„What are your spirits like?” we may ask if we are interested in somebody’s feelings. „He is possessed” – we say sometimes about a person, who is influenced by strong emotions. In many languages we can still finds indications of old belief, according to which affects appeared in the form of gods, spirits or demons (Jung 1993, p.431).

Nowadays we do not worship these gods and don’t quite believe in demons (see: M.L. von Franz, 1995, p.76). We try to approach emotions rationally – but they, as if to spite reason and science, get us into troubles – both in theories and in life.

The chapter concerning definition of emotional processes in the manual „Understanding Emotions” (Oatley and Jenkins, 1996) starts with the motto „Everyone knows what emotion is, until asked to give a definition” (Fehr & Russel, in: Oatley & Jenkins, 1996, p.96). Emotions in contemporary psychology are defined „as processes, with identifiable stages: first events are evaluated for their relevance to what is important to us, next comes an evaluation of the context – what can be done about the event. (…) Accompanying it are components of bodily change, expression, and actions, or urges to action.” (op.cit. p.130)

C.G. Jung wrote: „the phenomenon of „affect” or emotion (…) evades all attempts to pin it down with final definition. (…) For this one would have to be able to comprehend life itself, for life itself produces emotion ….” (Jung 1964, p.80). This way of thinking expresses a certain respect towards mystery of emotional processes as well as conviction that emotions, as processes that stem from unconsciousness, cannot be fully understood in terms of our conscious mind.

The aim of this article is to present the way of thinking about emotions that is based on theory and practice of process oriented psychology. According to one of the basic assumptions of this theory, everything that we experience can potentially be meaningful – if only the process that is hidden under the surface of events is allowed to unfold. We are going to check how this assumption applies to the phenomena of emotion.

There is no cohesive theory of emotions in process oriented psychology. Ideas concerning emotional processes appear in various contexts, in relation to various problems. We will look at emotions in a similar way – describing those aspects of process work theory and practice, which refer directly or indirectly to emotional phenomena.

First, I will describe emotion in terms of the experience of an individual: referring to Emotions as signals and Emotions as altered states of consciousness. I will provide short examples of how people experience the world through the lenses of emotions. Then I will discuss the problem To who emotions belong. Considering dreaming up phenomena and the concept of the field I will question the assumption that emotion belong fully to the individual psychology of a given person. It is followed by some comments on Emotions in group: how do emotions appear in group dynamics and how do they relate to certain roles or “timespirits”. In the last theoretical part, I will discuss Emotion in the world. Here I scrutinize further some ideas about how emotions are related to social and political contexts, rank and abuse situations. The article concludes with Some practical remarks – that is, some brief ideas about attitudes that may be helpful while working with emotions as well as some basic clues about where to look for specific methods or techniques that Process Work has to offer.

Each of these ideas presented below could be a topic for the whole research project. Here they are just touched upon, serving as an invitation for the reader to further reflection and discussion.


Emotions as signals

Emotions can be described as a mode of experiencing the world through the body feeling. In process work this kind of experience is referred to as „proprioception”. Mindell writes: „Proprioception is usually indicated by predominance of stomach breathing, eyelid flutters (…) or when the signaler speaks of feeling, pressure, depression, pain, joy, being turn off or on” (Mindell, 1985, p.17).

When we use words that label certain emotions, it is not yet clear what kind of an experience is behind them. Words have a tendency to live their own lives, sometimes taking us apart from our own, personal experiences.

How do you know that you are angry? How is it to be sad? This kind of questions direct our awareness toward sensory-grounded information. „I know that I am sad, as I feel this extremely heavy burden inside of me”. „I am angry… I shake all over!” „My fists are getting tight”.  Such statements could be first the steps in the direction of the yet unknown part of experience.

Once I was helping a woman who was doing her exercise during a seminar. She was very task-oriented in this situation (it was her primary process), trying hard to focus on the relationship exercise. She was sitting with her eyes half closed and her head down, so I suggested that she focus on her proprioceptive experience. She said „I am sad, but it has nothing to do with the exercise”. I asked her how is it to be sad. „It is like a black hole”. „Do you see it or are you inside?” „I am inside”. „ „So, try to get into it even more and notice what is happening”. „So… nothing is there anymore, it is just dark. And nothing else…” – she was pausing a lot and has tears in her eyes. „It is like being dead…” she added.  After a while I asked „And what is happening later?” At that moment she started to laugh: „Well, you know, nothing special, flowers grow on the other side, but it is not me who has to take care of it. The others have to worry… And it seems they can cope without me!”. Then she started to tell a story about her really difficult family situation. She felt she was the only one who could take the responsibility. In this circumstances she did not allow herself to feel any weakness, to complain or cry, assuming, that then „everything will fall apart”. Going all the way through her sadness and looking „from under the grave” she noticed something that she would never expected: namely, that her family is able to take quite a big part of the responsibility.

If we say that a certain phenomenon is a signal, we assume that behind it there is an experience, which is still unknown at that moment. According to Mindell’s metaphor „despair” or „anger” would be just the train stations; we do not know where this train will go. In practice the word denoting emotion can be a starting point as well as a momentary point of destiny. It may happen, that emotional experience changes into vision or movement. Sometimes it contains a story, which is looking for someone to listen to. It may lead us into past events or future possibilities. Sometimes decisive interventions are required. Sometimes – space, attention and respect.


Emotion as altered states of consciousness

In Polish we say that someone is „full of joy like a madman” or that somebody „got mad of despair”. Emotions throw us out of our normal – it is typical and known – way of perceiving the world and ourselves. Strong emotions may lead to qualitative alteration of the state of consciousness. (Mindell writes for example: „Altered states of consciousness, like fury or ecstasy, may disturb your chronic identity” (Mindell 1993, s. 47). We say then „I was not myself at that moment”. But we rarely use these moments to see, that we are more than just „ourselves”, and that such experiences could serve as a chance to see some other aspects of who we really are.

The fact that strong emotion may change the state of consciousness is broadly recognized, even by mainstream psychiatry. Such states are referred to as „impaired consciousness”, indicating that they are worse and less accepted than the „normal” state.

In process work (as well as in transpersonal approaches in psychology or old shaman traditions) it is assumed, that altered states of consciousness, though may be destructive, are also potentially meaningful and useful. They allow us to experience reality from the different point of view, or, perhaps, the different reality. In such a reality everything, from simple sensory data, through norms, values, up to basic structures of cognitive representation of reality may be different from our mundane knowledge about the world. Thus, altered state of consciousness, be it despair, fury, coma or mania, is always some kind of a chance, not only a „disease”.

Emotions seem to be natural „mind alterers”. No matter if we like it or not, the get us into a slightly or totally different world. If we look from inside of this altered reality, things aren’t anymore the same. We perceive and understand them differently. The world of each emotion is different; it seems to have another set of rules. For example:

In the world of anger

One of my clients, who was in his everyday life convinced that he had to give up his needs for other people sake, realized when he got angry: „In anger I can be 100% on my own side!”. Zeus, when angry, used to throw thunders, not really caring much about the others. In the world of anger, we often do not see the other side, we do not see anything but our own point of view.

But sometimes it is the only way to notice one’s own point of view. Quoting some clients’ words: „When I am angry, I become somehow more clear for myself but also for the others. It is kind of the right to be”. „ Only when I am angry I can defend myself. If not, anybody can push me around”.

Anger contains a lot of strength and power: „It is such a power that could destroy everything into pieces… And then I would put it together again – but I would do it my way”.

So, entering the world of anger is really important sometimes. It is also dangerous, though. „Anger temporarily change’s a person’s identity and usually makes her forget everyone else. Though the world tells us to trust more, I recommend not trusting anyone in an altered state, either yourself or your enemies, unless you are familiar with the alter state” (Mindell 1989, p.122)

In the world of fear

The world of fear is governed by Somebody Else. This „Somebody” is often unknown: hidden, evasive, and yet stubbornly present. Even if we don’t know much about him, we do know that he is powerful, and that his goals, intentions and plans are hostile and evil. The moment he takes on the power it seems that his governing will last for eternity. He behaves as if time and space were irrelevant to him, as if he could be present always and everywhere,

Using my client’s words: „When the fear comes, I feel as if I was in hell, condemned forever. They – I don’t know who they are, I cannot see them, because they are always behind me…. I feel their presence, they control my every movement.” „In this dream – it is a reoccurring nightmare – I go to the cellar and I know, that there is somebody there, it is even not somebody, it is just the pure presence, and it wants something from me…” „Fear is a big part of my life. Recently I had a dream that shows how it is. In the dream, I was with my brother in my family house. All of a sudden somebody send a poisonous arrow towards us from the cupboard. But there was nobody in the cupboard; there was a shooting machine…. Then the arrows started to chase us from the other, least expected directions”.

Sometimes the „Somebody” who governs the world of fear comes as a very well-known figure – too well known. Together with the fear, the past, horrible experiences come back to us, as well as the oppressors, and they take over again. In the world of fear, they are as powerful as they were in reality that they come from. They paralyze, control and don’t give us a chance to defend ourselves.

Known or unknown, the one who governs in the world of fear is usually outside the boundaries of our identity. The sides are getting clearly polarized. „I” am a victim, a refugee, a person under sentence of death, a worm under the microscope. „They” (or „He”, „She”, „It”) have power, they are in control. Two roles that are present in such an experience take opposite sides. Being on the side of a victim, we don’t have the power and energy of the dangerous side. The dangerous side doesn’t have an access to the sensitivity and vulnerability of the „victim” part. Both are incomplete. (The attempt to complete the interaction between them may be sometimes a way of working with fear).

Arnold Mindell say that sometimes, in order to leave the world of fear, you need to die a bit. If the identity of the one who is scared dies, it makes space for something else. „Every time you fear the worst or are preparing yourself against inner or outer forces, experiment first with imagining your own demise. Feel what it might be like to die. Even go through the act of dying. Imagine how you will die, what you will look like, what you will experience. It is important not only to think that you are going to die, but to imagine what will happen next” (Mindell 1993 p. 51)

In the world of sadness and depression

Sadness tears the reality away off illusions and dreams. The issues are as they are, heavy, gravitating towards the earth. The world of sadness is full of unfulfilled longings, dreams that didn’t come true, these times when somebody left us, the stories that could not happen…

In process work sadness is seen as just one possible „stops of the train”, if we consider our process to be a train. Sometimes the train needs to really stop there for a while, or change direction for the time being and search for something that is behind it. Sometimes – it needs to go as fast as possible, perhaps noticing the name of this station, if needed.  Sadness can open new realms of experience, but it may also keep us from making the next step, keep us in the land of known patterns and habits.

Depression is even one step further. In literature it is often consider not being an emotion anymore.[1] We are desperately sober. In our culture, this kind of soberness, with no dreams whatsoever, is classified as altered state of consciousness that needs to be medicated.

But the world of depression is meaningful. It uncovers naivete and over-optimistic attitude.

„Instead of treating depression as if it were something we should overcome, we can also ask what its meaning is. (…) Instead of hoping that the world will be saved by the scientists, theologians and politicians, I wonder what would happen if everyone in a given community would face all of the depressing and disturbing facts in our lives and risk being depressed by them. Only by risking a depression in this way is a road for possible creative solutions to the future prepared for” (Mindell 1988, p. 99-100)

From this point of view, „the existential hopelessness of the depressed person is the bottom line, the beginning of facing the facts and of constellating new and creative solutions to life” (Mindell 1988, p.100).

In the world of joy

Verena Kast in her book „joy, inspiration and hope” (1991) says that joy „suspends gravity”. In the world that is governed by joy we naturally open up for the whole range of new possibilities. „Joy moves us upwards and outwards, toward ecstasy, toward others” (Kast 1991, p.45)

One elder woman who I was working with told me, that in her age one is not allowed to „be happy in a silly way”. We managed to enter this silly-happy world by following and unfolding her giggling. We both became playful and crazy, laughing, rolling around and joking, entering the world of fantasy. All of a sudden the woman said: “There are many creative things that I love doing and still can do in life. I wouldn’t know that if I had stooped my experience within the limits of a common sense”.

„Joy is inclined toward transcendence of present relationships and of the world of resistance. Every movement connected with joy, even a quiet joy, is an elevating movement, relieving us of our normal weightiness, causing us to rise up and see matters from another perspective” (Kast 1991, p.46).

*  *  *

These were just a few simple examples of how emotions change our state of consciousness and lead us to some other realities. Each time we enter another set of possibilities.

We are often afraid that if we follow a give emotion we will become one-sided. I was trying to show that this very one-sidedness might be seen not only as a danger, but also as an opportunity. The danger is to become stuck or possessed, to see this just-entered reality as an only one, and whatever comes out from it as ultimate truth. But if we go there to look around and get see what was not present in our „normal” state of consciousness, we come back enriched, with new information or energy.


To whom emotions belong?

Emotions and demons

According to most psychological theory’s emotions are processes that belong or at least should belong to the psychology of an individual. Even if they do not happen entirely „inside” the given individual, like in case of projection or transference, they have their source in the personal history or personality structure. This way of thinking is also present in psychotherapy – emotion is something that we should take responsibility for, what we should understand in the context of our own history or present situation.

In old times and in the tradition of many indigenous cultures emotions are associated with gods or demons. These gods or demons exist independently from individual psyche, in a given moment they get down to people, possess them, blind the reason, take their souls away. They stood behind many fears, behind melancholy, jealousy or anger.

In that sense „emotion” existed not only within a person, but also without – in a form that is not quite acceptable for our rational mind. However, the idea of emotions as “demons”, independent beings, may be very inspiring to understand what happens with emotions in the field – in relationship, group or society.

What happens in the field

Process oriented psychology shows how emotional processes are related to the “field”. There is an assumption that we have an access to another kind of wisdom, besides our conscious mind. Mindell calls it „the dreambody”. It has personal and beyond-personal aspect; it is the field that surrounds us and of which we are the part. „The dreambody idea expresses the empirical side of Sheldrake’s morphic field and Jung’s collective unconscious” (Mindell 1989, p. 29). Out of this field various information are trying to enter our consciousness and enlarge our identity. Emotions are important signals sent by the dreambody. Like unconscious believes or myths they „organize our psychical experiences, and create and complicate the atmosphere surrounding our relationships by forcing us to communicate in unintended ways” (op. cit. p. 29)

Emotions seem to be the most personal manifestation of the field that is not only personal. On one hand, emotions bind us closely to our identities, giving the feeling that something really involves me, so I cannot be distant or detached. On the other hand, they belong to another, beyond-personal order. They are manifestations of the dream that is trying to happen in this very moment.

Emotions and dreaming-up

The concept of dreaming-up helps us to approach a question „who do the emotions belong to”. Dreaming-up in a therapeutic situation is a phenomenon closely related to the „countertransference” (Goodbread 1997). A therapist is dreamed-up when he/she during therapeutic session begins to unconsciously feel and behave like a disavowed, unwanted part of the client.

Dreaming-up happens around edges. All the parts (dreamfigures) that are present in the field have a “desire” to express themselves. If a certain part cannot be expressed by the client, it tries to present itself through the emotions and behavior of a therapist. In that sense the given dreamfigure, together with related emotions, belongs to the whole field – even if it seems to be attached mostly to the personal history or present process of a client.
Mindell writes „ The idea of projection places most psychological responsibility for affective processes upon the person making the projection and secondarily upon the individual who may and usually does have some sort of little ‘hook’ for this projection.  ‘Dreaming up’ places responsibility upon both parties (Mindell, 1985, p. 44). So, if we think of dreaming-up „the important question is no longer ‘who is doing what’ but ‘what is trying to happen’” (op. cit. p. 54).

Therapist’s emotions are important as an element of the process that is happening in the therapeutic situations in the moment. Are we unconsciously acting out the internal conflict of the client in our therapeutic relationship? Or is it perhaps also our internal conflict? Watching our emotions closely, and analyzing them in terms of dreaming up, helps to gain some awareness around these processes.


In our culture there are some specific edges around feeling and expressing emotions. Let’s take the situation by Ch. Tart as an example[2]:

„Immediately following His Holiness’s [Dalai Lama] talk, a women commented from feminist perspective on peace. She spoke of the way women have been mistreated in our own and other cultures, the ways in which war is a masculine activity that hurts women, and the need for women to use their power to stop war. (…) Intellectually, I agreed with all the points she made. They were clear, incisive, and very practical.

Emotionally, though, it was a different story. ‘Illogically’, I found myself growing increasingly angry at her and everything she represented. My wife felt the same way, as did every other person in the audience with whom we later spoke. I was disturbed at feeling angry, as I knew it was both irrational and contrary to my own positive feelings towards feminist’s perspectives. Through self-examination I realized that while conceptual content of what she said was fine, indeed noble, the emotional tone of her talk was angry and aggressive, and aroused automatic emotional opposition (Tart, 1987, Introduction, p.xi).

Tart writes further: „If you don’t have peace within yourself, your attempts to create peace in the outer world can backfire, and may create even more hostility than if you hadn’t done anything” (. xi). An idea of an inner peace is beautiful and appealing. Striving to that ideal might be the best way for many people. On the other hand – working with big groups, as well as everyday life experience show, that anger, as much as many other emotions are present in the field, in our hearts and between us. It is hard to talk about years of humiliation with peaceful heart and mind. If somebody tries to keep up to the ideal anyway, anger or other feelings that are beyond the boundaries of hers or his identity, will show up in the form of double signals, dreaming up people, who are present in the field. Unwanted emotions don’t disappear – they look for other actors to act them out or for other ways of expression.


Emotions in group[3]

Field, roles and timespirits

According to process oriented psychology; groups are defined by their conscious goals and structures, as well as by the unconscious, hidden flows: emotions and dreams of the participants, tensions and needs that are not openly expressed, unrecognized tendencies that lead the group in a certain direction. „At any group meeting there are always invisible influences, which appear in the moods, motivations, group problems, and inflations, depressions, illusions, and dreams of its members” (Mindell, 1992, p.13). All the overt and covered influences belong to the group field. Emotions are one of the important ways of getting in contact with this field. „Force fields are felt and experienced through our own emotions, for example, love, attraction, warmth, jealousy, competition, fear, and tension…. (Mindell, 1992, p.17).

A group field has its own dynamics; it organizes itself around polarities and conflicts that are present. These conflicts and tensions happen not only between concrete people, but also between roles. Role is bigger than a person – often many people need to speak or behave in a certain way, add their stories and feelings, in order to complete a certain position. At the same time each person is bigger than any role – being in just one role does not give a chance to show the richness of attitudes and feelings that this person holds (Dworkin 1989).

To describe group dynamics, Mindell uses a concept of „timespirits”: „The term timespirit is an update of the role concept; it describes and emphasizes the temporal and transitory nature of roles in a personal or group field better than does the term role. Timespirit is met to remind us of the transformation potential of the world around us. Timespirits are like figures from our dreams” (Mindell 1992, p.25). Timespirits try to express themselves. They speak through many people, create chaos and confusion as long as they want get through to the group consciousness.

Emotions in the hands of timespirits or „demons”

Emotion seems to be a powerful tool in the hands of timespirits. „When you identify with a timespirit in a given field, you actually experience emotions of that spirit; your consciousness is altered, so to speak. You get angry or become inflated. You feel heroic or victimized. The timespirit’s energies make you moody or possessed, crazy or joyous, depressed or suicidal” (Mindell, 1992, p.25).

Emotions change issues that are present in the field into something very personal. Such emotions are often surprising if not shocking to us – they seem too strong, weird, as if „not-ours”. According to the process oriented approach, they are actually not only „ours”. In a group it is very clear that emotions are both personal and beyond personal, that they are a manifestation of the dreambody of this group.

Sometimes in a group somebody starts to cry and is unable to speak. Another person says „I think I have similar feelings” and begins to explain her issue. Or people who feel their points of views are close to each other literally get closer and try to express their hurt, fears or worries. Or they take opposite sides when they realize that in spite of similar feelings their viewpoints are totally different. (Such situations that happen spontaneously in groups became a beginning of a „group process” as a method of working, see Dworkin 1989). Emotions in groups, seen as an aspect of timespirits, give an access to information that are important in a given moment. They help as to go into domains where we can find unfinished, mysterious information that need to be unfolded. Mindell writes: „As we consciously experience the feeling of haughtiness or rejection, of anger or hurt, of sadness or need, the timespirit we occupy begins to transform (Mindell, 1992, p.26).

In our culture groups often protect themselves from emotions. If they appear, they are attributed to an individual and her internal problems. As individuals in group, we often need help in order to understand what is hidden behind our emotions. We need others to add more content, to bring in awareness or to help us expressing the intensity of the experience. But often, instead of any kind of help, we have to face calming gestures or reproaches that we are “too emotional”. “Timespirit” gets suffocated with what it needs to express. So later he comes back in a much more violent or vague, unclear way. Instead of possible transformation we end up with deadlock or violence.


Emotions in the world

Contradictory tendencies in the culture

How we approach emotions in contemporary, western dominated culture? They are suspicious. On one hand, they seduce us with a promise of real, authentic experiences, on the other – they are considered to be definitely „worse” and „more primitive” than reason.

Both tendencies – distancing and fascination – are very clearly present. Looking at film advertisements one could think that there is nothing more desirable than strong, intense emotions. Adverts invite us to experience something scary, horrifying, brutal, exciting or really moving.

At the same time in everyday life people who are emotional are definitely not highly respected. Manifested anger, sadness or despair places us immediately on a lower position. Emotions in our culture have lower rank than reason, peacefulness, and distance. „Today mainstream psychological practitioners support values of the dominant culture by pathologizing rebellion, anger, fury, „infantilism” and „venting” (which is deemed „inappropriate” public behavior). „Consciousness” has become synonymous with reduced affect…” (Mindell, 1995b, p.141).

Trying to conform to theses cultural values, we try to keep our emotions at distance.

Mindell writes: “What shell we do with our aggression if we forbid it in our personal life? If we repress it, it goes into the body. Since our world sanctifies national conflict, much of our aggression finally overflows into our interest, fascination and investment in war. Without our being aware of it, our anger gets channeled into national conflict, which is not so close to home. War becomes a way for us to have our anger at distance, impersonally”(Mindell, 1989, p. 21).

Emotion and social issues

While psychological, cross-cultural and even transpersonal (ex. karmic) factors responsible for individual differences in emotionality are widely discussed in literature, social and political factors are usually overlooked. In process work emotions are also seen in a macro-social context, and from this point of view values represented by the mainstream, privileges, rank, position and power set the context in which emotions are expressed and dealt with (Mindell, 1995).

First observations refereed to specific emotions that are experienced by people who in a given group belong to the minority (either for general, socio-cultural reasons, or because of momentary problems in this particular group). When you are in minority, typical feelings are present: confusion, insecurity, anger or even rage on one hand, and fear or panic on the other (Mindell, 1995a, p. 134 -135).

Further observations showed, that some emotions appear in situations, where someone consciously or unconsciously abuses his/her position, privileges or power. These emotions are part of the situation, and in a way, they are independent of individual psychology of people involved. (Mindell, 1995b).

Emotion in abuse situations

Let’s look at the situation, where people differ in the amount of privileges, power, and position (rank). Having higher rank is connected to a specific state of mind: kind of subtle self-confidence, security and peace. If we are not aware of the rank difference, our state of mind will come up unintentionally in the form of double signals. The other person reacts both to the content of our speech, to our intentional behavior, as well as to these signals that are send by „someone” in us who acts from a higher position. A person who has lower rank has to react to two „people” (two aspects of a real person) at the same time: one is open and equal, the other is hidden – and this one looks down, does not notice and is right. At this moment emotions appear: confusion, irritation, anger, an – especially in long-term relationships or repeated situations – apathy, depression, rage, vengefulness and violence. (Mindell, 1995). Anger, despair and other strong emotions appear also in the situation were a person openly abuses her rank: if he or she uses her position or power without agreement or even against protests of the other side. The person who feels that way is not fully responsible for her emotions: it is the whole situation, and mainly lack of awareness or conscious abuse of power that are also responsible for these feelings. If we consider social perspective of process oriented psychology, these reactions (even if it is anger, aggression and violence) are not only „wrong” reaction of people who are immature or in another way inappropriate. These reactions are an intrinsic aspect of a situation of overt or covert abuse of rank.

Who can afford being detached?

Abuse of power wakes up demons. Usually the abusers use their power to cut themselves off from theses demons. In that way, they maintain the status quo. Emotions may be a way to access some kind of information, they open a new perspective or possibility. In situations, where there is no space for these emotions, if the possibility of expressing them is blocked, information that is hidden behind them is lost, and emotions themselves become difficult, they take over the control, and often lead to violent actions. Without space to be expressed, treated form above, emotions do not disappear, but instead of being useful for the whole situation, they become a source of destructive or self-destructive actions.

„Our newspapers are full of misunderstanding of those who are furious. Our legal system is overburden with cases in which revenge was the motive, because the system deals with anger and terrorism as if it occurred out of the clear blue sky, independently of mainstream behavior. (…) …violence occurs, in part, because the oppressed cannot defend themselves from the intentional and covert use of mainstream rank” (Mindell, 1995b, p.78).

Being detached is a privilege in itself. „Privilege means (…) not only economic power, but the privilege of being cool, calm and detached in communication – the privilege of not having to listen to the rage, fury and sadness of those without power” (Mindell, 1995b, p.162).

People who are in the privileged position make a rule out of their behavior, usually with no awareness.  In the light of such a norm it seems obvious, that the other should confirm to the expectations and demands of the one who is more powerful. Thus, if being calm and distant becomes a norm, strong emotional reactions are considered to be „pathological”. But where does these emotion come from?

If a powerful person humiliates the less powerful one, who in turns get into an anger, whom does the anger belong to?

According to the mainstream point of view, this is the angry person is the only one who needs to change. Those who have higher position can enjoy peaceful state of mind and do not have to deal with problematic affects. Those, who are on the other side, feel even worse, apathy or anger gets deeper. We are trapped in the viscous circle of not understanding and violence.


Some practical remarks


In our mundane reality most people are not very eager to deal with their emotions. There are few reasons for that.

First – as I said before- emotions in our culture are not highly valued. So, the person who is emotional and has to deal with it, is „not together”. „Normal” people do not have to do it. Therapy is a place where you can work on your emotions. In public situations or everyday life there are always matters that are more important. And hardly anyone wants to appear as irrational, infantile or weak.

Second – there is a great, mysterious force behind emotions. We don’t worship these force anymore, but we are still scared. Nobody wants to be possessed, and yet many of us know what does it mean to be „taken” by certain emotional states. We also don’t have many occasions to learn how to deal with these kind of altered states, how to go into them and still stay aware or use them in a way we need to.

Third – emotions often put us into the realms that are connected to past abuses. They are like whirlpools, pull us into the pain that we would rather like to avoid, put into complexes. In such a state we react emotionally to everything around us, other people usually don’t like it, thus we feel even more hurt and lonely.

Forth – emotions often belong to the domain of a „shadow”. Dealing with them is difficult in itself, but it is also threatening for personal, social and cultural status quo. This is not very appealing for the primary process of a person or society.


If we work as psychotherapist or counselors, facilitators or group workers, meetings with emotions are intrinsic part of our work. Amy Mindell in her book „Metaskills” (1996) analyzes how the therapist can use his/her own emotions, feelings and attitudes in the work with clients. I this section I will try to look at the attitudes that may be useful for a therapist if the emotion appears in field in which she/he works.

There are two basic tendencies around approaching emotions in therapy. One is a tendency towards openness, towards trusting emotions. The second says we need to be cautious and alert, that we should trust them actually.

Both tendencies are important. It depends on the situation, which of them will serve us better – depending on the category and intensity of emotions that we deal with, and also on the experience and skills of a therapist.

Openness and trust

There is a French fairy-tale in which a cook becomes The Royal Chef thank to the tears that he cried out to the pot. Another cook who attended the competition burnt the cake prepared by the first one. The latest woke up during the night, noticed the burnt cake, and as he did not have a chance to recreate his fabulous dish anymore, he just sat at the table and cried for a long time. Early in the morning, ashamed, he left the castle. But the King’s servant presented the king with the pot full of tears assuming that it was the dish prepared for a competition. The King, amazed by the subtle and excellent taste of what he thought was bullion, gave this cook the reward and offered him the position of a Royal Chef at his castle.

Hardly ever we really trust our tears. We often cry not believing that it is important and meaningful, and we get stuck, imprisoned in our sadness, which becomes a state and not a process, and thus doesn’t help us to „win the competition”.

If we work with emotion openness and trust is a necessity. If we go fully, with awareness, into the state that we are experiencing, we can find something that is most needed in that moment. But if we are against our emotions, it is much more difficult to access their secret, because we have to cross the barrier made out of our disagreement for sadness, anger or helplessness. Our energy is stuck in this place and it is difficult to discover what is hidden behind it.


While meeting emotions, the openness and trust are not enough. They need to be balanced by caution. Emotions, like spirits or demons, can possess us, showing their worst face. Then they push us to the actions that we regret, that harm us or the others, thus closing up the possibilities that seemed to be wide open just a moment earlier. No wonder that we are afraid of anger, fears or despair.

Taking anger as an example: “Anger temporarily changes a person’s identity and usually makes her forget everyone else. Though the world tells us to trust more, I recommend not trusting anyone in altered state, either yourself or your enemies, unless you are familiar with the alter state” (Mindell 1989, p.122).


If we want to be open towards emotions we need to learn how to do it. It is a process, not a decision. We need to work on edges around our own emotions and emotions expressed by other people, and include them into our identity with awareness.

It is also important to learn how to stay aware while being in an altered state of consciousness, so the we do not repress the emotions that are trying to appear, but we are also not possessed by them.

. (…) “We have to learn to use our base states by processing them. A process-oriented view understands greed, jealousy, pride, ambition and egotism as momentary states whose meaning can be discovered only by unfolding them” (Mindell, 1989, p. 21).


Most spiritual traditions advise us to be detached from our emotions. Detachment is different from being cold or cut off. It does not mean repressing. It gives a chance to maintain meta-position in the middle of the experience – so that there is somebody who have an overview of what is going on. It gives us a chance to free ourselves from automatic, reactive behavior, the ready-made program that is often attached to certain feeling state. It is a standpoint from which we can go into the unknown, and discover the new land.


It is important to curiously look for hidden messages, rather than only throw the emotions out. This kind of expression Mindell calls „bad ecology” – we do not care what happens with our emotions when we let them out.

If we express our emotions without curiosity, we don’t give them a chance to reveal their secrets. Usually we don’t meditate on them. We don’t allow ourselves to go for a journey to other realities. We do not try to transform them or find their meaning. …. (Mindell 1989, p.21).

Taking it less literally

Sometimes it is important to leave the world of personal stories, take things less literally and understand them on a symbolic level. Emotions are rooted in the very concrete past or present situations, but they are also symbolic –they have a meaning for the mythic journey or spiritual development.

For example, anger triggered by a specific situations, directed towards a concrete person, can lead to a quite different story. During the work, angry person, hurt and vengeful at the same time, changes into Hercules, who has to cut of the Hydra’s nine heads. Each time he cuts it off, the head grows back. He manages to win finally, but this is not so important anymore. The important fact is that he learns to be in touch with his own power, and in that way, he becomes a „hero”.

Leaving the literal level is also important in conflicts, when we have to deal with another person being in some emotional state. If we assume, that behind this situation there is a dream that is trying to happen, me can step out of the context of this very conflict (Mindell 1989, p.68).

How to work with emotions

It would take another article to present possible methods of working with emotions that are based on Process Work. Here I would like to mention some methods or techniques that are connected to various was of understanding emotions.

So, if we treat emotions as signals, we can use the whole range of amplification techniques. Before that, however, it is important to check if a certain emotion is closer to primary or secondary process. Though at the moment of their appearance emotions usually „happen to us”, some of them are part of the long-term primary processes, they create certain well-known climate. Then, it is useful either to look for the yet unknown or deeper side of it, or to notice other signals that are perhaps more interesting for a client in that moment.

If we understand emotions as altered states of consciousness we can use relevant techniques (see Mindell 1988). We can try to enter the other reality together with a client, validate it by being there with openness and curiosity. If someone goes to the extreme state, loses the ability to communicate about the state we can take this position even more – thus helping the client to get out of it. Sometimes it is useful to play out the missing part, or the „drama” that is hidden inside a certain state: the scared and the scary, the depressed and the pressing etc.

A concept of dreaming up questions the assumption that it is always clear whom the emotions belong to. If we think about emotions in terms of the field we can look for the meaning of emotion for someone else. The therapist can use her/his experience to understand better the inner conflict of a client as well as the outer interaction.

Finally, if we consider the social perspective, it is important to work with the whole situation, including political context and rank differences. We may work with emotions by focusing on these people who do not feel, who are distant and detached. We can try to create „round table” situation, where emotions are invited as respected guest speakers, who can help the sides to work out the solution that is needed.

*  *  *

Process oriented approach shows that emotions may be seen as a big opportunity for changes, for enlarging the spectrum of possibilities, both in personal and social life. Like many other phenomena that are marginalized by individual or collective primary process, they can become a way to access information and energies not only for momentary resolution, but also for deeper cultural changes.


Almeras, A. (1995). Wielki Kucharz Króla. Miesięcznik „Bęc” .

Dworkin, J. (1989). Group process work: A stage for personal and global development.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Union Institute, Cincinati, OH.

Goodbread, J. (1997). Radical Intercourse. Portland, OR: Lao Tse Press.

Goodbread, J. H., Jobe, K. (1996). Poznajemy siebie przez zaśnienia. Interview by M. Jałocho. Remedium, 45, 11.

von Franz, M.L. (1995). Ścieżki snów. Warszawa: Jacek Santorski & Co. Agencja Wydawnicza. 7

Jung, C. G. (1993). Archetypy i symbole. Warszawa: Czytelnik.

Jung, C. G. (1964). Approaching the unconscious.W: C. G. Jung (red.), Man and His Symbols.New York: Dell Publishing Co. Inc.

Kast, V. (1991). Joy, Inspiration and Hope. New York: Fromm International Publishing Corporation

Mindell, Amy (1995). Metaskills.The Spiritual Art of Therapy. Santa Monica, CA: New Falcon Press.

Mindell, A. (1985). River’s Way. The Process Science of the Dreambody. London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Mindell, A. (1988). City Shadows.Psychological Interventions in Psychiatry. Harmondsworth: Penguin-Arkana.

Mindell, A. (1990). The Year I. Global Process Work with Planetary Structures and Myths.New York and London: Viking-Penguine-Arkana.

Mindell, A. (1992). The Leader as Martial Artist. An Introduction to Deep Democracy, Techniques and Strategies for Resolving Conflict and Creating Community. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

Mindell, A. (1993). The Shaman’s Body. A New Shamanism for Transforming Health, Relationships and Community. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

Mindell, A. (1995). Sitting in the Fire. Large Group Transformation Using Conflict and Diversity. Portland, OR: Lao Tse Press.

Mitarski J. (1974). Z dziejów melancholii. W: A. Kępiński (red.), Melancholia. Warszawa: PZWL.

Mitarski J., (1977). Demonologia lęku. Niektóre formy ekspresji i symboliki lęku w dziejach kultury. W: A. Kępiński (red.), Lęk. Warszawa: PZWL.

Oatley, K., Jenkins, J. M. (1996). Understanding Emotions. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

de Saint-Exupery, A. (1997). Mały Książę. Toruń: ALGO.

Tart, C. (1987). Waking Up. Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential. Boston: New Science Library, Shambala.

[1] I am grateful to Alina Wrona-Eden for pointing it out to me.

[2] Charles Tart, Waking Up. Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential. Boston: New Science Library, 1987. In this article I use only a situation described by Tart as an example – with different explanation than he proposes. I do not refer to his theory, though there are many concept and ideas would be reloevant to the issues discussed here. For example, Tart uses the term „identity states” and notices that changes from one stat to another is often facilitated by emotions. The main idea of „waking up” through self-observation and awareness is close to the Mindells work and would be very useful in working with emotions.

[3] Some ideas discussed in this and the next paragraph were mentioned in my article Working with polarities, roles and timespirits. A process oriented approach to emotions in group (1999), in: Groupwork: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Working with Groups, Vol.11 No.1