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From Chapter 8 of Helping the Client

Transmutative methods

These are all self-help methods, many of them involving purely internal mental processes. As practitioner interventions, they really fall within the next (the catalytic) chapter; see therein interventions nos. 8, 9 and 18, where you are enabling the client to work with emotions through the use of some self-discovery technique. However, these methods are not simply about working with distress emotions. Note that many of them are centrally concerned with developing the self-transfiguring state of the person. They are about deep levels of feeling, intuition, imagination, reflective contemplation and intention – which ground us in our inherent spirituality (see Chapter 3, pp. 23-25). For a comprehensive map of spiritual and subtle states, and of methods of spiritual transformation see Heron (1998).

Active symbolic re-vision. Invite clients to make an art-form to re-evaluate their traumas. At the level of imagination, they give symbolic form to any one or more of the distressed aspects of their life stories (with both personal and cultural content). This is not a literal re-creation as in psychodrama – which is a cathartic technique – but an imaginative restatement and reformulation, expressed in music, in painting and drawing, in drama, in dance and movement in poetry or in biographically based fiction.

The assumption here is that the organising power of the imagination at level 3, with its latent archetypal content at level 4, can reconstrue resident imagery at levels 1 and 2 so that its disorganising effect on emotion is reduced.

Passive symbolic re-vision. Suggest to clients that they attend selected artistic events. It is the incidental function of a great deal of art, of which we are the spectators and/or audience, to have symbolic transmutative power. For we implicitly project our own agendas into the poem, drama, picture, music, dance, novel; and the more commanding the imaginative power over form and process in these creations, the greater their effect in reconstruing the resident imagery of our hidden distress agendas at levels 1 and 2, and in reorganising the associated emotions into a more harmonious mode.

Imaginal work with core passion and vision. The client may have an imaginative vision of a certain possibility for his or her life which has hovered in the sidelines for a long time, kept in the wings by distressed attitudes. You can encourage the client to uncover, affirm, develop and above all realize this vision, this central passion, this life-dream. Once it is realized in living, then its formative presence, simply through the process of living it, can work to reconstrue some of the resident imagery at levels 1 and 2 and so transmute the negative energy of the distress associated with it. This formative potential of soul I also call ‘the archetype of personal destiny’: see catalytic intervention no. 15 (Chapter 9).

Imaginal restructuring of belief systems. Belief systems are acquired at levels 1 and 2, are organized around deeply ingrained perceptual imagery, and some are charged with distress emotion. This distress is the glue holding together negative and restrictive beliefs, which limit how we perceive ourselves, other people and the world. You support the client to use creative, active imagination to restructure these restrictive beliefs into an alternative system and re-educate his or her mind to perceive the world, to feel, think and act within it, in terms of the new system (Heron, 1992, pp. 148-9). This system, generated at levels 3 and 4, starts to reconstrue resident imagery at levels 1 and 2 and reduce its distorting effect on emotional energy.

Imaginal restructuring of self-perception. This is a particular application of no. 4. When clients have a lot of negative emotions about their self, as an alternative to discharging the distress of old external invalidations which they have since internalised, you encourage them to see their present state not as the distressed outcome of past oppression, but as the receptive opening for liberating possibilities streaming in from the future; or to see their shadow side not as something bad to be deprecated and cast out, but as a loam or humus to be positively accepted as a nutrient source of growth; or simply to focus in a sustained way on their strengths. This imaginal restructuring of one’s negative self-image is intended to transmute the distress associated with it, whereas the use of contradiction (no. 13 in the cathartic list, Chapter 7) is intended to discharge distress emotion.

Imaginal restructuring of events. Perception of particular situations is at level 1, against the backdrop of level 2. When clients perceive a particular situation as distressing, an alternative to cathartic work on it is to invite them to reconstrue how they perceive the situation. They hold the distress awarely in mind, without trying to do anything directly to or with the emotion. Then, by an imaginal act at levels 3 and 4, they learn to see the situation in a new light: its imagery is cast in a totally different perspective of meaning. And this changes the organization of the emotional energy attached to the old perspective. Thus a situation first construed as a debilitating threat, can be re-construed as an invigorating challenge.

Reversing the image internal to distress. Distress emotion itself has an image internal to it: something dark, murky, turgid, agitated. Invite the client to take the focus of his or her attention right into the heart of the murky distress emotion, and hold it there as the image of a bright light bulb. If the client sustains this, gently but persistently for long enough, the distress image will be completely reorganized into one of clarity, and the distress emotion transmuted into positive emotion. The knack is to maintain inner alertness without becoming entangled. This is an ancient oriental method.

Archetypal imagination. The client can explore his or her own relation to archetypal images by an exercise in active imagination about interacting with them. You can guide and prompt the client through a conscious symbolic day-dream, a spontaneous, unscripted story of interweaving with images of wisdom, folly, birth, death, necessity, man, woman, love, light, darkness and so on. This will reconstrue lower level imagery and transmute its associated emotional energies.

Charismatic expression. This is a dynamic way in which the client can manifest their interaction with the archetypal parameters of human existence. You invite the client to engage in here and now creative improvisation, exploring their relationship with what there is – with being in its many modes and dimensions – through the archetypal meaning of posture, gesture, movement, sound and breath, and through the declaration of verbal assertions and metaphors. This improvisation may include elements from nos. 10 – 13 inclusive below. For more on charismatic expression see the section below, Primary theatre.

Such improvisation integrates the movement of immanent, indwelling spiritual life with the impact of dynamic archetypes, transforming lower-level imagery and transmuting emotional energies. A similar effect, though less powerful, is through traditional formalized and pre-designed systems of posture and movement such as Tantric mudras and Tai Chi. A halfway house between the improvised and the formalized is found in my workshops on charismatic training (for a full account see Heron, 1999, Chapter 12).

10 Reflective contemplation. Invite the client to dwell reflectively in archetypal symbols such as mandalas, the tetragrammaton and others, to achieve a subtle transmutative effect. This reflective indwelling means allowing the symbol to resonate with associations and meanings within the depths of the mind.

11 Disidentification. Invite the client to invoke the archetype of his or her self as a principality and power of consciousness that is beyond the range and claims of distress emotions. ‘My everyday self has distress emotions; I am not distress emotions; I am consciousness as such.’ More generally, invite the client to trace his or her ‘I’ to its source in an absolute, ineffable awareness beyond all name and form. This transcendental perspective reorganizes lower-level imagery and emotional energy.

12 Cosmic identification. Invite the client to invoke archetypal knowledge of the universe as a vast interrelated system on many levels and with many dimensions of being, by declaring – in speech, gesture posture and movement – an identification with this, that or the other entity, presence, principality or power. Again this perspective rearranges the resident imagery on levels 1 and 2, and reorganizes the energy of any distress emotion associated with that imagery.

13 Worship. Invite the client to open to ecstatic encounter with the transcendental Thou through praise, high prayer, numinous adoration; and in everyday life, to practise enjoying the presence of God/dess as the reality of interconnectedness, as the go-between divinity.

14 Concentration. Invite the client to hold attention focused for a long time on one image, whether physically perceived or mentally visualized, and to trace that image back to its original source in consciousness-as-such, thus entering a primordial perspective that reorganizes lower-level imagery and its associated emotional energy.

15 Witnessing. Invite the client simply to notice and watch and not identify at all with distress emotion, so that the imagery that generates it will be reconstrued enough for it to transmute. A less focused version of no. 7.

16 Switching. Invite the client to switch out of a situation or activity charged with the projected distress of one sort of resident imagery, and to move into another kind of situation or activity charged with the positive emotion of another kind of resident imagery. This may kick back some rearrangement to the abandoned area.

17 The transmutative process cue. Sometimes the client spontaneously assumes a posture or makes a gesture that has spiritual significance, like a mudra, one of the consciousness-changing postures in oriental yoga. You can ask them to stay with it and develop it, finding the words that go with it. This may be the start of transmutative work. More imperceptibly, there may be a significant pause: a silence that is luminous with spiritual overshadowing.

18 The transmutative content cue. Occasionally, the client may unintentionally say a word or a phrase, or cut a sentence short, in a way that reveals a sudden breakthrough into an altered state of consciousness. The slight and brief aperture will close again quickly, so you move deftly and invite the person to repeat and elaborate the words, expanding awareness into an extraordinary state through the unexpected gap.