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Not Knowing

Ancient Mystical Approach, Postmodern Psychotherapeutic Practice

Lee Spark Jones

Psychotherapists commonly work under the pressure to know. They are expected to be empathic experts, knowledgeable professionals. Yet many mystical teachings speak paradoxically of the unknown as a source of knowledge, and of “not knowing” as a non-cognitive means of attaining wisdom (Griffin, 1990). In this article, I examine various formulations of non-cognitive knowing: “unknowing” in Christian mysticism, “prehension” in the process philosophy of A. N. Whitehead, “seeing” in the tradition of the Dagara people of Burkina Faso, and “sentience” in Mindell’s process-oriented psychology. Extrapolating from these, I discuss a psychological formulation of not knowing that has value for practitioners working in multicultural contexts. Illustrated with findings from a recent qualitative study (Jones, 2000) of psychotherapists’ experience of intercultural interaction in therapeutic settings, the discussion highlights not knowing as an important aspect of psychotherapeutic practice in the postmodern age.

As the oral and written records of many mystical traditions suggest, mystical knowledge is characterized by the pursuit and attainment of knowledge derived from subjective, unitary states of consciousness (Stace, 1960). In the literature of Christian mysticism, this is referred to as “unknowing” by the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, a beautiful and profound work that appeared in Middle English in the 14th century. The work speaks powerfully of allowing sensory images, memories and thoughts to be “trodden down under the cloud of forgetting” until “nothing lives in the working mind but a naked intent stretching to God,” a loving and vigorous determination of the will that is the center of mystical practice (Underhill, 1922). Recalling the teachings of other western mystics such as Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, and Thomas Merton, unknowing describes a plane of experience that cannot be approached by the intellect, “the mysterious radiance of the Divine Dark… to which thought with all its struggles cannot attain” (Underhill, 1922). This concept of unknowing overlaps with the various formulations of mystical knowing that are found in philosophical, religious and psychological systems around the world. They include the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead, Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism, Taoism, the spiritual traditions of many indigenous peoples, the psychological theory of C.G. Jung, and Mindell’s process-oriented psychology.

In western philosophy, Whitehead’s concept of prehension is a useful formulation of unknowing in non-religious terms (Jones, 2001). Echoing William James’ (1985/1902) radical-empiricist definition of experience as a “that” in the instant field of the present, consisting of qualities, intentions and relations that are in constant flux, Whitehead maintained that all experience consists of a stream of momentary experiences, “each of which is a process of becoming. Each momentary experience arises out of and is internally constituted by its relations to the entire past world” (Griffin, 1990: 15). From Whitehead’s perspective, unknowing is mystical prehension, or perception which is not mediated by the senses. It refers to the conscious apprehension of constantly occurring phenomena which lie beneath the threshold of consciousness, as in prehension of one’s own body cells, or in memory as the direct, unmediated perception of past experiences. Griffin (1990) offers a useful example of this. The perception of a tree by means of the visual system represents indirect, mediated perception. The tree is separated from the observer by a chain of psycho-physiological events. Sensory data about the tree are received by the observer, while the tree’s “experience” of itself is not. The observer’s prehension of his or her own brain cells, through which the data is received, represents a form of unmediated perception, constantly occurring at unconscious levels. Prehension is thus “the most fundamental form of perception and the basis for the internal relationship of all things” (Frankenberry, 1987: 165). It may occur in religious or non-religious contexts, through sustained effort or as a spontaneous event.

From a non-western, indigenous perspective, unknowing or prehension is formulated as “seeing” by the Dagara people of Burkina Faso. An illustrative account of this is found in Malidoma Somé’s autobiographical description of his recovery of Dagara knowledge practices, after escaping from the Jesuit missionaries who kidnapped him at an early age and schooled him in the western knowledge tradition (Somé, 1994). The process of seeing that Somé describes echoes the injunction, found in many systems of esoteric knowledge, that cognitive functioning must be suspended if a more fundamental way of knowing is to take place. This echoes the essential message of the Cloud of Unknowing, “I would leave all that thing that I can think, and choose to my love that thing that I cannot think” (Underhill, 1922). Similarly, it reflects the recommendation of the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, “The more completely you are able to draw in your [intellectual and sensory] powers to a unity and forget all those things and their [mental] images which you have absorbed… the nearer you are to this experience” (Forman, 1990: 30).

Somé describes how he was required to suspend his logical, rational thinking process in order to “see,” a task he describes as all the more difficult due to his western intellectual education. Having escaped from the Jesuits in late adolescence, he undertook a long and arduous journey back to his village. In order to return fully to his native tradition, he underwent various initiatory processes. In one of these, his elders required him to “see” a yila tree. Somé looked at the tree for days, experiencing physical and psychological torment: boredom, discomfort, impatience, frustration, doubt, humiliation, and complete inability to see the tree in the way that was required.

I longed for debates, for theories, for criticism: clearly a legacy of the white world. But I kept telling myself, one cannot continuously ask questions. One cannot always sculpt theories to frame experience or top experience with the roof of theory…. (203)

Throughout, the elders taught and guided Somé in the indigenous knowledge practices of his people. They also regarded with curiosity his persistent inability to see, which they attributed to his white educational training:

There was something about me, something about the way I was not assimilating my lessons and the way my body was not reacting properly to the most important instructions, that attracted the curiosity of these old scholars. They watched me like a dog that has seen a worm for the first time. (209)

Ultimately, Somé achieved the “seeing” intended: a timeless, relational state of intense awareness. Although he uses visual and conceptual terms to describe what happened, he emphasizes that the experience itself cannot be conveyed in words, only the shadow of its meaning:

It seemed to me that Dagara knowledge was liquid in the sense that what I was learning was living, breathing, flexible and spontaneous. What I was learning made sense only in terms of relationship. It was not fixed, even when it appeared to be so. For example, trees are not immobile, they travel like us from place to place. By contrast I could see that the western knowledge I had been given had the nature of a solid because it is wrapped in logical rhetoric to such a degree that it is stiff and inflexible. The learning one gets from a book, from the canons of written traditions, is very different from the living, breathing knowledge that an elder has to offer—and different from the knowledge that comes from within, from the soul… When I looked once more at the yila I became aware that it was not a tree at all. How had I ever seen it as such? (1994: 204-207)

Not knowing and therapeutic psychology

Western therapeutic psychology has historically privileged cognitive, dualistic knowledge processes and expert professional knowledge over transpersonal, unitive ways of knowing, such as prehensory experience in Dagara society, and “unknowing” in the Christian mystical tradition. While western psychology was somewhat open to mystical experience in its early stages, as seen in the work of William James (1985/1902), for most of its history the discipline has been dominated by a scientific worldview that relegates the transpersonal to the margins. In this general climate, and in its close association with psychiatry, therapeutic psychology has treated non-rational experience as abnormal, psychopathological or inconsequential (Wulff, 1991). With enduring ethnocentric bias it has dismissed indigenous knowledge practices as primitive superstition, according them neither the credibility nor the status of western science (Willie, Rieker, Kramer, & Brown, 1995). Religious and spiritual experience has been regarded as a psychological prop rather than as a valid way of knowing (Deikman, 1982).

In the postmodern era, however, psychology is being increasingly influenced by changes in the philosophy of science that embrace relativistic, post-Newtonian views of reality, emphasize the social construction of experience, and call for the inclusion of diverse cultural perspectives (Hoshmand, 1994). The certainties of positivist science, with its insistence on objective truth, prediction and control, are currently being shaken by postmodern relativistic assertions of uncertainty, contextuality and plurality. Contemporary therapeutic psychology has been challenged and changed by these trends. Multi-culturalism is seen by some as the “fourth force” in psychology, gradually replacing psychoanalytic, behavioral and cognitive influences as the predominant force in the development of the discipline (Pedersen et al., 1996). In this context, religious and spiritual diversity are gaining recognition as important areas of cultural sensitivity. There is increasing recognition, in psychological circles, of the personal and cultural importance of spiritual experience, both within and outside the bounds of formalized religion. Transpersonal issues are becoming more acceptable, as areas of research and as items on the therapeutic agenda. Uncertainty has gained recognition as a scientific principle, and holds increasing value in knowledge processes (Dyche & Zayas, 1995). Wisdom, born of subjective knowing and an unlearning of normative thinking and identity, has begun to be discussed as a defining element of effective therapeutic practice (Hanna, Bemak, & Chung, 1999).

In this climate, process-oriented psychology (process work) has flourished in recent decades, albeit at the margins of dominant cognitivebehavioral trends in western psychotherapy. With roots in Taoism, Jungian psychology, and various forms of indigenous spirituality, process work is predisposed to recognize not knowing as a psychotherapeutic stance, and the unknown as therapeutic ground. Recent theoretical and practical developments (Mindell, 2000) have focused on “sentience,” or prehensory experience. They include methods of accessing unitive experience through a variety of techniques, and “metaskills” or feeling attitudes (Mindell, 1995). Although formulated in western psychological terms, this sentient approach is reminiscent of the processes of “seeing” and “unknowing” discussed so far. It involves accessing glimpses of non-dualistic awareness, which may inform or resolve disturbance and conflict occurring at the level of dichotomous thought. It has application both in individual psychotherapy and in worldwork, a form of cultural diversity work with small and large groups (Mindell, 1995). In addition, the concept of the “edge,” which in one of its senses represents the border between the known and the unknown, has long had a central place in process work. Recognizing the therapeutic efficacy of going beyond known identities and experience, practitioners develop a facility with approaching and negotiating edges and an openness to exploring unknown experiential territory, in their own lives and in their work with individuals and groups. In these ways, process work includes not knowing in the realm of psychotherapeutic possibility.

The various formulations discussed so far suggest that not knowing may be understood as a process, a metaskill and an outcome. As a process, not knowing involves shedding past preconceptions, sensory impressions, cognitive constructions and habits. As a metaskill it is an attitude of openness to and regard for the unknown. As an outcome, it is an altered state of awareness, a subjective, unitive way of knowing. In the remainder of this article, I will consider the application of these ideas to postmodern psychotherapeutic practice, with reference to a recent study (Jones, 2000) of psychotherapists’ experience of not knowing in intercultural encounters.

Psychotherapists’ experience of not knowing in intercultural interaction

Malidoma Somé’s story essentially describes a journey from a known world into an unknown one. In contemporary psychotherapeutic contexts, given the increasing cultural complexity of the everyday world, a parallel can be drawn between Somé’s experience and therapist-client experiences of interacting across various ethnic and non-ethnic backgrounds. Each involve a kind of journeying between worlds, in which not knowing plays a significant role.

This is illustrated in a recent qualitative study (Jones, 2000) that I conducted in 1999, in Portland, Oregon. The aim of the study was an indepth, phenomenological exploration of therapists’ experiences of not knowing in intercultural interaction. The ten participants in the study worked as psychotherapeutic practitioners in private practice, government agencies and community-based projects. Their various theoretical orientations included cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, experiential and eclectic modalities. All were experienced in working with a multicultural clientele. In-depth interviews, journal entries and thematic analysis were used to explore participants’ experiences of relating to clients whose ethnic and nonethnic backgrounds differed from their own. Nine areas of cultural influence were considered: age, disability, religion, ethnicity/race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, indigenous heritage and gender (Hays, 1996) Participants were asked to identify themselves as marginal or mainstream in each of these areas. They were also invited to speak about their experiences of not knowing in encounters with clients who differed from themselves in one or more of these areas of cultural influence. In a follow-up interview, each participant provided feedback on the accuracy of the research outcomes and their relevance for therapeutic psychology.

The study generated experiential narratives and metaphors, from which several themes were distilled. These revolved around a central theme of journeying, as reflected in the metaphors shown in Box 1. Major thematic threads in participants’ accounts were identified. These were: 1) attitudinal responses to not knowing, 2) the influence of worldview on attitudinal response, 3) therapeutic efficacy of not knowing, and 4) what helped therapists with not knowing. These will be discussed in the remainder of this article, along with their implications for therapeutic psychology in general and multicultural counseling in particular.

Attitudinal responses to not knowing. Negative responses to not knowing included insecurity and discomfort about going “off one’s known path,” fear of what might happen, and what might be encountered. Fear of the unknown, and fear of going into unfamiliar territory were mentioned repeatedly. Negative feelings were associated with letting go of power or control, and with events in session which fell outside the therapist’s accustomed frames of reference. Associated body sensations included tension, tightness, and general physical discomfort. In contrast, positive responses to not knowing were accompanied by physical sensations of energy, alertness and wakefulness. These were mostly associated with curiosity, enjoyment of challenge, and pleasure in discovery and learning. Therapists talked about not knowing as exciting, comfortable, interesting, intriguing, stimulating, freeing, relieving, and as a release from the burden of having to know and be in control. Even if they experienced not knowing as uncomfortable, some participants found that it could also lead to positive outcomes, such as personal transformation, new awareness or a deeper therapeutic relationship. As one therapist commented with enthusiastic emphasis: “It’s most always magical, it is almost always magical!”

Box 1

Not knowing in intercultural interaction
– metaphors of journeying

Finding my way in the dark
A journey without a map
Going over a cliff
Jumping underneath the ocean
Descent into the underworld
Being lost in a strange city
Swimming in high waves
Stepping off my path
A “path made by walking”

Worldview and attitudinal response. According to the therapists interviewed, personal and professional worldviews had a strong influence on whether not knowing in intercultural encounters was experienced positively or negatively.

One participant used the metaphor of being in a strange city to make this point:

Being unsure in a strange city, it depends on whether or not you fear, you know, am I going to make my way out of it. If you’re afraid that you’re not going to, then being in a strange city may be much more overwhelming and unpleasant, but if, on the other hand, you love the adventure and what’s going to unfold and this is one grand adventure, then it may be very stimulating and exciting, because—and this isn’t stated but is implicit there—I’m sure I am going to handle it fine, one way or the other, that I don’t need to be in control, that I don’t have to know everything.

If not knowing was supported by personal beliefs or framed as an important therapeutic stance, therapists perceived it more positively, and were more able to open up to uncertainty and believe in its value and efficacy. As one therapist commented: “There are just some things in life that are absolutely mysterious, and that’s just right, I don’t have to know everything, I don’t have to work everything out.” Being comfortable with not knowing was often associated with a belief that there would be a way through, and that client and therapist would find it together. As one participant commented:

Being in unknown things, though I’d say I’m a cautious person, I’m not one to jump over, I’d rather watch for the rocks and find where they are and get across. But [I’m] still interested in the other side. I’d go across and I might take big risks of getting swept away by the current. I mean over-risk in fact. I’m willing to overrisk and go into the unknown, and I have a great faith… I think one of my greatest strengths is that I have that place of you know like “whatever” or “Oh well.” You know when you get to those places where you just don’t know anymore, it is like “Oh well, whatever!” I like that in myself and I like that place.

…It’s like being in a Tibetan-Buddhist retreat in the process of meditation for hours and beginning to open to a different reality where I begin to have visions and experiences of a different sort. I like that and it interests me. I love

to dream. It excites me and it’s unknown and I don’t know where the dream’s gonna go.

Conversely, if their personal or professional worldviews were not supportive, therapists tended to experience not knowing in a more negative light. At cognitive, emotional and practical levels, therapists experienced a sense of restriction due to professional expectations. The pressure to know, understand, do the right thing, and be professionally competent were frequently mentioned, along with frustration and self-criticism when they could not meet these expectations. Tension also arose from conflict between ethical or practical guidelines of the therapist’s workplace and the cultural or personal requirements of a therapeutic encounter. For example, one therapist spoke of how her agency guidelines clashed with Native American values that she and her clients share:

I think it has to do maybe with agency expectation and the specifications of how relationships and roles will be governed… had I met this person through any other means, through my own path, OK, rather than through their path, I would have been totally free to interact. I think that it puts limitations on the kinds of friends that these people can be… And that there is this barrier there…

Therapeutic efficacy of not knowing in intercultural interaction. Although participants sometimes had difficulty with not knowing, they described many situations where not knowing was helpful in intercultural interactions with clients. Their anecdotal descriptions provided rich illustrations of the therapeutic efficacy of not knowing as a process, as a metaskill and as an outcome. Some participants described not knowing as a process of shedding past preconceptions, sensory impressions, cognitive constructions and habits. For example, a White European, heterosexual therapist in her 40s, described her experience with a 23-year-old, African-American female-to-male transsexual client. She commented on how letting go of preconceived ideas was helpful in working with her client:

Well, I guess then I didn’t come with stereotypes or presumptions or things that were not

really true for him. I guess that anyhow we should always do that, but then we sometimes think we do know or we don’t even know that we assume that we do know. If I am totally unaware of my mainstream-ness, I am just assuming everybody is the same and I guess admitting that at least I have some awareness that we’re not the same, and the possibility that that’s open, I think that made it easier, he didn’t have to fight me.

Another participant (a male therapist in his late 30s, heterosexual, financially secure, ablebodied, and from a White American, Christian background) gave an account of working with a client who differed from him in sexual orientation, but had a similar cultural background in other respects. This therapist experienced not knowing as unsureness about how to proceed and feeling hesitant to intervene. He saw this as a positive and helpful process, because it led to:

…wanting to gather further information, listening more closely, asking more questions… formulating a construct in my mind of what kind of fits and if the questions I’m asking him and his responses to them fit with that. Then that’s a kind of confirmation that my own thinking’s on the right track…. Being more sensitive and tuned in to his reactions or the space that he is in.

As an outcome, not knowing may be experienced as an altered state of awareness, a subjective, unitive way of knowing. The metaskill of openness to the unknown may be helpful in accessing this state. Another therapist (a White American bisexual woman in her fifties, no physical disabilities, financially secure, and with a deep commitment to non-religious spirituality) described working with a range of clients who differed from her in terms of gender, age, physical ability, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, socio-economic status and religion. She saw not knowing as vital resource in her multicultural counseling practice, both as a metaskill and as a subjective way of knowing:

I think that there is a place with another human being where everything can be unknown and unfolding, if we have a sense

that we will go through this and I’ll be able to hear what you have to say, I’ll be able to be with it, I’ll be able to honor it, no matter what it is and be compassionate and present with you.… It’s a very personal sense of knowing within myself in the unknown place.… When the external guidelines don’t give you a direction, or one that fits with the situation again you go to your own inner knowing as a way of resolving that. If the guidelines actually don’t fit with the work that you do, you have to then call on yourself.

This is further illustrated in another anecdote from a 44-year-old, female therapist of Southeast Asian, Irish and Native American heritage, and Christian background. She described an encounter with a client who differed from her in gender, age, religious and cultural heritage. She was hesitant to venture into areas of spiritual significance for her client, which were outside her rational mindset, worldview and therapeutic frame. For this therapist, not knowing was a profound, unitive experience, arising out of her willingness to drop her own cognitive biases, and venture into unknown territory with her client:

He was an elder man with strong vocational skills, he’s indigenous, with a blended cultural, religious belief system and highly honored in his community. We hold differing views in roles of women.… When he was talking about his problem, I was feeling frustrated and tense and cautious. How do I honor his beliefs? How can I use his language? How can I draw on his metaphor? And, when I was thinking of this, I almost decided not to go with it, there was just that risk. But [I thought] if I’m respectful, if he tells me he can’t go there, then I’ll back off. Before I took that risk I was somewhat disinterested and headachy, just thinking that I’m not sure I want to get into this… because we do hold different views. But as he began to describe his ceremony, just as he was talking about it, he could hold pieces of the ceremony in his hands. And we were transported in time… And as he was talking about that, he was so centered and he was so strong, and he had the answer to his problem.… I was

aware that there was a connection for a minute, that it was this wonderfully enlightening moment of his. And I was only there for a brief moment.… So it was really a magical event. And it was a bit of that magical piece I talk about. That my very rational self is always paying attention to the boundary and I just was really proud that I risked [going beyond it]!

What helped therapists with not knowing? Since all of the therapists interviewed in the study experienced some difficulty or discomfort in not knowing in intercultural encounters, it was useful to explore what was helpful to them in this regard. One set of responses to this question emphasized previously acquired knowledge, information and experience that served as a flexible map, with which to venture into unknown places with their clients. For some therapists, their professional training was important. Others felt that their personal life experience, and their experience as a client in therapy, were particularly helpful. Many stressed the importance of consultation, including talking with peers, supervisors, experts, mentors, or anyone with more knowledge or experience than themselves. Consulting with the client as an expert on their own experience was also emphasized.

While these responses all emphasized the importance of previously acquired cognitive or experiential knowledge, another set of responses emphasized momentary awareness and attitudinal factors as particularly helpful in dealing with not knowing. Attitudes such as openness, risk-taking, humility, courage and self-reliance were emphasized. A spiritual or existential attitude was mentioned repeatedly. As one participant put it:

The first [thing] that comes to mind is the daily knowledge that we are all going to die, death is the great unknown, we don’t know when it is really, and I’ve been thinking about that for twenty-five years. I think about it every day, it’s a part of my meditation. So since death is inevitable and the time of death is uncertain, what should I do with my life?… It’s what I call spaciousness. You’re calling it not knowing in your study, but my daily experience,

or if I talk about it when I supervise, I talk about inner spaciousness. And that’s the exciting part of the work, it’s about being—really being there and that, to my mind, is the thing that is the most helpful, to be in the present moment with the person.

Intercultural interaction—a “path made by walking”

Overall, one of the most salient outcomes of my study is its identification of both knowable and unknowable aspects of an intercultural encounter. In its knowable aspect, an intercultural interaction is influenced by particular cultural factors, and can be enhanced by previously acquired knowledge and information about cultural differences, and skills in working with them. This is the aspect that is frequently addressed in many cultural diversity training programs. In its unknowable aspect, however, an intercultural encounter is created anew each time. No previous knowledge pertains to it exactly, and is therefore of limited use. Each interaction is complex, contextual and immediate. It is fluidly shaped by a combination of factors, such as the cultural identification, sociocultural status and personal uniqueness (including temperament, worldview, and life experience) of those involved. It is a journey co-created each moment by the participants in the encounter, each of whom is a unique expression of a myriad of cultural and idiosyncratic factors. One of the participant therapists commented on her experience of this, by quoting the Chilean poet, Machado, “Traveler there is no path. All paths are made by walking.”

As adepts in various mystical traditions have emphasized, a path made by walking is not necessarily an easy one. It is a journey into the unknown, and as participants in my study stressed repeatedly, this was often difficult for them personally and professionally. Beliefs and values associated with their professional training did not adequately prepare them for it. Personal and professional expectations sometimes actively worked against their ability to tread this path. This has important implications for cultural diversity training in therapeutic psychology. Not knowing appears to be an

important, but neglected aspect of relating across cultural difference, both within and outside psychotherapeutic contexts (Dyche & Zayas, 1995). Currently, much cultural diversity training emphasizes the acquisition of knowledge and skills, effectively suggesting that intercultural interaction involves treading an existing path that must be known more thoroughly if the journey is to be made successfully. This path is reflected in guidelines for effective intercultural interaction, such as those found in research studies and training programs. It is walked by seeking out information, guidance, and experienced help from others, and by drawing on knowledge acquired in previous settings. Diversity training programs, supervision, skills development, and self-education are all practical strategies that contribute to this.

However, my study suggests that culturally diverse interaction is better conceptualized as two, parallel paths: a path that already exists and a path “made by walking.” The path “made by walking” is an unknowable path, in that it cannot be learned beforehand, and leads into the unknown. It moves from one uncertainty to another. Traveling along this path is facilitated by momentary awareness rather than prior knowledge. It involves an ability to see things anew even when they appear well known, an ability to be “lost in familiar places” (Shapiro & Carr, 1991), a willingness to be uncomfortable, to “walk the talk,” make mistakes, and be challenged and changed. It is facilitated by metaskills, such as curiosity and naiveté:

Therapists today face a dramatic increase in the cultural diversity of their client populations. Cultural literacy, long the dominant model for preparing to do cross-cultural therapy, advocates study of the prospective client’s history and culture. This model, however poses logistical problems, emphasizes scholarship over the experiential and phenomenological, and risks seeing clients as their culture and not as themselves…. Teaching culture alone can obscure the therapist’s view of human diversity. To balance the cognitive model of preparation, a process-oriented approach is considered, whereby

the therapists’ attitudes of cultural naiveté and respectful curiosity are given equal importance to knowledge and skills. (Dyche & Zayas, 1995: 389)

Psychotherapy in the 21st century must inevitably address the diversity of the postmodern world. Given the complexities of cultural influence and the intricacies of individual life experience, every therapeutic interaction can be considered an intercultural encounter, in which dynamics of power and privilege, advantage and disadvantage play out. As a journey into the unknown, intercultural interaction requires honesty, courage, and a willingness to undergo sometimes painful, dissonance-producing dialogue. It involves honoring and celebrating differences through the conscious process of unlearning learned prejudice, willingly sharing power with those who have less power, and using unearned privilege to empower others (Robinson, 1997). Every intercultural encounter is thus a unique interaction, a “path made by walking,” in which momentary awareness and attitudinal approach play essential roles. As participants in my study (Jones, 2000) described it, this is the domain of the mysterious, the magical, and the spontaneous. Personal and collective struggles and hardship are teachers in this domain. Mystics of all traditions emphasize that the path of not knowing is facilitated, not by cognitive skills or intellectual knowledge, but by dropping previous ideas and opening up to the creativity of immediate awareness in the face of the unknown. The timeless wisdom of mystics, often derived in solitude, is remarkably relevant to the complexities of psychotherapeutic and sociocultural interaction in the postmodern era.



Lee Spark Jones, Ph.D., works as a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon. She has a long-time personal and academic interest in mysticism across cultural and religious divides, and has practiced meditation for many years. She is currently a student of the spirit in ordinary and everyday experience.