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Introduction to the Practice of Loving Presence

by Ron Kurtz and Donna Martin


The Power of Loving Presence in Therapy

by Donna Martin





The Practice of Loving Presence "Applied Buddhism"


"We are participatory beings who inhabit a participatory reality, seeking relationships that enhance our sense of what it means to be alive."
(Stephen Batchelor: Buddhism Without Beliefs)


As Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says,  the spiritual life is not about fighting ourselves, as so many of us tend to do, but rather it is "sitting in the midst of all things and letting the self open to them with the heart of compassion and the beginner's mind of a child .”  Hakomi and the Practice of Loving Presence are an invitation to this opening.


More and more, western culture is feeling the influence of the east and its spiritual traditions. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism has been spreading its teachings of wisdom and compassion throughout the world. Buddhism, unlike most religions, is a practice more than a set of beliefs. Its most visible spokesman, the Dalai Lama, has said, "My religion is kindness".


Wisdom without words

Born of inner silence

Carried within the heart

Dispensed with loving kindness

This is true medicine.

(David Crow: In Search of the Medicine Buddha) 


The three main aspects of the practice of Buddhism are called buddha, dharma and sangha. Buddha (which literally means awake) refers to the act of waking up to our real nature and to the truth about suffering. Dharma is the path, the way out of unnecessary suffering. Sangha refers to the community or support group which helps us on this path.


Hakomi has strong parallels with each of these aspects of Buddhism. The Hakomi Method is essentially a method of mindfulness-based assisted self-discovery. We assist each other to discover whatever habits and beliefs are contributing to unnecessary suffering. We do this by using simple interactive experiments in mindfulness. In order for this self-discovery to happen in a context of safety, we practice a way of being which we call Loving Presence.


Loving Presence is a state of mind in which one person (for example the therapist) sees the other (the client) in a certain way, a way that is nourishing for both. It is a way of perceiving the beauty in the other, seeing the person as a source of inspiration, or perhaps recognizing something that is universally human, something that touches the heart.


This way of seeing someone has a receptive quality to it, as if the simple act of taking the person in is a kind of nourishment, a gift. This way of perceiving creates an attitude that is subtly felt by the other person, who somehow knows she is being appreciated, respected, loved in a spiritual way. People feel safe then to open up, to reveal themselves, to explore themselves.


In Hakomi trainings we use the group to support each person to experience loving presence from both directions. The group becomes what in Buddhism is called a sangha. In his book, Buddhism without Beliefs, Stephen Batchelor refers to sangha as a kind of friendship.

"In terms of dharma practice" he writes, "a true friend is more than just someone with whom we share common values and who accepts us for what we are. Such a friend is someone whom we can trust to refine our understanding of what it means to live, who can guide us when we're lost and help us find the way along a path, who can assuage our anguish through the reassurance of his or her presence."

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Hakomi for the Buddhist-Minded (in Austin Texas) 


This approach to psychotherapy as assisted self-discovery is based on the Hakomi principles of unity, organicity, mindfulness, non-violence, and body-mind-spirit wholeness. These principles are also an intrinsic part of Buddhist tradition:

1.    Unity is the principle that embraces the concept of Oneness and interconnectedness. Thich Nhat Han coined a term for this: interbeing.

2.    Organicity trusts the wisdom within us all. There is a natural order from which everything unfolds, including healing.

3.    Mindfulness is a practice of witnessing present experience in order to bring the light of consciousness to our lives.

4.    Non-violence (ahimsa) flows naturally out of the first three principles and becomes compassion and loving kindness.

5.    Wholeness pervades experience, reminding us that body, mind, and spirit are its expression. In Hakomi, we work at the interface of all three

Just as Buddhism recognizes the possibility of freedom from unnecessary suffering and suggests a path to that end, so too does Hakomi offer a way to reduce suffering by bringing to consciousness limiting or damaging beliefs and behaviors. One step on the Buddhist eight-fold path to end suffering is called “right seeing”.


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