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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM24-PDW15: Spiritual Practices for Practitioners


Professional Development Workshop: PDW 15
Wednesday 3 July 2024
9.15am to 5.45pm EEST

Spiritual Practices for Practitioners

Facilitator: Sari Mattila


With the ongoing madness in the world and toxic organizational environments, co-creating calm and reflective spaces with clients has become essential for consultants. In this workshop we will inquire into how spiritual practices and exercises can be brought into organizational healing using the Self as an instrument.

Spiritual comes from latin word spiritus, and can mean breath of life, breathing; character, high spirit, vigor. Spiritual practices thus are not about religion – and yet they do not rule out faiths. The European tradition of such practices, which are philosophical in nature, originate in Greek ideas, concepts, and practices of good life, from thinking traditions such as Plato’s Socrates (the Academeia), Aristotle (the Lyceum), Stoics (the Stoa), Eucleides (the Megarian school) and Epicureans. While some of these practices were later taken into various Christian traditions, this workshop will not go into religious practices. We go beyond to inquire how the essence of such practices can be combined for understanding the unconscious, and creating more mindful, reflective and present organizational practices.

Many current practices, such as mindfulness, breathing etc. have origins in spiritual practices. Mindfulness draws heavily from Buddhism, since that was the tradition Jon Kabat-Zinn was familiar with. Breathing has roots in Indian Yogic and Tantric practices where the connection between mind and body was already known thousands of years ago. In Finland, a lot of work has been done with university students to understand how breathing can help focus and calm. The Greek philosophers used mind, body and breathing practices. Thus there are rich, non-religious traditions. Spiritual practices are not foreign to psychoanalysis either; it can be argued that psychoanalysis itself is spiritual (Lev, 2017). In this we can draw from Winnicott’s potential space (Winnicott, 2005; Simmonds, 2018) and Bion’s Mystic (Bion, 1970). This also builds on the bodily practices and the role of the body in unconscious.

In psychodynamic practices, one draws from the unconscious phenomena which is always present in anything we engage with – some form or another. When Freud ‘discovered’ - within the European tradition - the unconscious, it was by inquiring into dreams. As is known, his book was titled ‘Interpretation of Dreams’. This is the same title, in English, that Artemidorus (2nd Century AD) had. His book Oneirocritica (Interpretation of Dreams) belongs to the same tradition of making internal external through symbolic interpretations. Agora was the space where dreams were listened to. We have one form of Agora in Social Dreaming spaces, and these practices can be explored in other spaces too for creativity and wellbeing in helping relationships.

In addition to drawing from these practices and the unconscious, we will use selected psychodramatic practices to explore the phenomena. J L Moreno saw us as cosmic beings whose aim is to get to the truth. The idea of Sophos (the wise, wisdom) is present in this as discernment, and as negative capability (Keats). As contemporary of Freud’s, Moreno’s choice of approach was to make invisible visible. Moreno also drew inspiration from philosophy, since that was his first subject of study before getting his medical degree.

In the end, we will assimilate insights together for your work in organisations and as consultants how “care of the self” (or akedeia; Gale, 2018) as persons, groups and organisations can be engaged with using the potential and transitional spaces – and the pitfalls that may emerge.


In this full day workshop, we will do the following:
1) Learn about spiritual practices;
2) Explore how these practices can be brought into organisations;
3) Inquire into practices and their symbolisms, and;
4) Connect these threads with the unconscious;
5) Discuss how these insights arising from practices can change our own work and our approach to organisations in co-creating safe and calm spaces for transformative experiences.

Target group:
Anyone interested to learn about spiritual practices and apply them in work with organisations.

Working method:
We will use art, reflections, Socratic dialogue, psychodrama and discussion as methods to inquire.

Biographical Summary:

Sari Mattila is an educator and coach, philosophical practitioner and psychodramatist. She is an active member of ISPSO and works with individuals, organisations and groups in diverse settings. She received her Ph.D. degree from Tampere University of Technology (now part of Tampere University) in the field of Management and OB/HR after an integrated Master's Degree in Philosophy from the University of Joensuu (now part of the University of Eastern Finland). She has taught Master’s and Doctoral Level courses and held Executive Education Programmes at management institutes in India and Finland. Her topics in Long Duration Programmes and Executive Education Programmes have included Organisational Behaviour, Experiential Learning, Group Dynamics, Leadership, Cross‐Cultural Management, Creativity, Innovation, Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility, Mentoring and Coaching, and Socratic Dialogues. In these programmes and courses she has used psychodrama and continues to use it in her current work. She has published in peer reviewed journals, chapters in edited books and co-authored a case registered in the IIMA casebank besides other publications.

Bion, W. (1970) Attention and Interpretation. Maresfield Library.
Gale, J. (2018) Ακηδία and the 'care of the self'. A contribution to the study of the relationship between the tradition of spiritual exercises and psychoanalysis. European Journal of Psychoanalysis 5 (2).
Lev, G. (2017) Getting to the Heart of Life: Psychoanalysis as a Spiritual Practice, Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 53:2, 222-246.
Simmonds, J. G. (2018) Contemplating spiritual experience: Winnicott's potential space, Tibetan bardo, and liminality, International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 27:4, 266-273.
Winnicott, D.W. (2005) Playing and Reality. 2nd edition. Routledge.