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Dealing with Emotional Pain – A Search for Wholeness- The Work of Kent Hoffman

How essential is love in our early development? How does tenderness and affection affect our neurological development? What compels children and adults to stay attached when reason indicates that it is illogical to do so?

I would like to introduce Kent Hoffman. Kent is a psychotherapist, researcher in development psychology and practitioner of Zen mindfulness meditation. He has released an ‘e-book’ entitled eightysevenminutes where he describes the interface between core themes of psychology and core themes of  spiritual practice. His insights into the reasons that human beings suffer emotional pain and the realisations we need in order to heal, are worthy of consideration.

In this blog I have attempted to summarise some of the subject matter contained in eightysevenminutes. Of necessity, I have omitted much of the elaborate detail. It is my intention that Kent Hoffman’s work reaches as many people as possible.

Kent makes the following assertion:

“The human condition remains the human condition, regardless of who we are. No one escapes suffering. I’ve come to the following understanding,

  • Every heart will inevitably be wounded by an absence it cannot comprehend.
  • No heart can forget the presence it was born to know.

Presence and its shadow opposite, absence, are always centre stage. To the degree that we know presence ( along a vast continuum) we are at home in our lives. To the degree that absence defines our experience (also along a vast continuum) we suffer.”

Kent Hoffman uses the word presence to mean ‘ being-with’; and absence as ‘being- without’. I would add the words ‘loving attention’. Being-with the loving attention of a caregiver develops trust and belonging, whereas being- without  this loving attention develops distrust, confusion and a sense of being alone in the world.

Kent Hoffman says, “ Shit happens…..but when it keeps happening and we have no way to comprehend or even acknowledge it, we build a life that in a wide variety of ways is designed to pretend the shit isn’t there.”

What we need to realise is, that right from the beginning, infants are hard wired for relationship. This information is laid down in the developing neurons as infants interact with their earliest caregivers. These neural pathways build at phenomenal speeds. Infants are developing the structure of their brains based on their experiences of focused attention (presence) or the lack of it (absence). The ground work for understanding the nature of relationships is being laid down at this time; a time when the infant does not have language or perspective. To illustrate the  essential nature of belonging, Kent tells the story of a young boy who clung to the arms of his mother even though she had set him on fire. This mother was better than no mother.

Consequently, it is not a surprise that an infant who is handled consistently with love and attention tends to be secure but an infant who has had inconsistent love and attention sets up a pattern of relating that says, “When I am vulnerable or in need, I cannot depend on anyone to be there for me. I have to depend on myself.” This pattern of thought, wired into the developing brain, unconsciously accepted, forms the world view of that child. It is a lens which distorts what that child experiences from then on by keeping the focus on absence and on the strategies the child develops to avoid absence ( protective behaviours).

This situation brings about the premature emergence of the ego. Kent Hoffman says, “Formed prematurely in childhood, in a context of confusion and emotional pain, the ego struggled to take charge using misguided strategies. It sought to give meaning to what felt meaningless.” The ego Voice has at least one negative theme which it repeats over and over. The ego Voice is heard to say things like, ” People would like you if you were prettier, cleverer, ran faster, smiled more often, tried harder or were more perfect…..”  Attachment to the Voice is inevitable because it feels like the guide we need to do better and negotiate the way forward as we continue to seek,” the presence (love attention, connectedness and belonging) we were born to know.”

Finding ways to directly access connectedness/wholeness becomes the central task of our lives according to Kent Hoffman. When we act out of our early patterns, it is that sense of companionship that we miss. A type of ‘holding’ that helps us get through difficult times. Kent suggests that there is a ‘holding’ energy that is available to everyone. ” Unseen and yet real.” He refers to this energy as ‘AND‘. “Not dissimilar to dark matter, AND is always exerting its pull on our lives.” Also, “AND holds galaxies, atoms and everything in between.”

Kent says “AND is not a thing. AND holds all things. AND is resonance-between-things.” If resonance means ‘sympathetic vibration’ then we could say that AND is the sympathetic vibration-between-things. AND is also referred to as the ‘hidden Wholeness’. To me this sounds like a God concept but it would also go a long way to describing Universal Energy, Chi or whatever you consider is ‘something greater than us’, a transpersonal perspective. James Joyce has described the same phenomenon as,” living in the Mama matrix most mysterious.” One way to access the transpersonal is through meditation. Kent refers to his way of meditating as “gentle breath.”

Through his meditative practice, Kent has learned that “the most unbearable can (and must) be brought into direct contact with the most sacred; the orphan needs to finally come home. It is here that we discover a hidden alchemy.”  It is in this space that we are likely to experience the ‘holding’ our painful parts require. He calls meditation a discipline and the hardest work he has ever done. Re-establishing trust is not an easy task. Resistance is high even when there is an appreciation of the benefits of meditation. However, Kent also calls it the ‘no work’ because he is learning to allow AND to do the deeper work; to do the healing.

Hoffman says that he has come to realise that psychotherapy and meditative practice are ultimately about the same thing; “coming to trust that we are loveable and loved; that belonging is our original nature.” This is the place where core themes of psychology and core themes of meditative practices merge. Until we come to KNOW and trust the holding aspect of AND, Universal Energy, Chi etc., we will continue to hear the shattering words,  “You’re un-loveable and unloved,” in the many different guises this message is able to be delivered (thoughtless comments/actions of people around you).

So, here it is. This is the work. This is the challenge. This is the road to Wholeness.

Working my way through Kent Hoffman’s writing has given me a new appreciation of the complex nature of resistance.  I am in awe of the powerful mix of physical, psychological and spiritual aspects that make up human beings.


Web Information: If you type Kent Hoffman into your search engine, you will be able to access the e-book (eightysevenminutes). It is available as a pdf document for downloading.

There is also an interactive website, hiddenholdings.com

I recommend this information for your consideration.




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