaceful way, however, such a peaceful approach is not always possible without consciousness. Sometimes, we are just gonna have to suffer! As Eckhart Tolle said:
“The ego says, ‘I shouldn’t have to suffer,’ and that thought makes you suffer so much more. It is a distortion of the truth, which is always paradoxical. The truth is that you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it.”
I have a tendency to act quickly, to react, to become unconscious. My goal then for this week. To try to bring more consciousness of my process. To feel but not to act so fast.
And after writing this, I feel, a peace.