The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
It is the source of all true art and science.
Mining the Unconscious
Human beings, like nature, are forever reaching for homeostatic balance. Our planet breathes the seasons, the ocean tides, full moon, no moon, earthquake and storm, calm. We are a part of the whole and the whole is a part of us. There is no point in resisting the flow. Only in release are we freed to become all we can be.
Your questions about therapy and the business of becoming a whole, integrated human being inspire me to reflect on different aspects, different approaches, different philosophies of healing...known as psychotherapy, or counseling. And even the new kid on the block, coaching - with facilitators alternately trained without the requirement of a graduate degree in psychology or counseling. Therapists, counselors, coaches, psychiatrists - who are MDs with the additional specialization in the pharmacology of psychology - may come from quite different traditions. Our goals for our clients are probably different. And yet, almost everyone finds help and healing within the therapeutic process.
The holistic psychotherapy crowd is my tribe, with focus on the transpersonal, experiential, and psychospiritual integration of healing body, mind, emotions and spirit. Depth Psychology is another moniker that describes my work. If someone comes to a session with me expecting to hear what they need to do to fix their problem, they will be disappointed. I help clients to discover their own answers, deep within their own minds, hearts, souls...and sometimes buried within the tensions in their body. It's hard work. And yet, the work is often swift. Clients experience epiphanies, ah has and go off to live their new inspiration, sometimes returning for tune-up sessions after a few months of working it through...or even years later when a primary issue resurfaces.
In the Eighties when I began my practice, I worked with a group and accepted insurance for a wide-range of clients and issues. Now that my practice has become more focused and specialized, I work with clients who are referred word-of-mouth. They have usually experienced previous therapy...maybe for a number of years. They're lovely. Maybe in a world of hurt with staggering issues, but they know what to expect when they walk in my door. I no longer have to explain what therapy is all about, as I often had to in the beginning. And that was OK. Questioning a therapist before you share your deepest darkest secrets is self-protective and smart.
It's helpful to understand what this therapy business is all about! And so...let's do this. Tour the origins of this work, and the different philosophies of healing to which therapist, counselor, coach...and psychiatrists may ascribe.
With consideration for the world-wide, far-reaching scope of issues that humanity, and each of us individually, are moved by, astrological wisdom reveals that Saturn - Father Time — in its seven year transit of our personal lives, regulates our goings and comings, womb-times and birthing. As a planet we are now under astrological influences that have not been felt for five hundred years, the period of Renaissance and Reformation. I am stunned. I feel it. Don’t you?
My psychological profession has experienced these waves of change — first expansion, then constriction. The so named Psychological Forces which have asserted influence on different therapeutic schools reveal the relentless principle of expansion and release, opening and closing. Emotions stand at the threshold of the unconscious mind and mysterious doorway to the soul. When restricted feelings shroud the entrance, we are unable to soar into our potential, create our dreams, and realize a fully human life. Today, most of us value emotional intelligence, but it has not always been so.
Just before the turn of the Twentieth Century, Behaviorism was the First Force in the psychological understanding of human nature. From Behaviorism we learned of Pavlov’s Dog, and the idea that human beings can be reduced to the mechanistic principle of stimulus/response. And yet, the difficulties in permanently changing our behavior and our habits is well-known. Maintaining changed behavior is tricky! And often fails because it is only a part of the bigger emotional substance of we human beings.
Next, came Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis - The Second Force. Freud's was a personal psychology with patient's problems seen as primarily motivated by sexual energies and hang-ups, governed by the personality structures of Id, Ego and Superego. Dr. Freud's work was carried on by a patient's daily sessions, lying on a couch and non-directionally speaking about whatever came up for them. While the psychoanalyst - sitting away from the patient's line of vision - took notes, only occasionally reflecting on what was being shared. Psychoanalysis was expected to take years...clearly most suitable for the wealthy. And yet, simply the belief that a personal unconscious existed at all was in itself revolutionary!
Freud’s contemporary colleague, Dr. Carl Jung, conceived not only a personal unconscious, but his theories opened the passageway to vast regions of the collective unconscious. These two preeminent European psychiatrists did not agree and their split was nasty. Freud's position was favored and Dr. Jung was ostracized from the medical community. Yet it is Jung’s influence, his memoir, Memories, Dream and Reflections - the piercing self-honestly, his painful retreat, and struggle to understand his dreams and creative imagination - that still today sounds a clear note of truth. As may be true for many of you, Jung awakened me to a widening world. And once we’re awake, we don’t want to go back to sleep. (See related blog: Dreams...)
A Cognitive-Behaviorist retreat in the Fifties attempted to restrict feelings into the ABC of Emotions. But Dr. Carl Jung had birthed awareness of the transcendent within each human body, mind and soul and the next, Third Force of Humanistic Psychology, built on Jung's understanding.
The Humanistic philosophy of Abraham Maslow gave us knowledge of human needs, from survival to self-actualization. Carl Rogers took the therapist off his throne as an authority, and gave power back to his clients: It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried. What a gift to encourage the clinical - and therefore emotionally and relationally remote - therapist to connect with their clients human-to-human!
In the next wave of psychological theory, The Fourth Force of Transpersonal Psychology, human beings were no longer regarded as merely human, but beautifully human. Talk therapy evolved into being therapy with an emphasis on the whole person: body and mind, emotions and spirit.
In the Seventies I caught this transpersonal wave and rode it toward recognition of my bigger story and integration of body, mind, emotions and spirit. A therapist cannot lead a client where they themselves have never been. My personal work - which I believe is required before anyone can be truly present in relationships - evolved into a professional passion. Personally astounded by the potential for completion of emotional unfinished business, and the wholeness which results in awareness of the complete gestalt - a whole picture - I trained for three years in Gestalt Therapy (created by Friz Perls). And became a practitioner of this transformative work and head of The Gestalt Institute of San Antonio.
Jung's seminal understandings of the unconscious is the bedrock of Depth Psychology. Transpersonal Psychology led us into ever expanding realms of the unconscious.
The consciousness revolution, and feminine psychology of the Eighties, continued to expand psychological understanding. I followed premiere Jungian Analyst, Marian Woodman (Addiction to Perfection, Dancing in the Flames) to a Transpersonal Conference in San Diego. There I soaked up the wisdom of cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien (The Four Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary). And experienced Breathwork with Dr. Stanislov Grof...powerful psychospiritual work that would become my next experiential layer of professional passion.
The incremental effect of the conference opened me as I had never been opened before. My heart was full. I felt expanded, beautiful, free, one with All That Is, and my-Self. The conference lasted for a week. After a few days, my psyche overflowed with cosmic, transcendent and spiritual awareness. I was tripping without drugs.
Unable to absorb another paradigm, any other concepts, or a single word of conversation, I felt like a cat that had been stroked quite long enough. I rented a car and wandered the California coast line. On a thin sliver of rolling dunes, with waves lapping at my bare feet, I was able to experience the full ecstasy which the workshop experiences created. Grof had used the theme from The Mission for his Breathwork Workshop. I bought the CD and through earphones was swept away by the hauntingly beautiful melody as I dug my toes in deep, white sands tracing the Pacific coastline. Magnifying the sense of mystery and wonder, a mystical mist rolled off the ocean and shrouded the sun. Filled with an ecstatic sense of oneness, my three-dimensional world view expanded to take in all of creation...every human being, every rock, every tree. With every step along the glistening ( or so they definitely seemed to me!) sands, my heart expanded with more love, more peace, more bliss, more unitive consciousness.
Like the lady observing from a nearby table in Meg Ryan's orgasmic scene from When Harry Met Sally, I wanted more of what I was having! Overflowing with ecstasy, I made a conscious decision to follow my heart and honor heart knowledge as an equal partner to mind. Honestly, no one who encountered me behind the wheel on the road back to the retreat center was safe, that late Oregon afternoon.
Heart openings are transformative, inching us closer and closer to realization and embodiment of our True Self. Heart knowledge in turn, opens into soul awareness deep within, and activates the energetic outer-world web of synchronistic possibility - described by Jung as non-causal occurrences. In rationally unexplainable ways, the synchronistic process connects what is without, with what is within. Our uniquely personal awareness, perhaps unknown to anyone but ourself, is mirrored and reflected back to us in stunningly concrete ways.
Not long after my mind-blowing conference experiences, and the resultant decision to allow heart-longings to lead me, at mid-session a prospective client (she announced at the beginning of our session that she was "shopping") blurted out, “You sound just like those Eupsychia people.” She dug in her purse and produced a flyer. “Here. It’s a workshop. You need to go.”
We had known each other 30 minutes. She had no idea that recently at the Transpersonal Conference, Stan Grof's Breathwork was a key source in awakening my creative imagination and connection with All That Is. There was no good explanation for why she abruptly interrupted her own personal therapy session to produce a flyer that delivered information concerning me...her prospective therapist. I was stunned speechless. Who knew when we began the session that we would end with her saying, "You know, I'd really like to know you as a friend. I can find another therapist, but maybe not a friend like I imagine you could be."
This bubbly woman, alive and full of life, came to see me only once as a client. (We did become friends and share a sisterhood within a larger holistic community of like-minded souls that has continued to this day.) In that one brief hour, she synchronistically delivered a flyer which led me to three years of training with a colleague of Grof’s, Jacqueline Small and the Eupsychia Institute for Psychospiritual Integration and Integrative Breathwork. Before long I would facilitate the transformative breathwork process, and even more deeply explore the transpersonal realms with my clients. (See related blog: Just Breathe)
Based on years of scientific inquiry, Stanislov Grof’s seminal book, The Holotrophic Mind, lays out a detailed map of non-ordinary states of consciousness. Multi layered and diverse, non-ordinary states fall into three broad categories: Personal, Transpersonal and Cosmic. These categories are not linear, or determined by anything other than our own process of awareness. Once we willingly open the door to the unconscious, our personal journey dips into our bigger story, in what we may have related to as our linear consciousness...or 3D awareness. This work is understood as being directed by our own soul, sitting in the driver's seat, leading us on a journey of awakening, ultimate healing...and eventual wholeness. From my work with hundreds of clients, I share the types of non-ordinary experiences which unfold as we plumb the depths of the unconscious:
1. Personal: As we approach the portal to the unconscious, entirely willing, with a prayer for guidance from the God of Our Understanding, we feel physical sensations which the deep breathing creates. Perhaps we remember our birth,or recall pains, joys and sorrows from our life.
2. Transpersonal: Now we move beyond the simply personal into our bigger story, the land of dreams, archetype and myth. We may recall past lives with impeccable detail, which later prove to be accurate as we research names, dates, families. The Transpersonal realm - simply meaning: beyond the personal - dips into four identifiable levels of consciousness:
~ Archetype: We might imagine that we are The Great Mother, and experience the mother symbol through many ages and cultures. We may experience ourself as The Lover, The Warrior, The Prophet, The Child. This is an archetypal symbol which is the same across all ages, all cultures.
~ Myth: Or, in our imagination we might become Shiva, Jesus, King Arthur, The Green Man, Aphrodite, Kali, Nefertiti, Queen Elizabeth, Kwan Yin...even the opposite sex. As with past life recall, following personal research we later discover that the startling details and vivid experience of a mythological figure from a culture about which we know nothing, can be verified as fact.
~ Animal Spirits often inhabit trance states. We feel as if we have become a wolf, a horse, a bear, an eagle, a snake, an otter, a porpoise, a lion. We run as they run, soar as they soar, play as they play, swim as they swim, and come away from the experience with an understanding of the instinctual drives which direct mating, migration, hibernation. We don’t forget such experiences, and retain a cellular connection associated with instinctual feelings of power, freedom, playfulness, free flight.
~ Inanimate Object: Sometimes we experience ourselves as a supposed inanimate object: a tree, a rock, a wave, a cloud. And gain the sense that all of nature possesses soul and meaning.
3. Cosmic Consciousness: Spiraling into the universe, riding Saturn’s rings, sitting in the lap of God, being held by the Great Mother, seated with the Buddha, ascending a celestial staircase with hosts of angels singing our name, melting and becoming one with All That Is, these experiences are not of this world...they are cosmic. Through non-ordinary states of consciousness we travel the heavenly and cosmic spheres, long before we actually leave our bodies at death. The sense of eternal existence is both comforting and enlightening. The Divine Spark lives within us all. Through transpersonal awakenings we know with a deep inner wisdom such as the ancient gnostics describe, that there is no separation of time and space, but all reality is potentially present in the here and now.
Having mined the rich vein of the unconscious, we begin to integrate and understand how these mysterious symbols affect and inform our lives. Beyond anything else, the experience of this work - with so many - has clearly shown me that human consciousness is ever-evolving and expanding. Today humanity is picking up evolutionary speed. The opportunities for personal growth, healing and wellness are enormous. A few recommendations for expanding our growth come to mind:
~ Ken Wilber and his Integral Psychology, is the forerunner of yet another - Fifth Force - wave of psychological thought which synthesizes body, mind and spirit.
~ The Omega Center for Holistic studies offers extensive workshops in cutting-edge spiritual, environmental, and healing weekends and weeklongs, presented by leaders in each field.
~ For a college degree in Transpersonal Psychology, search for The International Transpersonal Institute.
~ The Pacifica Institute offers graduate degrees in Psychology, the Humanities and Mythological Studies.
Our initial birth, and our many potential rebirths throughout life, are never easy or pretty, until that is, the new creation is cleaned up, wrapped in a receiving blanket, and placed in our arms. Similarly, through the media and internet we have the sometimes devastating experience of witnessing the bloody spectacle of injury and death, horrific labor pains as our global villages approach our birthing into renaissance and reformation.
We’re in it. Shift happens. And many souls - just like you and me - envision a peaceful, holistic and green future for our planet, ourselves and our children. In large and small ways we are willing participants in the evolutionary process. I am profoundly encouraged to know that our global village of awakened souls is participating in the birth of a new world, a child we can all call our own.
Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.