Monthly Archives: October 2011

Is it Fear?

A few posts back I was detailing how evidence of non-physical reality is suppressed, but didn’t get to the why. There’s a nice theory in Lawrence LeShan’s excellent The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist, 1995 (orig. pub. 1966) that has to do with fear.

There are perhaps two ways to think about the fear. One is to compare it with any other type of fear. The other is to recognise the unique nature of ‘paranormal’ fear which lies, not in overt scariness and rattling chains, but in the threat to the survival of the worldview. People may not realise just how visceral worldview is. The survival instinct depends on thinking one has understood how the world works, in adults anyway, which may account for greater ability to assimilate nonordinary states in children. Right now the dominant paradigm has materialist cause and effect linked to being right about surviving. (Bad ‘rational’ theories about how to survive, starting with economic ones, are leading our culture over a cliff, but let’s not do that subject right now.) If we let the weirdness of alternate worldviews in, what else do we let in? Freud called that wave of acceptance the ‘tide of mud’, because it obscured the nice, clean vision of rationality.

Only it doesn’t. That’s just a sign of a limited mindset on Freud’s part. Nonrational states of mind can easily be investigated rationally. Any “spiritual” experience probably has to involve them. I particularly recommend LeShan’s book to anyone who has found themselves in states that they just cannot get. These are characterised by fear and also by confusion, and a desire to let the awkward cognitive dissonances just slide neatly out of the conscious memory where they are making such a mess.

You can’t easily involve yourself in training of the type I like without encountering a moment of dizziness every so often. One can’t process and the question becomes What the exdeleted is going on?, the shift into profanity indicating reason ‘tottering on its throne’ as P. G. Wodehouse has it. At such times the basic LeShan formula is very useful — different states, different rules. (Claude Swanson, whose physics Ph.D. is from Princeton, has some nice stuff about how ch’i accumulation allows warping of physical laws, particularly within the nervous system I would add, but more of that anon.)

There’s too much talk about ‘the world as we know it’, not enough about the world as we don’t. The latter is where the fear lies.

Fun! And good for your lymph and bone density so it must be ‘Taoist’, right? :)

One technique I like for upping sensory awareness is rebounding, but with my eyes shut. This is a standard Glenn-type idea so far as I can see — if you might fall off and hurt yourself, you’re bound to pay more attention. Danger of pain is how martial artists increase concentration, aping mother nature. If you already have a tendency to be able to sense “something there” with your eyes shut (getting it visual is an effect of directing ch’i to the third eye, see two posts back) this will up the image brightness and contrast. One day a while back I got it fairly clear, opened my eyes, jumped off the trampoline, and watched in my mind as the image of the room through my physical senses reformed.

Then the thought hit me: “I used to think this was real.” I have no idea why exactly I chose to phrase it that way to myself. But I really did get a stab of instinctual fear that lasted a while until I saw what had happened. Turned out there was a part of me who was fundamentalist about the nature of that sensory reality, wanting it to be the only one. And I think that’s fairly common. What the exdeleted is going on?.

The LeShan solution is simple — you just say all these states are different ways of seeing reality. You don’t have to value-judge about them. You don’t have to worry which is the real one. Each is a reality and you accept each as it comes or is attained, thinking carefully afterwards about the consequences. (Don’t miss that last part out; reality testing is crucial.) As with any mental state, whilst you’re in them you tend to believe in them fully to the exclusion of all others, known in psychology as absorption, which correlates to hypnotic ability. What you have to do is find out the uses of each state. Needless to say, my body wanted to survive/thrive and finds my physical senses useful in that regard.

LeShan described a few different ones — sensory, clairvoyant, transpsychic, mythological if I recall. He back-engineered his way into them from reading descriptions by clairvoyants of what they experienced. You could call them mental states, or worlds, or rulesets. Very instinctively orientated towards this for a scientific chap, LeShan was able to teach people to meditate and heal others successfully using the systems he dreamed up, which puts him in a category with Glenn. He didn’t choose to put his mindstates in a hierarchy, but recognised that doing things in one state can affect things in another. That’s where pseudoskeptics object from deep down. Automatically, any state other than the normal one must be useless because it’s ‘in your head’.

I put these ideas to a learned friend who pointed out that “skeptics” anecdotally are often ex-fundamentalists (‘ex’?) or else people who were duped by the numerous fake ‘mediums’ or ‘qigong masters’. True, but this is where I bring in my other choice for “book you read when the exdeleteds threaten”, Grof’s Holotropic Mind, 1993. (Anything by him would probably do.) Grof’s another in that same category of scientific minds whose knack for entering and theorising about altered states is matched by a talent for finding ways to induce them profitably in others. Initial investigations of LSD back in the day gave way to his ‘holotropic breathwork’ regimen which got the same results in terms of altering state without having to shell out for tabs.

Many of the resulting experiences are regressions to the magic of early infancy (and even beyond), and one finding is just how fluid is the child consciousness. Identifying with the mother has no check from physical boundaries which are probably learned later as rules. ‘Dual unity’ experiences, in which full merge takes place with another whilst one’s own identity remains clear, have been witnessed “literally hundreds of times” in Grof clinics (p. 91). One experience involved the ability to switch fluidly and at will between the mother’s consciousness and the child’s. The thoughts of the mother were experienced too.

At one point, as she was experiencing this dual unity, symbiotically merging with her mother, she opened her eyes. As she looked at me she seemed very surprised. She explained that she felt she could read my thoughts and know what I was feeling, as if all boundaries between us had been dissolved. When she in fact described my thoughts she proved to be quite accurate. (p. 92)

Whatever else one may say about pseudoskeptics, this sort of bonding probably forms part of their subconscious experience. Being of an age to merge with mother is ‘a fault most people are guilty of at some point in their lives’ (Asimov). If so the fight against an altered state in which such merging is not only possible but beautiful and useful, may subconsciously be a fear of a rejected potential which confounds the everyday paradigm. On an inner level the conscious must ignore it because it knows it is possible but doesn’t like the worldview implications.

Such merged states are paramount in my own experience, and I’ve found the standard inductions of clinical hypnosis can be ideal in producing them — assuming both parties are human and find the idea acceptable. This can also involve the passing of energy and is excellent as a healing mindset. LeShan called merging ‘Type I healing’ whilst ch’i exchange was ‘Type II’. Type II by itself might not induce permanent healing as often in his experience, but was compatible and often combined with Type I. I’ll add that Glenn’s school, and ch’i kung generally, often uses Type II to lead to Type I which never occurred to LeShan. But then he had no method of working with ch’i; this was before the time of Robert Bruce who back-engineered his energy method in quite a similar way.

I’ve consistently experienced a part of myself wondering how anyone could deny this ability to merge, because it would be denying one’s ability to identify with another human being on the basic level. The two faculties seem the same to me. That’s what I instinctively feel and it sometimes plays havoc with my ability to identify with others if they deny the possibility! Not that such thinking will get you far with a Dawkins. What’s interesting is that ch’i developed in any state eventually starts to affect the normal one constantly. When that happens, people can be denying it all the while you can see it affecting them. “I can affect other’s energy fields at will,” says Glenn. “Anyone who gets within thirty feet of me can be affected with ease.” I’ve occasionally experienced this sociophysical reality as a game I have to awkwardly pretend is exclusively real. Our culture makes the jump poorly but trees and animals make it elegantly, so for the weirded out nature is recommended.

Whether fear and confusion is the whole answer to what makes pseudoskepticism tic must await further research. But the point is that experiencers of the unusual have the same trouble with fear as skeptics do. Unlike skeptics they admit it — but then must find a way past it. Not recognising the nature and status of the experience can lead rapidly to paranoia. After all, maybe everyone really does know what you’re thinking. Maybe they’re making you think it… This is exacerbated by populist claptrap like “The Secret” which can have people desperately editing all their thoughts for fear a bad one should ‘manifest’. I’ve recently met several people whose nervous systems were completely shot from such fear, their awakenings stalled and rolling downhill. I hope they find help, but simply relaxing would be a start. Perhaps the subconscious mind of a pseudoskeptic, in shutting the gate, is merely acting on self-preservation grounds — yet in reality there is nothing to fear.

This is a personal gate you have to get through in spiritual training. LeShan points out (p. 215):

One might also suggest that psi can raise another sort of anxiety. This might be the fear of knowing oneself. If one is suddenly aware of new ways of knowing; if there are new, uncharted paths to knowing, what might it reveal to one about oneself that one does not wish to know?

Much inability to deal with shadow represses it. The key is to remain not only rational but also on side, whatever you discover, what Albert Ellis called ‘unconditional self acceptance’, ‘unconditional other acceptance’, and ‘unconditional life acceptance’. Glenn thought of these as ‘second chakra issues’ — the association is with the element of water which has fear as its problematic manifestation in Chinese Medicine. The second chakra anatomically takes in the kidneys with their caps that initiate the fight/flight/freeze response. That response sometimes triggers automatically during paranormal experiences, for no obvious reason. People tremble or are struck dumb by the most benign of apparitions. Otherness.

The Secret Smile and self-knowledge is your insurance policy, and acupressure, also, will redirect restless energy to productive patterns. “Negative thinking and depression,” says Glenn (Shadow Strategies pp. 191-2), “lead to darkest paranoia when there is little hope or light. The materialist seldom can get this stage lit, and so wanders screaming warnings as he or she flounders through a landscape in perpetual darkness.”

Let’s hope they don’t get into radical politics at that point. Aum Shinrikyo took only 11 years to go from a meditation group focused on enlightenment and psi to a terrorist organisation rolling toxic gas canisters onto the Tokyo subway. The signs were there in its charismatic founder’s 1992 book which proclaimed him as Christ and announced an imminent world war III. When people talk like that, the fear has won and it’s too late. Shock therapy, overuse of hallucinogens, Jewish and other conspiracy theories, plus liberal misuse of pop culture as spiritual revelation, were other warning signs. The organisation changed its name but still exists. I can see the signs in some other groups around.

Increasingly, I find that a sense of humour is invaluable. It’s far harder to worry about your worldview if you are playful with it, and the confusion then becomes creative. But picking up LeShan and Grof, too, if you experience the exdeletedness of life, whether as a result of my fave sorts of training or something else, will probably save you a while of headscratching as you try to form a paradigm that works. Simple texts with useful ideas.

Next week I’ll look at a particularly interesting example of careers heaving and plunging madly as worldviews are threatened. Our subject remains a puzzle — a discoverer of ch’i techniques in the West who bequeathed us a school of techniques denying the existence of ch’i! See you next Saturday. :)

————————————————————

Many thanks to Joan Stanger of London for an excellent healing session yesterday! I recommend this wise lady.


Sigh of Relief and Enjoyment

Hoshinjutsu
by Rob Williams

I shouldn’t have worried. If anyone knew people, it was Glenn Morris — psychologist, martial artist, poet, actor, college professor, shaman, kundalini-enlightened meditator, and one-man conclusive refutation of the idea that ‘those who can’t, teach’. Surely he would choose the right person to succeed him as head of the martial-art-cum-psychospiritual-enlightenment-program he himself established, Hoshin.

The position isn’t an easy one. The Soke has to master many pairs of opposites. He’s got to be the deadly fist no-one would want to tangle with, but also the ch’i-filled hands you go to for deep healing. He’s got to know how to ‘live with the shadow to have more light’, as Glenn said, and co-ordinate yin with yang in motion. Then, in his classic volumes on martial arts, which have taken many people to some pretty extraordinary places, Glenn set one more precedent — the ability to write.

But we can relax. In this, his own first book, with more to come, Rob Williams lays out his stall, and he has the right stuff. If you are a fan of Glenn’s books you will be smiling all the way through this one. (In fact the only real problem I had with it was that I’d happily have read one three times as long. ^_^)

Although this is more than a summary of the Hoshinjutsu training, it’s certainly that in spades. It’s at the introductory level, but perhaps even the seasoned will still get some new items of info from the descriptions. Williams was the guy who did all the work to lay out the high dan ranks properly, updated the techniques to work against stuff coming out of other arts, and established the entire Hoshin healing curriculum himself, at Glenn’s request. He’s well worth listening to on any of these subjects, even if he isn’t going into huge detail, because he has the same trick Glenn had of giving just the right tidbit to spark an insight.

All the basic Go Dai-level physical techniques are described, along with their internal components. The healing chapter is comprehensive, obviously close to the author’s heart, with immediately usable info on herbs, hydrotherapy, yoga, acupuncture and a dozen other things — although Williams seems to think our civilisation has lacked imagery-healing for centurie, and could perhaps talk to Susan Carlson about hypnosis sometime! There’s a good outline of the Ch’i Kung too, including some a useful clearing technique for the Ren/Du channels, and several other things that were new to me.

The book also provides a glimpse of Hoshin history and development, and of Williams’ relationship with Glenn. From the by now semi-mythical early stages at Hillsdale college to the last moments of Glenn’s life, Williams kept his eyes, ears and heart open. This art is all about subtlety of feeling. Williams writes clearly on ‘empathic communication’, building on what Glenn did and confirming a lot of ‘how it happens’ for those who have been building ch’i in these directions. Working with emotions as resources is the heart of this approach. Psychologically it’s incredibly clever, because Glenn’s Humanistic Psychology savvy puts all of it a cut above the average energy approach. We get some rather advanced applications of this with respect to non-physical emotional communication here.

Williams is also clear: no Ch’i, no inner development, no Hoshin. Some will wonder why in heavens that would need saying. But strangely, even this art is starting to experience the loss of its ‘ura’ or inner, ch’i techniques in some dojos, turning it into another physical-only form. Yes, even though the ‘secrets’ aren’t secret!

Williams stomps that approach into jelly. And I don’t think such an anaemic way will establish itself very deeply with him at the helm of the Hoshin Budo Ryu. You’ll find plenty of shamanic stories about Glenn in this book, but just as many of Williams himself, and some of a very personal nature which must have required courage to write about. Wizards are still human.

Naturally he also combs out the ryu-succession tangles which threatened to obscure the dignity of Glenn’s death, and provides more than enough evidence to back up his case, if you still happen to need that. And you get an affectionate, illuminating portrait of ‘Doc’, with some moving stuff about his spider totem and the time he essayed the role of Boo Radley onstage.

The 5-star rating I’m giving here is not merely for the book, it’s for what stands behind the book, and what is going on in the Ryu. When one considers what Glenn did, it’s almost unreal, especially now we know it’s definitely going to continue. A whole shamanic lineage, with real kundalini enlightenment and deadly martial arts, in many ways built from scratch. And it works. It’s the whole pack of cards: no-sports fighting techniques with built-in tests of courage at each training stage, plus *real* spiritual work with a rich ch’i kung and healing heritage, that really can make actualised, aware, strong, subtle human beings. No secrets, no bull. That kind of thing doesn’t happen every day. There are going to be lots of people wanting to play with this.


Genius

The Daimon of Socrates communicated Extraordinary Knowings to him; the Romans would have used their own word — a genius was what they called a Daimon. We use the word loosely, but Glenn thought the kundalini process could raise the IQ since it wires you more directly into the genius or superconscious self. There’s an obvious connection with last post’s concept of self-actualisation, the fulfillment of potential. In the kundalini process we have a cross-cultural bio-energetic correlate for this actualisation process, foreshadowed in legends the world over and now available to all via a variety of methods. I’ll give you as much here as you’ll need to convince yourself this is for real.

We’ve got a lot of evidence by now that kundalini as an approach has a degree of universality. It was probably Gopi Krishna’s experience that set everyone looking into this, as he believed in the cross-cultural nature of it and I think he was right. I’m still evaluating some of that research but will report. A stream of liquid light entered his brain via the spinal column during meditation, up from the coccyx/genital area — that was the beginning of kundalini proper for him, as for Glenn (see Path Notes, p. 33), and for so many who have worked well with a method that does the job. As harped previously, the connection with sexual energy is obvious. When certain centres open you don’t need pickup lines to get dates. If I keep my energy bubbling, my wife’s tango partners treat her with a lot more instinctive admiration. We’ve tracked the differences. Most people can’t really stop energy getting in, which is one reason why ethics matter.

I don’t need to say sex energy is very personal stuff, and turning it into virtue, genius and actualisation is even more so. Plato’s Symposium may spring to mind as it did previously. Sex energy is therefore valued by spiritual practitioners who often work to hold onto it with methods from celibacy to sacred eroticism. It seems to have a lot to do with the personal genius. (Reich certainly thought so and is still a name to conjure with.)

Psychological anthropologist Felicitas Goodman writes beautifully of her openings to shamanic experiences. As an academic she followed Glenn’s path — research on yourself, then replicate on the students. It worked for her too. She does encounter spiritual uses for specifically sexual energy in many places eg.:

I woke up around two-thirty or three A.M. from a startling feeling of a vibration, as if my womb had been touched by a live electric wire. I suffered it for a while, then had the intuition that if I guided that excitation from the depths of my body up to my eyes, I would be able to “see”. And that was exactly what happened. Images of lustrous clarity began forming before my eyes, a village street, a garden, all bathed in an orange glow, beautiful…

Where Spirits Ride the Wind, 1990, p. 38

One wonders how many shamans experience such energy from a sexual source but don’t mention it. Bringing it to the visual centre is a normal move for yogis, although they’d refer to the third eye, brow or ajna chakra, and some to the associated pineal gland. The “seeing” is a normal effect of the energy at that level. Rob Williams, currently kundalini warrior-in-chief, writes well of his visionary experiences. What we see appears to be a parallel world for whose status science is still clutching. OBEs happen and spirits appear in this environment. Goodman’s seeing is not full kundalini but it is a kriya or moment of energetic clearance and movement, which would be classified under ‘Lesser Kan and Li’ in the Chinese terminology. Plenty of her students have strong energy experiences, including the spontaneous bodily movement so characteristic of kundalini arousal.

In some systems the semen or egg energy is said mythically to have begun in the brain and descended in response to the sexual impulse — all you’re doing is returning it. McEvilley finds traces of this in Plato’s Timaeus (73bff., 91a ff.). He also gives interesting illustrations such as the Sumerian Gudea vase, which strongly resembles the caduceus of Hermes:

Sumerian Gudea Vase (2,050 BCE)

Those seven crossings of the serpents should interest, seven chakras being the most common layout. The beginning (although probably not the fulfilment) of the kundalini process can occur spontaneously. NDEs set it off — some examples are given by Kason, and Bruce Greyson provided a thorough article on NDE and kundalini for the Kundalini Research Network blog. The big recent Sounds True compilation book on Kundalini, although it has new age tendencies, also contains good personal accounts of spontaneous awakening. If it can just happen, that means every culture has a chance at it. Earlier posts mentioned how Christian prayer did the job for Philip St. Romain. Glenn himself used Chinese systems but met Indian deities (amongst others). Why wouldn’t a social group want to understand, preserve, even idolise the process, once they knew something of it? As Glenn says of this particular method:

The end mental product or psychological result seems remarkably similar to what we in the West identify with creative genius and preternatural physical skills if you have properly prepared your body for the onslaught of living energy and hormones.

Path Notes, p. 22

It screams ‘evolutionary advantage’, and he’s not even mentioning the shamanic and spiritual awakening aspects yet. This is self-actualisation de luxe. Glenn had an involved theory about how some of the best parts of older techniques were kept secret for the higher priests and kings in less democratic times. These are the systems modern investigators are beginning to work their ways into.

Kason goes over Krishna’s version of the general kundalini theory in which redirection of sex energy or ojas is termed urdhava-retas, “upward flow of semen”. (The Taoists have a full technique book of ovarian kung fu for the ladies.) Greer mentions similar terms from the Gnostics, which are coded — “the waters of the Jordan flowing uphill” is the phrase on that page.

The previous post being all about psychological ramifications of self-actualisation, here we have energetic ones. Where Milton Erickson’s trances engaged the personal genius, unblocking it from its fetters so creativity could be exercised, Gopi Krishna experienced creativity as direct access to non-physical worlds on an instinctual level, and intuited that was the case for all.

Looking at this common human inheritance of actualisation, we find patterns in how it’s engendered. This is where the can-do approach of modern investigation comes in. Humans have gathered both practices and belief systems concerning such energetic motions and worlds ever since we have had culture. Shamanism is the root, not only of magic and religion, but of poetry and music as well, all areas in which human creativity transmutes sex energy. Put aside the belief systems and there are often strong commonalities in how people get the energy to manifest. We are all human, having a mind and nervous system with energetic components. Underneath the outer clothing, actualising that system has many great human civilisations thinking alike.

Particular bodily positions and breathing systems, particular brain states and gatherings of energy, activate human genius reliably and cross-culturally. When someone sits with, say, a Buddhist belief system, activating the mind and energy in a certain way, the activation itself is more what matters from the psychological and neurophenomenological perspective. The belief system is always personal in the end, as is all actualisation and all sexual energy. In preparing, it is more important to draw on a range of wisdom than a constriction of thinking to a single sect, paying particular attention to what you feel you stand for. Learning the uses and abuses of texts speeds the process. Maslow and Jung can sit comfortably alongside Plato and Patanjali.

Different Buddhist sects have very different beliefs and personalities in practice. Christian ones too. When Glenn looked briefly at hesychasm, he focused on the interpretation of the command ‘be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10) as an injunction to attain meditative stillness, finding a use of mantras paralleling his own chakra psychology, and detailing the breathing and the bodily positions used by the Orthodox monks (see Martial Arts Madness, pp. 162-7.) This is how one gets things to happen.

Goodman got her bodily positions from ancient statuary and had great and replicable success in contacting the Otherworld. When ch’i kung made its appearance in the modern era, what Palmer calls ‘traditional Chinese body technologies’ were plucked from their original settings and studied for their health, martial and mystical benefits. He notes how strong the effects were on him personally. You work with mind and energy and breath in certain bodily positions, including transformation of the sexual energy. Many of the early successes of medical ch’i kung substituted simple affirmations of health for traditional imagery, and achieved results. We now have a usable set of systems which can actualise the genius of kundalini and has numerous other benefits, usually extending to realms that have been referred to as paranormal and celestial. I haven’t written a lot about those yet but they’re perfectly real. It’s just that deep contact with the truth in you is even more important, although inseparable in the end.

So all of these approaches begin to confirm each other. The way things work so far as I can see, believing is secondary to becoming, via specific, tested, testable methods and states. ‘Spirituality’ is nothing without that energetic transformation. Moulding the techniques into the current cultural approaches, anything that works can be integrated. (That was Glenn’s method in martial arts.) The very energetic patterns themselves reveal the depths that mystics talk of but which are not easily amenable to analysis. Musashi would have been surprised to see his five rings used as psychological typologies but it works, not least because his own personal genius was very much awake.

Plenty more research will be done, but what we already have will keep people busy for quite a while. I wish all my readers the best in their personal quests.


Becoming You

Since we supposedly belong to a “me generation”, how about some thoughts on what self-actualisation might or might not be? Maslow lays out his discoveries on this in Motivation and Personality 1987 (original publication 1954). He wanted some data on the psychologically healthy person, who has got through the neuroses. He spent a lifetime getting it. To start with he had no theory, but gathered examples and looked for the common factors, trying to get a deep impression. It’s not a list of theoretical or philosophical virtues but of life observations.

His findings? Self-actualising persons tend to have more peak experiences, and to be focused on problems outside themselves, on things that must be done, seeing these in the widest possible frame of reference with emphasis on values. ‘Big questions’ are not shirked and their answers are heeded. They have a tendency to see the fake, dishonest or spurious, in human personalities and in other areas, quickly and instinctively, and make better predictions as a result of neutral observation. They extend this to themselves and accept all their own rough edges. They have a greater than average experience of wonder and of general human kinship. Their humour and creativity are strong — creativity meaning not artistic genius but a fresh, inventive playfulness that is brought to every activity.

Obviously these aren’t ‘selfish’ traits. Most people are lucky enough to know, or at least somehow encounter, a human or three with these qualities, and feel it a gift. (This is why Glenn Morris, who was one, recommended always training with the best people available. You learn more than just a technique.) The impression gained is of a person able to synergise with any situation or social grouping and turn the encounter to general human profit on deep as well as everyday levels. There are constant twists in their output that could come only from their particular personality, which both shapes experience and is shaped by it.

Maslow’s list is incredibly useful for those who grew up (or are growing up) without useful role models, even more so if you know how to change yourself. This is the kind of human being you are happy to have around because they are consistently able to do what’s necessary. They embody what makes you grin for all the right reasons. People can have some fun shaping their character towards these values with whatever tools they like, eliciting personal versions of the resources. The results of such experiments are interesting; doesn’t seem to take much to put people on the right track. The Secret Smile and Chakra Psychology are excellent tools, and dealing with the shadow makes deep transformation possible. Becoming the best human you can be is not self-indulgent if you actually have a way to get there. Everyone gets something out of it if you hit the target.

There’s more to it yet. A self-actualising person is also comfortable being solitary, able to be reserved, detached, and self-governing. Actually a form ‘self-centredness’, in the sense of not being one of the crowd, is part of what makes this happen. Maslow points out that a society is never actualised — when an individual is, it’s by floating free of society. We’ll never have a civilisation that mints self-actualised people. It always takes individual initiative, method, and what Maslow calls “resistance to enculturation”, to become who you really are. The result may look conventional in style in some, because that’s the easiest way in to synergising, but not from fear of sticking out. Their resistance is inner and not that of the adolescent rebel, who is powerless to effect change.

Although Maslow’s style in studying the results of this process was unique, it’s a thread running through the work of other psychologists. Carl Jung believed:

Society, by automatically stressing all the collective qualities in its individual representatives, puts a premium on mediocrity […] Individuality will inevitably be driven to the wall.

Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious, 1976

So he designed his analytical process to achieve individuation, amounting to the acquired ability to be oneself. This was also to be ‘in-dividual’, that is, not-divided, so whole, or healed; and it meant a partial disengagement from collective norms:

In particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.

Psychological Types, 1976

Individuation, therefore, can only mean a process of psychological development that fulfils the individual qualities given […] In so doing [the person individuating] does not become “selfish” […] but is merely fulfilling the peculiarity of his nature, and this, as we have said, is vastly different from egotism or individualism.

Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious, 1976

Havens collects a group of relevant Milton Erickson sayings, illustrating a philosophy heavily weighted towards bringing out individual potential, such as:

What I want you to do is to begin being yourself. Accepting yourself. And knowing that you can control yourself. You want to do something. You control yourself. You focus your efforts. And it is a wonderful thing to explore, to discover the self.

Everybody is like his fingerprints. They’re one of a kind. And never will be another like you. And you need to enjoy, always being you. And you can’t change it — just as fingerprints can’t be changed.

The Wisdom of Milton Erickson, 2005

And so forth.

An interesting thing: I chose this at random to represent the typical psychology undergraduate text. Jung receives barely a mention. Erickson is completely missing. Maslow fares as Jung does, but gets a single more substantive mention (one page from 750) which introduces his famous pyramid. They give it as if it’s a cognitive theory though, missing the actualising values. The word ‘transpersonal’ appears once in the text. The words ‘meditation’ and ‘hypnosis’ don’t appear at all. Yet all those topics and names embody a great deal of public interest and large tracts of data are available on all of them. It’s not that subsequent research, including Glenn’s, hasn’t strengthened the positions of those three psychology giants — it has, and I’ll return to that in later posts. So who is choosing what goes in this book? What are the criteria?

The theories and methods we’re talking about are actualising theories and methods, so they float free of scientific culture too. Maslow swam against the tide in numerous choices of study matter. Erickson did so in modality, and used his ‘country’ wisdom to counteract neurotic urban confusion. Jung had to break with Freudian orthodoxy, and found material in spiritual subjects that few psychologists saw as important. They were all offering alternatives, roads to oneself that break with the customary.

Reading that textbook I see ‘scientific objectivity’ sometimes being misused to erode imagination, values, health. I’m not being too harsh there. The big questions are not really being engaged; the important aspects of being human are ignored to a progressively greater extent. I read a shrug between the lines. People looking for answers to what really matters may find these books rather barren. Yet we do have such answers available.

One thing such mainstream psychology does do extremely well is statistical research, so let’s use that resource, since it agrees anyway. Some arms of the riots last August flapped about not far from my front door. They say now that 75% of rioters had some criminal record, but only 25% a serious one, and that leaves a quarter of rioters with none. Original reports mentioned social workers, university graduates, and others who ought to know better, caught up amongst the charged. Deindividuation, the psychological term for getting one’s shadow self activated under crowd cover, is the culprit. It’s been studied with respect to vandalism, killing and stealing. The conclusion is that people can behave worse when they are a faceless member of a group. The nether end is the Nazi camps and Abu Ghraib. In such situations, what does it take not to join in?

A relevant evidential review, conducted by L. Mann, looked at ‘crowd baiting’ in threatened suicide cases — that is, a man on a ledge with a crowd below. Larger crowds were far more likely to shout ‘Jump!’. Unfortunately the suicidal will listen. It’s relevant because it happened just this week, to Osman Rasul Mohammed. The coroner recorded an open verdict. Human groupings erode individual responsibility. Open your earth chakra and you’re ahead of this already, but you’ll be challenged to take responsibility for your own ethic. Maslow says, of his sample of actualised human beings: “I have found none of my subjects to be chronically unsure about the difference between right and wrong in their actual living.”

In a similar review, B. Mullen found an increase in the violent acts of lynch mobs (hanging, shooting, dismembering) correlated with crowd size. With more, the evil is far merrier. All this deindividuation results from low self-awareness. Research shows increased self-awareness will individuate the person to resist being swept up, but only the right kind of self-awareness. Concern about how your clothes and hair look won’t do it. Focus on personal thoughts, feelings and perceptions will, especially if that focus takes in values. (See Gass & Seiter.) The bare fact of this is where mainstream psychology often seems to stop these days. The achievement of it, and a lot more, is where psychology, meditation and energy practices aimed at actualisation and enlightenment take up.

I think we’re a long way now from self-development as selfish. If anywhere, we’ve reached the point where avoiding it is the selfish route. Winning one’s own victory is a victory for all, where not doing so perpetuates an endless unawareness.

Maslow points out:

I must make a statement, even though it will certainly be disturbing to many theologians, philosophers, and scientists: self-actualizing individuals have more “free will” and are less “determined” than average people are. However the words free will and determinism may come to be operationally defined, in this investigation they are empirical realities.

So it’s worth paying attention if people feel ‘lost in the crowd’. There is something important asking to actualise. Glenn Morris of course was exemplary of individuation in so many respects. Neither martial prowess nor spiritual awakening was the whole deal for him — that’s why chapters with titles like ‘Life Skills of Mastery’ appear in his oeuvre. I’ll leave the last word to him (Path Notes, p. 50):

A true martial artist is concerned with saving your life. A master would also like for you to have one that is worth living, full of passion and excitement as you develop your deepest resources and finest qualities.


How To Be Human

When I think about it, I certainly owe plenty of my soul and sanity to the humanistic tradition in psychology. It’s a great basis for understanding being human, and an island of sanity in the often polluted ocean of twentieth century thinking. I’m not alone in seeing it that way. Perhaps the tradition’s best-known face is Abraham Maslow: when Glenn Morris defined his own allegiance to humanistic psychology, he simply called it “Maslow as opposed to Freud” (Path Notes, page xiv.) And Maslow was opposed to Freud — not crudely, but he was determined to move past the psychodynamic. He was a theorist of human wellness, human excellence, interested in people at their best, how they got that way and could get that way, wanting to bring on their actualisation, fulfillment of their best potentials.

Reading his Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences today, you can see how happily many of his ideas would have sat with Milton Erickson too. Although as far as I know the two never met, Maslow could almost be speaking of Erickson when he talks of a ‘Taoistic therapy’ which aims at the emergence of ‘the person’s own nature, his own identity’. (Very much out of the same notebook is Glenn’s idea that ‘evil’ is about denying others the legitimate chance to grow and actualise.)

Maslow was also the psychologist who first named and researched ‘Peak Experiences’, moments of transcendent human perfection and beauty, and discovered their relationship to happiness and thriving. He wanted a psychological and non-religious framework in which to think and talk about them. The psychology of the time was not always so helpful. Maslow pictures many Freudians as near-nihilists who claim that any higher life is nothing but “defenses against instincts”. (He adds that at least they address the question, unlike behaviorists who treat human beings as wholly mechanical.) None of them offered even a hint of the peak experience which was at the root of so much excellence in human culture. Art, in its Kafka/De Kooning/Cage phase at the time, was not much help either.

Yet people had these great experiences. And when they did, their lives improved — in fact they often felt the worth of life had been revealed to them. Maslow describes patients cured of chronic anxiety and suicidal obsession “totally, immediately and permanently” by peak experiences, and adds that as a result of them “death may lose its dread aspect.” (Glenn says after his kundalini enlightenment, “I no longer fear death or any other thing” — useful for a warrior.) Numerous meticulous interviews showed these experiences were more common than expected, and not necessarily related to religious belief, in fact quite the opposite. They were obviously of profound importance to human beings and always had been. Here was a basic theory about what brings a person to fruition, based on evidential observation.

You may remember the intense description of kundalini mind by Gopi Krishna from a few posts back (“I am lifted beyond the confines of time and space, in tune with a majestic, all-conscious existence…”). Maslow boiled down attributes of such Experiences to 14 essential items: Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Wholeness & Dichotomy-Transcendence, Aliveness, Uniqueness, Perfection & Necessity, Completion, Justice & Order, Simplicity, Richness, Effortlessness, Playfulness and Self-Sufficiency. These were actual perceptions that humans had during Peak Experiences, and were true natural human ultimate values — he named them B-values, for Being-values, and theorised that they described the ‘fully human person’.

When Glenn says that “Meditation is the key to becoming a complete spirit, an integrated person, a whole human being, enlightened”, he is carrying Maslow’s values directly to Ch’i Kung and Kundalini practices. He was steeped in the humanistic tradition, and brought to it, as with Erickson, a practical, real-life-based, solution-centred approach. Maslow was already calling the Peak Experience the ‘Core-Religious’ experience — Glenn found a reliable way to create that experience on a truly deep level, showing mysticism is far from a dead subject, and we now know that this version does indeed appear cross-culturally and has been a highly-prized human possession for millennia. It’s very nice to have a psychological way into it, although Jung correctly noted that therapy alone would never raise kundalini, so some energy craft is required.

I didn’t know all this when I first picked up Glenn’s writing, but I knew something was different. The meditation he called ‘the most important exercise’ of all (Shadow Strategies, p. 277, and I agree) was the Secret Smile. It’s a process of relaxing and eliciting resources, then flowing them through the system and embodying them. He mentions:

The feelings you have just internalized are also referred to as relaxed calm, confidence in your abilities, happiness, love and ecstasy. You could just say you’re making yourself cool, confident, happy, and sexy. I like to think of it as Homo Sapiens’ natural state.

… and that, in a way, encapsulates a lot of what interested me in Glenn’s way. Although I had always reacted to fantasy and myth that way, I couldn’t recall having heard any religion telling me it wanted to make me cool, confident, happy and sexy! Now here was a guy saying that was the way human beings naturally were, and that it made a good basis both for life and for enlightenment. And he was living it. It was a very different message and a very humanistic one.

I hadn’t actually heard many psychologists saying that either, when I came to think of it. The roots of a less empowering mindset, which (not to be too flippant) seemed to prefer me to be frustrated, self-doubting, depressed and lonely in exploring my condition, went very deep in my culture. The subtitle of Webster’s somewhat overdone Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis denotes the guilt-instilling religious elements in psychodynamic theories, and I knew those well enough from the couple of therapeutic encounters I’d had in the tradition. These people really were finger-waggers. For every difficulty in your life there was some deep, dark secret that you had to ‘confess’. There didn’t seem much there about strengthening yourself to accept and transform your own fears.

On the subject of Freudian philosophy, Maslow mentions how fortunate he considers it that no really good Freudian therapist pays any attention to it! Terence Watts had our class giggling when h mentioned his Warriors, Settlers and Nomads typological categories actually corresponded to Freud’s three types, which however were ‘a bit more negative-sounding — anal-paranoidal, oral-schizoidal, and genital-hysteric’. Hmm, inspiring. :) Intellectuals of the twentieth century seemed endlessly obsessed with the supposed explanatory power of such categories. (Check out the ‘mother anuses’ in those 60s intellectual-radicals, Deleuze and Guattari, if you’re feeling very keen.)

Freud, by the age of 63, was writing this:

I have found little that is “good” about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all.

– Letter to Oskar Pfister, October 9, 1918

Pfister was a Protestant clergyman and had no problem combining it with his allegiance to psychoanalysis. Thinking people “trash” is a rather strange instinct to find in a ‘healer’, and those who lie on the couch must surely be problematised by it. No wonder many Freudian believers of the 20th century looked to that impossibility, a Marxist revolutionary paradise, to cure the inherent disgust they felt at the human condition(ed). No wonder I’d rather watch Star Wars. :)

Where did all this come from? How did this man Freud, so influential, come to believe that his fellow human beings, who looked to him to ease their condition, were mostly garbage? Even if we do trace such ideas to (aspects of our culturation of!) the Book of Genesis, there must be some tunnel by which they wormed their way so securely into psychoanalytic theory.

I think that tunnel is the attitude the psychodynamicists take to the unconscious mind, an attitude still at the heart of the theories today:

As a therapy, psychoanalysis is based on the concept that individuals are unaware of the many factors that cause their behavior and emotions. These unconscious factors have the potential to produce unhappiness, which in turn is expressed through a score of distinguishable symptoms, including disturbing personality traits, difficulty in relating to others, or disturbances in self-esteem or general disposition…

– American Psychoanalytic Association, 1998

Not exactly the full story on the unconscious mind, which is actually the source of all the solutions as well.

The humanistic and actualising approach doesn’t mean ignorance of the dark. It’s certainly not a marshmallowy call of ‘we’re all wonderful’. A human being who cures people has to be aware of reality, and face up to it. Erickson treated some people to whom the word ‘evil’ could happily apply. He didn’t always succeed with them. Few Freudians know more about psychopaths than Glenn, who also experienced a major self-disgust at his own sexuality after a particular kundalini spike, down to physical nausea that prevented sex and ultimately broke up his marriage, so don’t let’s pretend he was all bliss and cushions. Freudians would have had a field day with that one. Glenn got to know the Shadow better than most. Such are the dangers of an accidental kundalini awakening, which often does have things in common with trauma. (Other humanists such as Rollo May positively majored in the tragic.)

We all have “issues”. So make the silly, vain, often disastrous world of human culture as ‘bleak’ as you like — that’s one thing. But put that bleakness inalienably at the root of the individual human mind (and body), then make it the thing you focus on in therapy, and you’ve done something more destructive. You’ve taken away access to most of what might actually help your condition, and until you undo this basic mistake, you’re not going to get that access back.

Maslow didn’t look much at the unconscious, which the Freudians claimed to have taped. So they managed to hold onto the humans-are-trash stuff. If they knew anything, Freudians knew the damn unconscious, and they knew it was about roiling chaos, and dark secrets. Freud was a pioneer, but he refused hypnosis and, says Glenn, made “some wild errors in psychological theory” (Martial Arts Madness, p. 30). He had an unfortunate preference for students who respected his mistakes.

I’m not quite clear if the name of Milton Erickson would have been familiar to this cast of distinguished players in the 1940s and 50s. I think his major fame didn’t come until later, and the extraordinary effectiveness of his brief strategic hypnotherapy approach, whose iceberg-tip we saw last post, wasn’t yet known. Well we know now, anyway. His priorities chimed very well with the Humanistic outlook — but to achieve his goals he worked only with the unconscious mind. He knew it like the back of his hand, to the extent it could be considered knowable. He knew its behaviour.

And his theory of it turned Freud on his head. Freudians think the unconscious causes problems, but for Erickson, the unconscious is always the solution. It is incredibly able, in everybody. You just have to trust it. It has to be allowed to come out and do its job, and get past the limiting internal and external maps, the sheer bloodymindedness, that hold it back. Freudians had been demonising what is actually capable of providing answers.

Glenn maintained exactly this inversion of Freud. He and Erickson are absolutely clear that actualisation happens through activation of the genius in the unconscious instincts, and Glenn’s model of kundalini in that sense is the best one on the psychological level, as well as the most humanistic. Whatever light it is you are chasing, this is where you will find it.

Where Freud said the destructive ‘id’ in all of us constituted what was inaccessible and negative in the unconscious, Glenn said that, for the enlightened and shadow-accepting, the id is creative and childlike and ‘runs the show’ (Path Notes, p. xvi.) Where Freud saw the id as essentially chaotic and amoral, Glenn worked through those ‘dark emotions we do not normally hold to our credit’, and found beneath them an essential animal nature that was peaceful, benevolent and caring (pp. 20-21). Thus as a result of enlightenment he achieved a way that was simultaneously peaceful and permanently inspired. A long way from where Freud ended up! Such a life was a result of kundalini, the upward surge of that same sexual energy which Freudians saw as most destructive. The consequence of the subconscious’s constant desire to awaken was not psychosis but transcendence. This is the use of Freudian language for utterly un-Freudian purposes.

I don’t say I agree with every word in Maslow. He too was a pioneer, and had to shift occasionally as the evidence came in, since he wasn’t merely philosophisin’ in his observations. But so many of his insights have held up so well that they are completely uncontested, and his whole orientation makes a big difference in the outlook of someone planning not to end up as ‘trash’.

His descriptions of self-actualised people don’t look much different from the one I gave of Erickson at the end of last post, nor from the one you’ll hear of Glenn from anyone who knew him. One Amazon review of Path Notes says, “In the end, I didn’t buy this book to become a guru or awaken my id. I bought this book (and enjoyed it) because it’s also a biography [sic] of an exceptional person who did interesting and productive things in his life.” What Erickson and Glenn both found were reliable ways of actualising into that interesting and productive existence — not a theory, not even easily describable in theory. Something you just have to experience. A way of bringing up that flowing internal power and surfing with it to better destinations.

Glenn greatly appreciated the Ch’i Kung focus on living well. A good practitioner would be healthy, with a great sex life used for spiritual purposes, as well as having martial power, plus the harmonising, synergising energy that would make for a harmonising, synergising life. This fit right into Glenn’s happy version of the humanistic strategy, in which you actualised yourself and then helped others do the same. What he didn’t expect was that he’d happen on a combination of meditative practices capable of kundalini arousal and enlightenment, nor that this key to such age-old legendary mysteries could be turned replicably by others.

When he sat himself down on his porch during the summer of 1985 to meditate ‘as much as possible’, Glenn was just looking for the next step towards actualisation. He got more than he bargained for. Like Erickson, he’s an excellent response to the objections to Maslow you hear now sometimes — “great theory, where’s the method?”. Answers came by doing, not thinking. It’s all about practices. Deep meditation and kundalini turns out to be a humanistic solution open to all, since kundalini is cross-cultural to a great extent, and based on biology we all share, triggering the deepest parts of human nature with effects which are universal and also totally individual to the experiencer. People can do all this from a personal, secular, non-religious, psychological angle. (Although you might want to be prepared for some of what transpires to be a little ‘other’ at first sight!) We do have something here that can bring people to their senses, and beyond.

A self-actualisation approach doesn’t have to embrace a transpersonal or supernatural viewpoint. Maslow insisted his own concept wasn’t conventionally supernatural, and the “spiritual” was not really Erickson’s style. Actualisation works either way. Sure, some people who have peak experiences do encounter some extremely… interesting things, especially if they do it this way, and there’s evidence to back their existence — but if it happens to you, you’ll work out what to do. In the end, we’re all together in the act of becoming, and it’s your next step that counts. All around continues the human quest for transcendence, and the quest itself transcends cultural boundaries. The peak-experience is everywhere, waiting, grounded in ordinary ongoing human life. I love that. You never know what’s about to happen.

Some, of course, are leery of ‘self-actualisation’, even after reading descriptions of the quality of character in a Milton Erickson or a Glenn Morris — or an Abraham Maslow, who lived up to his promulgations too. Some think ‘self-actualisation’ sounds too self-centred. Good, is my viewpoint, because people the world over are being cozened into focusing on anything save themselves, and their own power, actualisation and interests — in fact they’re often being hypnotised into it. But I’ll make that case properly next post, by way of a belated reaction to the London riots.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 112 other followers