Tag Archives: Psychosynthesis

… the value of inner conflict …

Democracy starts inside us. One way to explore our inner crowd is through allowing the different aspects of our personality to have a voice, including ones we dislike or suppress, like parts burdened with shame, self-loathing and self-hate. Together with their inner persecutors and defenders, they tend to pop up involuntarily with strong emotional force during stress, or an experience that all too often had its first traumatic installment way back in childhood.

During a 1980s training with the Psychosynthesis Institute in London, we gave names to what we called our sub-personalities. The concept encapsulated what I had sensed for a long while, that I host various distinct entities inside me that can spring to live with their unique voices, interests, sensitivities and defenses in response to circumstances.

Take a dwelling that houses a family of all ages. From day to day there are debates, intimidation, fights, making up, tenderness, fun, humour, but always reoccurring conflicts, like an angered sibling can easily spark a massive row. Then ask who is in charge? A family with conflicting needs lives inside each of us.

As baby, toddler, teen, young adult and so on, we succeed or fail in overcoming obstructions. We learn, or unlearn. Ideally we mature and the understanding of ourselves deepens. Some memories we cherish, others we bury. Yet each time a traumatic condensed experience re-occurs, dormant anxieties may explode and cause us to overreact to situations out of all proportions.

The needy child seeking attention is easily recognised. Where early hope for safety and acknowledgement was frustrated, the inner child in the adult draws on an arsenal of acquired strategies, be it nagging, crying, pleading, pleasing, withdrawal, or, equally, rage. Stonewalling and sarcasm can serve as defense. The little person in us may have been confused by contradictory demands, manipulated by a toxic parent or severely damaged through abuse, yet still struggles for acceptance and love.

Another well-worn sub-personality opts for control, a no nonsense character, who detests, let’s say, hesitation and vulnerability. So when a firm response to a present situation is required, this despot may simply order the child to pipe down and shut up. End of story. You get the drift.

Internal conflicts can be harsh. Without awareness of the warring cast in us, we tend to blame others for our upsets. Alternatively we punish ourselves. Identifying and befriending judgmental players is vital before we can reach the vulnerable and fearful part that has become numb and possibly unconscious, or discover the creative dreamer that was ridiculed. Or, indeed, lift a dis-empowered warrior, who must learn to say ‘No!’

Without a mentor, this awareness journey is a daunting task.

Unable to afford Jungian analysis, my spiritual search become an escape from what I saw as our revengeful, destructive and corrupt world.

Meeting a remarkable, brilliantly creative Sufi teacher, who embraced psychology as a basis for the spiritual quest, was my turning point in the mid 1970s.  Grounding and digging started with a workshop called ‘Earthing.’

I had had a wild life up to then, a path I don’t regret. My empathy and patient listening lacked skill, but attracted interesting and eccentric people into my life. However, I needed to accept my limits, and better understand myself, others, and the absurd world we are born into, with the inherited traumas from our parents’ and generation before them.

World objects from my sand tray

A welcome to my inner journey was imaginative play, giving voice to the different parts of myself through monologues, imagery, objects, drama, art, sculpting, painting and writing, etc., all effective in daring to acknowledge conflicting needs. Due to choices enforced by my early environment, I host a philosopher and poet at odds with each other, as well as a cynic and a romantic. Their conflicts are as creative as they are intimidating.

In the digital realm people have come to make up aliases based on their ambivalent shadow aspects, like appearing in different disguises on Twitter, sometimes for the sole fun of contradicting each other. As a writer one might contemplate publishing trash genre that sells well, under pseudonyms, though it seems crass, like a soloist hijacking the performance of a symphony.

Stepping aside from internal conflict, invites my unbiased mediator. My quick route to self-remembrance is saying ‘hello’ to my body, whose every cell holds a record of old wounds. The body (the earth by implication) has endured horrendous exploitation, and to call it into awareness, with all its scars, is a huge challenge for some people.

‘You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves … ‘
from Wild Geese by Marie Oliver  

In the present global turmoil, my inner child craves empathy and compassion to endure the pain of the world, including pain I feel observing how some public figures ignorantly out-ward their inner stress through creating enemies – divide and conquer – a steely defense, and a betrayal of the heart. Then again, truth to  the face rarely convinces, it lacks depth, and blunts out the whispers from the dark.

Many brilliant books facilitate psychological understanding, but when it comes to moving through a dark tunnel (also called the Night Sea Journey) it is best to seek a skilled companion as guide. In my therapy practice I came upon heart-breaking stories of abuse, especially sexual abuse. The last few decades have shown the full horror of such deeply intrusive and traumatising incidents, and how widespread they are, across all social settings.

‘You’re not alone’ … is the message by Tim Ferris, in a recent very moving and powerful podcast he conducted with Debbie Millman.

PRESS HERE for his Healing Journey after Childhood Abuse (including an extensive resource list)

He ends with a beautiful re-framing of suffering … The obstacles are the path.

This attitude brings meaning to our mysterious existence, to our individual and collective journeys. Obstacles force us to question rules, habits and behaviour. Suffering through adversity, hardship, ignorance, injustice and violence teaches us empathy for each other, and expands consciousness towards our interdependence and essential wholeness.

I could add a list of books here, but if the above concepts speak to you, click on the Tim Ferris link, even if you choose not to listen to his podcast, scroll down his page and find a list of books and resources.

To end this post, despite all grounding over the years, I’m still at heart a space cadet, exploring time travelling in ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to my first novel, ‘Course of Mirrors.’

16 Comments

Filed under Blog

… embracing the messy soul …

I hesitated posting this, since a deep sadness resurfaced and took hold of me while pondering Soul and Spirit. What’s the point, why exist, to what end? I asked this as a child, having been shown horrendous images in the wake of the Second World War, meant as shock treatment in my German primary school during the 1950’s. A poem I wrote about this experience I still don’t feel confident to share. I turned iconoclast, explored philosophies, religions, myths, literature, searched for exceptional minds, and resisted prescribed beliefs in favour of direct experience.

In my twenties I turned to images and their symbolic power, until a numinous event in Israel reunited me with language, literature, poetry, and science. I studied too many subjects to bore you with, at my own expense, none for economic advantage. I did meet exceptional people, including mystics, yet my question, like a spell, kept birthing more questions.

Disheartened, yet fascinated by our manic mechanistic Zeitgeist, I adopted a transpersonal view, letting things unfold until decisions fell into place. With each intuitive choice, energy for action met me half way and helped me succeed with many projects. This included workshops on dreams and myth, and the wonderful Parent Link programme I helped get on the road, all about reflective listening and the language we use. Unfortunately this parent and school-supported project received no support from the Government. Still, at times I felt I was making beneficial contributions to society.  Of late, no new question has arrived to kick off a renaissance in my poetic imagination, or shed light on the collective mood of futility, which seems to confirm the scientific view that reality is determined by numbers.

Battered, but not beaten, I honour my core resolves: that everything physical is en-souled and resonates with everything else in the universe. And that consciousness, with the potential for symbolic awareness in humans, creates innumerable realities we co-create in ever new forms.

Arthur Rackman – Twilight

Soul and Spirit have become terms relegated to poetry. Some traditions hold them to be interchangeable and interdependent, akin to the Eastern concept of Yin and Yang. In this sense the feminine and masculine principles (mentioned below) reside in women and men alike, that is, their receptive and active and qualities work in each of us. Certain myths simplified and distorted this truth, which now asserts itself with fresh understandings regarding the psychological identification with gender.

“When I say the feminine, I don’t mean gender. I mean the feminine principle that is living—or suppressed—in both men and women.”  Marion Woodman

Observing the political debates around the globe, I notice a similar narrow power dictum in entrenched wars for control, which conjure up the quarrel of parents that drive children to hide in the broom cupboard.

I understand SOUL (Psyche) as pure consciousness, self-sufficient. Yet once identified with impressions of the physical world –  soul becomes the vessel. We talk of soul shining through eyes, through nature, or as immanent presence pervading matter. Consider body, mother, growth, loss, suffering, receptivity, attachment, memory, meaning, imagination, mystery, intuition, aesthetics, melancholy, yearning, endurance, constrictions, chaos, bliss … One may associate Soul with Eros, energy, the cosmos, planets, moon, beauty, stars, history, identity, myths, time, space, past, darkness, the unconscious, unpredictability, and the female principle (Anima) inviting spirit for input and direction.

SPIRIT, to me, is like a wind of light carrying seeds of information to recipient vessels, conscious or unconscious, singular or universal. Humans interpret this information, wisely or not. We talk of actions as spirited, fiery, determined, energetic, contradictory, passionate, always moving and changing. We talk of people driven by principles, for good or bad, or, frankly, being possessed. Spirit aligns with order and ideals, again, for good or bad. Add the relentless drive for perfection which aims, in some traditions, for transcendence, seeking the divine not in the messy psyche, but only in abstract spheres beyond matter. We associate Spirit with logos, will, action, speed, the sun, innovation, reason, light, the male principle (Animus,) and future visions … welcomed by the soul.

Mothers – Käthe Kollwitz

Torn between spiritual heights and visions, and the dark depth of the collective psyche, my initial therapy training with Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis impressed me with an undeniable necessity: The higher we rise the deeper we’re called to descend into the murky shadow of ourselves and our collective inheritance. Gripped then, once again, by the deep sadness I felt as a child in the face of human suffering, I cried for days. The work began, with my own unconscious, with individuals and groups. But nearly 35 years on, I feel yet again despair that the knowledge gained about the psyche is not wider applied. The abuse of people, especially women and children, and the planet itself, continues in the name of the power principle and progress, as does the resistance to acknowledge and heal personal and collective grief. It’s so much more convenient to blame an enemy.

I had the privilege to meet a remarkable Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, and the community of his students during the mid 1970’s. As the grandson of the saintly Hazrat Inayat Khan, Fazal developed his grandfather’s message in passionate, spontaneous and radical modern ways. One of his sayings: ‘Answers are dead, questions are alive,’ gave perspective to my existential query. For him, fragile egos behind the mask of their persona needed strengthening before the Self could become conscious. He orchestrated intense workshops during which the shadow aspects of our personalities were exposed. Each event was followed by a tender and humorous process of debriefing. He taught me to forgive myself, to be kind to myself. He died much too young in 1990. The copyright to hundreds of Fazal’s pioneering talks is held by the present Sufi Way, so his deep mystical insights must wait for another day. While I was co-editing Heart of a Sufi, reminiscences gathered from his students, we were limited to a few quotes and one inspired poem, Qalandar, which I hope to share some time.

Explanations aim to reassure, but knowing the limits of reason, I search for metaphors, symbols, poetry in words and images to make my fleeting insights graspable, as lonely as they stand, and as totally irrelevant as they may be to others. Still, it’s a lovely surprise when readers explore the archives here, or read my quest novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ which defies genres.

Turbulent times call for intuitive introspection, though sifting through the avalanche of information available is probably the great task we must master in this present decade. When lame slogans and bitter opinions are shouted with animosity across the media, our conscience is severely tested.

What we call good and bad coexists in the psyche. If you’ve read Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea Saga, you may recall the poignant moment when the protagonist realises that he and his shadow opponent share a secret name. For that instant their identities merge as one.

Among great thinkers of recent decades who influenced my thoughts, I often return to Stanislav Grof, Gregory Bateson, C. G. Jung, and the people who honoured and expanded Jung’s brilliant insights, among them Esther Harding, Marie-Louise v. Franz, Marion Woodman, James Hillman, Anthony Stevens and many others who further explored the Psyche in relation to the inner work of individuation, that is – learning to hold the tension of opposites towards realising the balance of a universal underlying wholeness. Archetypal forces inspire, overpower, or dull us to sleepwalk into tragedies. We, with our humble egos can take on our small responsibility; each individual serves as a bridge, and an interface.

‘Matrignosis’ is a rich site by Jean Raffa, who explores Jung’s ideas with helpful guidance.

Related: Cartography of the Psyche, with a link to Stanislav Grof’s talk on the psychology of the future.

And my cheeky post about the ego – give the poor ego a break.

To conclude, a rare excerpt of thoughts on metaphysics from Hazrat Inayat Khan, shared with his students between 1915- 1920:

Maya Deren – Meshes of the Afternoon

The Experience of the Soul through the Spirit …

The soul has two different sides and two different experiences. One side is the experience with the mind and the body, the other side is the experience of the spirit. The former is called the outer experience, the latter the inner experience. The nature of the soul is like glass, transparent, and when one side of the glass is covered it becomes a mirror. So the soul becomes a mirror in which the outer experiences are reflected when the other side is covered. That is why, however greatly blessed a person may be with the outer knowledge, he is not necessarily gifted with the inner knowledge. Therefore, in order to attain to the inner knowledge the Sufi covers the other side of the soul, that its mirror part may face the spirit instead of the outer world. As soon as is able to accomplish this he receives inspirations and revelations.

There are people who are by nature intuitive, or who are called psychic or clairvoyant by nature. It is accounted for by the other side of their soul naturally facing the spirit within. One may call them extraordinary, or exceptional, but not mystical, for the mystic does not desire that position. He, by concentration and meditation, gains such mastery that he can cover the soul from without to take the reflection within, and that he can cover the soul from within when he requires the reflection from the outer world to its full extent. Balance is desirable, and mastery is the goal to be attained.

26 Comments

Filed under Blog

… give the poor ego a break …

Image by Daphne Jo Grant, created for my poetry collection in 1993 -Gapsy Truth.

Image by Daphne Jo Grant, created for my poetry collection in 1993 -Gapsy Truth.

I’m all for shielding the Ego from moral experts who succumb to counter-transference. Proverbs, turned inner voices, instruct: Put yourself last, be considerate, don’t let people down, adapt, respect trade-off laws, keep promises – the inner voices more or less prescribe what’s in your best interest to feel, think and do.

Noisy commotions, muddling any sense of ‘I.’

The poor ego not only holds awareness of our multifaceted reality, but is driven to distraction by conflicting demands, assumptions, chimeras of grandeur, bouts of doubt, all drowning the whisper deep down – ‘Who or what am I really ?’

‘Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.’  – John Lennon

John summed up the typical seesaw compensation attempt. Adding insult to injury, self interest is blamed for our social ills. Even astute spiritual wisdom falls flat when it fails to appreciate the ego’s task – to daily create new order out of chaos, attempting a compromise with reality. No wonder people become nervous wrecks when their temporary identifications are threatened, no wonder fierce defences are constellated. The battered ego-agent screams silently – I’m only loyal to my familiars.

Some familiar rituals guarantee a  child experiencing rejection, physically, emotionally or intellectually, will self-reject for failing the expectations of its superiors. Welcoming or neglecting, early responses by adults we depend upon set foundation for our personality. Break that mirror and you’re on your own.

Maps serve us as orientation, they don’t convey territory. S. Freud’s map of the psyche is powerful. Think of the Id as a Launchpad to stars. What Freud omitted is a higher unconsciousness, our inner guidance and intuition, later introduced by C. G. Jung and A. Assagioly

Freud’s ideas deserve studying. His terms slipped into common speech like brands and became tangled.

Leviathan

Leviathan

Take the ego construct. Sandwiched between the powerful gratification-force of the Id, in need of gentle and firm boundaries, and a cultural Super-ego, with its rules and regulations, the Ego has the unrewarding task of mediator. The Id, at worst, is a heap of misery dragged along, withholding its energy, while the Super-ego, at worst, hijacks personalities like a psycho terrorist, know–it-all, manipulator, fanatic …  having abandoned the powerless inner child with its distressing and embarrassing need for acceptance and love.

And let’s not fool ourselves, distorted ideals attach themselves to well-disguised tyrants in the collective psyche, slumbering, until the day when circumstances conspire.

Children who grow up anxious to placate, or are bent against authority, invent ingenious strategies for survival. Fragile or strong, balanced or torn by extremes, developing a personality is an art form, assembled from layers upon layers of impressions and accumulated memories. Only increased awareness lessens over-identification and softens defences.

‘The paradox of the arts is that they are all made up and yet they allow us to get at truths about who, and what we are or might be’. –   Seamus Heaney

creative recycling

creative recycling

creative recycling

creative recycling

Young children need space to playact, and adolescents need safe outlets for their natural aggression, opportunities for intense experiences, and encouragement to explore their self-image. The houses of identity we create, however basic or twisted, position us in space and time. They have windows allowing a view, and doors through which to venture into a wider world and align our personal myth to a greater myth.

The problem is clearly not the personal ego, but its cultural super-edition, coloured, at least in the west, by mechanistic templates that regard nature as enemy to be conquered and controlled.

Reprimands like selfish stem from a period when inducing guilt was a convenient social formula. Today this approach is counterproductive. Educational practices must catch up with the nuclear age and the fresh metaphors for space and time. New dimensions arise in our consciousness, compelling us to re-think:

Escher's Relativity

Escher’s Relativity

Relativity theories freed perspectives and brought a climate of moral liberty. In a psychological sense, moral advice became repugnant, which explains why western minds begun to question aspects of religious dogma. A way was opened towards looking inside, and individuation, in a Jungian sense.

Quantum physics has widened our vision further, and brought deep spiritual turmoil through new speculations that suggest a symbolic reality of consciousness that over a hundred years ago would only have been imagined by a minority – mainly mystics.

The Digital revolution has upset linear time and is gradually transforming our relationship with time and space, leading us to ask, ‘What is real?’

A mould, no matter how inadequate, is necessary for any new-born. Judging behaviour without acknowledging the initial and well-meaning intentions underlying the formation of personality will only strengthens neuroses, instead of allowing the acceptance of one’s imperfect self-creation, with a nudge towards a gradual softening of defences.

‘Form is a relic of eternal potential.’ – Fazal Inayat-Khan

This post contains excerpts pulled from past articles that were never published.

10 Comments

Filed under Blog

… tuning into your unique frequency …

Are you ambivalent about spirituality? There are countless paths, tradition, groups and teachers to follow … but since authorities and hierarchies have become suspect, for good reason, spiritual advice, like any other advice, can seem like a cacophony of white noise. There is a collective expansion of consciousness gaining momentum that challenges each of us to come into resonance with our body, and a deeper aspect of our mind, the heart. It is through the heart that we can open the channel to your unique frequency, and receive guidance from the truer Self in us, our eternal witness that connects us to the source.

The rose, a potent symbol for the Self, appears in various transpersonal practices. The visualisation below is a variation of an idea used in Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis and the Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan. You can elaborate on the words and guide your own journey silently, or have a friend read it out, or record your voice and listen back to it. The intention behind the practice is to become receptive to the core of you, to tune the heart to the love you are, we all are, in essence. Practising this visualisation opens a channel to your inner guidance that will attract the outer circumstances you need.

*     *    *

Find a safe place. Close your eyes. Be aware of your body and simply follow and feel your breath until its rhythm settles. After a while, bring your attention to your heart, whose spiritual counterpart exists as your true identity in another sphere. Make a space for thoughts and images that arrive. Don’t reject anything, observe, don’t bother to label, judge or follow links. Instead, face and feel whatever arises, let it pass, and simply return your attention to your breath. You may need to stay with this process of accepting and releasing thoughts and images for a while.

Once your mind and body have calmed and you feel receptive, allow the image of a garden to emerge, your private garden. Visualise this special garden … notice a rose bush with a bud still enveloped by its green sepals. The bud draws you close to witness its opening.

See the shielding green sepals stir and offer you a glimpse of the colour beneath. Now the rose receives the light of your attention, its petals slowly turn outwards and open in a fluid movement, like the arms of a dancer. Observe this opening dance. Sense the same unfolding also happening deep within you. Fully absorb the hues and the tenderness of the rose leaning towards the light, behold its perfect beauty and inhale its delicate scent.

Now allow the rose slowly to expand … until it grows into a transparent rose temple filled with light and large enough to step into. Move directly to the centre and rest there for a while. Become the rose temple. Absorb the gentle atmosphere, the hues, the rhythmic grace, the sound, the fragrance, the splendour and continuous unfolding towards the light. Absorb the sensation completely … be at one with all your multiple selves … at peace within your essence, your wholeness, your true being. You are your own unique lover and your own unique beloved.

Now rise and step away from the centre. Leave the rose temple behind. Turn and behold its magnificence once more, and then adjust its shape to a small rose that fits into the palm of your hand … Place that rose into your heart … Know it resides there, maybe closed, but ready to open whenever you  use your intention to connect to the wonderful feeling of wholeness. All you have to do is remember, and the symbolic power of the rose will evoke the presence of your timeless Self.

*    *    *

4 Comments

Filed under Blog