Mentoring is an ancient art.
For thousands of years, people have looked for companionship in the search for a life-path; and when crossing each threshold in the lifelong process of human growth and spiritual development.
Often people seek counsel at times of change – at the great natural life transitions of youth, midlife or old age; when struck by sickness, accident, unemployment or bereavement; equally, at times of opportunity and fresh beginning.
Over a period of more than twenty years, I have been teaching experiential focusing – slowly evolving a style which is person-centred and humanistic, open to the transpersonal, and committed to the principle of non-violence.
About being person-centred
The person-centred approach is about trust.
The discovery is that when one person truly listens to another, that person is set free to find their own way in life. In close listening, the listener does not lead, but follows.
It seems there are no “masters”, no wise beings to whom we can turn for counsel or direction. There are only those of us who judge for ourselves; and those who, lacking confidence, yield to others.
As Fanny Price insists:
We all have a better guide within ourselves,
if we would attend to it,
than any other person can be.
—Jane Austen (Mansfield Park, chapter 42)
Everything I do is rooted in this way of being, in an attitude of stubborn trust in the other person.
About being experiential
The experiential tradition is about self-trust.
It is about listening to your own feelings, thoughts and meanings, letting your own sense of things shape your life and actions from inside. It is about integrity and self-respect, about keeping faith with yourself. It is about freedom.
It is about the taste of your life.
For many people, discovering the richness and subtlety of the inner life is like coming unexpectedly upon a new continent, a world undreamed of.
When this richness ceases to move forward, we are sometimes brought by our puzzlement to a further level, that of situational focusing – which lifts us out of any situation, so that, standing above or outside it, we find ourselves sensing it as a whole, and open to seeing that whole in a new way.
About being humanistic
The birth of humanism was at least twenty-five centuries ago, in Greece, India and China. There is no one tradition, but rather, a mesh of interleafing elements.
When I describe my work as “humanistic”, I mean that I would like it to embody a wide synthesis of ancient elements:
It is about placing trust in immediate human experience.
It is about myth-making and imagination. I take seriously both dreams and fantasies – the visionary, the symbolic and the primitive in us; and the expression of them in art, music and literature, in sport and in ritual, on stage and on screen.
I don’t cling dogmatically to any particular view. I am sometimes a little sceptical of inherited beliefs and traditional teachings; preferring to rely on human reasoning, on philosophical, historical and scientific enquiry.
I care about peace and justice; ethics, politics and human rights; freedom, equality and solidarity.
I am sensitive to the human search for meaning – which may take either a religious or a secular form.
I delight in human diversity: in that deep, lasting toleration which accepts and welcomes visions of life irretrievably different from those we ourselves live by.
Each of us faces a profound existential dilemma. We may yearn for intensity, desire, openness, spontaneity, variety and passion. Or we may seek to be sincere and dignified, to lead lives of quiet courage and deep tranquillity. Torn between two pictures of the good life, we are forced to choose – or faced perhaps with the undecidable, having to leave room for both.
My work is (in the main) about this life. I find joy in the beauty of nature and in the senses. I value present friendships and present happiness.
In these authentic forms, humanism has always been a wise and generous vision – inclusive, intelligent, realistic and hopeful.
About the transpersonal
For thousands of years, people have been having transpersonal experiences – states of awe and dread; of love and compassion; of clarity, joy and silence.
The ordinary sense of self tends to fall away. Fear and discontent dissolve. We are lifted out of ourselves.
There may be lasting change in the way we feel and understand the world. We no longer wake up with an arid sense that life is empty, meaningless and absurd. We are less anxious, less volatile.
There may come a constant sense of being at peace and at home in the world – a vast existential relaxation.
Naturally, having access to a transcendent perspective does not remove us from our personal lives. We still have to live from here – to face our problems, to build our lives, to make our way in the world.
All of us at times are treated unjustly, or shaken by injustice done to others. We come face to face with violence, oppression or abuse. It may take gross or subtle forms – but whatever form it takes, we have to decide what we are going to do about it.
There are three ways to deal with violence and injustice:
- We can fight back. But violence breeds violence, and so an aggressive response is usually no response, but primitive and reactive, and merely escalation.
- We can give in. But passivity participates in violence. Submission is a form of cruelty, both to ourselves and to the violent. Submission destroys the soul.
- We can resist peacefully. We can choose to stand our ground, patiently and warily, inventively and non-violently, refusing to be aggressive, and determined not to submit.
The path of non-violent resistance to injustice is the path of compassion, both for ourselves (and others who are oppressed), and for the oppressor.
About ‘the human way’
For many years I have been asking some questions:
- What is the good life? – and how can we set about leading it?
- What is the happy life? – and how can we find happiness?
- What do we mean by words like “self-respect”, “integrity”, “conscience”, “success”, “fulfilment”, “balance”, “meaning” and “happiness”?
I have been struggling to draw a blueprint for life – to write a guide to the art of living. I wanted to be complete; and yet to be concise. To leave out whatever could be left out, whilst saying everything needful.
This unique form of mentoring is the result.
I have clear and hopeful goals. I help people:
- to listen to one another
- to explore their feelings and attitudes to life
- to make sense of experiences of beauty, awe and transcendence
- to develop their imaginative powers
- to give up operating out of fantasy
- to think clearly and honestly
- to find the courage to act
- to act according to conscience
- to develop poise, rhythm and timing
- to go on learning, whatever happens in their lives.
Above all, I encourage people to be open to their capacity for love.
I use a set of six interlocking practices:
- close listening
- quiet assertiveness
- being in the body
- experiential focusing
- the cycle of action and learning
- the act of creation
Close listening is about taking in what others say; quiet assertiveness about making sure that others do hear what you are saying.
Being in the body and experiential focusing (in their various forms) are ways to explore your feelings, and so escape various kinds of insincerity and confusion. These practices tend to generate new insights, new ways to live forward.
The cycle of action and learning and the act of creation are about getting things done: one is about efficiency in daily life; the other about bringing to life the creatures of your imagination.
Various sections of the site elaborate these six practices.
The language of the soul
My work with people is about the cycle of action and learning; about doing something, and learning from what happens.
It is about the whole of human experiencing: about trust and listening; feelings and fears; hope and imagination; about thinking clearly and honestly.
It is about your sense of wonder, your deeper longings and sense of search; your spiritual depths and heights.
It isn’t always easy to stay in touch with your own experiencing, your own freshly forming words and symbols, in a world which is every day trying to coerce you.
For this reason, it is good to have a companion who is passionately committed to your right to live and move and have your being in your own way – and who will hang in there with you, whilst you are asserting your freedom of action in the world.
We need to value both reason and experiencing. To take account both of the practical immediacies of our lives, and the meaning and significance of our spiritual search.
This work is about standing on your own two feet; about thinking freely and independently; and making your actions your own.
It is also about surrender – about grace and inspiration, awe and creativity.
Finally, it is about being alive, and the joy of living. It would hardly be possible to overstate the value of fun and laughter, toleration and happiness.
As Pablo Neruda writes:
La risa es el lenguaje del alma.
Laughter is the language of the soul.