By Tim Carrette
From the void cometh all things, into the void do all things return.
The quintessential Nondual Psychotherapy
Gestalt Psychotherapy is the quintessential Nondualistic Psychotherapy. We are both lost and found in both suffering and emotional pain. We are form and formless. Self and not self. In the words of Martin Buber “Every particular Thou is a glimpse through to the eternal Thou.”
Martin Buber was a Jewish theologian-mystic. He was one of many Spiritual influences on Gestalt Psychotherapy. His most famous work was “ I-Thou”, a kind of poetic verse on Duality, Nonduality and the inherent relationship between all dualities.
He called these two dualities I-It and I-Thou.
I-It in Buber’s language is form, self, ego, character pattern. The always observable now of our situational senses, the phenomenology of our individual beingness.
I –Thou is the formless meeting and nondualistic interconnectedness of all things. The essence of our being, the pulsating energy which flows through us all. It therefore paradoxically contains both I –It and I-Thou.
Similar dualities are found in Taoism, where Yin and Yang are complementary opposites balanced by following the “middle path”. Taoism and Zen were and still are major influences on Gestalt Psychotherapy.
But it’s this flow between the two which really energises contemporary Relational Gestalt Psychotherapy today.
Life and psychotherapy honours this eternal dance of form and formlessness. Gestalt psychotherapy sees this as a dance of parts and wholes. Each part a unique reflection of the whole, the situation of the total field. From a partial view of the field, I choose. From a whole field perspective, I am chosen. The two are inextricably linked. To lose either is to honour neither. For the whole isn’t whole without all of its parts. The parts are not parts without being a part of something else.
Everything exists in relation
Psychotherapy and in particular Gestalt psychotherapy has sought to empower our individual consciousness, to instil upon us an existential culture of choice.
And so elsewhere I have written “ Pay attention to the growing being of selfhood and be with that which is emerging through the cracks of outdated creative adjustments. Open to the novel and the new. Let life come to you.”
These words invite us to cultivate our individual conscious-active being and embrace an inherent growth within in us which is occurring anyway, beyond our conscious choice. There will always be cracks in our creative adjustments to the situational conditionings of our culture. That is because life grows through us and with us. So inherent within this invitation is the awareness of this life continually growing through us. One way to open to this growth is to pay attention or be aware of the natural occurrences in each and every moment, this newness, this novel has “genius, power and magic” in it. (Goethe).
However, this invitation is still inspired by a culturally collective norm of dualistic self/other, self/world. So, if I put it less dualistically and in the spirit of I-Thou, we can also observe that life and growth is happening anyway. Attention to growth is happening except when its elsewhere but as long as we are alive we are conscious. We are all conscious to varying degrees depending upon situations, moments and emergent growth. Change is inevitable. As the philosopher Heraclitus said ‘all is flux’ and ‘you can’t step in the same river twice’. We are all getting older and one day we will die.
Life as A Continuation of Creation and Destruction
Along with our awareness of growth is also our awareness of destruction. Gestalt psychotherapy sees life as a continuation of creation and destruction. To embrace the novel the old must be destroyed. This is pain and suffering. This is the necessity of suffering seen often and partially as cruel and unnecessary. Seen as quite natural and observed in nature. Fritz Perls, one of the founders of Gestalt Psychotherapy called this place of seeing, the point of ‘creative indifference’, the still point, the fertile void or ‘Wu Gi’. To see life from this point of view is to not know , to move beyond the mind ‘and come to your senses’ (Perls). To be here and now, I and Thou.
From the moment we were born we were born into an emerging duality, away from Mother, away from our parents and into whatever it means to become fully your authentic self. Every childhood act of abuse and suffering reveals another potential for opening through the cracks to yet more of our unique journey.
Similarly, we are born into relationship. Relation is the lively flame of the ‘liminal space’ (Denham-Vaughan), a kind of twilight zone which is neither day or night but in some way is connected to both, a space which is always between us. It is paradoxically self and not self that joins us and separates us.
This relational space is always co-created and co-emergent. There is a sense in which we are both doers and done to. It is a kind of inter-dual-ity.
So we have then these three layers of consciousness. The conditioned individual consciousness, which is so prevalent in our culture today. The idea that we create our own reality. Consciousness becomes form. Intentionality cultivates energy. Existentially, we choose.
Then the Nondual consciousness which forms the “spiritual” awareness, the so-called awakened ones who see life as one single energy. Here, the idea that we create our own realities is just that, an idea, a thought. Life is happening anyway, through this experience we have been culturally conditioned to call the self. The “skin encapsulated ego” as Alan Watts called it. Here we don’t so much choose as are chosen, as is every moment, every action, every thought. It is all “God” given or Tao driven.
Gestalt psychotherapy tends to call this the “field”. That energetic force which is larger than our unique separate self forms.
Contemporary Relational Gestalt sees these two forms of consciousness as two ends of the same continuum. They are complimentary opposites. We could call them inter-dual-consciousness, which can always be seen as either dualistic or nondualistic.
And so it is that from this void, came this consciousness, came this form, I call I and yet not I, these words are but forms cultivated by this moment into this form. Soon to be destroyed by yet another emergent form of consciousness and into the void go I, you and all that is.
Tim Carrette is a Relational Gestalt Psychotherapist and Director of The Scarborough Counselling and Psychotherapy Training Institiute in North Yorkshire, United Kingdom. He teaches Relational Gestalt Psychotherapy and offers Individual and Group Psychotherapy