The Cutting Edge of
Conflict Resolution with Arny and Amy Mindell
By Cat Saunders
Arny and Amy Mindell travel throughout the world facilitating seminars
about Process Oriented Psychology. Arny is the author of several books,
including Dreambody, River's Way, The Dreambody in Relationships,
City Shadows, Working on Yourself Alone, Coma: Key to Awakening, and
The Shaman's Body. He is an analyst in private practice, the
cofounder of the Center for Process Oriented Psychology (Zurich and
Portland), and a former resident teacher at Esalen Institute. His wife,
Amy, is a therapist who is best known for her process work in the areas of
dance and philosophy. With Arny, she co-authored the book, Riding the
As a longtime fan of process work, it took two years of occasional but
persistent requests to get Arny and Amy to stop long enough to do an
interview. It was worth the wait. When my partner, John Giovine, and I
arrived at their Portland home, Amy greeted us at the door as if we were
old friends. Both John and I were deeply touched by their warmth, humor,
and compassion, as well as their devotion to exploring life in all its
In this interview, I spoke with the Mindells about Arny's book, The
Leader as Martial Artist: An Introduction to Deep
Cat: In your book, you introduce the concept of "timespirits."
How did you come up with that idea?
Arny: Timespirit ideas arose from our work as conflict and town meeting
facilitators for organizations. The idea comes form three influences, one
of which is indigenous thinking. All over the world, indigenous people
understand that the "field" of their community is populated not only by
people, but by ghosts and spirits. They talk to these spirits and work
with them all the time. Indigenous people understand that these spirits
sometimes get into people, so people are seen as being partially
representative of these spirits. In other words, the feelings we have do
belong to us as individuals, and yet at the same time, they may be
connected to spirits in the field.
Another aspect of the timespirit idea comes from practical work with
today's conflict situations. People in groups may find that when they are
in a conflict, they may feel certain things, but they don't feel
only one particular thing. For example, a woman in a group may
experience feelings related to her own position, but part of her may also
identify with some of the things her opponent is saying.
If you can accept that these different positions are just timespirits
"floating around" in the room, you may feel freer to let yourself have
more than one feeling at a time. Obviously, it facilitates conflict work
if people can be supported to participate in both—or many—sides of a
A third idea that contributes to the concept of timespirit is the
German word "zeitgeist," which, directly translated, means "zeit" for
time, and "geist" for spirit, or more specifically, "spirit of the times."
For example, New Age concepts are a spirit of the times, just like
democracy and communism are also spirits of the times.
Cat: It sounds like the timespirit concept can help people shift
more fluidly between viewpoints, instead of getting stuck in one position.
What happens when you work with groups where there is massive denial,
where no one even acknowledges that there are any other viewpoints
underneath the surface?
Arny: Every group is in denial of things which don't go along with its
vision. Every group has a vision—whether they identify with it or not—and
they deny everything in themselves that doesn't go along with that vision.
For example, the United States has the vision of democracy, among other
things. One of the things the United States denies is the Preamble to the
Constitution, which talks about King George. King George was the bad guy,
the English tyrant against whom the United States fought. One thing the
United States denies is King George in the United States! In other words,
our tendency to colonize the world is denied.
So we start with groups by celebrating their vision. We encourage them
by saying, "Your vision is a great vision! Having the vision of democracy,
you want to be open to every part of yourselves, including the tyrant!"
Cat: You sneak in the door.
Arny: Yes. You start with people's consciousness before you work with
Cat: In The Leader as Martial Artist, you mention
working with a group of a couple hundred people in San Francisco. They got
really hot and started fighting, and at some point, you encouraged them to
feel free to hurt each other.
Amy: That was the workshop we did right before the Gulf War, and we
encouraged people to follow what was happening.
Arny: Yes. If you're not going to listen and be peaceful like your
vision says, if you're really all angry and miserable, then go ahead and
kill each other. Know what you're doing and do it! But when we said this,
people got shocked. They didn't realize what they were doing! That's the
After that, they said, "Oh, we don't want to do that!" And I said,
"Well, okay, then, I thought you did!"
Cat: You took the voice of their anger, and made it even louder,
Arny: That's right. It's process work. Whatever's happening is the key.
It's so simple. It's just hard to keep awake. I can't always do it, and
Amy can't always do it.
Amy: It can be surprising, and sometimes, being in a group can make you
go into an altered state. So, to see what's happening and bring it out can
be very difficult.
Cat: What about when it's really scary? How about that situation you
describe in your book, when you ask people to consider what they would do
if they were trapped on an airplane with a terrorist. What would you
Arny: I would say that I really understand. I would say, "You're not a
terrorist. You're a freedom fighter! You're fighting for something that is
terribly important to you. Everyone you know in your family has probably
been killed by people you're angry with, and the one thing you can think
of now is to kill everybody. You're so full of vengeance. Vengeance is
such a pleasure!"
We worked with a terrorist group in Belfast, and this kind of work has
an immense effect on people—even terrorists who are out to kill people. If
you sit there like a typical American who doesn't like conflict, and who
thinks that terrorists are just crazy, then they'll shoot you, too!
Instead, you can say you understand vengeance. After all, everybody's
had relationships. Vengeance isn't so far away! Terrorism is not the least
bit far away from anybody.
When we talked with the terrorists like this, they started talking, and
they started crying. They helped us learn a lot about the spirit of the
times. If the spirit is vengeance, there is no religion on earth that can
work its way through vengeance by sitting there and saying that vengeance
is wrong. Vengeance is just another spirit that needs to be worked with.
Amy: Yes. No one ever listens to terrorists, so when they are finally
heard, the process begins to change. They begin to wonder if there is
something else they can do, something that would be even more useful, to
make the world a better place to live.
Cat: That's incredible. Amy, I love this statement from The
Leader as Martial Artist: "Harmony is a beautiful state, but it
is not nearly as powerful as awareness."
Arny: Resolution is a momentary state, but it's such a pleasant state,
that everybody gets attracted to it—like and addiction—and they hold onto
it. Harmony is good, but it lasts only a short time, because everybody is
always changing and growing. Awareness is a much more interesting thing,
because life is wild! Life is a wild flux of changing identities. There's
nothing new in that. But putting it into practice is different than just
saying it, because you need a lot of awareness and courage to pick up new
ideas that other people—or you—don't want to think about.
I don't think anybody really wants harmony. They're just afraid of
leaving it! Besides, when people hang on to harmony too long, what's
repressed is diversity. It's not only different ideas that are repressed,
but also, any groups that aren't mainstream in a given culture are utterly
repressed by so-called harmony. In our culture, it's poverty, it's the
blacks, it's the Hispanics, it's the gays and lesbians, it's different
religions. All these people are repressed under this harmony idea.
Cat: You've said that minorities hold the key to the future.
Arny: The minority positions—the non-mainstream positions—are the
teachers, because they bring up things the mainstream doesn't want to
consider. People say, "Well, you've forgotten the blacks. Or, listen,
you're in a man-woman relationship! You guys forgot that. You think you're
Minority positions are helping people in the "harmonious" mainstream to
awaken. The mainstream should look for its great teachers in the minority
groups. Our great teachers are real people, suffering difficulties,
bringing up parts that we have repressed not only in the outer world, but
in ourselves as well. One of the reasons that blacks are having such a
difficult time is not just because the blacks have been so severely
repressed, but because the whites repress their own "blackness"—their own
energy, their own "color." And they refuse to notice difference and
Cat: You mentioned that you feel a lot of psychological communities
are racist and sexist if they are just doing inner work. Would you
Arny: Yes. They're racist if they don't encourage or deal directly with
diversity. Mainstream psychological circles may experiment with it, but
when they do, they don't really have people talk to one another or argue
with one another. Typically, white groups don't like anger, so they don't
know how to deal with conflict very well. Psychological and spiritual
groups which put down anger need to grow.
A lot of psychological circles also tend to be sexist. For example,
they may say that women who have opinions of their own are in the animus.
That's a sexist attitude. Also, classical, analytical psychological
circles have looked at gays and lesbians as being neurotic. I don't know
what to say about that idea. It's not only sexist, it's outdated.
There's another problem with mainstream groups that focus only on inner
work, in that they typically don't have anything to do with global
matters. They may idealize, or they may write critical books about the
world situation and about how everyone ought to be different. But they
rarely go out and sit in the difficulties.
I would like to make a challenge to all of these psychological and
spiritual people who have their hearts in the right spot. I would
challenge them to experiment with going into difficult conflict-like
situations in their families or in the world around them, and from that
position, see if they can put their beliefs into practice.
I would ask them not to avoid conflict situations by retreating to
ashrams and psychological circles, or to little modem shamanic circles
where things are more or less agreed upon in advance. Instead, go out
where it's really difficult and see if you can practice psychology, see if
you can practice shamanism, see if you can practice Buddhism. That's where
we need the help!
This interview was originally
published in The New Times (August 1994).
Arnold Mindell, Ph.D., and Amy
Mindell, Ph.D., may be contacted via their Web site at http://www.aamindell.net/