MEETING WITH AN ANGEL
It was the 10th of June 2015 when I met an angel.
I was standing on the DLR platform at Stratford, trying to get to Greenwich University for the ‘Breaking Convention’ conference starting on the Friday morning. I was very puzzled, because the train standing in the station had the wrong label on it, going to some place I had never heard of. I tried to ask someone who looked like an employee of the railway how to get to the Cutty Sark, which was the stop I wanted, but he was not very helpful, and I could not get much sense out of what he said. I was feeling quite lost.
Suddenly there was a middle-aged man at my elbow, asking if he could help. I explained my problem, and he instantly came up with the solution. ‘You need the Jubilee Line’, he said. ‘Oh’, I said, ‘where is that?’ ‘Come with me’, he said, ‘and I will show you’. He took me to the Jubilee Line, and it turned out that he was going to Greenwich University himself, because he worked there. We went to Canary Wharf, where we had to get out, walk across a square, and get on the DLR line at Heron Quays. We chatted as we went, and he seemed quite an ordinary normal person, nothing special about him at all. We both got out at the Cutty Sark, and he then left me, after pointing me in the direction of the nearby University.
The conference started in the wonderful Painted Hall of the University, an amazing huge room with a high ceiling and a multitude of electric candles, really beautiful and impressive, quite inspiring.
So this is the puzzle. Why should he have gone out of his way to the DLR platform? Why should have he come up to me and asked me what the problem was? Why should he have taken me all the way to where I was going? The only answer I could come up with was that he was actually an angel, sent to guide and rescue me. He did not look like an angel – but then I realized that I had no idea of what an angel would look like in the world of today. All the images I had were from previous centuries. Am I being fanciful? Or is this the sober truth?
November 11, 2015
28 September 2015 HEART therapy
HEART stands for Humanistic, Existential, Authentic, Relational, Transpersonal therapy. I now feel that this is the answer to which therapy to adopt. It is demanding and thorough, and I have written about it at length in my new book which comes out next year. I shall also be presenting a whole day workshop on it on March 26th in Hampstead. Also in the same book is a full treatment of Dialogical Self theory, which replaces the idea of subpersonalities, and also replaces the old idea of the Unconscious. The book is called ‘The Reality Game – 3rd edition’.
To me this is a revelation, and a real step forward in the search for a therapy which will actually do justice to the whole person. After all, it is the whole person who comes in at the door and needs to be seen and appreciated. And if the person is really infinite, as I believe, then they need a therapy which does justice to that, and does not fob them off with anything less.
I think that the person is a bit like the TARDIS – pretty unimpressive on the outside, but practically infinite on the inside, with huge resources and immense untrodden ways. The person is not a poor limited worm on the face of the earth, but a being of great potential and magical connections.
One of the main things missing in most attempts at therapy is a real appreciation of the transpersonal. But if we take account of this amazing potential, we can move into a much higher realm of being, where nothing is impossible.
September 28, 2015
21 July 2015 PSYCHEDELICS
Went to the big psychedelic conference called ‘Breaking Convention’ this month at Greenwich University – 800 people from 50 or so different countries for three days! Very exciting event – talks, videos, workshops, films, experiments – very wide range.
Since 2006 or so there has been a revival of interest in psychedelics, and a wide range of research is now being carried out. Using MDMA in the treatment of PTSD has been successful, as has the use of psilocybin for depression, and so on.
It becomes clear that many of the psychedelics are useful in the exploration of mystical states and spiritual experiences. Unfortunately, most of the research has been of what we might call the ‘vanilla’ variety, restricted to mystical experiences which are nice, and easily containable, and thoroughly positive! But really these substances can offer access to the whole wide range of experiences of what Wilber calls the Subtle level. And it turns out that all, yes all, spiritual experiences come from the Subtle, as do our dreams. At the higher levels, which Wilber calls the Causal and the Nondual, there are no experiences. There is doubtless a realisation, but it would be wrong in my view to call that an experience. And so all the shocking experiences that Jung had, and the spiritual emergencies listed by Grof, and the many weird experiences listed in the Masters and Houston book, all belong to the Subtle realm, and are readily accessed through the use of LSD, ayahuasca, DMT and so forth.
The authorities in the UK are not keen on psychedelics, and show no signs of making them more available or accessible. The Beckley Foundation is a highly respectable research organization which has extracted some concessions, but even they report a Home Secretary with a hard line on drugs of any description at all – except of course for those peddled by the big drug companies.
I found the conference very enlivening and positive. The next one is in two years time.
July 24, 2015
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