“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” —Linda Hogan, Native American Writer
My journey into the world of Hakomi: the skills, the practice sessions and my own transformation have been a life-changing experience. The following is a summary of my training experience and why I believe Hakomi is a healing balm for our world. It is my hope that these words have relevance to anyone reading them and if any more information is desired, please contact me as I would be happy to elaborate.
The most important awareness for me was realizing there is nothing inside of me – or anyone else – that is not worthy of love and acceptance. When we condemn or push away these parts, we often condemn aspects of our own being that are in the most need of love and acceptance. I certainly learned this personally. I had many “parts” of myself that I was ashamed of and wanted to hide away. Yet as I allowed these parts to be recognized and loved, a calm and serene shift began to happen inside of me. I started to like myself.
Mindfulness, one of the foundations of Hakomi, is a deep and profound form of love, bringing attention and compassion to the parts of us that have been disowned or abandoned. It is awareness of the moment, non-judgmentally – paying attention on purpose. Mindfulness became my allay and change became possible when I stopped trying to fix myself or make who I am into a project that needed repair in order to be whole. I learned that healing happens when all of who I am is accepted, honored and held in high esteem – blessed, if you will, and treated with tenderness and love.
In my first year of training, I learned that, drawing from a wide range of sources, Hakomi has evolved into an elegant and effective form of psychotherapy. For me, it was “love at first sight” as the principles and practices of this art called Hakomi began to make beautiful sense to me. From the beginning, I was able to grasp the scope of Hakomi. It made sense to me that, at its most basic level, Hakomi is the therapeutic expression of a specific set of significant principles: Unity; Mind/Body/Spirit Holism; Uniqueness of the Individual; Mindfulness; Nonviolence; Truth and Change. These principles are the core and foundation of Hakomi practice. The full potential of Hakomi is in the process of growth – when we are committed to moving beyond our limits. I began to connect deeply to the style of Hakomi practice as it attends to the very nature of being human and has supported me all along as I continue to ask the question “who am I?”
My first year of Hakomi training involved what is called “The Personhood Series”. Each segment of the series, of which there are four, was presented over a weekend in a trainer’s home. I learned well the foundations of Hakomi and will briefly share the main idea of each of the four series:
The Practice of Loving Presence
“Loving presence is a state of being. It is pleasant, good for your health, rewarding in and of itself. It’s a state in which you feel open-hearted and well-intentioned.” —Ron Kurtz
In this “Loving Presence” workshop, we learned how to create and sustain compassionate states of mind through specific, concrete step-by-step procedures. We practiced interacting as compassionate givers and receivers, in pairs and small groups. Through these processes, we developed self-awareness, understanding and forgiveness. For therapists, this practice greatly reduces burnout while creating the context for powerful, deep work with clients.
I experienced a renewed sense of connection with other people, making my own life more fulfilling while offering skills for assisting others in the same way. Just by dwelling in “loving presence”, what is often called “compassion fatigue” is remedied.
Quieting the Mind
“In general, a mindful state of consciousness is characterized by awareness turned inward toward present felt experience. It is passive, though alert, open, curious, and exploratory. It seeks to simply be aware of what is, as opposed to attempting to do or confirm anything.” —Gregory J. Johanson
“Quieting the Mind” assisted us to sustain a calm, sensitive, present-centered state of mind. Mindfulness is learned and practiced. I was able to become calm and to stay calm, while being present for others as well as for myself. This sensitive, calm presence is the necessary state of mind for effectively implementing the Hakomi Method.
With a quiet mind, I learned to become aware of inner, unexamined beliefs. I am able to be present for others as well. Often I experienced a deep state of relaxation that seemed quite contagious.
“Ninety percent of emotional information is communicated non verbally.” —Daniel Goleman
With “Non-verbal Communication”, I learned to consciously and quickly read and understand nonverbal messages expressed by facial expressions, bodily postures and gestures, tone of voice and other indicators. All of these expressions and “communications” carry messages of great importance that may not be conveyed in any other way. Folks sending the messages may not even be aware that they are doing so. I found that learning to observe “non verbal communication” enhanced not only my “professional” relationships but personal relationships as well.
I developed an increased awareness of non-verbal cues in relationship and the potential such awareness holds for meaningful connection. I noticed, as well, an increased ability to understand my own self and experience compassion for that self as well as for other people.
“Salmon swim in the rapids, birds inhabit the trees, people live in the warmth of affection.” —Hakuin Ekaku
In this workshop, called “Nourishing Communication”, we practiced offering and receiving emotional nourishment in a manner that is sincere, timely, and appropriate. We explored our own habitual responses (conscious or unconscious) to giving and receiving emotional nourishment. For me, this workshop was very illuminating and I use the skills I learned everyday.
I experienced a sense of clarity about my own ability to give and receive emotional nourishment. I also learned of the current published research on what is called “attachment theory” – the importance of being able to give and receive nourishment that leads to improved relationships.
In my second level of Hakomi practice – “The Hakomi Experiential Method Practice Level” (or Level 2) – we began to learn more about the techniques and skills of the Hakomi method. We explored the many ways people express themselves, verbally and nonverbally, in hopes of helping each other understand and transcend old limiting beliefs and habitual behaviors.
In this Practice Level, we learned to apply Hakomi methods in order to discover how experience is “organized” based on core patterns, and to help each other find ways to be more authentic and compassionate, more connected with each other and with life. I found myself counting the days until our next training weekend, eager to learn more and to feel increasingly liberated.
Hakomi is a method of self-study. As a therapist, I am not studying my client; rather, I am assisting a person to study him or herself. This attitude of curiosity is important to Hakomi work and Hakomi therapists are trained to model a non-judgmental, open-minded curiosity and to operate out of this attitude when working with other individuals.
A foundational learning piece for me is remembering I am a mindfulness-based therapist. This means I choose to pay attention, non-judgmentally, moment to moment, to the unfolding process of life as it presents itself: both within me and within others. It means I choose to be alive, embodied and aware rather than on automatic pilot or cruise control. This is an act of love and of healing.
Often it is our resistance to this unfolding in the moment that causes our greatest suffering and unhappiness. I learned this personally as I grew to be able to “be with” my grief over past mistakes and missed opportunities in my own life. Something amazing and wonderful happened for me when I stopped fighting the moment and allowed myself to accept “what is”. I felt a spaciousness and life seemed dynamic, fresh and fluid. Once I faced the darkness of my wounds and unhappiness, I felt a softness happen as I accepted and welcomed these parts of myself. Transformation occurred as I allowed these parts to become life affirming rather than life negating.
The following two quotes are ones I carry with me at all times. The first comes from a brochure that says: “Like the art of Aikido, Hakomi offers no resistance, but gently follows the flow of the client’s energy to the completion of its momentum…this cooperative exploration of the client’s core belief structures is conducted in an environment of safety and acceptance. The aim of the therapist is to help the client arrive at a state of mindfulness in which the two of them can explore those formative, often self-limiting beliefs, which are locked in the body, and to begin experimenting with more creative options.” This is the scope of my work and embodies all I have learned in the past three years.
The second quote is from Ron Kurtz: “Long-term change happens through studying the organization of experience as it is lived and present. Thus we may bring to consciousness core beliefs that might be limiting, so that new and more satisfying options become possible. For this often delicate process to take place, a special atmosphere must be created: safety, mindfulness, mind-body interaction, attention to live present inner experience and a sense of pacing that allows a organic process to emerge without pushing to solve a problem.”
The lesson I’ve repeatedly learned over my years of Hakomi practice is that we must learn to listen to and ultimately embrace unwelcomed parts in ourselves. If we can welcome these parts, rather than trying to avoid or dismiss them, they transform. Treating symptoms and difficulties like emotional garbage doesn’t work well. Only when I approached the parts of me in a spirit of humility and with a friendly desire to understand them could I begin to see why they were causing me so much pain. I discovered that if I can help other people approach their own worst, most hated feelings and desires with open minds and hearts, these emotions will be found not only to make sense and have purpose in the person’s life, but also, quite spontaneously, to become less threatening.
In closing, the ultimate goal of the Hakomi Method of Therapy is the discovery of the possible, the transformation of limiting self-imposed beliefs, and the empowerment that results from new freedom and new options. Perhaps the biggest picture of all is found in how the world works. The skills and principles of Hakomi seem to be what is needed for people everywhere to understand our essential interconnectedness and our responsibility for the care and healing of each other and the planet. A healing balm for mankind? I think so.