There is one song (outside the back catalogue of Wham!) that comes back to me as an anthem of my childhood in the 1980s – “Words”, by FR David (please only click that link after a deep breath, and forgive the 10 year old me). I found it enchanting, playing it over and over again…something hooked me in.
“Words don’t come easy to me”
The song has rolling around my mind once more this last week, primarily because I have been in a struggle with the title for my forthcoming (first) book. The struggle hasn’t been an intellectual one but rather an emotional one. I wrote the book under the working title of “The practice of human being: bringing the Buddhist dharma into psychotherapy”. This title communicated both the book’s essence, and the vehicle for that nature to manifest. “Being” is intrinsic to all humans and yet, it needs practice; and what better path to cultivate that “being” than one that combines both Buddhism and psychotherapy? The versions of Buddhism and psychotherapy I practice (Tibetan Buddhism and Humanistic psychotherapy) emphasise “being” as the basis of health, of freedom.
So, what has been the struggle?
In taking my book toward publication, I have been realising the tension between what the book means to me, and how to get the book out to the audience it is intended for. It has been a lesson in the importance of words. The publishers, understandably, want a title that sells what the book documents in a way that is obvious, marketable…and on a rational level, of course I wanted that too AND I could understand that moving those keywords “Buddhism, psychotherapy” forward in the title make it a much easier sell, and a much easier spot on a bookshelf (whether real or virtual in ‘search’). Yet those words “the practice of human being” were hard to demote. Being the essence of the book, an autobiographical book, to demote them felt like a diminishing of my embodied experience. And I have felt this deeply.
Every day or so, emails have been traded between myself and the commissioning editor. Back and forth as we tried different titles on for size; each time I felt my frustration at not being able to communicate the logic* of my priorities, the importance of the ontological, the epistemological, the methodological conveyed in my book and therefore the need for a title that was congruent.
“Words don’t come easy to me”
In some ways, I wonder how I have come to love writing if words don’t come easy – but I think writing, taking the space and time to write, allows an indwelling in the ideas I am exploring. It is probably one reason why I have submitted a proposal after writing the manuscript. The traditional submission of a proposal first means writing to deadlines, and this has never helped my process. Writing my Masters research is a case in point, the whole process really destabilised me – something important, something personal…with a deadline; my very being felt compressed; I nearly imploded. My introverted self** also needs a way to play with ideas and formulate my view of things before I release them to the world, or speak them. I imagine this relates to my enneatype of Six, and an organising process around “doubt”.
But beyond the personal process I am sharing here, we cannot deny the importance of words and language. Words communicate so much more than description or labelling. Words convey a relationship to the phenomenon. And, language is embodied. Choosing whether to use “integration”, “melding”, or “weaving” in my book title all took me to places in my body. While such words might appear alongside as synonyms, they touched me differently.
In the therapy situation, we know the importance of words. Some clients also find words don’t come easy. Many clients have an active feeling world but struggle to find the right words to fit, to communicate, to articulate their being. Some clients find words easier but even then, therapist and client can struggle to meet on their meaning; a reminder of how important it is to always enquire what a client means when they describe an experience. Each year we task the new trainee therapists on our counselling course to reflect upon their emotional vocabulary. Each year there is surprise at the difference in range of emotional palettes: one person’s use of the word “cross” might mean “rage” to another. As a therapist, I encounter something similar in my working with clients looking to integrate spiritual and psychological paths. As a Buddhist, I will have one understanding of the word “meditation”, or what it means to be “enlightened”; a client practicing a different spiritual tradition will have another. Client’s might come with language of “God” or the “divine”, and I mustn’t assume I know what they mean, but check…without doing so, important experiences can get lost in translation.
I mentioned a few weeks back that I had been preparing for a session on our MSc course in psychotherapy, one looking at the nature of “change” and how the various therapeutic modalities view the process from dis-ease to ease. During the lecture this week, we looked at terms commonly used in the Humanistic counselling and psychotherapy tradition to describe “change”: actualisation, integration, symbolisation, individuation. Again, we might find them alongside in a thesaurus, but each is nuanced, and each is used differently according to the modality-specific theory within the broad church of the “Humanistic”. For example, Carl Rogers’ actualisation is different to Fritz Perls’ self-actualisation. Indeed, the process of change described by the word “Symbolisation” in that list refers to meaning as felt; Gendlin’s Focusing approach is based upon this.
“Words don’t come easy”…but in learning to trust my own “felt-sense”, the words that could convey the journey of book did come forward…
“Weaving the paths of Buddhism and Psychotherapy: the Practice of Human Being”
All being well, I hope 2023 will see this book being birthed into the world. Between now and then, more play with words as I see to feedback and edits. Let’s hope they come easy.
* Another exploration going on in parallel this week has been Jung’s typology. I will come back to this another week, but I think some of my struggle has been how I balance, access, and use my thinking, feeling, sensing and intuiting functions. Logic suggests “thought”, but this was all felt more deeply than that. To discuss!
**Back to Jung’s typology!