Brendan McLoughlin

Thinking out loud

I often feel that the reason that brings most people to ask for help in therapy is their relationship with themselves. Most of us do not have a good relationship with ourselves and the cost of this are the many and varied symptoms that can make life so difficult. The contemplative approach to psychotherapy is all about learning how to give accurate and consistent attention to ourselves and by so doing, reduce the sources of unhappiness within. The process of therapy teaches us how to begin to pay accurate and kindly attention to what is there within each of us and then how to be with ourselves just as we are. As we learn how to pay this attention, we begin to retrieve ourselves from the tyranny of the stories we tend to inhabit. We catch ourselves repeating patterns and reinforcing old beliefs. We begin to meet ourselves shaping our own lives and to see that it is possible to stand outside these habits of being and to open ourselves to change.

In Spiritual Accompaniment, there is a deeper opportuntiy to focus on the experience of being, of letting go of ego attachments and of opening ourselves to the quiet, pure nature of our being in existence, outside the anxious pursuit of being a self.

Our emotional, psychological and spiritual health and well being, depend in large measure, on the matrix of relationships and connections with other people that we manage to develop. Loneliness and isolation are corrosive to the human spirit but even in the midst of a crowd, we can find ourselves cut off from others. In the Buddhist tradition as found among Tibetans, where there is a belief in rebirth, it is often said that we have all, at some point in the countless aeons of existence, been each others mother! This may seem an odd or even disquieting thought at first, but within that tradition, it reminds us that we are all inextricably linked, one to another. One does not have to share a literal belief in rebirth, a common belief in many parts of the world and through history, to realise that this image of maternal kinship with each other, can become a powerful encouragement to loving kindness and compassion. And perhaps if you didn't enjoy such a good relationship with your actual mother, it maybe comforting to know that the world is full of other, really good mothers!

It is so easy for us to separate ourselves off from other people for all kinds of reasons, fear, prejudice, ignorance, a sense of superiority or inferiority, depression and self loathing. The antidote to all these things might be the thought that every other human being has been our mother or our child at some point in time. Such a thought can help bring us in from the cold of indifference or hatred and open up the pathways to relatedness and connection.

I play a little game with this when I am out walking sometimes, smiling at the people I meet along the way and seeing how many of them I can get to smile back and say hello. This doesn't always play well in busy streets but in quieter places, in the countryside or by the sea, it can go quite well. All you have to do is smile and say hello in a friendly way, and mean it, and the responses start to come. The more you smile and greet people, the better you begin to feel. The more you open yourself to the underlying reality of your kinship with everyone else, the more they begin to see you and respond. Don't do this grudgingly or self consciously, just give it your best, broadest grin and be ready to meet it coming back at you!

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