Tag Archives: Carl Rogers

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XIII

In us humans the joy of being in nature brings us energy that enables seeing “into the heart of things” as Wordsworth says... "Three Worlds" by M.C. Escher, CLICK FOR LARGER VERSION

In us humans the joy of being in nature brings us energy that enables seeing “into the heart of things” as Wordsworth says… “Three Worlds” by M.C. Escher, CLICK FOR LARGER VERSION


Artistic expression can be very useful if worked as a personal therapy. A feeling of having understood experiences and feelings, of having re-understood or recontextualised them in a form that makes them compost, even of having been understood, follows naturally with spontaneous creativity, and engages non-social parts of the self. You never know, you may reveal beauty as well. Gradually one can move towards the inexpressible. A possible book is this, for example, but instructions are perhaps not necessary — just keep Rogerian principles in mind and see what comes. Doing this occasionally for a change, rather than regularly, is very good too. Professional artists may find it pays to jettison professionalism.

Kundalini is to me associated with nature itself, the creative movement of the Tao, moving us beyond appearances... "Peace" by Patrick Woodroffe, CLICK TO GO TO HIS PAGE

Kundalini is to me associated with nature itself, the creative movement of the Tao, moving us beyond appearances… “Peace” by Patrick Woodroffe, CLICK TO GO TO HIS PAGE

– Rogers’ approach comes very much into its own when working with subpersonalities. To discover parts that seem to be “not exactly oneself” is natural when one considers shatteredness. The trick in understanding them is often to realise how used to them you already are on a subliminal level, and bring that long-established relationship up to conscious listening, which will refresh it. Simply being with a part in a Rogerian way, truly understanding its point of view and resonating with it, is often what is really necessary for harmony. It may spontaneously transmute or join a whole that is deepening in meditation — a process described in Assagioli’s work by the way. One useful book derived from his methods is Firman & Gila’s Psychosynthesis. (2002)

Thus I’ve realised My own attraction to some kinds of artistic image comes from how they show nature as leading beyond its own surface to a profound heart... Leaf wrapped in red petals by Andy Goldsworthy CLICK FOR LARGER VERSION

Thus I’ve realised My own attraction to some kinds of artistic image comes from how they show nature as leading beyond its own surface to a profound heart… Leaf wrapped in red petals by Andy Goldsworthy CLICK FOR LARGER VERSION

– Actually, anything can be brought into this process. Stuff you are naturally good at or which seems linked to your Campbellian “bliss” can play into healing. Bad feelings and depression can be tremendously transformative when you know how to let go of the masks they are challenging. Even rather non-“blissful” boring/repetitive tasks can sometimes help with processing. It can be useful as well to have any artistic or other objects around in the meditation space that give you the right mood or bring you to what is important as you see it. Anything that reminds you of what is beautiful and important to you. Aim high. (What you contemplate, you imitate).

I’ll come back to art and culture in spirituality for upcoming series.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XI

Moving to application now. We’re exiting the therapeutic context completely, and meditation of some kind becomes the basis. The initial stability and peace necessary can perhaps be achieved with the help of a class, workshop, teacher etc. I personally prefer a chi kung-style meditation as you won’t be surprised to hear. The instructions I like best for beginners come from the old medical chi kung books Glenn made use of. This one has been a favourite, but I recently noticed how ridiculously expensive it’s somehow become. This one, which he also recommended, has an even funkier 80s presentation and I like it a lot; it seems to be holding a lowish price for now. It has no moving chi kung to speak of but otherwise is the equal of the first.

I probably should do a post or two on the basics of this form of meditation at some point, but what I think makes it the best for a beginner is its effortlessness and dedication to making you feel good — it’s intended for self-healing after all. It dovetails perfectly with the Rogers ethos since the idea is to attain rujing (“entering into stillness”), which is a natural process. It operates in all of us, if allowed to do so, just like holotropic spontaneity, as an organismic inheritance. You attain an easy posture, breath pattern, focus, and your thoughts gradually start to slow down, a definite peace and clarity appearing as they become distant.

On the other hand, many different types of meditation might be useful for this process as there is no goal other than initial peace, acceptance and heightened awareness. Glenn’s initial instructions in Path Notes could be enough for many, and he also got things from Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response initially, for example (now that is a cheap book). The varied emphases in the books can be revealing. Everyone is different and scientific research suggests that clicking with your way is the most important thing to begin with. I only recommend that there be nothing forceful, that it feel easy and natural, with no kind of competitive spirit or achievement agenda.

Rogers-style techniques examine whatever’s in the mind and heart at the moment, whatever occupies the consciousness. To start with it’s the emotions and beliefs that rise amidst or get triggered by life that get the attention, but with that peace, and the other resources, as a background. You don’t do this in meditation necessarily, but a regular meditation practice forms a foundation from which it can be done in time set aside. There’s no particular analyzing, especially not to begin with — accepting and describing and understanding and getting in tune with what one really feels and thinks and experiences is the process, which itself turns out to generate a number of stages of change — again, naturally and spontaneously. The only necessity is to become aware and then see what arises as a result.

It can be useful to start with a general atmosphere of lowering stress. Some may want to treat the whole thing as a break to begin with, a brief but regular/necessary time of rest with a smile on its face that gradually fills with realistic peace and honesty in an unhurried unfolding and noticing. It is the process itself that matters. This becomes subtle and creative and new views or layers can arise out of nowhere, along with unexpected transformations. Everyone will respond in a unique way, in fact this is exactly the idea.

Peace and/or neat resolution every single second is far from necessary or likely but if this process is established with some kind of positive regard behind it — even an imagined positivity is sufficient at first! — then continually re-established over time and seen as a way to understand, or perhaps better to say, an environment in which to understand, then the issues, stories, and beliefs will spontaneously link up and make a more global or unified or patterned sense. This however will not be stiff or over-categorised, but loose and alive and deepening as one goes, enabling confidence in one’s own judgment, solidity, viewpoint, openness, and perhaps most of all, acceptance of self-process.

Thus one ceases bracketing some aspects of self-experience as unthinkingly “bad”, meaning “not to be experienced”. Only then can something which is not as one would wish be changed.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers X

Interestingly, the Freudian resistance to Rogers remains strong in places, despite all the empirical support for his ideas. The nature of that resistance is sometimes instructive, for example I found this recently:

A lot of what Rogers says is unexceptionable — the need for empathy, for being non-directive, for basic trust, for optimism, for ‘growth toward maturity’ and ‘moving toward self-actualization’. But this is embedded in a euphoria and a belief in the basic rationality of people and a trust in ‘the wisdom of the organism’ that I found pretty hard to bear. For example: ‘There is in every organism, at whatever level. an underlying flow of movement toward constructive fulfilment of its inherent possibilities. There is a natural tendency toward complete development in man.’ Child abusers? Pol Pot? Mrs. T[hatcher]? Noriega? Pushers? Pimps?

Review of The Carl Rogers Reader and Carl Rogers: Dialogues by Robert M. Young

(Actually the Freudians seemed to fight rather hard in Rogers’ day, against things they may now find “unexceptionable”.)

The holotropic/organismic spontaneity is “natural”, in a sense “instinctive”, and yet also “a good thing” — this is a major conflict for Freud and the Abrahamistic original sin which he scientised. Pretend this spontaneity isn’t usually blocked from manifesting (by social programming not least) and you can paint Rogers as a polyanna, euphorically deeming everyone “naturally” fine, and in fact wise and rational already, even when they are dictators organising work camps. :) In that world therapy wouldn’t be needed at all of course, but why dampen dogmatic fervour with common sense, after all?

Rogers — certainly a rather guileless man himself, which in my opinion accounts for a good deal of his success — was puzzled by these deliberate non-understandings, and only later grasped the significance of his demonstration that people held the key to their own actualisation:

I see now that I had dealt a double-edged political blow. I had said that most counselors saw themselves as competent to control the lives of their clients. And I had advanced the view that it was preferable simply to free the client to become an independent, self-directing person. I was making it clear that if they agreed with me, it would mean the complete disruption and reversal of their personal control in their counseling relationships…

Carl Rogers on Personal Power (1977)

As often, Rogers and Milton Erickson speak as one here. In addition, those familiar with attachment theory (which in a way is an outgrowth of psychoanalytic thinking on a more evidential basis) will detect that the Rogers formula of safety and empathy was ahead of its time from yet another point of view. Such shifts in personal control are important when it comes to taking spiritual training outside dysfunctional guru relationships too.


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 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.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers I

A lot of this is about spontaneity.

Spontaneity of course can manifest in the “sudden solution” and “sudden inspiration” experienced by most people now and then, often described by artists or scientists etc. It’s dubbed the “Breakout” by Herbert Benson. Artists know the difference between real inspiration welling up, which is natural, and that which is calculated. The key in all these effects is their appearance from outside the system one thinks of as “oneself”.

Spiritually Transformative Experience works in just the same way. It is a natural welling-up, whether it is deliberately sought or unexpected.

When Kundalini comes, for example, sometimes it is dramatic:

Suddenly, with a roar like that of a waterfall, I felt a stream of liquid light entering my brain through the spinal cord… I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt myself slipping outside of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of light…

– Gopi Krishna, Kundalini (1967)

One day, when I was meditating… an incredible power rushed through my spine to the top of my head… My whole body was burning… I felt as if my head would explode with energy…

– Hiroshi Motoyama, Theories of the Chakras (1981)

As I was running energy around the orbit… I saw a brownish-gold coil of powerful energy… it had a head like a viper and began to come up my spinal column… when it reached the skull this time there was no mercy and no stopping it… It was as if the top of my skull blew off and I was radiating up into a fountain of light…

– Glenn Morris, Path Notes of an American Ninja Master (1993)

But the welling-up I’ll write about in this series is quieter, and more of an initial preparation in many ways, forming a ground for experience to come. It’s also about coming to see one’s own personality and thus is not merely a quiet process, but it’s a gradual one, generating a new personality that is truer to the soul.


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