Integrating Difference

When I was invited to make a presentation at the national NZAP conference with the title “Difference and Integration” I felt challenged to examine how both ‘Difference’ and ‘Integration’ are related.

Difference and integration at work can be seen on different levels.

The process of all development in life can be described as: thesis – antithesis – synthesis. Two opposites make one: father and mother create a child. On a personal level we move from dependence to independence to interdependence.

It is a challenge to stay with difference and allow for the natural process of integration to happen; the holding of two opposites at the same time, to endure the tension of the paradox.

We are used to an “either-or” thinking, where we separate: something is either good or bad, beautiful or ugly, right or wrong. We get caught into feeling the need to fight for what we believe is good and against what seems to be bad. Yet, opposites, like day and night, don’t exclude each other; no, they require each other. There is no day without night, no light without darkness. The Chinese Yin/Yang symbol comes to mind.

Meditation combines the paradox of relaxing and being alert at the same time, passive and active, breathing and observing the breath happening. There is this beautiful mirror exercise, where 2 people face each other, take turns in guiding and following, and finally do both at the same time, being active and passive, giving and receiving.

A simple Gestalt technique is to replace an antagonistic “or” by a connecting “and”. This is used to stop an internal fight.

Mediation focuses on “win-win” to overcome a senseless succession of “win-lose” situations, where the “loser” fights back to be the “winner” next time.

“Either/or” thinking seems rather limiting. I get a sense of expansion when I listen to Barry Brailsford. With his stories he paints a bigger picture where there is room for everyone and everything. Stepping back into the distant past gives me the perspective to more fully embrace the now and be open for the future. “We are the ancestors, we are the sum of everything that ever was and will be.” (Barry Brailsford)

Situ Rinpoche, an eminent Buddhist teacher, stretches my mind with his statement: “The ultimate is the ultimate of the relative, and the relative is the relative of the ultimate.”

With my limited understanding I take from this the interrelatedness of the two. We can look at everything twofold. On a relative level, there is “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”. We need guidelines and orientation.

Yet, ultimately, whatever it is, it just is, irrespective of my judgment.

On a relative level, we exist separate from each other, ultimately we are all one. Ultimately “everything and everyone is perfect”, as Rose Pere says.

Maybe it is possible to hold an understanding of both, relative and ultimate.

During a recent Hakomi workshop I was challenged to hold the tension of not knowing. I know and I don’t know, when I let myself be confronted with a question like “where is your home?”

The immediate automatic response is “Christchurch”. Yet, if I pause and sit with this question, I might also answer “Germany” or “the world”, “the stars”, “in my heart”. And so on. If I want to move beyond the level of relative truth all I can honestly come up with is “I don’t know”, still enjoying the process of trying to find an answer. Both, relative and absolute exist simultaneously, at the same time.

Other challenging questions you might consider are: “what is your name?”, “what does love mean to you?” or “who are you?”

I meet a young man called Joshua. He opens the conversation with “what excites you most?”

George Sweet cuts through the small-talk by asking “what do you like about what you do?” instead of the standard “what do you do?”

To stop and sit with a question rather than answering it in an automatic way gives us the opportunity to move deeper, to touch the realm of not knowing on the journey to knowing.

Barry compares the mind to a parachute. What is it that both have in common to function?

They both need to be open.

To keep an open mind is easier said than done. How do I do this?

First I need to be aware of what I do. My process of personal growth is a continuous waking up.

One of my recent discoveries is to wake up to fear at a deeper level. In my socialisation to be a man I was taught that it would be “unmanly” to be afraid. I learned to dull my fear very skilfully, suppress it and subsequently not be aware of it.

One of the strongest fears is the fear of isolation. This leads to conformity, rigidity, fixed beliefs, in Gestalt terms: to Confluence.

Fixed beliefs may give me orientation and a sense of security on a relative level. The less secure I feel inside, the more I am compelled to set up dogmatic structures. Rigid beliefs compensate for inner fears and insecurities. The more doubts I have, the more I fear isolation, the more I will appear dogmatic, closed off, needing to convince others, needing their approval.

Maybe the fear of isolation can subside and I can develop some solid ground of assurance when I listen to the Dalai Lama say: “We all have in common that we want to be happy. Nobody in their right mind wants to be unhappy.” Ultimately, at a very core level, we are all the same.

When I fully know this, I can relax my fear of isolation and better embrace difference. Relatively we are all different, there are not two people in this world who are the same.

Difference allows breathing space.

I keep an open mind by allowing and integrating difference.

No, not “differences” – I don’t want to make all the same. I don’t think that we need one world religion, one type of psychotherapy or one definition of the “truth”. We don’t have to all agree and overcome our differences. I treasure differences.

I recall my colleague Sue Murray say something like, “what I appreciate about Gestalt Therapy is the permission to be different.”

Differences are exciting. The power of attraction exists between two different people.

I am interested in integrating the concept of “difference”.

Obviously, due to my tendency towards confluence I need to make this a deliberate act. Confluence is my biggest obstacle in the process of opening my mind.

We can be confluent in two ways: by joining “the other”, or by the attempt to make “the other” like me. In both cases the boundary between individuals gets blurred. Common to both is fear, the fear of isolation. I notice that I need confluence to the same degree that I am afraid of difference.

What produces such fear? It is hard to hold difference, where to be different has been experienced as a thread, shaming, or isolating.

My dilemma is that I grew up being made ashamed for my difference. At the same time, as an indirect victim of the Holocaust and the Third Reich, uniformity still horrifies me. I am afraid of both, isolation and confluence. Apparently a no-win situation.

And yet, I consider myself fortunate. To have had this experience has led me to look deeper into the fear that drives both, confluence and isolation.

A basic human need is the need to belong. Due to my own biography, I am acutely aware of this.

Recently I heard an interview on the radio about Whakapapa. Terry Ryan helps Maori people to regain their mana by helping them trace their ancestry. Whakapapa is an anchor stone. To know our ancestors, where we come from gives us a sense of who we are, an inner security. It brings us in touch with a deep knowing of the accumulated achievements that were passed on through the genes, the support of hundreds and thousands of people that are my forefathers and foremothers and support me. It brings me in touch with my connectedness, my place in the world and my task to carry on the bloodstream and the stream of knowledge, as well as the challenge to break harmful family patterns.

A lack of one’s Whakapapa leads to a deep insecurity within. Rather than being taught the line of my ancestors by my parents, this knowledge was lost in the disturbances of the war. Born in Romania, my parents left their home country during the war, were separated from the wider family, and only passed on the names of my immediate grandparents. I was born as a refugee child and couldn’t develop roots when we moved to a big city. There I was shamed for my Polish name and my Bavarian accent. At school, to be different meant isolation.

Claiming all of me, my name, my accent, my nationality, my ancestry gives me more inner strength. Recently I started to reconstruct my ancestry further by trusting my intuitive knowing. The more I feel the strong affinity and connection with Jewish people, the more I can feel my unacknowledged Jewishness that I believe comes from my father’s father’s side.

As I develop a stronger sense of myself in the context of my history and ancestry, and as I open up and find acceptance in my uniqueness it becomes less threatening to be different. I can integrate “difference”.


Generations People involved
2 6
4 30
8 510
16 131,070
20 2,097,150
30 2,147,483,646
35 68,719,476,734

The challenge is to hold in my hand both, difference and the knowledge of unity. I know of our connectedness on a deep human level: we all want to be happy, we all want to be loved, are afraid of isolation, and of being smothered. We all need nurture, food shelter and freedom. Keeping this in mind, I can relax in accepting being different from you. Neither do I have to join you, nor do I have to try to make you like me. We can agree to disagree.


                         F                                               M
             ____________|____________                       ____________|____________
             F                       M                       F                       M
       ______|______           ______|______           ______|______           ______|______
       F           M           F           M           F           M           F           M
    ___|___     ___|___     ___|___     ___|___     ___|___     ___|___     ___|___     ___|___
    F     M     F     M     F     M     F     M     F     M     F     M     F     M     F     M
   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_   _|_
   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M   F M
   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |   | |
  fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm fm
Are you aware of the vast number of ancestors that stand behind you?

This gives us both breathing space: letting go of control at even the subtlest levels, knowing we are connected. I let you be and I know I am not isolated. It is a knowing of a basic constitution.

The more I know of my ultimate connectedness to everything around me, fellow beings as well as the land, Mother Earth, the more I can develop trust to stay with “not knowing”, free of the need to control.

How does this now apply to the process of psychotherapy?

Maria van de Berg puts the process of not knowing in therapy beautifully: “walking a path in darkness, holding each other’s hands”.

I come to know more and more that it is the trust in the capacity of my client and the trust in the process that leads to healing. Healing can only be allowed to happen, it can not be forced or even intended in a specific way. Space is needed. The space of silence, of sitting and being with whatever it is, resisting the temptation of trying to solve it.

The art of not doing. No, it’s not just sitting back and doing nothing. I sit bearing the tension of not knowing, the vulnerability of an open mind, providing space for difference, for whatever needs to happen.

Wolf Buentig used to say, “to trust or not trust is simply the question: do I give or give not?”

As I trust you and the process, I truly give; not in a pleasing way of wanting something back. I give by simply being open for contact. The more I trust, the less I need to control. The less I need to control, the more I can trust.

Yet, I also need goals, a sense of direction in therapy. Specific goals, apart from the general one of supporting the self regulating healing process. If I don’t need them, my client might, most definitely the provider of funds do.

How then can I be in this trusting space with my client, and at the same time develop a treatment plan with clearly defined goals and time frame, as often requested?

Again I am faced with the challenge to not slip back into an “either-or” thinking. Very easily I could polarise and take the side of therapy as an art versus a scientific technique.

One thing that I do is to include my client in any diagnosis and report writing. Whatever I do, I do in dialogue. There is a doing and a being.

But how to reconcile science, the rational left brain activity with the art of being in the process of psychotherapy, I do not know. Let us just sit with this question and notice what develops.

I’ll be interested if you have any thoughts on that.

Rudolf Jarosewitsch is not quite sure who he is. He is in process and happy. For over 20 years he has been involved in running groups, to increase self awareness, personal growth, and to train in counselling and in Gestalt Therapy. Currently he is exploring Tara Rokpa Therapy, a Tibetan Buddhist approach to healing.

Copyright © 6/1997 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Gestalt Dialogue #6, Jun1997

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