What is Contemplative Clinical Practice?
CONTEMPLATIVE CLINICAL PRACTICE CERTIFICATE PROGAM
Living Into A New Way Of Being
By Leslie Reed, LCSW
As I prepare to offer the Contemplative Clinical Practice Certificate Program, I wanted to offer some reflections on the nature and benefits of contemplative psychotherapy for both clients and clinicians.
There is sacredness within the space of psychotherapy. So much emotional life is given attention, breath and vibrancy in this shared spaciousness between two people. Between these two hearts, moments are held, of anguish encased, unleashed revelations, honored silences; all incubating new unfettered life. There is alchemy present in the therapeutic relationship that nourishes the other, deepening and evolving the connection. The result of this strange and beautiful, chemical and ethereal reaction is that we are both transfixed and transformed in the process. This space, cultivated from a place of non-duality and equanimity reverberates in every fiber of the bodies that are present within it. In this primacy of connection, there is a spaciousness that says “there is space in myself for you.”
This sacred space is liminal, as Thomas Merton describes it as “those moments we find ourselves “in between”, passing through a kind of doorway to touch the eternal.” Liminal in Latin, “limen” means threshold. In therapy we often find ourselves just on the cusp of an experience, an inner knowing trying to reveal itself to us in the moment.
Moving from the language of words into the language of the body allows us to take note of what has laid dormant, blocking our freedom to evolve. Making psychological, bodily and ethereal room to engage our imaginative muscle helps us to be open to those uncanny, unexplainable events; swift, barely noticed moments that get lodged in the gut and may sound a brief recognition and then pass by as if they never occurred, or experienced as a day dream, or in the moment not immediately recognizable. At times it may feel as if our experience is occurring apart from the present moment and we are thrown off balance. And then at other times it feels like a signal to not stir, to pay close attention, to sit in silence with our internal feelings and be present to what unfolds.
Engaging at the threshold of this gifted liminal space might free us from unnecessary or ill-timed interpretations along with the worry and desire to know; to have some claim of insight. For this is not the honest path of knowing. Rather it is experiencing the deeply felt connection that lies beneath the surface; simultaneously in and outside of us, trusting that it will bear fruit along with an honest emerging experience of the other and the self. Not born out of having one see as the head would have it. But to see it as the heart knows it and reveals it in its raw, pulsing, ever changing state.
One’s entry to this space requires the discipline of emptying oneself from the attachment to human endeavors. There is no separation or differentiation from the other at this threshold of the liminal. There are no illusions. We have collectively come upon an evolving and deepening consciousness. Engaging our imaginations through a connection with our soul, we can manifest something new and wondrous.
So, is there a way to be in touch with this sacred space in our psychotherapy consulting room? If we engage with a deep noticing, we are in touch with the reality that we already move into deeper levels of consciousness with ourselves and with another but may remain unaware of its luminous and transcendent possibilities. What can we make of this fertile space and how might it transform us and those we work with?
Contemplative Psychotherapy’s core belief is that one’s inner wisdom and natural dignity is sacred and universal. When we attend contemplatively to others and ourselves we enlarge the scope of what we attend to. This permits us to shift from a narrow perspective of symptom relief to an expansive and collaborative exploration of the resources available within ourselves that have gone unrecognized and unattended to. To this end, it allows us to engage a psychological and spiritual state where our ego does not run our lives but is measured in response to what our heart and body tells us is true. Contemplation offers the opportunity to sit with the fullness of our experience and make room for one’s wholeness to emerge around a full range of emotions. Through the cultivation of focused attention, openness, compassion, reflection, a deepening and heightened awareness that ignites personal growth, we can live more sustaining connections with oneself and others. This open and present stance, relational in nature, allows for empathic engagement of another’s experience without letting go of one’s own.
We are not just the two of us in the room. We have an inclusive connection to a more expansive view of ourselves through both our personal and universal history. This knowledge serves to embed our memories, thoughts and actions in a cosmic view, while supporting the emergence of our self- reflective awareness. The message is we are not alone. Our connective tissue binds us to each other and lifts us up.
Leslie Reed, LCSW, is a New York-based practicing clinician, educator and supervisor. Her practice, a blend of psychodynamic and contemplative therapies, allows her to more fluently move between the spiritual language of love and compassion and the psychological language of emotional distress and resiliency. She is also a 2017 graduate of Mercy by the Sea's School for the Second Half of Life and co-facilitates with Joan B. Linley the School's 2018 cohort.