Gestalt Negotiation

At the time of this negotiation I had a busy life. I was a Professor at the Open University, I was in charge of a small energy efficiency business and I was running five or six Enlightenment Intensives (meditation retreats) a year. I also enjoyed having a good time, which involved being mildly intoxicated and going to parties. However there were some fundamental conflicts between these aspects of my life that came to a head when I was on a personal retreat of my own.

The acute conflict was between the Enlightenment Master, who wanted to meditate daily, purify his body and be in pristine condition for running Intensive retreats, and the party goer who wanted to regularly unwind, let go and have a good time using a range of intoxicants. I had labelled the one who wanted to meditate and be pure ‘pilgrim’ and the party lover as ‘hedonist’. I set up a Gestalt negotiation between pilgrim, hedonist and myself by placing three cushions in a triangle facing each other. What follows is an abbreviated version of the dialogue between these three.

Self: I am fed up with you two always arguing and demanding more of my time. As far as I can tell the current situation leaves us all dissatisfied, so I thought we should get together to find a way that we can all be more content.

Pilgrim: Well you are right that I am dissatisfied. It takes me quite a while to get into a rhythm of meditating and fasting, and just as I feel I am starting to get somewhere Hedonist screws it all up by having alcohol or some drugs. Basically I cannot meditate deeply for 24h after drinking alcohol and not until 5 or more days have elapsed after he has smoked cannabis. I am serious about wanting to purify myself and have a deeper level of enlightenment and want Hedonist to back out of our life so I can get on with this project.

Hedonist: You (looking at Pilgrim’s cushion) are just a party pooper. You cannot stand it when I or anyone else just enjoys themselves. You are always so serious, so straight-laced – you know you are really boring. And I am completely fed up with you because you always spoil my fun by coming in with your po-faced puritan voice moaning about how this is going to mess with meditation or how you won’t be in condition to run one of your precious retreats.

Pilgrim: I am not against having fun, but let’s do it without intoxicants. Having fun doesn’t interfere with my meditation, it’s only alcohol and drugs that create a problem. And last month when you took some psilocybin mushrooms it took me weeks to get back on track. I am just fed up with struggling to get somewhere in my meditation and then one blast from you and it takes me ages to get back on track.

Hedonist: Look when I have been working flat out all week and am exhausted using alcohol or drugs is just a great way to relax and get into having a good time. And I never have a hang-over, I never take too much of anything. Your idea of fun is not what I am after, so why don’t you go ..

Self: Is there any way in which you two could co-operate somehow? Could you take it in turns doing what you want?

Pilgrim: Well that’s pretty well what’s happening now, but my turn is not long enough. As I said earlier it takes me days to get over having a smoke of cannabis, and he (looking at Hedonist) wants to do it most weekends. Which means that I’m stuffed for most of the week.

Hedonist: And then next weekend I have your moaning voice in my head that makes it really difficult for me to enjoy myself.

Self: OK so it is clear taking turns once a week is no good. Would alternating one month at a time be better?

Pilgrim: A month would be OK, but it is really not long enough for me to make much progress in my surrender meditation. Something like three months would be much better. That would also enable me to schedule the Intensive retreats in the periods when I know Hedonist isn’t going to screw things up.

Hedonist: Three months of no fun! Doesn’t sound like a good deal to me!

Self: But then you would have three months when it is your turn and Pilgrim would not bug you whilst you are having a good time. We could schedule your three months to include your birthday, Christmas and other times when you really want to party.

Hedonist: That does sound attractive. One three month period would have to include the summer holiday I take with Eva as well.

Pilgrim: It will need to be planned carefully to not conflict with the long retreats I run in the summer. But basically two three month periods a year when I can go deeper in meditation sounds wonderful – a real improvement on how things are now.

Hedonist: Yes and two three month periods without you bleating in my ear sounds great to me as well.

Self: Great. We have a way forward! I am delighted that you are both happy with this plan. I am confident that we can make it work.

This arrangement was enacted and was the organising principle that Eva and I followed for the next ten years. It only came to an end when we retired from running Intensives and from our jobs.

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