Relational Implicit: Embodied relational mindfulness in psychotherapy
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Neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and embodied cognition have been contributing to an emerging model of the human mind that is profoundly different from previous conceptions. This emerging model is not just ‘top down’, focusing on the exceptionality of the human mind. Its attention to ‘bottom up’ processes stresses the continuity with other animals and other life forms.
To me, this model feels very concrete and directly useful in my work. What I would like to do here is to convey how.
The central piece is how intertwined ‘relationality’ and embodiment are. Not just for human beings, or animals, but for all life forms. Basically, in order to exist, all life forms need to be able to respond to the situation they’re in. This is not just the case for human beings, or for animals, but also for plants. This is why I like to this of this as ‘Sunflower Mind’.
The sunflower orients to the sun without needing a ‘mind’ in the anthropomorphic sense. There is no intellect, and no willpower to make this happen. It is all ‘bottom up’.
The responses of more complex life forms are, of course, more sophisticated. But the increased sophistication is essentially a build-up on the same basic functionality: how an organism responds to its situation.
In the case of the sunflower, as in more complex life forms, the response is a ‘whole organism’ response. The ‘organism’ is ‘re-organzing’ to respond appropriately to the situation.
In this context, the word ‘organism’ conveys the sense that life forms can be more usefully understood as a process than as a thing. Understanding the process helps us understand how things are the way they are, and gives us clues on how we may possibly make changes.
So, with this ‘Sunflower Mind’ analogy, we are not separating ‘mind’ from ‘body’, or ‘relationality’ from ’embodiment’. We are observing a constantly unfolding process, that or orienting and re-organizing moment by moment. Much of this process is implicit, as is much of life itself.
I find it very helpful to see this process as the implicit underpinnings of what we work with in therapy. In separate pages, I will describe how I see this implicit process at work:
– at the intrapersonal level, the personal experience of the relational implicit as a felt sense,
– within interpersonal relations, the shared implicit,
– at a social level: the collective implicit.