Psycheology: The Study of the Soul
The following is excerpted from Psychedelic Healing: The Promise of Entheogens for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development, available from Inner Traditions.
When we awaken to our projections we can dis-identify with the acquired, defensive shell of personality and reidentify with our true core, our original self, through a process of retroactive maturation -- rejoining our true psyche in the unfolding of identity that was stunted as a baby. This entails a process of repositioning the locus of our awareness of self.
One of the most common statements repeated in the West about Eastern philosophy is that the physical world of reality -- maya -- is "an illusion." That's not really so. It's just not all there is, or even the most real or the most important part of reality, but there are few who would argue that the material world doesn't exist in some way, in some form.
Many metaphors apply, but I like to think of the "real" physical world as built on or emanating from a foundation or essence of universal energy -- often represented by the word Om -- underlying everything, a foundation or essence that we call spirit. That energy field is fundamentally different from the structured waves and frequencies that define the cooler, denser, slower, and more stable formats of matter. We can see matter as precipitating out of the underlying energy field much like rain precipitates out of the vapor cloud, as temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure vary.
If one key difference between matter and energy is the frequency, speed, temperature, and density of the energy patterns, then the least-dense energy patterns would be thought, awareness, and consciousness (this is the way reality is conceived of in yoga).
So, rather than thinking of the physical world as all there is or as completely illusory, I prefer to think of the physical world as precipitating out of a more fundamental ground of being. A good metaphor is the mycelium of mushrooms. Mycelium is the true organism, growing underneath the surface; the mushrooms that spring up are simply the individual fruiting bodies of that larger, unseen underground network.
Likewise, we humans are the fruiting bodies of a larger whole of our species, but also of life on Earth -- of life in general, of the ecstatic energy field that underlies everything. Yoga says that when we silence the mind, we can hear that human "mycelium," our underlying nature.
My approach is to think of everyone as engaged in a development process. Everyone is at a different stage of that process. The process is what you might call spiritual, but with a small "s" -- not "Supernatural," but spiritual as in our natural unfolding into maturation, or the development of maturity and wisdom. That is the natural, preprogrammed process we've been genetically wired for through evolution -- it's another way of expressing "what works and doesn't get us killed." In the animal kingdom, the plant world, and all around us, individual members of species are in various stages of development through the life cycle. In the case of flowers, they are literally unfolding.
This section has provided an outline of the process of personality development and the dynamics of the baby's own unique underlying self. Once clients begin to release childhood wounds and needs (that until then had directed the contents of their reality), the true self can feel safe to begin to reemerge. I then discussed the nature and development of the underlying consciousness, the foundation on which full mental functioning can be built. It is at this point that clients frequently develop a more relaxed, embracing, and lasting approach to meditation, yoga, diet, and education.
Psyche: The Core Concept
Who owns the mind? Is it the believers in spirit, that illusive "thing" that isn't a thing, but somehow resides in the brain . . . or is it the heart? Do scientists own the mind? Those dissectors and understanders who deny something just because they haven't seen it yet? Before Wilhelm Wundt opened the first experimental psychology laboratory in 1879 there was no academic discipline of psychology separate from philosophy and biology. Perhaps it should have stayed like that for a while longer at least: the study of mind from a physiological perspective as a subfield in biology and the study of mind from a conceptual perspective as a subfield of philosophy.
Although there are more psychological issues today that can be significantly and reliably treated by a particular psychological approach than there were one hundred years ago, it remains the case that for most psychological complaints, schools of thought or academic orientation are not related to successful treatment. Rather it is similarity of background and values and the creation of a trusting rapport that are most correlated with successful psychotherapy. Furthermore, for common "neurosis," talk therapy with a skilled practitioner (or even trusted family member) is more effective over the long run than an equivalent-length treatment with any pharmaceutical. Especially since many pharmaceuticals begin to backfire after prolonged use -- backfire due to tolerance and side effects, where the benefit begins to be outweighed by the drawbacks. The current tendency to prescribe a pharmaceutical, simply because it works at first, is mistaken. We must find combinations of treatments that are explicitly chosen to be effective without relapse when the chemical is finally withdrawn.
There is an important role played by healing professionals who fight to stop pathology and the damage it incurs. There is also a huge role to be played by those who try to guide healthy, mature living in order to forestall the advent of pathology, especially pathology caused by lifestyle choices, using harm reduction, not moralizing. The psycheology approach I describe next is mostly oriented toward facilitating and guiding healthy maturation and to a lesser extent toward fighting pathology, except during emergency circumstances.
Psycheology: The Study of the Soul
This book integrates my own evolution into the discussion of using psychedelics for healing. I can illustrate this point by defining a word I've crafted and like to use in my practice, the word psycheology. You won't find the word psycheology in any dictionary (I've searched). Rather, it is a made-up word -- a neologism (from the Greek: neo meaning "new" and logos meaning "word" or "statement," or meaningful sound, information as patterned energy). Psycheology is a word I created in my effort to reclaim the true, original meaning of the word psychology.
The word psychology comes from the Greek psukhe, meaning "soul," "spirit," "mind," "life," and "breath," combined with the Greek logos, here used as "statement," "expression," and "discourse," more often thought of today in the form of "-ology," as "the study of." Although the academic and clinical discipline of psychology has become a medical -- and therefore a pathology-oriented -- field, prior to the late 1800s, the study of our inner mental life was the study of our soul, our deepest self or essence.
My purpose in writing this book is to bring psychologists, my clients, and us all back to psychology as the study of the psyche, to a focus on the ground of our being, to the soul, because it is this part of us that is the earliest, deepest, and the most authentic part of us. From a psychotherapeutic perspective, the psyche is the part of us that is the most influential in effecting behavioral change and improving self-esteem. Not coincidentally, it is also the part of us that we see illuminated during the psychedelic experience, and it is this illumination of our true nature (or the corresponding "death" of our identification with the ego) that accounts for the therapeutic value of the psychedelic experience. This effect is similar to the concept of sympathetic vibration; wherein a still tuning fork brought into contact with a vibrating one will begin to vibrate at the same frequency. If our conscious attention or identity is brought into contact with or awareness of our deepest ground of being, our conscious awareness elicits or comes into identity with -- becomes -- that same deepest sense of self. We are changed -- transformed -- back into identity with the true self we abandoned in our childhood quest for parental love.
To foster this process of re-identification, we must come to view much of behavior now labeled "neurotic" not as pathological, but as the organism's natural response to developmental and environmental stresses on the path to maturation. From this perspective, "neurosis" is better seen as developmental challenge -- the surmounting of which brings maturity or wisdom -- rather than as pathology.
The term neurosis, as generally applied, is not accurate or helpful. In fact, one of the most negative influences on mental health is the "sick" concept itself, which tightens and distorts, keeping us from a natural unfolding and realignment.
In essence, we need to have psychiatrists (doctors who can prescribe medical and, nowadays usually pharmacological, treatment) treat true biochemically based behavioral disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia, and return the clinical practice of psychology to the unfolding of the psyche, in all its beauty and complexity, as a non-medical, natural phenomenon.
With the exception of these biologically based illnesses, psychology must come to be seen as the science of spiritual maturity. We call people "neurotic" when, in reality, it's not a medical illness they are suffering from, but spiritual immaturity. We must redefine spirituality, too, not as supernatural, but as simply the natural unfolding toward the wise, mature end of the normal curve of human developmental psychology.
In my practice, I find over and over again that big-picture understanding, active listening, and fundamental positive regard work best. From my perspective, "healing" takes place only when we get underneath our modern imago, persona, or personality, to rest at the ground of our being -- to naturally unfold according to our perfect, inner template for development. That process both requires and facilitates the emergence of self-acceptance and will.
The Psycheology Approach to Psychotherapy
To summarize, in their approach to clients, therapists with the psycheology worldview will tend to naturally express many approaches from the following list of philosophies and methods:
- Psycheology is about the direct experience of the foundation of our true self. I want to emphasize that in psycheology, we are not talking about the personality but the true, original self -- the self we were born as, before our parents "had at us." Our true, original self lies under our personality, in the transpersonal ground of our being, at our core.
- As newborns, we are all perfect. Of course we all have individual differences at birth, like the wide-ranging forms of trees in the forest, yet we are all "perfect" in our essence.
- Safety -- love -- is the central issue of infancy; lack thereof results in defensive highjacking of the ego function to create a personality as an acquired strategy to attain love.
- Personality is a strategy devised by an earlier, immature version of our adult self.
- Neurosis is the natural, stepwise unfolding of human maturation. It's not about pathology, but spiritual immaturity.
- Empathy and acceptance -- love -- for our parents and ourselves enables us to relax and release the knot in our psyche, to disidentify with the defensive personality and reidentify with our original, core self-to finally complete our childhood.
- The desire for change is a reflection of the problem, not of the solution. So, working on yourself or your relationships doesn't work. Rather, the only thing to "do" is simply to be; and simply being is not the result of an active pursuit, but rather the natural result of releasing the self from the encumbrance or distraction of immature personality strategy.
- Transformative developmental change is possible through a stepwise, dualistic dance -- a combination of transcendent change that touches soul, reaches forward and cathartic change that removes unconscious chains, releases the past.
- Psychedelic therapy can be a safe and extremely effective tool in facilitating transformative developmental change by enabling us to see ourselves with love and to safely engage in catharsis. Stunted or skewed development can be gotten back on track, but psychedelics are not cognitive development -- or enlightenment -- in a pill. Psychedelics can trigger insight, but behavior change takes time, and in this culture, such realignment is often harder to sustain than we acknowledge.
- Effective methods exist for changing policies and bureaucracies, and we are honor bound to bravely apply them in the pursuit of science, truth, and freedom.
- Having laid out these key lessons, as good global citizens, we are compelled to actively apply these finding, to improve the world.
- It's important, too, for us to speculate about the future of psychedelic therapy and policy -- and whether the re-integration of psychedelics into western civilization could provide a rite of passage for our culture as a whole, healing Cartesian duality, and elevating us to a new, integral level of society.
The psycheology approach to healthy human development is yogic and ayurvedic: seen as a perfect, healthy, developmental process of maturation. Psycheology approaches the human organism as a single whole seen sometimes as body, sometimes as mind, sometimes as spirit, but most effectively approached as the integral of all three.
The Beatles had it right: all you do need is love. Love is the central shaping phenomenology of earliest childhood, and love -- as essential to life as breathing -- continues to shape our existence in fundamental and profound ways our entire life. In infancy, love equals safety, and safety equals survival -- we're genetically programmed from birth to seek out love.
Likewise, we are genetically programmed to develop through a sequence of stages that when completed leads to wisdom (or spirituality or maturity). When my son was learning to walk, like most kids, he fell on his butt a lot. After he fell, he would turn to me with a quizzical look on his face, as if to ask, "Is this supposed to happen, Dad?" Of course, I was delighted by all his efforts and would applaud happily in response, as if to say, "Whatever it is you're doing, just keep up the great work!" Of course, I wasn't applauding his falling, I was applauding his trying, his process, because I knew that if I loved his process, he would naturally progress with whatever he was trying. I knew that although he would likely fall again, that eventually his progress would be, "Fall, fall, fall . . . walk!" I applauded his efforts to unfold his natural developmental pathway, and I apply that same philosophy to the efforts of my psychotherapy clients -- I know that it will be, for example, "Failed relationship, failed relationship, failed relationship . . . successful relationship!" So I often find myself smiling deeply when I see my clients struggling -- it's not that I'm heartless, it's just that I know where their effort will take them in just a few short weeks, and I'm pleased they are so far down the road.
In his falling while trying to walk and in so many other ways, my son has been my guru. When he was a newborn, I viewed him as an emissary from the land of perfection and found his naïve questions profound and helpful. So I have no interest in tightly controlling my son's behavior. As a father, I view myself less as a farmer planting in rows and harvesting output for a purpose, and more as a forest ranger simply keeping a look out for lightning while relishing the wild growth of the natural, unbridled forest.
Another example of being happy in this process is Faith, the two-legged dog. I've always marveled at the difference between the apparent attitude of a human who's lost an arm or a leg and a dog that's lost a leg. As positive as they try to be, the humans are generally at least a little broken by their misfortune. The dogs, on the other hand, are completely unperturbed -- they are as joyful and goofy as before. I've often relayed to my clients the sense of wonder I've felt in the presence of a dog missing a leg. Then one day, I saw a cover story in Animal Wellness magazine about Faith, the TWO-legged dog (Faith's official website is here). Faith was born with a congenital defect that left her without her two front legs. She was squirming around the shelter on her belly, scheduled to be euthanized, but with an unmistakable smile on her face. A wonderful woman, Jude Stringfellow, and her son Reuben adopted Faith, taught her how to stand upright on her two hind legs, and eventually began bringing this remarkable animal into the amputation wards of veterans hospitals to help cheer up the wounded by exposing them to her remarkable attitude of positivity and love.
I don't believe in neurosis as a pathology -- to me, neurosis is the natural unfolding of human maturation. Since everyone is neurotic to some degree or another, it can't be seen as disease. If it was pathological, it would have been selected out of the human population by now; instead, neurosis is ubiquitous. So what could be the adaptive value of neurosis? It is the overcoming of neurotic challenges that brings pleasure, effectiveness, and wisdom.
Is neurosis curable? Yes and no. Imagine the following metaphor: A sapling tree is growing at the bottom of a hill, when a boulder rolls down, landing right on top of the sapling. The impact is not enough to kill the sapling, however so over the years, it continues to grow -- horizontally right where the boulder has come to rest, but vertically at the growing tip in the area above where the boulder is. Now imagine it's twenty years later and a kindly farmer sees the boulder on top of the now-mature tree and uses a crowbar to roll the boulder off the tree. Will the tree instantly spring back into verticality? Of course not; that tree has matured and has years of hardened bark keeping it exactly as it was when the boulder was on top of it. The point is that the tree continued to grow toward the light, even with the impediment of a boulder on top of it. While we cannot always change back to our original path after adversity occurs -- we can never change our past to be someone who has had fully mature, loving parenting -- we can nonetheless find empathy for and accept our adversity with the attitude of Faith the two-legged dog, by flowering and fruiting despite a life-changing event with a psychological boulder.
There is a self-help book with the wonderful title Working on Yourself Doesn't Work (and a follow-along book, Working on Your Relationship Doesn't Work). The point is that we are naturally, biologically programmed to mature, but sometimes get derailed by our reaction to trauma or a severe deficit in childhood that creates the equivalent of a knot in our psychological "muscle." Knots are treated with warmth and massage, and that is exactly how a knot in one's psychological muscle should be treated, with gentle support and the warmth of loving care. Under safe, loving conditions, we will naturally realign toward the healthful. Even our healing is naturally programmed to unfold, so resist the temptation to help nature along. That would be as if you saw a beautiful red, still-closed rose bud, but decided that you would like to see it open today, and so you get out your tweezers to open up the bud. Of course that wouldn't work and would only destroy a lovely bud that would naturally unfold successfully in its own time.
In my psychotherapy practice, it turns out, paradoxically, that desire for change is a reflection of the problem, not of the solution. Change (in the form of unfolding development) comes about naturally when the whole organism is ready for it; we certainly can't be second-guessing our whole organism, using merely a subset (the rational brain) of the whole. Wanting change reflects poor self-esteem in that healthy self-esteem is accompanied by loving acceptance of the totality of who we are.
One afternoon, my mind was racing around, thinking of all the things I needed to do and trying to decide which of a seemingly endless supply of emergencies I should address first. As I searched my brain for some order or some peace of mind, a phrase came to mind, as clear as if it were whispered in my ear by the voice of an angel: "The thing to do . . . is to be." With all my doing, I needed to simply allow myself to unfold, messy or neat, fast or slow, this direction or that, to relax in the all-rightness of me and my expression of myself.
How do we achieve the level of love and acceptance needed for relaxation, insight, and realignment? For one, through trust in a therapeutic relationship that offers honesty, positive regard, and complete acceptance -- a modeling of the parenting clients have missed. Not to substitute for that missing parental love, but to model it for the client to adopt toward themselves. My clients may never have had loving, mature parenting, but they can provide that unconditional positive regard for themselves. In significant ways, my clients learn to parent themselves, to fill the deficit or heal the trauma, to release the unfulfilled needs of childhood. This is why I practice the way I do, developing fond, personal relationships with my clients and responding to e-mails and accepting calls at any hour -- because what kind of trusting, accepting, positive presence would I be if I were to defer a client call to a time when we could have a session with a fee? If I am truly optimistic about my clients' potential and delighted with their progress, as I would be with any fellow human being, then I would naturally want to be there with them in their process. Personally, I find it very gratifying. BUT . . .
It is very important to stay aware of and monitor transference and counter-transference. As one of my heroes, Sándor Ferenczi, said, in order to work this way you have to be analyzed "to rock bottom" -- and that is a daily challenge, but one that I share with my clients and use to further our work. When I fall short of that superlative, it becomes fodder for further analysis of our relationship and so a contribution to the client's (and my own) psychospiritual development.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the potential role of psychedelic meditation and psychedelic psychotherapy in the achievement of the kind of grounded, peaceful, happy stability we are exploring here. I believe any mature, sincerely embraced practice would serve to mature us, but psychedelics have the added quality of revealing our true self to ourselves fully, as if for the first time. Seeing through anger, fear, judgment, and defensiveness to our loving, loveable core is a hallmark of a positive psychedelic experience.
If you're in New York on Friday, February 4, come celebrate the publication of Psychedelic Healing with a panel discussion about psychedelics as therapeutic catalysts, featuring six of the field's leading experts. Join Evolver.net and Manugsta for a special night with Neal Goldsmith and his guests John Perry Barlow, Julie Holland, Daniel Pinchbeck, Rick Doblin and Ethan Nadelmann speaking on the latest theories, research, and legal developments. Dance party to follow. For more, click here.