Human beings require meaning in their lives which goes beyond possessions, worldly success, or self-centered goals that death destroys. At the same time, materialistic science denies any larger purpose in life and can offer no satisfying answer to questions such as "Who am I?" and "Why are we here?" Although many intuit something more, faced with this limited outlook they may become depressed or despairing. Can a psychotherapy based on materialism answer such people's real needs?
In The Observing Self (Beacon Press Books, 1983; 194 pages, ISBN 0-8070-2951-3, paper, $14.50), Dr. Arthur J. Deikman discusses various aspects of human consciousness and psychotherapy in light of mysticism. Teacher, writer, and practicing psychotherapist, he describes himself as a student of the science of mysticism, which is not, as many think, a blend of exotic and alien religious practices, rules, and paraphernalia. True mysticism has been taught, studied, and written about for centuries all over the world, and the fact that the content of such writings is basically the same reveals their enduring universality. In support of his convictions, Dr. Deikman offers quotations from India's Upanishads, Buddhist teachings, Greek philosophers, Jewish rabbis, Sufis, and Hopi Indians. He feels the culturally-specific trappings, which attract some people and repel others, are mere distractions, since "the value of the mystical tradition for the Westerner is in the perspective provided on the self and human purpose" (p. vi). In the same way,
the value of mysticism for psychotherapy lies not in the application of its technical devices to patients, as if those devices were a mental antibiotic or a superior tranquilizer, but in the change that mystical science can bring about in the therapist's world view and concepts of the possibilities of human life. — p. 173
With this more expansive, optimistic outlook the therapist can help his patients more effectively.
Dr. Deikman divides consciousness into four parts: thought, feeling, functional capacity, and the observing center or self, all of which originate in an underlying source, called by such terms as the Self, Truth, or Knowledge. Too often we mistake the contents of our awareness for ourself, not realizing that we actually are the underlying awareness. This observing self is the source of intuitive knowledge, which is blocked by our thinking self when we identify with our thoughts and feelings instead of with the observing center. He illustrates the relations among these various facets of human consciousness with an analogy:
Consider a pond that borders on and is continuous with the ocean. Our awareness, the observing self, is the surface of the pond. Thoughts, feelings, and other mental activities are like splashes and ripples in the water, as if small stones were being tossed in from the shore. When such activity subsides, the pond is smooth, still, and reflective; at such times the observing self is enhanced, becomes prominent, and is the major dimension of consciousness. At other times, when thought has transformed the surface into a mass of waves and ripples, awareness seems to have vanished and consciousness contains only the patterns of disturbance in the water . . .
When the water becomes still, and the quiet extends to a sufficient depth, the pond begins to resonate with the longer phase pulsations originating from the ocean. When stillness and activity are in proper balance, the state of the pond reflects the subtle rhythms that are ordinarily obscured and confused by surface ripples. — pp. 103-4
Considerable space is given to explaining the different functions of the two frontal lobes of the human brain. The left side or objective brain provides logical, reasoning intelligence needed in such tasks as driving in heavy traffic, formulating mathematical theorems, or playing chess. The reflective, right side is in play when we listen to music, read poetry, really study a special painting, or view a beautiful flower or sunset. Both aspects are necessary, but if the objective dominates the reflective too much, spiritual intuition remains blocked.
That intuition is knowledge derived from becoming, rather than from observing, has important implications. Such intuitive knowledge
requires a metaphysic in which each person is connected in some way with everything else; it implies a field theory in which no absolute barriers exist between entities, but all entities respond and are unified within the field. In such a version of reality, consciousness, at some level, is coextensive with it. If we can partake of a consciousness that is not bounded by the physical brain but extends throughout existence, then subject and object are one, and we can know by being the object. In the West, such a statement is usually considered nonsensical, for it cannot be comprehended by reference to the object world, the world of discrete boundaries. The mystical view assumes a different organization of reality, one composed of gradients rather than boundaries. It posits a continuous flux in which entities exist, but not discretely, just as waves have individual existence but are continuous with each other, and with the ocean that gives rise to them and in which they merge. It goes a step further and considers every wave to be, simultaneously, every other wave, inseparable in time as well as space. — pp. 55-6
Intuition derives from our center of awareness, which has been called the immanent Christ, inner Buddha, or higher self. It is innate in everyone, though few realize its existence and reality, except in the occasional hunch or dream. The author believes organized religions encourage this lack of awareness when they locate God outside rather than within us. Traditional religions, as belief systems, differ sharply from mysticism, which is a psychological science. In religions, for example, the motive for good behavior is reward, "the accumulation of heavenly credit, duly noted by a divine accountant, in a layaway plan for life after death" (p. 77). To the mystic, on the other hand, virtue is necessary for the development of intuitive perception: "The ability to receive Knowledge is a functional matter, having nothing to do with reward or punishment in the usual sense. Thus, one does not 'earn' enlightenment, one becomes capable of receiving it" (p. 78). The state of intuitive knowing, as opposed to intellect and sense perception, separates human beings from the animals and other lower life forms. The basis of human evolution is not reproductive success, but conscious evolution: "human beings evolving themselves through a special type of learning that they choose to acquire" (p. 167). It requires perceiving ourselves as more than objects, and sustaining that perception. As the Sufi mystic Rumi said: "New organs of perception come into being as a result of necessity. Therefore, O man, increase your necessity, so that you may increase your perception."
Unfortunately most of us live automatically, half-asleep, immersed in fantasies brought about by unconscious needs and desires. To vanquish such limiting illusions is not easy, for we must want to upgrade our priorities. One successful method is to continually lessen self-interest, the source of selfishness, since any sincere effort in this direction opens us to the healing influence of the observing self.
To increase awareness and intuition the author recommends meditation, but points out that the purposes and requirements of those who originally created meditation systems are often ignored, particularly as concerns motivation. Traditional schools began with purification and development of a selfless orientation before seeking special powers, a process that might take years of effort. This step tends to be skipped today. Moreover, many people who begin meditation stop even if they have benefited, others misuse it to withdraw from society and those around them, or are thrown off balance by altered states of consciousness. Psychological scientists particularly, he believes, need to learn the techniques thoroughly from qualified teachers, not pick and choose a few mystic practices and disregard the rest of the system. Especially vital is that they "recognize the practical importance of shifting from an acquisitive orientation to one centered in learning and service" when using such practices (p. 151). Otherwise meditators will find that their efforts result in "garbage in, garbage out."
In discussing human development, Dr. Deikman also stresses the importance of the virtues. Ethics are not arbitrary since
the unity of all human beings, their interconnection and interdependence, is the primary vision of mysticism. It says that the virtue mystics practice is necessary not only because of its functional utility but because it is realistic. One should treat the other as oneself because below the surface we are all aspects of one being; the Golden Rule is not an arbitrary, culturally determined morality but an expression of the actual nature of the world. Our continued existence as a species and our further development depend on our capacity for recognizing this reality despite the compelling influence of the object self. — p. 85
— that is, the self identified with the contents of awareness. Moral relativism has undercut the rationale for ethics and the recognition of an underlying reality; yet the traditional virtues "provide the possibility of knowing that reality. Virtues prepare the mind for a more advanced perception" (p. 89). One method the author finds especially helpful in awakening perception is teaching stories, particularly those of the Sufis which he feels have great appeal for contemporary people.
Dr. Deikman concludes by comparing the practice of mysticism to making bread: the field must be plowed, grain sown, harvested, and ground into flour, mixed with salt and yeast, and then baked. These stages apply both to individuals and civilizations, since
The necessary base must be present in the culture, the time must be right, and a suitable group of qualified persons must function together to perform in the correct way the work of development. At present our society is probably at the stage in which the field needs to be plowed or the grain sown. In this context, the role of individual students of mysticism may be to assist in that process, even if the bread is not baked until later generations.
. . . If we proceed in the direction indicated by the mystical tradition, we will have enough work to do to occupy our energies for a long time to come. There is no need to pursue the exotic, the alien. There is a need to make better use of what our sciences have taught us and to assimilate the knowledge and perspective of the mystical tradition into Western psychology and Western society. The harvest of our efforts will be a deeper understanding of human life and the capacity to further its evolution.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)