Kenan Doyle Branam
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The Gestalt Quaternion

The Origins of Pillow Talk

Paul Reps recalls in "Square Sun, Square Moon" a school in the Orient which teaches a game called "Pillow Talk" to groups of children ten to twelve years old. The name comes from the analogy that a pillow has four sides and a middle, just like many of our problems on many levels of our experience.

The Quaternio has roots older than history. The Four Corners of the Native American's Medicine Wheel; the four elements of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air; the four elements of the Christian Cross; all reflect this universal theme.

Even in modern times, Carl Jung's four perceptual modalities of Sensing, Feeling, Knowing, and Intuition ground us in the four dimensions of Time/Space. The list of adaptations continues from the Leary Grid to the Myers-Briggs typology, etc. Then, more recently, Ken Wilber has presented an Integral "map" of the Theory of Everything in a system he calls "All Quadrants, All Levels" or AQAL, which has four quadrants named as I, We, It, Its.

The Gestalt Dialogue

The Gestalt approach to therapy, as practiced by Fritz Perls, is a way of being with your self and in relationship that enhances personal growth and healing.

The technique combines, not only the ancient concepts, but modern exercises developed in the last forty years by psychologist such as Abraham Maslow (Maslow Hierarchy), Carl Rogers (Person Centered Therapy), Moreno (Psychodrama), Eric Berne, and many other humanistic psychologists. Gestalt techniques are also used by many therapist in individual, family systems, and recover programs. Even mass marketed personal enhancement programs adapt some powerful aspects of gestalt, but, the essential interpersonal ethic is not always honored.

By using the methods of Gestalt, it is possible for us to get in touch with and bring harmony to those conflicting, fragmented parts of ourselves which drain our strengths and stifle our resources. With Gestalt we can increase our awareness of "what is" in the Now. We explore our dreams, visions, and hopes in the enactment of our ongoing dialogues between our polarities. As our dialogue becomes obvious, self discovery evolves out of choosing to be ourselves and touching the excitement and hope of responsibility. What is emerges out of what we are... alive, strong, creative real and All Here, Now.


The concept of polarity is as old as human awareness of night-day, life-death, yin-yang, yes-no range of possibilities and of choices.

"Yes," Yellow Robe agreed, "This is part of the teaching. One half of you loves, and the other half of you, at times, hates. This is the Forked Medicine Pole of Man. The clever thing the Medicine has taught us here is this. One Half of you must understand the Other Half or you will tear yourself apart... But remember, Both Halves must try to understand. Even within yourself it is hard to know which of the Forks is which." - From Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm

Western thought has been dominated by an attempt to conquer nature by developing a split between man and nature, good and bad, right and wrong, should and should not, reality and what? The frozen polarities which we have created in our rigid mind-body categories have all but crippled our capacity to appreciate ourselves as a part of the natural universe and the universe as a part of us. Ego rigidity occurs when we are unable to allow our awareness to emerge spontaneously, unwilling to trust the natural homeostatic permeability of our contact boundaries, and being incapable of owning all our parts.

Tao Te Ching by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English
"Therefore having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy complement each other
Long and short contrast each other
High and low rest upon each other
Voice and sound harmonize each other
Front and back follow one another."
- Tao Te Ching by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

Pillow Talk is a road map for an exercise which is very much like the concept of merging polarities used in Gestalt. When people start working in Gestalt, it is often difficult for them to find any polarities. The Pillow Talk exercise is just an intellectual beginning to understanding the dialogue. The more you let your body, your emotions, and your mind join the dialogue, the more in-depth your process becomes.

So, let us begin. As Fritz Perls would often say as he started his "empty chair" facilitation, "Here and now, _____, tell us your story."

After telling your story in a free-flowing way, picture yourself on in the First Position and say (or write on a note pad with the four blocks outlined above).

Gestalt Quaternion Exercise

First Position

First Position - Placing Yourself

When you first come to your Gestalt, mentally place yourself in Position One. There are three ways of focusing your awareness in the Here & Now; Sensing, Feeling, Thinking. Your senses are on a purely physical plane. Perhaps you are hard-soft, hot-cold, light-heavy, up-down, smooth-jagged, etc. If you are thinking, then you might be analyzing, judging, remembering, expecting, projecting, etc. Your feelings might be sad-happy or mad-glad. This aspect of your consciousness is the external now which means, of course, that even as your write down what you sense, think, or feel, then you will have changed. Nevertheless, you can give yourself some indication of your present awareness in the Here & Now level of your existence.

Second Position

Second Position: The Opposite Place

The polarity on Position Two is the opposite of the place you chose for yourself at Position One. If at point one you were feeling happy, on the other side of that coin could be sadness. If at point one you are feeling expectant, on the other side you might be bored. Think of all the other polarities that are especially important to you and of concern to you at this point in your life. If at point one you are definite, then at point two you could be confused. Write down the opposite for each word listed in the first position. Usually the opposite of happy is sad, but for some the opposite of happy might be lonely. As your reflections across the pillows become complementary instead of antagonistic, then you can more easily appreciate the unity of the first and second positions of the road map.

Third Position

Third Position: Merge

Now imagine that you move yourself into Position Three where the two parts of you merge. Close your eyes if you want to and visualize yourself at the apex of a triangle. Have your two polarities slide into you and merge to see what you feel when the happens. Imagine yourself as one polarity, see yourself as the other polarity, and let them both slide in on you; stay with your feeling long enough to be able to give your experience a word. You could be horrified or relieved or frustrated. Once you find your word, write it down at point three. The third position requires that you look in as an audience on your own script from a position which will find you in one of three attitudes: Arbitrating, Judging, or Watching . You can now begin to move back step by step from your script.

Fourth Position

Fourth Position: Transcend

Axiom of Maria: "One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth." - Maria Prophetissa

Stay with the notion of the triangle, and instead of being a part of the triangle, just come up above the triangle and look down. See your polarities, and see yourself merging from a point of transcendence. Look down on yourself from way above and see what happens. Write down whatever you feel. Give your transcendent place a word. Allow yourself to transcend above the chaos of your polarities. Move into the possibility of your self merging to become more than you were even as both of your polarities. When you have found the word, close your eyes and withdraw into yourself. Repeat your word and be aware of your body so that your body can know and remember where transcendence lives within you.

Fifth Position - Integrate

Fifth Position

The last evolution of this journey through yourselves is that you jump into the middle of all of you. And now see what and how your feel. And if something emerges out of your center, see if there is a word to describe you here. When you are completely into your center, you are everything. In the center of yourself, know that you can be all things; that you have the power to explore the excitement of change and the freedom of alternatives.

"I've told you that the internal dialogue is what grounds us," Don Juan said. "The world is such and such or so and so, only because we talk to ourselves about its being such and such or so and so." Don Juan explained that the passageway into the world of sorcerers opens up after the warrior has learned to shut off the internal dialogue. "To change our idea of the world is the crux of sorcery," he said, "And stopping the internal dialogue is the only way to accomplish it. The rest is just padding." Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda.

The Gestalt Pillow Talk concept and other ideas are from The Gestalt Adventure, copyright 1978 by Leland Johnson, Ph.D. and Mary Ann Merksamer, M.A., who were my mentors and family for ten years. - Art by Kenan Doyle Branam.

For more about Leland Edward Johnson, Ph. D., visit

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