The Great Bear
This morning I was meditating and looked out of the window, and there in the darkness was the Great Bear, hovering over the garden, squarely, as if it belonged there.
I had been meditating in the same spot for ten years, and never noticed it before! It must have been there all the time, because the window faces North. There it must have been, circling round and round, and I hadn’t ever seen it.
Of course, sometimes there would have been clouds, and sometimes the dawn would have come sooner and obliterated it, but still and all, it must have been there many times before.
And it made me think – how many things are there that have been there all the time, and I have never noticed? How often have I ignored something big that was staring me in the face? Because the Great Bear is huge, it covers a big chunk of the sky.
Not only that – the Great Bear is highly significant. It points to the North, and you can always locate the North Star by following the two stars at the square end. It is one of the most useful constellations in the sky, because it never fails – it is always there, no matter where you go in this country.
It is one of the 28 constellations listed by Ptolemy in the second century. It is mentioned in the Bible and in Homer’s Iliad. It is also called the Plough, the Wagon, the Big Dipper and Charles’ Wain. The Charles in question is actually Charles the Great, or Charlemagne. In Ireland it is called King David’s Chariot, and in France the Great Chariot. In Germany it is the Wagon of Odin. In Hindu mythology the stars of the Great Bear are known as the seven Rishis, or Sages. The Romans called these stars the Septentriones – the Guardians of the North. In Greek mythology, the nymph Callisto lost her virginity to Zeus and was changed into a bear by his jealous wife Hera. But she was then placed in the heavens by Zeus together with her child the Little Bear.
I knew none of this. How strange it is that we can ignore something so big and so important. How many other big things am I ignoring? How many big things are you ignoring? We talk sometimes of the elephant in the room – how about the great bear just outside the window
May 28, 2015
One of the favourite mantras of the coach is ‘Set Your Goals’. This is very understandable, for without goals how do we know where we are going, much less how to get there?
Some distinguish between end goals and performance goals. They point out that end goals are not always within our control, whereas performance goals are much more controllable by us. We can take responsibility for a performance goal, but not for an end goal. For example, I can more or less guarantee to produce an essay on time if I have to, but I cannot guarantee to get the best ever marks for it.
Others make a distinction between performance goals (which can be measured objectively), learning goals (outcomes might be external or internal to a person) and fulfilment goals (measured by a sense of fulfilment.).
But isn’t there a general problem about goals? I have no quarrel with short-term goals, like writing a letter or picking up the dry cleaning or buying a magazine. Of course we all have those, and rightly so. But long-term goals are different.
The song says – “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” But if your dream is to become a doctor, what happens when you do become a doctor? If your dream is to circumnavigate the world, what do you do for an encore? If your dream is to climb Everest, and you get to the top, and admire the view, and take a photograph or a film, and ignore the debris of all the previous climbers, what next?
In therapy, people often talk of self-actualisation, or individuation, or the fully functioning person, or the genital character, or a clear, as goals. But what do you do when you become self-actualised, when you become individuated, when you become a fully functioning person, when you achieve a genital character, when you become a clear? If these are achievable goals, they must sometimes be achieved. Once you have had your dream come true, what now?
Even more deeply, what about what is sometimes thought of as the ultimate goal — the goal of enlightenment? Is this something we could or should aim at? Nobody ever seems to claim to have reached it. Some say that at the point of enlightenment, there is no person to be enlightened. Isn’t that a strange sort of a goal?
Perhaps we can do without these big important impressive final goals, after all?
April 11, 2015
22 March 2015 Transference
One of the things that has always annoyed me about the psychoanalysts is their emphasis on the idea of transference. Over and over again they bring it in, and one of my clients, who also had a supervisor who was psychoanalytic, said that this supervisor would continually ask – “And what was going on there in the transference?” But until recently I had no real alternative to this, and only quite a feeble reply to the question – “What do you do then?” And in my own work in supervision, I found the notion of countertransference quite a useful one on many occasions.
But recently I have realised that the idea of the dialogical self neatly takes the place of both transference and countertransference. Instead of saying that we all have an unconscious mind, we say that we all have a number of I-positions. This is now far more precise and pointed than the idea of the unconscious, which now seems to be far too broad-brush and blunt to be of real use. We do not ask what the unconscious thinks about this, we ask instead which I-position has a different view – maybe even two or three different I-positions.
This is so simple and elegant that I cannot imagine ever going back to the old way of thinking. The client says – “I am now really ready to get married” – and instead of asking – “And what does your unconscious say about this?” – we can now say: “That is fine, but do any of your I-positions have a different point of view on this?” We may discover that there are not just two things going on, but perhaps three or four things at the same time. This may not be any simpler, but it is far more precise. And we can then go on to probe the strength and justification of any of these other voices.
We can also use the same idea to probe the relationship in therapy. If there are six I-positions on the client’s side and four or five on the therapist’s side, there is far more going on than we were able to see before. And we can tease out the multiple relationships that result. Years ago, Petruska Clarkson was saying that there were five relationships going on at the same time – now we are saying that that is itself a simplification, and that there may be other relationships hitherto unobserved and unnamed that also figure and need to be taken into account. The beauty of this idea is that it describes something that can be brought out and examined in the therapy room here and now, on the hoof, so to say. The dialogical self theory, so well described by Hubert Hermans and his co-workers, is easy to use and open to all.
March 22, 2015
THE SUBTLE AND THE DIALOGICAL SELF
One of the most exciting possibilities opened up by access to the Subtle realm is that we can use the theory of the Dialogical Self to bring to life the many entities proposed as existing in the Subtle realm. My own favourites include Erishkigal, Tiamat, Kali-Ma, Aphrodite, Kwanyin, Bride, Sophia, Isis and Kamala, and on the male side (for the Subtle is very gender oriented) Shiva, Cernunnos, Pan, Eros, Avalokitesvara, Hermes, Dionysos, Osiris and Ganesh. But of course we are not restricted to these, and others may invoke Obatala, Muhammed, the Guardian Angel, the Mahatma, Meister Eckhart, Socrates and so forth.
On those occasions when we need advice or help, it is companions like these we can call upon. This is the level of prayer and supplication covered in Bhakti Yoga. You may remember that in Dialogical Self work we go back and forth between two chairs, speaking from both in dialogue form. This may remind us of the extensive work of Donald Walsch in his ‘Conversations with God’ series. He was furiously writing out all his complaints about his life, addressing them to God as responsible for it all. When he finally slackened down and paused, his pen started to move on its own, and he found himself writing – “Do you really want an answer to all these questions, or are you just venting?” He allowed the conversation to continue, and the result was a book which sold millions of copies.
In every form of therapy, it sometimes happens that we feel the need to get advice from someone we respect. The identity of that person seems to matter less than the basic idea of asking. Now the problem with orthodox religion is that we never (or very rarely) get an answer to our prayers. But in our approach here we address our concerns to an empty chair, and then, when we are ready, we change chairs and speak from the other one. Of course this is not the only way, and we have already seen how Walsch found another – there may be many others.
In my experience this can often be a very powerful move, and the advice given is often miraculously apposite and helpful. Of course the choice of who to talk to is very individual, and the client has to be asked to choose carefully – not to use the ideas of the therapist, but to seek within themselves the appropriate character. In my own experience, one client chose a charismatic football manager, another chose Sherlock Holmes, another the Wise Woman, and so forth. In Dialogical Self work there are no limits to the entities who can be contacted.
March 6, 2015
Authenticity is the natural expression of having made the move from first-tier consciousness – what Ken Wilber calls Mental Ego consciousness, and what is often called conventional consciousness – to second-tier consciousness, or what Wilber calls Centaur consciousness, and which is often called post-conventional consciousness. This is quite a normal and natural progression, but it often results from a crisis of some kind, which shakes us out of the comforts of conventional consciousness.
First tier consciousness is dominated by formal logic, based on the premise that A is A. This is the logic often taught in schools, and it has been named variously as Aristotelian, Newtonian, Cartesian, Boolean and mathematical logic. It is used very successfully in computers, and is highly suitable for working with inanimate things.
Second tier consciousness is dominated by dialectical logic, the logic of paradox and contradiction, whose basic premise is that A is not simply A. This is the logic we require for dealing adequately with human beings. And it is only if we embrace this form of logic that we can understand authenticity.
Authenticity is fully embodied in most of the forms of humanistic psychotherapy, including Person-centred, Gestalt, Psychodrama, experiential therapies, Primal Integration, radical therapy, feminist therapy, several body therapies, dream work and so forth. They are very much at home there, contributing essentially to the humanistic emphasis on the whole person and the authentic relationship. The humanistic view of authenticity is broader and more inclusive than that to be found in existential analysis.
James Bugental has written two books about authenticity. He says that authenticity is a combination of self respect (we are not just part of an undifferentiated world) and self enactment – we express our care or involvement in the world in a visible way. Here is a key quotation: “By authenticity I mean a central genuineness and awareness of being. Authenticity is that presence of an individual in his living in which he is fully aware in the present moment, in the present situation. Authenticity is difficult to convey in words, but experientially it is readily perceived in ourselves or in others.” (Bugental 1981, p.102) In other words, what we in humanistic psychology are saying is that authenticity is an experience.
As Rollo May has said so well: “Freedom is a quality of action of the centred self.” (May 1979, p.176) The humanistic view is that action is the acid test of experience.
What it seems so hard to convey to many people is that the real self, the self which is to be actualised in self-actualisation, is not a concept but an experience. It is not something to be argued at a philosophical level, it is something to be encountered at an experiential level. Otherwise it becomes an abstract and useless concept. Some existentialists embrace this, as for example here:
Authenticity consists in having a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks that it involves, in accepting it in pride or humiliation, sometimes in horror and hate. There is no doubt that authenticity demands much courage and more than courage. Thus it is not surprising that one finds it so rarely. (Sartre 1948, p.90)
It demands so much because it involves moving beyond the confines of the familiar mental ego. To get away from the abstract argument, let us take a concrete example. It comes from a book by Allen Wheelis, and it goes like this:
Look at the wretched people huddled in line for the gas chambers at Auschwitz. If they do anything other than move on quietly, they will be clubbed down. Where is freedom?… But wait. Go back in time, enter the actual event, the very moment: they are thin and weak, and they smell; hear the weary shuffling steps, the anguished catch of breath, the clutch of hand. Enter now the head of one hunched and limping man. The line moves slowly; a few yards ahead begin the steps down. He sees the sign, someone whispers “showers”, but he knows what happens here. He is struggling with a choice: to shout “Comrades! They will kill you! Run!” – or to say nothing. This option, in the few moments remaining, is his whole life. If he shouts he dies now, painfully; if he moves on silently he dies but minutes later. Looking back on him in time and memory, we find the moment poignant but the freedom negligible. It makes no difference in that situation, his election of daring or of inhibition. Both are futile, without consequence. History sees no freedom for him, notes only constraint, labels him victim. But in the consciousness of that one man it makes great difference whether or not he experiences the choice. For if he knows the constraint and nothing else, if he thinks “Nothing is possible”, then he is living his necessity; but if, perceiving the constraint, he turns from it to a choice between two possible courses of action, then – however he chooses – he is living his freedom. This commitment to freedom can extend to the last breath. (Wheelis 1973, ‘How People Change’, pp.31-32)
For humanistic psychotherapy, authenticity is a direct experience of the real self. It is unmistakable, it is self-authenticating. And if we want to know how to use it on a daily basis, we can go to the excellent book by Will Schutz entitled ‘Profound Simplicity’ (3rd edition 1988).
There is an important link between authenticity and genuineness as described by Carl Rogers. “It is my feeling that congruence is a part of existential authenticity, that the person who is genuinely authentic in his being-in-the-world is congruent within himself; and to the extent that one attains authentic being in his life, to that extent is he congruent.” (Bugental 1981, p.108) Again it takes Bugental to draw our attention to the heartland of the humanistic approach, which is also the heartland of the existential approach. Both Bugental and Rogers are clear that congruence is difficult and demanding, and recent writers like Dave Mearns have made it clear that it cannot be taught as a skill.
As authentic beings, we recognise our individuality. Further, we recognise that this individuality is not a static quality but is, rather, a set of (possibly infinite) potentialities. As such, while in the authentic mode, we maintain an independence of thought and action, and subsequently feel ‘in charge’ of the way our life is experienced. Rather than reacting as victims to the vicissitudes of being, we, as authentic beings, acknowledge our role in determining our actions, thought and beliefs, and thereby experience a stronger and fuller sense of integration, acceptance, ‘openness’ and ‘aliveness’ to the potentialities of being-in-the-world. (Spinelli 1989, p.109)
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
February 12, 2015
MY STATION AND ITS DUTIES
One of the problems about being a real person, an existential self, someone who takes full responsibility for their own life, is that one may not pay sufficient attention to one’s position in society. As social beings, which we all are, we are expected to behave in certain ways: to obey the law, to fulfil our obligations, to keep our promises, to avoid unnecessary offence, to behave with compassion and consideration of others.
One of the main books I recommend to people who are beginning to turn the corner of entry into what Wilber (2000) calls the Centaur realm (the realm of the real self, the existential self, the authentic self, is Will Schutz’ book ‘Profound Simplicity’. This does recommend paying attention to the social milieu, as to everything else, but it does not spend much time on issues like this, and so it seems worthwhile to stick with our issue for a moment or two.
As social beings, we live in a network of social expectations, the most obvious of which are the laws. Every time we enter into some social connection, we enter into the laws covering that connection. If we drive a car, we enter into all the laws covering cars; if we marry, we enter into all the laws covering marriage; if we go shopping, we enter into all the laws covering shopping; and so on. We may only discover this, or become aware of this, when we break the law and get punished, or when someone else in that legal relationship breaks the law and gets punished.
But there are other expectations, not carrying the force of law, but still demanding attention. We are expected to treat family members in certain appropriate ways. We are expected to treat our employers or employees in certain appropriate ways; we are expected to treat our customers or suppliers in certain appropriate ways, and so on. These are all social duties, and we break them at our peril. They are usually quite gentle and appropriate, and we hardly notice them. We take them for granted, and only become aware of them if we, or the others, make a mistake, and get it wrong.
This sense of right and wrong is just as important as the principle of choice which Schutz deals with so well. If we are wise, we shall conform to the expectations of each of the roles which we play. We shall drive on the correct side of the road; we shall pay the bill which is offered; we shall support our families as best we can; we shall not insult our customers – and so on. Some of these are not legal requirements at all; but we disobey them at our peril.
So we are not only in pursuit of our own good: we are also necessarily in pursuit of the common good. As Collingwood says: “The consciousness of duty is thus the agent’s consciousness of his action as a unique individual action relevant to a unique individual situation.” Duty is about the common good, and it really matters to us because we are always social beings in a social milieu.
The philosopher F H Bradley famously wrote an essay on ‘My Station and its Duties’, and this seems to me just as important as the Schutz emphasis on the individual creation of reality. We always create reality – or anything else – in relation to others, and this is our life.
John Rowan 2015
January 29, 2015
11 January 2015 A Celebration
Amazing day for me. Quite unexpectedly (my incredible wife Sue had marvellously kept it a secret from me) I was given a festschrift, taking the form of a special issue of Self & Society (Vol 42 Nos 3 & 4). Old friends from various decades of my life had been alerted, again by the amazing Sue, and a big circle of them joined to celebrate the event. It was lovely to see so many faces from the past, thanks to Sue. It was a wonderful issue, containing all sorts of stuff by me and about me. Actually they gave me some copies to distribute, so anyone reading this can give me their mailing address, and I will send them one.
One of the articles, by Sue Rowan, reminded me of two events from the past. In 1950 or so I met Harold Walsby, who became my mentor for about five years. He was versed in the philosophy of Hegel, especially as modified by the British philosophers F S Johnson and Francis Sedlak. We were out in his car, and he asked me what my fundamental beliefs were – things I could not doubt were true. As I brought out each one he demonstrated to me convincingly that it was self-contradictory, and therefore could not be fundamental. Eventually I was left with nothing. All my most basic beliefs had been laid waste, shown to be inadequate and false. ( learned later that this was a technique taken from the Madkhyamika school of Buddhism). He then asked me to take for granted Nothing. And he showed that once Nothing was granted, Being followed from that, because this Nothing was. It had Being, the Being of Nothing. So Being and Nothing were one and the same. Yet they were not the same, because they had two different names. So what was true was the movement of Being into Nothing and Nothing into Being, indefinitely. But that brought into being a new category, Becoming. And so, by carrying on like that, all the categories of logic came into being, one after another. He told me that Marx was the only political writer who did justice to the dialectical logic of Hegel, and that I should join the SPGB (the Socialist Party of Great Britain). This is a small party of pure Marxists, where you have to pass an exam to join, and another exam if you want to be a party speaker. Both of these I did, and actually became the editor of the internal journal of the Party. But later four of us (John Macgregor, Stan Parker and Frank Terry were the others) became so critical of the official Party line that we got thrown out of the Party. We thought of starting a new party of our own, but then decided that we actually knew very little about society, and joined the Diploma in Sociology course of London University for the next four years. I did well at that, and was encouraged to go on for a degree, which I did. In 1959 I took five examinations: A level Logic and English Literature (I had omitted to take A levels earlier), the Diploma exam in Philosophy, the final Diploma exam in Sociology and an entrance exam for Birkbeck College, where I joined the degree course in Psychology and Philosophy. I studied that – a ghastly experience involving rats in cages and English philosophers – and by the time I finished I had four children, so I went into consumer research. I also kept on studying Hegel for the next fifty years or so, reading the Smaller and the Larger Logic, the Phenomenology of Spirit, the Philosophy of Religion, the Philosophy of Right, the Philosophy of Aesthetics and also the works of Sedlak, Wallace, and other British Hegelians. I have never written about all this before. (Walsby wrote a master work called ‘The Domain of Ideologies’, which is now featured on a website called GWIEP. This was my introduction to the idea of levels of consciousness, which later became so much a part of my own work. At one point I shared a room with Peter Rollings – who later changed his name to Shepherd – a great scholar of the Walsbian persuasion) also featured on GWIEP.
The other event it reminded me of was my involvement in what William West (p.37) names the West London Theatre Group, who put on performances of the Great and Glorious Ghetto Show (or some such title) in which I played the part of Mr Busy Bigness, complete with top hat. We regarded ourselves as representing street theatre, which was quite popular at the time, which I suppose was early Seventies. We went round various venues, some indoors and so out in the street. At one of these, held in a youth centre hall, my wallet was stolen. This led to me signing up to a credit card recovery insurance scheme, which I have kept up ever since, and has been a great saviour on two or three occasions.
There is so much more, and much deeper and more interesting, stuff in this issue of the journal, and I was extremely chuffed to receive it. I think I did not express this enough at the time, and I am sorry if anyone was disappointed at my low-key response, but really it was one of the highlights of my life so far.
January 12, 2015
AWAY WITH THE TRIANGLE!
Hazel Guest (December issue) makes an interesting point about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but she still refers to the ‘triangle or pyramid, which is reproduced in countless publications’. Indeed, it appears on page 983, complete with the additional level which is the subject of her article.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow launched his theory of a hierarchy of needs. He later elaborated on it, and the latest edition of his book came out 44 years later (Maslow 1987). There is no triangle in this book. At some point in this period, some bright spark (probably a text editor) had the idea of printing out this hierarchy in the form of a triangle or pyramid. This produced a very attractive diagram, and later versions added colour to make it even more so. And this is the version that Hazel Guest has used, adding the extra level (intrinsic values) which she argues for in her article.
What is wrong with the triangle is that it suggests that there is an end-point to personal growth. What is also wrong is that it suggests that this end-point is not far away. So the questions that are raised here are: is there an end-point, and if so where is it?
The main writer in recent times who has suggested that there is more to be said is Ken Wilber (2000). He has made it clear that what Maslow was talking about, and describing in some detail as the level of self-actualisation, was a level of consciousness which Wilber calls the Centaur self (because it is here that bodymind unity becomes obvious) and which Wade (1996) perhaps more helpfully calls the Authentic self. I sometimes call it the Existential self, because this is a level which is completely describable in terms of the existential way of seeing the world (Rowan 2001).
Beyond this, Wilber tells us there is a further stage of consciousness, which he calls the Subtle. This is a level where we encounter the Divine through concrete symbols and images: it is the realm of archetypes, of deity figures, of nature spirits, and of what Hillman (1997) calls the soul. It is also the realm of what Cortright (2007) has more recently called the psychic centre or the antaratman. Roberto Assagioli calls it the Higher Self. It has been written about by Jung, by Stanislav Grof and by Joseph Campbell, among others.
Beyond this is the Causal realm, where we have to give up all the symbols and images and embark on the wide ocean of spirituality, where we can speak equally of the One, the None and the All. Here there are no signposts and no landmarks, nothing to measure or describe. Everything is one, and so there are no problems.
And underlying all this (if we had a diagram this would be just the paper on which it is all written) is the Nondual, which is not at the end of any continuum, but is something else altogether.
What we need instead of a triangle, therefore, is something more like a ladder. And when we put Maslow’s ladder next to Wilber’s ladder, we can easily see that Wilber’s has more rungs.
Cortright, B (2007) Integral psychology Albany: SUNY Press
Hillman J (1997) The soul’s code New York: Bantam
Maslow, A H (1987) Motivation and personality (3rd ed) New York: Harper & Row
Rowan, J (2001) ‘Existential analysis and humanistic psychotherapy’ in K J Schneider, J F T Bugental & J F Pearson (eds) Handbook of humanistic psychology Thousand Oaks: Sage
Wade, J (1996) Changes of mind Albany: SUNY Press
Excellence in coaching Kogan Page 2007
Wilber, K. (2000) Integral psychology Boston: Shambhala
This letter was published in the BPS magazine ‘The Psychologist’ in December 2014.
December 22, 2014
6 December 2014
Interesting day yesterday examining a thesis by Giovanna Calabrese, all about a kind of therapy where both client and therapist go into an altered state of consciousness, which they call a trance. This is a transpersonal approach, and perhaps only suited to those who are OK with entering a spiritual realm. But this is something which I had not heard of before, and I found it fascinating. It was developed by an interesting guy called Per Luigi Lattuada, in Italy. The rather bulky title of his approach, given at the beginning of this blog, is perhaps too long for everyday use, and I hope a shorter title can be found.
It reminded me of the whole fascinating area of Subtle consciousness, so well explored by Carl Jung, Stanislav Grof, James Hillman, Joseph Campbell and Roger Woolger. And then I was also reminded of the female side of this work, as exemplified by people like Jean Houston, Marie-Louise von Franz, Barbara Woodman, our own Jocelyn Chaplin, Starhawk and Barbara Sullivan. As soon as we start talking about archetypes, those fascinating denizens of the Subtle realm, we are right in the area of altered states of consciousness.
And in this area, of course, dreams are a major currency. The current dominance of behaviourist thinking makes talking about dreams less popular nowadays, but I was fascinated to see in a recent list of publications that there are books now coming out on behavioural dreamwork. This seems quite remarkable to me. Happy dreams to all my readers!
December 6, 2014
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