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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd


Transpersonal Psychology

Most psychologies and psychotherapies are interested just in the personality. It is only in recent years that a variety known as "transpersonal psychology" has emerged, that combines, or perhaps re-integrates, psychology and the personality with theology and the soul - two disciplines and two concepts that have been firmly separated in our materialistic Western world, but that used to go hand in hand. For instance in early Christianity there was a collection of books by different authors under the general name of Philokalia, describing the psychology of mystical enlightenment, and this knowledge was the basis of Gnosis, itself the source of many of Gurdjieff's ideas. (Freud himself actually wrote about the psyche in terms of the "soul", but his German was misguidedly translated into medical "scientific" terms for the Anglo-American audience).

In "Psychosynthesis", that Assagioli developed in the 1930s, it is said that a person has a personality and is a soul. However, personalities in the world are obvious to us all; souls are only present for those with eyes to see. Assagioli's view of synthesis is of becoming more and more aware of soul, not only in oneself but also in others. His view, and the view of most spiritual disciplines, is that soul is basic and enduring, and that personality, though necessary for being in the world , is relatively superficial and changeable.

The soul is the context, the home, the "unmoved mover", the uncreated source of life; the personality is full of content, learned responses, and is dynamic.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before Freud, and with the values of the Enlightenment and the idea of progress, it was assumed that the human being was becoming more and more rational and fully civilized. It was this assumption that Freud questioned, with his ability to discern the unconscious processes in people. He saw the significance of dreams as a communication of the unconscious to the conscious; slips of the tongue, mistakes, painful emotions, irrational behavior and illnesses manifested in ordinary living began to be acknowledged as effects of processes going on beyond our consciousness. Many hitherto unexplained phenomena came to be seen as symptoms of the conflict between the strong "libido" (sexual) forces of the "id" (the drive or life force of the core Self) and the "Superego" (the acquired conscience), as perceived by the "ego" ( that part of the id that detaches early in development to form an independent personality - the "face to the world").

There are five main parts of our total psyche: Higher consciousness - that which is aware of being aware; Normal consciousness - awareness in the everyday world - being, perceiving, relating; and of the inner world - of thoughts, concepts, attitudes, decisions, images, memories, emotions, sensations and feelings. And the domains that lie below normal consciousness: the Preconscious - an interface of the conscious mind that, when it is evoked by interest and emotional commitment, goes searching for relevant data in the Subconscious; the Subconscious - contains the powerful drives of love and fear, and the programs by which motives are decided and actions are carried out; and the Unconscious - the core Self that contains a record of everything one has felt and sensed since conception and of the evolutionary genetic-line before that. It also consists of genetic programming, which empowers the deepest drives for survival, attachment and expression common to mankind, which transmits the energy of emotions, which controls the stream of libido energies and the efforts involved in moving and perceiving with the physical body.

Both the primary-trauma of the unconscious and the secondary-trauma of the Subconscious are connected with the "body-mind", whereby defensive "armor" in the form of chronic muscular tension, holds the bodily stress-reaction of "fight or flight", continually in place. This occurs when an experience becomes too painful to view or is too uncomfortably repeated and then awareness of it is repressed - thoughts, emotions and bodily tensions. Unviewed, it then festers and persists. Though the tension may once have been appropriate, it is now a hindrance, and its perpetual nature holds the original trauma in re-stimulation (though the feeling or awareness of it may be repressed).

And though the repressed cognitive and emotional reactions may have been rational in the past circumstance (in the effort to survive or overcome), if they are reactively enacted in the present situation, and if they are not accompanied by a fresh appraisal of the current reality, they are the underlying cause of irrational or inappropriate behavior, negative emotion and illness, and therefore have been a primary target of psychotherapy.

Because the body-mind functions inter-actively, work in Transformational Psychology may sometimes require a range of techniques to handle the problems. Physical symptoms (high blood pressure, ulcers, lack of energy, etc.) arise from stress, muscular tension, reactivated trauma, over-work, anxiety about social competence, threat or insecurity at work, rigid attitudes of perfectionism and fears of failure - based on low self-esteem, due to not having been "good enough" for parents and other dominant figures. Such neurotic dependencies on others conflict with the drive for independency and self-fulfillment. Psychotherapeutic massage may be prescribed, to develop awareness of faulty attitudes and repressed feelings, and to help relax and de-traumatize the body.

“Help directed at one level will affect the other levels of functioning - the powerful fears and drives of the Subconscious affect physical health, feelings, beliefs and behaviors - a holistic approach is therefore most effective.”
The following illustrates the structure of the mind in terms of levels of consciousness:

Help directed at one level will affect the other levels of functioning - the powerful fears and drives of the Subconscious affect physical health, feelings, beliefs and behaviors - an holistic approach is therefore most effective. The Transformational Psychology procedures take account of this structure; the techniques progressively cut deeper and deeper both through to the core Self and into the Transpersonal realm, which are the essence of Mankind.

The gradient of approach has to be right in order to ensure a secure and effective route through. Like the layers of an onion, the appropriate charged material becomes exposed and may be viewed and confronted. This approach, of handling the area of highest reactivation in the present time, is fundamental to Transformational Psychology analysis. However, there is no benefit to "digging up" the unconscious. Only as it appears on the surface, when it is reactivated in present time, and is accessible in the Preconscious, is when it should be handled.

Many currently widespread techniques, e.g. Primal Therapy and Rebirthing, dig up traumatic material at random, unfortunately leaving much of it incompletely handled and bypassing the charge thus reactivated, which builds up and tends to destabilize the individual. The warmth of group support may may temporarily alleviate this destabilization, but the bypassed charge tends to resurface under the pressures of everyday life.

Following the lead of Breuer and Freud in their psycho-analytic practice, it has been found that the conscious re-experiencing and confronting of a painful experience, if done thoroughly enough to a full acceptance of the reality of the experience, serves to drain it of distortive power: The energy used to repress the pain is released and the person is able to re-evaluate the past decisions surrounding the experience, to expose the lies that he has been living. Of course this is not possible without a gradient approach; if this was not the case the person would already have been able to deal with the material and it would have been part of his experience that he could view and analyze in full consciousness.

Freud recognized that such traumatic incidents (times of emotional and physical pain) tend to run in sequences - the initial traumatic experience empowers or "charges-up" later similar experiences.

To be able to erase the power of the earliest experience, the later incidents that are reactivations of the initial experience, have to be looked at first. So working from the most recent incident - the memory most reactivated and therefore available to view in the present moment - back through earlier similar incidents in sequence, gradually removes the charge built upon the earliest experience, so it too can be re-examined in full, and most importantly, the decisions accompanying it exposed to view and changed to a more rational, self-determined viewpoint, appropriate to the present time and circumstances.

The energy or "charge" that had been used to repress such hard to face material and hold it away from consciousness can be detected as it affects the body's skin resistance (through arousal of the autonomic nervous system - a stress response), and this may be read on a skin resistance galvanometer. Therefore a biofeedback monitoring device is invaluable in psychotherapy to help detect emotionally charged but repressed material that has been reactivated into the Preconscious.

Jung first used the method in analyzing responses to word lists, to help clarify the unconscious processes of thought, enabling an otherwise unobtainable accuracy and penetration to his analysis. Using a biofeedback monitor for analysis is much more effective than the traditional psychoanalytical techniques of in-depth questioning and free-association. Only if it is the largest responding item (on the Monitor), meaning it is the most accessible and handleable, is something examined further. The analyst does not have to spend years of blind probing to find out the root of a problem. Whatever the Monitor might reveal is coming from the knowingness of the person on the meter, the Higher Self, about the contents of his Subconscious mind, although this may be slightly outside his conscious awareness. (The Monitor measures his energetic reactions - it cannot of itself make judgments or tell right from wrong).

A basic tenet of psychoanalysis as originated by Freud is that we are restricted from realizing more than a fraction of our true potential because of the repressed, negative, "reactive" contents of the mind: negative fears, resentments, motivations and dislikes. Although much of this content may have been appropriate at the time it was formed, during childhood, it is often no longer valid from the point of view of an adult. When the content is confronted (faced up to completely and with equanimity) and made conscious by the adult mind, it dissolves and loses its power to restrain thought and action, and there is a release of positive creative energy, the energy that had been used to repress the material.

Return to Transforming the Mind - Contents.

Continue to the next article, The Child Personality

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