(Note: The terms “worker” and “co-worker” most accurately reflect the roles and functions of the two people involved in Heartwork. For simplicity, however, we use the conventional terms “client” and “counselor. “)
Looking inward is the heart of our work on ourselves. Support often is needed as we gain the courage to venture into unknown territory. Perhaps the most important aspect of this support is the creation of a safe space within which the inward-looking process may flourish. Such an environment is created when the counselor is gentle, supportive, and unafraid to look at whatever presents itself. The counselor must be willing to go along with the client on his/her journey, and to be fully with the client in whatever s/he may discover. The process often is an intriguing, compelling adventure.
Heartwork enables an individual to find his/her own unique way of looking into him/herself. However, the following sequence of stages generally unfolds during the course of a Heartwork session:
Settling: The client relaxes as much as s/he can. If there is difficulty relaxing, ways may be suggested to allow the body/mind to let go of some of the surface-level tensions. The client then is asked to adopt an open, friendly, and curious attitude toward whatever s/he may encounter on the inward journey. This welcoming attitude enables the client to nonjudgmentally “witness” the process, with an aware and less “attached” mind-state.
Defining: Once some awareness has been engaged, the client identifies and establishes the scope of the problem on which s/he wishes to work. This definition may take the form of allowing the issue needing attention to “choose itself,” or to come to the foreground.
Looking: In the “witness” state-of-mind, the client now “looks around” in the body to find the area where the problem is centered, and experienced as blocked energy, tension, or pain. (“Body” refers to that place where one not only experiences physical sensations, but also senses in a more subtle way.) Some people work directly with thoughts or feelings, rather than focusing in the body.
Clarifying: While keeping the attention focused in this area of the body or inner feeling space, the client then describes, in as much detail as possible, what s/he senses. Vivid visual imagery, memories, and/or intense feelings often arise at this stage of the inward-looking process.
Some people work with thoughts or “mental metaphors” (word pictures) the way others use visual images or deep feelings. For yet others, the process is almost exclusively body-centered, with the person working through ‘“unnamed” bodily sensations to arrive at the heart of the conflict.
Focusing: Next, the client is asked to ‘“move” his/her awareness into the most central point of the area where the tension is felt, while continuing to describe in detail what s/he is experiencing. In order for a client to reach the core of this new space, s/he usually has to go through a succession of (self-imposed) internal barriers. In passing through these barriers, the client often gains insight into one or more aspects of the problem.
Penetrating: The client focuses into the center of each new barrier as it arises until, eventually, a final barrier presents itself. Often, a client will pause at this point, in order to decide whether or not to go on. In some cases, the client will choose to abort the process altogether. Or s/he may hesitate at this barrier to get to know it better, perhaps returning at a later time when the barrier can be faced more confidently.
Usually, however, the client decides to proceed by finding a way through the barrier, such as by: plunging into, embracing, merging with, being filled by, looking directly at or into, caring about, or surrendering to the “barrier.” Ultimately, it makes no difference which means the person uses; the moment the decision is made to face the barrier directly, the barrier begins to open by itself.
Discovery: When the person passes through this last barrier, s/he usually enters into a “wide-open” space–experiencing a deep sense of peace, and oneness with the Universe. From this open space, the person may see into the source of his/her suffering, and one or more of the following five “manifestations of ease” may occur:
- The person may glimpse his/her inherent wholeness and, thereby, open to some understanding of the nature of being human.
- The mental/emotional turmoil may dissolve.
- The life situation that brought the person to this work may be seen from a clearer perspective, so that resolution may occur. The person may see how the problem was self-created from the very beginning, and that the internal and behavioral responses to external circumstances were self-limiting, pain producing, and ineffective. From this space of clarity, alternative responses can be discovered and chosen.
- Symptoms on the physical level may improve or disappear altogether.
- In the case of terminal illness, the person may make peace with his/her dying.
Closure: At this point, the client is given the space to say, do and feel whatever s/he needs to in order to complete the experience. The client may need to express feelings, integrate and assimilate insights that have been uncovered during the session, and/or simply be quiet.