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About the Method

Ron Kurtz

“It is a time for change. It is a time for relativists, for generalists, for holists, for people who love diversity, a time to find beauty in the whole and meanings we can all agree on.
The new paradigm does not deny the past. On the contrary, its most significant contribution will be to integrate past and present and to make common sense of the great diversity of our inherited wisdom.
My first concern as a teacher of Hakomi is that my students understand and work within these principles: non-violence, mindfulness, unity, organicity, and mind-body holism.” — Ron Kurtz

Fifty thousand years ago it must have been easy to be an absolutist. You weren’t likely to run into anyone who looked, spoke, dressed or thought very differently from you or anyone else you knew. Now, the easiest thing in the world is to find someone or something different. And the differences are staggering. Endless lines of near naked Africans are starving in their dry land just a two-hour flight from the docked yachts of Monaco. At home in Toledo or Tashkent, we watch it all on TV.

This closeness is giving our present day absolutists a hard time. (And as usual, they are giving everybody else a hard time.) After thousands of centuries of slow, relatively isolated development, we are experiencing a forced, potentially explosive fusion of deeply ingrained, conflicting ideas, customs, laws and languages. From a global perspective, we live in tension and diversity everywhere. That tension is killing millions and exhausting the world’s resources. It is a time for change. It is a time for relativists, for generalists, for holists, for people who love diversity, a time to find beauty in the whole and meanings we can all agree on.

There are such people in almost every field: philosophy, science, medicine, theology. We are in the middle of the revolution that they are making. They are offering us something new — not our usual way of knowing, being and doing. It is a vision coming into focus, a “second language” we are still learning. The new paradigm does not deny the past. On the contrary, its most significant contribution will be to integrate past and present and to make common sense of the great diversity of our inherited wisdom. It is a comprehensive “spiritual/philosophic/scientific system.” It is incomplete and only just beginning to affect us. Wherever we’re going, we surely are not yet there. Still, the voyage has begun and the direction is clear enough.

The Hakomi Method of Body/Mind Therapy is grounded in a set of principles that reflect this revolution or what is often called the shifting paradigm. The work is just one inspired expression of these principles. Our methods and techniques, the relationships we develop with our clients and each other, are all expressions of the principles, scaled down to meet each task and moment of the work. They are about holism, unity and a participatory universe; about relationship; about the nature of living beings and their differences from the material, mechanical realm. They are about the reality of nonviolence. They are the “dharma” of Hakomi, its source of wisdom, clarity and power. These principles are the heart of the work and a refuge for therapists lost. My first concern as a teacher of Hakomi is that my students understand and work within these principles: non-violence, mindfulness, unity, organicity, and mind-body holism.

People are living beings, different in fundamental ways from machines. We are self-organizing. We are systems that self-create and self-maintain. We heal. Machines don’t do that. So, we look at people as self-organizing systems, organized psychologically around core memories, beliefs and images. This core material is at the very heart of what we have made of our lives. It creates and maintains our images of self and of our culturally acquired world. It directs our perceptions and actions. Core material expresses itself through all the habits and attitudes which make us individuals. Our feelings, actions and perceptions are continuously influenced by core material around major themes: safety and belonging; support, love and appreciation; freedom and responsibility; openness and honesty; control, power, sexuality, membership, and the social and cultural rules. These themes are the daily grist of therapeutic work.

Hakomi is a method for helping people change their way of being in the world through working with core material and changing core beliefs. It is a transformational method and it follows a general outline: First, we work to build a relationship which maximizes safety and the cooperation of the unconscious. With that relationship, we help the client focus on and study how he or she organizes experience. Most behavior is habit, automatically organized by core material. Thus, when we study the organization of experience, we are studying the influence of this core material. It is usually a simple step from that to direct contact with core feelings, beliefs and memories.

To study the organization, we establish and use a state of consciousness called mindfulness. Many books have been written on mindfulness; it is part of every transpersonal tradition we know. It is a distinct state of consciousness, characterized by relaxed volition; a surrender to and acceptance of the happenings of the moment; a gentle, sustained focus of attention inward; a heightened sensitivity; and the ability to observe and name the contents of consciousness. It is self-reflective. In psychotherapy, nothing is as useful as mindfulness.

For example, the client could be slowly raising an arm upward in a real or imagined context of reaching out to someone, all the while studying the experience thus created. Perhaps, at some point in the arm’s travel, the client notices fear. Casually and quickly raising the arm, especially if it is part of doing something like getting a jar down off the shelf, won’t evoke that fear. It is mindfulness — the slowness of the action, the self-observing and the focus on experience (rather than the contents of the jar or thoughts about the recipe) that does the job. The fear most likely relates to memories and beliefs about reaching out to others. Following the evocation of the fear
(or whatever experience is evoked), a transition to processing takes place, if the client is ready.

Processing is state-specific, because core material, especially core organizing memories, are state-specific. There are three different states we work with: mindfulness, strong emotions, and a state in which child-like consciousness appears. We use different methods with each.

Hakomi is a non-violent psychotherapy. It is a way to help people change that allows for the wisdom and healing power in each of us. To work nonviolently, we must drop notions about making clients change and, along with that, any tendency to take credit for their success. That doesn’t mean we have to be passive; nonviolence is not inaction. We can work without using force or the ideas and methods of a paradigm of force.

If we are not going to use force, we must use our ability to wait for the right moment, to recognize what is growing here and what is ready for expression. In therapy, this is the highest skill: to know each moment for what it can be. Some part of the client already knows this truth, knows the holding back and the longing to move on.

Psychotherapy has been called “the talking cure.” Over the past few decades, the nature of that talking has changed dramatically. Psychotherapy used to be talking about — about feelings, about relationships, the past, or anything else the client wanted to talk about. It was conversational. Focusing on present experience, especially on emotional expression, came later. It came with Reichian Therapy, Psychodrama, Gestalt, encounter groups and all that followed. At that point, much of psychotherapy moved from merely talking about experiences to actually having them.

The shift towards experience was also a shift towards the present, where experience is. In encounter, one of the rules was: talk only about what is going on here and now, at this time, in this room. Stay in the present.

In the 80’s, the therapies at the cutting edge, like Feldenkrais and NLP, took the shift one step further. These therapies deal not only with experience but, more importantly, they deal with the organization of experience. In meditation, for example, we study what follows in the flow of mental life, how the mind puts experiences together. In these new ways of working, we’re still having experiences, but we’re not just having them. We’re also studying how experiences are organized. We’re studying the systems that put experience itself together. The goal of this new therapy is to contact and understand the events which create and maintain the flow of experience itself. We do it in order to transform the way we organize all experiences. This therapy is transformational.

When you change not just what you experience, but how you experience, you have transcended, you have become a different self. You have changed at the level of character. Your personal paradigm has shifted. This is how psychotherapy has changed. In Hakomi, we don’t just talk about experiences. We don’t just have experiences. Rather, we study how each of us organizes his or her experience. We first focus on a particular present experience, like a muscle tension pattern, a feeling or an image. This present experience serves as a current example of experience being organized and is a route to the core material behind it.

One big way you study the organization of experience, is to set up experiments in consciousness. The therapist is saying: “You get mindful, I’ll say something or do something, and we will see what happens when we do that.” There are two types of experiments: one where the client is passive (mindful, still) and the therapist does something, a probe (statement), a touch, walks towards the client, closes his or her eyes, etc. In the second type, we ask the client to be active and do something like: “notice what happens when you slowly make a fist.” “See what words come up when you tighten your body in the way you feel it tightening when you think of being at work.” We’re not asking the client for an answer to a question. We’re asking for a report on what’s experienced.

We have incorporated the body into psychotherapy through accessing bodily expressions of core beliefs and by embracing alternative approaches such as nutrition, exercise, body work and movement, as adjuncts to the work. Particularly important are Rolfing, the Feldenkrais Method, Tai Chi, Yoga, Rolf Movement and, closer to home, the Hakomi Integrative Somatics developed and taught by Pat Ogden of the Hakomi Institute.

Mind and body influence one another. They interact. This principle puts Hakomi Therapy in the camp of the mind-body interactionists. My particular interest is in the influence that deeply held beliefs, guiding images and significant, early memories have on behavior, body structure and all levels of physiology. From the level of cellular metabolism and the strength of the immune system, to blood flow and the distribution of heat and muscle tone in the body, to the expression of these beliefs in posture, movement, gesture and facial expression. There are of course influences that body has on mind — from the inheritance of talents and dispositions to the moods that are part of having a diseased liver.

In therapy, we attempt to work constantly at the “mind-body interface”. We work with the interaction of belief and experience, image and emotion. Sometimes we work by focusing attention on bodily experience and ask for meaning or belief. Sometimes we focus attention on belief or meaning and study the experiences evoked. We alternate one direction with the other, constantly crossing and staying as close as possible to the mind-body interface.

Psychotherapists work to get parts communicating, whether it’s members of a family, the body and the mind or parts of mind. It’s an art, full of high skills, to coax those parts out of hiding, to help them speak openly and directly, and to help someone do that.

This drive to unite is the healing force. This process of communication organizes parts into wholes. That’s the healing. “The psyche spontaneously reorganizes,” to quote Ken Wilbur.The nervous system spontaneously reorganizes, according to Feldenkrais. Health is a natural result of the attention each part gives to the others. This is the faith that healers have.

In therapy, we attempt to establish and enhance communication between conscious and unconscious, and between mind and body. In using mindfulness, we create opportunities which allow the unconscious a clear chance to express and be seen, heard and felt. In our focus on the mind-body interface, we work to create channels of communication between them. When we work with the child, we are often hearing from a part that has long been suppressed and silent. When the client comes into insight, meaning and self-acceptance, again it is one part understanding or accepting another.

The unity principle states that the universe is fundamentally a web of relationships in which all aspects and components are inseparable from the whole and do not exist in isolation. We embrace unity when we bring attention to aspects of ourselves and others that are in isolation and conflict. We embrace it when our way is acceptance and curiosity; when our goal is to bring together all aspects of the person: mind/mind, mind/body and self/universe; when we know as part of our being that we are connected, to each other and this world. That knowing is the healing power of this work.

In Hakomi Experiential Therapy:

  • We build a therapist-client relationship which maximizes safety and partnership and works directly with the unconscious in cooperation with the conscious mind.
  • We work with special States of Consciousness, especially “mindfulness”, the meditative practice of studying your present moment experience without judgment or effort.
  • We pursue the way mind, body, heart and spirit weave together to form the client’s experiential world.
  • We help clients to explore and transform limiting beliefs and behavior patterns.
  • We assist clients in integrating new ways of being into the flow of their everyday lives.
  • We honor the uniqueness of every individual. You are the expert in your own personal discovery.