How we perceive the outer world and the way it works largely determines how we view our inner world and its movement and change. If we have been raised in the Western world, educated and enculturated in its scientific mindset, we will tend to see the Universe as mechanistic, random or accidental, infinitely complex but ultimately reducible to finite, material components and energies, and forever stressed between opposing and competing forces.
This prevailing view directly colors how the human psyche is perceived. People assume the mind is a huge computer, plunked upon this earth for no discernible reason, understandable only by its programming and biochemistry, and beset by warring factions, destined to never be fully happy.
This observation that our world view has been determined by the current scientific model of the universe has been made for decades now, and by a large number of writers in both the spiritual and scientific communities: Alan Watts, Gregory Bateson, Oscar Ichazo, Johanna Macy, Brian Swimme, Elisabet Sahtouris, Donella Meadows, and many others. These writers also affirm that there is another way to see the world and our psyches. As Macy says:
The greatest revolution of our time is in the way we see the world. The mechanistic paradigm underlying the Industrial Growth Society gives way to the realization that we belong to a living, self-organizing cosmos. General systems theory, emerging from the life sciences, brings fresh evidence to confirm ancient, indigenous teachings: the Earth is alive, mind is pervasive, all beings are our relations. This realization changes everything. It changes our perceptions of who we are and what we need. . .
Any student of ecology will agree that nature exhibits far more harmony, holism, and cooperation, than competition, randomness, and the operation of merely mechanical laws. The holistic view sees change and evolution in nature as being cooperative, cyclical, integrative, and, of course, beautifully designed. In seeing nature as cooperative, the environmental scientist, Elisabet Sahtouris wrote:
The Darwinian story only goes to the adolescent part where there’s hostile competition. You take all you can get. You fight your enemy. You try to out-do him or try to bump him off and that’s what makes you survive. . .
But that’s not what sustainability is all about. Sustainability happens when species learn to feed each other instead of fight each other. You get mature ecosystems such as rainforests and prairies where you have far more cooperation than you have hostile competition. You can still have friendly competition, but that’s very different. . .
And it is not just the ecosystems that ‘feed’ each other in a cooperative way. All the cycles of nature — seasonal, planetary, hydrologic, photosynthesis-energy, nitrogen, oxygen-CO2, the life cycles of plants, and animals, predatory-prey population cycles, etc., etc. — work in a vast inter-locking and inter-dependent system that contributes to the existence and diversity of life.
If we agree with this analysis, then how does this holistic view of the laws of nature inform psychological healing and growth?
To a non-dual, transpersonal therapist, psychological change and growth, like change in nature, happen as a result of harmonious interaction between aspects of the psyche, and not because one part ‘triumphs’ over the other in a kind of Darwinian battle. When the therapist is able to help set up the right conditions, and the client is fearlessly open to change, then growth, wisdom, and compassion flow organically from the process.
When we can change our orientation to psychological health, and see it more like an ecosystem, then we can find all kinds of examples of how human maturity happens in a non-combative, balanced way. For example, by understanding the apparent opposites in our psyche, the dark and light sides, the oppositional dichotomies we find ourselves in, we find that when we bring both sides into balance in a positive way, then healing spontaneously happens. This view of balance as a contributing factor to mental health has been echoed again and again, from Aristotle and the Golden Mean, to Roberto Assagioli, to Carl Jung, not to mention many Eastern traditions. More recently, the writer and philosopher Oscar Ichazo illustrates this very well in his theory of the Domains of Consciousness.
Ichazo suggests that there are nine domains that our psyches preoccupy themselves with, and within each domain there is a positive and negative dichotomy. For example, in the Domain of Work, there is a negative antagonism between our tendency to over-work, and the opposing tendency to be lazy and irresponsible. Until we achieve more balance, wisdom, and clarity about both sides of this dichotomy, they will struggle and fight one another in a neurotic and dysfunctional argument, whether we are conscious of it or not.
Let’s imagine that we are over-developed on the workaholic side of the domain. This part of our character will push us until exhaustion, never wanting to let up. Its psychic structure is based on cognitive fallacies that have the individual believing that only by one’s super-performance of work and responsibility does one gain respect and inner satisfaction. It is as if the ego’s worth and well-being are dependent on this victory over our weakness and laziness.
The problem is that the lazy side of the duality is not going to take this repression lying down, and will fight back. It will torment the over-working side of the personality with fantasies and dreams of surrendering, of giving up the fight, taunting it with images of becoming a couch potato with all its delicious malingering and indolence.
These conflicts will endure, in all nine domains, unless we begin to ‘process the karma,’ that is, learn how to witness the futility of this negative warfare, have each side develop wisdom and compassion for the plight they are in, and finally jump to the positive dichotomy inherent in each domain — in this case, a yin/yang balance between responsibility and leisure, or focused work and healthy ways of relaxation.
Ichazo uses a yin and yang-like symbol to connote the dynamic harmony between these two sides of the coin. In each side there is the seed of its apparent opposite, as represented by the small circles in each side of the yin/yang symbol. In the positive balance of the Work Domain, when we know how to relax and enjoy our free time, it recharges us and allows us to go back to work refreshed and clear. And when we are responsible, taking our work seriously, and doing the best we can at it, our psyche becomes content with a job well done. Then, when it comes time to relax we are more able to do so. Flow happens between the two poles, and we see everything is in perfect balance,
We reach an ecological state of mental health where we see our psyche as a whole, an integrated and unified system, going through cycles of growth and change, not as a battle or struggle, but as states of tension that arise and challenge us to go beyond our comfort zone. It is far more elegant, and mature, than the old Freudian view. From the spiritual point of view, psychological growth mirrors the Tao, or Nature, itself:
The primal powers [of yin and yang] never come to a standstill; the cycle of becoming continues uninterruptedly. The reason is that between the two primal powers there arises again and again a state of tension, a potential that keeps the powers in motion and causes them to unite, whereby they are constantly regenerated. . . The power of Tao to maintain the world by a constant renewal of a state of tension between the polar forces is designated as good (emphasis mine).
In the next post we will examine this process of healing, what I am calling the principle of psychological integration, in more detail.