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The Practice of Loving Presence "Applied Buddhism"



In Hakomi we use mindfulness and little experiments to reveal the beliefs and patterns which, outside of consciousness, organize our experience. We want to discover and re-examine the attitudes that shape our life and look more deeply for what is grounded in delusion and what is actually true. This brings a new wisdom to our perceptions of ourselves, of others, and of “reality”.


When we are more in touch with ourselves and have shed some of the unnecessary attitudes that create a sense of separateness, of injustice, we are able to be more open in our relationships to others. We begin to see others more deeply, to be touched, to feel empathy and compassion. We learn a practice of loving presence, which lets us experience others, and life, with more appreciation and gratitude. As our hearts open, and our capacity for compassion grows, we develop and practice kindness, which is its own reward. The Dalai Lama has said: “My religion is kindness."



Buddhism offers a practical way to cultivate wisdom and compassion. The Hakomi method uses mindfulness in relationship to offer experiential interpersonal practices that allow for more self and other-awareness, more of what Daniel Goleman calls “emotional intelligence”, and more caring and compassionate ways of communicating and relating to others.


Pema Chodron has taught about something which is called shenpa in Tibetan, or how we “get hooked”. She offers a Buddhist approach to getting unhooked from the reactions that perpetuate suffering. The first step is to recognize what’s happening. (As Moshe Feldenkrais used to say, you cannot do what you want until you know what it is you are doing.)


This is also the first step in the Hakomi approach. We notice, or help someone notice, how we/they are organized… what habits are organizing our experience.


The second step in dealing with shenpa according to Pema Chodron is to interrupt the momentum… pause, and create space.


In the practice of loving presence, we call this step, “spacious mind”. We want to let go of what we know and be open to something new. We use spaciousness to allow for a new possibility, what Pema Chodron has called a “fresh alternative”. We do this in Hakomi by going slowly, by using mindfulness, and by a whole attitude of spaciousness.


Pema Chodron talks about this spaciousness in the practice of Tonglen breathing and suggests that even imagining a vista, a view of the sky perhaps, can create this “flash of bodhicitta” or awakened mind.


Her third step for dealing with shenpa is to do something new. (And the fourth step is to keep doing it!)


This is an important part of the Hakomi method and there is a strong focus on it in our practice. In a therapy session, we assist the client to self-study and to discover something they are doing, or thinking, that is hurting them. We access emotion in order to get direction about what would be healing, or nourishing, a “fresh alternative”, the “missing experience”.


Finally, in a Hakomi session, we offer an experiential way for clients to have this new possibility in a real felt sense. We allow time for clients to really experience this new reality. And we help them to plan for and manifest ways to do it over and over in their lives. What has been learned through experience can only be changed through experience, as we know now. Insight is not enough. (See "A General Theory of Love", by Lewis, Amini, and Lannon). Ideally, if the therapy happens in a group setting, as it does in a Hakomi training, the new experience can be practiced in the group until it is well integrated.


In a Hakomi training group, as in a therapy group, the trainer or facilitator models and teaches basic emotional skills, such as identification and expression of feelings, empathy, listening skills, respect, self-awareness, and honest feedback with kindness. It is often easier to learn to be gentle, kind and loving to ourselves by seeing ourselves as gentle, kind and loving towards others. In a Hakomi training group based on the practice of loving presence, there is a sense of safety, trust and caring that is, in and of itself, healing. The method is taught experientially, (which is appropriate for an experiential method). Participants learn the method by using it for assisted self-study and self-discovery. We practice mindfulness, not just for and by ourselves, but with and for others. In this sense it parallels the Buddhist tradition of the bodhisattva… practising for the relief of suffering of others.


What kinds of activities can the group use as an ongoing practice leading to the cultivation of lovingkindness, belonging, respect, and sacred space for healing? How can the goal of learning the method actually serve as a way to support healing and consciousness for everyone involved?


The loving presence practices offer an effective way for any group to become a more nourishing and healing space for each individual in it. In supporting someone else's healing process, the members are themselves nourished and strengthened. When the distinction between giving and receiving falls away, we learn to discover strength in vulnerability, humility and gratitude in helping others. 


The basic task of helping professionals in general, and psychotherapists in particular, is to cultivate full human beingness in themselves

and in others who feel starved about their lives.

(Chogyam Trungpa)


The Hakomi practices taught in the training are designed to help people learn the method as they cultivate a more conscious and compassionate state of mind – a way of being – which we call "loving presence". This is an especially powerful state of mind to be in when you are trying to be helpful to someone you care about, personally or professionally.


Love is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, and to become world for himself and for another's sake.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)



*NOTE: Ron Kurtz, Donna Martin, Richie Heckler, and Flint Sparks will teach Hakomi for the Buddhist-Minded in Austin Texas beginning with a session January (6-11) 2007. This ongoing Hakomi training will be open for at least the first three sessions. For more information please contact Bill at billve@ sanantoniozen.org.


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