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Bruce Lee and The Gestalt Prayer



Now I really love this as it fuses two different (although frequently converging) areas of my life: psychology and martial arts.


Bruce Lee didn’t invent this saying – it was actually Fritz Perls and it is used as an example of the principles of the humanistic psychotherapy which he developed which is referred to as Gestalt Therapy. But Bruce was a philosophy student and so it’s no surprise he used it. If you look at his writings and those of his friends and family, his personal philosophies frequently fuse eastern and western ideas and, I would argue at least, are pretty familiar to those of us who use a cognitive behavioural approach. The full Gestalt Prayer goes as follows:


I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,

And you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you, and I am I,

and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.

If not, it can't be helped.

- Fritz Perls, 1969


Now, I’m not an expert in Gestalt Therapy specifically, although I have studied and used components of it several times in my training. I recall learning the Gestalt Prayer when completing training in assertiveness, but its value goes far beyond that alone. It is also a call for us not to put rigid, inflexible and unreasonable demands on things, other people and ourselves; and for us not to feel bound and constrained by the assumed demands of other people and the world around us. Sometimes referred to as “the tyranny of the shoulds” in some psychotherapy circles, or “must-abation” as the great Albert Ellis called it (by the way this might be my favourite phrase in all of psychology!). It speaks of course of also walking our own path, to pursue our own values, and importantly, not demanding that others live the same way. And by allowing ourselves to be fulfilled, we are then better prepared to help others. In essence I would argue it is a call for psychological flexibility and compassion which are at the heart of what we consider resilience to be.

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