Paradise Sustained -
The Work of the Heart
Good morning and thank you for coming.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the goddess Roma, in who’s city and image we are convened – and who stands as the oldest continuous political-religious symbol in Western civilization (Mellor). With a provenance like hers, she is well qualified to overlight our discussions , being herself a supreme Synthesist. I would also like to acknowledge the presence (through the conference tag-line from the poem‘Auguries of Innocence’) of William Blake, who is in a way (together with his later disciple WB Yeats) directly responsible for me standing here before you. Thank you Roma, and thank you Mr Blake.
First I worked in a prison, seeing inmates and prisoners – and there I learned that any fears I still held of Psychosynthesis being insubstantial or lacking in real-world resilience was mere fantasy – a great blessing, to crash-test the method (the meta-hodos, the ‘road beyond’) and find that I could trust it. This is no surprise really, especially given Assagioli’s own experiences – but for me the direct experience was necessary. After some years my work developed to include Universities, directing Psychosynthesis to staff and students – and though in terms of environment and institution prison and university are entirely different things, in fact they are not so dissimilar after all. Both have a Saturnian quality and easily become fixed in form, and though not physically restrictive, universities can imprison the mind in the ‘concentration camp of reason’ in Andrew Harvey’s potent phrase. However, the clearest similarity to strike me, and the one that extends directly into other settings, is that whether we meet in dungeon or classroom, consulting room or open field, human beings persist in their humanity. In terms of the work, the therapeutic work itself, Psyche is Psyche – and she is never other than sacred, whether in the form of the drug-addled career burglar, or the nerdy homesick history student. And just as psyche is always psyche, so trauma is always trauma, suffering is always suffering.
A decade passed and I accrued around five thousand hours of one to one therapy experience working with clients (many at the University of Wales, in Newport, my current workplace, and in my private practice); another thousand or so hours of leading group work based in dramatherapy, mindfulness and creative expression (many hours with children around ten-eleven years of age). I also began to use Psychosynthesis in my work as a supervisor of other counsellors and therapists, an area I find it to be extremely well adapted for. In addition I also teach mindfulness courses, which explore a charged contemporary space somewhere between therapeutic process and spiritual practice, and I teach ‘Communication’ to complementary therapists in another Welsh university. In both these situations Psychosynthesis is an invaluable mediating energy, adaptable to all content because it privileges context above all else.
In my own practice I am used to working in organisations and to bringing my expression of Psychosynthesis into those environments – working with a range of psychological and emotional issues. My clients bring depression, spiritual crisis, identity problems, self-harm, suicidal feelings, creative stuckness, relationship crises, trauma, traumatic memories and anxiety. Others bring mental illness, autism, grief, anger, addictions, failure of one kind or another, and attitudes to physical health problems, financial ruination and the loss of soul in relation to both their own lives and to macro-scale world events. In each instance, whatever the voice presented by the symptom, the basic ground of Psychosynthesis offers a space for acceptance and movement. I know of no single more effective and all-embracing therapeutic approach to creating and maintaining connection, contact and relationship. Maybe I’ve been fortunate, but I have also only ever experienced my Psychosynthesis training perceived as a strength within the workplace – distinct from and additional to other psychotherapeutic or counselling modalities. The most frequent response I encounter is one of interested uncertainty – and an openness to hearing more. I gather that this is not a universal truth.
This leads me to the heart of what I want to speak about this morning. We are of course, as Psychosynthesists, aware of the primary dilemma facing any who turn towards the suffering around us and within us. That on one level ‘all is very well’, there is no-one to suffer, nothing to do, nowhere to go. And on the other hand we see a planet wracked by devastation, ecological and climatic collapse, human immiseration across every measure from war to famine to simple lonely meaninglessness. We know that anxiety and depression now outstrip cancer and heart disease as primary symptoms of the human aspect of this crisis – and we know, when we dare to look, the suffering of the more-than-human world too – the terrifying extinctions of unique forms, the reckless degradations of seas, landbases, even the air itself. We know it in our own hearts and minds – breathing in, the overwhelming distress of separate, alienated life; breathing out, still there, the unity of all creation.
I wonder to myself, against such a tapestry of interrelated suffering, how anything I or we might do can serve the deepest most urgent needs. We might even ask, can Psychosynthesis help at this time? I know that it can, and I know also that it must. For what is Psychosynthesis for if not this challenge? And if not now, when?
I don’t know your experiences and your working contexts in the world, but from where I stand Psychosynthesis is marginal at best; as a form of therapy it is little known mostly ignored, or squinted at blankly or with suspicion. As an academic discipline it is even less represented. As a form of education, a model for being, it exists in vital, beautiful but tiny pockets. Yes centres exist, and a few books, maybe – but the library shelf marked ‘Psychosynthesis’ is hardly bowing beneath the weight of countless new and definitive texts. Through the eyes of the majority, we are more or less invisible. Maybe that has served us. Maybe it hasn’t. At least the margins, as any ecologist knows, can be extraordinarily rich and productive. Either way here we are, under Roma’s gaze, gathering together. What for? To talk, swap fine words and stories, renew or make connections and friendships. To explore where we are and scratch our collective heads. These are good and noble things for sure – but we know that they don’t suffice. Much more is asked of us, I think. Perhaps, now, everything is asked. We stand at the moment of an age of dramatic change, the outcome of which is uncertain, mysterious, potentially catastrophic, possibly transformational. People sense this. Everywhere is confusion, terror and hate, separation and hopelessness. All around we see splits, schisms, false certainties, false leaders, desperate hearts arising. The best lack all conviction, the worst are filled with a passionate intensity as Yeats warned us. Walls of Silence creak against the pressing need for truth – like it or not the old ways are passing, we should give them a good funeral song not cardiac massage.
We live at a moment where, in the industrialised world, by the age of thirty-five a person will have watched over one million television adverts. A million expensively crafted images introjecting the fundamental message of our passing age – ‘you are not OK as you are – buy something’! No-one pays for advertising without a belief that it will work – so what affect, we must ask, do those million ads have on the heart, the soul? Simultaneously we live at a time when all the great teachings of every great wisdom tradition are laid openly before us, should we choose to look. Secret doctrines, esoteric practices, ‘for initiates eyes only’ – if you have ten minutes to surf Google you can find the lot – the Six Yogas of Naropa, the Keys of Enoch, A Treatise on Cosmic Fire, myriad Sufi teachings, the entire Kabbalistic, Gnostic, Daoist, shamanic and Christian paths laid out. There is mysticism ancient and new, the wisdom of nonduality, magic, transpersonal psychological systems from Stan Grof to Robert Sardello via Ken Wilber and the late great James Hillman. Two kinds of market place – one built upon alienation and driven by fearful force. The other speaking for wholeness, the interdependence of all phenomena, lit up with loving power. And between this apparent split, dressed in obsessional celebrity and depressed desperation, a mass of slippery confusion.
So I say to us, to Psychosynthesis as we embody it – there is nothing to keep silent about any more. The Guru is dead. We must become our own guru. I have to own my frustration here, that Psychosynthesis, which is so brilliantly designed and equipped to provide exactly the context and process, the ‘vessel free of orthodoxy’, that people and culture as a whole need right now if they are to sift and resolve their own journeys with this overwhelm of dazzling material, is singularly lacking in that regard. We honour Assagioli’s words but do we miss his inspired meaning? Of course, Psychosynthesis is well, it is very well, but it is also ailing, and failing in its appointed task – its transpersonal task – to inform and nurture an as yet unrealised world.
Where is our Will? And how is our Love expressed? And where is the body, the bios, of Psychosynthesis? How might we move from knowing about love and will to embodying them – as individuals, yes, but more so, as a collective? This, it seems to me, is as much a mystic process as it is a psychological one – being a movement from the lore of Psychosynthesis into the truth of Psychosynthesis. Can we shift our identities from being ‘practitioners of’ and ‘researchers into’ or ‘followers of’ Psychosynthesis, through a loving act of willing surrender, to embody radically realised being as Psychosynthesis? That is the size of the task we face – as only from that place might we flow towards the needful, suffering world. As Dr David Hawkins puts it succinctly
We change the world not by what we say or do but as a consequence of what we have become
Why is it that cognitive and behavioural models have come to dominate mainstream psychological discourse, whilst deeper forms are pushed to the fringe? It is, in one sense, because psychology has lost connection with sacred Psyche – it has become third party knowledge ‘about’, and forgotten how to knowby being, knowledge by identity. Such ontological alienation is perhaps the signature symptom of our time – the reification of the separate self as Reality – the doom of materialist thought expressed as technology or weapon or belief. The dominant subpersonality of our time shows her face this way, and says, ‘I exist separately’. She insists upon this separateness, but she is real only in the way Thogme Zangpo describes in ‘The Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattva’ – real like a child dying in a dream is real. Let us hold her. And let her hear this poem, the words of Kabir (through Robert Bly):
Take a pitcher full of water and set it down on the water –
Now it has water inside and water outside.
We mustn’t give it a name,
Lest silly people start talking again about the body and the soul.
If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth:
Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you.
The one no one talks of speaks the secret sound to himself,
And he is the one who has made it all.
I will end with some suggestions, for what they are worth. Firstly, as Psychosynthesis is a Mystery School, so it must re-grow to express itself through the dominant metaphor of the age, as all Mystery Schools do. When Assagioli founded it the prevailing cultural metaphor was grafted into the new science of Psychology – but for us now, in the first phase of the Twenty-First century that metaphor no longer resonates with such potential – indeed it has been colonised and strip-mined, denuded and left barren to the imagination. I suggest that the new metaphor will be that which speaks of the whole system or web of life – what we currently call Ecology. We therefore require a psychosynthesis of Spiritual Ecology to speak powerfully to our time and the challenging decades ahead. This accords with the responses necessary for facing the profoundly interrelated and converging crises of our age – overpopulation, climate chaos, peak fossil energy, the collapse of economic models based on infinite growth, aggressive war and repression and the enormous extinction events underway within the natural world. The environment is within us every bit as much as it is outside – it is invisible, illusive, all encompassing. As Theodor Roszak pointed out, Jung’s Colletcive Unconscious and Freud’s Id are the environment, the ecological unconscious, so to speak – or the ruach elohim, the breath of God.
John Michael Greer
I offer some names, a few pioneers tending similar gardens – such as Henryk Skolimowski, (the Polish eco-philosopher who writes of light and ‘world as sanctuary’), or John Michael Greer in the USA, (a druid, and fluent teacher on ecological interfaces with other modes). I think Psychosynthesis, in pursuing this integration of fields within a vision of wholeness both honours its taproot and attends to its growing buds – moreover, it has the potential to serve as a sort of external unifying centre, a medium, if you like, by which many people from many differing starting points can access enduring wisdom and vital contemporary exchange across the levels of consciousness.
Secondly, Psychosynthesis needs to be ever more explicit in its transpersonal dynamic. The personal has become alienated, atomised – and the scale of the healing challenge now rests upon whole-system levels. As James Hillman put it – there is a secret love hiding in each problem – today the symptoms are global, and they lead us ineluctably to the transpersonal to reach into that hidden love.
And finally, Psychosynthesis needs to follow its bliss, as Joseph Campbell would’ve said. Follow the Heart into the Mystery, the Brahmavihara of Joy. Another poem to end –
The silence inside of you
is the sound of your knowledge collapsing.
Remember, it is you who said
“I want to be free.”
Adyashanti (from The Impact of Awakening p.111)
Thank you very much.