Therapy is a process of giving up our assumptions. So in therapy the best, final, ulti mate approach is to encourage and enable the client to question all his or her assumptions without exception. As Levin (1981) says:
All conceptual constructions of the experiential process are defence mechanisms, to the extent that they solidify into patterns of response that obscure a clear perception of one’s situation and block an appropriate, effective and spontaneous involvement.(p.248)
The ideal therapist is someone who can approach the client in a mood expressed by the phrase ’emptily perfect and perfectly empty’. There is then no distortion of the client’s experience, no twisting of it to suit some theory. This enables the client to move in the same direction: that is, towards more openness, less restrictiveness. Levin says:
The therapist thus prepares a spacious clearing, a comfortable openness, for the other.. ..to open out into. We might call this quality ‘spaciousness’: the gracious hospitable spaciousness we need to grow, to live, open up. (pp.254- 266)
There is no statement here of any stages or levels of development, nor of any person or system by which change takes place. The emptiness in the therapist allows the client to move towards her or his own emptiness. But this, as Suzuki (1970) says:
Does not deny the world of multiplicities; mountains are there, the cherries are in full bloom, the moon shines most brightly in the autumnal night; but at the same time they are more than particularities, they appeal to us with a deeper meaning, they are understood in relation to what they are not. (Quoted in Wilber, 1979)
These things do not make us unhappy unless we see them as denying us, frustrating us or unattainable by us. The constant thing in all unhappiness and distress is that it is “I” who am unhappy or distressed, and all therapy is based on the premise that it is the “I” which needs to change, to be worked on. But from our new point of view we can now see this differently. As Wei Wu Wei put it:
Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 per cent Of everything you think and Of everything you do Is for yourself – And there isn’t one. (Quoted in Wilber, 1979)
This is the equivalent in therapy terms of the statement I made once about Harold Walsby’s ultimate ideology, the ideology that enables us to describe and account for all ideologies (Lamm, 1984). I said that “the ultimate ideology must be understood and accepted by nobody”, simply because there is absolutely nothing to understand or accept. I went on to point out:
In fact, the metadynamic level (the ultimate ideology) can have no expression at all, except the negative one of showing that all basic assumptions are self- contradictory, each in its own distinct way…..We have seen through all other basic sets of assumptions, and we have nothing to put in their place. (Rowan, unpublished manuscript).
Similarly in therapy, as we reject false self after false self in the search for the true self, we discover that there is no end to this process. When we realise that, there is nowhere for unhappiness or suffering to belong or connect with. To put it in another way, you behold your original face on all sides. Ken Wlber (1979) puts it like this:
The more I look for the absolute self, the more I realise that I can’t find it as an object. And the simple reason I can’t find it as a particular object is because it’s every object! I can’t feel it because it is everything felt. (p.58)
This is the sort of empty paradoxical talk to which one is reduced when one tries to talk about what cannot really be talked about. But we have said enough to make it clear that from such a point of view the idea of measuring therapy, or of specifying the outcomes of psychotherapy, is absurd.
This is all very well, and very true. I could actually live up to it at times. But when I tried to do this and only this in therapy, I found that I usually could not do it. Always there seemed to be something needed first, some more immediate aim which had to be carried out before we could get on to the real emptiness. This now seems to me the essential paradox of psychotherapy; we can hardly ever do what is the best thing to do because there is always something better to do first.
If we just do the real therapy, the ultimate therapy, we restrict ourselves to the clients who are ready for that, and clients are hardly ever ready for it. This is not in any way to blame the clients: it is merely to recognise that the process of development is long and slow. When I am the client, I am no better than many of my own clients.
It seems that both therapists and clients are equally adept at avoiding the real issue, and perhaps this is necessary. Maybe the periphery is just as important as the centre. Maybe to concentrate on the centre at all times is too pure, too obsessive, too rigid, too arrogant; but at least it seems worth knowing: the difference between the centre and the periphery, the ultimate and the proximate.
Perhaps in the final analysis there are many levels of therapy, and we need to work on all of them at different times with different clients. If so, the sooner we know more about how many levels there are and how to work on each of them, the sooner we shall get out of empty arguments as to which level is the best. Wilber (1986) has some marvellous ideas about this.
Lamm Z (1984) ‘Ideologies in a hierarchical order: A neglected theory 7, Science and Public Policy, February, 40 -46
Levin DM (1981) ‘Approaches to psychotherapy: Freud, Jung and Tibetan Buddhism’ in RS Valle and R von Eckartsberg (eds) The Metaphors of consciousness, Plenum Press, New York
Rowan J (undated) ‘The Ultimate ideology’ (unpublished manuscript for the Walsby Society)
Suzuki R (1970) ‘Zen mind, beginners mind’, Weatherhill, New York
Wilber K (1979), ‘No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to personal growth’, Shambhala, Boulder
Wilber K (1986) Chapters in ‘Transformations of consciousness’ New Science Library, Boston