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Part II - The Hakomi Experience

“Within each of us there is a silence, a silence as vast as the Universe. And whenever we experience that silence, we remember who we are.”
—Gunilla Norris

As the originator and “Father of Hakomi”, Ron Kurtz, has said: “Hakomi is a method for helping people change their way of being in the world through working with core material and changing core beliefs.” And so we, as therapists, have the opportunity to partner with another individual who is wiling to explore thoughts, beliefs, and/or feelings that may be holding them back in some way…creating suffering due to the nature of the beliefs and the meaning created from the experience or experiences.

My journey to learn the skills and the meaning of Hakomi began over three years ago. While my professional work had been (and is) mindful eating and living for over two decades, the style of therapy I had been practicing was much different from the principles and skills involved in Hakomi. I previously saw myself as a person whose responsibility was to lead another in managing unhealthy behavior and while doing so, discover and uncover why that person was choosing to live in a less than healthy way. I was the professional and the individual came to me to receive “help” and find a solution to their pain and suffering. Often there was an implication, usually unspoken, that the person needed fixing and that perhaps I was the one to, finally, “fix them”.

Over the past three years, my entire approach to people seeking my services has changed as I have learned first hand of the “experiential” nature of Hakomi – an approach quite different than ordinary therapeutic styles. I welcomed a more “team” approach and let go completely of the notion of someone, including myself, needing “fixing”. I learned to move from ordinary conversation in our practice sessions to noticing body sensations, emotional states and beliefs allowing internal experiences to be studied consciously. I learned that in the practice of Hakomi, I am not intellectualizing or analyzing anything. I am certainly not fixing anyone. Rather, I am assisting an individual in accessing a previous experience, a wound, or a limiting belief and in doing so, coming to know it consciously, together. Once these internal unconscious habit patterns are brought to awareness, different choices can be made. An entire life can change within one Hakomi session.

Let’s take a look at a typical Hakomi experience, followed by an example of a person I worked with recently:

A Hakomi therapist listens deeply and observes carefully the non-verbal behavior of an individual such as tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, posture and anything else that seems relevant in the moment. The body and its experiences are the doorway, the portal, to the unconscious and thus the core organizing beliefs and habitual patterns of relating to the world. In this relationship of trust and compassion, patience and ease, what is possible can be discovered. Limiting patterns can be identified and new and more satisfying, more effective, choices and responses can be made.

In Hakomi there is often sitting in silence, being actively mindful, and allowing a gentle exploration of internal messages. Often there is surprise and curiosity by what is experienced. We follow the surprise and curiosity being curious where it might lead us. This is not an ordinary conversation but a way of working together so that the client can know his or her experience in a more intimate way. Anything is possible at this point and often long buried belief systems and thought patterns begin to emerge. When this happens, there is great hope for healing and change.

Hakomi takes place in a loving and compassionate environment so that safety and trust may be established. In this healing container, it is safe to be vulnerable and for hurtful wounds and memories to emerge.  And so Hakomi is a nourishing form of therapy that allows a person to recall missing experiences – experiences that didn’t happen while growing up but that now can be healed, making way for a life of freedom, meaning and deep joy.

An example of my work with a client suffering from anorexia might help to further understanding of how Hakomi works:

A young woman in her 20’s had been struggling with extremely low weight for a long time. She came to me for therapy, knowing this was my area of expertise. As I welcomed her I noticed she had a feeding tube and was very thin and emaciated. I noticed my own feelings of concern over my ability to work with her. She was very frail and what if I did something to alarm her? What if I wasn’t “good enough”? I felt some anxiety in my chest as I invited her to sit down. I took a moment to “go inside” and assure myself that I was competent and that we could simply go slowly, being tender together. I noticed where I felt this tension in myself and gave myself a short, nourishing talk about not having to fix anyone or be the savior. I could feel the compassionate energy in my body extending nonverbally through my heart toward her, and I trusted that at some level she would be able to sense it. I was confident that, if I could remain in this state, whatever was  supposed to happen will–I don’t have to make anything happen.

I started by introducing myself and telling her that I’m skilled at helping people with the parts of them that make them not eat. Inviting a mindful state, I asked “Mary” where she finds the voice of restriction in her body and how she feels toward it. She closed her eyes and said it’s in her chest , and that she feels anger at it. As we continued our session, Mary’s anger became more clear and strong. We “let it be here” and she begins to feel a bit more at ease. She doesn’t have to manage this anger as she did before our session began.

In a compassionate and calm voice, I tell Mary that it makes sense that she’s angry at the restricting part, because it has wreaked havoc in her life up until now. All we want to do is to get to know it a little better, and it’s hard to do that when there is a lot of anger. So we ask the part that’s so angry if it is willing to trust us for a few minutes – to see if it’s willing to relax and maybe simply observe as we try to get to know the eating disorder part.

Mary says “okay” and after a small pause, when I ask how she feels toward the eating disorder part now, she says she’s weary of battling with it – of being in the conflict. I have her ask that part to relax and step back as well and it did. We continued to work with these “parts”, or inner voices, that arose…asking each one to pause and allow us to continue our work together.

As the session came to an end, we realized each part that we asked to “step back” did. As we closed our session, I asked compassionately what the restricting (eating disorder) part might want to say now and the response was “I want to help you, Mary”. Mary has continued to heal in the sessions that have followed this one.

It is my hope that these words and examples of Hakomi therapy have been helpful and nourishing for you, the reader. Describing something with words that is, basically, an “experience”, is challenging – yet I hope that my attempt to do so has been helpful and as clear as possible.

Please stay tuned for my part three in this series on Hakomi, in which will explore what I learned about myself in the sessions and why I believe that the practice of Hakomi is a healing balm for the world. If you missed part one, “What is Hakomi“, you can find it here.

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