When was it I promised I’d teach you The Cycle of Experience? A month ago?
I’ve change my mind. And, I finished the post last week.
It's here if you are still interested. Images don't copy, so they are in the post itself.
A vague sensation arises in your stomach; perhaps it rumbles? You easily identify this sensation as hunger, but you ignore it; you want to finish the chapter you are in.
Eventually, the pangs become strong enough that you look at your watch and discover it’s lunch time. Where has the time gone? No wonder you are hungry.
You think about what you’d like to eat. Maybe you’ll have that left over pizza from the night before? Ooooh, how you’d enjoy that!
You set your book down and walk to the refrigerator, pizza on your mind.
Let’s interrupt this scenario and look at the image below; one of countless versions of what Gestalt therapists and theorists refer to as the Gestalt Cycle of Experience.
In this image,(A) from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland’s Organizational Development Training Program, there are six stages. Starting at the top, at twelve o’clock, and moving clockwise, you can see the four stages we’ve just gone through in our little scenario:
- Sensation (a dull, achy knot in your stomach)
- Awareness (you identify the sensation, give it a name),
- Mobilization of energy (think about what you’ll have for lunch — even feeling that little burst of excitement at the thought of the pizza) — and finally,
- Action, (you get up and move to the refrigerator).
Gestalt theory holds that these stages occur in all human activity. In our example we used hunger. Thirst is also used as an example (the Gestaltists really like their food and drink metaphors). Restlessness, boredom, and romance work just as well. The number is limited only by your imagination. You get the idea.
Let’s get back to lunch.
And the fifth stage: Yum: CONTACT (image B)
The eating — chewing, tasting, and swallowing — of that pizza occurs at the point we call Contact and it is, frankly, what Gestalt therapy is about: making contact — with ourselves, others, and our environment (including the pizza).
Let’s return to the Cycle of Experience.
There are dozens of variations on this model and, in the next image (C), below, Contact is now on top and an additional stage has snuck in between Contact and Withdrawal — Satisfaction — making this now a seven point cycle. ( I really must find someone in Cleveland’s Organizational Development program and see why they don’t include “satisfaction” on their cycle for organizations.)
We’re also interested in what happens after Contact. The model I’ve adopted offers two points:
6. Satisfaction: Do we fully enjoy the moment, savoring every bite? And,
7. Withdrawal: Do we stop when we feel sated? Can we say good-bye? Do we feel a sense of lightness as we let go of something that has weighed us down?
This is how a healthy cycle of the experience flows, in seven stages from Sensation (now at 7 o’clock) clockwise to Withdrawal (at about 4:30).
But alas, no one comes to see a therapist about moving fluidly through these seven points (or six) in the cycle. No; it’s the interruptions along the way, the creative ways we might resist at each point, that make for interesting therapy sessions.
It’s the client who’s alienated from her body so that physical or emotional sensations don’t have a chance to make their case to her, or the woman so saddled with a fixed belief system that she can’t identify the sensations she does feel, in a way that will help her meet her need. These and many others are what keep me eager to meet my next client.
I don’t want to get too far into the interruptions — we only talked about two — only to let you know they can be powerful and subtle and worth understanding.
It’s good to remember that we all have multiple Cycles of Experience operating at any given time.
I’m sitting at my desk writing and have been most of the day. My butt is weary and would like me to take a walk, but I really want to get the first draft of this post done so I can let it sit overnight and revisit it in the morning. I ignore the discomfort.
All that talk of pizza has made me wish for something to eat, but not pizza; I had that for lunch today. And Woody made me that lunch, because he loves to cook for me, which — when I pay attention to that fact — leaves me feeling loved and cared for. But today I glossed over that fact.
There’s a hum I hear from a motor outside and it’s distracting me from what I want to write here.
Competing sensations, competing needs. When we’re aware of them, great. We have choices. It’s when they function out of our conscious awareness, when we wind up making the same decisions over and over, or when we feel stuck that a compassionate, courageous, and curious therapist can be of help.
How about you? Where do you get stuck in this Cycle of Experience?
BUT, it turned into too much talking ABOUT. Dense, academic, wonky.
I don’t do that with you. I like to think I talk WITH you. I speak (I go first; it’s the way it works) and you respond in the Comments. Sometimes we have a little exchange. Back when Ian was with us, those exchanges were more frequent, but still, some of you engage with me.
I like that. I love the sense that we are making a connection through this blog. Contact, if you will — if you read the Cycle of Experience post in the Learn More window. I love the idea many of you have expressed to me that I get you to think anew. Hearing that makes my heart do a little backflip. Exhilarating!
So, I’ve buried the academic, jargony, wonky, dense Cycle of Experience. Curious about the images you would have seen, had I posted it in its original form? Here they are.
I’m struck as I write this with how at the root, at the bottom of our behaviors, there is always a theory, a core belief that informs our action, or a hypothesis we are testing. We are not always aware of them. I’d guess we are rarely aware of them.
And, I’ll be the first to suggest that analyzing each and every action can be problematic, mindfulness meditation notwithstanding. At the same time, knowing that they exist, that when you get curious about WHY you just did what you did, or WHY you keep doing what hasn’t yet worked well for you, there is a way to understand.
Until then, remember my motto:
Enjoy life; It may well be the only one we get.
How about you? How interested are you in the underlying reason for anything? Does the thought of analysis draw you in or turn you away?
Next week: My Look At Seventy