Intuitive Inquiry Research Method

Joanna Blake writes on Intuitive Inquiry:

Intuitive inquiry was introduced by Rosemarie Anderson (1998) to study transformative experiences. Anderson (2004) states ―intuitive inquiry is an epistemology of the heart that joins intuition to intellectual precision in a hermeneutical process of interpretation. Intuitive inquiry has been informed by feminist theory, heuristic inquiry, hermeneutics, phenomenology, and Gendlin’s Focusing and thinking beyond patterns.

It is a method that invites the exploration of complex experiences in an intersubjective state between researcher and that which is studied. It is a method that encourages creative work in a flexible process of scholarly cycling of literature with data collected. In addition, intuitive inquiry allows complexity to exist, and its depths to be plumbed without reducing the experiences studied to sectional analyses. However, the constant cycling from the expansive to the particular and vice versa is not for the faint of heart or thought! Intellectual discernment, along with intuition, is at the heart of doing intuitive inquiry well.

Intuitive inquiry contains five cycles, two in the forward arc in which the topic is honed and initial lenses are developed, and three cycles on the return arc in which the data collected is summarized. Lenses are developed through intuitive engagement with and intellectual discernment of the study‘s data, and, finally, these are integrated with the literature review. Intuitive inquiry is found to be a unique postmodern method useful in the study of western patriarchal history, as it is situated outside the traditional cultural framework.


Anderson, R. (1998). Intuitive inquiry: A transpersonal approach. In W. Braud & R. Anderson, Transpersonal research methods for the social sciences: Honoring human experience (pp. 69-94). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Anderson, R. (2004). An epistemology of the heart for scientific inquiry. The Humanistic Psychologist, 32(4), 307-341.

Phelon, C. R. (2004). Healing presence in the psycho-therapist: An intuitive inquiry. The Humanistic Psychologist32(4), 342-356.


Owning emotions versus identifying with emotions

I just got asked a really interesting question over email about the mindful approach to emotions. I thought I’d share my answer here.

My friend was asking whether there is a conflict between how we’re encouraged to engage with emotions in mindful meditation and the idea of ‘owning emotions’ which is common in psychotherapy and counselling.

Basically they had understood the mindfulness approach to be that you objectively note things that arise (thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc.) without identifying with them (this is my anger, my thought, etc.), and also noticing them fall away again.

But in psychotherapy and counselling they had come across the idea that it is important to ‘own’ emotions. This is important in terms of recognising that we do experience the full range of emotions (rather than having some we don’t acknowledge due to messages like ‘it’s not okay to be angry’ or ‘boys don’t cry’). It is also important because we often see our emotions as being somebody else’s fault (‘you made me angry’, ‘I’m jealous because of you’). Owning emotions is about recognising them as ours and not somebody else’s, and taking responsibility for what we do with them.

This is my answer to the question that the email posed, but I’d be very interested to hear whether others have different thoughts on this issue:

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Divided brains and mindfulness?

In the most recent RSA animate lecture, on the divided brain, psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist challenges popular ideas about left and right brains which I have seen perpetuated in many mindfulness books (e.g. that reason/emotion or visual/language aspects are separated in this way). Instead, he suggests that there are divisions in attention between very focused attention (left hemisphere) and wider awareness (right hemisphere).


I found this fascinating because mindfulness also distinguishes these two kinds of attention, with different meditation practices for cultivating focused attention and wider spacious awareness. Some liken vipassanā to a broad searchlight and samatha to a focused laser beami: In vipassanā we attend to the whole of our experience in a wide, open, awareness, noticing what arises and that it passes away, whereas in samatha we focus on a particular experience, object or phrase, such as the feeling of the breath, or repeatedly asking ‘what is this?’ in Korean Zen, or contemplating a Japanese Zen Koan.

Iain also talks about the way that the frontal lobes help to inhibit the rest of the brain, stopping immediate reactions. Again, this links to mindfulness which is about developing our capacity to stand back and notice things before responding. Iain links this to empathy and compassion for others. We need to stand back in order to understand other people rather than just reacting to them.

Seems like this work opens up some new possibilities for creative engagement between mindfulness and neuroscience.

Mindfulness research monthly

The new issue of Mindfulness Research Monthly is out here, including a spotlight on neuro research on beginning and long-term meditators. There are also listings of new publications in the field.

Make it the practice: Mindful driving

Meg Barker writes about bringing mindfulness to driving, and the value of engaging mindfully at times when it is most difficult.

Mindfulness is huge at the moment. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have completed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme of Jon Kabat-Zinn. Counsellors and therapists train in mindfulness techniques in order to offer them to their clients. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends mindfulness therapies for depression. And the amount of research on mindfulness as a treatment for stress, pain, anxiety, depression, and a range of other health and emotional difficulties, has increased exponentially in the past two decades. The word ‘mindfulness’ brings up around 4000 hits on Amazon because self-help books, CDs and DVDs on the topic have also proliferated in recent years.

Meditation: A central focus?

Central to most therapies, programmes and books on mindfulness is meditation. Generally this takes the form of sitting quietly and focusing your attention on your breath. When your attention wanders (to a thought, feeling, or sensation, for example), you bring it back to your breathing. Through such meditation it is said to be possible to notice the kinds of habits that you often get stuck in, such as identifying with a pain that you feel, or telling a story about why you are feeling angry or sad. The practice of bringing your awareness back to the here-and-now of breathing in and out can shift such habits. Such meditation can also expand our attention so that we notice everything that is going on in and around us (rather than focusing on one thought, memory, or sound), and we may also see that everything is impermanent (the thing that was niggling us when we started meditating has gone by the end).

However, the focus on meditation in mindfulness approaches has recently come under criticism. Wakoh Shannon Hickey points out that the Buddhist traditions which mindfulness was drawn from only advocated meditation for monks and nuns, not for lay people, and also that it was generally a practice which was located in a community for ethical purposes, not something that people did by themselves to make them feel better. She, like many Buddhist scholars, questions the cherry-picking approach to ancient traditions, locating it in the history of colonialism. In addition to such criticisms, some of the main leaders to bring their ideas to western audiences have emphasised aspects other than mindful meditation. For example Hickey writes that the Dalai Lama advocates other forms of meditation, or sound sleep, over mindfulness. And Thich Nhat Hanh writes a lot about community work and about practising mindfully in everyday life.

Make it the practice

It is this kind of everyday mindfulness which I have been thinking about a great deal as I write my own book on mindful counselling and psychotherapy. I felt that I should really commit to regular meditation if I was advocating it to other people, so I have been meditating for around ten minutes every night. Whilst there is a lot that I’ve found useful about this practice, for all the reasons mentioned, I’ve also noticed that it is easy to separate it off from the rest of my life: for meditation to be the only point in the day when I’m being attentive in that way.

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Psychoanalysis and Buddhism

Steven Stanley writes about three phases of cultural encounter between psychoanalysis and Buddhism. Originally published here as a response to the recent film A Dangerous Method:


We might say that psychoanalysis and Buddhism are both therapies; diagnosing and alleviating our psychological or existential suffering. But the productive, one hundred year dialogue on the margins of these traditions did not begin quite so auspiciously.

Phase 1: Orientalism

Freud and Jung famously fell out over the issue of spirituality.

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Mindfulness research monthly

The new mindfulness research monthly newsletter is out by the people over at mindful experience:  A great update on everything that is going on in the field of mindfulness research.


Happiness is a key issue in relation to mindfulness given that mindfulness has been taken up by the positive psychology movement as a way of improving happiness, but also the craving for happiness is something that mindfulness warns against.

There is a post about these kinds of issues, as well as how existential and mindfulness ideas around happiness may be in tune, over on the Northern Existential Group website here.

Mindful counselling and psychotherapy

A brief report Meg wrote for her publishers (Sage) on the thinking behind her forthcoming book on mindful counselling and therapy:

Mindfulness has become a major buzz-word in recent years, filtering into domains including eduction, the workplace, and the criminal justice system. Its prevalence in psychology and psychotherapy is such that it would be impossible to keep up with all of the publications in this area (over 40 per month).

Mindfulness is a form of wakeful attention. Buddhists practice meditation in order to cultivate this way of being in their lives. When we approach things mindfully we see more clearly that our struggles are rooted in grasping hold of the things we want, and trying to eradicate the things we don’t. Some have argued that the reason mindfulness has become so popular in the west of late is because our consumer culture has exacerbated this tendency to crave fulfilment and to avoid any unpleasant experiences. The radical message of Buddhism is that we need to face the inevitable suffering in life rather than trying to escape from it.

Most of the writing on mindfulness in counselling and psychotherapy has come from the cognitive-behavioural approach. Continue reading