Thomas Merton on love & empathy

“To love another as a person we must begin by granting him his own autonomy and identity as a person. We have to love him for what he is in himself, and not for what he is to us. We have to love him for his own good, not for the good we get out of him. And this is impossible unless we are capable of a love which ‘transforms’ us, so to speak, into the other person, making us able to see things as he sees them, love what he loves, experience the deeper realities of his own life as if they were our own. Without sacrifice, such a transformation is utterly impossible. But unless we are capable of this kind of transformation ‘into the other’ while remaining ourselves, we are not yet capable of a fully human existence.”

Thomas Merton

Thanks to Brent Potter on Facebook for this wonderful quotation, which captures the essence of person-centred relationship and the offering of the core conditions. So fundamental, so profound – and so little seen or taught or valued in our culture, so that most of us are starved for this quality of love, and the intimacy to which it is the gateway.

It interests the writer how those who think and feel deeply, and journey deep into awareness and growth (Thomas Merton, Carl Rogers) – in whatever tradition and from whatever perspective in terms of spirituality, art, science etc – appear to reach the same conclusions. Feels hopeful.

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling Exeter since 1994

Posted in Brent Potter, communication, congruence, core conditions, cultural questions, empathy, encounter, human condition, identity, interconnection & belonging, love, presence, relationship, self, therapeutic growth, therapeutic relationship, Thomas Merton, transformation, unconditional positive regard | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unconditional – David Whyte


Here’s the text, for those who have difficulty reading Facebook links:-


love is not fully possible. Unconditional love is the necessary, dream-like, and invisible shoreline that continually draws us to its edge but where we can never fully arrive.

We are mortal creatures of living and dying and how we love and what we love is conditional upon where we stand in the drama and the seasonality of that living and dying. Love may be sanctified and ennobled by its commitment to the unconditional horizon of perfection, but what makes love real in the human world seems to be our moving, struggling conversation with that beckoning horizon rather than our actual arrival.

The hope for, or the declaration of a purely spiritual, unconditional love is more often a coded desire for immunity and safety, an attempt to forgo the trials of vulnerability, powerlessness and the exquisite pain to which we apprentice ourselves in a relationship, a marriage, in raising children, in a work we love and desire.

The hope for unconditional love is the hope for a different life than the one we have been given. Love is the conversation between possible, searing disappointment and a profoundly imagined sense of arrival and fulfillment; how we shape that conversation is the touchstone of our ability to love in the real inhabited world.

The true signature and perhaps even the miracle of human love is its helplessness, and all the more miraculous because it is a helplessness which we wittingly or unwittingly choose; in our love of a child, a partner, a work, or a road we have to take against the odds.

Our roads and journeys of love are always lived through beautiful humiliations, through disappointments, and through forms of imprisonment: of our own or another’s strange behavior or simply subject to the seasonality of the world; the arriving weather of existence always blowing through once stable lives and many times, blowing us apart.

Unconditional love is the beautiful hoped for impossibility, and yet we could not fully understand the nature of our helplessness without looking through the lens of that hoped for perfection. We are creatures who do not get to choose between what we want and what is wanted of us, and we seem to embody the full vulnerabilities of love only when we dwell at the moving frontier between this wanting and being wanted. The invitation is made to us every day whether we desire it or no, to enter a deeply human world of robust vulnerability, shot through with a sometimes joyful, more often difficult helplessness, to risk our selves in the conditional world in which we live and to accept that there is no possible path we can follow where we will be untouched by the heartbreak, the difficulties and the joys that move us and move through us.

The only path possible is to give our self unconditionally to the conditionality of each overwhelming, disturbing and rewarding guise of love.

The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
© David Whyte & Many Rivers Press 2015

Walking the Shore
Byron Bay, Australia, April 25th 2016
Photo © David Whyte’

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling in Exeter since 1994

Posted in acceptance, consciousness, David Whyte, Disconnection, dying, emotions, encounter, fear, human condition, identity, interconnection & belonging, loneliness, loss, love, meaning, metaphor & dream, perception, power and powerlessness, presence, reality, relationship, risk, sadness & pain, self, self concept, surrender, trust, vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jeff Brown on triggers, mirrors and when to take the next exit

“I recognize that we have evolved beyond the point where we turn away from everyone that triggers us. We have come to understand that, sometimes, the trigger points us back in the direction of unhealed material that seeks resolution. This willingness to hang in there with the dynamic, and to work through the revealed material, can be fundamental to our expansion. Unfortunately, this practice can be taken much too far and become a recipe for masochistic self-destruction. Not everything that feels hurtful in a relationship is a gift. Not every painful reflection is a helpful mirror. Not every wound is a welcome visitor. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s a reminder that you need better boundaries. Sometimes it means that you are simply not where you belong.

 Working through our stuff doesn’t always mean that we hang in there and suffer. Sometimes it means that we take the next exit…”

Jeff Brown

Thanks to Tabitha on Facebook for this quotation.  We hear a lot of unhelpful theoretical binary around this theme. Important to stay alive to ‘felt sense’ and our intuitive readings of the situation we are in. Stay in and learn? Or get the hell out?

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling in Exeter since 1994

Posted in boundaries, conflict, encounter, interconnection & belonging, Jeff Brown, meaning, perception, power and powerlessness, reality, relationship, sadness & pain, self, self concept, shadow, therapeutic growth, therapeutic relationship, vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paul Gordon on finding our feelings in therapy

“I suspect we could all tell a story similar to that told by the playwright David Hare recalling his childhood in post-war Britain: 

‘In the other half of our semi-detached lived a solicitor and his wife. She had perfectly mastered all the bourgeois rituals which we had rather less convincingly sought to mimic. She knew the rules better than anyone. She even laid the table for breakfast the moment supper was finished. But by the time she took off her clothes on the wintry Bexhill beach and walked out to drown herself in the English Channel, it was evident that the generational tactic of peace-at-all-costs was not really yielding the promised dividend.’

Therapy seeks to give feelings their proper place, urges us to acknowledge their existence as a part of life, to accept them as William James put it, as “Gifts to us, from sources sometimes low and sometimes high; but almost always non-logical and beyond our control… Gifts, either of the flesh or of the spirit”. We accept them so that their power over us may be less terrifying. It is part of who we are today to feel anger and fear and sadness and envy and hatred, as well as desire and joy and pleasure. The value of therapy lies in recognising that one has feelings, that we are not responsible for what we feel and that we are a lot less likely to act upon such feelings to our own and others’ detriment if we are able to find the right words for them, to find an appropriate expression of them. It sounds terribly simple and in many ways it is, but like most simple things it’s also highly complex if we pause to think about it. The simple fact that we are feeling beings and that we cannot be responsible for what we feel is often nothing other than a revelation to the person concerned.”

‘The Hope of Therapy’ Paul Gordon

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling Exeter since 1994

Posted in acceptance, anger, awakening, communication, conditions of worth, consciousness, cultural questions, Disconnection, embodiment, emotions, empathy, empowerment, encounter, fear, growth, healing, human condition, identity, power and powerlessness, presence, relationship, resilience, sadness & pain, self, self concept, self esteem, suicide, surrender, therapeutic growth, therapeutic relationship, vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Suzanne Moore on Leonard Cohen, death & Marianne

Click on the link for this article by Suzanne Moore about Leonard Cohen’s beautiful letter sent to Marianne Ihlen, his erstwhile partner and muse, as she lay dying at 81. The writer of this blog post cried considerably when she first read it on Facebook:-

‘Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.’

Suzanne’s article captures for the writer some of what lies within the beauty and poignancy of Leonard’s letter, and the contrast it presents with how we tend to approach death – and life – in this culture:-

‘Warm, sacred, dancing us to the end of love; young passions, old bodies, a rare and gracious farewell. So long, Marianne. Thank you, Mr Cohen.’

This post would be incomplete without this song:-

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling in Exeter since 1994

Posted in acceptance, beauty, communication, compassion, congruence, core conditions, creativity, cultural questions, cultural taboos, dying, emotions, encounter, friendship, gratitude, grief, humour, interconnection & belonging, loss, love, meaning, poetry, presence, relationship, surrender, tears, vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pema Chödrön on Leaning in & Staying Present

“The next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you’re feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering — yours, mine, and that of all beings.”

‘Taking the Leap’: Pema Chödrön

Here’s the book link:-

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling Exeter since 1994

Posted in actualizing tendency, awakening, blaming, consciousness, cultural questions, Disconnection, flow, human condition, mindfulness, organismic experiencing, Pema Chödrön, perception, presence, reality, sadness & pain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Liz Gilbert on how to hold ourselves lovingly when life’s tough

Click on the link for this Facebook post by Liz Gilbert (of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ fame). We posted something from Liz not that long ago – and this feels important, so here is another…

People who come to this service are facing painful, difficult present and past experiences of many kinds. However – inevitably in our culture as it currently exists – those challenges are usually increased substantially by a lack of self care; by the idea that valuing or looking after self is ‘selfish’ or unacceptable; by harsh self-judgements and self-denigration. A huge element in the therapeutic process is for the therapist to offer and model loving holding, to create an environment where it is possible not only for a person to feel safe enough to get in touch with their more difficult experiences, but also to begin to explore and question their own brutality to themselves, and develop the ability to witness themselves with empathy and compassion.

So we are with Liz – let’s hold ourselves (and each other) gently.

Here’s the text, for those who have difficulty reading Facebook links:-

‘Dear Ones –

Shall we begin?

I’ve been going through a lot of big life transformations lately — moving through divorce, and loss, and the terrifying illnesses of loved ones, and outrageous upheavals of emotion — and none of it is easy.

Sometimes our transformations bring out the best in us, and sometimes they do not. When the ground breaks open because of an earthquake, you can be certain that everything — absolutely EVERYTHING — will be upturned, unearthed, or cracked open.

When you get cracked open, you will not always love what you discover about yourself. You wish you were a better person (whatever that means.) You wish you had handled this or that crisis with more grace. You wish you were stronger. You wish you were more certain about things. You wish you could go back and have that conversation all over again, and do it more wisely. You wish you were more forgiving. You wish you were more honest. You wish you were less judgmental. You wish you were less emotional. You wish you had figured things out sooner, or better, or smarter. Sometimes, you must face the truth that you have caused pain to yourself. Sometimes you have caused pain to others.

In short: You wish you were different. And wishing that you were different always, always, always hurts.

This is all very natural.

But we can choose in these difficult moments of self-doubt and regret and confusion whether or not we are going to hate ourselves for any of it…or whether we are going to practice self-love.

This is important.

The parts of yourself that you do not love are terribly vital, because they demand that you dig deep — deeper than you ever thought you would have to dig — in order to summon compassion and forgiveness for the struggling human being whom you are.

And until you learn to treat the struggling human being whom you are with a modicum of empathy, tenderness, and love, you will never be able to love anyone or anything with the fullness of your heart…and that would be a great shame. Because this is what we all want, isn’t it? This is what we came here for, right? To learn how to love each other with the fullness of our hearts?

Please know this: Whenever you withhold love from yourself, you are withholding love from the world…period.

We really need you to stop doing that.

The world has enough problems, without you withholding any more love.

Please understand that these difficult parts of yourself (the shameful parts, the regretful parts, and those episodes of your biography that are so spiky and troublesome and contradictory and embarrassing that you simply don’t know what to do with them)…please understand that these difficult parts of yourself are your ultimate teachers in compassion. Those parts of yourself are where you must begin learning how to love.

You guys? This is not a simple or straightforward moment in my life right now. There is a lot to sort through. There are a lot of parts of myself that I must examine now with unflinching honesty, if I am to grow.

I am willing to practice self-honesty. I believe in it, fully.


And here is what I am finding, as I age: I simply do not have the stamina for self-abuse anymore. Just can’t do it anymore. I dip into it sometimes for a moment or two, but I can’t stay there — my heart just isn’t in it anymore. I used to be so good at self-hatred and shame! I could attack myself for YEARS — drowning in an endless wave of self-criticism. But I’m out of shape these days, when it comes to self-hatred. I’ve lost that special kind of emotional endurance which is required for nonstop self-degradation and attack. I can’t do that to anyone else, and I can’t do it to myself, either. Too much practice in empathy and too many years of tenderness have ruined my chances to collapse ever again into the job of full-time shame.

I have loved all the hatred for myself out of myself.

(Well. Mostly, anyhow.)


And so now, when I suffer and struggle, I ask myself, “What part of you is hurting, Liz, and how we can love it — even as you are hurting?”

We must begin there — with the parts that we do not love.

This doesn’t mean being complacent. This doesn’t mean living in denial. This doesn’t mean that I have stopped trying to grow and transform. This doesn’t mean that I am excused from being self-accountable. This doesn’t mean burying my head in the sand, or telling myself lies. It just means: There is no part of myself anymore that I do not believe is deserving of love.

And that’s good news.

Because the only way I’m ever going to learn how to love any of you beautiful freaks — by which I mean all 7 billion of you gorgeous, unpredictable, troubled, weird, contradictory, struggling, devastatingly inspiring, broken, and perfect humans with whom I share this difficult planet — is if I can learn how to love my own freaky-ass self, too.

If I can accept me, Dear Ones, I can accept anyone.

So this is where we shall begin.


Be good to yourselves, my loves — today, and all days.

It’s all gonna be OK.



Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling Exeter since 1994

Posted in abuse, acceptance, blaming, compassion, conditions of worth, core conditions, cultural questions, Disconnection, Elizabeth Gilbert, emotions, empathy, empowerment, grief, growth, guilt, kindness & compassion, love, Palace Gate Counselling Service, presence, resilience, sadness & pain, self, self concept, self esteem, transformation, trauma, vulnerability, working with clients | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment