The Presence Lab: Empathy, Ethics & Expanded States of Consciousness
Exploring Everything. Mindfully.
If you understand a flower, you understand soil and nutrients and moisture, and the microbiome that connects the living with the dying. If you understand a flower, you understand light and you understand how the sun and moon are connected and how gravity impacts and creates us. If you understand a flower, you understand heat, thirst, and companionship. If you understand a flower, you understand the seasons and the rhythm of nature. If you understand a flower, you understand humans, their relationships, their complexity, their vulnerability, and their beauty. If you understand a flower, you understand symbiosis, the cosmos, and the multiverse. If you understand a flower, the flower understands you.
I wrote the passage above after spending a long couple of days working a weeded mound into a workable garden. There is so much we do not understand in this life. There is so much mystery and complexity even in something seemingly as simple as a flower. Despite this complexity, I have come to see our first ethical responsibility as therapists, guides, and humans is to make an honest effort at understanding our clients and patients.
To understand something fully may well be impossible yet might be what was meant by ancient sages that discussed " enlightenment". If we understand something actually and honestly, do we not know the source which it came from and now what parts it's made of and where it's parts come from and what influences those parts and on and on . . . What we do as humans is make a short cut in our lives, we say, or tell our selves unconsciously that we understand and we move on.
As therapists if we make an effort at just understanding what is happening now in small steps, then we communicate in a big way, that understanding is symbiotic and consent is paramount. By this, I mean that when we make an honest effort at empathy ( not sympathy) we take responsibility on ourselves as therapists to understand our clients to ensure they understand us. When we make this effort you and the client can be more certain that they are involved in their own healing and consenting to every part of the therapeutic work.
Presently there is a rise in work with psychedelics and other methods that support clients into expanded states of consciousness. I have been working with expanded states for my healing for 15 or so years. Although generally, I am an advocate for this kind of work my experience is that more focus on ethics in the field generally would help all of us interested in this kind of work.
When we go into an expanded state of consciousness with a client let's not be under the illusion that we can sit back and relax while our client lays back on the couch. Working with clients in expanded, altered, or non-ordinary states of consciousness calls you to be a more grounded ethically guided therapist as there is more intensity and more of everything that you see in a "normal" therapy session. For example, an experience in a regular therapy session where you may have attraction toward a client can be "held" and discussed in clinical supervision even for a therapist with little experience. However, The same experience may overwhelm you when a client goes into an expanded state much easier.
Understanding ourselves first and making an effort at understanding our clients every step of the way will help us avoid problems in therapy. The more we can do to understand ourselves will help us understand what is coming up for us in challenging therapeutic experiences and the more we can do to understand our clients we can be sure they understand what we are doing, how we are doing it, why we are doing it, and can therefore consent in an informed way. Let's work together to understand symbiotically ourselves, the world, and each other for a safer, healthier, happier world.