Monthly Archives: March 2013

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.

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XIV

— An outgrowth of Rogers’ work is that of his student Eugene Gendlin, whose ideas involve working in a Rogerian manner with bodily sensations — noticing, describing, coming to terms with the feelings and stories they naturally communicate. This can be very useful for people who do energy work and often tends to be part of the wider process anyway, but his book Focusing (1978), again written to be used without prior experience, whether alone or with a partner, is full of helpful detail and has been widely appreciated. It appears on Kundalini lists regularly.

— In case of strong or difficult stress of the kind we now call “traumatic”, I recommend a look at the work of Babette Rothschild or other trauma therapists. Since the physiology is very helpful for understanding Kundalini arousal too, it may be worth a look under any circumstances. The Body Remembers (2000) and The Body Remembers Casebook (2003) I found particularly good in their loose, physiologically-sound approach. This way teaches instantly accessible calm states with a variety of psychologies to clear traumatic ones. Knowledge of the physiology of trauma can come in handy even for things that appear quite minor. Rothschild has emphasised people are quite capable of getting over trauma by themselves.

Traumas are inevitably moments of full focus and strong awareness in our lives; they are also close to the Kundalini mechanism and can actually initiate it (see Kason). Meditation gradually brings these moments and their energetic/emotional/physiological results under control by being equally aware. Rothschild emphasises the all-important openness to process and describes very well the keys in the body and mind to getting out-of-control states back into harmony. This requires more care than the normal Gendlin Focusing as it involves knowing how to defuse mines without triggering them. Knowing the signs within the body can be very useful and will get put together with images, feelings, concepts, events, naturally by spontaneous Rogerian relationship.

— Stanislav Grof is very useful if you want to understand the nature of strange cognitions you’ve had, including ones in childhood. This was big for me and many people have some such memories or find them surfacing in meditation or self-enquiry. Getting a psychological handle on them makes them easier to process. See Realms of the Human Unconscious for example. Grof’s use of LSD proved there’s at least some value in it — more on exactly how much value in the next series. His ideas on what he calls COEX systems, too, in the same book, were very interesting and gave me some a-ha’s, although when it comes to dealing with them and the mind generally he is less interesting, as he doesn’t understand spiritual training. But that’s why we have chi kung.

If childhood was difficult and some parts of you seem permanently weird or irrational, another useful resource is the blog of Rodger Garrett, which shows the biology of this is now being understood quite clearly (limbic system inflammation plays a large role). The practices I’m giving here can heal this — his can too, he says. A great key is to understand just how much of this is physiology that can be resolved with work on the chi.

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 XII

The Rogers ideas go very well with many further approaches to fine-tune.

Obviously the addition of moving chi kung or yoga, or both — anything that harmonises chi/prana/energy and promotes healthy strength/flexibility — is wise, and for someone planning on awakening Kundalini should go without saying. But one does not have to be too serious at first. I have always learned best by playing, as psychology predicts. Natural additions are acupressure, Jin Shin Jyutsu, 6 Healing Sounds etc. Sources are on the Reading Lists. I’ve always enjoyed a little Feldenkrais, a system with very interesting points to make on body-mind connection. Having someone else work on you now and then can be good too. This kind of purgation and harmonisation does on the energetic level precisely what Rogers-style awareness does on the identity level — allows flow and builds integrity.

A lot of people seem not to want to believe that something as simple as acupressure can profoundly relieve, say, depression. Find your points and they will make the point better than I can, especially if you’ve developed a little chi. This process is partly about pleasure, as the body becomes more comfortable in everyday life. Without getting into Epicureanism again, pleasure of this, let’s say, unproblematic kind can be a very important signal and guide. Happiness is no mere snare, and all of these methods do actually inculcate it in my experience, especially when one thinks in terms of regularly lowering stress over a period of time.

A Rogerian attitude emphasises not over-extending oneself and really listening to the body. Expanding to bigger challenges (which of course increase satisfaction) only after one is comfortable is the way of the person without much to prove, as opposed to he who attempts to scare death off with perfect asanas and ligament blowouts. (This was Glenn’s advice in the “thanatos” chapters of Martial Arts Madness, 1999.) A good diet and time spent in nature are valuable.

Since this series will be my last featuring normal-level psychology in any major way, as I move into more mystical territory, I’ll give greater depth in these following posts on helpful psychological ideas to couple with Rogers on the journey. Various experiences (or whims) may arise which need a specialised approach, but I doubt most people will need everything on the list, and certainly not all at once! Apologies if it seems over-long, but I want to give as much as I can that I know has value. Something might jump out as interesting, now or later. All of this does connect to the Kundalini work and that will become very clear too. Meanwhile treat it as optional and remember it all works with Rogers. Room only for one this week with more to come over the next few posts.

— Herbert Benson, the discoverer of the Relaxation Response, later came up with the Breakout Principle (2004), which uses processes like meditation and other forms of awareness to trigger spontaneous inspirations and answers to just about anything, without conscious processing. Of all these approaches I highly recommend experimenting with this one at some point, since essentially it is holotropic spontaneity in action. Experiencing it in this context makes it very easy to trust that spontaneity as a general process. The method involves letting go. It triggers genuine and delightful moments of enlightenment which can even be peak experiences. It even has neurochemistry attached.

The book is suitable for complete beginners; see two previous posts here and here for more.

[It is interesting to contemplate, after having a few of these inspirations, that meeting with their source is a great goal of spiritual practice. But that deeper question must wait for future 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.