I have practised various forms of self-empathetic innerwork over the years. In the past, my personal method has been a distillation of, and a combination of, the innerwork approaches of Eugene Gendlin (Focusing), Ann Weiser-Cornell (Focusing), James Hillman (Jungian Innerwork), Marshall Rosenberg (Nonviolent Communication), Richard Schwarz (Inner Family Systems), Jerry Donoghue (Inner Presence Coaching), Steve De Shazer (Brief Solution Focused Therapy). While I continue to draw on the specific methods of these innovators in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy practice, I have more recently found it helpful to set these learnings in the context of the non-dual mandala-wisdom that we find in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and which Carl Jung made so much more available and accessible. Hence my own personal name for the form of self-empathic innerwork that I now practice, is Mandala Innerwork.
The Buddha’s Self-Enquiry / Self-Empathy Dyads
As I have developed this model, and studied the various other self-enquiry dyad models that I have mentioned above, I have increasingly found myself coming back to the Buddha’s approach and to the Buddhist terminology of the Five Skandhas, the Five Realms, the Five Wisdoms, and the brahmavhāras. I shall be outlining the details of this future articles listed under the ‘Buddhism’ menu on this website. By making these connections we can bring the richness and power of Buddhist wisdom traditions to our work. In this article I will be avoiding that complexity, and mainly using the language of the self-empathy aspect of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model.
In the language of Nonviolent Communication, we can conceptualise Mandala Innerwork as a self-empathy practice, and the person doing it as a ‘self-empathiser’ and the person holding space is the ’empathiser’. In Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing model the activity of self-enquiry came to be called ‘focusing’, and the person turning their attention inward was called the ‘focuser’, and the person holding space is the ‘companion’. In the context of Mandala Innerwork, I prefer to think of the activity simply as ‘doing meditative self-enquiry’, but I use the Focusing terminology for the roles, and acknowledge our debt to Eugene Gendlin by using the terminology of ‘focuser’ and ‘companion’ for the roles.
The Buddha had his monks do meditative self-enquiry dyads, the details of which got lost down the centuries. The modern historians of Buddhism understand the practice as a form of ‘confession’, but I believe that it would have more closely resembled the self-empathy / self-enquiry dyad practices of today, and my Mandala Innerwork model is an attempt to recreate it. I shall be sharing more of my thoughts on this in future articles.
Resting as Consciousness; Relating to Psychological Parts
Their are two close related features in my approach. The first could be characterised as ‘resting as Consciousness’: a focus on familiarising ourselves with, and learning to ‘rest as’ the ’empty’ impersonal Consciousness, that is capable of witnessing our experience objectively, and ‘relating’ to our experience with a warm accepting Presence. The second feature is learning to ‘work with psychological parts’.
I regard these two features as inseparable. Whether our focus is on learning to be self-empathetically present with yourselves for the purpose of self-knowledge and psychological healing; or we a spiritual seekers wishing to know the ultimate nature of mind, we can not avoid acknowledging these two features of the process. It is one of foundational paradoxes of the process of spiritual integration and psychological healing that in order to become more unified and whole, we need to acknowledge that the apparent self is made up of many ‘psychological parts’, and to develop a sense of the inner relationship between Consciousness and those psychological parts.