To think about: 6 Processwork Ideas
Processwork is a unique approach to personal development and collective change. It ideates, it addresses a broad range of issues, it penetrates layers of experience, and it dives into the deepest nature of things. Below, learn about some of its most foundational ideas, think about them critically, and find my accompanying advice.
Idea 1: Growth and learning happen at the edges of awareness and identity
We are who we are. But we are also who we are not.
Who we think we are, that pesky and rigid “identity,” determines how we perceive the world and how we react to situations. But one’s identity is not one thing. We are always changing, if incrementally, as we react to a constantly shifting environment. Personal growth occurs by exploring the margins of awareness and identity, and by including rejected, emergent, or not-yet-known parts of ourselves in our self-perception and behavioral repertoire. This allows us to live more fully and authentically. And it also may cause us to make more trouble.
Within society, people and groups on the margins - the artists, the irrepressible outcasts, and those that refuse to be silenced - have always been a source of creativity and cultural transformation.
Processwork is a method for expanding beyond what is known or central by honoring and including what is marginal.
Thought Experiment 1:
- Describe yourself to yourself in one sentence. Who are you?
- Describe something that you are not, but that captures your attention. Either someone you know, someone in the media, it could even be a pet or a piece of nature. Or it could be something others see in you that you don’t see in yourself.
- Act like the person, quality or thing, just for a minute. Have fun with it - nobody’s watching.
- Try to be more like that, in a good way.
Get to know the margins of yourself and the group or community. Bring what you find to the center and learn from it.
Idea 2: The bad things that happen can sometimes be the best things
You can’t be a loser if you are a learner.
Shit happens. The basement floods and stuff gets ruined. You get sick. You lose a job. Someone you love dies. Certain shit repeats and patterns emerge. The bathtub overflows. The roof leaks. All that water everywhere! You take a job you hate. You get really sick. You have yet another relationship with an unavailable partner.
Humans have a natural tendency to avoid things that hurt, disturb, or challenge us. But funny enough, we also have a tendency to pick at our scabs - just at the moment of healing. There is wisdom in that. If we lean in to the pain points and explore them with the right frame of mind and skills, we discover meaning, purpose, and new direction lying in wait. Harvesting the learning from struggle, uncertainty, and failure takes what Zen Buddhists call beginner’s mind. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." Shunryu Suzuki. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Processwork is a method for leveraging learning and inspiration from struggle, obstacle, and pain.
Thought Experiment 2:
Think of the last time something bad happened. Was there a hidden benefit or secondary gain? Did your pain create purpose? Did it set you in a new direction? Did you learn?
Thought Experiment 2a:
- Think of a disturbing person. Identify the specific behavior that is most disturbing. Now pick the scab. Make it worse. Is the person loud, lazy, critical, arrogant, successful, famous, too beautiful?
- Now act like that person. Don’t worry, no one’s looking.
- Learn from it. Do you need to be more or less like that person?
Don’t avoid your obstacles - they’ll only get bigger. Instead, make them bigger, louder, and worse within your own imagination. Explore them in great detail. Be open to unexpected solutions and insights.
Idea 3: Harmony needs dissonance
The thing is, you can cut off a couple of passions and only focus on one, but after a while, you’ll start to feel phantom limb pain.
Austin Kleon. Steal Like An Artist.
Although we all tend to marginalize or “vote down” voices that either oppose our own or just don’t fit, this way of thinking and living is not sustainable. When we ignore parts of ourselves, neglect our bodies, or abuse the environment, crisis occurs. History teaches that when a minority group gets suppressed or oppressed, it rises up, often with a vengeance.
Classical democracy touts majority rule. Deep Democracy, the philosophical basis of Processwork, suggests that all voices and perceptions of reality are needed in order to understand the totality of a system. Allowing diverse voices, including emotional and extreme experiences that are often excluded from public discourse, to interact and dialogue in a facilitated space builds human connection and brings unexpected solutions.
Processwork is a method for moving people, teams, and communities from division and conflict to collaboration and learning.
Thought Experiment 3:
Think about a problem you are trying to solve. It could be internal, in your family or on your team, personal, professional or creative. Identify at least three points of view on how to solve the problem. Give each perspective a voice and allow it to make its case. Let them talk to each other. Listen. Don’t oppress. Pick the viewpoint that seems most ridiculous and listen more deeply. Learn something new.
Take the time to get to know and understand multiple perspectives on any issue or problem you are trying to solve. Get to know and understand the marginal members of your team as well as your own madness and rejected perspectives.
Idea 4: Reality is multi-dimensional
If you can talk about it,
it ain’t Tao.
If it has a name,
it’s just another thing.
Tao Te Ching. Ron Hogan translation
(from Damien Walter)
There are several ways that people experience “reality”: through objective facts, through subjective feelings, and through a sense of spirit or oneness. As much as humans emphasize measurable, objective, and evidence-based aspects of reality (facts), we often behave, live, and love based on subjective, emotional and non-rational experiences (feelings and dreams). Some people also experience moments of unity, connection, and a sense of oneness (or god) through nature, prayer, meditation, sex, sports, or drug trips. We can be more fully awake by recognizing and valuing these diverse levels of experience in others and ourselves.
Conflict arises when people communicate and engage from different levels of experience. Stepping beyond the factual world and the limitations of the rational mind is a diversity issue. Arguing “facts” with someone who is in a feeling mood, or with someone who believes in the power of prayer, is an exercise in futility. Respecting where people are at reduces conflict and allows for more effective communication.
Processwork values multiple realities: measurable, objective (consensus) realities; subjective, psychological (dream-like) realities; and ineffable, boundary-less (spiritual) realities.
Thought Experiment 4:
Think of a conflict with a friend, family member, or co-worker that did not go well. Perhaps it seemed intractable. Recall your own perspective, the perspective of your opponent, and the atmosphere between you. In your imagination, go to your favorite place in nature. Look around. Take a few breaths. Feel the atmosphere and let it affect your mood. Look at the conflict from that state of mind and allow nature to give you advice. Learn something.
Listen to and consider deeply: the perspectives you get from your dreams, from nature, and from altered states of consciousness.
Idea 5: Power is your friend
And by power, I mean vulnerability too.
We receive so many mixed messages about power. It is not at all surprising that we confuse and misuse it. We tend to underestimate our power and its impact on others. We focus on those who (we think) have more power, especially when they use it against us, while ignoring or marginalizing those who have less.
Power comes from many places and can take many forms. Recognizing the privileges bestowed on us by virtue of our birth or social standing - skin color, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, etc. - are an essential part of personal and professional development, and of being an aware citizen and decent human being.
Identifying and stepping into one’s innate or hard-earned personal powers, especially the authentic power that arises through dealing with adversity and challenge, is also essential to growth and leadership development. So-called soft powers include traits like self-confidence, the ability to show vulnerability, to embrace uncertainty, to lead or follow gracefully, to accept feedback, and to express a wide range of emotions. These personal powers should be embraced and celebrated; they can be used for the benefit of people and communities.
Process work provides a framework for exploring the many dimensions of social, positional and personal power.
Thought Experiment 5:
Recall a recent time you suffered something painful around power. Ask yourself: Did you feel hurt by someone who used power against you unfairly? Or was it a story in which you used your power unfairly? Now recall the opposite. Ask yourself: Which story came to mind first? Which story holds more of an emotional charge? What does this tell you?
Thought Experiment 5a:
Think of someone who doesn’t like you. Ask yourself: How have I used my power with that person in an unaware way?
Learn to use your earned and unearned privileges well. This will help you be more effective (and decent) when you are in a position of hierarchical power.
Idea 6: You don’t have to know anything to dream
When nothing is for sure we remain alert, perennially on our toes. It is more exciting not to know which bush the rabbit is hiding behind…
Carlos Casteneda, Journey to Ixtlan.
People are naturally creative and imaginative. Sadly, we un-learn this innate ability in the process of growing up, particularly in school, where we learn other important skills like reading, mathematics, paying attention, and following rules. Processwork encourages and teaches us to dream again.
Since every individual is unique, there is no canned prescription for creating significant change in ourselves or in the world. However, by re-training our imagination, by supporting our minds to wander and fantasize, by teaching ourselves to notice seemingly insignificant signals, flirts, and tendencies, we find that new directions emerge from the wisdom of our deepest selves. If you dare to dive deep into your own unique experience, you will find your greatest teacher.
Every individual (and group) has the capacity to develop an awareness practice and skill set they can use to notice what’s emerging - visions, body sensations, movements and signals in the environment - and to use these emergent experiences to grow.
Example: For one person, something named “anger” might be experienced as pressure in the belly, as if something wants to break out. The teaching: Break free! Find out what’s holding you back. Another person’s “anger” might activate a vision of an arrow piercing the bulls-eye. The teaching: Be an arrow. Go straight for your goal. Get to know what’s stopping you.
Process work offers a method and skill set to dive deep into each unique experience and access the wisdom within.
Thought Experiment 6:
Remember the last time you experienced a strong emotion. Maybe it was anger, sadness, frustration or elation. Ask yourself how you experienced it. Was it a body feeling, a voice in your head, a vision? Go more deeply into that experience and allow it to unfold until some message comes through. Believe in it!
Don’t listen to my advice. Your experience is your best teacher. Trust yourself.