I have been a psychotherapist for over ten years. During my time working with people I have noticed a gentle yet persistent movement away from self-focus to something else, something broader; an other-focus or better a We-focus. This movement is not only evident in my one-on-one work with clients, it also has become reflected in my courses and workshops and my own approach to life. We always learn from our clients — and I am glad to be learning this lesson right now.
When I mention the movement away from self-focus I have to clarify that a bit, I believe. When I first started in psychotherapy I often encountered one of the following two kinds of clients: those who were totally immersed in their own pain, process, and journey; and those who were equally completely immersed in their spiritual beliefs, progress, and processes.
I always experienced both of these approaches as self-focused even if the latter outwardly didn’t seem to be: their approach to life often was an attempt not to feel their own pain, process, and journey by turning towards the ‘bigger picture’, spirit, and a belief that in the end we are all connected on a higher level where it doesn’t matter what happens down here on earth. As much as I agree with those beliefs, I have found that when they are used to disregard life on earth and our current human incarnation, they become defences and serve self-focus. When this comes up in therapy I often work with the Inner Child: discovering the inner child-part of ourselves; understanding and healing its wounds; and giving the child what it needs.
That was in the beginning. Over time, however, I noticed things changing: increasingly people were talking about wanting to heal those inner aspects so they could stand in their truth as complete parts of the whole, as full and responsible members of that bigger picture. Slowly but surely, the focus went from Self occupied with Self to Self seeing itself as part of the Whole. People shifted. Clients had insights and realizations into their inherent ‘rightness’ and beauty — and in increasing numbers they began to see and accept their value in the world, their uniqueness, their place in the overall play we call life. For many clients this is an ongoing process. It is reflected in therapy by shifting to Inner Adult work: discovering the inner part of us that is responsible and able to evaluate our own needs as well as those of the world and people around us, and that strives to balance both in a healthy way.
Recently I noticed things shifting again: over the past few months I have increasingly come across a striving for a new kind of awareness, a more socially-directed awareness — a We-focus. This has shown up in my client work as well as in several other ways: blogs, articles, conversations with friends and colleagues. As I understand it, this We-focus is not only about being aware how one’s own actions influence everyone else (although that is part of it); it is about the true realization and understanding that our own existence is irrevocably connected to that of every other living thing.
Although it may sound similar to the spiritual “we are all the same energy” concept that I described (and mentioned as a possible defence) above, this We-focus or awareness is very different. This understanding, if it is truly felt in the depth of our being, makes it impossible for us to be passive and non-involved in life on this planet. With this truth really being felt in us, we know that living responsibly is more than a question of karma, more than “what I do now will return to me at some point”; we know that the truth is closer to “what I do now to this person / animal / living creature / thing happens right now, this very moment, to me, too”.
We-focus is not the same as spiritual focus, though. I believe that we can have a We-focus without any notion of a higher power per se. Using the image of the drop of water in the ocean of life (with each of us being one of the drops and the ocean being The All / God – Goddess / Universe), We-focus is not about the ocean: it is about the realization that there are millions of drops, millions of individuals who together create the bigger whole. What each one experiences that bigger whole to be is secondary. This is not to say either, that this We-focus negates a higher power or spiritual truth: it just doesn’t put the focus on that which is created by the gathering of all the energy in one place. It puts the focus onto the act of gathering the energy for the good of that which results.
To me, that is the beauty of the We-focus as I understand it (and there is a good possibility that I don’t understand it at all as it is meant in the articles and writings of others; just to make that clear): it doesn’t depend on a spiritual view, but neither does it negate it. It doesn’t negate the Self, the I either. It just simply allows us to look / live / experience beyond the Self — maybe towards the spiritual. It expands our experience of one-self to many-self, so to speak.
I am sure that this is and always has been the idea and energy behind all true spiritual paths; and a select few — those to whom we often refer as enlightened — have reached the fullness of this truth throughout time and history. What is new, I believe, is the number of ordinary people in our very western culture who are slowly coming to this understanding out of their own experiences and inner explorations.
In our times, with environmental problems mounting and social and political tensions rising everywhere, it is more vital than ever that as many of us humans as possible truly understand and know how it all fits together. The more of us live life from a position of We-focus, of truly understanding that we are all in this together and that what we do has an immediate impact on our lives, the better our chances of creating the change needed if we want to continue flourishing on this planet.
We-focus doesn’t require us to make huge changes either (unless we feel drawn to do so); every little action will create a shift if done from a place of We-focus. There is a qualitative difference between recycling because it saves me money or because I understand the harm it does if I don’t recycle. There is a similar difference between giving a few dollars to a street person because I feel guilty or because I have a sense that this person could be (and is) me, right here, right now. This difference in quality is as important as the acts themselves as it opens the heart and creates even more connection and care for each other and the world we are living in.
One last thought: I am a spiritual psychotherapist and it would be somewhat incongruent if I didn’t mention my own understanding of the spiritual aspect in all of this. Our era has sometimes been referred to as the era of the heart chakra or of Christ-consciousness. I feel that this shift towards We-focus is the shift that will finally bring this Christ-consciousness to full fruition. It is in the true understanding of our inter-connectedness that we can fully open ourselves to the love that treats us and our neighbours in exactly the same way. It is in this realization that we can feel true compassion (literally, “suffering together”) for all around us. This is the heart chakra at its best. Getting there? As always, its about the path, not the destination. Each step of the path creates a tiny shift; and each tiny shift adds to the million other tiny shifts that are happening right now — until they move the ocean that is life.