Monthly Archives: February 2013

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers IX

Politically, by listening to the feelings within, the client reduces the power others have had in inculcating guilts and fears and inhibitions, and is slowly extending the understanding of, and control over, self. As the client is more acceptant of self, the possibility of being in command of self becomes greater and greater. The client possesses herself to a degree that has never occurred before. The sense of power is growing…

Carl Rogers on Personal Power (1977)

Logically enough, Rogers states that the therapist is not the central player:

It is hardly necessary to say that the person-centred view drastically alters the therapist-patient relationship, as previously conceived. The therapist becomes the “midwife” of change, not its originator. She places the final authority in the hands of the client… The locus of evaluation, of decision, rests clearly in the client’s hands.

Carl Rogers on Personal Power (1977)

The meditator has available a calm, positive, phenomenological regard that also allows the natural process of the organismic function. Without that kind of regard, which comes from beyond the masks, such results can’t be obtained. Society doesn’t and can’t offer this kind of support spontaneously; it needs a separate space in which to develop. When a cycle of development has taken place, a new personality is born which then acts differently in society, not being nearly so based in mechanical reactions to it.

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers VIII

The effects of therapy:

While he is learning to listen to himself he also becomes more acceptant of himself. As he expresses more and more of the hidden and “awful” aspects of himself [“shadow acceptance” in the Jungian language of Glenn Morris] … he moves toward… accepting himself as he is, and therefore ready to move forward in the process of becoming.

– “What We Know About Psychotherapy — Objectively and Subjectively”, from On Becoming a Person (1961)

The thread which runs through much of the foregoing material… is a process whereby man becomes his organism — without self-deception, without distortion… What is it that makes [this] possible…? It is the addition of awareness… He can be aware of what he is actually experiencing, not simply what he can permit himself to experience after a thorough screening through a conceptual filter… The person comes to be what he is.

– “Some of the Directions Evident in Therapy”, from On Becoming a Person (1961)

“The addition of awareness” is also the goal and process of meditation, which provides a backdrop of calm in which these kinds of transformation can take place. Awareness transforms mental contents. The end of the idea of “something awful” in oneself can produce great freedom to be someone truer to oneself. It may also produce sober assessment of how one ought to be — and both at once are quite normal.

Shortcuts and easy answers may have turned out to limit the self, for example, so disciplined acceptance of one’s absolute best self and intentions often actually brings freedom and spontaneity when unforced — the energising effect is quite obvious and explains much of the effectiveness of (healthy) asceticism.

The system over time is changed by these insights, from trying to pretend things out of conscious sight don’t exist, to realising and accepting itself consciously, becoming far more natural-feeling. This development will make later “egoless” states far easier to understand when they appear, as in a way they only take the same process further.

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers VII

Apart from congruence, other Rogers preconditions for the actualising process include being fully and consciously entrained to the client’s spontaneous behaviour, accepting anything coming from the client, and being as empathic as possible.

[The therapist] prizes the client in a total rather than a conditional way. By this I mean he does not simply accept the client when he is behaving in certain ways, and disapprove of him when he behaves in other ways… the therapist is sensing the feelings and personal meanings which the client is experiencing in each moment…

What We Know About Psychotherapy — Objectively and Subjectively, from On Becoming a Person (1961)

It’s surprisingly easy and rewarding to direct exactly that empathy and acceptance towards one’s own feelings and motivations. I’ll go into this more later but it can be done with meditation and various other exercises and attitudes. It produces the effect of having enough time to truly understand.

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers VI

The extremely common estrangement of the human being from her directional organismic processes is not a necessary part of our nature. It is instead something learned, and learned to an especially high degree in our Western culture… The satisfaction or fulfillment of the actualizing tendency has become bifurcated into incompatible behavioral systems…

Carl Rogers on Personal Power (1977)

Both Maslow and Jung confirm these societal obstacles in the way of actualisation/individuation, which indeed are pretty self-evident. “Estrangement” (a cousin to “alienation” without the Marxist baggage) simply means being too occupied with the aforementioned social masks to be in contact with meaningful layers of oneself. This phenomenon was also noted by Wilhelm Reich.

Selves appear to be multifurcated and in fact shattered sometimes, in our current Western culture, rather than merely bifurcated. A great deal of psychology focuses on knitting together shattered selves into a new wholeness which is a definite achievement, existing in harmony with the underlying deeper consciousness. This process is described in subpersonality psychologies like Psychosynthesis, and also in the work of Grof. Via Rogerian processes it happens spontaneously, is noticed happening by itself, simply as a result of gentle congruous attention.

Since it also appears in shamanism, and in mythology in the stories of Osiris, Zagreus and Lemminkäinen for example, there must be a sense in which this shatteredness is age-old, probably a legacy of developments in human nervous system and culture. It may possibly be more widespread now that at previous times.

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers V

The system of Rogers is about a natural spontaneous actualisation. This process he called organismic, because it is natural to the way organisms function:

Let me point to some of the work in biology that supports the concept of the actualizing tendency. One example, replicated with different species, is the work of Driesch with sea urchins many years ago. Driesch learned how to tease apart the two cells that are formed after the first division of the fertilized egg. Had they been left to develop normally, it is clear that each of these two cells would have grown into a portion of a sea urchin larva, the contributions of both being needed to form a whole creature. So it seems equally obvious that when the two cells are skillfully separated, each, if it grows, will simply develop into some portion of a sea urchin. But this is overlooking the directional and actualizing tendency characteristic of all organic growth. It is found that each cell, if it can be kept alive, now develops into a whole sea urchin larva — a bit smaller than usual, but normal and complete.

I choose this example because it seems so closely analogous to my experience in dealing with individuals in a therapeutic relationship, my experience in facilitating intensive groups, my experience of providing “freedom to learn” for students in classes. In these situations the most impressive fact about the individual human being seems to be the directional tendency towards wholeness, toward actualization of potentialities. I have not found psychotherapy or group experience effective when I have tried to create in another individual something that is not there, but I have found that if I can provide the conditions that make for growth, then this positive directional tendency brings about constructive results.

Carl Rogers on Personal Power (1977)

This “positive directional tendency” is referred to by Stanislav Grof as “holotropic”, meaning “wholeness-seeking”. Grof (like Maslow) found holotropic tendencies in his work on transpersonal experience too, indicating that the principle holds for spiritual development, to which a Rogerian beginning naturally leads later.

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers IV

Rogers believed in making a calm, safe space in which people felt free to be themselves and remove fake social personae. There’s a strong parallel here with Glenn Morris, which demonstrates the application of this idea to preparation for Kundalini and the transpersonal:

Glenn: Let us first suppose that what we consider our self seems to be more a collection of masks… We might discover that our impulses towards achievement and compassion spring from a fear of failure and feelings of helplessness. As we delve deeper we may be forced to discover… anger, resentment and envy… and allow ourselves to open even further to find shame, yearning, terror, sadness, and other dark emotions… finally… we find another layer of calm connectedness…

Path Notes

Rogers: When a person comes to me… it is my purpose to understand the way he feels in his own inner world, to accept him as he is, to create an atmosphere of freedom… How does he use this freedom? It is my experience that he uses it to become more and more himself. He begins to drop the false fronts, or the masks, or the roles, with which he has faced life. He appears to be trying to discover something more basic, something more truly himself…

What it Means to Become a Person, from On Becoming a Person (2004, orig. 1961).

Although Rogers knew nothing of strong transpersonal experience, Glenn offers Rogers-style ideas when he wants to convey some of the psychology of transformation. (Note that a therapist is not required if the person goes for the self-development route. More on the adaptation of this to personal work later.)

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers III

One of the things which offends us about radio and TV commercials is that it is often perfectly evident from the tone of voice that the announcer is “putting on”, playing a role, saying something he doesn’t feel. This is an example of incongruence. On the other hand each of us knows individuals whom we somehow trust because we sense that they are being what they are, that we are dealing with the person himself, not with a polite or professional front. It is this quality of congruence which we sense which research has found to be associated with successful therapy.

What We Know About Psychotherapy — Objectively and Subjectively, from On Becoming a Person (1961)

Congruence is a combination of calm, positive acceptance with honesty, sincerity, and spontaneity, that has gone far enough to become a default habit in a person and their communication. There is then not such a gap between “should” and “is”. This acceptance beams itself to others who entrain to the person in a process of spontaneous change, sparking a way of being in turn that is comfortable for them, naturally generating ideas that support such self-acceptance. This is the process of Rogerian therapy. Because meditation also establishes calm acceptance, the process can be adapted for meditators.

The importance of congruence in therapeutic success (far greater than that of “theory” and other intellectual factors) has again been demonstrated consistently and repeatedly since Rogers’ time. It can be considered entirely research-validated.


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