How a Person KnowsHow a person knows is also an epistemological issue that needs focused attention. For the Gestalt therapist, a person knows what he knows as he is aware of his own experience. His awareness becomes the basis for his choices and actions. When Gestalt therapy places awareness in one of the key places in its therapeutic system, it links itself with the philosophical movement known as phenomenology, the "science of experience." A person can be aware of the experience of living, which arises from the mutual existence and interaction between that person and his environment.
Gestalt therapy's phenomenological orientation can be related to the writings of Husserl (1970), generally considered to be the founder of the phenomenological movement, and his dictum that things are as they are, not as they are dissected and analyzed. Husserl's conception of the lebenswelt, the field of lived experience, is a key factor also in Gestalt conceptualization. The lebenswelt is "the world into which we are born, in which we learn our mother tongue and the ways of our culture, in which we may become responsible for our chosen projects, and in which we fact death... a life world in which we ourselves, our acts and intentions, and all their manifold ranges of objects have their being" (from Wild 1963, pp. 12-13). For Husserl, the lebenswelt is a ground in which each "I" exists, as for the Gestalt therapist, the world of lived experience is the here and now in which the person exists and from which figures emerge into awareness. Many details of existence are not accessible to the logic and the objective methods of the natural sciences, but can be open to the radically different methods of phenomenology—the disclosure of the world through description or notation of the immediate data of experience as emerging needs bring them into awareness.
It is at this point that the epistemological position already discussed fits into the phenomenology of Gestalt therapy. The subjective world of a person's experience is the major component of that person's life and the source of personal knowledge. What is "known" is the derived product of sensory input, structural formation and inner experience. It is not that the structures of the mind are automatically invalid, but that the sensory awareness that is necessary for aliveness has been lost when one is aware only of thinking. The sensory input, the structures of the mind, and the organismic knowing all exist; awareness of them, and of the experiential shift of focus among them, is the natural organismic state. This may be related to Husserl: the here and now is the lebenswelt, the life world as it is experienced. The self "knows" as it creates meaning. Through awareness, "the point of contact where being and consciousness meet," the individual experiences aliveness and creates his reality. Although reality is called a "sum of all awareness," it is important to understand that this is not merely an add-sum situation. Experience called "reality" is a here-and-now completeness, an "irreducible phenomenon," a gestalt.
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