Nondualism in the Clinic: Can Psychotherapy Help Two People Find the One Reality?

Page 3 of 3 pages < 1 2 3 - Full Article

Clinically, a host of therapeutic interventions build on the awareness/love equation, attesting to the essential role awareness and love play in the therapeutic process. In one guise or another, many of these appear in “The Sacred Mirror”. Interventions of this nature, which are common in clinical practice, are generally referred to as supportive technique, whereby the sense of us can be specifically engaged therapeutically. Examples include: accurate empathy and unconditional positive regard, mirroring and empathic immersion, focusing, communicative attunement, sensitivity to the intersubjective field, empathic resonance, gestalt awareness, and mindfulness. In fact, mindfulness could be thought of as the appropriate rubric for all of these approaches to developing awareness, which is no doubt why mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular as an intervention in clinical practice. Indeed, the infrequent references to mindfulness in “The Sacred Mirror” constitute a notable absence in the book.

Even so, “The Sacred Mirror” places an inordinate emphasis on awareness, either in the sense of concentrated, focused awareness (i.e., attention), or a more diffused, merely observing state referred to as “witness consciousness”. Leaving aside the authors’ likely confusions about the latter (most of what is described as witness consciousness seems much like the state of an intelligent and alert but nonetheless egoically identified observer), tt at no point does “The Sacred Mirror” come right out and state that love is the healing principle—or explain how love is directly related to awareness. “The Sacred Mirror” engages in a secondary focus that values a vague affective orientation on the part of the client, generally referred to by the following array of desirable attributes: equanimity, peacefulness, kindness, compassion, empathy, and occasionally even self-esteem. Perhaps the taboo in our culture and professional psychology against the appearance of love in therapy has made doing so too controversial for the contributors of this anthology.

In nondualism, the presumption of being a separate self not only misguided, it is impediment to love and happiness. In David Loy’s words: “[T]he nondualistic systems also agree that our usual sense of duality—the sense of separation (hence alienation) between myself and the world ‘I’ am ‘in’—is the root delusion that needs to be overcome.” Yet some contributors to “The Sacred Mirror” assume that this is a reductive, even anti-human view. For example, in her chapter, “Dancing with Form and Emptiness in Intimate Relationship”, Jennifer Welwood argues:

Love does indeed come from beyond us, from pure being, from the absolute source that shines through us and those we love. And the essence of love does involve a dissolving of the boundaries of separation. Yet, defining love purely as a mutual recognition of transpersonal being is incomplete and unsatisfying in human terms . . .. Nondual teachings that mainly emphasize the illusory quality of human experience can, unfortunately, serve as just another dehumanizing force in a world where our basic humanity is already under siege at every turn.

Unfortunately, this way of understanding nondualism takes away the very essence of what is it is to be nondual. Speaking equivocally about the separate self only undermines the ability to address its limitations. Yet, it is understandable how this objection might occur. Attaching meaning to experience is usually thought to be extremely important for human beings, perhaps even our most crucial enterprise. Nonetheless, it is precisely by putting our egoic humanity to the test, indeed, by ultimately transcending it, that the reality of nondualism can make its incontrovertible appearance—and, in doing so, replace our egoic complications with the divine healing properties of awareness and love.

In conventional approaches to psychotherapy, it is often thought that the objects or conditions of one’s love are the source of happiness. As the famed nondualist spiritual master Adi Da Samraj argues, however, being in possession of the objects of your love is not the source of happiness. Love, rather, requires a far more significant gesture of submission: we are obliged to give love—regardless of what happens as a result. Knowing this out front puts us in position of learning the essential lesson of life—which is not merely to be loved, or even to be loving toward this or that other, but to be unqualified love itself.

Ordinary clinical interventions attempt to improve our capacity to adapt to the conditions of ordinary life, but that does not put people directly in touch with the very source of love. Even spiritual orientations can confuse the issue. Simply put, there is an intimate—indeed, a nondual—relationship between awareness and love. The two are inseparable. They are born in us together when self and other truly yield to the greater Love.

In the words of Swami Vivekananda:

This mighty attraction in the direction of God makes all other attractions vanish for him; this mighty, infinite love of God which enters his heart with the divine waters of the Ocean of Love, which is God Himself; there is no place there for little loves . . .. He sees no distinctions; the mighty Ocean of Love has entered into him, and he sees not man in man, but beholds his Beloved everywhere . . .

Obviously, this represents a high standard for clinical practice! Indeed, it could be said that nondual psychotherapy is not really about being better adjusted or espousing a better social ideal—even if for the admittedly useful purpose of getting confused and willful people to behave better. Rather, the purpose of nondual psychotherapy is actually this: enlightenment. Certainly, such is the case for the spiritual traditions from which nondual doctrines are culled. It remains a very open question whether or not any therapeutic measures can measure up to this ultimate task.

Of course, it is perhaps not surprising that “The Sacred Mirror” should be reluctant to address such issues head-on. To date, nondual practices such as mindfulness have to be sanitized of any improper alliances with love, much less spiritual submission to be accepted into clinical practice. Nevertheless, to honor the nondual spiritual traditions from which such practices originate, both love and spirit must surely play as large a role in treatment as any other intervention. In so doing, therapy can perhaps further expand itself across the soul’s continuum. It should be enough for now to ask for the intimacy of a holism brave enough to kneel before the ultimacy of non-dualism, something “The Sacred Mirror” amply delivers.

D. B. Sleeth received an MA in humanistic and transpersonal psychology from Sonoma State University, an MA in counseling psychology from Argosy Graduate School in San Francisco, and a PhD in clinical psychology from Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco. He currently practices family therapy with disadvantaged youth and young adults in Northern California. D.B. Sleeth lives with his wife of 11 years, both of whom are active members of Adidam, the spiritual community of the nondual spiritual master, Avatar Adi Da Samraj.

More about D.B. Sleeth

Page 3 of 3 pages < 1 2 3 - Full Article





Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:

© Dharma Cafe'   |  RSS Site   |   Top of page