Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Being Responsible

Scott Bradley

In Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Fritz Perls tells us that his purpose is to teach "how much you gain by taking responsibility for every emotion, every movement you make, every thought you have — and shed responsibility for anybody else. The world is not there for your expectation, nor do you have to live for the expectation of the world. We touch each other by honestly being what we are, not by intentionally making contact."

In a previous post I referred to how much of Perls' psychological perspective parallels Daoist thought; this, I think, is a case in point. Gestalt is about taking responsibility for ourselves in the here and now. This means, among other things, not blaming others, circumstances, or fate for our manner of relating to the world and ourselves. Others do not make us angry, happy or sad; we do. I am responsible for my responses; this is what Zhuangzi meant when he said that we need not allow anything to enter our "numinous reservoir" and so disturb us. This is how the sage is serene in the face of every eventuality.

To take responsibility for one's feelings, thoughts and deeds one must be aware of what they are, and it is this awareness that it is the goal of self-inquiry. "Know thyself."

Taking responsibility need not mean feeling guilty. Indeed, the more one takes responsibility for oneself, the less guilt arises, despite a greater awareness of 'failings'. This is because guilt is a comparative phenomenon; we feel guilt when we concern ourselves with the expectations of others or of ourselves vis-a-vis an abstract ideal of what we 'should' be. The more we take responsibility for ourselves, the more integrated we are with who we are.

When Perls suggests we shed responsibility for all others he is speaking as a therapist. If this personal responsibility is the key to healthy, integrated self-awareness, then it is this that the therapist seeks to nurture in others. Co-dependence is always the enemy in the therapist/patient relationship. Again, Socratic midwifery is the only viable means of 'helping' others in things spiritual.

Finally, Perls touches on that somewhat troubling (for some) Daoist suggestion that we serve our fellows best when we forget them like fish who disperse and forget each other in the rivers and the lakes. Yet, if we take a closer look, we see that these fish still enjoy schooling and frolicking together; forgetting others is allowing them to be responsible for themselves; it is showing them the greatest possible respect; and this is precisely that which enables relationships to flourish.

These are my immediate reflections on Perls' insights. You might want to return to his words above to experience your own.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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