Decoding the “magic” of Process Work

This note is triggered by Gagandeep Singh’s blog post on “Process Work Spaces- Triggering the Magic Within…”

In this note I have tried to :

1.      Elaborate upon the concept of “Reflexivity”, and

2.      Linked it to what is often called the “Magic of Process Work”

Significance of the LENS

Reflexivity as Singh tell us is “to understand the lens with which one looks at self and the environment or the context, and in referencing this lens,creates new meanings,new intents, and new actions for self”  The emphasis is on the “process” of perceiving, meaning-making and action choices, rather than on the “content”. The basic assumption here is that “what we see” and the “meanings that we make” are  deeply impacted by the LENS that we deploy. Thus one person’s lens may tend to magnify the signs of “danger” in the environment whereas another person’s lens may tend to ignore them. Similarly, in looking at one self one person may gravitate towards what he/she considers as areas of “shame and guilt” whereas another may be pulled towards area of “pride” Simply put, every person’s lens has an in-built “selectivity” which determines what we focus our attention to and what we ignore.

Our LENS not merely maginfies/blocks what we see, it also has an interpretive function. It helps us to give meaning to what we see. The same gesture, comment, behaviour will be given a separate meaning by each one of us. A smile may be seen as a “sneer” by one person and a  “friendly invitation” by another. What may appear as a sympathetic helpful gesture to some one, may be interpreted as patronising condescending act by another.

This selectivity and its association with “fixed meanings” generates a repetitive pattern in our experience and generates “self-fulfilling prophesies” Thus we see only that which we are programmed to see, give meanings which we are programmed to give and make choices which we are programmed to make. Needless to say, the process is not as mechanical as I have made it sound, but more often than not we fail to see how our so called “free will” is being actually determined by the LENS which we deploy to see, interpret and engage with our “reality”. Simply put, all of us to lesser or greater extent are captives of the perspective generated by our respective Lenses.

What is Magic?

In a very simple sense Magic is essentially a dramatic shift in the perspective with which we engage with reality. A magician does not fabricate a different reality, he/she merely “manipulates” the way in which we are experiencing it. At the most elementary level, the magician will make us focus on one hand while we remain oblivious to the other. Thus when he/she pulls out some thing from thin air, it appears magical to us while it is only the handiwork of the hand of which we were oblivious. At more advanced levels, the complexity increases manifold but the essential principle of “manipulation of the Lens” remains the same.

At a more personal level, most of our magical experiences are accompanied by a dramatic shift of perspective. Thus in such momements we are likely to say- “oh, I have not seen anything like this before”, or “Thank you for opening my eyes  to this “ or “I did not know such feelings exised in me” etc. It is as though we are awakening to a hitherto unknown world. The fact is that this world had always existed but either not visible to us or interpreted in a fixed or frozen way by us, because of our captivity to our respective Lenses.

Process Work and Magic

There is an interesting relationship between our Lens and our life experiences. In many ways, the Lens that we have is shaped by our life experiences. Thus a person who has had to face intense hostility in life is likely to develop a Lens which is hypersensitive to any potential threat. However, this by no means is a one-sided relationship. A person who is hypersensitive to threat is likely to be seen as non-trusting by others and thus invite hostility on to himself/herself. Thus the relationship between the Lens and experience is such that they mutually reinforce each other.  In a process work space, it is this relationship which is under the microscope i.e. how our experience has impacted our lens and how our Lens is impacting our experience.

 This exploration takes place in a group setting and hence multiple Lenses and multiple sets of life experiences. It is this multiplicity which transforms the exploration from a didactic,intellectual process to a live experience with intense feelings. It opens the eyes of the individual to possible multiple perspectives on engaging with the same phenomenon. Further, this awareness is not just at a cognitive level but a lived experience with a strong emotive dimensions. It is this process which creates what we call “magic of process work”. While it unfolds differently for different people, the broad pattern is something akin to the following-

1.    In the first phase, most people remain entrenched in the perspective generated by their individual Lens. Thus it is not uncommon to find some withdrawl, cynicism and boredom. Simultaneously  any challenge to their perspective is met with resentment, hostility and defensivenes. This manifests itself through indifference, dismissal,  passive aggression and counter-attack. People who do not move beyond this phase experience no magic. In fact they often feel bewildered as to what is every one so excited about. They may even see the entire experience as a fabricated manipulation. Such people may receive some cognitive learning but it does not become an experiential reality for them.

 However for most people a “ tipping point” occours. This tipping point can come from an intense encounter, an empathetic touch  or an evocation ( e.g. an alter ego statement which brings forth some repressed/suppressed part of the person). This in a sense is the individual’s  first experience of the magic. Most people recall this moment as “ something hit me or shifted inside me and I can’t put my finger on it) Effectively, what has happened here is that a “reality” which had got obscured by the Lens of the individual has made its presence felt and thereby created a sense of magic

2.    In the second phase the individual actively participates, shares, relates  and joins others in their exploration. This creates an emotionally charged atmosphere in the group and also the necessary emotional infrastructure for the individual to allow himself/herself to be vulnerable. This in itself is a magical experience. Most of us  try to  avoid feeling vulnerable. To expeience vulnerability through a different lens is quite a magical experience

Further, as the individual shares his/her life  experiences/struggles/inner feelings etc. , he/she is being received in a variety of ways by different individuals. This is a critical moment both for the Individual and the Group. If the responses to the Individual are interpretive and/or advisory, they tend to block the person and also destroy what ever initial magic the person may have experienced. It is the” non-collusive empathy “ which bring forth the magic of process work into full force. These responses do not invalidate the Lens of the individual nor do they pressurise the individual into looking at the situation through a different lens. Instead they create a resonance with the Lens deployed by the person and then create some space for newer perspectives. One of the most powerful ways of doing this is through the technology of Psychodrama- wherin first the inner world of the person is created( as visible through the existing Lens)  and then newer perspectives are added through “alter ego” /dialogue etc. Not surprisingly, Psychodramas create some of the most magical moments for the individual and are generally accompanied by a strong sense of “looking at oneself and others” through a totally new Lens.

At this stage, the individual attributes the magic to others, particularly the facilitators. This is not an unrealistic assessment of the situation, because for all practical purposes the individual remains a recipient of “insights” and not their generator. This  not merely  creates strong dependency but also becomes a hindrance for further movement.  For people who do not move beyond this phase, process work remains  only a powerful healing and replenishing experience from which they receive significant insights. It does not lead to  reflexivity i.e. reflecting upon the Lens.

In a manner of speaking, at this stage, the person is looking at Self and the Context, through a” borrowed lens” This lens is extremely liberating and hence creates a strong resistance in the individual to go beyond, also there is considerable pressure on the individual from the rest of the group/community to own up this borrowed lens as his/her own. The tipping points occurs when the discomfort of living with the borrowed lens begins to surface. People who address this discomfort take the next step towards examining the nature of their own lens (i.e. reflexivity) Many others face it only after moving out of the process work space and then bemoan the fact that the borrowed lens which worked so beautifully in the process work space seems to be totally ineffective in the “real world”

3.    In this phase, the individual begins to look at his/her own Lens. Why is that, what is visible through the new Lens, remained invisible earlier and why is it that what seemed so significant earlier does not seem all that important now? Why have the meanings given to several phenomenon  changed so much? What is the nature of  selectivity/interpreting which my Lens is prone to and what purpose is being served by this selectivity and meaning making.

In this exploration, the individual is largely on his/her own. Others are there as resources, as sounding boards, as co-travelers but  the essential dialogue is between the person and his/her Lens. In this phase there is exhilaration of discovery but no great sense of magic. In a sense, the individual tries to assimilate the magical experience so that it can make sense in the context of his/her own Lens. The attempt here is to give up the borrowed lens, to cleanse one’s own Lens of the dust that it may have accumulated, to understand the unique nature of one’s Lens and try to unblock some of the hurdles that it may have put to its own expansion.

People who enter this phase are likely to experience some loneliness and also risk alienation from the rest of the group/community. This is particularly so if the large part of the group/community is caught with the euphoria and magic of the second phase. Their quest is some times seen as regressive by others and may also be seen as a threat to the collective  well-being.

 It is in this phase that the borrowed lens of the earlier phase starts getting integrated with one’s own lens. However this also tends to wither away over time because “Reflexivity” is a process and not a one time event. Thus people who do not move beyond this phase tend to experience themselves very differently in “process work spaces” and their “day to day living” . This creates a split between the two spaces. Process work space is seen as only for “Reflexivity” and any intrusion of the “messiness of life” in it is resented. Simultaneously, any inclusion of Reflexivity in day to day living is seen as a threat and potential de-stabliser of existing equilibrium.

4.    In the fourth phase Reflexivity becomes a practice and an integral part ofday to day living. In this phase, there is no great difference between process space and other spaces. Needless to say, each space has its own unique Dharma, but Reflexivity is not linked to the Dharma of a space. It is an integral part of being human – it is neither a curse nor a boon, it is neither terrible nor magical-it just is.

While this phase is not a feature of the process work spaces, there is some relationship between what happens in the process work space and quality of engagement in this phase.  If the individual comes out of the process work space with only resolutions, insights and answers then there is very little chance of Reflexivity getting integrated with his/her life space. Often the only questions that people come out with are those pertaining to application and implications- how will I apply this learning to my back home situation? Or how will other people relate to this “new me” etc. While these questions are important, they are not particularly conducive to sustaining Reflexivity. In other words, it is important that besides carrying insights about the nature of his/her Lens, the individual also carries some questions around it (e.g. What makes me look for the strings attached to any gift?)

Needless to say, like any other learning experience, it is important for an individual to have a sense of “closure”. In the context of Reflexivity, it is important that this “closure” is sufficiently “open” to let Reflexivity find a trigger. Often the temptation to have everything “resolved” is so strong, that several openings for Reflexivity are closed prematurely.

To sum up, Reflexivity sits on two seemingly opposite poles of “conviction” and “doubt”. Unless there is some degree of faith in one’s own lens, one will remain perpetually dependent upon the perspectives of others. On the other hand unless one is willing to examine the impact of one’s lens on what one sees and the meanings one makes, no Reflexivity is possible. This duality was brilliantly articulated by Pulin Garg in his famous statement “I have no certainty but I have no doubts either”. Personally, I prefer to say it the other way – “I have many strong convictions and also plenty of doubts.”

Ashok Malhotra is an author, thinker, organisation consultant and commentator on the social character of contemporary Indians. For related reading by the same author click on


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