Saturday, September 24, 2011

Do You Believe in Magic? Comments on a Psychology Today Article

About a year and a half ago, a friend of mine brought this Psychology Today article (Do You Believe in Magic? : Eckhart Tolle, the Dalai Lama, and the Future of Psychotherapyto my attention and I posted a couple of comments. I'm not sure why--maybe PT reposted the article--but new comments began showing up in my email in the last week or so, and I was moved again to respond to some of the responses posted by the author of the original article, a psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen A. Diamond. I thought you might enjoy reading the exchange:

Your Comments on Tolle

Dear Dr. Diamond,
Spoken like a true Aristotelian.
But perhaps you should read Tolle's books before you comment on them. And if you could refrain from ad hominem attacks on people (even gurus) that would be lovely.
Also, the colorful language you use to subtly slur ideas you don't agree with is probably counter-productive, if your goal is an honest discussion. Probably better to present their ideas objectively and then tell us where you disagree.
Interesting stuff about Jung and the Dalai Lama though. Thanks!

Reply to Todd

You are welcome for those things you found interesting. But tell me/us: What is your take on this topic?

Do you believe in magic

I disagree with Dr. Diamond's position that enlightenment and awakening needs to stay out of the hands of the unwashed masses, that psychiatrists are the only people who have any hope of understanding these things. The article is quite bigoted in this regard.
Tolle's points are simple and represent our natural state, as opposed to the fretful, worrisome existence Dr. Diamond seems to hold inside himself, and to cherish for that matter.
Joy is our natural state. The world is governed by The Good.

BREAK BREAK BREAK - What follows is another more recent strand:

Reply to Tara
Thanks for your comments on this topic. Let me try to clarify my position here briefly. I am happy to hear that you found your way to "Heaven" via traversing "Hell," and I congratulate you on your courage, endurance and perseverance. It would seem that you share this arduous journey through depression and despair to spirituality with Mr. Tolle himself. But I do not hold that hitting "rock bottom" is the only spiritual pathway. What I do say is that we need to distinguish between authentic spirituality and what I call pseudospirituality. The latter is an ego-driven, narcissistic pretense, a mere mistaken caricature of what we in Western culture conceive to be spirituality. Today's nominal New Age or more traditional spiritual leaders, teachers or gurus are susceptible to such grandiose inflation. (See my prior post on the messiah-complex, for example.) Overly moralistic, arrogant, rigid, dogmatic religious or spiritual teachers who deny their own daimonic impulsions--hence, inevitably and destructively falling prey to them--exemplify Nietzsche's assertion that when daimonic emotions such as anger, rage or resentment are chronically repressed, they manifest indirectly in spiritual pretentiousness. Authentic spirituality is not about becoming a "bliss ninny" of the sort you describe. Such individuals, due in part to their youth and inexperience, tend to be naive or "pseudo-innocent." (Not that simply getting older necessarily changes such naivete, which is part of the New Age problem.) It is easy to call oneself "spiritual" or even "religious" when denying or avoiding the daimonic and the reality of evil. Such pseudospirituality can be used to deny one's own psychological "devils and demons" and the power they--and the unconscious in general--exert in our lives. It is only when life confronts us with tragedy and challenge, originating externally or internally, that authentic spirituality can truly be spoken of and tested, as, for example, in the case of the biblical Job. Most postmodern spiritual dilettantes dare not deal with the dark, destructive, shadowy side of themselves or others. They deny and reject this "low," "unspiritual" aspect of humanity, focusing instead only on the "high" or "good." But as a wise rabbi once noted, so few experience God today because most are unwilling to stoop low enough to encounter God. Or, as C.G. Jung once said, "God is reality itself." So, again, so much of our conversation here is predicated on how we define what spirituality truly is. For me, spirituality entails the capacity to see life as it is--wholly, including the existential realities of evil, suffering and the daimonic--and to love life nonetheless. Indeed, I would define secular spirituality as a capacity to love the daimonic. For anyone interested, I have written on this subject fairly extensively in my book Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic, as well as in chapters I contributed to the books Meeting the Shadow, and Spirituality and Psychological Health, as well numerous articles both here at PT and elsewhere.

"God is reality itself"

My friend, this isn't it. It's not through how well you define this stuff or whether it includes the daimonic or the demonic or whatever. It's not in conceptualization at all. It's the opposite of that. God is reality, so if you want to get in touch with reality, leave the concepts behind and focus on reality. What is your reality? Your reality is your body. Your body is your antenna to reality (God). Turn off your mind for a moment and feel your body from the inside. Close your eyes and become aware of your hands. After a while, they will begin to tingle. Do the same for your feet, your legs, torso, head and everything else. That's you BEING. Not thinking, not doing but being. Do that as often as you can and you'll know everything you need to know, no more conceptualization or definition required. Reality (God) teaches us everything we need to know in this way. Rationality is the distraction that keeps us from connecting with reality (God).
Most people can't bring themselves to do this little exercise, not even as an experiment, because it doesn't seem high minded enough (and because their egos won't let them) but in fact it is revolutionary.

Reply to Todd

Thanks for your fine comment. Of course, you are right: Spirituality is fundamentally not an intellectual, rational or conceptual matter, but rather an experience. You are very aptly describing what we call in existential psychology a phenomenological approach to reality: dropping (as much as possible) preconceptions and focusing on what is as it is. The mindfulness exercise you recommend is a very good one for getting in touch with our subjective BEING. Meditation is another way of doing so, as is Yoga or Tai Chi. And you are right that many people resist such experiential practices, not only because they are too "high minded," as you put it, but because they are fearful of what they might discover about themselves. But where we disagree is that there is something "revolutionary" about such practices: Meditation, yoga, Tai Chi have been around for thousands of years!! There is certainly nothing new here, though it may be newly discovered by each individual and generation. During the 1960's, psychiatrist Fritz Perls made extensive use of such awareness exercises in his Gestalt Therapy. However, such practices are not a substitute for psychotherapy, though can complement it terrifically. I think you oversimplify matters by devaluing and excluding the intellect, rationality, and psychological analysis and integration. In my experience, both are vitally important. Finally, whereas I agree about spirituality being experiential, it is also attitudinal: Spirituality includes the attitude one takes toward life and reality, which can be informed philosophically, psychologically or by spiritual training and experience. In fact, conceptualization, intellectual insight, philosophy, theology etc. are traditionally integral parts of spiritual training. While such rationalism can certainly get in the way of spiritual experience, we need to be able to conceptually communicate and articulate such experiences with each other as best we can, despite their inherent ineffability. Otherwise, this conversation could not take place! And Tolle could not write his books!

One Last Rebuttal

Submitted by Todd Wright [Not yet posted]

[I didn't save this post and Dr. Diamond has not yet posted it. If he does, I will update this post.]

A Second Last Rebuttal
[Submitted by Todd Wright [Not yet posted]

You write of this "mindfulness exercise" as if it is something that you do, and then you return to the normal world of thought. This is backwards. The point of this exercise is to connect you to the real world, with the purpose of getting you to feel the benefits of staying there, moving back into the realm of thought only when necessary. Using thought, in other words, only as a tool, then reverting back to being as your normal state. This solves the problems of the mind. It's simple. But people in your profession want to pretend that it's much more complicated, virtually incomprehensible without your help, in order to create a market for your particular brand of voodoo. And by and large, people have bought into that very successful marketing campaign.

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