Hakomi is an experiential method. We use experiences evoked experimentally in mindfulness to help someone discover and explore how their beliefs and habits are organizing their life experience. We use the method of evoked experiences in mindfulness to help others learn how to increase the possibility of nourishing experiences in life and relationship. Experience forms the basis of our emotional life and the way we relate to others – our emotional and relational habits are learned by the experiences we have had and the meaning we made of them. For any meaningful change to occur in how we experience life, we need to have new experiences that feel positive. This is the point of our training approach, just as it is of Hakomi as a method of psychotherapy and personal healing.
Experientially, the trainings offer ongoing opportunities for students to practise and learn about mindfulness, about paying attention to nonverbal expression, about being present both for what is happening and what is emerging (what “wants to happen”), about recognizing indicators of limiting beliefs and the missing experiences. Students learn about being present for each other in a loving way as the process of self-study and self-discovery moves in the direction of personal healing and spiritual transformation.
The Hakomi Network training group inevitably becomes a supportive community, a kind of “sangha” for this self work. The elements of collaboration, of mutual support, of believing in and following the unfolding healing process, of sustaining a warm and loving attitude, have all been shown to be contributing factors to successful outcome in psychotherapy. ((The Heart and Soul of Change: What Works in Therapy Hubble, Duncan and Miller, (a 1999 APA publication): the difference between effective and less effective therapists is their ability to form and maintain a therapeutic alliance with the client… therapists who are able to communicate warmth, understanding, and positive feelings toward the client … will be more likely a positive treatment alliance.))
The foundation for being present with each other in this Hakomi way is the practice of what we call loving presence. This revolves around the whole idea of limbic resonance, as described in a General Theory of Love. ((A General Theory of Love, Lewis, Amini, Lannon: limbic resonance… a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states… limbic resonance is the door to communal connection.)) We want to help each other to develop our capacity to “prize others”, as recommended in the Heart and Soul of Change. ((The Heart and Soul of Change: Changing the emphasis in graduate training toward the development of the therapist as a person who prizes others can only make the enterprise of therapy more valuable, meaningful, and effective.))
We have seen that even a few days of supporting each other and being supported in this way can translate into people’s lives outside the training and begins to change how they relate and how they work. After a year or two of being in a Hakomi Network training, participants are generally able to demonstrate an understanding of the method as assisted self-discovery based on using little experiments done in mindfulness to help someone experience a new reality by having a missing experience of being related to in a more loving and wholesome way.
There is a strong focus in our ongoing trainings on the importance of personhood and the state of mind of the therapist. This approach is based on the understanding that the helper’s presence and way of being is the key to his or her effectiveness in a helping role, which might be psychotherapy, bodywork, social work, teaching, parenting, or any other professional or personal situation.
The Importance of Self Study
Rather than focusing on teaching Hakomi theoretically or academically, in our Hakomi Network trainings we focus primarily on using the Hakomi Method experientially for self work. We create a group situation where people assist each other using this approach for self-study, self-discovery, and emotional healing. What we want to heal are any old attitudes, habitual behaviours, or beliefs that interfere with our ability to be fully present for ourself and others in a loving and peaceful way. We teach students how to use this approach, first for themselves, and then to assist someone else in bringing into conscious awareness and transforming the unconscious habits that organize their experiences of life and relationship, the reactions that cause them stress and unnecessary suffering.
After two or more years, they will have learned much about both individual and group therapy using the Hakomi Method. More importantly, they will have learned so much about themselves in relationship to others, and cultivated ways of staying present and loving, even in difficult situations.
What we help our students learn to do, which they then can help others do, is to be more aware of themselves, more conscious of the impulses and feelings that arise inside them before they turn into reactions, more sensitive to the feelings and needs of others, and more aware of what the present situation actually calls for … or offers as a gift.
The idea of doing this through what we call “assisted self-discovery” is inspired by the notion of the power of conscious awareness, expressed this way by Moshe Feldenkrais:
You cannot do what you want until you know what you are already doing.
We can assist others to pay attention to what they are doing, and to the ideas and habits organizing experience, in order to help them find more open-hearted, conscious, and effective ways of being in the world.
For all of us, this growth in consciousness and heart means we can be responding in more creative and healthy ways instead of having the kind of automatic thoughts and knee-jerk reactions that perpetuate old patterns and experiences. We can be more compassionate with others and with ourselves. We learn to live and relate to others in a community of support, peace, and love. We become true bodhisattvas.
The very specific skills of the method that enable us to do this, which are learned experientially rather than didactically, include paying attention to nonverbal indicators of our own and someone else’s present experience, recognizing our own and another’s feelings and how they express beliefs and needs, responding skillfully and appropriately to others in both verbal and nonverbal ways, using experiments in mindfulness as a way of assisting someone in their process of self-discovery and healing, and creating a nourishing missing experience.
We also develop a practice of mindfulness, of loving presence, of relating consciously and compassionately to others, and of understanding our relationship to suffering – our own, in other people, and in the world.
As Ron Kurtz has said about his training approach: I think of my students as a music teacher must think of his: there are skills and then there is something called “musicality.” There are techniques and method and there is a sense of what is beautiful and good. This quote of Chogyam Trungpa’s is a good reminder:
The basic task of helping professionals in general, and psychotherapists in particular, is to develop full human beingness, in ourselves, and in others who feel starved about their lives.
Experiential and Multi-Level
Our Hakomi Network training style is primarily experiential and usually multi-level. This training approach, with roots in Ron’s “Higher Ground” trainings, is based on experiential non-linear learning for personal and community development. It teaches the basics of Hakomi and focuses primarily on teaching and developing those aspects of the method which research now shows to be most important for psychotherapists and helping professionals, and essential for effective therapy, namely the strengths and resources of the client, the state of mind of the therapist, and the healing relationship.
The trainings proceed at a different rate for everyone. We have found that a minimum of group training days is required for most people to get a good basic sense of this method.
After the basic training students will have been introduced to the skills and practices that allow them to be the kind of presence that can support someone else’s healing journey in a Hakomi way.
We like to provide 30–40 days for this basic training, followed by 12 or more days of advanced training, which includes coaching and personal supervision. The training sessions are typically three to five days, possibly longer for intensives, and spaced out over one to four years.
A typical training might include three 5 or 6 day sessions a year for two to three years. If there are enough people in a local training, it can be done in a variety of different formats, for example four 4-day sessions four months apart with a 2-day weekend session every month, totalling seven weekends. In some areas, with local trainers, the sessions might happen one weekend a month over a period of one to two years.
The training sessions are often designed to be multi-level. In addition to a core training group of about 8–20 participants, it is possible in some trainings for new people to join at certain points in the training. Other groups might follow a more traditional format consisting of three levels over three years. Generally the trainings are open to participants from other trainings or regions coming to training sessions at their level.
In some places or situations, participants in a Hakomi training may only be required to commit to one session or one level at a time. This depends on the number of participants and other factors. All participants may not necessarily choose to take the entire training. Others will want to follow through to certification.
What is Learned?
The training is done in such a way that a participant in even one session will experience the spirit and flavour of the method and have a taste of the practice of loving presence, the use of mindfulness and an experimental attitude for self-study, and the importance of paying attention to nonverbal indicators of present experience and core material.
The components of personhood development that are the focus of Level One and will be included in every session are called the practice of loving presence, quieting the mind, nonverbal expression, and emotional nourishment (or the art of comforting).
Since the whole approach is one of assisted self-study, the experiences will gradually develop in each person a higher and higher level of self-awareness and a more compassionate way of understanding and relating to others. Whatever else, this becomes a significant Hakomi contribution to a better world.
We place a strong emphasis on the personhood, presence, and self-awareness of the therapist, and on the subtle aspects of intelligent compassion and an experimental attitude. The application of the method could be in individual or group therapy, or in some other context more suited to the particular skills of the practitioner. There is encouragement and support to integrate Hakomi Experiential Method (and the Practice of Loving Presence) creatively into the work people already do (psychotherapy, bodywork, family counseling, conflict resolution, mediation, law, teaching, business, art therapy, parenting, etc.) This takes the work into a much wider context and offers the healing intelligence, compassion, skillfulness, and love cultivated in the training back to the community and to the world.