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The following paper on Dialogical Spirituality is an excert from a document I have recently presented at The European Conference of Gestalt Therapy in Athens . Through various experiential exercises I then invited the workshop participants to contribute to this paper.The final product will then eventually become an co-created Dialogical article on the nature of Spirituality in Gestalt Therapy.

Dialogical Spirituality


“This is the exalted melancholy of our fate, that every Thou in our world must become an It” (M.Buber 1958)

I would like to start by adding to Martin Buber’s quote above, by saying that it is also the diminished ecstasy of our creation that every It in our world must become a Thou.

In this introduction to Dialogical Spirituality, I invite you to explore and hopefully, celebrate both I-It and I-Thou as dualities and the Paradoxical dance between them which moves beyond duality.

It is so endemic to our society in these times to be someone doing something. Such is the desire to dress up the ego self that something of our true being; authentic self or inner essence is lost. We are lost to our deepest primordial selfless self. This is what Buber called I-It. For the purposes of this paper I shall refer to it as the I-It paradigm.

Gestalt Therapy has one the whole healthily transcended this paradigm (the I-It paradigm)by moving beyond the notion of a fixed self/ego. Concepts such as the here and now, presence, is-ness, relational field, paradox, awareness take us beyond the dualisms of the I-It paradigm. Consequentially, we are thus set sail in the rivers of spirtuality.The I-Thou paradigm.

We are an energy force forming and re-forming, creating and destroying. In my opinion, this takes us into the realms of Spirituality. We are not only the self-form we create in each moment but also the energy force of the universe which co-creates.

Dialogical Spirituality

Dialogical Spirituality* is a beautiful way of describing and observing this co-creational process. The beauty and power of Dialogical Spirituality and Gestalt Therapy is that it both honours duality (I-It) and transcends duality(I-Thou).

Through the nature of human dialogue Dialogical Spirituality honours the polarities of I-It and the wholeness of I-Thou and as such they are contained within both the egoic and Spiritual dimensions of Gestalt Psychotherapy.

The evolutionary paradigm from which we are collectively emerging I have called the I-It paradigm. This has fixed values, fixed self and is a dualistic paradigm of splits, rights/wrongs and polarities.

The I-Thou paradigm we are currently embracing .This paradigm transcends duality. So the Gestalt notion of wholism, field theory and recently relational dialogical thinking, interrelated co-creation are central to this I-Thou paradigm.

To fully embrace this wholistic non-dual I-Thou paradigm we need to transcend and include the I-It fixed dualistic paradigm.

As Gestalt Therapists working towards the inclusion of both I-It and I-Thou we dance a paradoxical dance. We need notions of "peak", "higher self" and "developmental" and at the same time recognise that they are points on an endlessly whole circle, perceived necessarily partially at times as a line of developmental points.

This is what Buber called walking the “narrow ridge” the realm of dialogical encounter which lies “between” self and other. In Taoism this is known as the “ Middle Way”.Similarly, Perls referred to it the “Point of Creative indifference”.

For example, Wilber’s notion of the "pre-trans fallacy" suggests the pre-personal is not Spiritual. However, the pre-spirtual experience is still a Spiritual experience though not viewed as wholly as the transcended spirit views. See here again the power of dualistic thinking and the I-It paradigm-we are always necessarily, comparing, splitting up parts of the whole. What we need to do is to embrace both the pre-personal and the trans-personal. The I-It and the I-Thou.

And so to our crystallised formation of Dialogical Spirituality. Within this structure the apparent pot holes of slipping back into dualistic thinking can at last be incorporated and included in the model of self/other dialogue.

Dialogical Spirituality is then the communion of spirits(common-union), the theatre of the absolute where the balanced dance of parts and wholes take centre stage in the micro arena of the therapeutic encounter : a reflective replay of the universal ultimate ground of primordial being.

Dialogical Yin/Yang Gestalt Cycle

Every Thou becomes an It, every it becomes a thou. Form into emptiness, emptiness into form, yin into Yang, day into night, out breath , in breath, self-other, man-woman, and the pulsating primal breath of the universe. This we see in the microcosm of each individual human being.

Consider these lists:

I-Thou I-It


The more you focus on these lists you can also see that they are interchangeable.
There is an emptiness of It and a form of Thou.
Thou can also be seen as destructive, suffering, disharmony.
It can be seen as Healing, harmony and unity.
This is because all forms, its and Thous are multidimensional.
They all have aspects of wholeness.
They are everything and everything has its relational and complimentary counterpart.
All is relational. Mutually co-existent.
You can’t have conflict without unity or unity without conflict.
All poles are mutually complimentary and constantly moving.

“The urge for homeostatic balance and the urge for disturbance and excitement are complimentary opposites that coexist” (Clarkson/Mackewn).


Otherness: As Unity. (The Paradoxical Self)

Beyond the sometimes fearful mind there is a primal urge for connection, unity and love. A desireless desire to move beyond simply the limiting I-It forms of egoic self structures. An urge to merge in common union without abandoning parts of ourselves.

Here otherness can be seen as the Spirtual domain, the eternal Thou. The domain of our truest being or isness.The simultaneous celebration of the I-It and I-Thou. The Paradoxical Self.

The only way through conflict is to become singularly whole (ownership of all aspects of being) : paradoxically this includes embracing pluralistic differences.(many truths celebrated).

It is the diminished ecstasy of our creation that all that is becomes being. All beings are thus becoming in the vastness of their beingness.

Tim Carrette

Athens 2007

*My thanks to Lynne Williams for giving me permission to use her term “Dialogical Spirituality”.


“The Therapist is not, therefore the Therapist is and is not..”
I welcome Jeff’s article “Therapy without a Therapist:Non Duality,Healing and a search for wholeness”.
I note that what Jeff has done is to set the cat amongst the pigeons of our cosy therapeutic conceptualizations and rigidly erected illusory ego-mind constructs.Steering us once again to stare in the blank open space of this mysterious existence.
As a Psychotherapist practicing in the vastness realms of Non Duality, I think it can only be a good thing to question who we are and what we do.
Psychotherapy often assumes too much personal responsibility and relies too much on the concept of the apparent sense of self.
Non Duality or I should say many modern day Non Duality teachers often speak too much about the also apparent and illusory selfless character.
Surely in the Spirit of Non Duality both self and not self need to be respected.As Wei Wu Wei so succinctly states in “Fingers pointing to the moon”.”I am not, therefore I am”.
I note also in a subsequent response to his article Jeff supports this view “Non Duality is a total embrace of our embodied humanness”.
The problem we always have with words and structures is they are never the absolute truth.In the Spirit of Wei Wu Wei , the moment we say a thing is , it is also therefore not.
So for Jeff to imply that which Therapy and Therapists do, will never be the whole picture.Many of us Therapists including those apparently unaware of Non Duality will often sit with”not knowing” and hold what Fritz Perls called “creative indifference” or the “fertile void”.Similarly, Beisser states in the “Paradoxical Theory of change”that the moment we stay aware of that which “is” the change will happen.Change happens anyway.Sometimes patterns we learnt in childhood or elsewhere do block us and cause suffering.Casting the light of awareness on the process can and does evoke a shift , a more energized release of movement and ease.This is as likely in a therapy session as in a satsang, a Non Duality meeting , a traffic jam or by simply washing the dishes.
It may happen thus in the sacred space of a therapeutic encounter that we shine a light on the patterns and processes “contained” in the limited self through which we may then glimpse our eternal self, the healed whole which we all are.
This is happening anyway.The therapists presence is but a part of a sacred mystery which is ever present and as always moving in us and through these bodies we call “our self”.
Some call this “moving through” God, Tao, Love or Grace.And yet its all of these and none simultaneously.For it is as the “Tao Te Ching” says ” the (Tao) which can be named is not the eternal (Tao)”.
Names and not names, words and wordless expressions, all are sacred, all Non Dual, all everything and nothing.All that is and is not.
The Therapist is not, therefore the Therapist is and is not…
Tim Carrette 2011
A.Beisser -“The Paradoxical Theory of Change” in Gestalt Therapy Now by Fagan and Sheperd.1970.
Lao Tzu -“Tao Te Ching” from a translation by S.Mitchel 1995.
Fritz Perls – quoted in “A Gestatlt Transpersonal perspective”.L.Williams.2006
Wei Wu Wei – “Fingers pointing to the moon”1958

Psychotherapy and Non Duality: A Relational Gestalt Perspective.

Tim Carrette

From the void cometh all things, into the void do all things return.

Gestalt Psychotherapy is the quintessential Non Dualistic Psychotherapy. We are both lost and found in both suffering and emotional pain. We are form and formless. Self and not self. In the words of Martin Buber “Every particular Thou is a glimpse through to the eternal Thou.”

Martin Buber was a Jewish theologian-mystic. He was one of many Spiritual influences on Gestalt Psychotherapy. His most famous work was “ I-Thou”,  a kind of poetic verse on Duality, Non Duality and the inherent relationship between all dualities.

He called these two dualities I-It and I-Thou.

I-It in Buber’s language is form, self, ego, character pattern. The always observable now of our situational senses, the phenomenology of our individual  beingness.

 I –Thou is the formless meeting and non dualistic interconnectedness of all things. The essence of our being, the pulsating energy which flows through us all. It  therefore paradoxically contains both I –It and I-Thou.

Similar, dualities are found in Taoism, where Yin and Yang are complementary opposites balanced by following the “middle path”.Taoism and Zen were and still are major influences on Gestalt Psychotherapy.

But it’s this flow between the two which really energises contemporary Relational Gestalt Psychotherapy today.

Life and psychotherapy honours this eternal dance of form and formlessness. Gestalt psychotherapy sees this as a dance of parts and wholes. Each part a unique reflection of the whole, the situation of the total field. From a partial view of the field, I choose. From a whole field perspective, I am chosen. The two are inextricably linked. To lose either is to honour neither. For the whole isn’t whole without all of its parts. The parts are not parts without being a part of something else.

Everything exists in relation.

Psychotherapy and in particular Gestalt psychotherapy  has sought to empower our individual consciousness, to instil upon us an existential culture of choice.

And so elsewhere I have written “ Pay attention to the growing being of selfhood and be with that which is emerging through the cracks of outdated creative adjustments. Open to the novel and the new. Let life come to you.”

These words invite us to cultivate our individual conscious-active being and embrace an inherent growth within in us which is occurring anyway, beyond our conscious choice. There will always be cracks in our creative adjustments to the situational conditionings of our culture. That is because life grows through us and with us. So inherent within this invitation is the awareness of this life continually growing through us. One way to open to this growth is to pay attention or be aware of the natural occurrences in each and every moment, this newness, this novel has “genius, power and magic” in it. (Goethe).

However, this invitation is still inspired by a culturally collective norm of dualistic self/other, self/world. So, if I put it less dualistically and in the spirit of I-Thou, we can also observe that life and growth is happening anyway. Attention to growth is happening except when its elsewhere but as long as we are alive we are conscious.  We are all conscious to varying degrees depending upon situations, moments and emergent growth. Change is inevitable. As the philosopher Heraclitus said ‘all is flux’ and ‘you can’t step in the same river twice’. We are all getting older and one day we will die.

Along with our awareness of growth is also our awareness of destruction. Gestalt psychotherapy sees life as a continuation of creation and destruction. To embrace the novel the old must be destroyed. This is pain and suffering. This is the necessity of suffering seen often and partially as cruel and unnecessary. Seen as quite natural and observed in nature. Fritz Perls, one of the founders of Gestalt Psychotherapy called this place of seeing, the point of ‘creative indifference’, the still point, the fertile void or ‘Wu Gi’.To see life from this point of view is to not know , to move beyond the mind ‘and come to your senses’(Perls). To be here and now, I and Thou.

From the moment we were born we were born into an emerging duality, away from Mother, away from our parents and into whatever it means to become fully your authentic self. Every childhood act of abuse and suffering reveals another potential for opening through the cracks to yet more of our unique journey.

Similarly, we are born into relationship. Relation is the lively flame of the ‘liminal space’(Denham-Vaughan), a kind of twilight zone which is neither  day or night but in some way is connected to both, a space  which is always  between us. It is paradoxically self and not self that joins us and separates us.

This relational space is always co created and co emergent. There is a sense in which we are both doers and done to. It is a kind of inter-dual-ity.

So we have then these three layers of consciousness. The conditioned individual consciousness, which is so prevalent in our culture today. The idea that we create our own reality. Consciousness becomes form. Intentionality cultivates energy. Existentially, we choose.

Then the Non Dual consciousness which form s the “spiritual” awareness, the so called awakened ones who see life as one single energy. Here the idea that we create our own realities is just that, an idea, a thought. Life is happening anyway, through this experience we have been culturally conditioned to call the self. The “skin encapsulated ego” as Alan Watts called it. Here we don’t so much choose as are chosen, as is every moment, every action, every thought. It is all “God” given or Tao driven.

Gestalt psychotherapy tends to call this the “field”. That energetic force which is larger than our unique separate self forms.

Contemporary Relational Gestalt sees these two forms of consciousness as two ends of the same continuum. They are complimentary opposites. We could call them inter-dual-consciousness, which can always be seen as either dualistic or non dualistic.

And so it is that from this void, came this consciousness, came this form, I call I and yet not I, these words are but forms cultivated by this moment into this form. Soon to be destroyed by yet another emergent form of consciousness and into the void go I, you and all that is.


Tim Carrette is a Relational Gestalt Psychotherapist and Director of The Scarborough Counselling and Psychotherapy Training Institute in North Yorkshire, United Kingdom. He teaches Relational Gestalt Psychotherapy and offers Individual and Group Psychotherapy

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