THERAPY AND PHILOSOPHY
S: scholar R: researcher T: therapist
S: Why do you believe Heidegger’s thinking is so important for psychotherapy, for the training of psychotherapists, indeed for the health of society?
R: Above all, because his is a philosophy of listening and a listening philosophy - one in which thinking itself is defined as a type of listening, and in which listening in turn is understood as a fundamental dimension of our being. Our current global culture on the other hand, is one in which the speaking self is valued more than the listening self, in which linguistic and mathematical skills are valued more than listening skills, and in which truth is ever more narrowly identified with its scientific representation in words, numbers and images.
T: Heidegger’s philosophy is often described as a ‘fundamental ontology’, from the Greek ontos - ‘being’. You imply that Heidegger’s understanding of listening was an ontological rather than a conventional psychological or physiological one.
R: That is true. Listening, for Heidegger, is essentially linked to what in German is called Dasein and Mitsein - ‘being there’ and ‘being with’. To listen is above all to really be there for another human being and not to withdraw behind a role or set of listening ‘techniques’. It is also to really be with that person - to make contact with their essential being.
T: I fear that a lot of people, including a lot of psychotherapists, would have difficulty grasping exactly what this means.
R: If by ‘grasping’ we mean being able to represent it in other words or in mental images you are no doubt right. But that brings us to Heidegger’s essential point, namely that thinking itself is something more than a mere capacity to grasp and represent meanings in words or images.
S: If thinking is not the mental representation of reality, what is it?
R: To quote Heidegger: ‘Thinking is a listening that brings something into view ... something one can hear. In doing so it brings into view what was unheard-of.’ This ‘bringing’ into view does not mean representing something in words or images. Indeed it can only come about if, on the contrary, we suspend all the words and images that pass through our mind as we listen to someone.
T: I think we can all understand the point that as soon as someone begins to speak we begin to seek to represent to ourselves in some way what they are saying.
R: Indeed even before someone begins to speak, our listening might already be shaped by a framework of possible representations that shape and circumscribe our hearing.
S: But surely it is impossible to enter into a dialogue without any anticipatory representation of what might be said. The context of the dialogue itself will imply certain general themes and purposes, will take place within a particular universe of discourse and be shaped by a common language.
R: For Heidegger, listening meant above all what could be called a non-representational anticipation of what there is to be said.
S: I am not quite sure what ‘non-representational anticipation’ could mean. Is it something more on a feeling level than an intellectual one? Do you mean a listening that reaches out empathically - a type of active attunement or rapport?
T: This ‘non-representational anticipation’ might also bear some relation to what counsellors and psychologists would call ‘free floating attention’, or to the psychoanalytic method of ‘free association’.
R: Terms such as ‘empathic listening’ or ‘free-floating association’ may indeed point to something akin to non-representational anticipation. But by simply reformulating Heidegger’s message in these established terms, we run the risk of reducing it to something already familiar rather than bringing into view something as yet ‘un-heard-of’.
T: And that is precisely the danger of representational thinking. For by representing someone’s meaning in comfortable, familiar terms, we assume without further ado that we have ‘heard’ or ‘understood’ their message.
R: Not only that. We also assume, without any further ado, that the terms themselves are self-explanatory - that we know with absolute certainty what they mean. In this case what the terms ‘empathic listening’, ‘rapport’ or ‘free-floating attention’ mean.
S: We might certainly discuss what these terms mean to us. And they are, I suppose, psychological terms as opposed to philosophical or ‘ontological’ ones. But how do Heidegger’s ontological terms such as ‘being’, ‘being there’ and ‘being with’ help us? How do they bring us closer to understanding the real nature of psychotherapeutic or psychoanalytic listening?
T: Surely, that is an important question. After all, isn't there also a danger that a Heideggerian approach to therapy will simply substitute esoteric philosophical language for existing psychoanalytic languages - some of which are quite esoteric enough? Or else that it replaces everyday concepts and ‘representations’ - which people can at least make sense of - with obscure ontological concepts which elude and mystify them. Better the devil you know...
R: You are certainly right in highlighting the contrast between ontological discourse on the one hand, and, on the other hand, either everyday terms or psychoanalytic discourse. But I would not dismiss the value of ontology so lightly. We have already a historic example of the immense and challenging impact that it can have on counselling and therapy - not through the substitution of one set of terms or one theory for another - but by raising questions to do with the fundamental inner stance of the listener.
S: To what... or whom ... are you referring?
R: To Martin Buber, whose distinction between the ‘I-Thou’ and ‘I-It’ relation has had great impact on the helping professions, and who was a great influence on Carl Rogers. One might also mention Abraham Maslow, one of the principal founders of humanistic psychology, but one whose writing on the ‘‘Psychology of Being’ reveals that in essence his thinking was ontological rather than purely ‘psychological’.
T: I must say I find it curious - if not dubious - that you call Buber and Maslow to the defence of Heidegger. Buber - a Jewish thinker, and Maslow a humanistic one. Surely we all know too well of Heidegger’s notorious period of involvement with National Socialism - not to mention his explicit rejection of humanism. Buber’s philosophy dealt above all with the ethical and relational dimension of the human being. We know that Heidegger had little to say on ethics, and that Buber himself accused him of reducing authentic human relating to mere ‘care’ or ‘solicitude’ for others.
R: To begin with, let us remind ourselves of just one thing. Nazi ideology was the application of a biological ‘medical model’ to the ills of society - with the Jews and others cast as foreign bodies comparable to a ‘bad’ gene, virus or cancer in need of extermination. At the same time no thinker has done more to undermine the foundations of racial-biological ideology, not to mention biological and (eu-)genetic medicine and psychiatry, than Martin Heidegger. That is not to say that the questions you have raised in your last statement can be lightly dismissed. Nor can they be lightly answered, as many would believe. Instead they remain largely unexplored. Nevertheless they are important questions, which have a particular personal meaning for me and, I believe, a larger social and historic significance. This larger significance lies in the fact that neither before or after the Holocaust was it seen as ‘politically correct’ - dare I say ‘racially correct’ - to seek a philosophical marriage of German and Jewish thinking and thinkers. As if the only outcome of such a marriage would be a race-philosophical mongrel of ‘mixed blood’. The fact is of course that no face-to-face encounter and no full-blooded philosophical dialogue took place between Heidegger and Buber. All that we know of is a one-sided critical sally against Heidegger from Buber and an indirect and critical reference to Buber’s ‘I and Thou’ from Heidegger. That makes it all the more important that the dialogue be pursued by others - that the deep inner relation between Buber’s ‘ethical’ or ‘relational ontology’ and Heidegger’s ‘fundamental ontology’ should not remain ‘un-theme’ in philosophy. For their respective ways of thinking do not merely contrast with but complement and enrich one another in the most philosophically and ethically significant ways.
S: I was interested to hear what you said about Maslow. But why do you see a ‘synthesis’ of Heidegger and Buber as so important?
R: Alone, but above all also together, they offer important keys to an ‘ontology’ of listening and to a recognition of its centrality to both thinking and the inter-human.
T: I agree that what you say is very interesting indeed, but it brings a great many questions to my mind and requires, I think, quite a bit of evidence and explication to support it.
R: Perhaps we can hear your questions one by one.
T: Well, to begin with, what has our earlier discussion of representational and non-representational listening to do with Buber?
R: What Heidegger called representational thinking is exactly what is involved in what Buber referred to as the ‘I-It’ way of relating to others. To put it more bluntly, where there is interpretation - or representation of any sort - there is no true ‘I-You’ relation in Buber’s sense.
S: But surely if that’s the case, nobody relates ‘authentically’ to anyone. After all, we all have thoughts about one another and in this way interpret and represent each other’s words and behaviour.
R: That may be so. The question is, do we also relate to the other person as a being - not only as an object of the thoughts or feelings we have ‘about’ them? To quote Buber: ‘Becoming ‘I’, I say You.’ Only by being fully present to ourselves as beings - only as an ‘I’ in Buber’s sense - can we relate to the other person as a being - as a ‘You’.
T: That may indeed be the essence of Buber’s message concerning the ‘I-You’ relation, hackneyed though this phrase has now become. But where, for God’s sake, do you find any echo of it in Heidegger, save, as Buber complained, in the more impoverished attitude of mere ‘solicitude’ for others? For that matter, where do you find God in Heidegger - or what you call the inner You?
R: Heidegger recognised very well that we are not beings who just happen to ‘have’ relationships. We are relational beings. To be is to relate - both to other human beings and to our own inner being (the inner You). Then again there is our potential to relate to the inner being of others directly from our own inner being. This potentiality was what Heidegger termed a Thou-Thou (Du-Du) relationship as opposed to Buber’s ‘I-You’ (Ich-Du) or ‘I-Thou’ relationship. Only in this way can we also come to truly ‘know’ the other. For as Heidegger emphasised: ‘The relation that distinguishes knowing is always the one in which we ourselves are related and in which the relation vibrates throughout our basic posture.’ The same message is echoed in his profound saying concerning the essential nature of listening: ‘We hear, not the ear.’ Let us heed this saying thoroughly, letting it resound through different pronouns. Instead of Heidegger’s ‘we’ let us say ‘I hear, not my ear’. Then we can begin to hear the misplaced intonation in the hackneyed phrase ‘I hear you’. For I hear you only if there is a real sense in which I hear you and not merely your words or voice. I hear You only if it is I that hear you and not just my ears. For when I hear you I am all ear, I listen with and from my whole being and can therefore hear a being - hear you and not just hear you.
S: But instead of talking about ‘listening with one’s whole being’, why can’t we simply talk about giving someone one’s wholehearted attention?
R: For one thing, because to listen with one’s ‘whole heart’ is no more to listen with one’s whole being than to listen with one’s ‘whole head’ or ‘whole mind’. And secondly, because ‘attention’ is something we give to something - to a word or gesture, a tone of voice or expression, a thought or feeling. It is a mode of outward relation to something - even to inner ‘things’ such as feelings or thoughts. We attend to an ‘It’ in Buber’s sense. A ‘You’ is not some ‘thing’ we can attend to, but a being we must actively intend - with and from our whole being.
T: Your distinction between attention and intention is an intriguing reformulation of Buber. If I understand you correctly, we attend to some-thing, an ‘It’, but we intend some-one - a You. And yet surely we intend things too. Are not all objects of consciousness also intentional objects?
R: To intend something in the sense I am calling on is to truly mean it as a being. So long as something - or somebody - is merely an object of our scrutiny or manipulation, its beingness evades us, nor do we really mean or intend it with our whole being. Buber’s ‘I-You’ relation can be understood also in a Heideggerian way: relating to a thing - an ‘It’ - in its beingness, and not merely as an object.
S: I still don’t see how such philosophical distinctions, however ‘ontologically’ fundamental they may be, can be made tangible and meaningful in the inter-personal realm, and specifically in the realm of psychotherapy training.
R: Your question is a pertinent one, all the more so because the approach to listening that I am seeking to describe does not itself derive from an impersonal theoretical construct or technical skill. Instead it is more like an inner stance or bearing - one that is cultivated in our inner being and embodied in silence, not something that stems from without and needs then to be internalised like a theory or technique.
T: You seem then to be admitting that this inner bearing is so complex and esoteric that only the few can understand and cultivate it.
R: Rather, it is something so essentially simple and familiar to the many that the few fail to acknowledge its theoretical significance, and the many fail to cherish and cultivate it in everyday life.
S: But if you have no other way - besides these cryptic words - of explaining what you are referring to, how does your answer help us?
R: I have already said that the stance I am referring to is one to be embodied rather than turned into an abstract intellectual theory or applied technique. But if you will permit a small experiment, perhaps your question can be answered in a wordless and yet more tangible and concrete way.
S: By all means.
R: Look at my eyes. Observe and note their shape, colour and movement.
R: Now look at my eyes again. But this time with the intent to be fully there as an ‘I’ in your eyes, and to really see ME and not just my eyes.
S: All right
[longer, more pregnant pause]
R: Now, was there a difference?
S: Of course there was. When you asked me to look at you we made real contact. More than that. I sensed a lot of silent communication going on through this contact. But what are you getting at with this experiment?
R: Precisely that this contact and communication came about when you ceased to regard my eyes as a physical object of perceptual scrutiny.
T: Ah! Now I see what you are getting at. It reminds me of an article I once read by John Heron on the phenomenology of the social encounter, in particular the human gaze. His arguments were directed against those who thought this sort of silent eye contact communication could be explained by the fact that we constantly ‘read’ people’s ‘body language’ including their eye signals. What he and you are suggesting is almost the opposite of this position. To paraphrase what you said before: Where communication depends on an interpretation or ‘reading’ of other people’s words or body signals there is no real relation.
R: Indeed, for how else are we to explain the fact that experience of real inner contact through the gaze only comes about when you stop looking at someone’s eyes and cease turning them into a sign - a mere object of scrutiny and interpretation.
S: This helps me understand your distinction between attention and intention. When you said ‘now look at me’ I engaged in an ‘intentional act’ of a quite different sort to the one I engaged in when you told me to look at your eyes and examine them.
R: Can you say more about this difference?
S: It’s very difficult to describe. I suppose, however that the best way of naming it is to echo Buber’s language and to say that in some way I became more fully embodied and present to myself as an ‘I’ and at the same time in deeper contact with you.
T: Which is to say in embodying your ‘I’ you were able to truly intend another being - a ‘You’ - rather than simply attending to them.
S: But now we seem to have left the realm of listening and hearing altogether and instead entered the realm of the optical, of vision and gaze. Are you suggesting that there is some equivalent of eye contact in the realm of listening?
R: I would suggest that listening is the intentional direction of an inner gaze, indeed essentially the same inner gaze that is communicated through the eyes - the gaze of our meaningful intent.
T: But how can this lead to the same experience of inner contact and communication as eye-contact can? After all, the latter is conditional upon a mutual gaze. People can look at one another at the same time but how can they possibly listen to one another at the same time?
R: If you would permit me another phenomenological experiment.
R: Then place your hand on mine and feel its surface and contours, its flesh and bones.
R: All, right. Now withdraw your hand.
R: Now place your hand on mine again. But this time with the intent to really touch ME and not just my hand.
[longer, more pregnant pause]
[R: slowly withdraws his hand from the contact]
T: Mmm. I can only echo what has already been said about the difference between making genuine eye contact and studying someone’s eyes or eye signals.
T: That in responding to your request to touch You - as opposed merely to feeling your hand - I was called upon to somehow summon and gather this ‘I’, to summon my whole being or inner self. And yet this makes it sound too much like a purely inward process, for my intent was above all to fully embody this ‘self’ in my touch.
R: And through your hand to embody your intent to touch me in my being.
T: I must say it was quite a simple but powerful and stretching exercise.
R: It is interesting to note that the words tend, tendril, tension, attend and intend all derive from the Latin tendere - to stretch or ‘span’.
T: The word ‘tension’ makes sense here, for I felt half-way between relaxation and anxiety - a sort of subtle tensioning of my whole being.
R: …as you sought to span the distance between one being and another, to stretch out a tendril of intent....
S: …and as a result experienced the fundamental oscillation of true relation.
S: This is marvellously poetic, but how, if I may ask, does this answer the question about the lack of mutuality in listening?
R: Precisely in that the inner gaze of our listening intent has the character of an inner vibrational touch, a touch in which the listener is at the same time inwardly touched.
T: That is interesting. After all, we speak of being touched inwardly by someone’s look or by their gaze. Why not by the ‘inner gaze of their listening intent’ as you call it? But isn’t - if you will excuse the phrase - this ‘touchy-feely’ stuff more the domain of Humanistic, Gestalt or neo-Reichian psychotherapy? It certainly doesn’t fit hand in hand with my image of Heidegger or Buber.
R: I understand your guardedness towards such exercises. But remember that their purpose was not to offer the intimacy of touch and the mutual gaze as substitutes for therapeutic listening, but rather to point to a type of listening which does not avoid the intimacy of authentic relation.
S: Are you suggesting that therapists in some way avoid intimate and authentic relation with their clients?
R: The problem is that in our culture, intimacy is identified with intimate talk or the intimacy of physical touch, with speech or sexuality, ‘the word’ or the ‘the flesh’ - but not with the intimacy of deep listening. The myth of our culture, therefore, is that intimate relating belongs only to the domain of intimate relationships; relationships forged through speech and embodied in sexuality.
T: Whereas what you are suggesting is what?
R: That it is not the way we speak with people or our physical closeness that determines the degree of intimacy with which we relate to them but the depth of our listening. Yet here we find evidence of a taboo no less strong than the nineteenth century sexual taboo.
S: What taboo is that?
R: The taboo against the intercourse of soul that arises when we listen intimately to others. For when I hear rather than my ear or my mind, and when I hear you - really mean you with my listening - then I also touch you with the inner gaze of my listening intent. This dimension of listening I call ‘inner vibrational touch’.
T: It is interesting that when we speak of handling someone sensitively, we have in mind the words we use in addressing them, the tone of voice we adopt and the matters we raise. One talks of avoiding painful or ‘touchy’ subjects for example. We think only in terms of the sensitivity of our speaking and not the sensitivity of our listening and its wordless and bodiless touch - this ‘inner vibrational touch’. But what sort of touch is this?
R: In listening we touch the other not with the physical body that speaks and gestures, but with our relational body - what I call our ‘listening body’.
T: Now you seem to be getting even further from Heidegger and Buber. Next you’ll be speaking, like Rudolf Steiner and the anthroposophists, about ‘astral’ and ‘etheric’ bodies.
R: Steiner’s ‘spiritual science’ contains, I believe, a serious and rich phenomenology of bodyhood that deserves study from all students of Heidegger. For the nature of bodyhood was an issue that Heidegger recognised as the final, beckoning and most challenging frontier of his work. An issue addressed in the Zollikon seminars organised for doctors and psychiatrists by Medard Boss.
S: But surely the bodily and sexual dimensions of human language and relating are something that has already been recognised and explored in psychoanalysis?
R: And yet it stays within the exclusive domains of language and sexuality, the Word and the Flesh, mind and body.
S: Instead of what ... ?
R: Instead of admitting the soul and exploring the intercourse of soul that listening draws us into.
S: What you call ‘inner vibrational touch’. But what do you mean by ‘soul’?
R: The answer to your question lies in the question itself. Whenever we ask ‘what do you mean by….?’ we imply that it is a ‘you’ - a being - who mean things. To ask about the meaning of the word ‘soul’ is therefore paradoxical. For only a being who means can mean something through this question, and something through the word ‘soul’. By ‘souls’, therefore, I understand nothing more or less than beings who can mean or intend. A computer can calculate or show us information. A robot can imitate human actions. But neither means something - or means someone - when they do so. They are not beings who mean nor do they mean other beings.
T: But perhaps we could return to the theme of listening and therapy, and with it to the taboo you mentioned. In what way do you see Heidegger and Buber as having challenged the taboo on intimate listening, ‘inner vibrational touch’ and ‘intercourse of soul’ - and how is this relevant to therapy?
R: To quote Martin Buber, ‘The sicknesses of the soul are sicknesses of relationship.’ He understood the spirit relationally - as the inner relation of each being to its self-being. He understood the soul relationally - as the embodied relation of human beings to another and to their innermost being. Each in their own way, Heidegger and Buber both embodied a new ‘inner bearing’ of soul - a new inner relationship to language and being. They embodied and articulated new ways of listening to language and to other human beings, new ways of ‘being in the world’ and ‘being with others’. Their soul bearing was expressed not only in their thinking and in their way of speaking but in the type of listening from which they drew their thoughts and their words - how they meant them and meant each other with them.
S: You are talking then about their character and personality as individuals, and not just their philosophical writings. What bearing do character and personality have on someone’s listening?
R: An essential one, if, by personality, you mean the way an individual bears and bodies themselves forth in speech.
T: And by character ... ?
R: The way an individual bears and bodies themselves in silence.
S: And how does bearing relate to listening?
R: To listen is to ‘bear with’ another being in silence, to drop our masks or personae, our roles and agendas, our verbal clothing and camouflage - and simply be a body: some-body.
T: To embody who we are in silence.
R: Which means also to bear who we are in a bodily way and to embody who we are in our whole bearing.
T: And to relate to who others are.
R: To ‘re-late’ in the original and essential sense of ‘to bear back’. In listening we bear back what others bare to us and bear towards us.
T: But we bear this back in silence rather than in words. As an inward listening response.
R: Indeed so, for our words themselves will only ring with meaning if they resound with this inner listening response. This is a response that cannot be represented in words but which communicates directly and wordlessly from our inner being, not in the word but through it: dia-logos.
S: This sounds to me as if you are saying that listening is a mode of what Winnicott called ‘direct’ or ‘silent’ communication.
T: Whereas speech is a form of indirect communication in words and images - representations in your terms.
R: Or perhaps we could say that relating is direct, silent, embodied communication. Whereas communication is indirect, symbolic relating - a ‘bearing back’ in symbols or signals.
T: This would mean that relating is essentially bound up with character and with the character of our listening, the way we bear ourselves and bear with others in silence. So that the depth and maturity of character, as well as the depth and maturity of our thinking and speaking, are both linked to the depth and maturity of our listening and of our silence.
R: And communicated by the tone of that silence. Its depth and fullness.
T: You spoke before of listening as a mode of intent, a way of meaning someone. To intend, perhaps, is also to set a tone. Like the silent, inward intent of a master musician or singer - an intent which sets the tone and determines the tonality of their singing or playing.
R: Or like the intent of masters in musical listening, who not only allow the music to touch them but who echo and recreate its silent tones in their soul. Intention is also a silent inner tonation, the toning of an inner music.
T: What difference then do you see in the characteristic tone and intonation of Buber’s and Heidegger’s thinking - and listening - respectively.
R: For Buber, listening meant essential relation - listening to others and responding to the other as a You, a being. For Heidegger, it meant essential translation - listening to language and responding to what addresses us through it - letting language speak. Response in Buber takes the form of an ethical ‘response-ability’ to another being, not in words but silently and dialogically - ‘through the word’ rather than in it. Response in Heidegger takes the form of a mutual ‘co-respondence’ to language itself, and, through it, to the call of Being. For Buber a listening dialogue meant a direct relation of beings. For Heidegger, it meant a joint response to Being and its logos.
S: How are these positions to be reconciled?
R: Buber emphasised a listening attuned to the other in their essential being. And yet such an inner listening contact with another can only truly come about on the basis of a deep listening contact with ourselves, a refusal to overhear our own inner voice in our eagerness to hear the voice of the other. To listen with the inner or ‘third’ ear is to be ‘all ears’ - to listen with our whole being and not to listen away from ourselves. Similarly, to be fully with another in our listening is also to fully be with them - to be fully present in an embodied way.
T: But isn’t there a danger of self-absorption in this listening posture?
R: Only if in being inwardly present to ourselves we do not at the same time lean or ‘list’ our inner being towards the inner being of the other. And yet the tension between the respective listening postures of Heidegger and Buber is nevertheless not one to be casually resolved. Rather listening itself is this tension or Spannung through which we ‘span’ the gap between our own self-being and the being of another. It remains true nevertheless, that if our listening is not grounded in an ‘essential relation’ to our own self-being we cannot establish an essential relation to others in their self-being.
S: Another way of putting it might be to say that we can make authentic contact with others only by making contact with the part of ourselves that is in contact with them - that is genuinely with them.
R: Except that as long as it is not our whole being but just a ‘part’ of ourselves that constitutes this bridge between ourselves and others, we remain a-part from ourselves and the other.
S: Though perhaps it is the very pain of this a-partness that calls us back to ourselves, allowing us to re-link ourselves with our inner being and thereby establish an inner listening connection with another person.
R: Only if this pain of a-partness that you speak of is not emotionalised or covered up in superficiality - not ‘expressed’ or ‘‘repressed’ but instead felt and embodied.
T: What does it mean to ‘embody’ a feeling rather than to experience it as a labelled emotion that is to be expressed or repressed?
R: Precisely to feel that feeling in a bodily way rather than reflecting on it in one’s mind - and to actively body that feeling through one’s entire bodily demeanour. The art of communicating feelings through one’s bodily demeanour is something that has been sacrificed on the altar both of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy - where the intrinsic meaning of bodily de-meanour is denied.
T: Instead of which a person’s demeanour is thought of as something in need of interpretation - seen as a signifier of some sort of unspoken verbal message.
S: In which case the whole idea of body language is emptied of meaning and reduced to body language - seen as a vehicle for the expression of meanings which are essentially verbal rather than bodily. Whereas in actuality what communicates through bodily demeanour is precisely what can only be meant ‘through the word’ - and not in any way represented in words.
T: That makes me think of the way parents often tell children not to frown or sulk - or generally demand verbal explanations when they receive an unwelcome message from a child’s demeanour.
S: Not because they don’t understand the message but because they do.
T: But instead of responding to the child’s demeanour ‘through the word’ themselves - responding to the child sensitively through their own demeanour - they put pressure on the child to alter their demeanour, or even worse, to verbalise their emotions in an ‘adult’ way.
S: If I understand this correctly then, the whole Freudian and post-Freudian notion that it is only through language that the unconscious is made conscious is questionable. For it assumes that we cannot consciously become aware of our feelings in a bodily way and consciously communicate them through our demeanour.
R: What is called the ‘talking cure’ can too easily become a cure that evades the pain of heeding a wordless and embodied message and taking it to heart - responding to others from one’s feelings rather than talking ‘about’ them.
S: The pain of being a body rather than a talking head.
R: And of being with some-body in a bodily way.
S: Rather than in a detached and dispassionate or passionate and expressive way.
T: But isn’t emotional self-expression also something bodily - a form of physical movement and bio-energetic release?
R: The concept of emotional expression implies that feelings are things we ‘have’ inside us. It leads us to translate what goes on between people into some ‘thing’ going on ‘inside’ them. It turns the human qualities they embody in their way of relating to others - in their demeanour - into internal objects of mutual self-reflection. It turns something we do - feeling - into ‘feelings’ that we have. As a result people cease to listen and relate to one another in an embodied way - to experience listening as a way of directly and wordlessly feeling themselves and feeling the other. Instead they talk in a disembodied way ‘about’ their own or other people’s labelled emotional feelings. What Heidegger called ‘steadfast’ hearing (standhaltendes Hören) is a grounded and embodied way of listening, a way of listening that calls upon us to take a stand ‘under’ all this talking about.
S: And through this, to really ‘under-stand’ each other, to truly feel the other.
T: But doesn’t this supposedly mature form of listening come very close to adopting a merely unemotional posture - to being so ‘centred’ that we are stoically unmoved by other people’s feelings?
R: On the contrary, it is through pre-maturely giving expression to our emotional responses that we resist letting be what really moves us, preventing it from oscillating in the deepest centres of our listening body and coming to rest there. Or rather, we prevent what moves us from coming to rest where it most essentially belongs - not ‘in’ me or in the other person but in the oscillating ‘between’. A steadfast hearing is a hearing (zu-hören) that belongs to (gehört zu ) this Between.
T: Not a hearing that appropriates its contents as private emotional property or treats them as the private emotional property of the other.
S: From whence comes the psychoanalytic discourse regarding the ‘transference’ or ‘projection’ of such emotional private property from one to the other.
R: We are speaking instead of a Gelassenheit or ‘letting be’ that lets be what gathers in ‘the between’.
S: And thus lets it speak in the mode of silence. This is, I suppose, what Heraclitus meant by listening to the logos of the psyche - to the wordless gathering of meaning within and between beings.
R: When beings gather, Being gathers.
T: I fear that we have come a long way again from the day-to-day work of therapists. Our dialogue seems very much in tune with Heidegger’s statement ‘Man speaks in the mode of silence’. But where does this leave the role of verbal intervention and response in the therapeutic dialogue?
S: I find myself in agreement with this question. At what stage does it become appropriate for the therapist to respond verbally to a client, as well as through inner listening contact and communication?
R: This question is indeed one for each therapist to ponder. One could go further and argue that the way an individual therapist times their therapeutic response, defines their way of giving therapy and determines the quality depth of their response.
S: Does the question then lead us then into the realm of Being and Time and their inner relation?
R: It certainly leads us to consider the fundamental relation of Being and Listening on the one hand, and of Listening and Time, on the other. For we are speaking of the qualitative depth of the time that the therapist grants to a client, and perhaps also of the essence of listening itself as a qualitative inward expansion of time - something quite different from the measurable time boundaries of a therapy session or the measurable time or ‘turn’ interval between address and response in the therapeutic dialogue.
T: How then would a therapist who adopts the philosophical listening stance that you have discussed with us answer the question? How would they time their spoken interventions?
R: Remember first the statement of Heidegger’s you referred us to. He did not say man remains silent and then speaks. He said man speaks in the mode of silence.
S: Presumably this is not a reference to what is called ‘inner speech’ - something which in this context would refer to the inwardly verbalised thoughts and mentally spoken words that go through a therapist’s mind as they listen?
R: Indeed not. For these inner voices do not themselves speak in the mode of silence. They are themselves interpretations of the therapist’s own wordless inner response to the client - interpretations of the inner voice that speaks in the mode of silence.
T: I believe you have argued elsewhere that this inner voice communicates automatically and directly to the client, even if it is not translated in words.
R: That’s right.
T: But what if I sense angry, judgmental voices in me. Will not these too, communicate directly to the client? Is it not dishonest and unauthentic to keep silent about my own anger?
R: Here we touch upon the question of emotions again. The point is not to either express or repress such inner voices and the emotions they express but to be in touch with the wordless feeling tones that they themselves translate into inner speech.
S: You mean I suppose, to listen to them - much as we listen to the various voices of the client.
R: Something we can only do if we neither identify with them nor disidentify from them.
R: Both of which prevent us from really hearing them and heeding what they tell us.
T: This sounds fine, but it only defers the question I raised earlier - as to how and when it becomes appropriate to actually open our mouths and offer verbal feedback to the client, rather than engaging in prolonged introspective audition of our own inner voices - not to mention the many voices of the client.
S: What is your answer to this question?
T: Personally, I delay response until I have some sort of gut feeling or reaction to a client’s words.
S: That means giving their words time to ‘sink in’.
R: A phrase that reminds us that listening is not something we do only while someone is speaking but also after they have spoken. But this is only possible if the listener exercises the basic discipline of restraint or Verhaltenheit that Heidegger spoke of: a withholding of immediate verbal response. Only this basic discipline can prevent dialogue degenerating into idle talk or argumentation - a mere mutual exchange of thoughtless, emotionally reactive or intellectually defensive responses. It is only restraint of withholding that prevents us from seeking to deflect the word of the other with our own and instead allows it to ‘sink in’ as you say.
S: ‘Withholding’ then, is not just a guarantee that we fully ‘hear someone out’ rather than prematurely interrupting them. It grants time for us to not only hear but heed their words themselves - to let their deeper inner sense ‘get under our skin’, penetrate our verbal defences and resonate within us.
T: Then do ‘heeding’ and ‘letting resonate’ mean simply letting ourselves be touched in a gut way and then responding from gut feeling?
R: Not if this implies that ‘gut feeling’ is not itself something we need to first withhold, heed and let resonate within us. The voice of ‘gut feeling’ is all too often the reactive or defensive expression of an already familiar voice within us - one so loud we do not even bother to listen to it before giving voice to it. ‘Letting resonate’ on the other hand, means hearing the word of the other as the echo of an as-yet unheard and unfamiliar voice within us. It is that voice, hidden within ‘gut feeling’ which we must heed.
S: So that in heeding we listen beneath and beyond the division between our own ‘inner voices’ and the thoughts and feelings voiced by the client.
R: The words in which clients express themselves always mean more than the thoughts and feelings they communicate. They do not just communicate the private psychic world of the client, nor are they a mere mirror of the therapist’s projective interpretations. They bespeak ‘the between’ - ‘We-meanings’ as well as ‘my’ meanings or ‘your’ meanings, ‘I-meanings’ or ‘You- meanings’.
T: How does ‘withholding’ help the therapist to hear someone’s words as an expression of these ‘we’ meanings?
R: What is most meaningful in the word only reaches us in the silence that follows speech. Only by withholding can we hold to a client’s words as words and let them speak to us. For to let words speak to us means not simply registering a gut reaction but asking ourselves what as yet unheard voice they communicate. It means giving them a ‘second hearing’, one in which we let a phrase spoken by another linger and echo within us - hearing it in the precise manner and with the precise wording in which it was uttered. By letting the words of another echo and resound in us in this way, we can begin to feel their wordless inner sense or resonance.
S: I recall that at the beginning of our discussion we defined listening as a type of wordless, non-representational anticipation or precognition of what there is to be said. Now you seem to be suggesting that another part of listening is also a precise recollection of the exact words and tone of voice in which something has been said.
R: These two aspects of deep listening are precisely what reveals its essence as a mode of direct non-representational knowing or cognition. Deep listening is both a pre- and a post-cognition of the spoken word. It was the lack of such a listening that Heraclitus pointed to when he described the word or logos of the psyche as that which ‘men fail to comprehend both before hearing it and once they have heard.’
T: Here again I am slightly confused, though. What is the nature of this ‘non-representational’ recollection of what has been said? If we do not represent to ourselves what has been communicated to us in words, then how are we to recollect it at all, save perhaps as a gut reaction or feeling?
R: There is a world of difference between recollecting through representing and recollecting through letting resonate. To recollect another person’s meaning by representing them in our own words is by no means the same as letting their words echo and resonate within us. The inner sense of a word is its inner resonance. Conversely, only out of the inner resonance of the word can its deeper inner sense come to light.
T: You mean that simply letting another person’s words echo within us is all that is necessary to come to an intuition or insight of what they are saying.
R: ‘Intuition’ and ‘insight’ are words with the same root meaning: to bring something into view or behold it before our inner eye.
S: Then letting resonate is perhaps the link between withholding, holding to the word of the other - letting it resonate - and quite literally beholding deeper levels of meaning. A link, in other words, between inner listening and inner seeing or ‘in-sight’.
R: I would suggest that the be-holding that follows from the exercise of withholding does indeed have the character of an inner seeing.
S: But if this seeing takes the form of visual images is this not equally a mere form of representational thinking?
R: Only if it takes the form of a seeing with which one seeks to pictorially represent in some way the given or literal meaning of words. This is what I call the linguistic imagination - made up of fixed and stereotyped word-images. In contrast to this type of ‘seeing’ is what I call the listening imagination. The listening imagination is a feeling seeing, in which, as in our dreams, mental images serve as imaginative metaphors of wordlessly felt meanings and comprehensions.
T: Are you speaking of a type of dreamlike, clairvoyant imagination? A sort of second sight?
R: A ‘second sight’ that only emerges from giving ourselves the opportunity to truly heed someone’s word and give them a ‘second, hearing’ - one in which we feel for the inner sense and resonance of their words.
S: And in that way come to have ‘second thoughts’ about what someone has said - second thoughts that first take the form both of directly felt comprehensions and of imaginative metaphorical insights that give these comprehensions form.
R: It is precisely such ‘second’ thoughts that belong to the essence of thinking itself in the way that Heidegger described it, as ‘a listening which brings something to view’.
T: This is beginning to make sense to me now. For it is often only some time after a client has left the consulting room that I begin to feel the meaning of their words and of their entire comportment from within myself. It is then also that deeper ‘in-sight’ might emerge into something they said, perhaps just a single word or phrase that now strikes me as having borne a deeper meaning.
S: A word or phrase that you no doubt thought you understood when you first heard it, but only because you had not yet had time to suspend your ordinary linguistic understanding and give it second thought - a second, more inward hearing.
R: So long as we are wrapped up in listening to words we have not yet heard those words. For we have not yet seen into the word.
T: And yet the insight that I gain through this second hearing is like hearing for the first time, for it links particular words and phrases with otherwise formless but felt impressions that I had all the while.
R: The word now impresses you as the bearer of something which it bore all along but which required time to come to birth within you. And yet the paradox is that this second hearing and second sight is indeed a relaxed and inwardly focused hearing and sight. It is not the result of any sort of straining to empathise with or see into or see through the client.
T: It is probably this sort of straining you refer to that prevents such insights from emerging during sessions themselves.
R: The listening imagination is a visioning of the inner states and outer events to which they themselves are responding, and of which they form a part.
S: Strange indeed that in one’s desire to respond to the words and actions of others one forgets that these are already a response to something else.
T: So if I understand you correctly, the listening imagination is a way of visioning the life-world to which the client is responding and visioning the client in this world. Not a verbal response to the client but a feeling in-sight into that which moves the client to speak in the first place.
S: Because only through a second, inward hearing can we attune directly to the world of which they speak and the words in which they speak of it - a world, in relation to which all words they speak to us are merely an indirect response. Giving someone a second hearing after they have spoken means giving ourselves the chance to have second thoughts about what we have heard - and in this way to think the as yet unheard.
R: And yet in my experience the second hearing that leads to insight can itself be deepened by ‘second sight’ that precedes it. By this I mean the ability to not simply visualise the life-world of the client as they describe it in words but to take a mental ‘snapshot’ of the face and body of the client as they speak. Holding to and beholding this mental after-image of the body of the client is a quite different mode of ‘second sight’.
T: What is the advantage to be gained from attending to this mental after-image of the client’s face and body rather than just observing it directly with one’s own body?
R: The advantage lies in being able to then inwardly feel one’s way into the after-image, and in this way gain a direct felt sense of the inner states of being that person’s demeanour embodies.
T: That is most interesting, for sometimes when a client has left my consulting room I find myself left with a vague residual feel of the whole mood of their embodied presence - something I feel in my own body.
R: The trick is then to give form to this residual bodily sense of a client’s overall mood or feeling tone through second hearing and second sight. The second hearing involves letting particular words or phrases continue to resound within you as an ‘after-echo’. The second sight means also holding a mental after-image of particular postures they adopt and of particular looks you have observed on their face and in their eyes.
T: But what is the particular significance of this form of second sight as opposed to second hearing?
R: It significance lies in the fact that what we are questing is an inner understanding of the outer human being - in particular a felt, bodily sense of the meaning of their outward bodily demeanour. A look in someone’s eyes is no mere form of bodily or emotional self- expression. It reveals in a direct bodily way a person’s whole way of looking out at, seeing and feeling and being in the world around them.
S: What you seem to be saying is that there is a whole lot more to so-called body language or demeanour than just bodily self-expression. And that in particular a person’s ‘way of looking at things’ and their ‘way of seeing things’ is no mere mindset or collection of ideas but something quite directly embodied in the look in their eyes.
R: Exactly so. Philosophy and science have yet to grasp the full momentousness and magnitude of this inner relation between what we call ‘mind’ and what we call ‘body’. For what philosophy has always considered simply as ‘ideas’ in the mind are essentially what in ordinary language we call ‘ways of looking at things’. The looks on someone’s face and in their eyes however, are a direct bodily revelation of an individual’s way of looking at things - and of seeing and feeling them.
S: But what, I wonder, is the essential link between second hearing, second sight, and second thoughts?
T: Or between withholding, holding to someone’s words and be-holding the inner states of being and outer life-world to which they are responding?
R: I would suggest that it is questioning. A questioning that has its source in a quest to feel the inwardness of another human being within oneself. A quest that demands also that we hold open questions within ourselves and feel those questions rather than seeking verbal answers to them from others. That we seek ways of directly experiencing the felt questions of others. For it is only when the listener is able to genuinely hold their own questions open and feel those questions within themselves that their listening becomes a fertile womb of listening in-sight.
S: I believe it was the psychoanalyst Robert Langs who suggested that therapists ask their questions silently rather than putting them to the client in words.
T: I have often noticed that in this way the client is more likely to respond authentically to these questions than when verbally challenged to produce answers to them.
S: The paradox is that being directly challenged to respond to a question verbally can positively encourage a veiled or inauthentic response - saying what the therapist wants to hear.
R: And only by withholding our verbal questions do we affirm our questions as shared questions of human being. These are questions that can only be felt in the realm of ‘the between’ - of human ‘inter-being’.
S: A realm of inter-being which then brings the client closer to their own ‘intra-being’. A withholding that helps the client to hear and hold to their own inwardly felt questions - to be and bear with them.
R: It is in this way that the client learns to validate their questions as questions, and not just as problems to be solved. Above all, it is in this way that they learn what it means to be and bear with a question in pregnant silence - to listen.
S: It seems, on second thoughts then, that listening and questioning are not two different things at all. Yet people tend to always identify questioning with putting verbally formulated questions to themselves or others.
T: And many therapists still understand dialogue as an alternation of verbal address and response, verbal questions and answers.
S: Rather than as a mutual quest of human beings for inner contact and relation, meaning and fulfilment.
C. Not in the word but through it.
R: As a wordless questing that is the very essence of listening.
S: A questing that hears the word as the communication of a silent quest.
R: And follows it deeper into the silence from whence it arises.
S: Allowing us to be the question rather than to speak it.
T: To embody it in our bearing and bear it back through our demeanour.
S: To hold it with the questioner.
T: And thereby behold it as a shared question.
R: A question of being.
T: To which both the thoughts and feelings of the client, and those of the therapist are a response - and a co-respondence.
R: The task of therapeutic listening is to behold this correspondence.
T: Which often appears as a synchronicity between the issues that a client brings to therapy and those experienced by the therapist in their own life.
S: One which is usually regarded either as merely co-incidental or a product of transference or projection.
T: Rather than part of the very nature of human communication and relating.
R: As the bearing back of a message that bespeaks a common quest.
S: A common quest that each individual translates into their own unique life language. What you have called their individual ‘language of being’.
T: And translates too, into an existential language - their everyday way of being-in-the-world.
R: The events and phenomena they experience in their everyday world being themselves experiential ‘words’ - an expression of the experiential language through which they world their own being.
T: And through which their being nevertheless speaks in its own unique idiom.
S: In response to what addresses them through the ‘word’ of their experiential world.
R: Not a closed world of material bodies in space and time but of beings who body - and in their bodying, matter to one another.
S: Mattering being the same as meaning something to another being.
R: Something only possible if we each learn to authentically body our own innermost being in relating to all other beings.
S: And in that way restore our relationship to Being.
T: Leaving I suppose, the first and last word to let resonate in this listening dialogue between Therapy and Philosophy with Martin Heidegger himself…
MH: ‘You cannot heal a single human being, even with psychotherapy, if you do not first restore his relationship to Being.’
R: For when beings gather, Being gathers.
S: Thus ‘appropriating’ beings unto itself in the manner that Heidegger named with the word er-eignen.
R: The ‘coming into their own’ of beings through a renewed sense of their mutual belonging to Being.
S: A belonging-together (Zu-gehörigkeit) of beings to one another and to Being which is essentially grounded in their hearing (Gehör) .
R: …as an obedience (Gehorsamkeit) to that which calls to them from within and beyond themselves - and to which their listening (Zuhören) is itself a response.
T: A listening that requires more than just ears.
R: For as Heidegger emphasised: ‘We hear, not the ear.’