Tag Archives: processwork

Hurtful Relationship Patterns and Deep Dreams

By Agnieszka Olszewska–Kaczmarek

In everyday life, we often meet people who are in relationships that bring them more suffering than benefits.  One of the parties, despite repeated injuries and a sense of unfulfillment and even unhappiness, remains in the relationship or walks away just to return in a moment.

On the other side is a partner who is addicted, notoriously fails to keep promises, and may even commit physical or psychological violence.  This partner may also cheat, mentally humiliate, and rarely if ever appreciate the other partner.

Gender Norms can Contribute to Disfunction

Gender configurations are changing and the hurtful behaviors themselves can be further strengthened by cultural patterns defining what is okay, acceptable and even desirable in the behavior of a woman or a man and what is absolutely “not appropriate”.

Entanglement can also take the form of constantly waiting for someone who is unreachable or returning in memories to someone who passed away many years earlier.  Looking at such an image from some distance, we wonder how this is possible.

The Relationship High Dream

Of course, there are many reasons for such pattern developments: the family home, economic dependence, low self-esteem, cultural messages, lack of contact with one’s own feelings and needs, guilt etc.  One of the elements of this puzzle, to which Processwork draws attention, is the high dream (a term coined by the founder of the method, Dr Arnold Mindell).

Simply put, in the context of relationships, this is our deepest vision of the desired relationship.  Each and every one of us has our own unique version of such a dream relationship.  For one person, it will be a constant mutual motivation for development; many hours of intellectual discussions and trips to the mountains.  For another, raising children together and mutual daily care.

Someone may dream of emotional quarrels followed by equally fiery sexual intercourse.  There are as many relationship high dreams as there are people in the world, and each of these dreams is a complex mosaic of behaviors, features and moods that we deeply desire.

The High Dream Points to Our Deepest Needs

A high dream is connected with our deepest needs, which is why it is an integral part of ourselves, and it demands fulfillment.  When we fall in love, we often attribute the object of our feelings with the characteristics of our dream.

Someone has a strong presence or personality or dream figure and we associate it with care and providing us with a sense of security.  Someone else smiles impishly and we can already see through our imagination how we run together lightly in a meadow away from all the world’s problems.  We get gifts or compliments and we are filled with a sense of importance and uniqueness.

In some relationships the bond deepens over time, in others the initial incentives disappear in the face of disproportionately more frequent injuries.  The need for love, the desire to fulfill the deep dream that we carry in the middle of our soul can cause us to persistently stick to the person with whom our dream emerged.

Exaggerating the Positive

We focus excessive attention on a positive event, exaggerating its significance, while ignoring a whole series of negative experiences.  We consciously or unconsciously choose to ignore, overlook or rationalize obvious red flags.  A bouquet of flowers given in the morning cancels another multi-day drinking binge.  A nice text message annuls weeks
of silence.  It may also be that there is nothing good any more, but we believe that if we try harder, the dream will come true.

Therapy Using the High Dream

Therapy can help you explore relationship high dreams and get closer to their realization.  In the process of building a satisfying life, it is often important to stand firmly and embrace our high dream.  If we fully recognize that we deserve good experiences, it is easier for us to consciously assess whether what we desire really happens in reality.

On this path we will probably meet beliefs that stand in opposition to our high dream: “There are no such sensitive men.”  “I’m too old.”  “The role of a woman is to sacrifice,” etc.

Memories of negative experiences from our first relationships with caretakers may come back.  The therapeutic process helps heal old wounds and build new, favorable mental, emotional and psychological patterns.

Embodying our own High Dream

At the same time, and sometimes surprisingly so, we discover many of these beautiful features that we attribute to others are parts of ourselves.  These areas are ones that have long demanded to come to our awareness.  In this way, we also become a fulfilled dream about ourselves.


By Agnieszka Olszewska–Kaczmarek, MA, MAPOF

Agnieszka Olszewska – Kaczmarek is a psychologist and psychotherapist.  She completed her master’s in Processwork at the Process Work Institute in 2020.  She lives in Poland and works in a psychiatric hospital for children and teenagers and at the Center For Women Rights and has a private practice.  Agnieszka is also a singer-songwriter, performing under her stage name Back To The Ocean.

Learn more about Agnieszka’s therapy practice:



And hear some of her music:


This article first appeared in Polish at Psycheexpert.pl  on 4/23/20.  This English version was edited by MaryJo Radosevich, MBA.

Photo Credit: Maria Orlova https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-multiracial-women-leaning-to-each-other-4906336/

Why Manifestation Doesn’t Always Work: A Process Perspective

By Jeanell Innerarity

If you’ve engaged in personal growth work in the last fifteen years, you’ve probably dabbled in “manifestation.”  Manifestation hit the mainstream with the 2006 release of the documentary The Secret, which featured celebrities, philosophers, and even scientists talking about how they create their own reality by acting like it’s already real.  The movie claims that some of society’s biggest names have used this “secret” to get to ahead, and the rest of us can do the same.

Life is more Complex

If tuning in to the vibration of our goals is the only thing between us and our ideal reality, then why aren’t we there yet?  Did some of us stick the wrong images on our vision boards?  How come manifestation sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t?  I believe the missing piece in this conversation is PROCESS!

Process, if you know how to track it, is no secret.  The word “process” can be a noun or a verb and applies in many contexts, but it always implies that something is emerging naturally from what came before it.  As a Processworker, I track process by noticing what is more obvious or consciously known (primary), and facilitating opportunities for the less known (secondary) aspects of awareness to emerge.

The Secondary Process

How do I apply this when a client comes to me and says they want to “manifest” something?  The term manifestation gives me a clue: there’s a primary aspect of their awareness which has a goal, and a secondary aspect which has another plan entirely!

A client once came to me with enormous career goals.  Already the leader of an international organization, they wanted to manifest more power, money, and status.  However, they were exhausted.  Their shoulders were tied up in knots.  Their relationship and libido suffered.  They had been betrayed in a business deal and felt unable to trust.  Their primary process was success, but their secondary process was rest. 

What they thought they wanted to manifest was one-sided and oversimplified; it did not honor the complexity of their life and character, and was impossible to maintain without serious consequence.  When you marginalize significant aspects of your experience in order to manifest something, the secondary aspects of your process will eventually sabotage your efforts!

All the Isms

But what if what you’re honoring your full experience, yet you keep running into roadblocks?  When clients describe this scenario, I often find that classism, racism, homophobia, or other institutionalized biases are at play.  A person tries to manifest their dreams, and the world pushes back against them.

Does this mean they can’t get there?  Absolutely not!  With these clients (and within myself) I bring to light the process of internalized oppression—the way in which we repeat to ourselves the same critical and dangerous stories the world has fed us.  In this case, we must first fight the inner oppressor and pick up its power for ourselves!  The outside world may not immediately change, but when we stop agreeing with its insidious and abusive voices we can act with more confidence and at least avoid self-sabotage.  After we’ve laid a foundation for a less hurtful inner dialogue, we can strategize about how to take action, build alliances, and even change systems in the wider world.

If you experience societal oppression and believe—as many do—that manifesting your dreams is based solely on your own ability to visualize, then you will feel like a personal failure every time your dreams don’t come true.  In this case, the culture of manifestation becomes abusive; it tells people that the big isms—sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, etc.—are easy to overcome, thus erasing the pain, challenge, and grief of someone’s experience.  Not fertile soil for manifestation!

You Can’t Go Against Your Needs

It’s also nearly impossible to manifest an intention which overrides a fundamental need.  A classic example shows up in the field of weight loss.  How many millions of people have spent billions of dollars trying to lose weight, only to fail at the outset or gain back more than they lost?  If you eat to “be big” or take up space, to feel safe in your body, to feel free of the sexual gaze, or to experience comfort, then no amount of focusing on thinness will manifest your vision until you can feel these things on your own terms.  Additionally, the cultural emphasis on weight loss is a type of social oppression all its own, so it’s important to explore why you might want to lose weight in the first place.

Your True Nature

And finally, there’s destiny.  Processwork proposes that we each have a unique path in life: a certain type of trajectory, tendency, and dreaming process which shows up in our earliest childhood dream (or memory) and cycles back throughout our lives.  A sort of personal myth.  To harness the power of that myth is to live out your destiny!

In my earliest childhood dream, I disturb the status quo and wake up terrified of my own power.  Predictably, when I try to conform to the mainstream in my waking life it comes back to bite me;  it’s against my nature, which is to use my power to wake people up!  I can’t manifest something lasting if it isn’t “me;” when I’m true to who I am, extraordinary things manifest themselves in my favor.

Because of the impact of the secondary process, societal oppression, unmet needs, and personal destiny, manifestation doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does!  Sometimes, with astonishing quickness and accuracy, you wish for something and get what you wanted.  Is that just dumb luck?  Maybe occasionally!  More often, I’d say it’s akin to “going with the flow.”  When you learn to track and unfold your own process, when you align your choices with your true nature, and when you notice and act on synchronicities, you get out of your own way.  When you honor your needs and take back the power of the internalized oppressor, you open up possibilities for the intelligent universe to shower you with blessings!  It’s just that those blessings might look nothing like what you intended to manifest….

By Jeanell Innerarity, MAPOF, LMT (#22490)

Jeanell Innerarity facilitates personal healing with global impact.  She specializes in integrative work to help clients better understand their personal power through the lenses of ancestry, Earth connection, and somatic awareness.  She is the Founder and CEO of The EcoSpiritual Education Center LLC, where she provides group workshops, one-on-one counseling, and online education focused on personal development interwoven with ecological and social sustainability.  She holds an MA in Process Oriented Facilitation, a BA in Environmental Studies, is certified in Permaculture and Ecovillage Design, and is a Licensed Massage Therapist.  She recently completed her first novel.

Learn more about Jeanell’s work at Ecospiritual Education

Image credit: Jeanell Innerarity

Process-Oriented Dating

By Amy Palatnick

Although I don’t get paid for it, I like to call myself a “professional dater,” because my approach is more of a martial art or a research project than a quest for love.  I focus on dating for personal growth, using each date to challenge myself in the realm of communication.  In my practice, the manifestation of love is a cherry-on-top, not a primary goal.

A unique perk of dating is getting to interact with a variety of people.  Different parts of me get evoked by each connection.  At an early stage of interaction, I have little skin in the game and can freely experiment in my communications without feeling limited by stagnant roles that crystallize in longer-term connections. 

Dating also has a built-in bonus of introspection: when it’s over, there is plenty of time to reflect on my experience. 

If you are ready to flex your communication muscles, dating is a perfect practice arena to usher you into the bountiful land of elevated relating.  Dates are filled with opportunities to develop and practice our communication skills, from first contact to sayonara.  All we need to know is how we want to grow!

How Do We Grow?  The Mandate of Personal Evolution

I believe that each person is on a unique evolutionary path, encountering specific, personally-tailored obstacles that inevitably result in personal growth.  When we navigate our journeys with awareness, we may experience a gentler ride: we can consciously manifest and monitor our progress (including our failures!).  My belief is, even when we resist or ignore spiritual growth prompts (which can manifest in the form of accidents, body symptoms, dreams, disturbances in our home, relationship, or work lives…) we still evolve!  We can’t avoid the lessons life has in store for us. 

Yet growth is often difficult and uncomfortable!  We have to be willing to shift belief systems, to stretch in new directions, and to behave in ways that feel foreign and uncomfortable.  It takes work to build new muscles.

The Concept of the Edge

Foundational to the Processwork paradigm is acceptance of the whole of who we are, including the unknown parts of us that desire expression.  We can help the process along if we have a sense of what those parts are. 

The threshold of our growth is called the edge; an inner boundary between the known and unknown parts of ourselves.  It is the gate to our emerging future, the portal to our untapped potential.  Most of us try to avoid edges, feeling safer when we rest in what is known. 

But emerging qualities actually need an outlet.  When blocked, these marginalized (not fully integrated) parts often find troubling means of expression, such as through addiction (an unconscious strategy that gets us over the edge), nightmares (which confront us with our edges), body symptoms (where our edges surface physically), and other difficulties.  By consciously choosing to grow, we can express these characteristics in ways that are more supportive and less sabotaging. 

An easy way to identify the parts of us that are trying to grow is to look at people we admire.  Who do we wish we could be like?  What is it about them that speaks to us?  Can we act like they do?  Can we integrate their unique characteristics, even a little bit?  Can we sit like them, talk like them, grab that trait they have and play with it?  If not, why not? 

If we are willing to take risks to act in new and unfamiliar ways and to dance with our edges, to welcome our unknown parts, we can embrace our emerging traits by taking risks and manifesting our growth.

What is Your Relationship Edge?

We have all kinds of edges: some are personal, others are interpersonal (between people) or even transpersonal (beyond personal).  “Relationship edges” are interpersonal, showing up in connection with others. 

My biggest edge in relationships is radical honesty (speaking my truth even when I’m afraid to).  My primary style is to accommodate, to say what I think the other person wants to hear.  In dating, this comes up a lot: I often am conscious that I am not interested in my date but I continue to “make nice” instead of ending the encounter. 

I have a personal hero named Janet.  My relationship edge is radical honesty, and Janet always says it like it is, for better or worse.  When I am on a date and know that I have something to say but am afraid to say it, I think about Janet, and pretend that I’m Janet! I sit up taller, and I feel like Janet.  I look through her eyes and put my hands on the table.  When I remember, I use this line that helps me get where I want to go, “Can I be honest with you?”  From there, I always know what to do. 

If you know your central edge in relationships, you can identify opportunities for growth, learn to recognize those opportunities and have a strategy for how to overcome the edge.  Other relationship edges indclude: vulnerability, sobriety, intellect, receptivity, interrupting, bigness, masculinity, femininity, freedom, surrender, trust, playfulness, detachment, and power.

To hone in on yours, you can ask yourself:  “What do I wish I could do in my relationships?”

You can openly work on your edges during dates.  You can say, “I’m practicing [insert personal edge] and I’m planning on practicing that with you tonight!”  Your date might be impressed and could even help you develop your new skills.  This can make for a playful, deep and unexpected experience.

Dating with the intention to cross our edges can help us learn to communicate the way we really want to in our relationships.  And when love finally does show up, we will have used our time wisely, becoming more of the people we want to be.


by Amy Palatnick, Dipl.PW

Amy Palatnick is a professional potter, a black belt Nia instructor, and a Processwork diplomate, therapist and coach living and loving in Eugene, Oregon.

Amy is passionate about personal growth, especially through relationships, and is preparing to release a book about process-oriented dating in 2020.

To stay in touch, send her an email at yodmama@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook!

Image credit: Alexas_Fotos at Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/flamingo-bird-colorful-feather-3309628/

My Childhood Dream is my Facilitator Superpower

These are my Life-Myth Superpowers… what are yours?

by Matt Stella

I am laying curled up on the back porch. Brown painted floor and railing. Crying. About five years old.  A little boy alone, upset, in the fetal position.  The porch is raised up from the yard like a stage, yet I must be outside of the house trying to hide and be alone.  The little backyard is nicely manicured: flowerbeds with a nice stone border, and a perfectly green lawn that extends to the back fence.  Closer to the fence it’s darker in the shade of a big maple tree.  The grass there is not as lush, with some bare spots and patches of dirt.  The back fence is a wooden wall about 6 feet high, like a stockade you would see in old forts.

Then, just like every time, an old woman in a dingy white dress comes out of the back door of the house across the fence.  She steps out onto her back porch, which is raised from her yard at the same level of my porch, so she can see across the fence to where I am.  Her house is white but in disrepair, with peeling paint, unkempt.  Her yard has no grass.  It’s wild and untended, the dirt packed down from a sad, mean dog that’s chained to a stake in the middle of the lot, pacing and digging wherever it can reach.

Crying harder now, I feel her looking over the border fence at me.  It’s uncomfortable to feel that she is watching me.  And suddenly it’s unbearable and terrifying.  The old woman in the white dress is not fully human.  Even though I’m trying not to look at her, I realize she has the terrible head of a chicken, with her haunting, piercing, yellow chicken eyes locked straight on me, no eyelids, a relentless steady gaze.  The longer she stares, the more unbearable it feels.  My sobbing and panic heightens by the second.  I know that if she keeps looking I will die.

Carl Jung and the Life Myth

I always wake up just before dying.  This is the dream I had in the night, many nights in a row, in different phases of childhood, starting about 5 or 6 years old. Over time I ‘outgrew it’, and I did not think much of it.  Then in my 30’s when first studying Processwork, I was asked to remember the first dream, nightmare, or recurring dream of childhood — what Carl Jung would call the Life Myth Dream.

My Processwork therapist, Randee Levine, was brilliant and wise.  She helped me approach this nightmare with curiosity, then compassion, then awe.  I could see that for much of my childhood, teens and early adulthood, my inner life was most like the child in that dream.  Everything looked quite fine on the outside, like the house, nice, privileged, put-together… but in the back, behind the scenes, I was depressed, afraid, insecure, small and hurting.

Over the Edge – the Chicken Head Lady

But what about CHL – the Chicken Head Lady?  She was definitely not me.  I was definitely not her.  The edge between my world and hers was a tall stockade barrier.  And the awareness in the dream, the looking, was coming from the wild, scary land across the edge.  Not from me.  In the dream, as in my life, I was most aware of trying to look manicured like the lawn and flowers, but secretly feeling hurt, weak or ashamed.

If you are familiar with Processwork, you may be anticipating the good part… How am I the Chicken Head Lady!?  It was a deeply healing and empowering process to shapeshift into her — to practice standing straight up, with the relaxed but fierce awakeness of pre-human eyes staring straight across the edge to the source of the suffering.  From her perspective, she was not trying to harm or kill the boy.  She was just witnessing, unflinchingly.  Over many years, my healing and growth have been a practice of living that dream.  It starts with noticing that in the ‘back porch’ hidden areas of my mind, I am feeling hurt and alone, desperate not to be seen.  Any attempt to look at it feels terrifying like it might be the end of the world.  But then to adjust my gaze, open eyes fierce and wide, and look dispassionately straight at it, opens me to an ancient power with no fear.  The ‘boy’ starts to disappear. He is ‘killed’ in the sense that the longer I look, the closer it is to being gone.  Even if I only remember to do this inner work once in a while, it’s a great relief and a return to power.

Central Polarity – Opposite Allies To Help My Clients

It has been 20 years since I was taught to view the unique, mythic themes of my life through the lens of this dream.  As a therapist and Processworker, there is no skill or metaskill I am more grateful for than this Life Myth Dream to guide me.  When I have a client exposing a hidden hurt, and the shame of it being seen, I can access true compassion.  The ‘boy’ is my ally, reminding me what it’s like to feel that desperate panic, suffering and shame.  And the Chicken Head Lady is my ally, showing me the impersonal paradox of detachment, awareness, and fierce connection.  When I remember to look through her eyes, I can see straight through a person to the seed of their suffering, and not turn away.

Giving Thanks

Over the years I’ve done more and more work with survivors of trauma and childhood sexual abuse.  Even with a facilitator-superpower like CHL it was very difficult at first to look straight at the heart of stories of violation and damage to children.  But the more I could believe in both sides of the edge of my dream, and slowly integrate the polarity as a whole, the more able I have been to work with greater and greater suffering.  Thank you Chicken Head Lady!  Thank you scared little boy!  Thank you cultivated land, wild land and the big edge between!

by Matt Stella, LICSW, Dipl.PW

Matt Stella is a process-worker in Salem, MA, north of Boston.  He has been a psychotherapist in private practice since 2001, with a love of Processwork since 1999.  His work with depression, anxiety, addictive behaviors and relationship challenges has focused on the dynamics of shame, inner authority, and transformation.  He leads men’s groups and specializes in men’s issues, including the effects of sexual abuse and trauma on men.  Meditation, Authentic Movement, Contact Improvisation, creative process and especially family life with his magnificent wife and daughters have all been vehicles for his personal growth and discovery.

e-mail: mattstella.licsw@comcast.net


From Recovery to Discovery in Extreme States

By John Herold

I was in fourth grade when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.  From that moment I wanted to be an astronaut. There was something about racing into space as well as the inherent risks in trying that held a strong appeal.  By the time the shuttle Discovery was retired in 2011, I assumed my space career was over.

I Didn’t Expect My Wish to Come True

Looking back, that 10-year-old aspiring astronaut wasn’t very specific about exactly where he wanted to travel.  Outer space or inner space?  And by what means?

In December of 2012 that childhood wish came true in an unexpected and disturbing way.  My trip to the stars happened not on the space shuttle, but in an extreme state of consciousness.

Like a rocket I swiftly developed a huge amount of energy, skipping sleep for five days.  No longer in the reality most of us can agree is happening, I felt like an alien visitor.  I experienced everything anew from a symbolic, unified and deeply interconnected perspective.  The familiar John who didn’t believe in mysticism, numerology and spirituality receded into the background.  All that remained was this steeply unfamiliar part of me.

This New Part Was Full of Surprises

During this time I began to hear bells that those around me don’t hear.  The bells answer some questions yes or no, and have helped me in countless ways, though they don’t respond when I ask them directly.  Crisp and beautiful, they have never led me astray.  They are messages from a trusted companion.

It was also during this time that numbers began to speak to me in extraordinary ways.  I first noticed them at 12:12pm on 12/12/12.  Such sequences have occurred hundreds of times since, and they are now a regular part of my life.

My car’s odometer reading 9999.9 on 9/9/18 on my way to a Hearing Voices Network facilitator’s training

The Astronaut in Me Needed Support

Just as traveling to space is risky and expensive, so are extreme states.  Though the energy, bells, sensations and numbers are magical to me, my behavior at the end of 2012 was deeply disturbing to almost everyone else.  I spoke quickly and forcefully using language that was difficult to understand.  I was in everyone’s face.  I spent all my money.  I held unusual beliefs.  I had trouble describing my state of mind.  I appeared to be out of control.

Eventually, in response to pressure from people around me, I found my way to the emergency room.  There, my experience was seen in a different light; as a mental illness.  Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was held against my will and coercively drugged.  I was told my experience needed to go away and that I would require medication for life.  The newly arrived part of me had been pathologized – viewed as a sign of sickness.  This began a war between the old and new parts of myself.

It’s painful to fall down from a spiritual emergence to a diagnosis of mental illness.  Traumatic memories of being trapped, powerful tranquilizers and strident assertions from mental health professionals made it very hard for me to access the newfound mystical features in my life.  By August of 2013 I no longer wanted to live.

A Reaction to Psychiatric Oppression

Many believe depression automatically follows mania.  But in my experience, depression was a response to psychiatric oppression.  This oppression was so powerful, I internalized it.  I agreed that my energy and experiences the previous year were symptoms to be managed, medicated and ultimately discarded.

Processwork Views My Extreme State as Valuable

At my innermost core I knew there was something valuable about my experience, but I felt alone with it.  This is why, when I found Processwork, firstly through Will Hall, and then through Gary Reiss, it was so incredibly refreshing. Viewed through Processwork, my extreme state was no longer a sickness.   

When I shared my experience with Gary, he welcomed it, saying:

“You obviously have a lot of creative energy.  I believe the magic you experienced was real.  Do you want to ride this horse, make meaning and share that meaning with the world?”

I had found an ally who agreed with my innermost perception.

I Signed up for the Masters in Process Oriented Facilitation

The first night of the MAPOF program almost two years later was another defining moment for me.  As I introduced myself, I half-pathologized my own experience, saying I had been to Pluto.  After I shared my story, my new cohort mate, Camille Dumond, responded:

“John, we want you to go to Pluto!  And when you go, remember what you find so that when you come back, you can share it with us.”  

This open and accepting attitude brought me to tears.  

I Had Found My Astronaut School

Processwork has helped me welcome my mystical experiences rather than extinguish them.  It has given me a powerful framework and practical tools for navigating and integrating all my parts.

Today I’m no longer in an extreme state, and the mystical part of me that came forward so suddenly in 2012 never left.  I take note of the synchronicities in my life, and when the bells talk, I listen.  But also present is the familiar part I’ve known for most of my life.

As Gary has said to me:

“John – try being a little psychotic all the time!”

Using Better Language

I’ve never liked the word recovery because it implies altered and extreme states are a sickness we must recover from.  Recovery also implies we need to cover up (re-cover) newly emerged parts of ourselves in order to get well.

Instead of re-covering, I opt to rid myself of the cover altogether.  I now choose to dis-cover, and allow all my parts a chance to live.

I’m Not in Recovery – I’m in Discovery

Like the space shuttle.


To learn more, you can watch John’s webinar on Processwork and Extreme States.


By John Herold, MA

John Herold is a facilitator, speaker and trainer from Gig Harbor, Washington.  He is the founder and director of Puget Sound Hearing Voices, now in its fourth year of weekly meetings.  John’s work is deeply influenced by his personal lived experience with extreme states and psychiatric survival, his involvement with the Hearing Voices Network as well as his master’s training in Processwork.  He is passionate about spreading non-pathologizing ways of understanding experiences often labeled as mental illness.  In 2017 John received an Inspirational Person Award from Intervoice: The International Hearing Voices Network.


Photo credit: pixabay.com

Innerwork in Public Arenas

By Bill Say


Innerwork is Facilitating Your Own Awareness

In this post, I use the word Innerwork to refer to the Processwork form of Innerwork, as distinct from the many other forms in the world.  Processwork Innerwork focuses on individuals facilitating their own awareness.  We can practice Innerwork by sensing how we interact with physical sensations, following our bodily movements or allowing inner parts to speak to one another.  

Innerwork also Connects us to Others

Innerwork is “working on ourselves,” often by ourselves.  This is distinct from relationship or group work.  That said, Innerwork can also be a powerful practice when done in public!  Of course this is not what every individual or group chooses to focus on.  Our awareness and work with internal processes, parts, thoughts, and feelings often remain hidden.  However, this work is a potentially enriching factor that is often not just our own.  These complex, sometimes troubling and enlightening “inner” matters seem to frequently involve our friends, enemies, families, teams, organizations, communities and world.

Using Innerwork in Public Speaking

Innerwork has been a practice I’ve often used before addressing the public and feel too nervous to do so without undue anxiety or self-consciousness.  To start, I ask permission from the audience and offer a simple explanation, such as, “I often get nervous speaking in public.  Is it ok if I take a minute to ‘work on myself’ by simply noticing what I notice for a minute or so?”  Few of the groups I’ve asked have denied me this privilege and many seem to be fascinated by this relatively rare public expression.

Here’s an example of working on myself before giving a public presentation for Occupy Sonoma County.  (I start at about the 1:30 second point):

A Facilitator’s Innerwork Reflects the Group

Aside from working on myself at the start of presentations to ease my nerves, I also use Innerwork to begin to speak to dynamics that may exist within a group I am facilitating.  My own thoughts, feelings and even dream-like processes in a moment may not just belong to me but may also represent feelings, perspectives, roles or processes that live within the group, even one I’m newly encountering.  

One example is a graduate psychology class I was teaching.  After a challenging number of weeks, I was facing a group that was in deep conflict.  Plus, on this particular day a few of the members were challenging my teaching.  For some reason that day they didn’t trust me, at least not enough to support me to continue my instruction.  I realized I needed to work on myself and asked the class if I could take a few minutes to do so.  The group hesitated about my request and after some back and forth they agreed, on the condition that they could then respond to my Innerwork.  

I proceeded to explore a part inside me that didn’t quite trust me and one that wasn’t necessarily trustworthy!  By even briefly hearing from these parts the group shifted and was satisfied enough to continue with the class.

Levels of Reality

What happened in that class?  To answer that, I need to refer to the Processwork model of Levels of Reality.

There is the consensus reality level of facts and issues; there is “dreamland,” the level of feelings, subjective material and roles that are shared; and the essence level realm of what we feel most deeply and often share as an experience.  

At the dreamland level of reality, roles are shared and any “ghost role” (a role or part that is referred to or implied but not yet explicitly represented) is a vital part to explore and express.  In the case of my graduate class, the “untrustworthy” one was a ghost role.  On that day, my exploration and expression of these parts was congruent enough that the group was satisfied and could move on to other things.

You can read more about the three levels of reality at Arnold and Amy Mindell’s website:


My Inner Conflict Mirrored the Group’s Process

On another occasion I was teaching a public seminar on diversity, conflict and community building.  Though I wasn’t particularly nervous at the start I did feel a bit “blank” mentally.  In this instance of working on myself I quickly found a part of me that wanted to be structured, clear and “get on” with the teaching while another part expressed itself in an arm movement that also brought forth a feeling of expanse, emptiness and possibility.  Though there was no clear resolution to the subtle conflict these two parts had, it did seem to point to a particular way of processing issues that the group later revealed.

This expansive style seemed to spread without any pressing need to resolve the issues involved (and even defied my own efforts to contain and frame the process).  It included more and more of each member’s perspective and shifted our collective consciousness into an unusually diffuse state of mind.

Did my Innerwork at the start of the day influence or predict the group dynamic to come?  I may never know, but having this moment of conflict in my inner process alerted me to an outer process that I wrestled with and embraced as the day went on.

The Facilitator’s Innerwork Engages the Group

Lastly, in my introduction to a conflict resolution training I gave to a local government group of internal change managers, I worked on myself for a minute in front of them.  With a group of government administrators, emergency services providers, and managers engaged in organizational change, I wouldn’t normally think working on myself would land so well.  Nevertheless, my minute of Innerwork elicited laughter, a sense of immediacy and connection and set the stage for a day of very engaged, lively and fun learning and dialogue.

Innerwork in Public Makes More Effective Leaders

As Arnold Mindell has suggested, in the near future, our leaders may pause during their talks to say, “Wait a minute.  Something is going on inside me…”  This Innerwork may be an important factor in shifting and transforming our environments and cultures.  I invite you to try it out!

By Bill Say, MA, PW Dipl.

Bill Say brings over twenty years of experience to the intersection of diversity awareness training, conflict resolution and community building.  He is a faculty member of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and a former faculty member of the UC Berkeley Extension School of Professional Communication.  Bill is a Diplomate of Processwork. His website is: www.billsay.com


Photo credit: Didgeman https://pixabay.com/en/glass-ball-autumn-tree-gnarled-1813707/