Robert J. Wicks’ book, The Inner Life of the Counselor, is packed with wisdom. In a very Western approach to Eastern ideas, he builds a strong argument for alonetime and mindfulness. It is a very spiritual book with a beautiful cover and a compact size that fits nicely into your palm, purse, or pocket.
Chapter One is titled, “Creating Space Within,” and begins by emphasizing how counselors can only be warm and welcoming to their clients when they are “at home” with themselves. Doing this requires making space for yourself in your daily life. To accomplish this, the author includes a list of times (e.g. like before and after work) when therapists can make time for themselves. Chapters 2 and 3 stress valuing alonetime and recognizing cues of mindlessness. Wicks reminds the reader to pay attention to the present and not get lost in daily routines. Each chapter is full of bullet points, lists, and summary self-help questionnaires. Some types of mindless behavior to be aware of include: seeing interruptions as disruptive rather than new possibilities, ignoring the spiritual gifts of laughter, a child’s smile, or a good conversation, and living in the past. Wicks builds a very strong argument for the importance of alonetime but by now I am about a third of the way through the book and getting impatient. What is the author trying to say? What is so magical about alonetime?
Finally, in Chapter 4, titled, “Learning the Art of Leaning Back,” the author begins to explain what he means. Basically, alonetime and the art of leaning back are synomyms for silence, solitude, and mindfulness. The very existence of this book is a sad demonstration of how much healers neglect themselves and how seriously we must fight cultural pressures to seek solitude. Wicks provides a powerful quote from Thoreau to support this notion.
If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a spectator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.
More bullet points follow. Bullet point examples of leaning back include: being aware without judging, a willingness to embrace change, and letting go. These are all very good ideas but as anyone who has tried meditation knows, actually putting them into practice is extremely difficult. I am reminded of my graduate student colleague who was seeking a boyfriend so she researched love. After 4 years, she became an academic expert on the topic of love but never found a boyfriend. Finally, she admitted, “ I know all about love but I can’t do it.”
Perhaps, this is what we actually need…assistance finding inner peace and spiritual rejuvenation. Growing up, I was taught this was the province of religion, not psychology, and to be found in monasteries, churches or nature. But, for healers who are depleted or in pain, this may be the best possible use of continuing education – to heal ourselves. This book is an excellent self-help tool for therapists, counselors, teachers and any type of healer. There is a critical need for healers to heal themselves and this book points the way.
Additional strengths of The Inner Life of the Counselor are the appendices, recommended readings, and bibliography. The bibliography lists classic books everyone should read like Suzuki’s, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind and William James, classic The Variety of Religious Experience. Recommended readings are spiritual readings tailored to therapists. But, my favorite part of Wicks’ book is the section called Retreat and Reflect. This is a collection of wise and insightful meditations. One of my favorites is titled
Melting the Ego
“I wish to become a teacher of the truth.”
“Are you prepared to be ridiculed, ignored and starving till you are forty-five?”
“I am. But tell me: What will happen after I am forty-five?”
“You will have grown accustom to it.”
This small book, the Inner Life of the Counselor, is packed with wisdom. Robert Wicks reminds us all to take a quiet walk and reflect on these words from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones:
Open Your Own Treasure House
Daiju visited the master Baso in China. Baso asked: “What do you seek?”
“Enlightenment,” replied Daiju.
“You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?” Baso asked.
Daiju inquired: “Where is my treasure house?”
Baso answered; “What you are asking is your treasure house.”
Daiju was enlightened! Ever after he urged his friends: “Open your own treasure house and use those treasures.”