Saturday, July 29, 2006

Working With Unconditional Presence

In Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart, John Welwood introduces a process he uses for "meeting and inhabiting one's experience," which he calls Unconditional Presence. He has devised a four-step process for getting in touch with our experience, something a lot of us (especially men) have a hard time doing sometimes. He says the steps "are a way of defining different moments in a process of ever-greater presence with emotional experience."

These are the four steps:

1. Acknowledging: Here we recognize what is there, recognize that it is, without trying to assess whether it is good or bad, or whether it should be this way or not. Seeing and touching a feeling that is already there, as it is --this is what I mean by acknowledgement. This simple act of acknowledgment possesses far greater power than any self-help strategy or mental analysis.

2. Allowing: Allowing means giving the feeling plenty of space to be there just as it is, while continuing to stay in contact with it. Often we unconsciously compress or constrict painful feelings as a way of trying to keep them away or make them smaller and less consequential. Allowing is a form of decompression or unstuffing: letting the energy of the feeling be as large as it is, without either identifying with it or rejecting it.

3. Opening: In this context, opening means opening one's heart to a feeling, letting oneself fully experience the sensations stirring in the body without maintaining any struggle against them.

4. Entering: This means bringing one's awareness right into the core of a feeling, so that one is at one with it, no longer seeing it as something apart from oneself. [Sample question: "Can you let your awareness enter into the feeling, as if you're moving right into the center of it?"]


Whenever you feel unloved, instead of looking for some external remedy, you could take this as a sign that you're disconnected from your own heart. That disconnect is the poison. Letting yourself open to the pain of that disconnect puts you in touch with a certain tenderness and vulnerability, which is a signal that your heart, with its natural longing and capacity to connect, is close at hand. This brings you back to yourself -- which is the medicine for the disconnect.
Welwood is talking about this process in terms of how we are in relationships, where we can sometimes feel unloved and unacknowledged by the person we love so deeply. David Schnarch (The Passionate Marriage) would look at this same process as a way of differentiating in relationship -- of making space for one's own unique and separate feelings.

Schnarch feels that we get into the trap of feeling unloved or unvalidated because we are emotionally fused with our partners, and therefore we seek through them our sense of being loved and valued rather than being differentiated enough to find that within ourselves. Schnarch might argue that we can only feel unloved if we are finding our sense of love in the reflection of our beloved.

Obviously, there will be times when we might feel unloved because our partner is emotionally gone, doing the [fill in the blank], or we are single. But even then, we can feel betrayed and hurt, or alone, but if we are in touch with our own hearts, with the boundless love we all share, then we can still feel connected to love.

Both Welwood and Schnarch have as their mission to help people find their own foundation for love, from within, not as reflected by one's partner or in one's relationship.

How do these ideas fit or not fit with your own life? Is this a load of New Age crap or does it resonate for you?

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