The Gestalt Agent’s Handbook


       The Making of The Gestalt Agent’s Handbook:
A Glimpse into the Creative Process

From time to time in the 1970s, I met with two of my teachers at the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco, Drs. Richard Miller and Lawrence I. Bloomberg, and we worked on the manuscript of a book that we called The Gestalt Agent’s Handbook.   I conceived the book after long experience of Miller and Bloomberg’s training groups, which went far beyond my expectations (as they intended them to) and induced in me the desire to see what i had learned expressed in print. They were amenable, and we arranged some initial sessions to plan and write the book. My fantasy was that they would explain their method and I would do the writing.

This plan was never even considered by the other two, and what they came up with interested me far more; and the process of carrying it out was rewarding in a way that taught me more about not only Gestalt, but about how i lived my own life than i had ever imagined; and for that i am grateful to these teachers, even though nothing ever came to the plan to get the book printed.  Somehow i had assumed that they, as psychologists with standing, would make the editorial contacts.  Wrong again. It may have been that one or another of life’s exigencies took over, or they may have simply gotten bored with the project. But so far as I know, no one ever looked for a publisher. Richard and I took another shot at publishing many years later, but that one foundered on a plague of missing manuscripts.

Both of the good doctors later found other outlets for their energy: Larry moved to Italy, where he adopted his middle name, Ischa, professionally, and started a Gestalt training institute in Tuscany that had a great deal of influence among European Gestaltists. (Larry seems to have been regarded as a kind of important outlier).  He died in London in 1995. Richard meanwhile bought a broken-down Wilbur Hot springs, in Colusa County, California, and restored it into a modernized “center for the self,” in which he not only ran a New Age hotel for guests, but used as the setting for Cokenders, an innovative drug program that enjoyed considerable success during the cocaine epidemic of the 1970s and 80s. Not bad as professional replacements for a book destined to become caviar to the general, to put it kindly.

What follows is an excerpt from a thesis I wrote in 1972 while earning an MS in Counseling at what was then called Cal State Hayward (now known as the California State University, East Bay). The thesis included details on the editing of the book, including crossouts and penciled revisions.  What’s below is only the finished version of one chapter, entitled “Process and Content,” with attending comment.

To assist the reader, I can provide some information as to the guidelines we used as we shaped the book. The three of us worked together in such a way that no single person can claim any line of the book, which reflects our joint process; and had any one of us not been present, the book would have turned out differently, to the extent that not one phrase would read the same.

We began with an idea: to make a book about what Richard and Larry called “existential therapy.” (Later they tossed out the very concept of therapy and replaced it with attending to one’s awareness.  Larry summed it up in a marvelous double negative: “We teach people how to stop avoiding attending to their awareness.”) I prepared an outline, around which, even though we ignored  it or contradicted most of it it, the manuscript crystallized. We had no clear idea of a method of writing at the start; we let our process develop with no attempt to control it. For the first four chapters (all that were completed), we worked in this way:

We discussed the outline for each chapter in front of a tape recorder, taking up each topic in undeviating sequence, and saying whatever came into our minds; I listened to the tape recording and summarized what we said in as much detail as seemed appropriate to me; from these typewritten notes, I wrote a short chapter, of six to ten pages, around each major topic in the outline; we then discussed the chapters, again using a tape recorder. We read through each chapter sentence by sentence. Frequently, Richard and Larry would totally disagree with what I had written. Sometimes, they would not even recognize the material. We commented freely on every aspect of the chapters, including our own reaction to our process of making comments. Some of these discussions occurred during a Gestalt training group, and we included comments made by members of the group.

I made verbatim transcripts of the new tapes, and then made paste-up versions, interleaving the text of each chapter, paragraph by paragraph and sometimes sentence by sentence, with the appropriate parts of the discussion. Some of the paste-up versions ran 70 or 80 pages long. We edited the chapters down to 25 to 40 pages, rewriting as we went. We made no attempt to be faithful to our original text, or to the comments we had made on that text. We frequently changed our remarks, shifted material about, and revised the text, so that what may look like a casually put together book has actually undergone a process of meticulous editing.

Well, perhaps not exactly “meticulous.”

We followed certain rules, which had developed out of our discussions, in the way we handled the text. We had frequently found that disagreements over meaning developed from diction and grammar, and that in order to say something to which we could all subscribe, we succeeded best not by trying to convince one another, but by working with our raw material, words on a page. My text contained phobic verbal mechanisms, in that they in some way retreat from the reader at the same time that they try to communicate with him/her. Examples: passives, the use of impersonal pronouns like "it" and "one," the use of conditionals and subjunctives, and so forth. In our discussions, we often found that we could resolve differences by translating the text into simple, direct English, without modifications or qualifications. Certain patterns recurred, and from them we derived these rules:

Use only active verbs. This demands clear English.

Eliminate the word "but," substitute the word "and." "But" negates what went before. "I'd like to go to the movies with you, but my thesis is due." The desire to go to the movies has nothing to do with the thesis. We don't actually know the speaker's attitude toward going to the movies. S/he may mean "I wish I hadn't committed myself to a thesis"; s/he may consider hirself lucky for having such an easy "out." We can never know from the content of the message; the "but" masks the meaning and separates speaker and listener. By using "but" s/he also denies responsibility for hir actions. S/he says "I do not control my life." Notice the change when s/he substitutes "and": "I'd like to go to the movies with you and my thesis is due." The speaker makes hir dilemma explicit. S/he does not pretend that the decision does not rest with hir.

Eliminate the use of impersonal pronouns, such as “it” and "one." "It" can cut the speaker off from hir own self. The trivial case: "It's warm in here," when the speaker means "I'm warm."

Eliminate passives. Passives make very clear the speaker's refusal to take responsibility for hir own actions. The passive imputes agency to the environment, rather than to the speaker, e. g., "I was hurt by what you said." (Passives can even eliminate agency altogether, as in "I was hurt.") Here one person has made a remark, and a second has reacted in such a way as to depress hirself, or make hirself feel bad in some way. S/he has then placed responsibility for hir feelings onto the other person. When we eliminate the passive, the sentence translates as "After you said what you did, I felt hurt” (not "You hurt me," which makes an accusation and does not tell anything about the speaker).

Eliminate "just" and "only." Speakers use these words to minimize their own importance, to make themselves small. "In this thesis, I'm only trying to explain our process; don't expect great things from me." Catastrophic expectation: "If I try for too much, if I become conspicuous, I will be crushed."

Eliminate "should." "Should" and "ought” indicate that we bear a moral obligation to do something that we do not wish to do. "Should" opposes desire, and the unspoken part of the "should" sentence contains the desire. If I don't do what I should do, I will do what I want to do, and that may get me into trouble.

Eliminate conditionals and subjunctives. Conditionals ask for guarantees: "Would you go to the store for me?" Translation: "If I asked you to go to the store for me, would you answer 'yes'?" The speaker will not run the risk of refusal, except in this hypothetical case. Subjunctives pretend that the environment fits the speaker's expectations: "If I were rich, I'd live in the country." To eliminate conditionals, we found it useful to substitute "when" for "if" each time the latter occurred, as in “When I am rich, I will live in the country. [1]”

Substitute "will not" and "won't" for "cannot" and “can't." "I can't quit my job." The speaker means that s/he won't. Nothing prevents hir from quitting, even when s/he works in a prison shop. S/he works rather than risk what would happen if s/he didn't work.

Eliminate "because." "Because" answers "why?" "Because" rationalizes; we wanted to demonstrate process, rather than give reasons. We normally do not answer "why" questions in our work, and we decided not to answer them in advance in our book.

We ask patients to pay attention to the obvious; we took our own suggestion by paying attention to the most obvious aspect of our book-- that we wrote it in words. At best, language reflects reality; in reflecting, it can distort. The words used most often distort most of all, since they bear the burden of so much meaning. As we read over our text, we found that the word used most frequently of all, the verb "to be," distorts the most. We made another rule:

Eliminate the verb "to be" in all its forms. "To be" conveys misinformation, in that when we say "John is a plumber," we equate John with one small part of him, as though we said "John is a hand" and ignored the rest of his body. (Such use of speech has a name, synecdoche, in English prosody; the word has roots meaning “take out of”) Nothing "is," precisely, anything else. John "is" much more than a plumber. More accurately, we can say, "John plumbs, at times."

"To be" has a way of sneaking in where we least expect it-- in certain verb forms, for example. In order to eliminate this verb, we had to examine our writing style carefully. I have written this thesis without using "to be," except in quotations, and in order to do so, I have had to pick my way carefully.

We substituted the words "patient" and "agent" for "client" and "therapist." We make clear in our manuscript that we do not do therapy; therefore the word "therapist" misleads. "Agent" derives from Latin agere, "to act"; "patient" comes from Latin pati, "to suffer" (the word "passive" comes from the same root). Patients suffer passively. We define "agent" and "patient" operationally; an agent as a person who acts, and a patient as a person who wants someone else to act for hir.”

Larry borrowed this distinction from the novel Agents and Patients by the British author Anthony Powell; the book is about a pair of scoundrels who perform “therapy” on a mark by tricking and abusing him. When he finally rebels, he is “cured. [2]”

We also eliminated all references to outside sources. When we cite authority, we play a confidence game on the reader. When I tell you, "All questions contain disguised accusations," you may or may not believe me; you make the decision yourself. When I say "Fritz Perls says that all questions contain disguised accusations," I bring up a little extra artillery. Now, in order to challenge me, you have to challenge Perls as well. I convince you by appealing to a third party. We have not communicated at all.

In our book, we had no desire to convince anyone of the truth of what we wrote. A key sentence in Chapter 3 reads, "Nothing in this book means anything to the reader until he checks it with his own experience." We make our statements directly and let the reader decide whether what we say fits for him or not.

Avoiding phobic behavior itself demonstrates phobic behavior. We realized that in making our changes, we denied a part of ourselves. For contrast, we made no attempt to modify the commentary. We made the text our best example of direct, non-manipulative speech. The commentary shows how we talk.

At times, our comments contradict the text. We did not choose this method, in the sense that we knew beforehand what we would do; the method developed out of our process of writing the book. When we write "Nothing in this book means anything to the reader until he checks it with his own experience," we make our process "telling the reader something." The reader learns from this process that we have something to tell him that he did not know before-- a message incongruent with our content. Therefore we contradict ourselves, make jokes about what we have written, let inconsistencies stand, and in some places do not make clear sense.

We run the risk that the reader will become exasperated and put the book down. We cannot avoid this risk, no matter what we do. We risk also that we will not make ourselves understood; in this case, we run right against the limits of our ability to communicate in language. We speak as clearly as we can.


(Text in italics. Commentary in Roman)

-- I've been looking over this thing, and there's one point I'm confused about. It has to do with a discussion over personal responsibility. Remember that discussion we had about how I'm responsible for myself; nobody takes responsibility for me, and so on? It comes out like Invictus, "I am the captain of my soul." As though the person lived entirely apart from his environment. When I say I'm responsible for everything I do, that carries the implication that the environment I live in isn't responsible for anything.
-- That's right. Your environment can't be responsible for anybody.
-- Well, we're getting trapped in language again. If it weren't for this environment, I couldn't exist.
-- Oh, I think it's a trap to get into that whole discussion. Arguing environment versus inner responsibility is like arguing nature-nurture.
-- Or free will and determinism.
-- Absolutely.
-- Yeah, it really is. And when we got into that argument, our process was arguing.
-- I know, and we were silly; how can I separate out what effect the environment of this room is having on me? If the environment of this room had no effect on me, there would be no point in my creating beautiful environments. I create so that when I see, when I have an experience, I have a beautiful experience.
-- Well, in some parts of the book we say that the individual acts just as he will, no matter what's going on. And I don't believe that's true.
-- I don't want your pessimism and negativism in there, with my name on it.
-- No one will know who's being negative, either.

A verbal message rarely consists of pure information unrelated to the person sending the message, or the person receiving it. The words, "Eat your spinach," may be spoken sternly, by someone playing the stern parent, or in some other tone of voice. The words carry the content; the tone carries the process. As agents, we interest ourselves in the stern parent tone, or the whining, cajoling tone, the process inherent in the message.

-- You sound nice.

When we distinguish between process and content, we act arbitrarily, we choose to distinguish levels of abstraction. We focus on content when we focus on words and their meanings; we focus on process when we focus on body movement, voice tone, facial expression, and the grammatical structure of the content.

-- We're actually defining two different ways of understanding messages. One is a content way and one is a process way.

Process resembles a radio carrier frequency, which has a message modulated on top of it. The radio receiver subtracts the carrier frequency (process) in order to reproduce the content message; the agent ignores content to get at process.

-- l don't like that analogy.
-- Oh, l think it's a great analogy -- I don't understand it.
-- I understand it. But every time I read it, I have to think, Now wait a minute, how does that go again?
-- I see it, I don't agree with it. I don't think that we subtract content to get at process.
~-We focus on process. That's how we subtract content.
-- Right. We focus on the process or the content. We don't look at something and subtract…that's a taking away. We're actually adding, we're zeroing in.

We understand process by attending to those aspects of behavior that convey this element of the message. Grammatical structure conveys process. The speaker may cast his content in the form of a question, or he may use the subjunctive.

-- Would you?
-- Would you go to the store for me?
-- Would you go to the store for me if I were to ask?
-- The subjunctive is the conditional contrary to fact. If you were to be nice to me, I would be nice to you.

He may make a demand. He may use the active or passive voice. Gesture conveys process.. When the speaker shakes his fist and says "I like you very much," he muddies the message. His content and his process do not match.

-- Actually, the process that's described in that paragraph is one of shaking a fist while delivering a verbal message that's incongruent. That's the whole process. Not just shaking a fist.
-- When the process and the content are incongruent, then focusing on the process clarifies the message communicated.

Tone of voice conveys process. Listen to how a person speaks, in addition to the words themselves. Does the person have a flat tone of voice, or an angry one; does he seem to lecture, while ostensibly relating to you personally? A person can communicate in two ways: congruently, "Hi! Glad to see you!" (Hand reaches out, smile on face, body open); and incongruently, "Oh, hello, I'm really glad to see you." (Tone flat, eyes looking away, body cringing.) People can lie with words easily; lying with their bodies takes considerable skill. When process and content do not match, the speaker may or may not focus on his own ambivalence; the listener also has this choice. Notice the incongruence to appreciate the ambivalence, and go to the process to appreciate the underlying message.

-- They can notice themselves or choose to ignore themselves.

A physics professor tells his class, "P1V1/T1 = P2V2/T2 and gets red in the face at the same time, he conveys a process message that can go something like "You'd better learn that P1V1/T1 equals the other thing, or people will doubt that I can teach." A freshman in the class can ignore the process message if he only wants information about the relationship of pressure, volume, and temperature, and does not care about relating to the professor as a person. When the freshman sits in the professor's office, in a private conference, he might begin to tighten up for no apparent reason. "How come I feel uncomfortable? He gives me simple information, and I feel attacked. There is something wrong with me."

-- He's brainbeating himself right there. Rather than make the responsible question, "How do I make myself uncomfortable?" he's brainbeating himself by asking the question "Why am I uncomfortable?" "Why questions" are disguised accusations.
-- "How come…." I do that.
-- You do? How come you do?
-- He feels as though he's being attacked, and he's just making himself uncomfortable.
-- So he starts looking around and sees what's going on. He says, "Oh, listen to that guy's tone of voice, it's really an angry, nasty tone of voice."
-- Well, that's another thing. That guy talks in an angry tone of voice, and I make myself uncomfortable.
-- And look how I make myself uncomfortable.
-- I'm ignoring him, I'm paying attention to the content only, I'm not focusing on what is going on between us, and I'm also telling myself I'd better be careful because he's a professor.
-- And I'm tightening myself up in response to the process.
-- So he pays attention to the professor and to the process, and then—
-- And to himself.
-- I really think that's an important point. It bears on the responsibility point, too.
-- Of course it's an important point. It's critical. To pay attention to what's going on with yourself and your environment, to take responsibility for your own reactions and to take a look at your environment.
-- Well, you're in that environment, OK-- but how come you choose to react this way?
-- That's a "how come" again.
-- Notice that "why" question.
-- Yeah. Came right back in again. So, "How am I reacting in this environment?" That's all he really cares about anyway.
-- If the guy is reacting in any way related to tightening up, then the answer to "How am I reacting?" is, "I'm tightening my muscles.” A straight physiological answer, "I'm not breathing.” You don't have to go into any brainbeating.
-- He may be brainbeating himself in his head with thoughts, and while he's doing that, holding his breath. He's paying attention to his thoughts, not his stomach.
-- He may not be aware of holding his breath while he's thinking.
-- Right. When he's thinking about pressure, volume, and temperature, then he's not paying attention to his breathing. When he is thinking "How come I feel attacked?" he's still not paying attention to his breathing. He can abandon pressure, volume, and temperature for a minute, and pay attention to his breathing, which is also a matter of pressure, volume, and temperature. He can also abandon his secondary activity of brainbeating himself.

When two people talk together, and one has an edge in his voice, the second may feel like the target of any anger he senses. When fifty people in a room listen to a lecturer, the lecturer's process stands out as clearly his own.

-- It's always his own process.
-- It's more obvious here, is what we're saying. If a guy is talking to fifty people, and he's uptight and angry, it's more obvious to any person in the room, like you, that he's not angry at you. But if he's got you alone, you might think, "Oh, he's pissed at me. When I leave, and the next person comes in, he's going to be friendly."
-- I wouldn't be surprised, though, in a lecture, when a guy's laying on a heavy trip, that a good many people in the audience are responding automatically and personally.
-- They figure it's them.
-- They're squeezing and holding. Not attending to process.

The patient always interests himself in content and motivation, rather than process.

-- He wants to tell you his story. Tell you how he's right and the other guy is wrong. Wants to tell you the incidents of his life. Wants to tell you all of his stuff. What his wife said to him at breakfast, and what he said to her, and how what she said led him to say what he said. That's all content stuff.

We teach him to pay attention to his process. How he does himself. "I just can't seem to get along with my wife," he says. He does not pay attention to himself.

-- I don't know what aspects of himself he's not paying attention to. The tone of voice in which he says that sentence. His minimizing, using the word "just." His refusal to focus on himself. He's focusing on his wife, and saying that she's somebody he can't get along with, instead of saying that he's doing something.
-- We also don't know whether he gets long with other women. All we know is that he doesn't get long with his wife.
-- I don't know that.
-- Well, he says "I just can't seem to get a long with my wife." He gets a short with his wife.

He comes into therapy asking the agent to help him change so that he can get along with his wife.

-- "He comes into therapy asking the agent to help him get a long…. " So that he can get long with his wife.
-- He wants us to help him get a long. I'm happy with the guy having a short, what do I care if he gets a long?
-- Instead, we ask him to notice exactly-- well, I don't know about “exactly” -- how he and his wife get a short for each other. How they give each other a short time.
-- Rather than a long.
-- They're selling themselves short.
-- I never thought of "long" that way, but it sure fits.
-- I looked at it, and there it was; and when it's long it may not fit.

We ask him to notice how he and his wife make trouble for each other and for themselves. Many couples go into marital therapy to set up a program for change, to give both partners a chance to grow and get a long.

-- To grow, and as he grows, he gets a long.
-- We should separate "a" from “long."
-- With a little hyphen.
-- No, just "a long." Where can I get a long?

Such couples create a fantasy of the future. When a man and a woman want each other "to be" different, then they want something they do not have, and can never have. They make their process complaining.

-- The way you make yourself miserable is by focusing on what you don't have.
-- Wanting something they don't have.
-- Any want is for something you don't have.
-- That's the old meaning of the word-- I "want" something, I don't have that thing[3].
-- Their process is wanting somebody different from the person they're married to. But instead of leaving that person and getting somebody different, they make the choice to stay with that person and complain that the person isn't a different person. Which is a bizarre process. When I say to a person, "I want you to be different than you are," I say "I don't want you around."
-- As soon as you ask somebody to be any different, to change a little, or modify their behavior, you say "I don't want you." The existential conclusion.
-- And people collude in this, too, because the other partner is just as likely to say, "Yeah, I should be the way you describe. I need to change. I see that I have a problem."
-- Frequently the part that you don't like about a person is just the part they themselves want to change.
-- That happens here. The guy can't get a long. The woman says, "Listen, you're a perfect husband except you can't get a long." The guy says, "Yeah, you're right. There is something wrong with me, I can't get a long with you." Well, he's brainbeating when he says that. There's nothing wrong with him. She complains rather than leave a guy she doesn't want to be around. He complains rather than leave, with the rationalization that she's OK because she makes his dinner and makes the bed and sends the clothes out, and all that shit.
-- Well, whatever, we don't know how he's hanging on. He may be perfectly satisfied with her, and like having a woman around, who'll make sure he doesn't get a long.
-- So what's happening is that one of the partners is connecting up with the other partner's top dog. If I can pick something out about you that you also are critical of in yourself, then rather than give me a hard time back when I give you a hard time about that topic, you tighten up. "Don't you notice you get very quiet when company comes over?" Then you say to yourself, "You're right. I've noticed that, I am uptight when company comes over, that's something I ought to work on." So we've got both our top dogs now working on you, colluding to get you to change. So then rather than being obvious, "I don't like that about you, goodbye, I don't want to be with you," we then get into this game of "Let's change you."
-- Top dog is the one who criticizes. You're this, you're that. This is your critic. Bottom dog says, "I'm sorry; what can I do? I'm a victim." Now, you've got other possibilities. For instance, you could identify with the guy's bottom dog, how would that be?
-- You say, "Gee, I feel so terrible. I feel shitty about not getting a long."
-- And l say to you, "That's all right. We don't get a long very well, and you're doing the best you can. I appreciate you’re doing the best you can, and it's OK with me as long as it's OK with you."
-- Very nice. Good example.
- -“l know you have these headaches, and you have blood in your stools, and I love you anyway. I don't mind."
-- l'm not sure about your example of joining bottom dogs. Joining bottom dogs is a very unstable situation. I'll give you an example. You have a certain characteristic, and l say, "l like your characteristic, it has a payoff for me. By your being depressed and miserable, all the women who come around find me more interesting, more alive. Stay just the way you are, I really like you." What I'm communicating to you is that I have a payoff for your being miserable. And l'm saying that in the open. That puts you in a bind. Then you say, "I'm missing out, and he's getting something, because I'm a shit, and he'd like me to stay this way."
-- That depends on whether I perceive myself as missing out.
-- If that's your bottom dog, you do see yourself as missing out~ If you don't see yourself as missing out, that's not a bottom dog statement.
- -I've seen you do that. I see you as encouraging the other person to change in a sneaky way.
-- It's a tease.
-- There is a teasing aspect there. You're encouraging the person to be different from the way he is, and not acknowledging that you're doing that.
-- You're telling him to "stay the way you are," and pointing out all the goodies he's missing by staying that way.
-- It's a roundabout way of saying "I don't like the way you are."
- -Right. That can be true.
- -It has to be true. The fact is, I'm depressed. You're choosing to be around somebody who's depressed; that's the thing you're commenting on first.
-- Neat example.

l don't want this person," the husband says. "I hope that in the future she will change so that l will enjoy her." He ignores the reality, the now, that he does not enjoy his wife. He says, "I want to live with you, but…," meaning that he does not want to live with her, he wants to live with someone else. Well and good, he can find someone else, except that he doesn't want to do that either, he wants to complain about his wife.

The patient refuses to make choices based on his own interests at every moment with his partner. He hangs onto a previous choice. We work with such people by showing them how they hang on, to each other and to their own dissatisfaction.

-- The way we work is not to hang around with these people at all. We discourage anybody from coming around except us. We sit around and write books and have fun. I was seeing a couple of couples for a while, I quickly referred them. My meeting with them in the context of an office was encouraging them to want to change and to continue to think of themselves as needing to change.

We can teach the patient to pay attention to his process by pointing out pieces of process. When he asks a question, instead of answering, we can say, "I notice you just asked a question." When he complains, we can point out the process of complaining. We do not ask him to change; we ask him to continue his behavior and even to exaggerate it.

Exaggeration functions as a magnifying glass that brings unseen aspects of process into view.

-- That's one of those sentences that I'd like to have with a space before it, block lettering, and a space after it. And all throughout the book, when we have these little gem-y sentences, let's have them stand out like that. That's a gem sentence, for sure.
-- Who wrote that?
-- We did.

We may also de-emphasize the content of what the patient says by asking him to make a sound or talk in gibberish so that his tone of voice and body movement conveys his message. We give the patient direct feedback by mimicking him or showing him his behavior on videotape. Some people are willing to see their process on the tube.

-- Vision is one of the senses where defensiveness is very obvious. People have awesome blind spots. They don't see what is going on.

We frustrate patients when they attempt to ignore process. We had one patient who habitually talked with her teeth clenched. We decided to have her announce her arrival at the therapy session by shouting from the parking lot, some fifty feet from our office. If she kept her mouth shut, she didn't get her appointment. In order to see us, she had to cure herself. She had to become aware of her process.

-- Well, I don't think that's an example of what we started the paragraph with.
-- It isn't. It's a swell example of something.
-- It's an example of something, but not what we were talking about.
-- I want to use that example, though. It's a great example.
-- Well, what is it an example of? An example of a double bind. What's an example of how we focus on process?
-- When he asks a question and we don't answer.
-- When we say, "'Make that question into a statement."
-- Let's give another example of responding to a person with comments on his process rather than on what he says.

A patient asks a "why" question ·like, "Why do you tap your feet like that?" And we respond and say, "Yeah, why do you tap your feet that way, what do you do that for? We exaggerate his process.

-- “I notice you’re pointing your finger at me. Keep pointing at me and ask that question again.”
-- Another example is refusing to answer people's questions at all, when they damn well want their questions answered. There's an assumption made in our culture that when someone asks a question, the other person answers it.
-- When a guy appears in the doorway and asks, "Can I come in?" and I say, "Gee, those are nice shoes you're wearing," or I don't answer him at all, that's an outright frustration.
-- I'll tell you what. I'd like to throw this paragraph out anyway, because it doesn't have much to do with process and content. It has to do with questions, which we've talked about before.
-- Well·, it's connected in the next sentence.

Focusing on process frustrates the patient, since it jerks him from the content level.

-- Commenting on process is frustrating to the patient. That's the connection.
-- That's the connection. The whole discussion about questions, we've been over and over that.
-- It doesn't matter when you write a book if you repeat things four or five times. People don't get it the first time you say it anyway. Most books are about five pages long, and 125 pages are repetition.
-- So we're saying that focusing on process is a way of frustrating the patient.
-- Right.
-- Let's change that word "jerks" him from his content level to "wrenches."
-- I don't know, "jerks" fits with getting a long.

When we leave the content level of discussion, we use a powerful technique. The technique can be used as a method of gameplaying, called level-jumping. The patient complains bitterly. I say, "I notice you've got a lot of tension in your forehead, and your voice sounds angry." The patient stops short. We obviously pay little attention to the content of what he says.

-- There he is, "short" again.
-- You know, those remarks sound strange to me. I say, "Pay attention to your forehead, exaggerate what you're doing with your forehead." Or, "Listen to your voice."
-- I rarely say, "You have tension and sound angry" unless I am out to brainbeat someone.
-- So the sentence is accurate-- we're bringing him up short by cutting a piece off him.
-- By brainbeating him.
-- I've heard you say that before, "I notice you've got a lot of tension in your forehead."
-- He was brainbeating me, teasingly.
-- The non-brainbeating way of saying that is, "I notice that you're pointing at me with your toothbrush. Exaggerate what you're doing." I can actually notice that he's pointing with a toothbrush. I can't notice tension in his forehead. All I can notice is wrinkles. Once I interpret those wrinkles as tension, I'm brainbeating. He may be tense, he may not be.
-- It's not necessary for me to tell the guy he's tensing his forehead. What's the difference if I notice? Even if I'm right when I say he's tense.
-- No difference at all. You're telling him what you notice. He doesn't notice it. You're saying, "I notice you." What do you care if he does anything about himself?
-- What's it to you to tell him that you notice it?
-- Why not?
-- Why yes?
-- We're talking about the therapy game here. And part of the therapy game is to optimize certain kinds of communication. And I think that telling the person, "Notice what you're doing with your forehead, and exaggerate it," optimizes a certain kind of communication. Saying, "I notice you're tensing your forehead," optimizes another kind of communication, a form of brainbeating.
-- Well, it sounds to me as though you're being very careful.
-- You're "yes-butting."
-- I want to move on. One of the things I notice that's going on now that I don't want to get into is convincing you on a word level of some of the things that I do that are part of my process. What you use as a way of getting into this "convince-you" game is the "yes, but." You use "well" as the "yes, but."
-- I think that's a good process to continue. Not the "yes, but" process, rather forcing you to explain in words what you do. That's what the book is about.
-- Fine, it's the convince-me-with-words that I want to draw the line about. Explain is fine. Let's see if we can get our process to be your encouraging me to be more explicit in words, without my having to convince anybody.

He can start to maneuver back into the driver's seat by opening a new discussion, "Yes, I behave that way a lot, that's the way I am." To which the agent may reply, "I notice you play down the importance of what I say."

-- That's a mindfuck, right there again.
-- Take it out. Let's just move on.

Two people can play this level-jumping game until they lose all contact with one another; they have to agree to talk on the same level or quit talking.

-- It's a game. The patient tries to brainbeat back by starting a new discussion. "Yes, I behave that way a lot, that's the way I am." Meaning, "What do you want me to do, be other than the way I am? You are brainbeating me." To which the therapist can then reply, "I notice you play down the importance…." He jumps to another level.

A patient and an agent meet in a special situation in which the patient pays the agent to point out his process. When we comment on process, we offer the patient a way to an awareness of himself, and teach him a way to get in touch with his flow.

-- Well, commenting on process, I don't think is a good way of putting it. We're focusing on his process, and acting as models for him by focusing on our process. We train the person to become aware that there is such a thing as process.
-- We're talking about getting the person himself to focus on process, not us focusing on his process.
-- We're pointing it out, or focusing, or teaching them, that there is such a thing as process. There is such a thing as process. A lot of people just don't know that.
-- What we're encouraging people to do is to experience their awareness of process. You can't do that by commenting on process. You do that by training people to attend to their experience, to start coming to their senses.

Every person has several processes going on at once; he may breathe, dance, smile, and scratch at the same time. The agent follows his own interest-- chooses which process he will pay attention to.

Once the patient becomes aware of his processes, he may choose which to follow. He also has the choice of flowing with himself or changing himself. A patient's characteristic process determines the way he tortures himself. These characteristics bring him into "therapy.” By having a characteristic process, a patient tortures himself. Trying to change this characteristic process is another way of torturing himself. Once he tells himself that he wants to change his process because he doesn't like himself, he leaves the process of awareness of himself, and begins the process of giving himself a hard time-- "I must change"-- another characteristic process that he can become aware of. When a patient flows with his self-torture process, he becomes aware of this process.

-- I like that paragraph. Let's put it in twice.

Once the patient becomes aware of his processes, he may choose which to follow. He also has the choice of flowing with himself or changing himself. A patient's characteristic process determines the way he tortures himself. These characteristics bring him into "therapy.” By having a characteristic process, a patient tortures himself. Trying to change this characteristic process is another way of torturing himself. Once he tells himself that he wants to change his process because he doesn't like himself, he leaves the process of awareness of himself, and begins the process of giving himself a hard time-- "I must change"-- another characteristic process that he can become aware of. When a patient flows with his self-torture process, he becomes aware of this process.

-- He does. Patients frequently go through a stage of flowing with their self-torture processes.
-- They give themselves a hard time when they say, "Oh, I see what I'm doing, I've got to change that."
-- To exaggerate the self-torture process, to pay attention to yourself, is to undercut the self-torture.
-- It really is.
-- It's like me being grumpy and depressed today, that's my little number. It's different from being simply grumpy and depressed without awareness and exaggeration.
-- That's the paradoxical element.
-- You make a joke out of what you're doing ••••
-- You're fucking-A right, Dr. I. Q.
-- Now the important thing that comes across here, that I think should be underlined, is that this process never stops. We are ongoing processes of living, paying attention.

The concept of changing behavior compares process in the now with process in the past, or process in the future. The patient makes a comparison and rates himself low.

-- Telling yourself to change is a process, too.
-- And it's not a process of changing; it's a process of telling yourself to change.
-- A process of self-torture.

We choose how we behave every second. We can control the nature of our brain waves, an aspect of behavior that seems to many totally beyond conscious control. Patients find themselves making the same choices, over and over again; their choice seems like no choice at all. They do not attend to how they make their choices. They repeat characteristic processes by not paying attention to their experiences.

Thus, we use the word "habits" to describe acts in the now, choices for blindness and unawareness, rather than influences from the past.

-- I like that. This is one of those sentences that stick out.
-- Every time I light up a cigarette I make the choice of not being aware.
-- When you are aware of that smell, and that taste, and that feeling in your throat, I think that you would just stop smoking.
-- Not necessarily.
-- I think you can choose to feel that feel, smell that smell, ba dum da dum da  dum. I used to think that if people were really in touch with themselves as they shot somebody in war, they would stop shooting people. Not true, people complain, wear peace symbols on their chest, and go out there and shoot people, throw napalm at them.
-- They might even dig it. They might even dig that smell and that taste in the mouth from smoking. Some people even enjoy sex.
-- It's a nice way to spend the day.
-- And after a while you can have sex again.
-- Very mellow and quiet.
-- Such an excuse not to do a lot.
-- Because you're satisfied.
-- Gee, I once had sex, I thought it was torture.
-- Reader, substitute the words "a hangover" for the word "sex." Substitute any behavior.

The agent pays attention to what is obvious to him, and follows the process. The patient says he feels anxious. Very well, find out how he makes himself anxious. He tightens his stomach, holds his breath a little, moves this muscle that he can point to, holds his left leg rigid. He then knows that to experience anxiety, he can hold his breath, tighten his stomach, move that muscle, hold his left leg rigid. When he wants to change this state, he can do the opposite: breathe deeply, relax the muscles, etc. Frequently, the patient will not attend to how to relax certain muscles. We suggest that he exaggerate the tension. Exaggeration brings other muscles into play, near the ones that are being tightened unawares, and gives the patient some idea of where to direct his attention.

-- No, that's not true. That's not what happens at all. Exaggeration puts those muscles which he has tensed into a tenser position, which he cannot hold. When he stops holding those muscles, he experiences himself relaxing, and he attends to the relaxing process. He experiences releasing his muscles from a height of tension to relaxation.
-- He gets in touch with relaxation by tensing more, and being unable to carry that level of tension.
-- Both are true. He learns about how he tenses from tensing, and how he relaxes from relaxing.

He may choose to make new choices when he learns how he creates his own characteristics.

~-Awareness results from paying attention to how I create me.

When the agent points out the patient's process, and the patient continues in his process, paying attention to how he behaves, he learns how he does what he does. Once he learns the how, he can choose to continue or not to continue. He is now responsible.

-- Well, I'd like to back to the beginning of the paragraph. We started out talking about change, and later on we're back to talking about change again. Once he learns how he does what he does, the patient can choose to continue or not to continue.
-- I'd like to get rid of the word "change," or at least the concept of changing behavior.
-- Boy, I sure would too.
-- The word "change" means I'm comparing what I'm doing now, to what I did before. So I may be doing this, taking my finger and rubbing my thigh. I know how I do that. I do that by taking this finger, putting it down here, and moving it forward. Now, once I know how I'm doing that, I may choose to do this, I may choose to move my finger the other way. I don't have to compare my moving this way to my old habit of moving that way. I know that I can go this way or that way, without even paying attention to my memories of old behavior. Paying attention to the old leads to comparisons…and everyone knows comparisons are odious.
-- When I compare what I do now to what I used to do, I brainbeat myself.
-- I'm working with certain kinds of behavior, seeing similarities….
-- You are seeking patterns. OK…let me offer you another method. Don’t pay attention to the patterns, pay attention to yourself moment to moment. Forget the patterns. I'm not saying your way is a poor way. Oops, I realize I am, I'm saying your way is lousy. You can say, "I think I'll look over my behavior in the past week, and notice the times in which, when there were three people with me, and two of them were talking to me, I avoided the third person." I offer another way-- which is, the next time you're with three people, pay attention to the interaction between you and the three people. Period.
-- Instead of comparing to how I did it the last time.
-- Or spending your now racking your brains about the then, looking for a syndrome.
-- And what are you going to do with the syndrome once you get it?
-- Then you say, "Ah, I see a connection. Whenever there are two males and one female, I do X. Now, the next time I'm with three people, I'm going to pay attention to what I do, or purposely do X." That's the so-called value in looking for patterns.
-- We do a kind of therapy in which we advocate not looking back.
-- Absolutely true. I live in a life-style of not looking back.
-- I agree with you on what you say about change. That's why we run into all these difficulties about change. Because people use the word "change" to mean looking back.
-- Maybe that ought to be the title of our book, "Mein Kopf."
-- No matter how you look back, you never have an experience of what happened before. You only have the process of looking back, memory, words. The experience you have in the now is an experience. To compare an experience with something completely different is a very strange thing to do. It takes a leap of faith.
-- There's nothing to compare; there's only one experience, mine, now. "How I do what I do" defines my process. When I attend to my process, I attend to my process. When I focus on my awareness, I focus on my awareness. This tautology underlies the agent's process.
-- Awareness is awareness is awareness. No one can teach others how to experience; we can teach how to focus, how to attend.
-- We teach people how to focus. We teach people how to pay attention to themselves, how to pay attention to their process.
-- After studying with us, people can do a lot of focusing. Then they can go focus themselves!


To get in touch with your own process:

1. Practice talking in gibberish. Listen to the tone of your voice.
-- Do this around town. Do this in your car while you're driving.
-- See if you can communicate to a person entirely by gibberish, and surprise them.
-- My little son does that every day.
-- Of course he does…for instance, complain about a meal at a restaurant without putting in any content at all.
-- Go see a foreign film, in a language you don't understand, without subtitles.

2. Watch yourself in a mirror. Watch yourself watching yourself.

3. Face yourself. Look carefully at your face. See your process written in its lines. Every line is the result of a characteristic repeated gesture. "Be" your face, and describe yourself.
-- Start with a simple description: "I am my face."
-- Be the two sides of your face, and have a dialogue between the left side and the right side.
-- "I can't see you."
-- Be your mouth, and have a dialogue with your eyes. Face yourself. FACE YOUR SELF.

4. Tape-record a conversation with a group of friends. Listen to the same 10-minute segment five or six times. Listen to your tones. Your music to the dance of life.

5. Spend a day not talking at all.
-- And listen to your own inner process. Are there things you think because you're glad you're not going to have to say anything about them? Notice how you think about them anyway.
-- People aren't going to do any of these exercises. They're just not going to do them.
-- Not necessarily true.
-- They might do them. I don't care either way.
-- I do. Send me a note if you do my exercise.

6. Feel the bottoms of your feet. Experience every callus as a characteristic of your walking process. See how you run. Walk in such a way that you exaggerate the pressure on the parts of your feet that you're putting pressure on. Now walk in an opposite way. Put pressure on parts of your feet where there are no calluses, and alternate as you walk, one walk and then another. Exaggerate, go all the way with one walk, then the other. Make a caricature of each walk.

7. Pay attention to the way you drive a car. Are you hurrying, trying to pass, impatient at red lights? Notice your breathing. Notice how often you forget that you are driving on the highway.
-- Oh, this is a good exercise.
-- I don't think it's good at all. There isn't enough focus.
-- The next thing is, "Pay attention to the way you drive a car. Notice the muscles in your hands, forearms, biceps, shoulders, neck."
-- That's more explicit.
-- Pay attention to each of these muscles as you drive.
-- And now smash up your car, because you're not paying attention to the road.
-- That's the way to do it. Pay attention to the muscles of your body, both tensing and relaxing. Driving is a tension-producing exercise. Go into your process verbally; swear out loud at other drivers, curse at delays.
-- Then you don't need a radio.

8. Pay attention to your posture as you walk down the street. Exaggerate your posture slightly. Now even more. Keep this exaggerated posture as you go about your activities. You can't stand straight until you learn how you are bending over. Learn how you are bending over in life.

-- Clifford Barney
August 1972
October 2018


[1] And if the revision changes the meaning, as this one does, we would eliminate the sentence entirely.

[2] Many of their clients – and colleagues - considered this method shocking, but Richard and Larry never let that bother them. They felt that they were teasing.

[3] “Want” comes from a root meaning empty, or lacking.