AABCAP seminar with Carl Webster May 2016
Chogyam Trungpa talks about Windhorse in his 1984 book Shambala which is a book about the Tibetan mythical land
of Shambala and its spiritual warrior tradition. Trungpa was a Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche from the
Vajrayana/Mahamudra tradition who fled Tibet and was unique in presenting teachings in a plain speaking, creative
way which cut through a lot of spiritual misconceptions.
In the chapter entitled 'Letting Go', Trungpa talks about letting go within the warrior discipline, relaxing into the body
and finding a gentle way of being with oneself and resting within the heart. Wind, he says is the energy that arises
when we connect with basic goodness and the horse implies that it is an energy to be ridden rather than one based
on some sort of egoic ownership or control. The Shambala warrior learns through discipline to give up the 'setting-
sun' view of self and the world, to attune them self to their body and the environment. It is also about being honest
with oneself and others and being able to communicate openly and be caring towards others.
We can see parallels in these notions with psychotherapy. A famous book on Transactional Analysis by Thomas
Harris in 1969 was entitled 'I'm OK, You're OK' and apart from being one of the most sold self help books ever, put
forward the notion that psychological problems often stem from, or are characterised by a self belief of “I am not OK'
(and/or 'You're not OK'). In the TA model, learning to become self aware of these negative beliefs and patterns of
behaviour is a basis of therapy and getting to the place of I'm OK/You're OK is the goal. Being OK is not the same as
completely OK or some sort of idealised perfection. It is largely about self acceptance gained through clarity and the
gentleness of being non judgemental.. For me, at least at a psychological level, this is basically the same as finding
Windhorse and basic goodness within oneself.
Hindu tantra teachings use the word 'kundalini' as far back of 6th century BCE and talk about experiencing the union
of shakti (female energy) with shiva (male energy). Again I would see this as comparable with the experience of
windhorse and the spiritual path of tantric buddhism. However we can perhaps relate this to a therapeutic journey of
integrating our thoughts and our feelings, of becoming less insecure and fearful, and balancing our rational and
creative/intuitive/feminine mental and physical energies. . Of course I do think there is a qualitative difference
between the psychological and spiritual levels. As my late teacher Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche said in his book “Mind
at Ease” (2003), “Being aware and learning to connect spiritually in the context of meditation is not about being aware
in the ordinary sense. We are talking about an awareness that relates to a dimension of being of which we are
normally oblivious.” However I would argue that we do need to connect with an I'm OK sense of self in order to work
with or at least integrate a higher level of consciousness.
I believe we can apply the wisdom of basic goodness and windhorse in psychotherapy. Non-dual meditation practise
as exemplified in the mahamudra and dzogchen traditions starts from the viewpoint that we are already enlightened,
we just need to wake up. In therapy we are often required to help people do some growing up and they often need to
learn to wake up in order to grow up. (I would hope that all psychotherapists and counsellors have engaged in waking
up and growing up therapy themselves.) The idea of windhorse is tapping into this energy or field of basic goodness,
as seeing ourself as primordially OK, not that we are without wounds or faults, but that fundamentally we are an
expression of divine being, christ consciousness, mahamudra or as the Buddha said emptiness in form and form in
emptiness. A non-dual approach is both similar and more than what Carl Rogers advocated when he talked of “an
unconditional positive regard” for the client. To help an overwhelmed, confused, despairing or traumatised client we
need to be both present with their suffering and also our own, and maintain a presence, a verbal and non verbal
attunement which embodies and transmits a sense of windhorse and basic goodness which can then be internalised
and embodied by the client.
We need to be clear that the experience of windhorse as presented by Trungpa cannot be achieved through one
evening's worth of practises. Perhaps we can aim for ordinary windhorse rather than extraordinary windhorse.
Tonight we are going to practise just a couple of exercises to help us tap into our own sense of bodymind and ones
that we can use with clients. They can help us connect with ourself on somatic, affective, behavioural, cognitive and
unconscious levels. It is only through feeling, recognising and accepting ourself on all these levels that we can
recognise we are OK and are basically a good person. We have to expand our awareness on all these levels in order
to discover and celebrate our basic human goodness and also (assuming you are a therapist of some sort) to be
able to be with clients' experience no matter how painful and help them move towards a position of “i'm OK'.
In my therapy practise I am interested in looking at how a person's energy and attention is split (or not split) between
their head (thinking) and their body (sensation and feeling). One person may be very caught up in mental obsession,
anger or confusion, while another may be overwhelmed with feelings of fear, grief or resentment. Another may be so
busy telling you stories that it's hard to work out what they really want or how they're really feeling. And then there's
the person who has become frozen or numb and is regularly in some at least part dissociated (or we might say
seriously distracted) state. There may be too much energy in the head or too much in the body or there may not be
enough energy at all. Without going into the many reasons for these imbalances ( although we can say they often
have their causes in their family of origin) the question is how can we help the person become more balanced and
begin to work their way through their difficulties to recognise their own 'OK-NESS'.
I want to share two somatic approaches with you tonight. They are somatic in that they are about the jaw, neck and
diaphragm and also about the breath. I generally teach these using slow, gentle and mindful suggestions, often while
the person is just sitting opposite me, in no particular posture and I may introduce them at intervals during a session,
often quite informally. Done in a gentle, supportive and focused waythey offer a profound change in awareness and
receptivity both to self and others which is the foundation for waking up, gaining clarity and introducing change in our
behaviour that can then affect our relationships. I'm separating the instructions into two sections to allow us to go into
more detail and practise more self awareness, although I will usually combine them for clients.
Notice your normal breath – frequency, rate, intensity, shallowness
Loosening the jaw, relaxing, the tongue, feeling the breath, letting go control. Breathing deeper as the body desires,
notice sensations, feelings, allow yawning if it happens. The jaw and neck are two main areas where we can block off
our feelings and stress and end up disempowered, out of touch, ungrounded and confused.
Now lets look at the diaphragm. Just like the jaw and neck we can block our energy in the chest and the diaphragm.
Go back to mouth open breathing, relax, notice if you are holding in your belly, your stomach, if so let it out,
Using diaphragmatic breathing for calming, reducing arousal – longer exhalations. The swing.
Feedback in pairs
Enlivening the diaphragm, belly, feelings, body – stomach contractions. Then back to mouth breathing and relaxed
belly. Notice how you're feeling. Notice what you need.
Sharing and discussion
carlwebstercounselling.com mob 0424650630