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Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

The wisdom of focusing on the Self: - some reflections on the


Reflective Practitioner
Peter Creagh: counsellor, trainer and supervisor in private practice
She who knows others is clever. She who knows themselves is brilliant
Taoist Saying( Pas,2000)

This article reflects some aspects of the journey I have undertaken over the past thirty
years and outlines how Reflective practice (RP) informs my practice as a counsellor,
trainer and supervisor. It draws on my experiences of theory, practice, and awareness of
self and others and from ideas and practices from both Eastern and Western cultures. In
short it is an attempt to present not so much a theoretical view, but more a personal
experiential view of the importance of reflective practice. It includes story, the use of
metaphors, similes and analogies, personal experiences and share aspects of experiential
learning which has helped me to grasp the nebulous cloud that is reflective practice.
But what is reflective practice? Of necessity this has to be a personal perspective. Partly
because the official website of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
(BACP) contains reference to very few articles that directly address this issue and many
articles seem to be based on theory rather than experiential practice.. This may indicate
both the difficulty of expressing reflective practice and also that there are probably as
many answers to the question as there are reflective practitioners. Consequently, my
reflections are informed by my own unique journey and also by my training and practice in
person-centered, experiential and transpersonal therapies.
One of the missing elements in todays society is that we have lost sight of the importance
and wisdom of a story. An importance that was, until relatively recently, part of my Celtic
upbringing. John ODonohue (1997) in his excellent and widely acclaimed review of Celtic
Wisdom charts a journey of inner realization that shows how Celtic philosophy and
spirituality was not only holistic but also has parallels to those of eastern philosophies,
particularly Hinduism and Buddhism. In most of the ancient cultures, wisdom and
understanding of the human condition were explored and passed down through the
medium of story. I would argue that our ancestors view of the human condition was not
really lost but merely mislaid and that modern psychology has merely rediscovered and
used new language to express the elements of what it means to be human and thus
express what was implicitly already known.
The following two stories are intended to illustrate some of my previous points and
particularly my ways of reflection and teaching. They briefly outline and explore some of
the philosophical and spiritual roots of my understanding of the human condition and of
reflective practice. . The first is taken from the Hindu Tradition and demonstrates how the
Master teaches the disciples. It is important to note that in the Hindu Tradition, each
individual disciple follows a Master and that the Master teaches both by example and in
meetings (Satsang) where the teaching is often through the medium of stories.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

Story 1 :- Each day the Master would meet with his disciples and from his inner wisdom
tell stories and parables. His disciples would listen attentively with a mixture of pleasure,
puzzlement and occasional frustration. Many of them longed for something much deeper
and more easily understood. Yet, when they expressed their frustration, the Master was
unmoved and merely replied. My dear brothers and sisters, you have yet to realize that
the shortest distance between you and Truth is a story. When his disciples protested
about the simplicity of his answer and asked for further clarification, he replied. Do not
despise a story. A lost gold coin is often found by means of a penny candle; the deepest
truth is found by means of a simple story.
The Masters wisdom, shared by many of the great teachers and with most of the
Aboriginal peoples, teaches that the truth to be explored and understood is us and that
ultimately this is the most important exploration and story. But how can we begin this
process? One way of answering this question, which resonates in my felt sense, see
Gendlin (2003, p32), may be seen from the second story. It comes from the great Sufi
Tradition, a mystical branch of Islam, and concerns Mullah Nasruddin a wise fool whose
teachings are delivered through seemingly silly stories or incidents.
Story 2 One night the villagers were woken by the sound of muttering and scuffling in the
village square. On looking out they saw Nasruddin frantically searching on his hands and
knees under the light of a lantern in the middle of the square. The concerned neighbours
came out and asked him what he was looking for. Nasruddin replied I am looking for my
house keys. And so, the neighbours began to assist in the search for the lost keys. After a
hopeless but thorough search lasting about ten minutes, one of the neighbours asked
Where do you think you lost your keys? Nasruddin replied over there and pointed
towards the dimly lit edge of the square and his own house. Then why , asked the
exasperated and puzzled neighbour, are we looking here! Well , replied the equally
puzzled Nasruddin is it not obvious? This is where the light is!
Nasruddins wisdom demonstrates his understanding that to find something that is lost it is
best to search where there is light. Paradoxically, the story also illustrates the simple truth
that very often the light does not shine on the place where that which is lost can be found.
This parallels our experience when we strive to explore and to find that inner truth which
is often only dimly perceived. Arguably this dim perception could be likened to what
Mearns and Thorne (2000) refer to as edge of awareness. Merry ( 2003) , commenting on
this , suggests that these edge of awareness experiences may be dimly perceived and
are a source of anxiety, but the individual will not be aware of the source of that anxiety .
Whereas, Gendlin (1984) equates edge of awareness with what he calls a felt sense and
this forms part of his understanding of the importance of focusing.
Returning to Merrys comments, I find that it is possible to access and to be present to
some of these moments of anxiety. Sometimes by accident and at other times using
techniques that assist in bringing them into awareness. Although such times are often
challenging, they present opportunities for growth. This requires both courage and a
willingness to face these edges of awareness and in this we are aided by a source of
reflected light and the deep realization that this source lies deep within. For me, this is
another analogy for what is the process RP. But perhaps we need to address the term
reflection and what it means .
Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

REFLECTION AND THINKING


One difficulty I once had was grasping a clear idea of the difference between reflection and
thinking. This was due to cultural influences and to the prevalent ideas on what is real
education and learning . In most of the West, thinking is encouraged and our busy and
often frenetic lifestyles prevent us from reflecting. It often blurs the distinction between
reflection and thinking. Yet this was not always so, particularly up to early part of the 1st
millennium of the common era.
In Celtic culture there has always been a sense of the difference and one that is not unlike
the distinction found in Hinduism and Buddhism. In ODonohue (1997, ps 83-84), there is
an important passage on the senses. He suggests that it is far more creative to work with
the idea of mindfulness than with the idea of will. He goes on to reflect on how in the
West we use our intellect (mainly thinking) to inform our will and thus hammer our lives
into shape. He contrasts this with the Celtic notion, shared by the East, of working with a
different rhythm. Rhythms that can lead us back to the natural home of our self. He
concludes that this rhythm is best found by using our senses as generous pathways to
find our home. Many may find this either too poetic or perhaps even confusing. However, I
find that these ideas share their roots in Eastern philosophies and, partly, in the concept of
focusing. In addition, both Eastern and Western Esoteric movements offer us a variety of
Awareness or Mindful Practices, many of which are focused on using one ore# more of the
senses. But perhaps an easier way to distinguish between reflection and thinking is to be
found in the following simple story. This is a story I have personally seen demonstrated.
Reflection and Thinking - A short story.
A Master was once asked by an eager
disciple to expound on what was the difference between reflection and thinking. In reply,
he gathered his disciples around a large bowl and advised them to centre themselves and
prepare to watch.. He then told one of his disciples empty a very large jar of water in a
steady stream into the bowl and asked them all to observe what they saw. When he
questioned them they all commented on the fact that, during the pouring of the water, the
ripples in the bowl caused their images to be distorted. 'Good, good,' he said and then
asked them all to sit still for a while doing nothing. After a short while, he then suggested
they return to the bowl and observe what the saw. On asking the disciples they all replied
we saw our images clearly. The Master quietly said You can now clearly see the
difference; thinking can cause distortion but reflection gives a much better and truer
image.
So reflection is a further stage on from thinking. It may involve some aspects of the latter
but it is somehow more than this. It utilises other aspects of what it means to be human
and one of these is our senses. It is also aided by stillness. In short it is a holistic
experience. The great Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh has this wonderful saying. Sitting
still doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows. In many ways, reflection is just
that. It springs like the grass from the silence of allowing the fruits of thoughts, emotions,
intellect, spirit, experiences and life to grow into the reflections that can meaningfully
inform our life and particularly our reflective practice.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

Before looking at other aspects of eastern approaches, their contribution towards RP and
one or two strategies that can aid our reflections, it might help if we initially go with the flow
that suits many of us in this culture and briefly explore some aspects psychological
theories. I intend to focus mainly on humanistic, experiential and trans-personal personcentred approaches. We will then explore a model that could inform our reflective
practice..
SOME ASPECTS OF REFLECTIVE PRACTICE AND THERAPEUTIC THEORIES
In the past thirty to forty years professionals in education, health, social services and
latterly counselling and psychotherapy have begun to recognize the importance of
reflective practice. In western societies, this is more advanced in the fields of education
and health. However, in eastern societies this has been an almost unbroken line going
back several millennia. Therefore, we in the West have much to learn from the East. What
can be reasonably assumed is that most professions stress the need for providing a basis
for reflective practice both in formal professional training and in on-going continuing
professional development (CPD). Much of this is rooted in two areas. These are the
encouragement of undertaking some focused personal development and developing the
awareness of self and others. In addition, practitioners are encouraged to undertake
regular updating on advances in theory, research and practice. All of this learning is then
taken back into the work with clients.
In counselling and psychotherapy this basis for reflective practice is rooted in all of the
preceding elements. In the UK, sources such as Dryden & Thorne (1991), Dryden et al
(1995) and Mearns (1997) stress the importance both in advanced training and on-going
practice for considerable amounts of personal development and inter- personal skills
training. Mearns (1997) devotes separate chapters (7 and 8) to these twin elements. In
common with almost all professional training, the demands and stresses of selfdevelopment and awareness are time, emotions, physical, psychological and financial
pressures. I, like many of my fellow professionals, continue to have periods of stress and
anxiety as I face the requirements and demands of remaining up to date with changes in
theory, research, and development of skills, self-awareness and actual practice with
clients.
The remainder of this paper will try to tease out some of these demands and their effect
on reflective practice. But first I share with you something I have found to be a sound piece
of advice. It is a constant and gentle reminder to be patient with self and comes from
Scott-Peck (1983 p285) Greater awareness does not come in a single blinding flash of
enlightenment. It comes slowly, piece by piece, and each piece must be worked for by the
patient effort of study and observation of everything, including ourselves Peck is a wise
and insightful guide whose advise requires serious reflection.
All Professional Training, and particularly for therapists, is designed to assist participants
to develop the awareness alluded to by Scott Peck. It does so in all the following areas;
the Practice of Counselling/Therapy Skills, knowledge and understanding of Therapeutic
Theories and actual Professional Practice including professional and ethical issues.
Obviously the level and duration of the training will decide the amount and depth of each of
the three areas.
Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy in its accreditation criteria
outlines several criteria for this training. One of these is a requirement for a minimum of
450 hours of training. This has a balanced mixture of theory, skills and personal
development. In addition, it requires an additional 450 hours of supervised practice over a
period of up to 5 years. These figures give an indication of the importance of Personal
Development as an integral part of any training and its connection with the three areas of
theory, skills/awareness and practice. To assist in their Personal Development, trainees
are encouraged to develop the tendency to be reflective. This may be achieved in a variety
of ways such as, Journals, assignments, seminars, research, reading, supervision and a
variety of other more personal strategies like reflection, inner listening and focusing.
McMahon (1999), in two articles in the BACP Journal, provides a useful overview of RP
and the various strategies that can assist practitioners. Some of her points are similar to
those outlined in the preceding sections. In addition, she addresses some effects of culture
and the therapists theoretical approach, particularly those in the cognitive- behavioural
school. Her focus is mainly on some external aspects such as, supervision, client
feedback, case notes and studies and on-going CPD. Undoubtedly these are important but
my experience indicates that of equal importance, and arguably more so, is the part played
by self awareness and inner reflection. Before considering some aspects and strategies
that could usefully guide this inner reflection, a Reflective Practice Model is offered as a
possible means of integrating McMahons points and those covered in this short paper.
A simple truth for me and one I often share with clients and trainees is that models are
useful guides for the wise but painful straitjackets for the unwise However, our western
culture places a strong emphasis on the use of models, and certainly there are numerous
models of counselling! Consequently, it is wise to recognize that both culturally and by
personality; many find that models are useful methods of expressing complicated and
deep concepts. It is that spirit that the following model is offered as a guide to demonstrate
how on-going professional development could guide the reflective practice.
Before outlining a proposed model for RP, I want to pause and briefly explore the word
'truth'
FOUR ESSENTIAL TRUTHS FOUR COMPLEMENTARY CHOICES
The following are four essential truths, with consequential choices, which most of the
mystical or esoteric traditions contend are basic to what it is/means to be human. The
attachment referred to is not the same as the 'attachment' dealt with by Bowlby's
Attachment Theory.
1.
Attachment versus Happiness Our first challenge/ task is to recognise this
essential truth. That as long as I am attached to personal or material things I can never be
truly happy. I will always have an element of anxiety and worry.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

2.
Inherent or Borrowed Our second truth and choice is to realise that this
tendency to be attached is NOT natural. We were NOT born with it. It is a product of our
society, our culture, our religion etc. Of course, as a child., we have a need for protection
and therefore are dependent upon adults for this ( Attachment Theory allied to recent
neuroscience has much to contribute). But to retain this is adult life leads to undue
dependency and attachment to the personal and material.
3. Develop Perspective To be truly alive and happy I need to develop a perspective. I
need to learn how to detach myself ( not physically but in consciousness and awareness)
both from others, from things, situations and even my self
4.
The Source of Happiness and Joy.
There is a difference between happiness
and joy. Joy has a deeper source. Very often when we say we are happy it has an
element of and external locus of evaluation i.e. it comes from people and things and
situations external to us. Whereas joy is a happiness that comes from within and this has
an internal locus of evaluation and source. Being fully aware of this distinction can help us
to realise that nobody else can MAKE YOU happy or unhappy. It is YOUR choice.
Now to return to the proposed model of Reflective Practice which is shown below
.
Theories

Research

Practice

Awareness

Client Feedback etc

A PROPOSED REFLECTIVE PRACTITIONER CYCLE

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

Stage 1:- The first stage, is where we experience things in a variety of ways both in our
training and professional practice and in everyday life. Examples of these experiences are
found in training, where formal presentations, skills practice, reading , research etc play
their part and in outside activities such as, other reading, experiences of using skills in
Practice, in everyday inter- personal relationships and supervision.
Stage 2 :- The next stage is where all the above experiences, and any lessons learned,
inform any response or plan we might make. This may be to record them in a Journal or
Assignment and/or put them into practice with clients and others. This could involve,
research, reading, personal therapy, supervision, discussion, notes etc.
Stage 3:- The third stage is when we put the response into practice both by reflecting on
the issues and then by changing or amending our practice. This reflection will note what is
good, what requires amending and, where applicable, using reference sources e.g. articles
in Journals, Magazines, books, video, internet etc. We could then make changes so as to
guide our on-going practice.
Stage 4:- Finally, we reflect on all the previous stages often by recording it in a Personal
Journal/Diary, discussion with colleagues and in Supervision. We then receive feedback,
from self and others and thus re-enter the reflective cycle.
SOME CONTRIBUTIONS OF EASTERN PHILOSOPHIES
Western cultures and philosophies have and continue to make an important and valuable
contribution to the totality of human knowledge. This is particularly Their influence on the
theories and practice of psychotherapy and counselling is enormous. Eastern cultures and
philosophy, particularly those of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, make a similar
contribution. Arguably in the West, we have either failed to recognise this mutuality or we
have been a little arrogant about our contributions. Increasingly, in the global village and
multi-cultural society that we now live in, we are being challenged to engage in meaningful
dialogue. Guided and aided by my spiritual guide and Mentor for over 20 years, Ishpriya
Mataji, a psychologist and sannyasi, I have found from my own experiences that such
dialogue can provide wonderful opportunities for growth.
In recent years the literature in psychology has begun to reflect this growing dialogue. An
excellent compilation is edited by Young-Eisentrath & Muramoto (2002). This explores
aspects of Buddhism and Psychotherapy, particularly Jungian Psychoanalysis. It has
contributions from practitioners in both the East and West. Many advice us to beware of
any tendency to over-simplify or too readily accept apparent areas of agreement but also
conclude that there is much we can exchange to our mutual benefit. In the past we in the
West have failed to recognise some of the fundamental differences between our own and
Eastern Philosophies. In addition, we have often lifted ideas and strategies, sometimes
without proper attribution, and applied them to Western settings and cultures often with
minimal reflection. In short, we have often failed to be guided by the old adage dont
mistake the violin for the music. Ignorance of this adage can cause misconceptions.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

A misconception I once held, and one I encounter in my sharing with others, is the
confusion that surrounds Eastern ideas such as Yoga and Meditation. I am grateful to the
past and on-going teaching of Ishpriya Mataji in this regard. For many in the West, Yoga
is often presented as merely a collection of asanas ( yogic postures). In reality it is a
complex and holistic approach to the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of life.
One school or branch of Yoga is Ashtanga , which roughly translates 8 limbs . It outlines
has eight different types or paths of practices, one of which is asana. Ultimately, all yoga
has a spiritual purpose and is intended to assist devotees in realising ultimate life.
Another misconception is the failure to understand the difference between meditation
practice and meditation. This is very common in western society. The former has many
methods and some examples are: sitting in a particular posture, breath awareness,
pranayama i.e the control of breath, focusing on an image, Zen walking and swirling
dancing. All these are practices that precede the actual experience of meditation, which
is beyond all senses, thoughts, ideas etc. These are important points to reflect on. They
caution us against an over -simplified view and the consequent misunderstanding of
Eastern philosophies and practices and their application and integration into our practice.
Perhaps we could all benefit from a healthy dose of humility in much of our work and in our
dialogue with other cultures. I have found this to be of great benefit to my RP and it has
assisted me in both understanding my own roots and culture and then reaching out and
engaging in sensitive and culturally aware dialogue with colleagues and clients whose
roots are different from mine.
SOME USEFUL STRATEGIES THAT AID REFLECTIVE PRACTICE
The following is a paraphrase of a story recounted by John O Donohue (1997). It
addresses the power of gazing.
A journalist friend once asked to interview a Native American Chief. The chief agreed on
the understanding that they could meet up beforehand. The journalist readily consented,
thinking it would be a preliminary meeting to discuss the areas for the actual interview. The
two met and the Chief sat in silence and gazed into the journalists eyes. This made the
journalist uneasy but slowly he began to return the gaze. The two sat like this for two hours
after which they both felt that they really knew the other and that there was no further
need for an interview.
This demonstrates the power of looking not just with the eyes but with the whole self.
I have found this to be useful in my practice, not only with clients but with myself. A
practice I use is to sit quietly before a mirror and to gaze into my own reflection, at first I
found this slightly awkward but persistence paid off. It has often assisted in reaching my
felt sense and providing genuine insights. I normally end the practice by giving myself a
thumbs up. I refer to this as my thumbs up therapy session! I have used this exercise
successfully with trainees and clients and found it personally helpful.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

I find a quotation (source unknown) from Lao Tse a Taoist Master very helpful. It
demonstrates some of the deep qualities of listening.
It was as though He listened and such listening as His enfolds us in silence in which we
begin to hear what we are meant to be.
This quality of listening is difficult, if nigh impossible. However, if I attempt to sit in a clear
space and listen to myself, to my body, psyche and spirit, then very often the reflections I
perceive, and often record in my journal, are of great assistance to me in both my life and
practice.
Perhaps the following story may assist in approaching and understanding inner listening.
A friend of mine has a son called Arun , whose name means bright dawn .He certainly
brings a light into his parents and my life! This story concerns Arun when he was four
years old. He was and is a very intelligent, curious and delightful young person, who is
capable of understanding seemingly complex issues.
Arun was travelling home from Playschool with his father Robert. They were in the car
and Robert, who likes music, was listening to the car radio. Suddenly, from the back of the
car Arun asked Daddy, where does the music come from. Robert, who was feeling tired
and harassed from his work as a Social Worker, tried his patient best to remain an
interested and educative parent! So he replied. It comes from the Radio Arun. He then
proceeded to give Arun a technical description of Radio Stations, transmitters, airwaves,
receivers and finally the radio and its loudspeakers. There was total silence and they
returned home. Later on that evening Robert was bathing Arun, who stopped playing and
looked thoughtful. Then, almost out of nowhere, Arun asked Daddy, where does the music
really come from? In a flash of insight Robert knew that his previous explanation was
unsatisfactory. He pointed to his heart and said the music comes from hear inside me
and, pointing at Aruns heart, also from inside you. The response was immediate. Ahah,
said Arun and returned to playing happily in the bath.
When I heard this story from Robert I was deeply moved. I realised that a young child had
the inherent ability and awareness not to mistake the violin for the music. It has taken me
many, many years in adult life to even begin this process and to reach this clear level of
perception and awareness. Hopefully Arun will always retain that ability for inner listening
and certainly Roberts flash of insight was an example of this. Hopefully we too will re-learn
the lesson that Arun already knows.
AWARENESS MINDFULNESS AND FOCUSING
One of the most important Eastern contributions, both to the spiritual path and to
psychoanalysis, is that of mindfulness, the word used in Hinduism is awareness. In the
Celtic Tradition, this practice or ability is called present to the presence Mindfulness
also has some association with Gendlins concept of focusing. But what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, or to put it more correctly right mindfulness, is one of the eight limbs of the
right path in Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh (1998 p64) stresses that this is one of the most
important paths and notes that Buddhist psychology stresses that we are always giving
our attention to something.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

In Eastern teachings the mind is likened to a chattering monkey that is always jumping
around and very difficult to control. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that mindfulness is the
practice of giving our attention to the present moment thus giving us the opportunity to
have right thoughts and right actions. In this way we are always present to what is going
on in our body, psyche and spirit. His earlier work (1987) is devoted entirely to the
practice of awareness and is considered by many to be a classic in this field.
Van Waning (2002, p100) in her contribution to the exploration of Buddhism and
Psychotherapy, examines the concept of mindfulness and concludes that this is a very
important contribution in that it offers the vital practices of attention, concentration
,awareness in the challenge of being awake and unprejudiced right here for both the
other and yourself.
Mindfulness is not only an Eastern concept but one that has always been present amongst
the mystics in western societies. Ishpriya Mataji once shared these words of Meister
Eckhart, a medieval German Pastor, concerning wisdom. They strongly reflect the ethos
and practice of mindfulness spoken of in the East. Eckhart said Wisdom consists in doing
the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it
This advice needs to be based on the understanding that wisdom, like mindfulness or
attentive awareness, is considered to be at the centre of the spiritual quest. It provides a
wonderful basis on which to build life and is an excellent aid to good practice and good
reflection. It speaks of that presence to the present which is certainly a powerful
component of any therapeutic relationship. But how can mindfulness be achieved?
One way of beginning this process was conveyed to me during a conference with Ishpriya
Mataji. She reminded us to beware of the almost universal tendency to hurry, to get on
with the pressures and endless deadlines of the modern world. These are counterproductive of any attempts to develop a truly reflective practice. These words of Ishpriya
Mataji reflect an important aspect of the practice of focusing and awareness. It is
important to slow down the physical if one wants the psychological and spiritual to do
likewise
There are many ways of achieving this slowing down which is the initial and important
prelude to developing mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh exhorts disciples to take delight and
be mindful in the everyday events such as, drinking a cup of coffee or peeling an orange.
Two common methods of developing the practice are the awareness (the watching) of
breathing and the inward repetition a mantra for a period. Both assist in being present to
the present moment. I find breath awareness and the practice of Zen walking a form of
meditative and very slow walking- to be most beneficial. All these practices begin to slow
down both physical and psychological and assist us to learn the value and wisdom of
being more present to ourselves. Then from that firm basis of awareness we can become
more present to others. This is a sound basis for building up and improving our reflective
practice.
Before looking at further aspects on Focusing and Mindfulness, it is important to pause
and reflect on the importance of Breath Awareness and an important 'bridge' or 'door'
between the Outer and Inner World

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

BREATH AWARENESS: - A Secure Base - Some Helpful Points


Personal Growth and development is often compared to a journey with signposts or base
camps on the way. Robert Carkhuff, a renowned psychologist and expert in human
growth, refers to these as a secure base and suggests that we need to base ourselves at
a succession of secure bases as we progress on our journey. In Trans-personal and
Eastern approaches to psychology, the most frequently recommended secure base is the
practice of breath awareness. It is recommended not only as a valuable practice in itself,
but also as a starting point for focusing , awareness and mindfulness practice , yoga
asanas, relaxation techniques and meditation.
The esteemed Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh compares breath to a bridge that
connects life to the consciousness. He suggests that this is a bridge that also unites the
body with our thoughts. Thus awareness and control of breathing is an essential bridge or
gateway into the practice of both mindfulness and focusing.
Therefore, in developing the awareness, confidence and ability to find a secure base is
important that we begin to explore and master the universally recommended method of
breath awareness. This is both the most natural and best approach. However, we need to
be aware of some aids and stumbling blocks towards developing a reliable and
comfortable practice of breath awareness.
Aids towards Developing Breath Awareness.
The following are some well tried and tested aids to developing the practice of breath
awareness. Further exercises will be suggested which will assist in the practice.
1.

Initially we need to avoid setting out to do anything but merely to observe our
breath. Breathing is an unaware function of life. The average person breathes up
to 30,000 times per day or over 12.5 million times per year! So what could be
more natural?

2.

As breathing is so natural it is not controlled by our normal consciousness and


therefore it bypasses much of our cognitive and affective controls

3.

There is a wealth of research to demonstrate the physical and psychological


benefits of developing a good breathing rhythm and ultimately the ability to both
be aware of and to control breath.

4.

Initially, as with any practice, it requires discipline and dedication. However, it


will bring benefits if you relax into it with NO goal in mind. Just, relax, enjoy
and feel the benefits of good breath awareness.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

5.

To aid our awareness of breathing it can help if we focus on the breath coming
in and then going out. There are two main points of focus and the choice of
these depend upon our own state of mind and body as we practice breath
awareness and control.
a.

If sleepy then focus the attention on the upper body and


particularly at the nostrils

b. If tense, then focus the attention on the lower part of the body
and particularly on the stomach and the diaphragm.
Some Possible Barriers
The following are some general points that are known to cause barriers or blocks when we
initially attempt to develop the practice of breath awareness.
1.

A feeling that we must achieve mastery over our breath. Breath control
(pranayama in the East) is more about awareness, attention and co-operation
than force.

2.

The unfamiliarity of observing breath which can give rise to feelings of anxiety,
tightness in the chest, awareness of stiffness or tickling in parts of the body.

3.

The fact that the mind can begin to race around with a plethora of thoughts,
feelings, fantasies, etc and physical sensations

4.

Over intellectualising breath awareness instead of merely accepting it as a


natural, instinctive part of life.

5.

Some strong feelings, emotions, thoughts and sensations may arise; in fact this
is a common experience for most and for some these can seem very anxious.
However, dedication and discipline to the practice will eventually pay-off.

NB.
Reference to point 5 above; these may be extreme pleasure, sense of peace,
anxiety, sensory feelings, vivid imaginations etc. Normally, if we return to monitoring the
breath IN and OUT these subside. Otherwise, cease the Practice and return to it at a later
time. It is not advisable to attempt advanced breath control without the guidance of a
teacher. Normal breath awareness and mild control is harmless and safe.

These notes are meant to provide to helpful hints and re-assurances to anyone who sets
out to develop their practice of breath awareness. This practice will provide you with the
secure base from where you can journey into the land of focusing, mindfulness,
relaxation and meditation. This is a land of non-judgmental awareness where we can
access different layers of our consciousness.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

FOCUSING - MINDFULNESS AND REFLECTIVE PRACTICE


To develop an understanding of focusing it is important to experience it. Certainly Eastern
Masters would use this as a starting point. Focusing is firmly based in humanistic therapy.
Gendlin (2003) outlines the essential concepts and practice of this quite powerful
therapeutic strategy of which he is a leading proponent. Middleto (2003) recounts a
conversation in which Mary Hendricks Gendlin ( Eugene Gendlins wife ) evidences the
connections between focusing and both Sufism and the Buddhist practice of mindfulness.
Focusing is a process of awareness at a deep level that begins with an awareness of the
body, a common practice for most non-western cultures (see Middleto).
In my experience of focusing, the first two of the six stages clearing a space and felt
senses are similar to aspects of meditation practices that I have tried. Focusing is useful
in our work with clients. It is also extremely useful to use on ourselves as an aid to
reflection and reflective practice. Gendlin (1984) suggests that the felt sense is actually
the edge of awareness, a concept of person-centred theory. He goes on to propose that
this felt sense is the clients client.
For me this is crucial, in that it provides a clear view of how focusing can be useful both in
client work and for personal reflection and awareness of self. Mearns and Thorne (2000
p175) propose a new definition of the self. This is Self = self concept + edge of awareness.
This seemingly mathematical model, of the humanistic approach to consciousness,
clearly outlines the elements or parts that combine to form a picture or model of the True
Self . This is the Self that is stripped of all ego , false concepts etc. Therefore the more I
can assist myself to access my edge of awareness, the more aware I become. It also
provides an important additional strategy in my work with clients. Those interested are
advised to read the relevant references for a more detailed understanding of the above.
Gendlin (2003, pp 43-45) proposes six separate but linked movements or parts that flow
smoothly and with a sense of rhythm one after the other. These are best completed
experientially and it helps, in the early stages of practice, to have a guide or mentor to
facilitate the process. If, as Gendlin(1984) proposes, the second stage is likened to the
clients client, then throughout the six stages of focusing we need to be present to
ourselves and to ensure that we play our part in the creation of Rogers (1959) six
conditions. This means standing back, observing the process, being a powerful accepting
and empathic presence and remaining congruent to the flow of feelings, emotions,
thoughts and insights that often arise. In short, in the practice of focusing we are our own
therapist and we are the clients client. A brief outline, adapted from Gendlin (2003, pp
173-174), of the six part process that is focusing follows.
Please note that these are some personal reflections and expressions of my
understanding of focusing. They are influenced both by my reading of Gendlin and also my
experiences of meditation practices. Again, I would refer readers to the reference sources
on focusing for a deeper understanding.
The following few pages give a brief and personal outline of Gendlin's Focusing

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

FOCUSING & THE VOLCANO OF FELT EXPERIENCES


We are all aware of the term emotion but it is important to understand where these rise
up from. The following diagram shows the Volcano of Felt Experiences

Rise of Emotions.
Note the Intensity
increases as the
Cone width
decreases

Emotions

Feelings

Felt Senses

Raw or Basic Life Energy


LEVELS OF FELT EXPERIENCE
All feelings and emotions ( of which we are more aware) rise up through the volcano. They
rise up from a Raw or Primitive Basic Life Energy. This courses through the Felt Senses (
Gendlin) and up to the Feelings & Emotions.
Feelings are more easily recognised than the Felt Sense. Emotions are m ore intense than
feelings . e.g. irritation and rage. Emotions totally DOMINATE our attention, whereas
feelings are more subtle and fluid than emotions
FOCUSING - AN OUTLINE
In the period from the mid-sixties until the death of Carl Rogers in the late 1980s, with few
exceptions, very little new work was carried out on his theory of personality or the Person-Centred
therapeutic process. One exception was Eugene Gendlin who , in the late 1960s, began to explore
the concept of the felt sense , edge of awareness and focusing. This work was later updated in
1981 and again in 1984 see The Clients Client: The Edge of Awareness , in Levant & Shien ( ed)
New Directions in Theory, Research and Practice , New York ( Praeger)-

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

Before looking at Gendlins SIX POINT FOCUSING PLAN the following points need to be
noted.
*

The concept of focusing is loosely associated to the Eastern concepts of premeditation preparation as understood in the Hindu concept of awareness and the
Buddhist concept of mindfulness.

The felt sense is like the inner client who is so often blocked by the clients
own inner therapist. It is a sense of the wholeness or all-ness of the feeling. It is
often unclear ( at first) but can be accessed. It is a little like the Humanistic concept
of Edge of Awareness

The inner therapist works on intellect, rationalisations, feelings. Old history etc.

The Inner Therapist tends to ignore, or even fail to recognise, the felt sense

About half to one third of people initially find it difficult to contact the inner client

Summary of Gendlin's 6- Stage Focusing Practice.


1. Clearing a Space
The first part is clearing a space, where we relax and begin to
pay attention, usually with a part of the body. We become the observer of ourselves and
resist any temptation to explore or go into sensations, thoughts etc.
2. The Felt Sense The next part is the felt senses. Here we select one of the perhaps
many feelings or issues that have surfaced during the previous stage. Again resisting any
attempt to judge or go inside this.
3.-Finding a Handle. We merely pay respectful and empathic attention to it and wait until
something surfaces. The third part is where we put a handle on it. We find a word, phrase
or image that somehow expresses the felt sense.
4. Resonating
Next we begin the fourth part of resonating. During this we hold both
the felt sense and the handle in an imaginary line. I find it helps me to imagine a childs
seesaw, with the two at either end. So I resonate or ring the changes between the two
and see if I get any shift. This shift is often felt bodily and somehow seems to fit.
5. Felt Shift / Asking
This brings us on to the fifth part which is asking. We mentally
ask questions until we receive an answer that seems to give a shift or release.
6. Receiving
This leads to the final part of the process, the receiving. We receive
the shift respectfully and stay with it for several moments; during this time further shifts
may or may not come along. I find that it is often like buses, you wait for some time and
then three come along in a row!

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

It is important that we take our time to slowly return from our focusing. This is best
achieved by returning to the first stage and to use a well tried method that helps you to
become aware of you, your body and your surroundings. I find breath awareness to be a
very effective. It is important to seek assistance from a facilitator who has some
experience of focusing in order to obtain advice and guidance on how to enter and exit the
six stages. This permits you to relax more into the process and experience of focusing.
What we make of any felt sense or any other of the answers or insights received during
the whole experience, is up to us. I find that my personal reflections are greatly enhanced
after periods of focusing and also meditation practices. I often use focusing exercises prior
to seeing clients or just after they have left. This is not only personally beneficial but it can
also lead to some important insights into the therapeutic relationship and the overall
process. If and when this occurs, it is of benefit to the client because I then re-enter the
relationship with a more aware presence thereby enabling me to better play my part in
ensuring that Rogers six conditions ( The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
of Therapeutic Personality Change ) are present.
THE ABOVE ARE NOT RIGID LEARN TO RELAX LEARN TO FOCUS AND
LEARN TO STAY ON THE EDGE OF AWARENESS
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
The main purpose of this paper was to convey a personal response, based mainly on my
experiences, to the question, what is it be a Reflective Practitioner?
As I review what is already recorded, I realise that its content and structure is not as
originally intended. However, I am comforted by the realisation that this mirrors the
process of reflective practice! The paper examined the part that the use of stories has
had in my journey and attempted to shed some light on the difference between thinking
and reflection. It then outlined the theoretical base that informs my practice and set the
requirement for reflective practice in the context of being professional. This was informed
by the work of others such as McMahon, Dryden and Mearns. Parallels between East and
West were explored and the concept and practice of mindfulness outlined and its close
connections with Gendlins focusing. Several areas such as the power of gaze and inner
listening were explored by the use of story and relating personal experience.
As practitioners we have a duty of care to ourselves, our clients and our profession. One
element in upholding this duty is to develop the ability for RP. Much of our training, reading
and awareness exhorts us to enter into the reflective cycle in a seemingly endless process
of experiencing formulating initial response -proposing changes or adjustment to our
practice - reviewing these changes and re-entering the cycle. I know that there are
moments when I find this cycle challenging as I face the realisation that I am always in a
process of change. Yet, paradoxically, I know this not to be totally true. Because the
journey I undertake is merely one where my destination is my starting point and that the
real goal of life, and certainly of RP, is to discover my- self.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

This is not meant to detract from the important points made by others like McMahon,
Merry, Dryden and Mearns. The elements of theory, research, practice, personal
development and feedback they stress and recommend are important. For me this is a
both/and and not an either/or choice However, the journey is a journey into me, my centre,
where all sense of ego disappears. It is a difficult journey, but one where others have
travelled before. I believe that we can learn both from their experiences and by reflecting
on our own.
Whenever I feel that it all seems to be about endless change I find comfort in the following
extract from Carlos Valles (1987), an Indian Jesuit priest. He reflects on his experiences of
a retreat he attended facilitated by a well known and respected Indian Jesuit Anthony
DeMello who unfortunately died shortly after this retreat. He notes how so much of the 15
days had been spent looking at and reflecting on change and the need to be
unencumbered by baggage. Yet, paradoxically, DeMello finished this Retreat with the
following exhortation to the participants:
Dont change: desire to change is the enemy of love.
Dont change yourselves: love yourselves as you are
Dont change others: love all others as they are. .....
And if you do that change will occur
Marvellously in its own way and in its own time
I wish all who read this a happy, meaningful and reflective on-going journey and one that is
unencumbered by baggage.

Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

Developing the Heart- Mind Connection

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Action . London,. Sage
Dryden, W, Horton, I and Mearns,D ( 1995). Issues in Professional Counselling Training.
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Gendlin,E ( 2003). Focusing , London, Rider
Gendlin, E ( 1984). The clients client: the edge of awareness. In R.L Levant and J.M.
Shlien ( eds) , Client centered therapy and the person-centered approach. New directions
in theory, research and practice. New York, Praeger
Ishpriya Mataji ( various). Private Audio Tapes of Various Conferences., correspondence
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The Actualisation Conundrum Person Centred Practice Vol 11 No 2

( p85) Ross-on-Wye. PCCS


Middleto,P edited by Moore,J ( 2003). Dialogue Between Mary Hendricks Gendlin and
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Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor MBACP( Accredited ) UKRC
Registered Independent Counsellor, Member of the UKASFP and Member Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
email : - petercreagh43@virginmedia.com