Peeling the Onion | The Process of Becoming
Following years of training under Fritz Perls and Ida Rolf trained Psychologist Leland Johnson Ph.D., I learned to adapt my own thinking and Jungian work with Gestalt methodology and inner dialogue. I also integrate these ideas in my work with Intentional Coaching.
Working with any divination, from chart to tarot readings is a process of “peeling the onion.” In Gestalt therapy, we call this the awareness continuum. One is always concerned about the awareness of the here and now, or at least should be. Much of our awareness is initially limited to external sensory impressions. Later, it broadens to include our internal sensibility as well. Simply becoming aware that you are aware increases your potential for greater consciousness. You are bringing to consciousness the different layers and dimensions of your process as you are delineating.
Staying in the present is very important for the client and the facilitator; it gives a wider orientation and greater freedom of choice and action. You are teaching and learning how to work with your environment by increasing your awareness to it. Many of us are boxed in by the lack of awareness both of self and external situations, and have little room by which to maneuver. As soon as the awareness increases, orientation and maneuverability also increase.
As a Gestalt counselor, we ask always the following:
“What are you doing?”
“What do you feel?”
“What do you want?”
According to Fritz Perls, these three questions can be reformulated into a statement. These questions may be frowned upon to use in training because the belief is that in order to formulate the question, the answer has to be in the unconscious or just below the awareness level). We could increase the number by two, and include these questions:
“What do you avoid?”
“What do you expect?”
All five of these supportive questions can be answered only to the degree that our own awareness makes possible. Conversely, they help us become more aware, more responsible for mustering our own forces and increase our means of self-support, which is the whole point of counseling using Gestalt techniques.
Gestalt Pillow Talk: An Innovative Way to the Hot Seat
The Gestalt Pillow Talk is an exercise guide for personal transformation from The Gestalt Adventure, copyrighted in 1978 by Leland Johnson, Ph.D. and Mary Ann Merksamer, M.A., my mentors and family for 7 years. My intention is to reproduce the most original print pamphlet verbatim with some corrections for errors in spelling or typography.
Polarities – Dialogue
The notion of dualistic polarity is as old as mans ability to conceptualize the night-day, life-death, yes-no range of possibilities and of choices. Western thought has been dominated by an attempt to conquer nature by developing a fragmented split between man and nature, good and bad, right and wrong. The frozen polarities which we have created in our rigid mind-body categories have all but crippled our capacity to appreciate ourselves as a part of nature and nature as a part of us. With the recognition of self comes the awareness of “not self. With the appreciation of beauty comes the knowledge of ugliness. With the realization of pleasure comes a taste of pain. With the yin comes the yang. When we can flow with the changing figure-ground balance of our shifting gestalts, then we can regain our “identity.” What is in the background of awareness comes to the foreground as the figure. We can learn to see who we are, not as something separate from the rest of the world or from ourselves but as a continuous synthesis of all the parts of us and others, with all of everyone and everything being the unitary whole. Dualistic rigidity occurs when we are unable to allow figure and ground to emerge spontaneously, unwilling to experience the permeability of our contact boundaries, and incapable of owning all parts of ourselves.
“Yes,” Yellow Robe agreed, “This is part of the teaching. One half of you loves, and the other half of you, at times, hates. This is the Forked Medicine Pole of Man. The clever thing the Medicine has taught us here is this: one half of you must understand the other half or you will tear yourself apart. But remember, both halves must try to understand. Even within yourself, it is hard to know which of the Forks is which.”Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm
Using the methods of gestalt, as conceived by Fritz Perls, we are able to facilitate a new integration with an appreciation for our shifting polarities and an experience of wonder, affection and joy. It is possible for us to get in touch with and bring harmony to those conflicted, fragmented parts of ourselves which drain our strengths and stifle our resources. With gestalt we can increase our awareness of what is in the now. We explore our dreams, visions, and hopes in the enactment of our ongoing dialogues between our polarities. In our gestalt dialectics we become fully aware of our total being: our bodies, gestures and feelings, as well as our intellects and fantasies.
Polarities merge, fragments blend, choices crystallize and awareness extends into our own personal gestalt. As the fragments of our dialogue become obvious, self discovery evolves out of choosing to be ourselves and touching the excitement and hope of responsibility. What is emerges out of what we are. Alive, strong, creative, real and all here.
Therefore having and not having arise together.Tao Te Ching by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English
Difficult and easy complement each other
Long and short contrast each other
High and low rest upon each other
Voice and sound harmonize each other
Front and back follow one another.
Road Map to Polarities
When people start working in gestalt, it is often difficult for them to find any polarities. To work in gestalt means to find some way to own parts of you. That is the beginning of gestalt. To own and take responsibility for all the parts of you.
Experience – Pillow Talk
On a piece of blank paper, draw a square in the middle. Number each side, following the drawing. Give yourself room to write around it.
What you do is write down position one, position two, position three, position four and then the fifth position in the center. One is your present place, two is the opposite place, three is the merging of one plus two, four is a place of transcendence, and five is integration.
This road map comes from an oriental way of looking at the world which is very much like the concept of merging polarities in gestalt, and it illustrates the way gestalt blends with Oriental thinking.
First Position – Placing Yourself
Place yourself in three ways in the first position when you come to your gestalt.
A. Now- Sense, think, feel (e.g., hard, flat, happy)
B. Traits- Unique Qualities(e.g., dependent, loving)
C. Unfinished- “I will/will not let go of _____”
The first level is the now in which you are sensing, thinking, feeling. Your senses are on a purely physical plane. Perhaps you are hard-soft, hot-cold, light-heavy, up-down, smooth-jagged, etc. If you are thinking, then you might be analyzing, judging, remembering, expecting, projecting, etc. Your feelings might be sad-happy/mad-glad. This aspect of your consciousness is the external now which means, of course, that even as you write down what you sense, think, or feel, then you will have changed. Nevertheless, you can give yourself some indication of your present awareness in the now level of your existence.
The second level of your ongoing place are those “traits” which make up your person, the unique qualities which are yours in special_combination. This aspect of your consciousness deals with the underlying attitudes you have toward yourself and the implicit or explicit judgements, positive or negative, that you have made about yourself. The way you see yourself could be as dependent, loving, controlling, allowing, intellectual, impulsive, demanding, depressed, elated, etc. Also write down those traits which you possess that may not be obvious to others. Note both the public and private qualities of your “selves” that you have acknowledged and taken responsibility for.
The third level of the first place has to do with unfinished business. The life decisions which face all of us are, if left undecided, part of the baggage that we carry around with us. Much of our work in gestalt begins with the yes-no polarity of loose ends in our life. This business that we have left hanging creates the melodrama which occupies much of our energy. The chatter in our heads rings of the “I will” and “I won’t.” “I will/won’t get married, go back to school, get a divorce, have an affair, leave my mother, quit my job, buy a new car, etc.” These are the daily decisions which we take very seriously. The tragedy, comedy, and heroics of our life are often tied up with “I will/won’t take a stand.” “I will/won’t allow myself to be close to others.” “I will/won’t let go of my greed, sadness, anger, fear,etc.” These unfinished scripts have an either/or aspect to them. Much of our being undecided in our life story has lo do with keeping ourselves in the middle with our “maybes” and our “I don’t (won’t) know.”
As you write down your unfinished’ business, give yourself the luxury of deciding, if only for a brief moment, one way or the other on the important issues in your life. This is where you come right up to the edge of making a decision, and then you will or won’t.
Second Position: The Opposite Pole
The polarity on point two is the opposite of the place you choose for yourself at point one. If at point one you were feeling happy, on the other side of that coin could be sadness. If at point one f you are feeling expectant, on the other side you might be bored. Think of all the other polarities that are especially important to you and of concern to you at this point in your life. If at point one you are definite, then at point two you could be confused. Write down the opposite for each word listed in the first position. Do this for three levels. The opposite is whatever fits for you. Usually the opposite of happy is sad, but for some the opposite of happy might be lonely.
A. NOW—sense, think, feel… (e.g., soft, round, sad, etc)
B. TRAITS—what you see in you… (e.g., independent, angry, etc)
C. UNFINISHED—I won’t/will..” (e.g., let go of my ___.”
So at one you have placed yourself, and at two you have made some indication, at least to yourself, that there is part of you that is at another extreme, on the other side of the coin. It is very important in a gestalt when you are owning or taking responsibility for the different parts of yourself that you temporarily suspend judgements. This is going to be hard for you to do. You are going to make judgements; such as the “dependent side of me is obviously inferior to my independent self… it gets me in all kinds of trouble and that independent self is the one that I side with.” Try not to make that kind of judgement about which of the polarities is “best.” If you have difficulty suspending judgements, then you might have to start on your polarity work as the “judge.” If you don’t choose sides between one or the other polarities, then you can form strong identifications with both of your polarities, just let yourself experience the two-sided coin of the polarity.
“What one says is wrong, the other says is right; and what one says is right, the other says is wrong. If the one is right while the other is wrong, and the other is right while the one is wrong, then the best thing to do is to look beyond the right and wrong.”“Chuang Tsu”, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English
Dialogue- Merging of first and second positions
Now let these two fragmented parts of you blend into an ongoing here and now dialogue. Recreate the polarity that seems to be the most important—Look through the list of your polarities right now and take the one that seems to be giving you the most visible sign of discomfort. This polarity is the one that seems hard to assimilate. You wonder, “How did I get into this ridiculous dialogue?”
Just circle the polarity on your road map that you feel is the most significant polarity to you at the moment, at this place. Write down a few of the sentences that characterize the feelings and attitudes of your polarity as they develop the dialogue with each other. This will be the polarity that is absorbing a lot of your mental and physical energy in your day-to-day existence. You might even have a sense of futile despair about ever resolving the problems created by this polarized aspect of your life. This is the emerging gestalt which spontaneously arises as the most obvious right now, even if you feel frustration and think “there’s no way to win.”
This conversation between your polarities of positions one and two will be written down now as an “I and You” talk between the two selves. Perhaps it would help you to recreate the conversation if you will give each part a name such as “Harried Harry” hassles “Calm Charlie,” or “Silly Sally” nags “Serious Charlotte.” Before you can experience yourself as whole or complete, you sometimes have to allow yourself to become the separated parts of yourself. The dialogue usually follows four levels: Accusation; Identification; Clarification; Negotiation.
The dialogue this person chose was the loving-indifferent polarity. As the intra personal encounter begins, the polarities are often locked in the deadly combat of ruthless accusations and defensive counter accusations. Each side blames the other for the pain that you feel. The next level of this back-and-forth conversation consists of a stubborn and sometimes energetic identification of the dissimilarities between the polarities. At this layer, the dialogue is characterized by an increasing disparity and a seemingly irresolvable stalemate. As the identifications crystallize, the gap between our selves becomes wider.
The third clarification layer of the dialogue slowly emerges as the tape loop in your head becomes recreated on the hot seat. The ping-pong game of self torture loses some of its zing when you force yourself to listen to the harangue out loud. Gradually the endless treadmill of building yourself up or tearing yourself down moves away from nagging to mutual understanding and trust where both “sides” begin to see and hear each other.
The following dialogue illustrates one person’s gestalt moving through the four layers of the dialogue on the way to negotiation and closure.
|Accusation||Let loose and let yourself feel.||I don’t feel anything.|
|You’re afraid to feel.||I’m not afraid. I just don’t want to put out the effort.|
|Identification||You want to be a vegetable.||NO. No—I don’t want to be like that.|
|Now you’re beginning to feel.||Yes—I feel resentful toward you.|
|That’s better than no feeling.||You’re right…I feel now.|
|Clarification||Go on, feel.||I feel hopeful.|
|Negotiation||I’m glad you’re feeling hopeful.|
|I want something from you.||O.K. ask.|
|I want you to practice feeling frequently beginning now.||Right now. I feel silly.|
|Great!||I will do what you’re asking and I’m not minding the effort.|
|Will you give any effort to being with people?||Yes, I’ll make the effort to give more openly and freely of my loving and caring as long as you stay off my back when I need to be quiet and indifferent.|
|O.K., I will give you that.||Whew. I feel lighter.|
The conversation leaves our person feeling hopeful and peaceful.
Third Position: Merging of One and Two
Now imagine that you move yourself into position three where the two parts of you merge. It is as though you are the apex of a triangle where the other two points of the triangle are the two opposing polarity points at one and two. And here you are in the middle with those two polarities merged.
Close your eyes if you want to and visualize yourself at the apex of a triangle. Have your two polarities slide into you and merge to see what you feel when that happens. Imagine yourself as one polarity, see yourself as the other polarity, and let them both slide in on you, stay with your feeling long enough to be able to give your experience a word. You could be horrified or relieved or frustrated. Once you find your word, write it down at point three.
The third position requires that you look in as an audience on your own script from a position which will find you in one of three attitudes: Arbitrating; Judging; Watching. You can begin to move back step by step from your script.
|A. Arbitrate-frustrated, hopeless, tired, relieved, compromise||As an arbitrator you will attempt to reach a compromise between your polarities. Out of frustration, hopelessness or fatigue you may try to get the polarities to listen to each other. Or you may even feel relieved that they are finally talking to each other and with this encouragement you go on to arbitrate a further reconciliation.|
|B. Judge-top dog/underdog||On the other hand, you may be taking sides when you hear your conversation out loud for the first time. As the judge you will render a decision as to which side of you is right, and in this mode you will probably punish the wayward, erring side of your polarity, judgmental self-righteousness will characterize your position. Or perhaps you will be the benevolent patriarch who offers an edict for resolution.|
|C. Watch and let yourself alone- no self help, no resolutions, no intervention, no buildup, no tear down.||The final attitude at the third position involves letting yourself alone as the witness. You avoid intervention in the process of you observing yourselves. You are not necessarily detached from yourself. You never stop being yourself. You are not, however, striving for a solution to your conflicts. You are not tearing yourself down or building yourself up. You are, in the way of the Indian, able to see Yourself as you are.|
“No. my son, there is no such thing as good and bad. This is only used by the white men to create fear among themselves… the answer to this conflict is the Give-Away. Whenever one gives from his heart, he also receives.”Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm
As you witness yourself without needing to change or manipulate yourself, then you have come to the “Give-Away” and you can receive yourself in your heart. You can give yourself grace to be yourself. You are in the present to simply experience yourself as you are, not as you should be or have to be. You are moving toward Transcendence.
Fourth Position: Transcendence
Stay with the notion of the triangle, and instead of being a part of the triangle, just come up above the triangle and look down. See your polarities, and see yourself merging from a point of transcendence.
Look down on yourself from way above. Pictorially, just draw a triangle on the page and stand over yourself and see what happens.
|A. Remember your calm center||Ask yourself, “Do I feel sad or happy, relieved to be out of it, a little scared to be away from myself that much?”|
|B. Symbolyze- sign, word, sound||Write down whatever you feel when you get up above that triangle and look down. Give your transcendent place a word. Allow yourself to transcend above the chaos of your polarities. Move into the possibility of yourself merging to go above yourself.|
This experience can strike you as being very silly, absurd, tragic, heroic, or joyful. When you transcend yourself, where do you go? Give your feeling a word; with one word, describe your whole state of being.
|C. Recognize||When you have found the word to describe your experience, close your eyes and withdraw into yourself. Repeat your word and be aware of your body so that your body can tell you where your transcendence lives within you. When you have located the part of your body and have stayed long enough in your awareness to get familiar with this place, open your eyes.|
Transcendence is a place of the heart, a place of peace much like the heart chakra.
Transcendence at place four is not the opposite of place three at the combined merger of the triangle. Four is the state you are in after you look back over your shoulder at yourself. This is the dance you do after you come out of your trance. This transcendence is the fruit of your self-conscious awareness in the now.
Up to now this exercise might have been, for you, essentially an intellectual experience. You are forming the beginning of your work in gestalt. You will be able to use gestalt technique with all of your polarities as you emerge in your relationships, your visions, your dreams, your total experience. This dialogue will go on for the rest of your life.
“…the sage does not bother with these distinctions but seeks enlightenment from heaven. So he sees “this”, but “this” is also “that”, and “that” is also “this”. “That” has elements of right and wrong, and “this” has elements of right and wrong. Does he still distinguish between “this” and “that”, or doesn’t he? When there is no more separation between “this” and “that”, it is called the still-point of Tao. At the still-point in the center of the circle one can see the infinite in all things.”“Chuang Tsu” Translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English
Don’t get discouraged. So you don’t have one merged polarity and think “No more gestalt, I’ve had my medicine for this lifetime.” Gestalt is not necessarily designed to make you feel better right off the bat. A lot of times it is valuable to stay with your hopelessness or your confusion or your ambivalence or whatever. Stay with yourself until you work all the way through it. On the way to transcendence you may have to go through the void, through the impasse.
“That is why it is said in Islam, ‘Die before you die.’ We have to learn to die to each moment; and as we die in love so we are reformed in love.”
“It needs great courage to die each moment. But until you can truly surrender you are not yet a salik, a traveller on the way. A salik is one who has found himself. And when he knows himself he knows the truth, and knows what needs to be done.”
Hamid in “The last Barrier” by Reshad Field
Love yourself and remember that you are perfect. That allows you to say “I don’t have to be perfect. I am perfectly human, humanly perfect.” Then you are able to recognize others… love everything and everyone—sharing.
Many times the spot you pick as a place of transcendence will correspond to the chakra points. These points are centers where the nerve plexi enervate emotional responsiveness. “Where did you find your spot of transcendence?”, we ask our students, who answer, “In my belly, abdomen, forehead, wrist, genitals, top of my head, back of my spine, etc. etc.” Once you have identified the physical spot within you where you feel transcendent, then you know that you can always find yourself. Whenever you feel off balance, you can return to your center.
Fifth Position: Integration
Now, can you come back out of your thinking for a minute and experience your physical body, your sensations and your feelings. The work of gestalt is much more than the intellectual understanding. With this exploratory experience of the pillow talk you are able to place yourself in perspective, to see, taste, touch and smell some of the polarities you might be working on. The work of gestalt starts now.
Go to one, and if you want to, close your eyes. What are the lines that you want to say at point one? “When I am a coward…,” if that is one your polarities …”I am a … I see myself trembling, I experience myself as not wanting to take very many risks. I feel anxious a lot of the time, I keep myself withdrawn from experiences of others”—Write this down—a little bit of your script in the here and now. Use the first person. “I, I’m, I feel, I think, I want—I’m a coward. I feel nervous, worried. I think that nothing is ever going to work out, and I want to curl up and go to sleep” is an example of the script that you might use as a coward. It will help if you could just write down “I think, I feel, I want”, and your script to complete these sentences
“Having transcended all life, he began to achieve the clear vision of dawn. Having achieved the clear vision of dawn, he began to see the One. Having seen the One, he began to transcend the distinction of past and present, he began to enter the land where there is no life or death, where killing does not take away life and giving birth does not add to it. He would reject nothing, welcomed all things, negated all things, and affirmed all things. This is called tranquillity in struggle, meaning perfection is the result of struggle.”“Chuang Tsu” Translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English
At this place of closure and integration everything you are is operating spontaneously. There are no stops and no starts. No trouble shifting gears. Put down a few words to describe how you feel this place- You are taking time to write, and this is a good device for getting clear with yourself. Your polarities will emerge if you have got your script sketched, and then you will move into a spontaneous experience as the dialogue within you unfolds.
Now move over to the opposite of the polarity, to the other side of the coin. And when you are at point two in that polarity, what is your script over there? “I think, I feel, I want.” This is the I-You dialogue and the sentences run on. You are now into a dialogue which begins with you, all of you. The process of merging the two polarities comes from the dialogue you have between the two of them. Do you have a feeling for yourself?
Move to three with your script and end at four.
What was your word at point four?
Who are you?
Give yourself freedom to be you.
The Paradox of Being: In and Out of Ourselves
In gestalt we are creating a situation in which the person is able to explore the split within himself. This dialogue of division can also be experienced in your body as a right-left split or top-bottom half conflict. As each polarity speaks its piece, the possibility for resolution is increased. As the internal mental and physical dialogues are re-enacted, then we are able to let go of the unfinished business of unfulfilled daydreams and futile speculations. We are able to recognize that we have created frozen polarities as a way of maintaining the status quo of what we think “should” happen. As we are able to identify with both “Sides” of our self, then we come to see the absurdity of splitting ourselves. The polarity dialogue helps us realize that our ego is not a separate entity maintained by one-sided judgements (e.g., it’s better to be loving than impatient) and at the expense of our unified self (capable of both love and impatience).
The gestalt dialogue with the empty pillow/chair is much like Plato’s idea of the cave and the shadow. We all cast ourselves on the wall from the fire in the middle of our ego. Moreno, Berne and Peris have all adapted the notion of the empty chair to be used in the therapeutic quest. We can hope to balance ourselves only when we are able to bring our full awareness to the shadows we cast on the wall and the one-sided images we have created with our one-sided view of the rightness and wrongness of our personality traits.
The organic process of self discovery comes only when we can live freely with the paradox of determinism and free will. The business of gestalt is to use the awareness of self in the service of letting go of the need for your selves as separate from you. You can learn to shuttle in between yourself and out of yourself with ease by using the two empty pillows as a mirror for each other. As your reflections across the pillows become complementary instead of antagonistic, then you can more easily appreciate the unity of the first and second positions of the road map. If you doggedly cling to one side or the other and deny that you have a choice, then you cling to determinism. If you exercise your moment to moment choices to move freely from one to two to three, four or five and back again, then you affirm free will. One important step to gestalt work is to work through the paradox of being both parts of yourself simultaneously but separately, (e.g., at your work you are loving, but at home you are impatient). This juggling game is the source of much discomfort to many people. This is called “living with” inconsistent nature. As a temporary measure it is necessary to give equal time to the loving side and the impatient side, but this is not the end of the work. As you move into the fifth position on the gestalt road map, you are able to render the paradox of dualities meaningless by being both loving and impatient. Later on, you are just loving or just impatient as you can be in this process of paradoxical resolutions.
The five stages of resolving paradoxical duality
NEITHER HERE NOR THERE
|Deny||Who, me impatient? No, I’m always loving.|
|Shuttle||I can be loving at work and impatient at home.|
|Simultaneous||I can be both. Like a game.|
BOTH HERE AND THERE
|I am both||There is just loving and just impatience.|
Later on as we do more of our gestalt dialogues, we can allow more room for just living our lives instead of trying to program the resolution of dualities. Later on, you can let go of watching yourself, let go and realize you simply are. Here, there and everywhere.
A genuine contract between the opposing polarities will usually result in a lessening of crippling indecision, righteous prejudice, and internal struggles. The person whose dialogues have begun to merge can experience seemingly incompatible qualities such as love, impatience, fear and joy, all at the same time or in the same situation without being “stuck” at any one point. (The love within a person can be in the foreground as figure, and impatience can be as ground all at the same time.) The synthesis of these polarities will result in a profound sense of being whole.
Experiences in this section
You begin to remember your wholeness with:
- Pillow Talk Polarities
- Dialogue: four levels
- Merging the three levels