Back to Beginnings
Back to Beginnings is a psychotherapeutic approach with a two year commitment for those who have already experienced the initial stage of Tara Rokpa and want to go deeper into this work. It involves an in-depth and systematic review of one's personal life story with a view to understanding its deeper implications for our ways of being and acting in the world. In the process, habitual tendencies and patterns of mind are thoroughly investigated providing possibilities for moving beyond limiting ways of seeing and experiencing self and others. The main therapeutic tools used in the recollection of the life story are writing and the use of art materials.
Why do this work?
One of the continuing aims of this approach is to help people cultivate and achieve a sense of relaxation in their lives. Few would dispute the benefits of relaxed, happier calmer states of mind when approaching everyday situations. Yet the question of how relaxation is achieved is likely to vary according to individual experience and outlook. We may hold the view that relaxation and happiness are located in external circumstances or in what is happening around us. Generally we feel more relaxed and happy when things go our way, when our expectations are met. Much of modern life is spent in the pursuit of happiness through chasing an ideal. Yet this kind of happiness is usually temporary. We all know the feeling which comes from an inevitable change in mood when things begin to go awry because the external world has not met our perceived needs or what we hoped for.
Finding Relaxation and Happiness Within
Another view is to see that happiness and relaxation are located in the mind and this is one of the main premises of the Back to Beginnings approach. While there may be situations in life which are infinitely more difficult than others to face, it is our response to any circumstance which determines how things are experienced. If we can learn to relax the mind, loosen our grip on what we anticipate should happen next then we can be more open to whatever we encounter as it arises. Waking up to the recognition that each moment holds the potential for many possibilities gives space for new territories to be explored.
Exploring Habits of Mind
Yet many of us are unaware of how rigidly our hopes are defined. This is because we learn to expect how life should be from a very young age within the context of family and culture. It is as if the mind develops habits of expectation which we repeat again and again often with little awareness that things could be different. Generally we define ourselves and others around these expectations which then gives rise to particular experiences that unfold more or less as we think it will.
Back to Beginnings gives an opportunity to explore all of these habitual patterns we take for granted. The methods used facilitate a very thorough investigation allowing greater awareness of patterns of thinking, feeling, acting. In turn this awareness allows greater choice and freedom to leave behind those habits that limit our capacity to face whatever comes our way with ease, spontaneity and spaciousness. Developing this kind of flexibility in the mind is not easy. This approach does not assume that that completion of Back to Beginnings is the remedy for all our difficulties; yet it provides the basis for a good beginning.
Broader Understandings of Self and Other
Discovering a less solid way of experiencing and defining ourselves also leads to a more open way of seeing others. Part of the challenge of this work is beginning to explore the motivation behind how we look at and experience others. We will all have a certain view of our life story which we inevitably bring to this work. In Back to Beginnings we are challenged to open up to other ways of looking at the events which have shaped who we believe ourselves to be. This can be especially relevant when it comes to situations of blame. For example if we only look through the eyes of blame there will be plenty of evidence to support what we believe to be true whether this relates to self blame or blame of another. Yet this is most likely a narrative in our life story that is already familiar to us. The method encourages us to develop broader understandings so that we allow ourselves the possibility of alternative ways of viewing events. If, for example we step into the shoes of the other and attempt to understand an event through their experience and perspective then glimpses of a reality as yet undiscovered may become available to us.
From its earliest beginnings, Akong Rinpoche, the founder of this method, identified the development of compassion as core to this approach. Within Back to Beginnings a compassionate disposition towards self and other is encouraged in all aspects of this exploration.
The Structure of the Process
The Back to Beginnings work is made up of seven components.
1.The Group consists of participants who have completed a course in the previous phase of the work, Learning to Relax. Alternatively participants have attended a full introductory weekend in an aspect of Tara Rokpa Therapy. There is an expectation that once formed, the group will meet with a Tara Rokpa therapist for four weekend workshops annually. During the weekend a therapist will introduce different stages of the Back to Beginnings process. These stages include:
- Getting started with Remembering and Writing the Life Story
- Working with Art Materials - another way of seeing what we are about as well as expressing what is difficult to put into words.
- Working with the Elements - incorporating principles drawn from many sources including Tibetan Medicine, which give a way of understanding everything in the phenomenal world, including our own physical, mental and emotional experience. Through this often playful work we explore the interdependence of inner and outer phenomena and learn to balance body and mind with our environment.
- Breathing, relaxation, simple self massage and massage as a way of addressing the tension which blocks a more open experience of self and others.
- Understanding the Mind and the Process of Projection
- Working with Family and Issues of Clarifying Blame
Once formed with enough members to meet financial obligations, Back to Beginnings groups are self organising and are responsible for all practical arrangements.
2. Small Group Meetings: In between the workshops participants meet in smaller groups to carry on with the work and practice the methods together. The approach could be described as reflective. Individuals within the group are not especially encouraged to talk about themselves or their private feelings. Rather it is recommended that participants use the structure of the methods provided to work through difficulties encountered. This allows participants to engage in the work with a greater sense of personal space and freedom without feeling concern that what is happening for them is going to be impinged upon by another. There is a sense that, by being together and sharing the activities of the group, support occurs at another level occurs. Where participants do feel the need to speak about a specific problem then this happens quite naturally over time between group members as they come to know and trust each other. This happens within the safety of the ethos that has already been established, what one participant called disciplined intimacy. There is also the possibility of speaking with a therapist both during weekend workshops and in between them if this becomes necessary.
Naturally some participants grapple with this way of working, especially if their automatic response is to want to talk about what is happening for them or perhaps someone else in the group. There is a certain amount of self awareness required, but generally participants come to appreciate this more reflective approach as the group develops over time and participants begin to experience the benefits of spaciousness.
3. Relaxation Exercises are introduced in a particular sequence over the duration of the process. Some of the exercises will be familiar from participation in the previous phase of the Tara Rokpa work, Learning to Relax. Other relaxations are specific to the Back to the Beginnings process.
4. Simple Clothed Massage and self massage as well as some stretching and movement exercises are practiced within the group.
5. Working with Art Materials
One of the major components of Tara Rokpa Therapy is the use of art materials.
Working creatively with a wide variety of art materials forms a major and valued aspect of Back to Beginnings. Sometimes they are used in connection with the Writing, Remembering of our life story process.
Sometimes other themes are suggested but mostly the art work is non-directive, relaxing and freeing. A different understanding of feelings can often evolve and become clear.
A range of colour, media and materials are suggested and are used in a playful free way both within the group and individually.
The process of working in this way is valued in itself with no expectation of further discussion or comment.
6. Five Day Group Retreat - Completion of the Process
At the end of Back to Beginnings there is a short optional retreat which allows participants to review the time from conception to birth. This retreat also provides the chance to leave behind over involvement with the past. It also gives the opportunity for a fresh start and is a celebration of the two years of working together. Visualisation exercises are used to stabilise one's understandings of the whole process during the three month period following the completion of Back to Beginnings.
7. Post Retreat Weekend
This weekend is the final weekend of the Back to Beginnings process. Some participants will choose to end the Tara Rokpa process here. Other will choose to continue on to the next phase of the therapy: Taming the Tiger.
The structure for all of the following phases of the therapy takes a similar format with phases of the work being introduced by Tara Rokpa Therapists during weekend workshops. Small group meetings continue with the same emphasis