Every Problem Contains the Seed of its Own Solution
By Lane Arye, Ph.D.
Arnold Mindell’s Process Work is an innovative and powerful method of working with individuals, families, and groups. When Mindell began developing Process Work in the 1970’s, he was a training analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Jung was interested in not only the cause of a symptom, but also its purpose, the direction it leads us. He understood that the seed of a solution is contained within the problem itself. Process Work continues in this tradition. The method recognizes patterns for change that first appear as disturbances. Process Work is also rooted in Taoism, which teaches that there is an unseen direction in which things move, a dynamic order that structures the way things are. Process Workers study what is happening in order to follow Nature, which has its own wisdom. When problems are unfolded with accuracy and heart, new ways forward are discovered that are often surprising, creative and transformative.
An example shows how this works in practice. A client complained of anxiety attacks. I asked him to describe his experience of anxiety. He clutched his chest, saying it felt like something squeezing him. I invited him to squeeze a pillow in the same way he felt squeezed. As his hands and arms compressed the pillow against his chest, his eyes closed so he could feel the experience more fully. He was surprised that this was pleasant, and that it relaxed him. Going deeper, he said he felt like he was hugging a child. He had missed such supportive contact in his childhood, and said this felt like the loving mother he never had. In subsequent sessions, he reported that whenever anxiety started to surface, he would “hug” himself, and this helped him to calm down and avert an attack. He also said that being more actively loving with himself had helped him to feel more loved by, and loving toward, his partner; and their relationship was improving.
This simple example illustrates key ideas and methods of Process Work. Clients’ experiences (like anxiety) have consensus reality aspects that observers can agree on, measure, or diagnose. Experiences also have subjective, dreamlike aspects that are different for each person and are not measurable. I say dreamlike because they are mysterious until their deeper hidden meaning is unfolded. This man’s dreamlike experience of anxiety was a squeezing in his chest. Just behind the squeezing was an inner mother waiting to be discovered.
Channel awareness (working in the channel or mode that a client is experiencing something) is a useful tool. This man experienced anxiety as a body feeling (proprioception), and his hand moved slightly as it squeezed his chest. Working with movement (by asking him to actively squeeze the pillow) and proprioception (when his eyes closed so he could feel more) allowed the experience to unfold in its own channels. Using the channel in which the process is happening is like speaking to a foreigner in her own language, or fine-tuning your radio so you can hear the music better.
It is also helpful to notice what is closer to and further from the client’s identity and intention. At the beginning of the session, he was the victim of squeezing. When he started to intentionally squeeze the pillow, the squeezing was no longer bad. In fact, it had transformed into something he needed in his life. Identifying also with the “squeezer” (rather than only identifying with the “squeezed”), he became the loving mother he longed for. This subtle expansion of identity, and the increased sense of meaning and wholeness that results, is a key feature of Process Work.
Whether working with dreams, traumas, childhood issues, relationships, physical illness, creativity, extreme states of consciousness, the dying process, organizational change or world conflicts, Process Work follows “what is” instead of fighting against it. Problems transform into their own solutions, and life becomes richer and more meaningful.