Sarah’s Blog

Hoffman Interview

Sarah Powers talks about how the Hoffman Process fits into a path of personal development, helping to unlock the body and still the mind.

When asked what brought you to the Process, you said that it was when you saw your husband Ty walking up the driveway after doing the course himself. What was it that made such an impact?

I’d seen everything I thought I could see in Ty’s eyes, as we’d already been together 18 years at that point. He’d shown me his strength and tenderness, his rage and fears. But that day, as he walked up the drive to greet me, there was a depth of compassionate presence in his eyes that I felt could only come from deep healing at a very subtle level.

Ty had had ‘good enough’ parenting and had also been raised by his grandparents, whom he adored, but his best friend had been to the Process years before and had continued to encourage him to go. More to put the subject to rest than to uncover any hidden childhood wounding, he finally succumbed.

I was pleased he decided to go, feeling his experience would positively affect us both and relieve me of the pressure to attend myself. At that time, I felt I had done enough therapeutic processing already.

Interestingly, although Ty uncovered subtle family dynamics, he also worked on the issue of society as a damaging parental-like influence. Having grown up in the 60s as an African American in LA, he was familiar with being treated as an ‘other’ in white society, even though his own family had many healthy interracial connections.

He found it a profound addition to help him unpack the underlying message that so many of us carry of inherent unworthiness. This is what I saw had shifted in his eyes as he hugged me after completing the Process, prompting me to simply say, ‘Do you have the Hoffman schedule?’ I knew whatever he’d unlocked, I wanted some of that.

With your extensive background in personal development, it’s hard to imagine what more you could have found at Hoffman – what was it that made it stand out?

When I went to the Process, my daughter was about 7 years old. I‘d been through lots of personal therapy by then, including studying transpersonal psychology in graduate school, and was feeling fairly healthy in my relationship to myself, and those closest to me. But I still noticed something within me that would occasionally arise in the middle of the night, or in the early morning. A feeling or habitual thought had rooted in my psyche about not feeling entirely OK inside, even when everything was pretty OK on the outside.

I had internalized a critical voice that at times left me feeling contemptuous of myself; prone to self-judgement, disappointment, and restlessness. I think all the psychological healing work I’d done beforehand helped ripen me for that week at Hoffman. I felt as if I finally got to the bottom of the lie of unworthiness, and saw it as a hollow habit with no substance except what I’d been feeding it.

Hoffman has been going over 50 years and personal growth and therapy has become much more common, yet I believe your students even get course credits if they’ve done the Process. Why do you think it’s still relevant?

I often tell people it’s not a magic fix, nor the only therapy they’ll need or ought to do, but the intensive nature of spending an uninterrupted 7 days on family-of-origin issues in such a loving and skilfully sequenced setting propels your healing forward tremendously – whatever level you’re at.

Do you feel that your background in yoga influenced how you experienced the Process and did it make a difference afterwards in how you were able to integrate it?

I’m not sure, but having a body-centered practice and inner orientation certainly seems to help allow feelings to live and move inside. After the Process, I found I could more swiftly disidentify from disturbing emotions when they surfaced, especially when holding long yoga poses. Since the Process, my yin style yoga practice has become a soft, safe place to understand and unpack habitual distorted beliefs I‘ve carried in my body and mind.

After the course I no longer needed to use my practice to run from, or sweat out, the uncomfortable emotional territory. I could turn towards it with compassion. This is something I‘ve continued to nuance and develop through my yogic and Buddhist practices, and love to offer as a gateway out of suffering for others.

Addiction is a common issue for many who come to the Process. You describe addiction as the act of looking for satisfaction in the wrong place, whether through compulsive behaviour or in co-dependent relationships. How does Hoffman help with that?

I’m interested in bringing to light the habitual behaviour that we’ve developed in an attempt to get our needs met, but which actually cause us more suffering. In doing that we often find great learning. For example, my addiction to comfort in my body meant I sought out yoga teachings, which have greatly benefited me, just as my frustration with being so easily discontented sent me to therapy at a young age. Growing up I saw people around me addicted to alcohol, sugar, exercising, food, as well as to the ideal of poverty on the one hand, and to money, power, and success on the other.

These people influenced my choices in life, some of which are healthy, and others, not so much. The Hoffman Process does a beautiful job of healing entrenched harmful patterns by helping us see this as negative love: a way we emulate what we saw in those around us (even when that behaviour is distorted), in order to get the love we crave.

I so appreciated that, instead of viewing addictive behaviour as a disease, Hoffman focuses on helping us to identify the underlying unmet need that the actions stem from.

During the Process, my angry and sad parts were given room to breathe. They were met with compassion, allowing an authentic empathic wisdom within me to be further revealed and nurtured. The course also allowed me to see my parents as the children of their parents, opening the door to greater genuine compassion for their unconscious habits. I gained heartfelt insights into the ways they, like me, are often prisoners of their own conditioning. Although there are still difficulties with my parents at times, my relationship to them both was deeply healed after my week on the course, and the addictions that I and others are prone to are now held in a much more conscious and caring inner environment.

You mentioned an inner restlessness as something that you grappled with in the past and which is something many people identify with. Where do you see Hoffman or yoga having a role in allowing someone to quiet their mind and connect to a sense of peace and presence?

Whenever we attempt a contemplative activity, any unintegrated material within us percolates into consciousness and rattles our energy body, distracting and destabilising our best intentions of connecting to the present.

Work we do to heal past wounds naturally quiets the inner terrain, allowing deeper levels of awareness to be experienced. Hoffman is a major leap in this area. But patterns live not only in our hearts and minds. They’re patiently stored in the tissues of our body moment by reactive moment.

I find yoga exemplary in this area. The emphasis on re-inhabiting our body by consciously breathing into our depths, while honouring our limitations and exploring our somatic capacities, lifts and dissipates energetic heaviness from our system. Yoga is a great way to heal past trauma, while promoting healthy conscious embodiment at every stage, and every age.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering the Process?

I’d recommend that you bring yourself fully to the Process. Don’t hold anything back. If you surrender completely there’s no way for it not to touch and unlock something within that needs release…even if you don’t feel every exercise speaks to you.

The Process is a great place to meet and nurture all of yourself, without fear of condemnation. Allow all your parts to show up, even those aspects you consider shameful or hateful. The teachers are skilfully attuned to meet everyone in a clear non-judgemental way, helping these hidden parts to begin to heal. At the end of the week, you’ll leave feeling like you gave it your all.

And lastly, trust the integration of the Process to unfold naturally. It takes far longer than the one week you’re there.

Second Noble Truth

As the first noble truth reminds us to recognize and investigate the ways we suffer, the second en-nobling truth speaks about its cause, which the Buddha suggests relates to what he called ‘all pervasive suffering’; namely the attitude of grasping at certain self identities due to our amnesia or ignorance of our Full or Authentic Self, our Buddha nature. The Buddha suggested we learn to relax and eventually relinquish our propensity for holding on to fixed views and identities, gradually removing the fixations that obscure deeper insight in the nature of Reality.

Sit down for a brief 6 minute meditation session. As you practice mindfulness of breathing, observe any thoughts that arise. Be particularly aware of those thoughts that bring tension to your belly center. Relax into the space of the abdomen on exhale, and invite any judgements about yourself or others to fall away on each out breath for now.

When thoughts arise (and they will) silently whisper ‘breathing’ and simply let the thought fade into quietude, while you ride the vibrant, untainted life force entering your system anew on the next fresh in breath…

Awareing easily replaces thinking when we are fully present. Continue this awareness practice many times throughout today.

All Pervasive Suffering

The final aspect of suffering the Buddha suggested we get to know well is called ‘all pervasive suffering’. This refers to the general distortion we view ourselves from, which is always painful, and that is seeing ourselves as separate from what we experience; assuming I am in here and the world is out there, arising independent of my mind state. This is how the basic mind perceives life, so it is tricky for us to recognize the error of perception. This teaching parallels the third mind changing, as each of us is in an interdependent relationship with reality, similar to the dream state. Although we cannot control all that we experience, we can witness the precursor to this level of suffering, which is the grasping on a sense of an isolated ‘me and mine’. When there is no grasping and something unpleasant occurs, we do not suffer.

Become a detective of your own mind states today, and when distasteful or difficult events arise, immediately observe inward and notice if you are meeting the event with an open mind and heart, or more often, if you can feel some grasping, some tension of separation, some ‘selfing’. No need to judge yourself if this arises, simply attend to the feeling tone without any agenda. Awareness naturally absorbs grasping and it gently dissolves.

The Suffering of Change Is Not Inevitable

SunsetThe suffering of change is not inevitable. When we deeply understand the nature of impermanence, we no longer feel like life has broken some unspoken promise to us when things that we enjoy change, or when things we don’t like don’t change fast enough. The two emotions that arise as symptoms of this type of suffering are craving and clinging. Craving is when we develop a tension filled hope to acquire something or someone. This grasping mood is laced with a skewed perception based mainly on seeing the positive attributes of this acquisition. While we are entangled in the fantasy of having what we want, it feels good, so it is harder for us to detect the subtle or coarse suffering involved, than for example when we feel angry or resentful, emotions which make us feel miserable right away. This type of desire is distinguished from wholesome ambition which is free of rigidity and edginess. Wondering if this thing we want will help us to be more free of suffering and/or of benefit to others is a good question to ask ourselves when we feel a strong compulsion to pursue something. Clinging is described in the Buddha’s dharma as a strong feeling of rigidity about something we already possess that we are afraid will be taken from us, which again is a tension filled state of fear, forgetting its nature is to change.

The suffering of change relates with this inevitable polarization between hope and fear, craving and clinging.

To begin to free ourselves from these ancient human tendencies, we will first need to acknowledge these feelings when they arise, and relate to them in a new way, one that is not so addictively compelled to stick to them. If we do not admit to ourselves that we are feeling this way, we will not be able to skillfully work with them and eventually become free of their overwhelming capacity to color our world.

Today, in the spirit of compassion toward yourself, make a strong resolve to recognize the flavors of craving or clinging in you (whether strong or mild), and each time, pause and take a few slow conscious breaths, imagining the out breath spreading soft radiant light throughout your body, releasing all tension within you.

The Suffering of Change

sunsetThe Buddha distinguished three common ways we suffer, which I began speaking about in the last dharma drop. The second way he suggested we all suffer is called the suffering of change and is more subtle then the first, the suffering of suffering. This teaching suggests we contemplate the inherent way experiences can be ultimately unsatisfying if we expect them to stay the same, as everything is in a constant state of metamorphosis. However invisible this process may be, our consumption and inattention keeps this subtle cycle hidden from us, keeping us naively unaware of this primordial process. The behavior that illuminates this common presumption and portends future despair is a cavalier attitude towards good fortune, as if it is immutable.

Take 5 minutes to review the serendipity in your life right now. Appreciate those dear to you, family and friends, who will not always be around. As you bring to mind each person, send them the wish that they too live with the recognition of ubiquitous change and be appreciative of this transitory existence, however challenging it may be. Bring a quality of gratefulness to your favorable circumstances, remembering that these come with no longevity guarantee. Commit to embracing the truth of change throughout your day today!