Inquiring Deeply: Mindfulness in the Countertransference
Therapists who have the aspiration to deepen their clinical work in the ways described in this chapter will do well to recognize that cultivating depth of Presence is a practice; it is something which develops rather than something we acquire. It deepens gradually and over time.
Although the shared experience of psychotherapy has the explicit purpose to be of service to the patient, by its very nature this practice also confers benefit to the therapist. It may be thought of as a form of compassion meditation: time and attention exclusively devoted to being open to the experience of the suffering of others. In this way, the therapist has the opportunity (as well as responsibility) to become aware of his or her personal defenses against staying open in the face of suffering. A concomitant benefit for the therapist is greater awareness of his or her own suffering, previously defended against.12
By highlighting the background field of awareness, inquiring deeply can help the patient learn to “embrace the moment”: relax into experience rather than exclusively focusing on how to change it. At the same time, this helps to highlight how the patient tends to relate to his or her experience, for example with habitual judgments or the effort to be in control. In other words, we can use the opportunity of psychotherapy to help the patient explore opening to the Unknown and resting with What Is. This develops the capacity for greater trust, surrender, and acceptance. While these dimensions of experience are probably implicit in every good psychotherapy,13 inquiring deeply makes them explicit as an aspect of how the patient relates to the problematic experiences of life. This frame for psychotherapeutic work is quasi-meditative as well as radically relational: it expands focus beyond interpersonal intimacy to include what the famed Zen master Dogen called “intimacy with all things” (Dogen and Tanahashi, 1995).
In sum, inquiring deeply can be understood as a form of mindful awareness practice; a meditation-a-deux practiced within a framework of relational psychotherapy. In this practice, Present Moments are received as Moments of Presence in order to cultivate psychological insight. This is the essence of inquiring deeply as contemplative relational psychotherapy.