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  GESTALT / Field Theory

Field Theory Essay
Paul Kapp

 When I first encountered Gestalt I was trying to make sense of it and I did this through the lens of my knowledge of Buddhist and other Non-Dual philosophies. I came to believe that there was much in common, in particular, the Gestalt concept of field. This gave me confidence in Gestalt and later I came to see many other similarities. These similarities are not surprising since Gestalt was influenced by Buddhist, taoist and Hindu thought, these three traditions having drawn on the universal knowledge of Non-Duality. This non-dual [subject]/[objects in field of awareness] was known to Gnostic Christians; Jesus said, ‘I am he who exists from the undivided’, and ‘The Kingdom of heaven is within and without’. (Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, c70ad). Compare this with Malcolm Partlett’s thoughts in The Unified Field by Partlett ‘Undivided Existence’, ‘Field Theory is.. about the individual’s undivided existence, that is, the unified field, which is organised.’
It is an ancient Hindu path, Advaita Vedanta(the ultimate knowledge of the un-divided, ). Blake was aware of the non-dual nature of experience, as was William James who has been called, the father of modern psychology; “In every crescendo of sensation,.. this succession of an emptiness and fullness that have reference to each other and are one flesh is the essence of phenomenon” There are many other spiritual traditions that are based on non-dual knowledge. Many Christian mystics including Saint Augustine were aware of the non-dual nature of experience. In non-dual knowledge, the field is the individual’s field of awareness, and awareness means both that which he is immediately aware, and all potential objects of knowledge. Milarepa, a famous Tibetan Saint said; “In the gap between thoughts, non-conceptual wisdom shines continuously”. This is another expression of the field. Non-conceptual wisdom(timeless awareness) is the background, thoughts are the objects in the foreground.

There is the primordial awareness which is beyond time, is infinite in potential and yet is empty and as vast as the universe(ground) and there are the thought and sense objects present in the individuals experience(figure). The unity of these is the field.
A term that I understand from Tibetan Buddhism that has many levels of meaning, is Bodhicitta. Literally translated it means something like ‘Awakened heart/mind’ and refers to ongoing realisation in practice, but also to one’s true nature, which has been described as, ‘A completely open and loving heart and mind’ Pema Chodron, from Fear to Fearlessness.  It also has other levels of meaning that refer to the non-dual state of awareness and it’s field nature, so for me it kind of represents the two sides of spiritual practice, heart and mind, and as well, the unity of Gestalt theory and practice. The theory informs me about the field nature of experience, and the practice is actualized as compassionate, co created field in dialogue. In Buddhism, one committed to the path acquires a natural compassion in being fully present to others, and responding in a spontaneous, generous way to their needs. Avelokitesvara, the deity representing compassion has a thousand hands. In each hand there is an eye, the eye of wisdom. This symbolizes compassionate action. It is likened to a man reaching for his pillow in the dark, not premeditated but natural. So compassionate action is an outcome of wisdom as knowledge of the primordial state. Malcolm Partlett, in The Unified Field in Practice, said: ‘A practical thing to be done then, is to become more field sensitive, drawing on a wider range of relevance’s, instead of focusing on one part of the field or one configuration exclusively.'
Bodhicitta, synonymous with “ ‘the great hypersphere’, ’the all inclusive state of the individual.’ ” *(Awareness Ref 1), implies that awareness has a field nature.
*(Awareness Ref 2) (Primordial) experiencing. ‘is like the sky’. Here, a Buddhist master likens our experience, (meaning our potential for experience), a synonym for primordial awareness, to the sky, vast and all pervading, and beyond cause and effect, ‘without origination or cessation’, a metaphor for field, and also similar to Gestalt theorists not accepting a simplistic view of cause and effect.   *The Unified Field (2)
*(Awareness Ref 3) ‘..the total field..’     Here Field is explicit.
There is a Tibetan scripture called: “The Tantra of the Bright Opening of the Field” about primordial awareness. The title says it all.
Bodhicitta is an integration of a field theory or view of awareness with practice, drawn from direct experience of reality, gained through the practice of meditation. Gestalt field theorist Malcolm Partlett also integrates the two views. He discusses the field in terms of five principles of field theory which tie in with the above quotes on [Primordial Awareness]/[Bodhicitta].Ref *Gestalt Field, (I refer to 4 of the 5 principles here)             
1. The Principle of Organisation,    ‘Everything is interconnected and the meaning is derived from the total situation.’ This relates to the ‘inseparability of individual and environment’. *Awareness Ref 3           2. Contemporaneity,   ‘..points to the fact that it is the constellation of influences in the present which “explains” present behaviour.' This is related to the ‘Primordial’ aspect of Bodhicitta. *Awareness Ref 1        3. Singularity,   ‘Each situation, and each person-situation field is unique’. This connects to the statement by Namkai Norbu describing Bodhicitta as ‘the all inclusive state of the individual’. *Awareness Ref 1      4. The Principle of Changing Process, refers to the field undergoing continuous change. This is one of the 3 marks of existence stated by the Buddha, “Impermanence, everything is in constant flux”. *The Three Marks of Existence Ref 1
Partlett quotes Lewin “There is nothing so practical as a good theory”(Reflections on Field Theory, 91) I am aware that there is a two way movement between theory and practice. Partlett said, ‘…the unified field.. can better inform Gestalt practice. In turn, it draws upon practical experience as a way of deepening understanding of field theory.’ The Unified Field ‘97

In my experience as a client I can recall many short periods of time in which dramatic shifts resulted to my consciousness. These times were characterized by an intense presence, a sense of mutuality between myself and the therapist where I felt deeply accepted, where I felt an intimate connection. There was a sense of flow, known as contemporaneity, or interconnectedness in the present. The Gestalt term I-Thou describes this experience. This deep connection and support is the co-created field between therapist and client which is attributed to be so therapeutic. This is an example of field theory in practice.

In the Zen and Dzogchen traditions there is a term One Taste. A Zen proverb says “One taste and you know the whole ocean” The Tibetan term for this is Roechig and is more than a proverb. It describes an aspect of primordial experience in which every phenomena is experienced as having sameness. There is a parallel to the Gestalt term horizontalism where the therapist endeavors to see everything in the clients phenomenology as of equal potential value, suspending judgment, recognizing everything as interconnected and attempting to see the client holistically. The concept of One Taste can lead people to think that Primordial Awareness/Emptiness involves a kind of blanc mange viewpoint. This is a mistaken understanding.
The principle of horizontalism helps to postpone hasty judgments but does not mean having no judgment at all. An element of primordial awareness is Discriminating Awareness. This means, that with the awareness that everything is interconnected and of the same taste, a person can have a greater degree of discerning the real from the unreal, of seeing more meaningful patterns than if stuck on piecemeal aspects of the whole. Partlett: ‘Once the unified field is appreciated as (a real)phemonena and concept, the work of the Gestalt practitioner is clear. It is to discover how exactly the field is organized currently..’ The Unified Field in Practice.p 23, Partlett 07)
 

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