Field Notes

Inner Work for Integrating Alienated Identities

November 29, 2023 - 0 Comments

Inner Work for Integrating Alienated Identities

Field Note: December 1, 2023            

Avraham Cohen, PhD, RCC-ACS, CCC
Private Practice Psychotherapy and Counselling
Organizational & Leadership Consulting & Coaching (Psychologically-Based)
Vancouver BC  Canada
(604) 313 8423                                                                                                                       

Audio version of the Field Note:



Zoltan Tashi:


Welcome to my Field Note for December 2023, another instalment about inner work: Inner Work for Integrating Alienated Identities. This is my final Field Note for 2023. I will resume Field Notes again in February 2024.


Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there. — Marcus Aurelius



Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost


Where two or three or more are gathered there shall I be in your midst…

Jesus of Nazareth


      As many of you already know the topic of inner work is one of my most central interests as a therapist, educator, and human being, and this practice is of course not entirely new or novel. However, our culture, being overwhelmingly outward-focused, relentlessly enables such impression that it is new!. We just have to look around to see all the ways people are offering outward-focused solutions to any and all problems we humans encounter. Such “solutions” include disabling, blocking, or—you might want to take a deep breath here—killing people, animals, trees, waterways, and so on from their intended path.

The suggestion that we look into ourselves in the service of undertaking personal inner work has been with us for many millennia. Consider Socrates’ famous injunction, “Know thyself.” Knowing oneself through inner work and discovering how one is put together and what really is going on in the depth of one’s being, for better or for worse, is the beginning of wisdom. Consider the historical Buddha’s last words before his death: “Be a light unto yourself.” This may be the ultimate fruit of inner work.


Awa Kenzo (1880-1939) (Stevens, 2007), a famous Japanese archery master said, “The essence of Buddhism is not meditation or liberation from samsara.  It is kensho, ‘seeing into your nature’” (p. 44).  These teachers of humanity, East and West, North and South, in short everywhere, have pointed in the directions of the inner life and inner work in the service of wholeness and a felt sense of connection and interbeing (Hanh, 1975/​1987). Davey (2007) states:


In funi, nonduality, the Creator and the created can be distinguished from one another, but they cannot ultimately be divided.  Likewise, in the Japanese Ways the artist and the created cannot be separated.  Nonduality, in fact, is more than a Japanese artistic construct and hints at the genuine nature of existence, which transcends cultural and relative distinctions.  Funi then points to a state in which the division between ourselves and others, between life and death, dissolves.  And with the dissolving of duality comes the transcendence of fear as well as conflict of every kind.  (pp. 70-71)


This passage from Davey tells us about the importance of inner work for realizing integrated and nondual states of consciousness. Such states are what being, and becoming, increasingly whole is about. This also points to a process-oriented life that recognizes that life goes on and is ever changing. In other words, nothing is ever done and gone. The important point is to become increasingly aware of these changes and at an increasingly subtle level.


Becoming whole is the process of integration whereby divided, oppositional, and unconscious aspects of ourselves are brought together and reconciled. Why do we divide and separate in the first place? The answer in short is: survival. When the outer world, in the form of parents, family, members of one’s community, peers, religious groups, the larger culture, and so on, impose on you and demand that you become a certain identity or that you behave in specified ways that remove you from yourself, and your most authentic nature. This leaves you with divided and alienated identities: that is, the not-owned selves. Consequently, your inner self becomes a personal inner-world battleground, like a household that has its members tearing each other up and consequently experiencing no peace or harmony. And not surprisingly this has micro and macro implications for the world. Inner battlegrounds are projected onto the world.


Those aspects of the self that are driven underground because they are seen and felt as threatening and dangerous, are what is known as the Shadow in Jungian psychology. It is important to know that the Shadow harbors our biggest fears, and our greatest potential that is mainly not known to us except perhaps in our dreams.


Typically, we deny our own Shadow material: for, acknowledging such would be “dangerous” to us and others in that you will have to expose divided, conflictual, and embattled self. And to the extent that you cannot accept and validate the Shadow materials, to that extent you oppress others who show the same, and importantly, you are also subject to the control of the Shadow materials exerting their unfortunate effects continuously from the underground of one’s psyche. By the same token, the tendency to make other (that is alien; not like me) those who are seen as the enemy requires that you deny your own Shadow material (Jung, 1961/​1989).


Through the ongoing process of discovering our personal Shadow and subsequent integration of our own Shadow materials, we will become increasingly whole.


 Inner Work in a Nutshell


What follows is a sketch of the inner work process. I have fictionalized it to be my own inner work, but in truth, it can be everyone’s! This specific example is intended to give you some idea of the principles involved in this practice. The details of how the inner work is performed can be found in other publications (Cohen, Bai, & Green, 2008; Cohen, 2009; Field Notes on my webpage, Please note that the summary is sandwiched between many layers of inner dialogue conducted amongst Little Avi, Big Avi, and Bigger Being as they work with the inner challenge:

From this point on is the example with notes about what is taking place…

An event takes place:


Little Avi: Ouch! That was such a nasty comment she made to me!  


  • The event, which may take place in the outer world, your inner world, and/or your relational world stimulates a reaction in your inner world.
  • The event will be sufficiently strong in some way(s) that your inner reaction is noticeable and almost certainly uncomfortable.


Little Avi: I am aware that I have a lot of reactions in my inner world! They pop up without my permission!


  • You may notice an effort or a habitual pattern that is in the service of not feeling or not noticing your inner experience, and if your reaction is out of your awareness, no inner work can take place at that time.


Little Avi: I am struggling to hold my awareness. I breathe in and exhale slowly. I do this several times.


  • Moving into personal inner space.


Big Avi: I am beginning to stabilize, and my inclinations to react are lessening. I begin to notice, increasingly clearly, my responses as separate from my reactions.


  • There is a shift to Big Avi occurring. This is about feeling your emotions and physical sensations.


Big Avi: I am aware of a ‘too strong’ rush of energy, particularly in my chest.


  • Emotions, physical sensations, and lifeforce energy are occurring and noticed.


Little Avi: I am afraid…


  • Notice any feelings and thoughts ‘beneath’ the initial experiences.


Little Avi: I am very small, weak, and helpless. I feel scared!


  • Attend to any associated memories.


Big Avi: I recall some incidents when I was a young boy. I was small compared to most of the other boys my age.


  • What thoughts and memories are occurring?


Little Avi: Nobody will help me! I could be hurt. I am helpless. I am alone. I am very little and lonely. Nobody is with me. I wish someone would come and help me. Why are those boys chasing me?


  • Note attributions of power (the inner oppressor or the inner opposition) and helplessness (felt sense of victimization, helplessness)
  • Fill out the identity that is associated with the identified experience. In other words, ‘imagine’ that there is more than just behavior and feeling taking place. Imagine the identity of that person or thing that has the feelings and/or behavior.


Little Avi: I am just a little person. The big people are not here. Who will look after me? I am small and helpless. I am worried that no one will look after me. I am very scared and lonely!


  • Research the relationship between the identity with which you tend to identify yourself and the ‘alien’ identity.


Big Avi: You need to grow up. Stop behaving like a baby!


Little Avi: I am little. Could you please help me to grow up? Please. I am trying my hardest. Please stop criticizing me…


Big Avi: I am not criticizing you. I am just saying how it is.


Bigger Being:I appreciate you Big Avi that you are trying hard to help. How long has this been going on?


Big Avi: For as long as I can remember. I am very tired. I don’t know what else to do.


Bigger Being: I believe you, and I imagine you are very lonely.


Big Avi: Yes, and nobody likes me. Help me please!

Little Avi: Wow! I am surprised. You are all alone and I am afraid of being abandoned.


Bigger Being: You two have a lot in common. Maybe you can develop a better relationship with each other.


Big Avi: Is that possible? How can we do that. I don’t know how. I have never had a friend.


Little Avi: I’m afraid of you, but you are around a lot. I hope we can figure this out.


Big Avi: Well, I am in the ‘dark.’ I suppose there is nothing to lose. Maybe we can help each other.


  • Some further options as to how to enter this process:
    • Identify yourself with both sides, one at a time.
    • Feel the different components of experience perhaps one at a time
    • Feel yourself into each identity.
    • Work on establishing a dialogue between the two identities.
    • Get to know the alien identity.
    • Request feelings, intentions, and a better relationship.
  • Step back and reflect on the process.


Big Avi: I can see how I am fragemented in my inner world, have schisms between parts of myself, and I can see possibilities. I also imagine that this is a very complex and lifelong process. This suggests to me that life is a process of ongoing adventure and that there is an immense amount to learn about myself, others, relationships, the entirety of life, and even what this entirety is…


The summary above touches, albeit briefly, on some of the process and method of inner work. It is a way of knowing yourself more profoundly and becoming increasingly more of who/what you most truly are and recognizing that this is a process that continues to unfold over a lifetime.


Many thanks to Heesoon for her support with this Field Note.

Best wishes to you all for the upcoming season and the coming year, and shalom to you for now,




Cohen, A. (2020).  Becoming fully human within education environments: Inner life, relationship, and learning (3rd ed.). (Previously, Cohen, A. (2009). Gateway to the Dao-field: Essays for the awakening educator. Cambria.) Vancouver BC: Writeroom.

Cohen, A., Bai, H., & Green, L. (2008). An Experiment in Radical Pedagogy: Enactment of Deep Democracy in a Philosopher’s Cafe. Radical Pedagogy, 9(2). Retrieved January 22, 2011, from Radical Pedagogy Web site: http:/​/​​content/​issue9_2/​Cohen_Bai_Green.html

Davey, H. E. (2007). The Japanese way of the artist: Three complete works on the classic tradition. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge.

Hanh, T. N. (1987). The miracle of mindfulness (M. Ho, Trans.). Boston: Beacon. (Original work published 1975).

Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections (R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.) (A. Jaffe, Ed.). Toronto, ON: Vintage. (Original work published 1961)

Stevens, J. (2007). Zen bow, Zen arrow: The life and teachings of Awa Kenzo, the archery master from Zen in the art of archery. Boston: Shambhala.


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