One of the beliefs underlying my client work (and hopefully the rest of my life as well) is that there are more choices available than we are (usually) aware of. Often many more choices.
One common example is the utilization of “brainstorming” where on purpose we (as an individual or a group) make a list of options or alternatives initially without any censoring. This allows the brain the freedom to think broadly (or even wildly), and only later to censor with some reality. One part of the exercise suggests using pencil and paper, which can invite an even broader frame of cognition. It can come as a surprise just how many truly realistic options can emerge.
Maybe it’s like entering therapy - there can be a deep seated fear that some right options aren’t what you really want - you just want permission to hold tight to your own narrow (or impossible) list.
I give some credit to my son Michael, out on the West Coast and his current work as what he calls a Transformational Coach. Over the years I’ve watched him develop his own counseling style and philosophy, and it was with him I came upon the term “Counterpose - that could also mean…”. It was this past Thanksgiving, which I spent with my daughter and son-in-law in Ann Arbor, with my son Michael at the north end of the table via Zoom from Oakland. I was walking past him on my way to the bathroom, when in response to a comment he made, I thought “that could also mean…” At that point I came up with the term Counterpose and realized my thinking sounded ‘just like Michael’.
Out of that comes two number points.
1) Michael publishes weekly a Quote of the Week which I recognize comes from some of our common history and therapy beliefs. If you’d like to receive them, subscribe (free) at his website authenticintegrity.com and click “sign up for the Quote of the Week.” I usually find them quite mentally refreshing (and challenging).
2) I know some of his meditative discipline out of which emerge his “quotes.” In this case, I was ‘on the way to the bathroom’ and also realized that when in my office, on some occasions I’ll interrupt a client session to ‘go to the bathroom’ only to discover that in that moment I get an important insight about what’s going on with my client. Also on some of those ‘breaks’ my client or a client couple also have an ‘aha’ moment which they’ll share on my return. (Maybe I don’t even need to go, but it works.)
Now back to the phenomenon of Counterpose.
Over the years, I’ve developed the practice, especially with clients, of “this could also mean…” or let’s look at this differently. I’ll even turn one hand upside down (actually) as if telling my brain to ‘look for another side’.
A couple more number points:
1) “Counterpose” isn’t really a dictionary word, but it’s useful to me. It means ‘posing’ a ‘counter’ thought or idea. Posing is like in proposing something, or even to offer an opposing idea, toward a greater wisdom. It is the life blood of our United States Constitution - to which each governmental office bears highest allegiance.
2) I generally don’t ‘push’ other options, rather just hint or set them out there as take it or leave. Even with important decisions, such as the future of a relationship, I like to give or advise taking time. Another way to say it is that much growth comes from the inside out. Counterposing needn’t involve offense, but rather poses a reverse or alternative flow.
3) Part of the genius (or curse) of being human is that we are ‘choosing’ creatures. And out of that choosing can come wisdom. Legislative wisdom emerges when two or more bodies or parties work in Counterpose to arrive at a balance of legislative wisdom. But look at what is happening today. Legislation has become more like a boxing ring. Justice becomes more an exercise of punishment than balancing. Consider a time when a ‘penitentiary’ was meant to be a place where redemption and humanity still prevailed. It’s so easy to lose so much.
4) Having come from a pacifist rather than a military family background, I still rejoiced in the mythic goodness of the American GI. And this holiday time for the first time I’m giving some financial support to Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) where medicine (humanity) can still specifically trump human divisions.
5) It seems the more I write, this idea carries me farther and farther into examples, ideas, thoughts and beliefs I’ve formed or have formed within me over the years of my life and experience.
Yes, I’m glad I’ve learned the practice or mental discipline of “that can also mean…” By actively or reflexively Counterposing, looking for “can also means” I can protect myself (and others) from the tyranny of absolutes. Are there any absolutes? Perhaps only one remains - the eternal mystery of the love of God.
(But then, can a mystery be also an absolute? I’m not ready (or capable?) to wrap my head around that one tonight. Seems even maybe that’s on purpose.)
(And maybe when in doubt, flip your hand over.)