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
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