contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Humanistic Psychology

BOOK REVIEW: THE WAY OF THE LOVER

Highly recommended. The full title is: The Way of the Lover: Sufism, Shamanism and the Spiritual Art of Love. For me, the strength of this book is its successful synthesis of apparently diverse influences. As a road map for the spiritual journey throughout the life course, it has coherence, power and integrity.

Sufism is the ground. We are introduced to a cosmos saturated in divinity both in origin and manifestation. As Syed Hamraz Ahsan says in his introduction, “Sufis are divine lovers … the path begins at the heart and ends at the heart”. Yet “the pathway to love and the divine may not always be simple or clear”. Since everyone and everything embodies divinity, any relationship is a relationship with the divine.

Ross Heaven uses a medicine wheel structure for the human journey of life and love. Beginning at (or before) birth (East) it moves through youth (South) and mid-life (West) to age (North). Each stage has challenges. Fear can become a distorting part of the picture very early. As we grow up, we are challenged to discover our authentic power and its skillful use. Throughout our adult lives we are under pressure to navigate with clarity and vision through the stress and confusion that go with loving and being loved, and to evolve through loving service. At the Centre is the “true soul, the wise Elder and the newborn”. Within this structure he offers teaching stories; insights from humanistic, developmental and transpersonal psychology; personal anecdotes; and awareness exercises.

The stages of the journey, and several psychological models, are clearly spelled out. They are saved from over-prescription through the use of stories and their rich ambiguity, and by the over-arching presentation of an exploratory, free-spirited and non-controlling spirituality. The Way of the Lover offers something to readers with specific issues of concern and those with a more open and generalized interest in the journey. Ross Heaven distils considerable wisdom and experience within this book, not least when he ends by reminding us to move on and rely on our own experience.

Ross Heaven The Way of the Lover: Sufism, Shamanism and the Spiritual Art of Love Winchester UK & Washington USA: Moon Books, 2017 (Moon Books Classic)

 

CELEBRATIONS: THE SONG IN THE HEART IN THE SONG OF THE WORLD

Within my contemplative practice, I use a process called ‘celebrations’.

It is not a meditation as I use that term, because it includes discursive thinking and reflection.

It is not prayer: no being or presence or energy is addressed or born in mind as an auditor.

It is not lectio: it is based on a text I wrote myself, which I revise in the light of continuing inquiry and experience.

It is not simple ‘affirmation’ – because it works with an edge and can bring up ‘negative’ feelings and experiences of alienation, as well as being pleasurable and affirming.

The sequence, which can take variable amounts of time to work through, goes like this:

Celebrating body and senses.

Celebrating life energy.

Celebrating feelings, thoughts and images.

Celebrating the space inside the breath, and the healing in that space.

Celebrating the song in the heart in the song of the world:

Living presence, in a field of living presence,

Always enough; always at home.

I don’t say ‘I celebrate my …’. In this practice I use the gerund ‘celebrating’ and leave out ‘my’ so as to keep the focus processual and thereby avoid turning it in to a ‘who am I?’ practice. Such practices are widely available and are designed to disidentify practitioners from the body, senses, life energy, feelings, thoughts, images, ‘I-ness’ (or ego), finally to rest in an observer position, which, despite the residual dualism in the whole notion of observation, is often seen as the threshold of an enlightenment or theosis. In this practice I want to stay immersed in the process, and leave the ‘I’ question out.

I owe ‘celebrating’ to my background in humanistic psychology and co-counselling in particular. In a therapeutic context a phrase like ‘celebrating body’ could easily provide an ample agenda for a weekend workshop, given the level of negative body image and negative body experience that people find themselves dealing with  – but also given the joy and liberation that come with healing. For the invitation to ‘celebrate’ paradoxically evokes distress, where the way of ‘celebration’ at best seems artificial and a worst a cruel mockery. The work is to stay with the notion of celebration, to give the distress its due and then let it go, and find a place where there is something authentically to celebrate. In the therapeutic context, a number of methods may be used to assist this process. In the contemplative context, aware contemplation itself can have a transmuting effect.  When I turn my attention to my body and run through what’s going on throughout my body and five senses, I generally find myself noticing the strains, anxieties and discomforts of the moment and then moving to a celebration of embodiment itself, the sheer gift of being in this world, in this way, at this time and with this experience. The same is true of life energy, feelings, thoughts and images.

At the fourth line, ‘Celebrating the space inside the breath, and the healing in that space’ I find a change in feeling tone, since the practice tends to become naturally celebratory – though this is not always the case, since I may feel cut off from the power of contemplative practice itself. For this is an affirmation of meditative states in their therapeutic aspect, and I tend to drop in to a fully meditative state during this phase, letting go for a while of the words and celebration, indeed of the exercise itself for a period.

At the fifth line, I move to my sense of the Oran Mor (the song in the heart in the song of the world), which celebrates my sense of the numinous, of my connection to or involvement in Mystery. The last two lines introduce no new celebration. They are an elaboration of ‘celebrating the song in the heart in the song of the world’.  I said in a recent post that I experienced the Goddess dissolving into the Oran Mor. In this practice I may likewise almost experience the ‘song in the heart’ dissolve into ‘the song of the world’. I can certainly visualise and intuit this. Terms like ‘song in the heart’, Goddess, Oran Mor, become porous and hard to distinguish. Yet here too, in this section of the practice, I can also experience dis-connection and alienation. If I find myself needing to accept this as my actual state, then the celebration is of the words themselves and the recognition that I wrote them myself, with integrity, at an earlier time: it is me who is reminding myself of what becomes available in a state of openness and celebration.

JOHN HERON AND ‘FOURTH WAVE’ HUMANISM

Western Humanism, in John Heron’s view, comes in waves. The first began in 5th century BC Greece, when the Sophists and Socrates “called philosophy down from heaven to earth” by introducing social, political and moral questions. The second began in the Italian Renaissance, which affirmed the worth and dignity of human achievement over against the Christian pre-occupation with sin. The third began with the Enlightenment of the 18th century and became the rational scientific, secular and atheistic humanism of modern times. For Heron, there has also been a fourth wave, distinct in many respects from the third, which began in the domain of humanistic psychology.

The two primary protagonists of humanistic psychology, which emerged in the USA in 1961, were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. At that time they were clearly aligned to the humanism of the third wave. Maslow was concerned to demonstrate that “spiritual values have naturalistic meaning; that they are not the exclusive possession of organized churches; that they do not need supernatural concepts to justify them; that they are well within the jurisdiction of a suitably enlarged science.” Rogers had a more experiential and phenomenological approach: “It is to experience that I must return again and again; to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets – neither Freud nor research – neither the revelations of God nor man – can take precedence over my direct experience.”

Over time, both Maslow and Rogers shifted their views. Maslow and other colleagues like Stanislav Grof, became increasingly concerned that they had left out a ‘spiritual’ element within the human psyche and wanted a psychology “that would honour the entire spectrum of human experience, including various non-ordinary states of consciousness”. So they invented a new discipline of ‘transpersonal psychology’ that over time came to be supported by existing, in some ways more traditional, psychological movements with a spiritual dimension – such as the successors of Carl Jung (including the archetypal psychology of James Hillman) and the psychosynthesis tradition initiated by Roberto Assagioli. Carl Rogers was slower to embrace spirituality within psychology and didn’t involve himself in the transpersonal movement. But towards the end of his life he spoke increasingly of presence, inner spirit and self-transcending relationship. “I find that when I am closest to my inner intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me then whatever I do seems full of healing. Then simply my presence is releasing and helpful to the other. When I can be relaxed and close to the transcendental core of me it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself and becomes part of something larger”.

John Heron draws on Rogers for his understanding of a fourth humanist wave. The core precept of fourth wave humanism concerns animation through reaching out and connection: an animism of process rather than ideology. It differs from the doctrinally naturalist view of the third wave by suggesting that our reality exists within a field of what might be called divine potential, or becoming: “the self-determining capacity of humans … presupposes a dynamic context of spiritual animation/inspiration [NB reminiscent of imbhas/awen in Druid tradition] in which persons can actively participate”. In Carl Rogers’ terms, inner spirit reaches out, touches the inner spirit of the other, thereby transcending itself and becoming part of something larger. In Heron’s language, spirit exists within us, between us (named by someone in one in one of his groups as “the band of golden silence”) and beyond us, where an ‘I am’ statement can bring us to a threshold “where personal consciousness is open to consciousness that is anywhere and everywhere”.

Fourth wave humanism, though grounded in human experience, moves on from the exclusivist human centric stance of the third wave. Spiritual animation occurs between people, between people and place and other kinds of beings in that place, or between other kinds of beings independently of humans – the “deep resonance” between trees in the forest is one obvious example. Indeed, like the second wave humanism of the Renaissance, fourth wave humanism makes provision for (but does not insist on) an Otherworld within an extended view of nature/spirit/reality – one with denizens who may be available for animating connection. It is understood that different people – indeed beings – are gifted with different bandwidths of perception, which they will then give an account of in different ways in the light of both personal and cultural factors.

Fourth wave humanism has a strong view of personhood, but one with an alert sense of the tension between the individual and universal. “The spiritual animation between people appears to have a basic polarity, a radical and dynamic complementarity: there is the impulse to realize the individual distinctiveness of being and the impulse to realize interactive unity within wider fields of being … it is a subtle balance: too much individualism leads to egocentric narcissism; too much universalism leads to spiritual fascism, authoritarianism and oppression.” Sometimes, as an alternative to fourth wave humanism, Heron uses the term ‘participatory spirituality’ or a ‘participatory paradigm’ as his world view. This is supported by various co-operative endeavours involving a delicate dance of hierarchy, peer co-operation and personal autonomy and by the discipline of spiritual inquiry.

There is much more to be said, and Humanism: the fourth wave, can be found in full on http://www.human-inquiry.com/hum4.htm I spent many years teaching co-counselling, the peer and reciprocal support system at the heart of John Heron’s work, and also (against my career interests) undertook both Masters and Doctoral degrees using co-operative inquiry, his other major working method, as my methodology. So in a sense this kind of understanding is an embodied part of me – inevitably not in quite the way presented by John Heron himself. I don’t now use either co-counselling or co-operative inquiry as working practices. But I do see my current direction as one of synthesising the best of ‘fourth wave humanism’ with the best of modern Druidry: I discern fruitful synergies between them. My view and practice of Contemplative Druidry (both personal and group based) have already incorporated aspects of this approach. This can be taken further.  For me, embodied and lived ideas inform our stand in life and influence its effectiveness. They have consequences in the wider world.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: JOHN HERON

The notion of being present, here-and-now, is very influential in current contemplative discourse.   I think it needs some clarification and extension. John Heron is a humanistic psychologist, facilitation theorist and teacher, and  co-founder both of Co-Counselling International (CCI) as a peer support system and Co-operative Inquiry as a democratic research methodology in the human sciences. Here he explains ‘abundant time’.

“Living in abundant time is more than living in present time.  It is possible to be very here and now in terms of immediate sensory awareness yet to be dissociated from past and future.  Living in abundant time means being aware of what is present, with an openness to and a sense of the re-evaluated past, and with an openness to and a sense of the emergent possibilities that are pouring into the present … The present lived out of the future through a restructuring insight into the past – some such aphorism as this comes close to the concept of living in abundant time.”

John Heron Catharsis in human development, London: British Postgraduate Medical Federation, 1977

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