Politics, Psychology and Spirituality: The need for an Institute for the Understanding of Human Nature

Politics, Psychology and Spirituality: The need for an Institute for the Understanding of Human Nature. To read this as a pdf click here

It has become increasingly clear to me that the negative effects of Capitalism subjugate and oppress most people. I agree with George Monbiot’s recent analysis (Guardian 25/04/19) that it is largely a rigged system. Those that benefit do so largely by accident. Yes, there are people who from humble origins who have become very wealthy, but they are of necessity rare and lucky. Capitalism means that most people become “wage slaves”, selling their labour in what has been becoming, especially in the West at least, an increasingly de-powered and unfair marketplace. The recent growth of inequality has been rubbing salt into the wounds of deficiency and Capitalism causes there to be a large group of people without hope at the bottom of the wealth pile. The inequality of land ownership, especially in this country, underlies many of these problems, as Monbiot has also recently pointed out (Guardian 04/06/19).

The Right correctly argues that Capitalism’s strength is in its freedom, diversity and creativity. The trouble starts when they argue that without the constraints and demands of the market people do not work hard, they become un-productive, lazy and wasteful. This is a view of people as inherently negative, where too much support leads to dependency and the avoidance of self-responsibility, as can be seen in all those “benefit scroungers” and “no hopers”. That, the whinging by those on the left about the unfairness of Capitalism is just like children having a tantrum and complaining that “life is unfair”, when Life is not fair. A strong “work ethic” is seen as necessary for our survival. We live in a ruthlessly competitive world. That it is only by facing up to the demands of the market that we become “lean and efficient” and therefore deserving as human beings.

When you say this to people who doubt their own validity (i.e. most of us at some level) it is a powerful message, and one that insidiously permeates our society. It insists that we should all be confident, healthy, even “perfect”, otherwise we are “bad”, a burden, “not good enough” and something to be ashamed of.

The argument is that Capitalism has always existed, that it just reflects human nature. Good apples will rise to the top and the bad ones need to be controlled and defended against. People are un-equal in their talents and our genes make us competitive, so inequality is inevitable. This argument is based on a view of human nature that is bereft of Love and Compassion. This is not surprising as those who espouse this view are usually those whose hearts have been closed by trauma (I use this word in its widest sense). This view of human nature is part of the deeply perverted Christian view that saw children as being born evil with “original sin” needing to be “made good” through discipline and the withholding of love. The legacy of this is still unfolding  through the generations, I work with it every day. It is there in our “blame culture” which exists in every sphere of society. It is there in our Education system and particularly in our continuing attachment to private schools with their ethos of unconscious deprivation and conscious privilege (Duffell 2000, Schaverien 2015). It is there in our criminal justice system, police and military and all the ways that governments in this country have centralised civic power over the recent decades with layers of hierarchy and bureaucracy which is hopelessly designed to avoid people taking responsibility.

Self-improvement is seen as possible for all “if only they pulled their socks up”. The Right emphasise self-responsibility, and yes, there is truth in this, which is what makes it so powerful. But it is a partial truth; the bigger truth is that as human beings we are all of equal value, we are all fragile sparks of the Divine that deserve support and the chance to flourish. There is a real dilemma here. On the one hand Capitalism can be seen as denying most people that chance to flourish, it condemns them to work hard just to survive, to pay the rent or mortgage and struggle to raise a family, let alone the extra struggles it causes those disadvantaged by whatever means. On the other hand, self-responsibility and choice are real, they are existential facts that cannot be dismissed, because nobody can choose for us, self-responsibility has to be our choice.

From this perspective it is not “Capitalism” that is the problem, but Life itself, our existential condition arising from having choice over how we live our lives. We can live as a victim, blaming the world for our troubles or we can increasingly take responsibility for ourselves and find our personal freedom. This is the paradox of support and challenge, too much or too little of either causes problems. We need a balance of both to grow towards our potential. Taking self-responsibility is a huge life-long task for all of us and it is far too meaningful to be simplistically high-jacked by the Right to justify blaming “the poor” for being poor.

Capitalism can be understood as being as much a consequence as it is a cause. In the end there is no “they”, there is just everybody acting relatively “unconsciously” (yes, even those at the top of oil companies disseminating false information about climate change). It is the development of consciousness that changes societies, just as it does in personal change. The trap the Left are caught in is of blaming Capitalism. It is such an easy and alluring trap, so inviting and so straight forward and satisfying to blame the other to feel reassuringly “right”.

The fact is though that Capitalism is so unfair. Money makes money and poverty makes poverty. Any alternative system that resorts to even more centralised control is bound to be deeply un-desirable. Such “power over” hierarchical structures, whether from the Left or Right, are inevitably an un-democratic oppression of the human spirit. Our wish for freedom, is very deeply rooted in millennia of profound struggle, especially in the West. So, the way forward must be through deepening democracy. The task is then to find the best balance we can between community and individual freedom.  It must tackle inequality whilst at the same time understanding how our need to take responsibility for ourselves is an essential aspect of our developmental nature.

Our developmental process has at its heart our need to face our own difficult existential choice about whether we say “Yes” or “No” to life. This is essentially about whether we remain caught being “victim” identified with our defences holding onto our “No”, or whether we take self-responsibility and start to face and understand the reality of how we are, choosing “Yes” to our developmental journey and Life. Many make the choice without doing so consciously, they just let themselves continue in their set patterns without self-reflection, never managing to escape. This is irrespective of wealth, class, race or gender. Many others struggle heroically for decades between their “Yes” and “No”, some manage to embrace the journey of taking self-responsibility and find their “Yes” in the direst of circumstances. But there is real mystery here, with each person’s journey is so unique that comparisons are impossible.

At some level though we do have choice, and this means we are bound to struggle. It is why we find growing up is so hard, we all want to take the easiest paths and avoid the difficulties involved in taking responsibility for ourselves. When animals are ejected from “home” this process is often heartbreakingly tough. For those who have experienced more trauma (again in its widest sense) in their development, the difficulties of growing up are multiplied  because to do so means facing the extra pain of that early hurt. The reality is that we are all victims, yes, even those with unimaginable wealth and power. Human maturation is such a long and complex process that to negotiate it without rupture at some stage is impossible and living with the effects of trauma is to live with internal conflict and confusion, like living in a troubled dream. The question is can we “grow-up” and “wake-up” from that “sleep”.

The most meaningful and valuable thing we can achieve as human beings, is our Liberation, our Freedom from being a victim. Ultimately this comes from transcending (and including) our ego, which largely is the defensive self-structure that we developed around our insecurity. The first steps in this are through taking responsibility for ourselves, not in any “shouldistic” way, but through gradually facing the reality of what and who we are. It is through first knowing ourselves that we can heal and become authentically ourselves, after this we have the possibility of letting our ego go, which is our “spiritual” journey towards inhabiting this present moment, right now. This is the goal that matters most, it is our deepest desire and responsibility, to embody Consciousness (with our awareness/ head), Love (with our heart) and of Presence (with our body) (the three part of the whole self). It is this “Beingness” that can emerge from our integrated wholeness, that holds our most extraordinary potential. Here there is no separation between you and me, everyone is an equally valid spark of the divine, which demolishes any possible justification for anyone being superior to, or indeed separate from, the other.

This underlines the impossibility of accepting that a large percentage of any society can be consigned to poverty and suffering because they are “bad apples”. That is wholly and totally untenable. It is totally at odds with my understanding of human nature. All our negative and destructive aspects are the result of trauma, not from any inherited “badness” or “inadequacy”. So, everyone always deserves another chance. Whilst there is this profound paradox around choice, it must not be used as an excuse to avoid fighting for a fairer society. We all need support … as well as challenge.

That those in most need seem to so often refuse support, simply reflects the level of trauma that they are carrying. Offer love to someone unloved and they will often refuse it because to accept it would mean opening their heart, which means facing the pain that has for a long time been held out of awareness. It is this projective process that is behind so much of our judgement of the disadvantaged and minorities of all kinds. Blame is all about projection. We “project” the unaware unacceptable aspects of ourselves onto the other. The same is true when we idealise the other, only to be disappointed when they turned out to be human. What we find unacceptable in the other are those negative aspects of ourselves that we have not yet accepted. We then project that “badness” onto the other. As James Baldwin instinctively expressed it decades ago whilst talking about white supremacists in the USA, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain” (The Fire Next Time).

Those with power and wealth are engaged in a constant ruthless struggle to maintain their advantage and avoid any pain whatsoever. Their control of the media and power to promote their defensive and negative philosophy is frightening. They buy influence, sow confusion and create smoke screens of “moral outrage” to fight anything that might remotely threaten their privilege, power or wealth. Much of the media reinforces our blame culture, it stirs up people’s survival fight, flight, freeze responses to keep people from seeing what is really going on. A frightened and divided population is easily manipulated.

The Right deny their insecurity through projectively justifying Capitalism and inequality whilst the Left deny theirs through projectively blaming Capitalism. For both the attachment to power is deeply compensatory. Politics needs to expand its perspectives to include a deeper understanding of the psychological as well as “spiritual” dimensions of life, because, as above, they represent our deepest desires and our most meaningful understanding. This is about our need to psychologically “grow up”, as well as “spiritually” to “wake up”.

The latter is about our need to come to terms with, and transcend, “whatever is”, it is the perspective of the Tao, of Non-Duality, of “all is only at it can be, right now”, it is about knowing the pre-eminence of “Being” over “Doing”. But this stance can be very apolitical and passive, letting what will be, be. It reflects the healthy idea that it is better to do nothing than do harm. How though do we know what to do? After all, “every stick” has two ends” and we live in a world of unintended consequences. I have partly taken this position down the years, and in doing so have avoided taking fuller responsibility for the political implications of my philosophy. For those of a spiritual disposition this place of “Being” is beyond material concerns, only an “Enlightened being” could possibly act wisely. This can be an easy “escape route” from the real difficulty of facing our responsibility for the world that nurtures and sustains us. For myself, I see now that to ignore the political “doing” that inevitably flows from my philosophy, is ducking my responsibility to the world I live in. I guess that in an ideal world anarchism might be the answer, trusting in the “Goodness” and self-regulating power of human beings. But we live in a traumatised world that is far from ideal and history teaches us that change happens because of people’s efforts.

One of the problems is that modern societies have largely forgotten or rejected is the understanding of this “spiritual” core to human nature. This rejection was necessary for removing the shackles of fossilised Religions, it facilitated embracing Modernism’s wonderful liberating emphasis on scientific truth. More recently we needed to challenge the fossilisation of Science to reach the freedom of Post-Modernism’s insight about the relativity of everything. Now we need to “transcend and include” (Ken Wilber) Post-Modernism to reclaim our “spirituality”. This multi century journey of  society’s developing consciousness (à la Wilber’s “Integral” model) provides the ground for our current remembering of “spirituality” in wonderfully new, free, non-dogmatic ways. It is obvious why we needed to separate religion from politics as they can dangerously mutually justify and reinforce each other in the accumulation of power. This is something that is re-emerging today in Russia and with other authoritarian movements (Guardian 11/06/19). But this newer understanding of the “spiritual” aspect of life is not concerned with power, it is not religious (it defies any dogmatic or institutionalised form), and it needs to be included back into the heart of our philosophy. Our spiritual and psychological understanding are an integral part of this and in the end,  we cannot separate philosophy from politics.

The implications of these two perspectives are that many of the Left’s proposals for creating a fairer society are correct, but from a perspective of deeper meaning. We do need to re-configure the Capitalist basis of our economies, competition and “free markets” alone are evidently not the answer. They continue to create lives of misery whilst destroying the planet at terrifying speed. Many of the changes needed may well look like “socialism” as we have little in the way of other conceptual frames at present. We need though to be wary, because politics always seems to fall into the trap of power and in doing so loses the treasured goal. Socialism’s problems, it seems to me, stem from its addiction to power. To avoid that we need to stay connected to and informed by the “spiritual” dimension of our experience as well as our psychological knowledge. Our insecurity leads us to seek power over others. That this “need” always comes from trauma is clear, but it continues to perniciously play out in all forms of Governmental and private institutions. It certainly “did for” the twentieth century’s experiments in “Socialism”. Established religions also fall into this trap too and need to let go of their wealth and “power over”, which has always been deeply hypocritical.

So, yes, many of the Left’s policies are what is needed to tackle inequality and poverty and increasing taxes on the wealthy is part of this. There are obviously practical limits to this, and therefore on the extent to which wealth redistribution is the answer. The wealthy however need to understand that their lifestyle in the end depends on the poorest in society getting enough support. This needs to become an unequivocal moral understanding, like the unacceptability of slave labour. Wealthy people need to understand and feel that paying tax is part of their privilege, it is a gift and a blessing contributing to the health and harmony of society. The narrow-minded selfishness of seeing taxes as “state theft” needs exposing as well as understanding. Selfishness is always a consequence of trauma. Superiority and arrogance are always the compulsive compensation for the denied wounds of insecurity with its unaware inferiority.

History, and the Right, have sown seeds of doubt about the economic viability of the Left’s economic policies. There is indeed no “money tree”, and we know that out of control spending leads to the disasters of overwhelming interest payments and or runaway inflation. Yet from the little I understand of this; it seems that we can sustain a somewhat higher levels of borrowing than the Conservatives “austerity programme” “sold us”. But financial realism is something that the Right are good at. It is so easy to trot out ideas for spending money without bearing in mind the hard work, creativity and patience needed to generate it.

More importantly, and as many have argued, we need to devolve power as far as is practical. This means passing the responsibility for social spending down to as local a level as possible. We need to deepen democracy no matter how messy that process is, with Governments and businesses flattening hierarchies and encouraging democratic participation as well as increasing public and employee ownership. Taking back into public control many of those “outsourced” services is a given. (recently there was the news story about the failure of the outsourcing of the probation service to a “payments by result” company. How mind-bogglingly daft was that!) This has the potential to undo much of the alienation that many people feel through their current employment conditions in both the state and private sectors. Through enabling people to take on more responsibility, their lives become more meaningful. Devolving power is this process, power hierarchies inevitably alienate and or infantilise.

It is clear from the increase in inequality over the past decades, that unfettered Capitalism has not delivered on its promise of improvement for all. Society needs to take its responsibility for giving everyone the chance to fulfil their potential more seriously. Whilst it is true that no one can choose “Yes” for anybody else, it is surely everyone’s right to live in conditions that support as many as possible to find their “Yes”. When we live with too much trauma and too close to our fight, flight or freeze reactions, there is no space for anything but survival.

Part of all this is, as above, the task of undoing our insidious “blame culture”. People need to be supported and encouraged to take self-responsibility for themselves and their situations. They can only do this if there is sufficient support, something that needs then to be embedded systemically in all our institutions and social structures. An increased understanding of the reality and profundity of ongoing adult development is in turn needed to support this change. When we dismantle the charade of everyone needing to pretend to be “perfect” and “competent” adults, we can come back to humility, to knowing how we are all struggling to grow up on our lifelong journey of taking responsibility for ourselves and finding our freedom. Making mistakes and failing are an inevitable and necessary part this. Again, at root, this is about understanding that people are fundamentally “Good” and creative. That all our “negativity”, all our “problems”, arise from the consequences of trauma. The “silver lining” here is that every “problem” approached creatively is also an opportunity for growth and freedom.

This brings me to an idea that I think could significantly support the change in consciousness necessary for our society to heal and develop. I think we need a national state funded enquiry (at an international level as well) committed to developing our philosophy of the meaning of human life. It could be called “The Institute for the Understanding of Human Nature”. The UN Declaration of Human Rights deals with the rights of individuals within societies, but in terms of looking at the meaning of life it has little to say, other than upholding that we are all are of equal value, with the right to dignity and self-determination. This new body could undertake the responsibility to find the best answers we can to this question of what our fundamental human nature is and what it means? As I have tried to articulate above, so many of our current policies and approaches are based on unclear, self-contradictory and incorrect assumptions and prejudices about what human nature is. We need to articulate a new guiding philosophy.

Psychological and spiritual perspectives are to me fundamental to this proposed enquiry. Research increasingly supports the understanding of how all our negativity and destructiveness are the compulsive compensatory consequences of trauma. Given even “half a chance” our inherent drive to heal, grow and develop works well. Just as our bodies heal, our “selves” can do so too. Our “organic” relationship to life is a creative one and all this goes to confirm that our basic human nature is “Good”. It ties in with deep intuitive sense that Nature is “Good”, as well as “True” and “Beautiful”. It provides us with our path of adult development, which is largely, to paraphrase Rumi, about slowly removing the obstacles we have within us to Love.

It is the “spiritual” aspect of our experience that provides the values we so dearly need for a more harmonious society. By “spiritual” I mean our potential to “be”. All religious and spiritual traditions are, or were, concerned with how to find our way to embodying this tiny word. Past all our “obstacles”, at our core is the miracle of “Being” with its Consciousness, Love and Presence. This is confirmed by the descriptions of many people who have found themselves able to live with these three parts awakened in an extra-ordinary level of being. Most of us at some time get glimpses of this in our ordinary lives. It is a place where our ego is transcended (and included), where there is no difference between you and me, Consciousness-Love-Presence, as a whole, are the Reality of which everything is a part, all is one. This profound reality is Non-Duality, it is Love, “God” or however you want to name it. It makes nonsense of our obsession with money and power and all the entanglements of our ego. Again, it demolishes any possible justification for inequality.

The Guardian (Editorial 08/06/19) quoted this from Marilynne Robinson’s essay,

“We talk about the sanctity of an individual life, but we have let so much value leach out of the word ‘sanctity’, forgetting its old associations with beauty, mystery, and inviolability. All these qualities are invisible to economics, which can only talk about preferences. Markets desacralise. But in doing so they miss what gives life meaning. For the largely post-Christian societies of western Europe and North America, it may be difficult to discover a concept of sanctity without dogma. But there must be some value to life that can’t be measured in money, or even numbers – or else the lives thought valueless will be treated that way.” https://harpers.org/archive/2019/06/is-poverty-necessary-marilynne-robinson/.

This philosophy enquiry into the meaning of life obviously needs to incorporate all aspects of human experience. It needs to be as scientifically based as possible, as well as informed by post-modernism’s relativism. We know that we cannot define “Reality”, that our perception and understanding is always going to be partial, which beautifully avoids any dogmatism. However, we need to not deny that the Absolute exists. For me this is not about claiming that I know “it”, it is about seeing clearly that our developmental trajectory is towards a wholeness, a fulfilment, a flowering at another level of being. Also, I see this in those who have managed to embody this “realisation” (see batgap.com), something that seems to be happening to an increasing number of people. Obviously, this is relative, but as far as I can see it is this that represents our destiny.

What we need is to develop as clear a vision as possible about what society could look like, to draw people towards a new vision. Recently (Guardian 29/04/19) Jonnie Wolf reviewed Paul Mason’s new book about the future, and he talked about the so-called “value alignment problem” of,

“… how to give AI the right goals and values to ensure that things turn out well from a human perspective. This problem is accentuated by our ignorance of our own values. Despite millennia of moral philosophy, we are not able to explicitly articulate in English the values that we implicitly live by …”

This is my point, this “articulation” is the enquiry that I am suggesting here, a herculean task indeed, but what could be more meaningful, so obviously needed and with such potential to bring about real change.

Monbiot, (as above) in making the case against Capitalism said,

“I believe our task is to identify the best proposals from many different thinkers and shape them into a coherent alternative. Because no economic system is only an economic system but intrudes into every aspect of our lives, we need many minds from various disciplines – economic, environmental, political, cultural, social and logistical – working collaboratively to create a better way of organising ourselves that meets our needs without destroying our home.”

Paul Mason (Guardian 27/05/19) expressed this as, “… we need to spell out now the radical democratic and humanist values …  We are engaged in a culture war over values and narratives.” Again, from the  Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty (29/05/19) confirms the point, “Yet the philosopher’s challenge is the right one. What Brexit has shown again is our inability to think anew about what the state and the economy are for, to sketch out what a different future might look like.”

What I think these three writers miss are the two vital “disciplines” of  psychology and spirituality that are fundamental to this philosophical project. (I have just noticed that Monbiot has written an article (Guardian 12/06/19) about how politicians need therapy. Too true! I hope he continues to integrate psychology into his perspective.)

Research has suggested that it can take as little as ten percent of the population embodying a new level of consciousness for there to be a paradigm shift within a society. Whatever the percentage, at a certain point of accumulation things “tip”, the world changes, just as happens in personal change. Who expected the “Iron Curtain” to disintegrate in the way it did? Science was ridiculed and dismissed before it became accepted. Plus, the world’s consciousness is now functioning on turbo-charge since the arrival of the internet, expanding at an increasingly rapid rate. This also means though that the project I am proposing here of finding clarity about human existence, its developmental process, its meaning and its purpose, can be “turbo-charged” as well.

The intensity of our current “culture wars” is surely the result of this pace of change, with fear driving the many “reactionary” groups. Ken Wilber has long argued that our “culture wars” are between people of different levels of consciousness. I know this is a very “un-pc” thing to say, especially for those of a Post-Modern consciousness who hate hierarchies, as well as those who shout “elitism” whenever it suits them. But if we accept that human lifelong development is real, and that it is towards a freedom that is defined by the undefinable “Absolute”, then we quickly see that there are steps in this process, these are the levels, or stages, that Consciousness goes through in its development.

Wilber looks at many people’s research describing these stages of development, which I will summarise as, “Survival, Tribal, Religious, Modern, Post-Modern, Integral”. Trauma and its consequential insecurity causes us to get stuck at earlier stages of development instead of naturally growing up through these stages into adulthood. This means there are plenty of adults stuck at “lower” levels and when this happens that identification becomes highly defensive and reactive. Trauma creates a powerful feeling of being defeated and unconsciously stuck in “victim mode”, which heightens reactivity. This is especially so from those at “Tribal” or “Religious” stages who project their negativity onto others, rejecting and blaming those they see as different in some way.

“Tribal” and “Religious” stages are normally gone through in childhood and adolescence, so people stuck at these stages are full of projection and blame and intolerance, unable to yet encompass complexity. Often a significant part of them has not managed to make it to the “Modern” stage with its belief in science and rational “truth”, so they are full of introjected assumptions and prejudices. I say “part” because different parts of us can develop lopsidedly. It often happens that the intellect has understood the need for rational truth-based scientific approach, but due to their feelings being stuck, split off and unconnected, they continue making pseudo rational  justifications for their childish, prejudiced and need based compensatory beliefs.

This can be seen clearly in many groups from gangs to deprived communities to minority groups of a religious or secular nature. Even those who went through private boarding school, whose “tribal insecurity” is locked beneath additional layers of indoctrinated superiority which provides a kind of “bullet proof” armour. This makes them seem powerful due to their extreme self-confidence, but it also leaves a hole where compassion would be, so that healing and development become difficult.

It is amazing how we can fit our perception, our understanding and our justifications, to our prejudices, and how we so often do this without seeing the inherent contradictions. This is because trauma splits the connections between our head, heart and body to limit our development. It limits our emotional and intellectual maturity. People can also get stuck at “Modern” and “Post-Modern” stages, identified with their perspective as being the only valid one. It is not until we reach what Wilber calls the “Integral” stage that we can see and understand the whole structure and get free from identifying with “our level” as being the only “right” perspective.

How though do we evaluate any perspective? How do we know that our understanding has more value than someone else’s? This is about being able to see and feel these structures of consciousness. It is about knowing and understanding how all our negativity comes from trauma with all its compensatory processes. In the end it is about knowing something about our “Absolute” nature with its essence of “Goodness, Beauty and Truth” because it is only from that “higher” ground that we can see and assess the whole terrain. So, we need to accept that there is a hierarchy to consciousness and development and find ways of using this discernment in clear and practical ways, especially in the selection of our politicians and all those in positions of power. This clarity would naturally emerge from the fullest possible understanding of human nature that this proposed “Institute” would provide. This obviously needs to be always done with humility and Love because it is part of understanding that our ongoing adult development is towards our potential in “Being”, with its essential components of Consciousness, Love and Presence.

We do not have to live defeated lives; I know that people can move into hope and trust in Life and travel along this road. The “big” problems of our world are surely solvable – climate change, inequality, poverty, crime, bullying, hatred, even laziness, can all be reduced through the re-orientation that can take place by opening to the extraordinary underlying “Goodness, Beauty and Truth” of human nature and its developmental trajectory. It must be possible to change the structure of our society to better facilitate this evolution. Another article from the Guardian, their “long read” of the 25th June 2019, pulls together much of the exciting new economic thinking going on around how to change the structure of capitalism, through co-operatives and employee ownership. Let’s hope the time for these ideas has really come.

It may be that we irreparably destroy our beautiful world through man-made climate catastrophe, an unimaginable tragedy, but even if this were to happen, it would not diminish the truths of our existence. We live in a world of both meaning and chaos, which means the future cannot be known, but it makes total sense to me that the force that created this universe with its evolutionary unfolding, did so, so that beings with consciousness could realise itself. Any life form in this vast universe that has sufficient consciousness will surely have choice, along with its inevitable associated struggles. These struggles are an essential part of this staggeringly beautiful evolutionary process which gives us the potential to consciously embody Consciousness and  Love and Presence, in the act of the universe becoming conscious of itself. We are the necessary last link in the chain enabling form to realise formlessness.


Jim Robinson – Gestalt Psychotherapist – jim@jim-robinson.co.uk – June 2019



To struggle or not to struggle?

This question goes to the heart of the paradox and difficulties we have in knowing how to live our lives.

Struggle is surely necessary for us to resist the negative forces within us that trauma generated and left us with. To give into those negative impulses leads us down a slippery slope of self-disintegration. To support this trying, we need to be increasingly clear about what we don’t want as well as opening to what we really do want. What I see is as we investigate this is that we don’t want self-destruction, and that our deep inherent wish is for Freedom and Love, for saying “Yes” to life. This becomes increasingly clear the deeper we go into the layers of our being.

Yet, the way we struggle can create the negative oppositional forces in us to rebound.  “Never tell an addict not to do something” is a powerful truism. Deep patterns of associative connection are hard to break, and when they get triggered are almost impossible to resist. We need to de-sensitise the connection and increasingly prevent them from getting triggered at such an engrained level. This is about staying connected to what we do want and therefore our wish to resist. This means struggling with keeping our heart, head and body connected and integrated as well as finding support from whatever quarters we can.

But, whilst struggle is very important, most change emerges organically from seeing, from observation and insight and understanding. The only “doing” we can really “do” is to look, and to observe and face. To gain our Freedom, to open to Love, we need to take responsibility for ourselves, we have to face the reality of ourselves, which can be a very tough thing to do. Our hearts (and heads and bodies) are closed because we are avoiding the hurt, pain and distress that we buried due to traumatic experience. But living differently can only emerge “organically”. The self has a deep evolutionary wish to heal and grow and will do so whenever the right conditions make it possible. Giving the self the “data” it needs, the attention and determination and patience it needs, and change happens. Living differently is not something we can “do”, our ego is not that powerful. If it appears to be, the changes we make are superficial and likely to have their own compensatory consequences.

So, the confusion around struggle arises because we need it and we also need to let go of it, as in trusting ourselves to change. This is not about letting go of self-responsibility – which whilst being in some sense a “lower level” process, still has to be met and accepted – but letting go of control in terms of trying to make myself, or my world, conform to my ego level wishes. This is about trusting in the creativity and ultimate positivity of life. Trusting that life is Good, with its Love and Consciousness and Energy wanting to be realised and embodied. Love is full of forgiveness, Consciousness full of acceptance and understanding, Energy freely given every day again and again. Eventually, this is about taking self-responsibility to another level where we can become aware of how it is our identification with our ego that is in the way, and how it is through opening our hearts and minds and bodies to what is beyond our ego that we can approach transcending it.

So, we live with the paradox of having to struggle, and having to let go. Until that is, we can let go permanently of fear and all our egoic identifications and let “being” just be, until we truly embody living in the here and now.

Hopeless Hope

I think that hope has two aspects. This is not about its opposite of hopelessness which conjures up despair and defeatedness, something nobody wants to  get stuck in. The point of this is to explore how hope has positive and negative aspects, and to argue that the negative aspect of hope is not challenged enough in the way we generally think about it. It is generally assumed to be wholly a “good” thing, when in fact many of the consequences of hope are not helpful to the possibility of finding our happiness and freedom.

“Religion as the opium of the people” is in this category, and this is one form of the many “spiritual” or “wellness” or “growth” promises that operate effectively on the same level as lotteries and indeed all forms of gambling. Here the present is tolerated by projecting or imagining ourselves into a better future. We abdicate our self-responsibility into some anticipated future, and in doing so we avoid facing ourselves, facing our “what is” here and now. We instead slip into fantasy of what we “hope” will be. These fantasies move us further away from our deepest desire, which is as I understand it, is, simply to “be”, here and now.

I recently noticed how scary it is live without hope, to meet life in this moment without the old familiar crutch of hope. “But” I hear someone say, “it is all very well from your place of privilege and comfort to talk about living without hope, try doing that from a place of real deprivation!”. BBC news had an item today headed “Crippling debt ‘linked to depression’”, which of course it is, depression is largely about defeatedness. It is important though to remember here that, as Victor Frankl and Edith Eger attest wonderfully to, we always do have choice about how we are, about how we respond to any situation. To find the energy and creativity required to find our way out of seemingly dead-end impossible situations requires hope. The lack of it keeps us trapped in “victim mode” defeated and helpless. I see that we are all victims, there is no respect for any boundaries of class or wealth, and we are all struggling to find our way out.

So, it seems to me that there are two meanings to “hope”, one is about hope as projection, an expectation and fantasy about how things will be better, the “optimists” default stance. The other meaning is about hope as a deeper more general trust in life? I was pleased to find this confirmed by the OED definitions of “hope” as having two meanings, “1. A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen. 2. (archaic) A feeling of trust.”

This helps to understand how the process of therapy brings hope in this second sense of trust. As we get know ourselves and understand that we are not “mad” and or “bad” and that we are a developmental process in which have some agency, however small, we can start to trust in life again, we regain some hope in this sense of trust, that there is goodness and creativity deeply embedded in life.

Hope in the first projective sense can obviously be a normal part of life, where it relates to realistic expectations about something good that is going to happen, but it can also be a trap that leads us into living in fantasy land, where we avoid the reality of our here and now situation and our responsibility for bringing our own creativity and solutions into play. It is possible, as many have shown, to live fully in the here and now, and just hoping for this, does not enable it to happen.

Best way to bring up children

Boundaries with Love – the best way to bring up Children

The ideal parenting, and indeed the ideal relational stance generally, is – reasonably consistent boundaries maintained with love.

With children this is relatively simple. We insist on our version of what the boundaries are whilst maintaining a loving attitude, even in the face of rebellion of what ever sort. This does not mean that a situation “has to be talked through” in an endless way, it is simply about as a parent insisting on getting one’s way, with love. Endless explanations for a young child can be another form of bullying. This ideal is obviously easier where there is time and space and energy and patience. Much more difficult when exhausted on a chaotic and rushed school morning. But the more that this way can be practised and brought into daily life the easier it becomes in difficult situations.

No child is born “bad” or “negative”, yes, they come with a whole set of characteristics, but these are just natural dispositions. Any persistent negative patterns that emerge are always the result of trauma of some sort (trauma in its widest sense). Negative patterns emerge when a child does not get the love, support, attention and boundaries it needs.

Boundaries maintained with anger are obviously less “bad” than trying to maintain them with violence or even perhaps where there are no boundaries at all. No boundaries leave the child in a very scary place that in the end leads to a deeply self-destructive sense of self. The child ends up behaving negatively because the parents don’t care, and it is alone when it needs their help, knowledge and attention. It doesn’t have the resources to get its needs met alone, and so ends up blaming itself for being bad. But anger and violence end up with the same result, with the child internalising that they are “bad”. But anger and violence and abandonment are themselves reactions to unaware unbearable feelings generated by trauma with all its insecurity and fear. An adult’s anger happens for many reasons, but often it is because there is no confidence of getting one’s way without recourse to escalating levels of intensity. There is not sufficient trust, or learnt skill, in simply insisting that “x” happens or ”y” stops, with as much perseverance as necessary, whilst still holding our heart open with love.

Real magic happens if this can be practiced. Children want boundaries, they want love, and given them, they are naturally much more cooperative. There is no absolute moral code that says what boundaries are needed, (apart from the Golden Rule of treating other’s as you wish to be treated). This is about personal preference. In their book “Families and how to survive them” Cleese and Skinner argue that more boundaries lead to greater conformity, fewer boundaries to greater creativity. I think there is some truth in that, but I think this difference diminishes when boundaries are implemented with love. This is the crucial aspect that allows the child to flourish.

Sometimes there needs to be the threat, or introduction, of consequences, but it seems to me that this is a last resort and represents something of a failure of love and a failure of the authority that naturally emerges from being able to stand in front of your child, with love, presence, trust and confidence, insisting on your “reasonable” rules. Obviously, to a point the fewer the rules the easier life becomes, but there is a balance here because too few and trouble develops, as above. Children who have experienced reasonable consistent boundaries find adjusting to the world much easier.

What is “reasonable consistency”? It seems to me that rules are made to be broken to some extent. To be obsessive about their implementation can give the message that they are more important than the child and they can end up feeling crushed by their weight. Not consistent enough and they become meaningless. So, balance in everything is, as usual, the key.

What gets in the way of us being able to treat our children with love, consistently?

The fundamental aspect to this is about how our own “trauma” leaves us with insecurity and this plays out in various ways. The more insecure we are, the more likely we are to find aspects of our child’s behaviour unacceptable. The other, (related) “Golden Rule” is that it is always those things that we criticise, reject or judge in the other that are what we have not yet leaned to face in ourselves.

The first and simplest form of this is that we tend treat others as we have been treated. If our parents shouted at us, the pain and hurt of those experiences get stuck within us waiting for an opportunity to come and be expressed in some way. The automatic, unaware, projection of this hurt happens when we shout at our children (or grandchildren in my recent case). If we can face this buried hurt consciously, feel it and allow it, we then heal it and our behaviour changes. Sometimes simply facing our responsibility for our behaviour is enough.

Another facet of this is how through having been wounded in our childhood, we took in the message that we are “bad” or not good enough in some way, then we become hyper sensitive to messages from the world that press this still sore wound. This includes when our child is rebellious or angry with us and we then over-react before we have time to think. It is amazing how many us react from un-reconciled childish places within ourselves. It might also be that a child is sulky or sullen or upset or lying or etc., etc., and we react angrily. Again, it is what we find unacceptable in them is what we have been punished for and what we still hold the pain of, inside us in an un-aware way.

We can struggle to trust our children and trust in their development, when we don’t trust ourselves. Again, this is about our own insecurities causing up to be overly fearful, anxious, reactive or controlling. Learning to trust in love takes practice, especially if we have not been shown it during our own childhood.

But what to do with our anger? This is often the big question. Here is where awareness is key. If we can really see that our anger is ours and that it comes from the hurt we have stuck inside us, we can let it go. No amount of “shoulds” or “oughts” or self-blame, or blaming others can help us, changes has to come organically, from seeing what is going on in ourselves and taking responsibility for it. Regret and apologising, as well as self-forgiveness, are healthy parts of this process as we slowly come to terms with knowing ourselves better. Through forgiving ourselves for being the way we are, we are letting go of the belief in our own “badness” (or whatever word fits best here). When we can forgive ourselves, we can forgive the other. Then, eventually we can stand in the face of situations, which previously would have had us over-reacting in some way, whilst holding both love and boundaries in a flexible and creative and adult way. Love is wonderfully creative given half a chance.

It is important that we don’t artificially shut down our anger in a repressive way. It almost certainly better to allow it than squash it within because of some “should” that anger is “bad”. This just leads to it leaking out in other pernicious ways. It is healthier for children to see spontaneous behaviour, rather than overly controlled and managed behaviour which can cause deeply confusion and double messages. Children also need to see that actions and behaviour has consequences, even if they are over-reactive consequences at times. Stopping our anger consciously and taking responsibility for it with self-compassion is a very different process that flows from awareness, not repression.

Our over-reaction might also be in the form of the withdrawal of love, or to impose some other punishment or other. The same applies here, awareness is the key. Really seeing what we are doing, or want to do, and where that comes from within ourselves, is what makes the difference between reacting with a closed vengeful heart, and bringing love to heal the situation. First, we need to start healing ourselves, then it is possible to heal any rifts between ourselves and our children (or grandchildren, or any other relationship).

This is all about our journey towards finding our confidence and trust in our own being. The only solid ground to build this on is self-knowledge. When we are no longer afraid of what we have inside us, we can face the world with greater equanimity, we can love ourselves and our children more authentically and unconditionally. The same goes for respect, so often our children become projective functions of ourselves, we interpret them as if they were the same as us, a part of us and we judge them as we judge ourselves, we don’t respect their difference. When we respect ourselves, we can respect the other, we can respect and allow difference.

Another look at politics

Another look at politics prompted by George Monbiot’s book – Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis

I am very sympathetic to George Monbiot’s ideas in his new book about the need for local community to emerge as a force for social change. How this change needs to come from the bottom up, and how such change always reflects a change in general consciousness, and as such is permanent and integrated. I agree with much of his analysis about how so many of us have become lonely and isolated, through many causes, especially Protestantism and Capitalism and Consumerism.

I also think that it is to do with our current Postmodern zeitgeist, through which it is inevitable that we all believe different things and assume that there is no “Truth” or “Reality” beyond our subjectivity. There is no understanding or general acceptance of any values which might bind us together.

What I hope, and think, is emerging though is in effect a new religion, or rather a new psychology/philosophy/religion. All the great religions started as a means of realising human potential, but what happened is what happens to all institutions it seems, they became dogma ridden, power obsessed and fossilised over time. The new psychology/philosophy/religion that is emerging is partly being articulated by Ken Wilber’s “Integral Theory” and in his recent book “The Religion of Tomorrow”. It combines the understanding of our need to “grow up” as well as to “wake up” on our developmental journey towards Love and Consciousness.

The process of how we “grow up” has been continually refined for over a century now through the development of psychology with its slow convergence amongst all the different approaches about how we mature throughout our lives. There is still much to be done in freeing ourselves from our scientific / medicalised legacy, but I believe this is happening. There is also still much to do in freeing ourselves from our Postmodern defeatism which fails to see the huge ongoing potential for development we have towards the objective meaning and truth that somehow exists.

My life, our lives, Life and the Universe, are not completely relative. Relativity is obviously a huge part of everything, but it is not the whole story, Meaning and Truth and Love and Consciousness exist, even if we can never fully know them. I know this because I can see from my own development, and that of my clients, that this development has a trajectory. This is towards freedom, towards embodying our expanding consciousness and the opening of our hearts to Love.

This potential to “waking up”, is not so well understood and accepted in our society. But we do have the possibility of developing through a series of “stages” and “states” of consciousness where we move, in steps, towards living more and more consciously, in an open-hearted embodied way, into ever greater connection to the ‘here and now’. The ‘here and now’, this present moment is Consciousness and Love at its core. This miracle is, as I understand it, at the heart of Christianity as well as all the world’s great religious traditions.

So, the possibility is of developing communities that consciously have as their aim this combination of “growing up” and “waking up”. There are people currently working hard to include Wilber’s “Integral Theory” into Christian and Buddhist approaches as well as “Integral” itself trying to establish a path towards realising our potential. Gestalt, the therapeutic modality I trained in, is in many ways very close to this philosophy, as are many approaches that describe themselves as “psycho-spiritual”.

I cannot see how lasting communities can form and develop without there being a shared deep sense of meaning, a shared recognition and understanding that it is through the ‘here and now’ that we connect, in some way or other, to meaning, consciousness and love. “Integral” theory provides a very inclusive and comprehensive ‘map’ which could support the establishment of a common understanding to support such communities. It provides the space where any point of view can be understood, and its relationship to the whole seen. Religion was the glue that bound communities and societies together, and what we need now is a new global emergent consensus about the meaning of human life and how human development is about both “growing up” and “waking up”. Both these processes intertwine and support each other in the journey of human development towards its wonderful potential to increasingly embody Love and Consciousness as our ego is first healed and then let go of.

Yes, I’m sure in time this new approach will become institutionalised and fossilised and need to be revolutionised. But that is human nature, with its essential components of choice and evolution and involution.

I deeply question at times whether there is any point in attending to politics? The forces at work in the unfolding of societal levels of consciousness seem to be so far beyond any individual input. The cacophony of the noise of ideas feel so loud and chaotic and the law of unintended consequences so strong. Surely the only action it makes sense to embark on is changing ourselves.

Yet I do think that I can see how the developmental forces of the universe are working away in the background, our collective consciousness does develop, the values of our society are constantly changing towards greater openness, honesty and fairness. I can also see how my defeatedness around politics comes from my personal conditioning. But how this movement into creating meaningful local communities can happen in the short to medium term, I still can’t quite see.

The move to a decent minimum wage and the exposure and rejection of sexual abuse and sexual harassment are recent examples where the developing social consciousness have led to change. The ongoing process of women’s liberation, and of racial equality and LBGTI liberation are also examples. From earlier in my life it was the hopelessness of bureaucracy and the denial of self-responsibility emanating from state industries and the trade unions that led to the Thatcher revolution’s emphasis on personal responsibility. The pendulum swung much too far into a mad neo-liberalism, but that is now hopefully in the process of moving back into some new creative synthesis.

It is the emergence of need into consciousness that is always the prelude for conscious motivation and action. So maybe patience is the key, that this psycho-spiritual developmental perspective will become sufficiently established, in tandem with its relational counterpart of our deep need for community and wish to share our journey, for it to change our society’s structure.

What is Psychotherapy?

To me, the basic premise is that people are good. All our negativity and destructiveness, needs to be understood in terms of compensatory processes emanating from our insecurity, which is, in turn, caused by trauma in its widest sense. Many of our difficulties revolve around our inner conflict, which is the direct result of this trauma which happens when pain, hurt, fear or distress that was too much to bear is repressed. This process splits the self into parts and we are then cursed to live in conflict ourselves. Depression, anxiety, anger, addictions and compulsions of all sorts, relationship difficulties, all flow from this basic insecurity of the self, created by trauma.

Accepting this view means that psychotherapy is about helping people to slowly heal the splits in the self and undo the compensatory insecurities caused by trauma. It is about helping people to find their freedom through supporting greater awareness and understanding of how things are along with taking increasing self-responsibility. Therapy works with nature’s healing force to help us become who we really are underneath our insecurity. It is about being supported to become the fullest, most integrated and appropriately mature expression of ourselves we can be. The aim implicit in this is to live increasingly consciously in the here and now and in tune with our deepest nature.

I think the question of what our “deepest nature” is, is the biggest question in psychotherapy (as well as philosophy and politics). I see this as being about Consciousness, Love and Energy and how they are the basic constituents of the ‘here and now’ and our ‘being’. The ‘here and now’ is a transpersonal space full of Goodness and mystery, full of the essence of life itself, full of our connectedness to every aspect of our environment. It is this that provides our sense of meaning.

It is the wounds and deficits from the lack of love that cause our problems and disconnectedness from life and this shows how it is Love that is one of our deepest needs, and how Love underpins all human life, and indeed, somehow, the whole universe.

Our therapy journey is through symptom relief, to self-understanding, to self-responsibility, to realising that “What’s in the Way, is the Way” (Mary O’Malley), i.e. to being able to consciously use our difficulties to grow and heal in the face of each bit that crops up. Using our difficulties to grow rather than avoiding or tolerating them. This process of slowly healing through ever greater self-awareness enables us to find compassion for ourselves and others, to love ourselves. It is towards freeing ourselves from fear and eventually towards letting our hearts, mind and body open sufficiently, to enable us to let go of our ego. Then, even in the face of death there is no fear, only Love and Consciousness and Energy and we can let go into death fully reconciled.

Our journey is a psycho-spiritual-energetic one. To begin with we need to give a lot of attention to our ‘psychology’ to understand ourselves and our motivations. Our wounds and insecurity are often very deep and with many layers, taking potentially decades to get to the bottom of. For this work we need to allow our hearts to crack open to the depth of our hurt, we need to understand ourselves and the world, and we need the support that comes from developing our consciousness of our body, in whatever form it takes, e.g. meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, etc.

Perhaps most of all we need to practice the process of making what we are subject to (i.e. what we are experiencing emotionally), into an object of study and inquiry. We can only do this by attending to our here and now experience, our ‘what is’. Later in our journey, we can focus more directly on the spiritual dimension of increasingly letting ourselves go deeply into the ‘here and now’. The closer we live to this present moment, with our awareness, our open heart and our embodied energy, the more ‘alive’ and connected to life we are, and the more we can trust and let go of anxiety or whatever it is that keeps us avoiding, now. Connecting deeply with the here and now brings presence and spontaneity and trust and meaning.

We often try for all this prematurely, before we have really understood our psychology and its motivations. Then, it is our ego trying to obtain something for itself that is beyond it. This is usually part of an avoidance strategy referred to as “spiritual bypassing”, i.e. using a spiritual connection to try and avoid the difficulty of facing trauma of some sort. It then becomes something else that needs to be seen and let go of.

Through attention and care the three elements of head, heart and body can open and connect to each other, we need this to develop the self-support that we need to face and transcend the depth of our insecurity. We need both ‘push’ (as in working on our compulsiveness) as well as ‘pull’ (opening to the deep wish for, and resonance with, Life, Love and Consciousness within us). We need to “to do”, i.e. to work hard, as well as “not do”, i.e. to be and let go.

At what point psychotherapy ceases to be relevant on this journey is a piece of string question. Obviously, it is usually more needed at the beginning, but when it ends is unknown. As Kornfield made clear (in “After the Ecstasy the Laundry”), even those whose are lucky enough to have found great spiritual freedom can still need psychological help. Wilber (in “The Religion of Tomorrow”) describes how there are potential pitfalls all the way along our journey, until we reach full enlightenment.

This shows what Wilber and many others argue, that our journey is “psycho-spiritual” one, i.e. that our developmental processes is about both “growing up” and “waking up” and that these cannot be separated without huge loss. If we limit psychotherapy to helping people “grow up” we are missing a whole aspect of human experience. Just as when spiritual traditions focus solely on “waking up” they also lose an essential aspect of human nature. We need both, each supports the other in a full development. Attention on “waking up” to the here and now allows us to see and face our phenomenology reality, healing our trauma and understanding ourselves enables us to live closer to the here and now. As ever, we need both ‘doing’ and ‘being’.

This is my argument for Psychotherapy needing to embrace both “growing up” and “waking up”, which means that as therapists we need to be practicing both ourselves.


Jim Robinson October 2017

The hope of Love

In response to the recent trouble in Charlottesville USA from white nationalists, Obama, in a celebrated tweet, quoted this passage from Mandela’s autobiography The Long Walk to Freedom.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion…

People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

This is the message at the heart of the broadly humanistic understanding of our psychology. People are not born with negative or destructive tendencies in any shape or form. Love is indeed our more “natural” state, we are born “good”. So, where does all this negativity come from? How does it become so prevalent in human beings?

It is clear to me that what creates hate and all the negative aspects of ourselves is trauma. Even an ideal upbringing cannot be perfect, our developmental journey as humans is so long and complex that it is impossible for all its stages and transitions it be negotiated without ruptures at some point, and over so much time, accidents are bound to happen. Of course, most upbringings are far from perfect and far too many are horrendous. Hate begets hate.

Trauma is the process whereby deep wounds have to be repressed and internalised because they are too much to process at the time. Whenever this happens the self is left with some insecurity, there is a place inside us that is too difficult to face and therefore has to be avoided and defended at all costs. The power of this comes from the original self-protective reaction that could not face the trauma in the first place, there is bound to be much hurt, pain, anger, fear or distress there.

Trauma is behind every judgement (of self or other), every should or ought, every avoidance or angry reaction, every anxious or depressive reaction, every closing down or turning away or refusal to face the facts of life. It is behind all our insecurity and lack of trust.

But the “good news” is that underneath people are good, and as the quote above says, it is possible to be “taught to love”. This is the work of therapy and spirituality, to facilitate the undoing of trauma and our consequential insecurity, so that we can increasingly open to and live in our “natural” state of love. This has obviously always been the aim of therapy generally, but to me it is more explicitly and more clearly articulated by the emerging “psycho-spiritual” approach to human development. (See, Ken Wilber, John Welwood, Almaas, Richard Harvey, Jill Hall, Mary O’Malley, Relational Change, many within Gestalt and other therapy traditions, and many others.)

To achieve this goal of living closer to love, we need a combination of both psychological and spiritual work. We need to face our traumas and slowly heal ourselves as well as opening ourselves to the love and support that only the transpersonal can provide.

As a therapist, I do largely see generations slowly healing. Adults are not as badly traumatised as their parents; their children are not as traumatised as they are. The goodness at the heart of human nature gives me hope and optimism, as does the experience of connecting to the transpersonal level of life in the depth of our “here and now”.

Anarchistic Democracy

I recently watched a BBC4 Storyville documentary by Carne Ross called “The Accidental Anarchist: Life without Government” (23/07/17). I’m very grateful, the film “blew my mind” as the saying goes. It blew open the doors to seeing that maybe globally we are on the verge of a transition from old fashioned ‘hierarchical democracy’ with its roots in the middle ages and beyond, into non-hierarchical or ‘anarchistic democracy’. I find this profoundly exciting.

It corresponds to my understanding of human nature around how people are fundamentally good and self-repairing. We all need a bit of help from time to time, but the impetus within us is so strongly towards health, towards growth and autonomy and freedom. What holds us back are often all the legacies of authoritarianism, of power and control which created, and still creates, so much of the trauma in society. From this come all sorts of internalised de-powering shoulds and oughts and insecurities and self-restrictions.

Our old-fashioned hierarchical democracy in many ways still embodies the pre-democratic structures of power and wealth. Everything is top down and designed for control. This is still the legacy of kings, of the aristocracy and religion, it is still the legacy of the privileged selfishly hanging onto wealth and power by controlling people through violence. Still the legacy from “people are born evil and have to be made good”. That people cannot be trusted and will turn all to chaos and violence and degeneration if left to their own devices. This is a profoundly patronising and entropic view of human nature, which I am sure is not true. Life and human consciousness are not entropic, it is trauma and its consequences that causes the appearance of this at times. But trauma can be, and is being healed, and the freer society is, the more it can support this. It is clear to me how hierarchical perspectives are quite simply becoming more and more untenable to post-modern consciousness, to people re-claiming their freedom. It is amazing to suddenly see so clearly how the old perspectives are crumbling before our eyes.

This film argues for, and shows, that it is possible for us to trust human beings to organise ourselves in healthy and creative ways. Real democracy is so near, we just need to stop believing in top-down power and then suddenly “the emperor has absolutely no clothes”. Local community action can take power away from the centre so quickly and easily in the right conditions and circumstances.

Institutions can transform and the ones that are ripest for this, it seems to me, are state run institutions, especially schools. Schools are surely some of the craziest and most anachronistically dictatorial structures in our society. How do we expect our children to blossom in such madness? Teachers and pupils could just turn around and say we are going to change this school into a democracy and just do it. What an exciting and creative education might then be possible, showing children how real democracy can work. Much of the stupid hierarchical pressures of control through testing and leagues tables could be let go of. Who would care where such a school was in the league tables if it was buzzing with fun and creativity and learning how to learn, rather than the emotional and intellectual straightjackets of the present arrangements. Teachers enjoying their work, pupils really engaged … “heavens forbid!”.

Schools are perfect because property ownership is not such an issue and they are to some extent self-contained units. Universities are also good candidates but more difficult because less localised, hospitals would be trickier but surely not impossible. Police service, prisons and armed services are also ripe for change. But the heart of change though is surely within local communities. This needs a re-visioning of local government structures, as for example what has been happening with Frome town council. Local government can be transformed by local engagement and activism fed by the creativity that comes with taking back power from centralised control. Local communities taking back control of looking after those in need within it, sorting out local problems, local power generation(?), finding ways to support creativity and connection. Online networks are already forging the way, with the net ready and able to scale things up and share best practice.

Power is energy! By re-claiming or taking power, we gain energy. The inner and outer are intimately connected, each effects the other, and we obviously need to attend to both.

Does God Exist?

This question that has been with me for many years, and has again come into renewed focus, it is, does God exists? It may sound trite and as old as the hills, but it goes straight to the heart of so much of our philosophy and approach to living, and the orientation that therapists take.

Perls and Goodman’s (“Gestalt Therapy” 1951) trust in “organismic self-regulation” and their reference to the ultimate freedom of ‘being’ that the Tao represents, points towards their sense of there being a ‘something’ that motivates our souls and to which we can eventually ‘tune into to’. No one who has experienced deep, therapy, meditation, group-work, nature, falling in love, hitting a tennis ball perfectly, ‘aha’ moments, etc. etc. can doubt that we can we can inhabit very different levels of being. The energy that can be so clearly felt in groups when those present share a deep connection, is palpable, as it is when we are able to integrate our head, heart and body deeply in the here and now, with openness, acceptance, love and embodied awareness.

The question is about what is happening in these situations? Is it simply that areas of brain are being activated that we don’t normally access, and that we can train ourselves to live closer to these pleasurable experiences? Or does the sense of meaning that fills us from these experiences come from their connection to some ultimate meaning that exists independently of us? Are Love and Consciousness just logical semi-chance creations of Evolution? Or is Evolution and the emergence of Love and Consciousness the creation of a force that is still beyond our scientific understanding?

This also comes down to the question of whether or not we are alone? I see clearly how so many people avoid their self-responsibility through believing in ‘something’ (whatever word fits best) in one form or another. But this in itself does not mean there is not truth there. We all misuse whatever we can at times to avoid what is almost unbearable within us.

From one point of view this argument doesn’t matter very much. The reality of our development journey and its trajectory maybe does not need an answer to this question. We can still have a very full sense of what our potential as human beings is, i.e. this enormous journey of reconciling our ego towards being able to live ever closer to the here and now in presence and freedom.

But there is something here about being supported to be able to really open our hearts. I am not sure how possible this is without some sense of “not being alone”? This is where I am at the moment, living with this question. Do I need to sense / experience / see / feel that somehow God is supporting me in order that I can let go and really trust life, really let my heart open and let my old ego defences melt away? Or is this just a fantasy, an archaic wish to be rescued that I need to grow out of? Are the spiritual aspects of our experience connected to some reality, or are they illusory epiphenomena? The difference matters if either facilitates or hinders the liberation I intuit is possible.

I have a friend very painfully dying from MS just now, struggling desperately to come to terms with the un-imaginably un-bearable. I know the profundity of “what’s in the way is the way” and I’m also reminded of Frankl’s ultimate sense of choice. I only hope that she can somehow transcend her awful situation, or maybe that grace can somehow provide her that transformation? But then I hope that we can all transcend our fear, a task that seems far too huge at times, and yet a possibility so full of love it surely has to be hung onto.

The age-old question still hangs there – how can God possibly exist in world so full of fear, hate, violence and suffering? Yet surely those movements into understanding, reconciliation and opening that I see every day with my clients speaks to the deep “organismic self-regulatory” desire for Being that can only come from a level of life where we are profoundly connected, a level beyond our ego and rational intellect, i.e. God? Maybe one day science will understand how it all works?

Also, as Alan Watts used to say, all is only as it can be at this moment because every thing, event or situation is connected to everything else, right back to the beginning. So, changing our self changes the universe! Yes! … but … perhaps it’s letting go and surrendering to God’s will that changes the universe? But then perhaps God’s will is about us owning the choice we have been given to take full responsibility for ourselves (such a huge task!) in order that we can then fully let go?

So many questions.

Our need for Philosophy

There was a lovely article today (9th Jan 17) in the Guardian arguing for philosophy to be taught in schools. It is from the point of view of enabling and teaching the young to think in preparation for a working life that will increasingly need flexibility, due to many factors including the computerisation of so many jobs.

I’m enthusiastic about philosophy generally because I see it as being about taking responsibility for ourselves on the intellectual level. By this I mean it points towards the possibility of understanding ourselves, our lives and the world as a creative process, one that integrates with our physical and emotional perspectives into a meaning whole. Philosophy separated from these connections becomes sterile and meaningless, it loses its way disappearing up its own backside in over-intellectualisation.

It is through understanding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of our functioning, through seeing what it is that drives to do what we do and be the way we are, we start to understand our nature and its developmental potential. So, I don’t see philosophy as separate from self-reflection, we can only understand human nature and how societies work by understanding our own nature.

When we get down it, our ability to live with understanding and purpose and intelligence and consciousness, is about finding our way to living ever closer to this present moment. The alternative is to live un-aware and asleep caught up in lots of mechanical compensatory compulsive processes which come from our conditioned past with its fear of the future.

If we are to live free from self-justification, self-recrimination, making the other or self ‘good’ or ‘bad’, living as a victim always wanting more, or something else, or always wanting to escape from our lives, living in fantasy or regret, unsatisfied and defeated, then we need to find a way of changing. And change only comes through the paradoxical process of support and challenge, or self-awareness and taking self-responsibility, of desperately wanting to change but finding ourselves almost powerless to ‘do’ change. The forces which keep us away from living in the here and now are powerful and it only through deepening our awareness of them, of facing them, that we slowly work our way to the freedom of living here and now.

Through this process, we see that all our experience is meaningful, that there is cause and effect, that every difficulty can be used to make another step towards greater consciousness, that we do have the potential to develop towards freedom and that life is amazingly meaningful as we more and more glimpse the possibility of ‘Being’.

An essential part of this process is the need to live in question, to live questioning our experience and challenging our assumptions and pre-conceptions and our attachment to them. This is where a training in philosophy can be so beneficial. Being challenged to think for ourselves is such an exciting and liberating process. Instead of schools being about learning boring ‘known’ facts it has the potential to be a wonderfully creative force in adolescent’s development.

We relate to the world through our head (intellect), heart (feelings and emotions) and through our bodies. School could provide a training in using all three and especially in how to connect them up. Each needs the other two in order for the experience to be full and meaningful. What is the value in physical training without understand and feeling, emotional development without understanding and embodiment, intellectual training without feeling and practicality? Philosophy is interesting when it relates to our experience of living, to real questions that affect how we live and relate and how the world is structured.

When ideas are studied in this way they have the power to change us. We are inherently hugely powerful meaning making machines and given the resources of a holistic joined up self (i.e. not too much trauma which splits the connections between our parts in its need to maintain unawareness), development in one area will affect the whole of the self.

So, I am all for joined up, thought provoking, philosophy in schools. How can we have a well-functioning democracy without people being able to think for themselves? We are currently seeing the danger of moving towards a “post-truth” world of prejudice and reaction. We need more leaders who openly engage in this task of philosophy, in attempting to articulate what the meaning of human existence is and how it relates to our social priorities and to our amazing potential for development. The West needs to develop a culture that is more passionate about philosophy than it is about consumption.

As Maslow made clear, this is only possible after our basic needs for security, food and shelter have been satisfied, and for too many the basics are not safe enough. But there is also a chicken and egg problem here, as there is with any process of change, where because of our trauma we mistake life difficulties for emergencies, which then causes us to get stuck. I just hope that our inherent Goodness will find a way through.

What a Year!

Syria, the migrant crisis, France’s terror attacks, Brexit, Turkey, Trump, Italy, Aleppo, all against the background of our climate’s inexorable warming and the increase in inequality in many parts of the world, makes for quite a year. The later seems to be partly emanating from the nature of capitalism and how the wealthy have benefited from the financial crisis, partly from the strains of globalisation, partly from technology that is still fast gathering pace. There has also been amongst family and friends several horrible illnesses and some very sad untimely deaths.

I guess the first point is about accepting the chaotic nature of life, huge complex systems are by nature chaotic and accident is a powerful force our lives. But Looking up at a recent beautiful sunset and then the huge moon in a starry sky, it seemed that within the scale of earth’s history and our place in the wider universe, our difficulties are just tiny ripples on the surface.

But still, how to make sense of it all? What hope is there to be found from so much threat and suffering and how to remain open and sensitive and in question in the face of it all? I’m also familiar with the extra bite to this challenge that comes with seasonal illness along with the pressure to get things done before Christmas. I try and remind myself that the “first rule” is self-forgiveness, it supports me to open my heart, accept my limitations and vulnerability and remain open to these challenges.

This year a friend’s honesty has helped me open a door concerning an aspect of change that I need to further embrace. I can see that it is about simply travelling further along the road that I have been travelling for many years, of attending to and facing my insecurity. So again, clarity emerges around how the process of change is through this combination of support and challenge.

From my current efforts at writing, I can see how this is part of the wider paradox at the heart of our experience of life, around choice and self-responsibility on the one hand and awareness on the other. How we can only take responsibility for what we are aware of and we can only become aware of what we take responsibility for.

The way through this paradox is connected to the huge mystery that surrounds the process of choice and our ability to choose. This I see increasingly clearly as being connected to the deep desire for freedom, consciousness and love that emerges from the goodness in the depth of all human beings. Without this ‘direction’ in the centre of our being we would be lost in this paradox without the possibility of escape. Lost in the mechanical compulsivity and blindness that trauma creates.

I see how this “desire” resolves this paradox in our individual lives through slowly supporting us to “dismantle the obstacles to love within us” which can then increasingly enable us to open to Love in its wider more objective sense. The challenge is then how to see this process working at the level of general consciousness within our society.

It seems to me that people are taking more and more responsibility for themselves, there is less and less tolerance of old accepted imbalances of power, unfairness is being challenged at ever deeper levels of consciousness, whether it is in class, gender, race, wealth or power. This may be a part of the Brexit and Trump story, but it is also clear that it needs to be recognised increasingly at a global level as well.

Whilst Brexit and Trump mike seem like backwards steps I also think that they can be seen as a loosening up of the status quo that will in time support deeper change. The path of development is never a straight line. We often need to go backwards to clarify where forwards is. Also, the consciousness of people globally is increasing dramatically through the openness that new technology allows. In time the obviousness of fairness and justice becomes I think more and more powerfully self-evident and we are in the painful process of change away the ‘certainties’ that came from archaic, trauma induced, attitudes of superiority and inferiority.

We, in the ‘West’, can so clearly less and less hold onto an attitude of “we’re alright, pull up the drawbridge” as we attempt to hide behind the protection that our Western wealth provides. Eventually, and if we have enough time, the only possible solution to so many of the world’s problems has to be through a vastly greater empowered United Nations and the greater sharing of wealth. Whether that leads to “Big Brother” or the opening and enabling of a deeper peace and creativity. Who know?

But one thing that seems clear is that societal changes happen because of changes in the consciousness of it citizens. Trauma and fear with its “fight, flight, freeze” responses can obviously create backwards movements. However, our strong negative bias means we so often fail to see the positive and creative power that continually emanates from the “Goodness” at people’s core and which enables development.

Christmas still has that tenuous connection with love and an opening of our hearts that resonates so directly with this essence, I hope, in whatever ways possible, it manages to infuse your Christmas and New Year.

Jim Robinson

US Election

So, why did so many white working class men vote for Trump? Why did so many women vote for Trump?

To me this is same question as why so of those who suffered the deprivation and abuse go onto perpetrate it. It is the same reason that those who have been treated harshly and in a very disciplinarian way go onto to treat others in the same way. It’s why those who went to boarding school put their own children through the same process. It is the same psychology as victims identifying with their abusers, the same as those who in post WW1 Germany thought that Hitler had the solution to their problems.

When we have been traumatised, be it from any combination of deprivation and harshness from whatever social class we come from, there is a tendency to identify with the source. We do unto others what has been done to us, unless we become self-aware. This identification helps us to avoid the pain, hurt, fear and distress of our own trauma, it is a defence mechanism which hides our trauma by making it ‘normal’ and which then has the strategy of projecting the (the un-accepted hurt, pain, fear or distress) onto the other in the form of ‘badness’. The immigrant, the bureaucrat, the politician, the ‘system’ become the ‘bad’ object.

It seems clear that a consequence of the financial crisis and the Wests’ response to it, which meant that the rich got fabulously richer and most got poorer, has been that those in deprivation have un- surprisingly become disillusioned with the political status quo. Hope has diminished and as is often the case, fear and desperation lead to knee-jerk reactions that are the opposite of creative and life enhancing, reactions which have lots of negative consequences.

It seems to me that this is very similar to the dynamics of our Brexit vote. And is partly the price of globalisation that will continue for a while yet as third and second world countries lift themselves up to some new global norm, whilst first world countries are forced to shift downwards. Governments and bankers must take a chunk of the responsibility as well though, for facilitating such an increase in inequality.

This same process applies to the question of why so many women voted for Trump. Centuries of oppressive patriarchy have left a huge psychic wound on women and despite the progress over the last century of women’s fight for liberation, the scars are still there. Many women are still stuck at some level, identifying with the abuser, (e.g. the over identification with physical beauty and perfection) and surely the acceptance of, and support for Trump, makes this crystal clear. Sexist behaviour is accepted because it is part of unprocessed abusive behaviour that has been internalised, which leads to the so familiar, “it’s ‘normal’ and “it didn’t do me any harm” with its underlying rip tide of denied personal inadequacy.

My hope is that Trump’s power will be severely curtailed by the practical reality of politics, with all the checks and balances within the US system. The worry is that with sufficient support from the other arms of power in the US, he could cause some really troubling times. Bullies can become dictators.

However, I’m also aware of the inevitable generational swing from left to right in politics, with right wing reactionary forces currently gaining the upper hand. Makes me think back to Thatcher and Reagan era, and previous see-saws. I still hold out hope that the underlying growth of consciousness in the world will continue, no developmental graph is without its hiccups and this is a very long game, evolving over centuries and millennia. I feel confident that it will not be possible for Trump to turn into another Hitler, the circumstances are vastly different, the weight of embodied freedom is too great to be bulldozered away.

Therapy for Weight Loss

Yesterday (13th October) the BBC’s “You & Yours” Radio 4 program had a section on  the success of therapy for those wanting to lose weight.  It was a clear endorsement of therapy’s effectiveness in the long term, which is the “gold standard” for Weight Loss methods. All other methods have incredibly high long term failure rates.

Having a space where people can be supported and their strengths valued is in itself very helpful. A space where a person can be allowed to be themselves, where their negative aspects can be accepted and they can be helped to see that these are a consequence of their ‘wounds’ rather their inadequacy or ‘badness’.

There are nearly always unconscious or semi-conscious emotional reasons behind over eating. This can be feelings of deprivation and deficit that remain from an impoverished background  along with an associated lack of self-worth. It can be comfort eating to fill a huge hole left by abuse or neglect or some accidental happening which leaves such heavy legacies of negative self-value.

What is clear is that all our self-destructiveness comes from our wounds and if this can be made clear and seen for what it is the level of self-hatred diminishes and relapses can be accepted much more quickly and kept smaller. This self-acceptance builds new confidence in a virtuous circle, empowering the person to try taking small steps day at a time and building from there.

Self-knowledge is the way that change really happens organically and permanently. Therapy helps people to look at themselves differently and in a new way, a more objective way. The task is always to make an (non-engulfing) object out of what we are subject too so that we look at our reactions, our behaviour, our bodies, our thoughts and feelings in a more objective way that opens the door to self-acceptance and self-compassion.

To find this we need to be prepared to take responsibility for ourselves, and we need to be supported feel that we are worth making the effort for. Development is always a combination of support and challenge and growing through the middle of our insecurity is the challenge for all of us in some form or another.



More on “The Reality of Being”

Jean De Salzmann’s “The Reality of Being”

It is the work of therapy that resolves many of our emotional, and thereby intellectual as well as physical, ‘tensions’. The work of therapy is all about making our suffering conscious. The trauma (pain, distress, fear etc.) we have buried is supported to be faced and accepted and in doing so our wounds are acknowledged, felt and healed over time. Continue reading More on “The Reality of Being”

‘Problems’ really are opportunities

Because we have consciousness, and therefore choice, we are blessed (or cursed) to be inescapably tied to a developmental destiny, which is towards enlightenment, towards finding our reconciliation with death and therefore life.

If we can find our way to participate consciously in this process of life, then every “difficulty” or “problem” becomes a real opportunity for us to grow towards realizing our destiny. If we can’t, or if we refuse, then we are stuck in conflict with our nature and remain at odds with the world.

Very best wishes for 2016