Towards mindfulness: an holistic and spiritual model of coaching and facilitation

This paper will explore the awakening of spiritual mindfulness within the facilitative relationship. It will advance a view to suggest the centrality of spiritual growth for both the client and the facilitator within coaching and facilitation. It will explore and contrast some ideas within the approaches proffered by Fritz Perls and Jiddu Krishnamurti, a highly-respected philosopher and spiritual teacher on learning and relationship.

I will consider the similarities between these two approaches in terms of content and purpose, and where possible highlight points of agreement and crossover into spiritual development. This view purports the importance of spiritual awareness within facilitation and suggests that the direction of growth, change and health is synonymous with embracing a holistic phenomenological field and spiritual growth.

I use the term facilitator throughout this paper as a generic label to mean consultant, coach or therapist working within either a one-to-one client relationship or in a group consultancy context.

Field theory

Here we will not enter into the detail of Kurt Lewin’s field theory as it is beyond our remit. However, it is necessary to note its key elements. To begin, it is important to recognize its roots in Gestalt theory (a gestalt is a coherent whole, it has its own laws, and is a construct of the individual mind rather than ‘reality’).

For Kurt Lewin, behaviour was determined by totality of an individual’s situation. In his field theory, a ‘field’ is defined as the totality of coexisting facts which are conceived of as mutually interdependent (Lewin 1951: 240). Individuals were seen to behave differently according to the way in which tensions between perceptions of the self and of the environment were worked through. The whole psychological field, or life space, within which people acted, had to be viewed in order to understand behaviour. Within this, individuals and groups could be seen in topological terms (using map-like representations). Individuals participate in a series of life spaces (such as the family, work, school and church), and these were constructed under the influence of various force vectors (Lewin 1952).

Hall and Lindzey (1978: 386) summarize the central features of Kurt Lewin’s field theory as follows:

  • Behaviour is a function of the field that exists at the time the behaviour occurs;
  • Analysis begins with the situation as a whole from which are differentiated the component parts, and …
  • The concrete person in a concrete situation can be represented mathematically.

Kurt Lewin also looked to the power of underlying forces (needs) to determine behaviour and, hence, expressed ‘a preference for psychological as opposed to physical or physiological descriptions of the field’ (op. cit.).

In this we can see how Kurt Lewin drew together insights from topology (e.g. life space), psychology (need, aspiration, etc), and sociology (e.g. force fields – motives clearly being dependent on group pressures). As Allport put it in his foreword to Resolving Social Conflict (Lewin 1948: ix), these three aspects of his thought were not separable: “All of his concepts, whatever root-metaphor they employ, comprise a single well-integrated system”. It was this, in significant part, which gave his work its peculiar power.

Paul Barber (2006) offers a useful framework for understanding behavioural and symbolic constructions within and between individuals. Barber (op. cit.) has shown that the content of a client’s perceptual world can be expressed and mapped within one of five levels. That is, specific subjective constructions may be expressed within these levels and, as such, may be elicited by specific therapeutic techniques.

Working from a Gestalt perspective offers numerous advantages for the client, but equally places a greater demand on the facilitator. The facilitator must embrace and develop a whole range of therapeutic techniques rather than simply rely on a one school approach with its inherent limitations. For example, a Transactional Analysis practitioner would generally focus on the more social-cultural and imagined-projective content elicited by a client, whilst a Psychodynamic practitioner may give more attention to the emotional-transferential rather than the physical content. Clearly, in practice there may be some crossover to other levels but this, I would suggest, usually remains more background rather than foreground data.

When dealing in the subjective, it is clear that the facilitator and the client can become quickly lost to logic and direction, where many of the guiding milestones and measures will simply not apply. If all is subjective, then is any one direction more worthy or healthy than any other? This, I suggest, is a fundamental question. What is the direction of health when all is held as valid?

To address this question, we will consider how Perls’, Barber’s and Krishnamurti’s facilitation and therapeutic approaches are suggestive of the direction of health being synonymous with spiritual development in the individual. To explore this, we will consider a number of examples to show where common ground exists and offer a view of health as a spiritual awakening of awareness.

Discussion

In line with an holistic approach, Lewin has suggested that valid understanding of human interaction should be undertaken within a whole field approach. Perls has extended this view in therapeutic practice, encapsulated in his statement that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Consequently, this means that the properties of a system must be analysed in its entirety rather than being described solely on its components. Barber has embraced this view in his work, where facilitation and therapy is viewed as a process whereby perception is mapped within one of five levels that inform a whole field approach. The writings of Krishnamurti equally are suggestive of an holistic approach, where dialogue and individual perception are central to self-understanding, personal growth and change. However, while Barber’s model is embracing of the client’s subjective view, Krishnamurti takes a more challenging and emphatic line, where he rarely supports the client’s dialogue, preferring to challenge and stimulate in the direction of some unknown finite position.

With regard to perception, which in this context may be defined as how the individual conceptualises world/self-view, it is recognised that Gestalt does offer the opportunity for the individual to construct and integrate new meanings from a variety of positions. For example, perceptions can be raised from facilitator reflections based on various types of data, such as physical, sensory, transferential, projective and past acquired knowledge. For the Gestaltist practitioner, the progress of client growth can be mapped as an integration and ownership of new meanings, which in turn will inform their unfolding perceptual view.

For Krishnamurti, the perceptual world of another would be viewed primarily as a method of ascertaining where a client ‘is’. To Krishnamurti an individual is either in ‘direct perception’ or not. He is emphatic and direct with his challenges and does not offer the support inherent within a Gestaltist approach. I would go so far as to say that Krishnamurti is forcefully provocative with his challenges, and with the intention of inducing shock in the client. For Krishnamurti, perception is all. But this raises a number of questions, such as, is Krishnamurti pointing to the same type of perception or something different? If so, what does it look like? Also, is there any resonance or crossover with the perception that a client may have from the Gestaltist approach?

To unpack these issues, I believe we need to consider the part played by thought and awareness within the self of the individual as it pertains to growth.  For Barber, utilising a Gestalt approach, it is clear that awareness within the individual is the catalyst that triggers thought.  Facilitation is the working space where individual awareness may be challenged or supported through dialogue and action.  Thought is the outcome of awareness and is representative of the integration of a new pattern of thought.  In effect, change is akin to the new Gestalt pattern replacing the old.

For Barber, the purpose of thought may be regarded as unpacking the past history of a client, which in turn becomes the material for on-going re-shaping.  For the Gestaltist, this is a worthwhile goal in itself and is supported by most therapists in general as an effective facilitation towards growth and potential.  However, for Krishnamurti, this level of awareness is looked on as inconsequential.  It is simply an indication of where the client is currently stuck.  Krishnamurti stated on numerous occasions that he did not engage in analysis and was not in any way a kind of psychiatrist aiding analysis.  From this perspective, Krishnamurti viewed clients as stuck in a processes of duality, as encapsulated by his “observer is the observed” quote, and as such, were caught in their own psychological trap.  To go beyond the trap and not to continually masticate within it was the key element of his argument.

Below, Krishnamurti clarifies how thought trapped within duality acts to divide up perception and when doing so can never be ‘direct perception’ as he would know it.

“So there is the superficial awareness of the tree, the bird, the door, and there is the response to that, which is thought, feeling, emotion.  Now when we become aware of this response, we might call it a second depth of awareness.  There is the awareness of the rose, and the awareness of the response to the rose.  Often we are unaware of this response to the rose.  In reality it is the same awareness which sees the rose and which sees the response.  It is one movement and it is wrong to speak of the outer and inner awareness.  When there is a visual awareness of the tree without any psychological involvement there is no division in relationship.  But when there is a psychological response to the tree, this response is a conditioned response, it is the response of past memory, past experiences, and this response is a division in relationship.  This response is the birth of what we shall call the “me” in relationship and the “non-me”.  This is how you place yourself in relationship to the world.  This is how you create the individual and the community.  The world is seen not as it is, but in its various relationships to the “me” of memory.  This division is the life and the flourishing of everything we call our psychological being, and from this arises all contradiction and division.”

(Krishnamurti & Luyens 1973 p165)

Here is a fundamental difference between Gestalt and Krishnamurti. While Gestalt looks at the processes which form perception based on how the individual measures themselves against their ideals, Krishnamurti is asking for a perception of a different kind, which he regards as ‘direct’ and whole. For me, this symbolises that Krishnamurti is asking for a mental shift in awareness, which takes the principal of the ‘observer and observed’ and makes it into a real, actual, phenomena. From this position, what would the perceptual field be like if the psychological relationship between my looking, hearing, tasting and sensing were the SAME as what I was interacting with? That is, if the observer was the observed as a fact? Further, what effect would that same process have on my own feelings, thoughts and fantasy? Could they be me too? If they are ME, then I can take no action because that really is one part of my head judging another part of my head based on beliefs held by yet another part of my head!

This raises a major change and challenge to most established views on growth and learning as the resultant action would be in going deeper within the moment rather than an acting out. To me, the direction of health would be akin to an individual experience of deepening contact.

Mindfulness

In postulating that this type of deepening contact is akin to the concept of mindfulness, I am aware that I am making huge leaps. However, it finds support in Barber (2006) as an ultimate level of awareness, which manifests as the intuitive-spiritual level of personal perception. To me, Perls may have been expressing the same process when he categorised such moments of transcendence as “mini satoris”, that is, mini spiritual awakenings, which often takes place where both facilitator and client would dwell together beyond their individual perspectives in a flow of spontaneous absorption.

For me, Perls, Barber and Krishnamurti, are pointing towards a transformational process, which is to be found at the point where the energy that is currently dissipated through thought, emotional pursuits and sentimental activities ceases.  From this perspective, all perceptions of the client are manifestations of this wastage of energy in the ceaseless conflict that arises within duality.  Traditional therapy, facilitation or coaching may be viewed as an exercise within duality, where the ‘me’ and the ‘thing I wish to become’ are continually caught in conflict and a waste of energy.

So what would this process look like in action?  Krishnamurti offers the following views on the subject:

“It’s like living with a snake in the room; you watch its every movement, you are very, very sensitive to the slightest sound it makes.  There is no interval open for fear when you are wholly watching; no place for the demand of answers when you continually live the question.  The moment you have a conclusion… you are finished.”

(Schoen 1994)

Conclusion

A call for a re-framing and centralisation of the spiritual-intuitive within facilitation and personal growth in general. A move to embrace the dance on a moving carpet of the now, and the staying with what is.

“Very simply put, thought is the response of memory, the past. The past is an infinity or a second ago. When thought acts it is this past which is acting as memory, as experience, as knowledge, as opportunity. All will is desire based on this past and directed towards pleasure or the avoidance of pain. When thought is functioning it is the past, therefore there is no new living at all; it is the past living in the present, modifying itself and the present. So there is nothing new in life that way, and when something new is to be found there must be the absence of the past, the mind must not be cluttered up with thought, fear, pleasure, and everything else. Only when the mind is uncluttered can the new come into being, and for this reason we say that thought must be still, operating only when it has to – objectively, efficiently. All continuity is thought; when there is continuity there is nothing new. Do you see how important this is? It’s really a question of life itself. Either you live in the past, or you live totally differently: that is the whole point.”

(Krishnamurti & Luyens 1973 p311)

Author: David Burford 

References

Barber, P. (2006) Becoming a Practitioner-Researcher: A Gestalt Approach to Holistic Inquiry. Libri Press (Oxford) & Middlesex University Press (London).

Hall, C.S. and Lindzey, G., (1978) Theories of Personality. 3rd Ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Lewin, K. (1951) Field theory in social science; selected theoretical papers. D. Cartwright (ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Krishnamurti, J. & Luyens, M (1973) The Second Penguin Krishnamurti Reader. Harmondsworth, London.

Schoen, S. (1994) Presence of Mind: Literary and Philosophical Roots of a Wise Psychotherapy. The Gestalt Journal Press, USA.