Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reflections on Zen concepts and ubuntu in therapeutic interactions

Bein’s concept of recognizing the client and practitioner’s relationship to the universe is similar to Tutu’s description of the ubuntu perspective. Bein describes how contemplating one’s place in the universe, and being fully present, allows the universe to speak through the practitioner to help the client (Bein, 2008, pp. 13-14). There is not a denial of the roles we play, such as practitioner and client, or oppressor and oppressed; but recognition that they are impermanent and unimportant in greater spiritual contexts. For Tutu, human beings are seen as equal, yet small parts of a great whole. By honoring the whole, one implicitly honors self. Self cannot be honored alone (Battle, 2009, pp. 2-3). Embracing the reality of our vulnerability makes compassion for others and community possible. Further, self-sufficiency is an illusion (Battle, 2009, pp. 40-42). Also, the Buddhist concept of the self as an illusion is similar to Tutu’s concept of self as a distraction from being close to God. In any case, the self is seen as a distraction to the nature of reality. It is implied that the client will get well when they embrace the present.

Bein describes being comfortable with “not knowing,” letting the client teach the practitioner. Practitioners are encouraged to not be fooled by the mind’s overreliance on cognitive schemas for quick problem solving. There is always nuance and surprise for even the most seasoned practitioner. This reminds me of a saying that goes something like: “Knowledge is a barrier to learning.” In class there was discussion of an article which reviewed research that found approximately 75% of social workers did not get any training relating to spiritual topics (Canda, Nakashima, & Furman, 2004). This made me think of how social work education, however comprehensive, cannot prepare students for everything they will face. Social work education is really just building a strong back with theory and basic experience, a soft front with client-centered activities and field experience, and a commitment to continued learning. Being comfortable with not knowing is something that social workers must grasp in order to be able to teach and model it to clients. Being comfortable with not knowing makes learning possible.

There is a theme in the readings of non-aversion to suffering and facing things as they are, for practitioners and clients. Taken at face value, this perspective could sound like an amoral, uncaring way to practice and live. Looking deeper, it is about not being at the whims of emotion. Emotions, including pain, are to be used as information, but not necessarily ultimate truth. Tutu has this value as well. He acknowledges the existence and unavoidability of sin and getting lost in materiality, but urges people to elevate to God-consciousness in order to not be lost in these things (Battle, 1997, pp. 5-7).

When Tutu says, “…let God empty us of ourselves…so that we become more and more Godlike,” (Battle, 1997, p. 7) I am reminded of Bein’s notion of the practitioner creating a container for interactions by having a strong back and open, soft front (Bein, 2008, pp. 10-18). Traditionally, being of service means taking action on someone else’s behalf, or doing something helpful for someone. Instead, in these readings, being helpful means creating a mental sandbox for others to work things out and become present, and make their own decisions, with less actual direction from the practitioner.

I understand the Zen concept of “embracing paradox” discussed in class somewhat less mystically. My scientific view on embracing paradox is just realizing that there is an underlying law of nature explaining the existence of seeming paradox. Really anything can be explained as a paradox. I can be both the shortest person in my class and the tallest person in my class. The underlying reality might be that I am the only one in the class. For me, “embracing paradox” could be fully explained as “embracing paradox until the underlying nature is understood.” When it comes to practice, being comfortable not knowing comes in handy when faced with apparent paradox, because it is not possible to have all the information, all the time.
Each of these readings share the theme of being present in the moment. It seems that all the authors would agree that oppression occurs when people forget their relationship to others and become engulfed by a materialistic focus. Being spiritually open and aware allows people to expand their consciousness and not be overwhelmed by disconnection and self-centeredness.

Bein, A. (2008). The zen of helping: spiritual principles for mindful and open-hearted practice. Wiley: Hoboken, NJ.
Battle (1997). Reconciliation: the ubuntu theology of Desmond Tutu. The Pilgrim Press: Cleveland, Ohio.
Canda, E. R., Nakashima, M., & Furman, L. D. (2004). Ethical considerations about spirituality in social work: insights from a national qualitative survey. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 85(1), 27-35.

No comments:

Post a Comment