“He who is rich in virtue is like a newborn child…”

I left a remark insufficiently explained last post: “Your consciousness begins your physical life far less local to your body.” This is much more literally true than most people understand.

With Erickson it was a matter of observation — for example, he saw babies reaching out to touch their right hand with their right hand. You are not born knowing where “me” is, and you are not born physically coinciding with it. Your body begins as a marker — partly a cultural marker.

This is a good collection of papers by well-qualified individuals, although somewhat diffuse or even tentative. The history and literature of hypnosis and mesmerism is extraordinary…

But the modern perinatalist observations have confirmed this far more strongly. Grof has a lot, and another great resource is hypnotherapist David Chamberlain. See for example his paper in Leskowitz, ed. Transpersonal Hypnotherapy (2010). Here you find hypnotised clients seeing the moment of their birth and finding that they had great awareness of the surroundings, an awareness not completely local to the body. They describe “knowing I have to put myself in that baby body”. There can also be memories of full-blown OBE as a baby.

The mind at that stage seems very intelligent, as Erickson would predict of what will become the unconscious mind. One patient, Deborah, says for example: “I felt I knew a lot — I really did. I thought I was pretty intelligent. I never thought about being a person, just a mind… I saw all these people acting crazy [about her delivery as a baby]. That’s when I thought I had a more intelligent mind, because I knew what the situation was with me, and they didn’t seem to. They seemed to ignore me. They were doing things to me, to the outside of me. But they acted like that’s all there was.”

“Not a person, just a mind” — exactly what we mean by not being hooked in to the cultural and physical body. This mind knows a context culture does not. Hence the perceptiveness and objectivity. The baby is mind-aware but the adults are only personality-aware. Adults have gone through that twofold process of identifying with the body, then with the culture. The tiny infant has not. “They seemed to ignore me”, meaning, my real self, but also their real selves — this being equivalent as we’ve seen to being caught in a mask or “estrangement” from the underlying.

This underlying self really is a lot “smarter” which is why, if you can have a relationship with it and activate it, you become a much richer version of yourself.

Inner selves shouting for attention are related of course to younger subpersonalities and hence to parts of the mind shut out by the social realm. Clearing the walls that shut out those selves clears the tension and the blocks to those awarenesses, and that becomes a live relationship with the nonphysical. You interact with other forms of input. “Extra sensory perception” is a cliché, like all parapsychological terms once the public gets hold of them, but all it means is perception on the part of that aspect of you which is not directly hooked into the body. That turns out to be a lot.

The irony is that the hooking-in tends to leave a lot of energetic blockages, so a new and clearer relationship with the body is actually far better for the body itself as well. Normal egotistical relations with the body aren’t helpful to its health at all.

This goes all the way up to enlightenment which can create what some have called a “duplex personality”… more on that in the upcoming series.


Tao as Universal Unconscious Mind

Leafing through this great Havens book on Milton Erickson I was struck by this:

[W]hile on the Research Service of the Worcester State Hospital he interviewed a catatonic schizophrenic who manifested a variety of bizarre behaviours and beliefs which struck Erickson as familiar. Eventually he was able to relate them to those of several primitive tribes, a discovery which puzzled him greatly because the patient obviously was unfamiliar with the beliefs and rituals of any of these tribes. These and other observations of the spontaneous development of identical patterns of thought and behaviour among separate individuals throughout the world and throughout history led him to conclude that basic human thinking and emotion are very much the same from person to person in spite of individual and regional idiosyncrasies. In other words, he observed that the human mind has an incredibly wide but finite range of potential patterns available to it and that everyone has the capacity to function within any one of those patterns.

The particular patterns that any given individual adopts or manifests, he realized, are a result of limitations imposed upon this original pool of potentials by culture and by the individual’s unique experiential history.

This is just so it. Humanity is bounded but infinite — but cultural humanity is far more bounded. The schizophrenic was tapping into the underlying pool — who knows exactly how. But (as with Jung) the behaviour tipped Erickson off to the unlimited nature of human cognition free of the social. The need to have the social be “everything” is quite strong, but partly thanks to a weird childhood in which recovery from polio played a major role, and partly to his great natural oddness, Erickson never had that need and brought a very objective eye to human beings.

That eye is the eye of the unconscious itself. Havens:

Erickson’s fundamental orientation towards life, perhaps the central theme of his work, was that people must learn to recognize, to accept, and to utilize, what actually is in order to meet their needs, accomplish their goals, and satisfy their purposes. Rather than lamenting, distorting, or denying the unpleasant facts of life or fantasizing about an easier, more ideal reality, Erickson proposed that people must experience and acknowledge the realities of their situation and apply whatever capacities they have in order to cope as effectively or purposefully as possible with those realities.

That may seem obvious — it’s the classic wisdom and never outdated — but the point is that “we” are not merely what “we” think ourselves to be. Your consciousness begins your physical life far less local to your body. Much of the most interesting stuff in your mind is stuff you never really look at after you become localised. Hooking into the body you start to leave the non-bodily behind — and then you hook into a cultured body, and get caught in language. But just reach behind and unhook those, and you have things you had no “conscious” idea about, mental aspects that already understand life in a less biased way than you do, so you can lean on them. As Havens says:

His most general observation was that people have both a conscious mode of functioning and an unconscious mode of functioning. The conscious mind represents a prejudiced and limited perspective on reality which can result in various distortions and behavioral anomalies. The unconscious mind, on the other hand, is a flexible system of thought and awareness which perceives and responds to the literal or objective qualities of reality. It is relatively unprejudiced, is very intelligent, and contains a vast reservoir of previously acquired, experientially based knowledge and memories.

The relation of this to “spirituality” is for example: just think of everything as having an unconscious mind. You can learn to tap into it by these and all sorts of methods. In an STE you become conscious of it, including as a whole — hence “cosmic consciousness”.


The very definition of “relevant”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recalling childhood experience of World War II:

As a child, I witnessed the dissolution of the smug world in which I had been comfortably ensconced. I noticed with surprise how many of the adults I had known as successful and self-confident became helpless and dispirited once the war removed their social supports. Without jobs, money, or status, they were reduced to empty shells. Yet there were a few who kept their integrity and purpose despite the surrounding chaos. Their serenity was a beacon that kept others from losing hope. And these were not the men and women one would have expected to emerge unscathed: they were not necessarily the most respected, better educated, or more skilled individuals. This experience set me thinking: what sources of strength were these people drawing on?

Now that is a good question, as the unpleasantly squirting shits of a rotgut technoswill society continue to play havoc with smugness in their degenerative storms. Luckily there are quite a few good answers. The second Havens/Walters hypno book I just mentioned last post has an approach to this called psychological hardiness — good term — that comes from some research at the University of Chicago, a subset of the general question of psychological resilience which is as important to individuals as physical resilience is to communities. I’m not saying I particularly like their definition, which is business-orientated, but once you start fooling with it…

(And by the way, the singular lack of psychological resilience in many isn’t at all unrelated to the total non-resilience of the culture.)

What I cheer in that book is the encapsulation of hardiness in a hypnosis script. I love occasionally finding someone doing things like that; again, this is how it should work. Maybe as a hypnotherapist I’ll offer trance to help with adaptation to peak oil too.

I suspect formless soul isn’t part of that theory though. Ronald Havens was and remains a materialist, a very nice and intelligent chap indeed from a couple of interactions I’ve had with him — loves his motorbikes — but one who works with a “cosmic consciousness” he thinks is in our heads! Yeah. (He did a book on that too BTW, it’s very good for what it is.) Catherine Walters of the golden voice has I think gone the more reiki-and-ascension route since co-writing with Havens, and that’s hardly me either… But any particular biases don’t mean the work won’t be generally useful, since it can always be adjusted.

Those in Csikszentmihalyi’s example who were only happy with jobs/money/status were empty shells all along anyway. He must have sensed their nature wasn’t changed by their fall in circumstance, but revealed. See that is how it works!

Answer to question why develop my own transpersonal application of hypnosis? Because what I’ve seen is just not very interesting. I look at most of the books and courses around, and it’s all blah blah anchoring, blah blah EFT, subpersonalities, addiction, blah blah healing pain relief, spirit release, past lives, blah blah Jungian archetypes. It’s good stuff if you’ve never encountered it, but not what I’d call transpersonal.

I’ve hardly seen anything in hypnosis (with the possible exception of Bernard Aaronson’s famous script for inducing void from 1969 — different era!) that even tries to look at that, and it’s not surprising because what’s involved is rather different from hypnosis as normally understood. As for something like this, I only hope it’s harmless, that’s all. This is the problem with a spiritual free market.

What is nice to see is some people resurrecting Mesmer in terms of energy hypnosis…


Greer’s “Progress Religion”

FURTHER EDIT: I somehow find this a little funny, but Greer’s post today is mostly addressed to the comments of doubters, and several remarks are directed toward ideas I put forward, one very specifically to me:

One interesting wrinkle on this last point comes from a commenter who insists, quoting a scholar of religious studies from India, that the concept “religion” is purely a modern Western notion and can’t be used outside that context.

… which forces me to set the record straight even though I wanted to move on!

The guy I quoted, Balagangadhara, whom I wrote a little about here, of course does not say that at all; I probably didn’t get across his thesis very well. Balagangadhara thinks Western Abrahamic religion is in a fundamentally different category from other sorts of religion, as I said, because of its strongly ideocratic and orthodoxy-creating character, which separates it even from other types of orthodoxy in several respects — so much so that calling them something other than religion might be more accurate in his opinion. What Greer says today:

The phenomena assigned to the category “religion” in English still exist in those languages and cultures—you’ll find, for example, that good clear translations of words such as “deity,” “worship,” “temple,” “prayer,” “offering,” “scripture,” and the like can be found in a great many languages that have no word for “religion” as such.

… doesn’t invalidate Balangangadhara in the least, because his point is that so many pre-reformation travellers (whom he quotes in detail) took careful note of all those foreign elements of “deity”, “worship” and so forth, but still said the cultures “did not have religion” — not that they didn’t have “our” religion, not that they had “false” religion, but that they had no religion. That is, they didn’t believe the morphology was universal. This is what makes Balagangadhara’s point so much more interesting than a mere quibble about available vocabularies, a point I made last week… but if interested to see where Balagangadhara takes that evidence just check out his actual book. It is very interesting stuff — is “scripture” the same idea the world over? is all religion creedal? etc. — but I wasn’t planning to talk a lot more about it!

I also wasn’t intending to derail Greer’s, well, “progress” — I genuinely thought he might be interested in some of those ideas! They don’t invalidate what he’s saying, they just nuance it differently — basically the post-Abrahamic nature of Greer’s “progress religion” sets it off against other forms of religion as fundamentally different, and that would include his own Druidry as far as I can see. Yes I did and do foresee problems with the series, based not uncomedically on a morphological approach vis-a-vis previous Greer series, but I’m not going to endlessly blather about them either, at least until everything upcoming is done. So as far as I personally am concerned this current post of his wasn’t necessary.

Goethe’s morphology, like several other things Greer mentioned and will mention, plays a role in my series too, albeit the two series have rather different approaches, which means they may clash or dovetail. But neither of those eventualities would be such a frightful thing, would it? :)

Oh — and as I said, I’m not going to spend any more time on this. Positively, this is my last word on it. Comments here are closed.

EDIT: It looks like no-one else is really bothered about this. :) Some people are happy to just go along with Greer, others have already given up on the whole “progress religion” thing as a straw man… but the idea between those two positions, of doing a lot more discussion of the points below, doesn’t seem to have any traction by contrast with my usual posts. So I will let it lie.

In fairness to Greer, he has said I’ve misunderstood him. In fairness to me — he hasn’t said how, and I quoted him verbatim at least on some things.

But anyway, we’ll move swiftly on…

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So before I go any further, a little situation has been building that I want to explore. John Michael Greer (one of the two excellent writers who unequivocally showed me the necessity of a historical approach to SBNR, William Irwin Thompson being the other), has just begun his own biiiiiig series on religion and peak oil. The latest post is a fair sample if you haven’t been following so far.

Like some other readers I’m having a little trouble with this series, and wondered if anyone else would like to discuss it. I will post to Greer’s comments page — link here as soon as it’s been put up — but there isn’t room there for everything I want to say.

The basic idea of the series is that everyone who has made any use of the “progress” concept since the Enlightenment can be seen as part of a “religion of progress”, which is “the most widely accepted civil religion of the modern industrial world”, and turns out to be intolerantly post-Abrahamic. Its major belief, Greer says, is that “humanity is moving inevitably onward and upward toward some glorious destiny”. To him this religion encompasses for instance “researchers who have risked their lives, and not infrequently lost them, to further the progress of science and technology” and “moral crusaders who have done the same thing in the name of political or economic progress”, amongst a big crop of other examples.

I don’t — yet — really see the application of this analogy. I’d love a bit more discussion and demonstration about its huge mass of grey areas, but Greer himself seems disinclined. (The shrift given in his comments page to those who question the idea’s explanatory power is short to say the least.) I don’t think progress really “is a religion”, of course, but more importantly I will take a lot of convincing that it can usefully be seen as one — nor do I think it’s necessarily the only or best hinge idea to pick, in persuading people to prepare for difficulties ahead.

But a lot of my problem at the moment is that Greer, who so often inveighs against dualistic, black-white thinking, seems to be indulging in it liberally himself. I wondered if anyone else had found this. He is scripting the content, not just the style or direction of people’s beliefs — and, not for the first time in his blog’s life I think, over-simplifying too liberally.

I’m actually thinking about the little Carl Sagan quote that was posted in his comments this week as an example, of all things — not because I care much for Carl Sagan, but because I don’t, and am pretty neutral. The quote, about awe before the universe, was smeared instantly by Greer as a disingenuous attempt to manipulate Sagan’s readers into the evils of scientism, pretending to reverence its author didn’t feel. The idea that it could have had any sincerity (however mistaken) didn’t seem to cross his mind at all. Sagan was Pope of progressism, which apparently condemns him to hypocrisy.

My problem is that Greer is laying out his theses mostly in order to help people transition away from any addiction to hampering progress myths, in the difficult upcoming age. Thus he’s claiming to pinpoint what is motivating them — and yet, as accurate as Greer is on fact and historical position, I’ve often felt him to be wrong about psychology, even though he puts forward his ideas in the same tone as facts about peak oil! The Sagan thing is just a miniature example of this.

In last week’s comments, Greer promulgated some ideas about scientism as a whole, which explain his evaluation of Sagan: “Nature is what science is supposed to conquer; nature is the Devil of scientism, the old enemy who will eventually be bound in chains and made to drag the glorious chariot of humanity wherever ‘we’ (however defined) want it to go.” Of course, since this has been declared the case, the scientistic Sagan’s awe before nature must be “appeal to a mass market” and nothing more. Sagan’s psychology has to conform to Greer’s categories. Does it?

In my reply to Greer’s comment last week I put forward some remarks of William Irwin Thompson’s which illustrate that scientism as a whole is just not that simple, because there is more than one type of human personality and culture present in it, and showed there are two sides to the story. Greer ignored this. I should mention that Thompson is expecting a dark age every bit as much as Greer is, and has also guffawed a great deal about what he sees as the “ideology of progress that places our industrial culture at the pinnacle of human civilization”, quite rightly so (although even there — notice that isn’t quite Greer’s definition of “progress”). But he seems to tolerate psychological ambiguity better than Greer does. And that may be very, very important when we are claiming to be able to help people change their minds for the better.

Sagan was a true believer in the techno-progress he promulgated, but his sense of wonder at Nature, from what little I know, seems perfectly genuine too. Contradictory? From Greer’s angle it seems so — but humans are. Certainly other people whom Sagan saw (or used) as “prophets” of scientism may well have been in awe of Nature itself, as the Thompson quote makes clear. I found on another site today a reply to Greer which showed a different side to Sagan, but Greer’s response on his own page was to see it as a defence of “Saint Carl” — implying anyone who wants to rebalance distortion about Sagan must be idolising Sagan! That’s what I mean by not being able to tolerate ambiguity. It’s very, very us-them.

Sagan’s ignorant campaign against mysticism and spirituality is hardly likely to endear him to me! He comes off like a purblind fool in my eyes, on that subject, when I chance to stumble across him. But the picture of scientism as “nothing but” this (anti-Druidry!) caricature is in fact precisely the kind of ideological rolling-over that Sagan himself, that scientism itself, resorts to in its worse pseudoskeptical moments — Druidry “nothing but” insane old-fashioned nonsense, etc.. We’ve all seen enough of that (“cold pricklies”). And it is precisely the kind of thing we need to avoid in getting people out of their fixed ideas about the future, in my opinion. (Which leads me to wonder whether Greer hasn’t perhaps been contemplating the enemy too long and begun to imitate it, another process he’s warned others about!)

I admit, another reason I have a problem with all this is my recent research for the series I talked about last post, which revealed in the previous three hundred years an incredibly multiform resource to draw on spiritually for the next three hundred. I began research primed by my interest in Greer’s writing to notice progress ideology wherever I found it, knowing it would need careful questioning in light of the reality ahead. But things weren’t quite that simple when I actually looked in detail. Perhaps this was because I was researching spiritual people — but then, Greer avoids discussion of spirituality on his blog.

“Progress” sometimes was very important to the people I researched, and I made a point of featuring it — I’ll start out my series with a guy who was one of the most progressy of all. But to examine his ideas, and many others, I had to look in practical detail at particular subtleties of thought about the future. When I did that, a single overall ideology of progress was not present. Yes, I’ve seen a couple of people who are close to caricature “progress religionists” in spiritual form (hello, Ken Wilber!), but they are definitely a minority.

Deciding that “progress” is the problem, above all other problems, is perhaps a natural piece of rhetoric for someone with Greer’s inherent conservative slant, but it is a concept he has barely defined, and certainly he hasn’t given anyone’s definition apart from his own (except maybe he’ll give Nietzsche’s!) How do we know it holds with the kind of breadth he’s claiming? Is he possibly thinking the problem into a box which it doesn’t altogether fit? At the moment I think he might be. Above all, I think the post-Abrahamic period has been characterised by enormous multiplicity and ambiguity, and deciding what to take forward that best prepares us is a process requires careful understanding of multiplicity, at least as much or more than simplifying into a single intolerant “religion”.

Any thoughts?


Forthcoming…

So! A great big series on Spiritual But Not Religious culture is in the works!

It’s been planned and researched and re-planned several times. I’ve had sample posts written on a page of MSWord that ended up with four pages of tiny notes surrounding them as ideas grew and changed.

The last series on the nature of SBNR was very exterior and sketchy. For this one we’ll get the inside story, look at much more of the nature of spiritual experience itself, and how it links to SBNR culturally. We’ll get ideas on the Ultimate itself — and the thorny question of whether and how it crosses cultures. We’ll lob in structures different from the standard New Agery to get some interesting thoughts on history going. We’ll gradually see the whole past/present/future laid out in a recontextualised way. And we’ll meet a lot of rather interesting people and their exploits and ideas.

We’ll also see a pattern that gets over a lot of the problems noticed in the earlier series, and demonstrates how spirituality can operate free of religious dogma. The pattern is there already but doesn’t seem to have been specifically noticed before. What’s more it is infinitely extensible, nothing closed — there will be a way for anyone to use it even if their SBNR thoughts and experiences are very different from mine. (In fact that’s the point.) My view may be a bit personal and even oddball, but the underlying pattern is very universal, something you can take away and hone when you want to consider your spiritual life in context.

And yes, of course, I’ll be looking at how SBNR can contribute to the future, with its challenges that are (as I mentioned in the first series) completely different from those SBNR has faced until now.

A problem I have right now is the size of this series. I think each post will be about 1,000 words — still quite short, about the length of the last post in the Rogers series. But should I put that much out once every four days? Should I go back to posting weekly? If I do the latter the series will basically last a year… Could people stand 1,000 words every four days? I don’t know! Let me know your thoughts! :)


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XIX

Final Thoughts

The way that I like begins, not with some creed, but with a possibility, to gradually discover and transform into something much more like one’s best self. (In a way this seems to involve healing all the damage done by creeds.) Rogers really has a great approach the human levels of this and gives a lovely modern guide into the process.

The atmosphere is one of complete supportive non-judgmentalism which creates a safety of thought and expression. So one moves from being trapped within feelings and attitudes to being able to notice and understand them, and frees oneself from habitual interpretations. One builds a new self-system and lives in it in a renewed context.

Quiet enables recovery from a hundred minor traumas and perhaps some major ones. The sweet rest of the parasympathetic comes to predominate in the nervous system. (Peace also turns out to be strongly linked with invigorating aliveness, whilst unpeacefulness inculcates deadness at rates which should be sobering but sadly rarely are.) No body is ungrateful for having its tendons transformed.

As Glenn says, the result of discovering meaning and meaningfulness is to exist in “calm connectedness”. This means normal life would otherwise be disconnected (estrangement). The recovery process thus leads somewhere one couldn’t consciously aim, therefore one gradually learns to trust it. Whoever one “is”, whatever the life one is entrained to, the process takes in all of its elements and begins to reveal the underlying connection between them, the person who is doing that living, who would be lost if focused on objects. One expresses this in one’s own way, learning to know where the ups and downs naturally come and when to push or relax. This is part of what Rogers called “being process”.

I don’t mean to imply in this series that seeing a therapist (or indeed a healer) isn’t a good idea. One might uncover difficulties emotionally, and whilst there are some people who find it possible to get over that by themselves, there are others who don’t. Follow your heart. But whether one sees a therapist or not, the process is the process, and it is your process. You be the judge of what is needed as you make your moves and allow spontaneous action/reaction. Success often lies in taking the highest promptings seriously.

Meditation actually improves the Rogerian formula even at the beginning. Silence, that ultimate answer to all earthly questions, is not usually used in a non-transpersonal therapy. When combined with Rogerian technique, it brings a deep balm, ease and peace to the person who has probably been without it for a long while.

The stillness of meditation starts to manifest the deeper meaning of the person’s life which begins to be directly felt. This creates an atmosphere that forms the basis for realisation, for awareness of depth. It is totally natural and comes unsought. It simply needs to be allowed to come, needs the space in which to come. Although it may not have the mighty luminosity of transpersonal experience at first, the solidity, selfness, reality of the result still comes to be valued more than anything else which could disturb it, and thus life changes suggest themselves to preserve and deepen what one is becoming. There may be considerably less sayable in the new identity than in the old.

To my mind this all concatenates with chi kung. I should mention shen, a hard-to-translate word rendered variously as “spirit”, “mind”, “daimon”, “all-embracing love” or “awareness”. Shen as it first manifests in chi kung tends to give the feeling of a deep heart-peace and acceptance, intimately quiet and relieving, that gradually reveals an inner illumination which is the beginning of (re-)encountering the real. It also, in the Chinese conception, is the result of natural processes, which harmonise and unblock chi whilst jing, life essence, is allowed to build. Shen later is spirit or consciousness itself, and therefore the signal of realisation.

There are obviously many transformations after this, on the path I like, many things that reveal themselves beyond this initial stage. Spiritual truth is not “psychological” in the modern sense and the quest reveals itself on levels that (I believe) we all know, but in practical terms, have mostly forgotten if not for the promptings we all feel towards those levels. Gopi Krishna attributed those holotropic promptings to the Kundalini process making itself known on a quiet level to everyone, I think correctly. Our lives wish to deepen.

But as long as this initial understanding has been attained, it can be developed in daily life as well, and forms a sign of what is to come as well as a doorway to it. Everything that happens becomes part of its flow. One always has an awareness, a place to which to return. One is just oneself, after all.

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That’s the end of the series — many thanks for reading and welcome to all the new subscribers!

The reading lists all need a huge amount of redoing… I hope to get that done later on… I know I keep saying that…

The problem is that the next series has made for a huge amount of research, and I’d like to make as much of it available as I can. In fact that research is still ongoing, so there’s going to be a gap before the series begins, but fear not as I’ll be doing short posts on various other subjects as they take my fancy.

Answer to the question: do I still use hypnosis? Yes. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise at all. More on that in a sec. Does hypnosis tie in with this series? Absolutely can. The Ericksonian unconscious works by the same kind of spontaneity. (EDIT: Just saw this book combining Erickson and Rogers.)

More recent work in the vein of Maslow and Rogers has been done by Czikszentmihalyi and Seligman, and there are various other things out there of interest in the same direction. More on them as I fill in before the next series, but I won’t be writing about psychology in any depth for a while now as we need to venture into the wild.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XVIII

Taoist Byways — 2 of 2

Harmony in Taoism is found within, but when it is found within, it is found in external events too. Hence for example Huainanzi 7.1:

those who seek for it externally lose it internally;
those who preserve it internally attain it externally as well.

Since it is lost if grasped externally, it thus does not appear in the world in the manner of “goodness” as normally conceived and held-to. The good is beyond rational judgment. Awakening reveals a deeper substrate one had missed or lost, by removing the judgmental categorisations of Self, at the same time as it reveals the secret unity between all things that goes right through one’s own heart. The regathering of the scattered, which in Hinduism is associated with the transcendence of Maya, is also a strong motif throughout Taoist alchemy, as mistaken notions of separateness fall away before the revelation of cosmic consciousness, which appears as a perfect harmony proceeding from and returning to Ultimate Mystery.

In Taoism harmony is thus seen as a treasure to be achieved, looked after, carefully protected and refined; it resonates with the world and can actually transform it, especially the human world, by the effects of its accumulated Te or virtue in human beings.

The Taoists plainly did have meditation procedures attached to their approach from the earliest times and always worked with chi. Moderation and simplicity in living, refusing excess, constantly turning again to the simple, and awareness of truth from multiple perspectives, are initial accents in Taoism. The Taoist classics will point the way to a deeper understanding of these concepts, and many others. I recently enjoyed getting to know Steve Coutinho’s entry for Zhuangzi in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Zhuangzi

… and wrote these posts partly thinking of that one. It’s a nice place to begin if you don’t mind more exoteric academic approaches, and will teach even experts a thing or two. As well as more obvious sources I particularly recommend studying the lesser-known Neiye, available in an excellent book by Harold Roth that discusses its mystical significance. The Neiye’s emphasis on quiet harmonious cultivation of the deeply potent Tao has inspired me a lot and is basic to Taoism. Reading the Huainanzi has also been fascinating recently.

As mentioned, it’s very nice that we have our own Western Taoist in Heraclitus. The resemblance of Zhuangzi and his sages to people like Milton Erickson or Walt Whitman, or indeed Glenn Morris, is very noteworthy as well. Particularly interesting to me is their ability to “be good people” in a surprising and unconventional way, that evades categorisation by being permanently harmonised with creativity, to be entirely themselves and in that capacity to extend “self” into deeper universality, which becomes Absolute whilst still flowing. An interesting approach to life, and one rather different from the norm whether in China or in the West.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XVII

Taoist Byways — 1 of 2

There’s an interplay of all this psychology with ancient Taoist thinking which some will have noticed already. The Humanistic psychologies deliberately played off Laozi, whom Rogers mentions in A Way of Being (1980). Taoism forms a direct bridge of these ideas with mysticism, but you can get in early and think Taoistically from the start if interested.

Acceptance of what arises spontaneously within is the key in both traditions. This allows one to become who one really is and removes aggravating artifice designed to ameliorate something “unacceptable”. The accent is on naturalness. At the time Taoism came into being, the very formal Ruist way of correct behaviour (that eventually became mostly mainstream in China) was also first being proposed, as a response to a general cultural crisis which deeply ruptured the realm. Taoism by contrast represented a rejection of formalised societal relations, considering them to be a way of surface harmony only, without sincerity, and suggesting a totally different solution favouring authenticity over acting a role.

In Taoism the sage, the shengren or achieved person, is thus very emphatically (and often eccentrically) him- or herself. I haven’t seen in other wisdom traditions this strong emphasis on the spontaneous individuality of sages or “saint”-figures as key to their attainment of the Ultimate. Of course this “self” is not like what conventional psychology thinks of as “self-image”. Last post we saw how even an initial accomplishment removes any straightforward self image in favour of an identification with self-process. In Taoist mysticism this is then taken much further, and joined to the great Ultimate process that moves through all things, called the Tao.

This can have a paradoxical cast, as one realises that static judging can create conflict even if it is “correct”, and learns instead to flow with the entire pattern, accept winter with summer, accept the difficulty of distinguishing good and bad, and so forth. This is about a complete change in the manner of human perception of the world, one that definitely distinguishes a person from the normal human way.

In the West, Heraclitus taught very much the same doctrine — I really should write about him one of these days — but his Way didn’t come down to us as a cultural wave like Taoism, didn’t become associated with a school. Breath practices were never known in the West either. Early practices in Taoist systems can be intensive, because human beings seem to begin so far from their natural state. In practice, being natural involves a lot of work rather than the laissez-faire many Westerners chose to mistake it for initially…


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XVI

Getting nearer the end of the series, I thought I’d illustrate everything with an example of what this kind of process can do, even without any directly spiritual approach. Here is someone’s personal statement about their own therapy which I found in a different context, researching the last series on SBNR. Academic writers used it to illustrate SBNR’s positive effects, but it is not transpersonal in any literal way, remaining within ordinary bounds which is what I’m trying to do in this series.

It does show the wide applicability of Rogers, because all his ideas are present even though the therapy itself is unconnected with him. The writer is a breast cancer sufferer by the name of Julie, and she chose a way of healing focused on art therapy (her emphasis throughout):

I believe art therapy saved my life by giving me the opportunity to get in touch with my authentic self. This part of me is now allowed to have a life. The part that existed before was a highly developed false self. Every year it became harder and harder to do everything I thought I should do… I continued to ignore my body’s messages until one day I scattered into tiny pieces and my self-sufficiency, my bravado, my achievements trickled out of my body as I sobbed and shivered.

… in art therapy my mind was not in charge. It did not control the paint or glue… The materials would have their say, be whatever they were, show their qualities and I would make a connection, engage with them. Images emerged from my inner world that I had lost touch with. It was here that I discovered my values, my priorities, and came to understand that I had sacrificed them for the most urgent demands of life. As time went on it was here that I examined the parts of myself that had been scattered, and I reclaimed those that I recognised as authentic.

These fragmented and lost parts appeared week by week on the paper. It was a process of gathering — my grief, my desolate childhood, my feminine qualities, divinity. They were brought to my centre, later I mixed [sic] with a pulse of light and leaps of joy.

Art therapy is not for producing a picture for anyone else, it is about being spontaneous, allowing something deep inside to express itself, to make its mark. I believe that the body knows how to heal itself, redress the balance… Recently I made ‘well’ my being which reached down into the watery depths and stretched up higher than a spire to bubbles of joy.

This is spontaneity producing health and authenticity over time, by personal exploration and acceptance. When you know your system can heal itself and is working positively by nature, harmonising with it obviously becomes far easier. It is a question of allowing “it” to do what only “it” can — my mind was not in charge. It did not control the paint or glue — and that approach is the beginning of much else.

We get all the elements here that Rogers would predict such as holotropic spontaneity, coming into tune with the organismic self, and the removal of social masks and roles. We also see shattered subpersonalities recombining (These fragmented and lost parts appeared week by week on the paper. It was a process of gathering). Overly-fixed ideas of self have given way to a general acceptance of self as a process that one follows. It is now known that the part of self which lasts throughout such changes is not based on a static image.

There are also reminiscences of Abraham Maslow as covered earlier — a definite move up the pyramid of needs from lower to higher actualised values and priorities for example (the “urgent demands of life” will no longer overrule actualisation) but again, spontaneously rather than in response to some external imposition. There’s also an orientation to peak experience in the “pulse of light and leaps of joy”.

If Julie were also a meditator, she would be well-prepared now on a personality level for serious work on energy — a relatively spontaneous and personal preparation, without any dogmatic belief system. It has emphasised picture-making art but it could emphasise anything on the previous list, or nothing in particular. What it has done is to loosen her and ready her (should she choose) for the more radical changes of awakening. She is balanced, has discovered and interacted with her own life process, and been transformed by it, not according to an intellectual/linear therapeutic timetable, but just according to her internal rhythms.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XV

– The “cognitive psychology” movement has overplayed its hand, but the addition of a rational element to Rogers can indeed also be useful in undoing mistaken or disadvantageous concepts, if interested in that line. Albert Ellis’s book can provide all that is needed, or one can try Pamela Butler, or indeed philosophical ethics of any desired kind, from Epicurus to Buddha to Spinoza.

To consider whether one’s disturbing thoughts and beliefs are based on demanding that life be other than what it is, whether there is a different way to look at things which makes them less bother, and whether something “bad” is actually as disturbing as we tend to make out, are really the core Ellis activities. Personally I don’t think “full acceptance” can occur with the rational mind only, but a certain amount of acceptance, probably varying for each of us, usually can.

Rogers tends to dispel “unacceptingness” over time simply by accepting (and positive regard), engaging a natural processing which I personally find far more spiritually useful than Ellis’s approach of “proving rationally” that the badness isn’t so bad. In addition, your stress levels tend to be a huge indicator of how “bad” you think things are. But a little grounding in common sense can certainly be useful for people fresh off some of the less steady New Age boats, and some people really do prefer to think it all through as their primary way.

– Certain people, or anyone at certain times, may on the other hand need to exit rationalism anyway, as dogmatic. Some subpersonalities communicate only in pictures or music. Impressions and intuitions want to surface, processing wants to happen that doesn’t feel like reaching for a dictionary. Mythic intuition can be valuable even before it is directly linked to the genuine mundus imaginalis. If wanting to use Jungian concepts (shadow and anima/animus are very helpful) a brief summary like Murray Stein’s may be better wading into the dilatory originals. The results of the non-rational can and probably should be rationally assessed later. One may need to feel one’s way into the underlying direction in a subtle manner.

– If the process seems slow or directionless, one can set a goal to transform some habit or attitude, although perhaps only when one has already had experience of clearing things spontaneously. One may include a definite self-promise or oath if necessary — but with care and, if inexperienced, a termination date at first, at which point one will compare the old self with the new. Many people have a “most important to fix” aspect of personality, and promising oneself to definitely get to the bottom of it, and remove it, can be incredibly productive, radically transforming the life. The system will start processing towards it. There will also be moments of needing to re-affirm the necessary dedication, but you may not recognise yourself when you succeed — or may recognise yourself for the first time in a while.

– At other junctures (or one could also say, under the influence other subpersonalities), of course, it’s natural to put aside “looking at feelings” or labelling them in any way as itself overly analytical and just experience oneself, which leads to meditation. Rogers-style awareness can in fact simply become a peaceful meditation in which any and all things arising are lovingly accepted; they will then tend to evanesce. Becoming skilled at communing in silence can generate such blissful peace that words become superfluous. You’re moving past psychology at that point, and the spontaneous process you’ve created will eventually transform even the toughest resistance at awakening proper.

[You can add hypnotherapy, but based on feedback I’ve come to recommend that be done with a hypnotherapist unless you really are willing to study — it’s just a little complex otherwise. And the Breakout Principle can produce the aha! effect by much easier means. However I myself have found the trance state very healing and have gone naturally into it at times in accordance with the unfolding of the process. If you are interested, it can be worth finding out about.]

That’s the end of the psychology — remember it all goes with the same basic idea, just taking regular time out from life to be peacefully and positively open to oneself, with the attitude described in the early parts of the series, and allowing the process that naturally follows from this. Next, a case example.


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