I’ve noticed over the years that very little of what I say, demonstrate or see displayed at my workshops has much of a subsequent impact on the practice or methods of those attending. I realize, of course, that if I want people to attend these things that I shouldn’t say that out loud. But, for me, writing is mainly about telling the truth as I see it, and if I can’t do that here, I might as well just stop moving the pen.
My evident lack of effect on most (certainly not all) students used to bother me, and I tried to fix it by being more directive in my advise about the nuances of technique and strategies they might use if faced with a certain symptom.
It didn’t work. In fact, the workshop, at times, became a demonstration and description of somebody else’s practice, and not mine. I can’t teach that way and remain healthy.
So, I returned to the metaphors and analogies about this work that I found most compelling, and let myself use them once again. The students seem to like them, and, at least while I’m present, they certainly see their patients differently. It’s all that I hope for any longer.
I’ve been compiling some analogies the past couple of years that are derived largely from Eastern thought, and, if they accurately describe what I’m about in the clinic, it certainly explains why therapists fail to easily transport what I teach into their own.
For example, in “Breakfast at the Victory; The Mysticism of Ordinary Experience” by James Carse (Harper Collins, 1994), the author writes of the proprietor and sole employee at a busy Manhattan diner, Ernie: “It should have been obvious that he was actually preparing and serving food, but it wasn’t. Over the years his actions had been reduced to their minimum. Cutting and buttering a roll was a matter of a few effortless moves. Ernie’s actions having been reduced to their smallest size, we could not see him at the center of this activity for, Tao-like, no one was doing anything, yet nothing remained to be done.”
Carse, a college professor, goes on to explain how this kind of effortless “doing nothing” characterized the best of his teaching when he somehow interrupted the familiar paths of his student’s thinking and provided them an opportunity to find a thoughtful way through new ideas. I honestly believe that a certain kind of handling can make this available to our patients as well, but it must not begin with the therapist’s effort. I tell my students to emulate Ernie buttering a bagel, and sometimes they understand.
Another example. Chuang Tzu’s famous description of cutting up an ox* by the cook of an oriental prince is often cited for its insight. It describes profound change occurring while very little force is used. Paraphrased, the cook says “I see nothing with the eye, but rather my whole spirit apprehends. Following its own instinct, the spirit finds the secret opening, the hidden space and I move through like a breeze. I stand still, and let the joy of the work sink in.”
Together, Ernie and the cook and I have found the same thing, although in very different places. We accomplish the most in our work while striving the least and getting that across to others is a difficult thing to do, although it’s fairly easy to demonstrate.
As always, I augment every technique with references from refereed literature that rationally explain its effect. I know that’s important, but I wonder if it helps much.
Therapists leave the course having learned a lot, but they are also aware that they should now do less.
Surprisingly, doing less and less is a difficult path, and I find that not many have followed me.
* The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton (1965)