This is Post 39 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
The four-fold archetypal psychology of the mandala invites us to distinguish the intuitive and volitional function, which Carl Jung called Intuition, and which I have been calling Intuition-Volition, from the evaluative function of Feeling. This distinction is enormously important, but is in general much neglected in modern psychology. The Cognitive Behavioural psychology that has been predominant in the last few decades, has usually chosen to reduce the person to the interaction of three components: thinking, behaviour and physiology – with each of these three components often rather narrowly understood.
Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow
Even the great Carl Rogers, who caused a revolution in the world of psychology, when he abandoned Psychoanalysis and created his Person-Centred model for therapeutic counselling, failed to adequately distinguish between the evaluative and volitional dimensions of our emotional life.
Luckily, Carl Roger’s contemporary Abraham Maslow, the other big name in the Humanistic Psychology that emerged in the 1960s, was passionately engaged with the difficult questions of Being, Desire, Motivation, and Needs. Many readers will have heard of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ model – represented as a pyramid with survival needs and the bottom and the need for Self-Actualisation at the apex, with the various layers of social and psychological needs in between.
Eugene Gendlin – Father of the ‘Focusing’ Self-Empathy practice
Another great intellectual figure of that time was Eugene Gendlin, a Professor of Philosophy and a colleague and collaborator of Carl Rogers’ at the University of the Chicago in the 1960s. Gendlin collaborated with Rogers on his ground-breaking research – the analysis of tape recordings of therapy sessions to identify the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’ in the behaviour of a therapist that would reliably support therapeutic change in clients. Gendlin however, was even more interested in what the successful clients were doing, than in what the successful therapists were doing, and did further research using a standardised ‘Experiencing Scale’ to identify and quantify the subtle qualitative skills of clients who were able to make the most effective use of therapeutic sessions.
It was this passionate interest of Gendlin’s, in the skills of self-empathy, which tragically, in my view, led to the failure of Rogers and his adherents, in the then rapidly growing movement for Person-Centred Therapy, to embrace these important ideas. Person-Centred Therapy had unfortunately become specifically identified as a ‘non-directive’ approach, and Rogers had staked his reputation on the brave, but ultimately rather simplistic assumption that the only necessary conditions for therapeutic change in therapy, were the Empathy, Unconditional Positive Regard, and Congruence in the therapist’s relationship with the client.
Gendlin’s work should have been embraced by Person-Centred Therapy, as a logical extension of the model into the realm of self-empathy. He was simply drawing attention to the foundational importance of these same attitudes of Empathy, Unconditional Positive Regard, and Congruence in the client’s relationship with themselves.
Rogers and Gendlin – Empathy and Self-Empathy
Gendlin’s research showed that individuals whose internal relationship with themselves, shows a high level of development of the non-judgmental and compassionate attitudes of Empathy, Unconditional Positive Regard, and Congruence, generally either have no need for psychotherapy, or use psychotherapy extremely effectively, whatever the skills of the therapist. Unfortunately Gendlin’s research also highlighted the fact that, at the other end of the spectrum, individuals in whom these self-empathetic attitudes have never been developed, or in whom these attitudes have been damaged by social and psychological conditioning, are likely to find it difficult to make use of ordinary non-directive Person-Centred Therapy. This was significant, because those who need psychotherapy are likely to fall into this latter category.
So, the implication of Gendlin’s work was that the skills of self-empathy usually have to be taught, either systematically, or in an ad hoc way, by the therapist, whereas Rogers would have preferred that the therapist’s ‘non directive’ empathy would be sufficient on its own. Gendlin, though insufficiently acknowledged, was ultimately the winner of the argument. While the superficiality and incompleteness of Roger’s Person-Centred Therapy model meant that it was all but swept away by the rise of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Gendlin’s ‘Focusing’, or ‘Experiential Psychotherapy’ approach, has been integrated, in various ways, into all the best psychotherapy trainings across the globe.
The attitudes and skills of self-connection that Gendlin taught in his ‘Focusing’ training courses have much in common with the attitudes and skills of meditation and self-enquiry, which I have been exploring – indeed my understandings from many years of experience using the work of Gendlin and his students, have been some of the main threads that have been weaving together in these articles. For more on the theme of self-empathy, consider reading my previous articles (here, here, and here). I shall be returning to self-empathy in future articles.
Marshal Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) Model
In my view, the man who most successfully drew all the most useful elements of the Humanistic Psychology of the 1960s together, and delivered them to a new generation, and to a new constituency outside of the fields of counselling and psychotherapy, was the late Marshall Rosenberg. Combining ideas from both Rogers and Maslow, with a re-purposed version of the self-empathy principle from Gendlin, Rosenberg created a beautiful model for communication skills and self-awareness – which, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he called Nonviolent Communication (NVC).
Central to Rosenberg’s communication model is the ‘Four Components’ of NVC, which are shown in the diagram below. The Four Components are not usually presented as a mandala, as I like to do, but rather as a sequence of four that is made up of two pairs: Observations (Thinking) and Feelings (Feeling); and Needs (Intuition-Volition) and Requests (Sensation). These two pairs are clearly the two axes of the mandala that we are familiar with from Carl Jung, the Buddhist tradition, and elsewhere. If we place Needs and Requests as the vertical axis, and Feelings and Observations as the horizontal axis, we find that the archetypal principles behind NVC’s Four Components exactly correspond to those in the mandalas of Carl Jung and Mahayana Buddhism.
As I have said in previous articles (here and here), what makes this model extremely remarkable, is that it was developed entirely without reference to the mandala-form psychological models of Carl Jung and of the Buddhist tradition, but combines all the same elements, and appears to draw many of the same conclusions. I find this to be a wonderful example of the universality of the mandala archetype.
Compassion as Awareness of the Life Energy of Needs
What distinguishes NVC, and makes it such a powerful psychological model in comparison with others, is the inclusion of the psychological function of Intuition-Volition using the notion of ‘Needs awareness’. Indeed the use of the term ‘Needs’, in this context, is subtle and profound, and quite difficult to explain, despite its obvious practical value in communication and self-awareness. It is obviously enormously clarifying in communication, when every expressed Feeling is always related to the Need, met or unmet, that gave rise to it – in fact it is absolutely essential to do this, if we wish to develop empathy, or are aiming to take full responsibility for our feelings. The relationship of Feelings to Needs is complex however, and we need our mandala model of the psyche to explain it adequately.
In ordinary egoic consciousness, the notion of a ‘need’ is usually loosely and somewhat superficially defined in terms of the subjectively perceived experience of lack. Hence a ‘situation of need’ is thought to arise when an internally perceived desire, or potential for fulfilment, is not externally manifest. While we assume that a need is a single phenomena, it clearly is not. The outer experience of perceived lack has its roots in an inner volition, and we need to examine this inner dimension more closely.
Desire, Creativity and the Mandala of Love
To understand Intuition-Volition, and why the volitional Life Energies of Consciousness are best thought of as Needs, it is useful first, to remember that ’desire’ is a word that includes fear-based egoic wanting, and egoic wishes to act without consideration for others, and even egoic impulses to harm others. We also need to acknowledge that the emergence of egoic desire may be the cause of egoic fear or anxiety, because of its association with lack, as I have spoken about previously (here).
Rosenberg uses the word ‘Needs’ or ‘Universal Human Needs’ to distinguish the positive and objective desires, or Life Energies, that are at the root of all motivation – and are even found to be at the root of the ‘negative’ desires. So the NVC model invites us to bring awareness to our longings, desires, wishes, and aspirations (for love, understanding, respect, appreciation, empathy, creativity, effectiveness, etc.), re-framing them as the Life Energy of Needs, and recognising their life-serving purpose.
I find that the best way to talk about this energetic reality is in terms of the mandala. The structure of the mandala perfectly expresses the tensions and dynamics that are at work in our experience of desire and creativity. The north-south axis of the mandala shows us the vertical creative tension between the Life Energy of Needs perceived via Intuition-Volition, and our Current Reality perceived via Sensation. In the context of communication, and in the NVC model, our preferred strategy for meeting a Need, by changing the Current Reality, is called a ‘Request’. In the broader context of personal creativity or group collaboration, this ‘Request’ component of the process includes any practical creative activity that works to create a resolution of the tension.
While the north-south axis of the mandala shows us the primary tension that drives the creative process, the west-east axis of the mandala shows us the evaluative and decision-making dynamics that either support or hinder that process. The ‘Mandala of Love’ perspective, that was given to us by the Buddhist tradition, by Carl Jung, and more recently by Marshal Rosenberg, tells us that creativity and compassionate activity requires a keen awareness of this west-east tension between Feeling and Thinking. To be truly creative and to communicate well, we need the capacity for both the warm discernment (Feelings), and the solution-focused objectivity (objective Observations), that come from resting as Consciousness.
Separating out the ‘Four Components’ of NVC
Our egoic response to the tension between the Life Energies, or envisioned possibilities, and the current reality of ‘unmet needs’, includes evaluative responses and thinking responses. Our evaluative responses, or Feelings; and our thoughts, or Observations, are usually fused together, and are often very unconscious, habitual, subjective, and negative. NVC invites us to be ‘present’ and ‘connected’ in our communication, and to tease out the threads of this tangle of thoughts and feelings, taking care not to express them without reflection.
The tendency of the Feeling-Thinking polarity to become energetically fused and dysfunctional, was brilliantly described by Carl Jung, but even better addressed by Marshall Rosenberg, who focused on the way this fusion manifests in habitual and disconnecting styles of language. For example, we find ourselves expressing ourselves using evaluative and emotional language when objective thinking and observation is needed; and expressing our thoughts and beliefs about a situation when invited to share how we feel. I shall be returning to these important themes in my ‘NVC’ series of articles.
Essentially, the ‘Four Components’ model in NVC, invites us to rest as Consciousness, and to bring much more awareness to our actual experience of Needs, met or unmet. To distinguish each of the four components (Observation and Feelings; and Needs and Requests) we need to give special attention, first to the separation of Observations (thoughts) from Feelings, and then to the separation of Needs from Requests. The need for this separation of Needs as intuitively perceived Life Energies, from Requests – which are the chosen practical strategies by which we would prefer to meet particular Needs – is one of the foundations of NVC, but is an extremely subtle idea, and one that deserves to be deeply explored.
Those who have been following this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series will have noticed that the NVC model is engaging with the same archetypal patterns, in the context of communication, that meditation practice is engaging with, in regard to the nature of mind, through the four brahmavihāras. The exploration of these parallels brings important insights and awareness to both our communication and our meditation practice. I shall be returning to explore these important connections in future articles.
‘Needs Awareness’ and the Healing of the Egoic Will
The idea that Needs are best thought of as Life Energies – entirely separate from the concrete reality through which we normally approach the notion of a need – is extremely profound and liberating, when we experientially familiarise ourselves with the implications of this idea. Indeed this principle is so significant, that I believe that it is through familiarising ourselves with the subtle felt experience of the Life Energies, that we can most effectively achieve transformation at the Volitional Body level – the level which we are now addressing in connection with the green Northern Quadrant of the mandala, and the brahmavihāra of Compassion.
Those who have been following the recent articles in this series, will be aware that I regard Life Energy as one of four very significant subtle experiences, or Qualia, that are associated with the experience of resting as Consciousness. I call this set of four, the Four Qualia. One of the Qualia is associated with each of the brahmavihāras; with each Quadrant of the mandala; and with each of the four surface bodies. I have described the Four Qualia in some detail in previous articles (here, here, here and here).
Self-Empathy and Self-Enquiry
Marshall Rosenberg’s work strongly highlights our general lack of awareness of Needs in day-to-day communication, and the problems that this causes for us. His model teaches us that in order to bring Needs into our awareness and into our vocabulary, so that we can communicate more compassionately and more effectively, we need to engage much more fully in the everyday, moment-to-moment, self-enquiry process that he called ‘self-empathy’. This dimension of NVC is often somewhat neglected, even though it is, quite literally, foundational to the model – indeed NVC cannot actually be truly practised without a very deep engagement with the practice of self-empathy.
It is perhaps not surprising that self-empathy gets neglected. In self-empathy we are invited to engage in an internal relationship that is quite difficult to conceptualise. We might ask: Firstly, who, or what, is empathising in the experience of self-empathy? And secondly, who, or what, are we empathising with? These are difficult questions. In brief, the answers to these two questions are:
(1) That which is empathising is Consciousness; and
(2) That which we, as Consciousness, are empathising with, are our psychological parts.
The practice of self-empathetic recognition of psychological parts, and the recognition that the Needs (Life Energies) that animate those psychological parts are aspects of our own self as Consciousness, is at the core of the NVC model.
In Rosenberg’s playful presentation of the NVC model using puppets, that some readers will be familiar with, Consciousness (and conscious communication) is personified using a giraffe puppet, and our psychological parts (and people who are identified with their psychological parts) are represented using a jackal puppet. The discipline of using the structured, ‘Giraffe’, language of NVC (Observations; Feelings; Needs; and Requests) helps us to bring awareness to the unconscious, habitual, and confused ways in which our ‘Jackal’ psychological parts think, feel, and communicate, and helps us to dis-identify from them – returning to Consciousness through the practice of self-empathy.
Self-empathy then, is about the relationship of Consciousness to that which is arising in Consciousness, and is a process that has profound spiritual implications. Indeed self-empathy is a form of self-enquiry, and is an extremely subtle idea, and one that, in my experience, is best learned either through dyad exercises, or through meditation practice. I have found both approaches to be very helpful, and to be powerful ways of gaining familiarity with the experience of the Life Energy of the Universal Human Needs. Both approaches need however, in my experience, to be informed by the idea of ‘resting as Consciousness’. For more on self-empathy and working with psychological parts, consider reading my previous articles on this (here, here, and here).
The Life Energy of Consciousness
When we truly rest as Consciousness, we also recognise the unity of that which is arising in Consciousness, with Consciousness itself. In the case of the Life Energy of Needs, this is very clear. When we inwardly investigate them through self-enquiry, we may be surprised to find that these Life Energies are quite readily recognised as the beneficial, life-serving energies of Consciousness itself. The implications of this are somewhat perplexing at first, but once we have separated the Life Energy of Needs from the Current Reality of perceived lack, we are free to recognise that the Life Energies of the Needs are the drivers of our creativity and our fulfilment.
When we start to develop the habit of self-empathetically recognising, and naming, the Needs, we also notice that our relationship with the Need energies profoundly effects our ability to manifest fulfilment. It is as if the Life Energies of the Needs are like colours in a spectrum, and if for some reason we are not inwardly open to a particular colour, we cannot see it – we cannot manifest it in our life. By choosing to meditate on a Need energy that is appearing as a dark band in our spectrum however, we can heal the energetic blocks that we are carrying in regard to those particular dimensions of life – those particular Life Energies in the spectrum of love.
Life Energy – Beneficial, Life-Serving, and Healing
Bizarre as this way of talking may seem from a conventional scientific materialist point of view, many will recognise this as a version of the popular ‘Law of Attraction’ principle, which Indian tradition would talk about in terms of the perceptual component, or skandha, that was called the sanskaras – the ‘volitional energies’ of karma. Unfortunately, the ‘Law of Attraction’ is not usually understood in the context of an ethical framework, whereas karma most definitely is. The nature of the non-dual reality of the field of Consciousness that pervades our world, is inherently ethical and relational. More than that, the energy of Consciousness is beneficial, healing, and life serving – inherently compassionate and evolutionary.
There is a wonderful freedom in understanding the energetic dimension in this way, and starting to naturally apply it in our lives, and in our meditation practice. Our meditation practice especially, becomes much less effortful and much less contrived. When a wish arises in us, either as a Need of ours, or as an empathetically recognised Need in another, we find that we can fully allow it, and welcome it as a beneficial Life Energy. When we are no longer giving energy to thoughts and feelings of envy, fear, and lack, all manner of healing can occur.
Meditating on the Life Energies of Needs
When we sit to meditate for example, there are Needs alive in us – Life Energies that serve our psychological integration, our wisdom, and our capacity to contribute. Each of the archetypal themes that we have been addressing in connection with meditation: Presence; Connection; Being; Objectivity; Equanimity; Embodiment; Appreciation; Equality; Contentment; Uncaused Happiness; Loving Kindness; Empathy; and Compassion – all have a particular Life Energy associated with them – an energetic signature that may be felt, not just in the Volitional Body, but in all four of the interpenetrating surface bodies. If we name these Life Energies, and recognise them as the energies of Consciousness, and welcome them as the benevolent forces that they are, we bring a natural aliveness to our meditation practice and accelerate our process.
This fearless Needs-based consciousness, which recognises the beneficial Life Energy of Needs, is articulated in various ways, and to different degrees, by different teachers within the NVC community, but the teacher who teaches with the strongest emphasis on this self-empathetic ‘Life Energy of Needs’ perspective, is Robert Gonzalez. I, like Gonzalez (with whom I have trained), find this perspective to be essential if we wish to practice Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication model in a way that fully acknowledges its foundation in the meditative discipline of deep self-empathy. If we have unmet Needs in our lives, we will always benefit from giving time to a process of meditative self-empathetic healing of our internal relationship with those Needs.
This attitude of ‘Being in’ the Life Energy of the Needs that are ‘alive in us’, is fundamental to the ‘resting as Consciousness’ approach to meditation that I have been advocating, and is essential to our understanding of the Volitional Body and the green Northern Quadrant of the mandala. I shall be talking more, in future posts, about this dimension of meditation, and about how the NVC framework can support us to stay in this wise and ethical Needs-based consciousness when we are thinking, communicating, collaborating, and creating.