MR TURNER – A WORK OF FLATTERY?
All the critics love the Mike Leigh film ‘Mr Turner’, but I thought it was an ugly film about an ugly man. But I have now come to think that it is a work of flattery. It systematically pushes the view that Turner was an ordinary man with ordinary failings, and wants us to love him in spite of all his faults.
But this is only a partial view of him. He was also a genius, who painted extraordinary canvases, impressive and striking still after all these years. There was nothing much about this in the film, which was mostly lowlife and ordinary. You would be hard put to it to find much in this film about ecstatic pictures which force the viewer to say – “Wow!”
So I would call this a work of flattery, allowing and indeed encouraging the viewer to think that Turner was not so different from us, really. But he was different from us. He inhabited, at times, a world far removed from us. He saw things we could never see, he actually portrayed visions of the eternal, of the spiritual, of the supernal. He did indeed inhabit our everyday world, but he also inhabited a world far removed from ours, a world of extraordinary vision and command, which made him the artist we still think important and revelatory today. This was not in the film. Perhaps it would make him too different. Perhaps he would then be unsympathetic. Perhaps he would show us up for the worms we are. Who knows?
November 16, 2014
BIG LIGHT, LITTLE LIGHT
In my morning meditation I can see a great tree at the bottom of the garden, and as part of the work I have a ritual involving lighting a candle. One dark morning before I lit the candle I noticed that just to one side of the tree, in the distance, was a tiny light, just a single point. I lit the candle, and thought what a pity, the big bright light of the candle quite outshone the tiny light in the distance.
But then I saw that by simply looking beyond the candle flame, I could still see the small light in the distance. It was not an either–or, but a both–and.
Now to me the candle flame was symbolic of the spiritual life. It carried the promise of connection with the divine. It represented the living soul, burning ceaselessly and inspiringly inside me. It was comforting and reassuring. It represented the immanence of the sacred in all the world.
So what did the little point of light in the distance represent? I decided that it said something about the Ultimate, something about the farther reaches of spirituality, where there was absolute purity, absolute freedom, the giving up of everything that was false.
Of course in reality it was the distant light that was the big one and the candle flame that was the small one. The candle flame just looked bigger because it was nearer. But the distant light had to be big, otherwise it could not be seen so far away.
And it seemed to me that the fact that I could see both at the same time gave the lie to the usual assumption that you have to give up the comforts of the lower in order to ascend to the heights of the higher. Why not have both at the same time? There is so much arrogance in the pursuit of spiritual worth, and in just seeing things one way, as if there were just one truth.
I began to see that we don’t have to give up one in order to have the other. We can have both. On one level we can have the immanent, the close by, the approachable symbols of the divine. On another level we can have the transcendent, the ultimate, the farther reaches of human nature, as Maslow put it. We don’t have to give up one in order to have the other. And of course we can have our everyday life too, where we go to Sainsburys, put out the dog, vacuum the carpet, switch the TV on or off, and all that.
We are complex beings, who live on a number of different levels, and have the power and sometimes the impetus to explore levels which are less familiar and less well known. Perhaps the fact that we are human beings doesn’t mean that we can’t be divine beings as well?
And further still, suppose the distant light went out? What if it were not there in the morning? Perhaps it would be enough to remember it, to know that it had been there? Once I have seen it, do I have to go on seeing it? Or is it enough to have seen it once, and hold that knowledge in my heart?
October 31, 2014
13 Oct 2014 KENSHO
Just back from the transpersonal conference in Northampton, all about Mindfulness and Meditation. Several of the speakers claimed to be meditators, some for long periods, but nobody mentioned kensho. Now kensho is the typical Buddhist breakthrough experience, where the meditator realises his or her Buddha nature, through and through. Just sitting around doing breathing exercises or whatever has no particular merit, in my opinion, unless it does lead on to kensho, or some equally impressive and evidential breakthrough.
I had my first kensho experience, properly attested, at the Maenllwyd centre in Wales, under the tutelage of John Crook, a duly appointed member of an established lineage. By coincidence, it was the weekend of the 9/11 events in New York, and I had had deep experiences of being the victims, and also the pilots of the planes, involved in that happening. But my own experience of opening up to a realisation of my own Buddha nature was the most powerful thing, and a great moment for me.
On the weekend at Northampton, it occurred to me that virtually all the work being done on Mindfulness amounts only to the achievement of awareness, or self-awareness. This is worth while and valuable in itself, I believe, and I did a lot of that work myself in the 70s, mostly under the banner of Gestalt therapy. But it has to be said that the relationship between awareness and meditation is thin or non-existent. They are two quite different things, particularly when the meditation being taught is mostly concentrative meditation, when the closest form of meditation to awareness is mindfulness meditation – in other words, Vipassana or Satipatthana meditation – which is very different from concentrative meditation.
So I have been left with a lot of question marks out of that weekend, which I hope to explore further in due course.
October 13, 2014
6 October 2014 Transpersonal Conference
Just back from the EUROTAS conference in Crete. Lovely hotel near Georgeopolis, must have been 500 people there, including Anne Baring, Bernadette Blin, Les Lancaster, David Lukoff, Harald Walach, Pier Luigi Lattuada, Vladimir Maykov, Rosemarie Anderson, Stanley Krippner, Marcie Boucouvalas, John Drew, and many more. Weather very good too. Some inspiring presentations, and a wonderful closing ceremony. Really renewed my faith that transpersonal psychology has an important part to play in the age to come. I did a presentation of transpersonal psychotherapy, which really tried to show how we can use Subtle level insights in therapy, even with people who have never heard of the transpersonal and have no background in that area. We don’t often talk about inspiration, yet all of us need inspiration, and do get it at times
It is clear that transpersonal psychology is spreading world wide. There are now 33 countries represented in EUROTAS, which is the European umbrella organization, and next year a big conference will be held in Brazil. For those of us who insist on opening up to the wider and deeper universe, it is encouraging to see the approach spreading in this way.
Next week I am speaking at the British Psychological Society conference in Northampton, casting some doubt on the recent popularity of Mindfulness, which I am going to say has very little connection with meditation, although it has merits of its own, mostly to do with simple awareness. The transpersonal approach is not all about peace and light, and has a critical voice at times which needs to be heard.
October 6, 2014
There is a colour tree in Berkeley Square
Yellow, orange, red, green – lots of branches
Shape of a lollipop
But all curly, wurly
Standing there, leading us on
Challenging us to say if it is real or not
But who wants to define it, who wants to put it down –
Let’s all swim to Cassiopoeia!
August 30, 2014
10 August 2014 Memory
Have just sent in a long letter to the British Psychological Society complaining about an article on memory in the June 2014 issue of the Psychologist magazine. It falls into the classic crime of reducing all memory to conscious recall, as if this were all that there is.
The controversies about memory in therapy might be eased if we accepted that there were four memories, not one.
1. Intellectual memory, cognitive memory, is located somehow in the brain, mostly in the cerebral cortex. The details are not yet all worked out, but nearly all of the work in memory in psychology has to do with this type of memory. And there tends to be a dogmatism that this is all there is.
2. Emotional memory also has a great deal to do with the brain, but here it is mainly in the limbic system, and takes the form of images rather than words. It is difficult to reach other than by actually re-experiencing the events concerned. This also applies to memories held in the muscles, as Reich and other body therapists have discovered. See Babette Rothschild (2000).
3. Bodily memory is held all over the body. Again it has to be re-experienced or relived, rather than called up verbally. Graham Farrant (1990) calls it cellular memory, and has written a good deal about it. Much of the primal work in psychotherapy (Brown & Mowbray 1994) depends upon this level of memory. David Chamberlain (1998) has given much of the evidence for birth memories being of this kind.
4. Subtle memory or soul memory is not located in the body or brain, but in the subtle body. It holds memories of previous lives and of lives lived at other levels of the transpersonal realm. It is not difficult to tap into once one makes the effort, as Roger Woolger (1990) has argued.
Each of these four has its own rules and its own mode of investigation. But 2, 3 and 4 are hardly studied in academic psychology. This is a great shame to psychology, which needs to open up more.
August 10, 2014
20 July 2014
One of the normal outcomes of therapy, and of meditation too, is a different way of having emotions. Basically it is a movement from being dominated by our emotions to being behind our emotions. As we say – “We have emotions – the emotions do not have us.” This does not sound so bad. So far, so good. But my recent experience shows another side to this achievement. My wife Sue and I went in for a scheme offered by the Guide Dogs for the Blind people. You get a puppy just a few weeks old, and take charge of it (with a lot of support and help from the Guide Dogs people) for a year. At the end of the year it goes for further training, or for stud. You get all the food paid for, and any vet’s bills covered, meetings where you can learn more about your dog and so forth – wonderful system. Of course everyone says – “Won’t it be awful when you have to let him go?” And my answer was – “No, because I am not going to allow myself to fall in love with him.” Our puppy was a gorgeous Golden Retriever, who grew up to be a real star – always the centre of attention, always basking in the adoration of his public. But when it came to be the time to let him go on (in his case it was for stud) I did not feel anything special. It was just a fact.
However, on that evening, when he was to go the next day, my wife (who always did most of the work in raising him, and had many connections with other puppy walkers and others in the Guide Dog community) was very sad. I was completely on the wrong wavelength for her, and there was quite a rift between us. This was quite unintended, and I didn’t like it. It was painful for me, and quite out of the range of my expectations. This was quite unexpected – I had just not thought it through enough. I was hurt, and shocked, and brought up short by reality. (Due to her maturity, our rift did not last for very long, which was lucky for me.)
So now I have resolved that, if we have a dog again, I shall not have any firm resolutions or decisions about it, but simply allow myself to feel whatever I would normally feel, without any particular effort at control. This then hopefully will allow me to be more in tune with my wife, and more real and normal. That is odd in a way – sort of resolving to be human, which sounds ridiculous.
You see, once you have attained maturity with your emotions, there is no going back. Whatever happens with your emotions, they are your emotions. As we say, we have our emotions – our emotions do not have us. You cannot unlearn that lesson, but you can make better and wiser decisions about the matter. You can decide to roll with reality, rather than controlling it. Just because I have the power to control my feelings, that does not mean that I have to do that. I can just let go and stay in tune with my wife Sue, like a normal husband. Sounds quite easy, really.
July 23, 2014
8 July 2014
All that work I did last year, on chapters for books by others, is now paying off, and the chapters are appearing, one by one. Here is the latest list:
‘The transpersonal in individual therapy’ 497-518 in W Dryden & A Reeves (eds) The handbook of individual therapy (6th ed) London: Sage 2014
‘The transpersonal approach to coaching’ 145-156 in E Cox, T Bachkirova & D Clutterbuck (eds) The complete handbook of coaching (2nd ed) London: Sage 2014
‘Existential analysis and humanistic psychotherapy’ 549-561 in K J Schneider, J F Pierson & J F T Bugental (eds) The handbook of humanistic psychology: Theory, research and practice (2nd ed) London: Sage 2015
‘Existential, humanistic and transpersonal therapies and the relational approach’ 40-50 in D Charura & S Paul (eds) The therapeutic relationship handbook: Theory and practice Maidenhead: The Open University Press 2014
There is also another one to come, on Primal Integration, but I have not got the full details of publication yet. It is nice to see all these in print at last, and available to all.
July 8, 2014
I went to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition last week. It did not impress me very much. But it reminded me of the last time I was there.
When I visited the David Hockney exhibition in the Royal Academy, I was not expecting much. It was just something one should do, to keep up with the times. But when I saw ‘The Hawthorn Bush’ something extraordinary happened. I was taken into a realm of peace and joy. There was the unmistakable ring of the numinous. It was enormous, it filled a wall by itself, it was a presence in the room. It took up the whole space. It spoke to me.
My heart really did leap up. This was the real thing. Just as when I walked into the Rothko room in the Tate Modern, there was that crash of recognition – that outburst of ‘This is it!’ What such works have in common is that you cannot represent them. No reproduction, no other rendering, can give you the same experience. Just as with Epstein’s statue of ‘Jacob and the Angel’, you have to be there with it, somehow joined with it, admitted to its essence.
‘The Hawthorn Bush’ is different. It is there. It looks at you, and demands that you look at it. But it is not just the looking, it is the being. It is there, with you, in the room. And the other paintings, and the other spectators, fade out, go silent. Just me. And it. Mutually present. This is it.
June 10, 2014
20 May 2014
Just been seeing ‘Poet in New York’ on TV. Marvellous reading of ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ (Dylan Thomas) by Tom Hollander. It reminded me of 1959, when I had to take five exams in order to get on to my degree course at Birkbeck. I took the philosophy exam and the final exam for the Sociology diploma I had been doing, an A level exam in logic and another one in literature, and a scholarship exam to Birkbeck College. The A level exam in English Literature featured one of those ‘compare and contrast’ questions on two great poems about death – ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ and John Donne’s ‘Death be not proud’ – two of my favourite poems, so I was lucky with that. The Hollander reading was so brilliant, it brought tears to my eyes. He had obviously been listening to Thomas’ own reading of the poem, and reproduced it faithfully. Dylan Thomas was one of the great readers of his own poems, and I particularly love the way he does ‘After the Funeral’ – one of the great performances, I think. Really moving and shattering. I wish we could hear John Donne reading his own poetry!
May 20, 2014