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What does Process psychology, being a counsellor or therapist have to do with enlightenment and spiritual practice? Dr. Arnold Mindell says that at the ‘centre of process work will be a compassionate awareness of our own perceptions. Loving kindness and other types of spiritual feelings for others transform in process work into accepting and processing all of those events which reach our awareness.’
He discusses the subject of spirituality with Gemma Summer in her thesis; `Process psychology has a pluralistic view of spirituality and supports its many expressions……. It recognises that for some, spirituality is experienced as a momentary process subject to constant, while for others, it is experienced within the context of formalised faith.’
The path of devotion is a short-cut to realising enlightenment. Being devoted in the relationship channel to a teacher or being devoted to following your own process like a spiritual warrior, with appropriateness, patience, diligence and attention can be a similar process. Mindell defines enlightenment in the following way;
`What is process psychology enlightenment? It is the practice of noticing and valuing one’s perceptions, and then unfolding them. It is the practice of making what is happening more useful for oneself and others … … …Enlightenment is how you practice something. The way you work at something describes your state of enlightenment. If you have a little detachment and can make use of what’s happening in the moment, then that’s an enlightened practice and person.
Arnold Mindell points out how Process psychology sees enlightenment not as a static state or goal, but as within an understanding of a framework of change. Process psychology concepts understand liberation within the paradigm of change, not as a goal to be obtained and held onto.
He also says that he prefers not to use the term enlightenment but rather the meaning of it, being awake. His definition of this is as follows;
`An awake person has rapid access to and ability in working with altered states in many channels…. An awake person can get into altered states and still metacommunicate… …You change according to the world within and around you…. An enlightened individual could have a great deal of feeling and compassion for other human beings but would also be very detached and tough when this is called for…. For me a highly awake person is capable of bringing out reactions to others in such a way that everyone benefits from them.
Charles Tart, a psychologist, in ‘Waking Up’ discusses what he thinks enlightenment is. He says that it is difficult to capture the essence of enlightenment in words, because the most important aspects of it are nonverbal in nature. Also it cannot be comprehended in our ordinary state of consciousness. However, he sees it rather like process workers as;
A process, on a continuum, not just a final state. There are jumps’ though, created by the functioning of altered states….a person who has directly experienced certain kinds of knowledge in an altered state has much more understanding of it than the person whose mind has never functioned in that mode.
Any one of us who have experienced altered or extreme states of consciousness know that it is possible to connect with deep spiritual processes within those states. In eg. counselling or therapy, as we deepen our experiences, sometimes in those moments, we become enlightened, in the sense of being released, or freed from our primary or ordinary experiences and touch the nature of the universal energy that some people choose to call God or the Buddha. We can experience that inside of ourselves or outside, or both simultaneously.
The Paradox of Enlightenment
Enlightenment can be seen to include an attitude of accepting what is. Yet this is somewhat a paradox. It is seen as a goal to be attained if one travels along the gradual relative path, which involves a process of meditation, visualisation, chanting, purification and other methods. At the same time, it is possible, depending on the capacity of the individual to actually become enlightened in any moment. Once enlightenment is attained, it cannot be ‘unattained% ie it does not go away or we cannot go backwards. Yet at the same time, it is also said that there is nothing to attain and if we pursue enlightenment like we do our worldly goals, we are totally missing the point and will probably never reach our goal.
Patrick, a Buddhist student says;
“My understanding of Buddhism is that there is no target. Enlightenment is not a goal to be striven for, in the way we normally understand being goal-oriented. As soon as you start setting targets, I think you’ve gone off the path. Striving leads nowhere. It’s difficult to understand but as soon as you have a goal in spirituality, you are no longer floating. Floating is the only possibility of moving forward. It’s about respecting that things happen at their own pace and the teacher is an influence. The old tools that we use are meaningless in this setting, because we are talking about losing the ego.”
Though there is nothing to be attained and there is no goal to be reached `out there’, still we embark upon the journey of enlightenment. Ken Wilber in ‘No Boundary’ talks about the ultimate, saying that we can’t really do anything to get it, yet if we don’t do something, we just remain as we are, without changing. He quotes the Zen master, Ma – tsu;
`In the Tao, there is nothing to discipline oneself in. If there is any discipline in it, the completion of such discipline means the destruction of the Tao. But if there is no discipline whatever in the Tao, one remains an ignoramus.
The question is then, why if we are all already enlightened, should we do anything at all? The difficulty is that firstly, we don’t recognise that we are already enlightened and secondly, we don’t manifest it. In Zen Buddhism it is seen that ‘everything we do is an expression of original enlightenment.’ Suzuki Roshi says;
`If our practice is only a means to attain enlightenment, there is actually no way to attain it ….The state of mind that exists when you sit, is itself enlightenment. ‘
In ‘The Pearl beyond Price’ Almaas says that there is actually not an agreed definition or sustained concept of what enlightenment is. He says that sometimes it ‘refers to a certain insight perception or understanding…..a certain stage of inner development… …… the transcendence of ego ….the death of ego… the transformation of ego.
This is more similar to the Process work idea that enlightenment is similar to a certain perception or attitude that arises within, at a certain moment. Alan Watts writes that in Buddhism, we discover that the normal or accepted way of perceiving ourselves is conventional and there are many other different ways that we could look at ourselves. He asks, what are we in reality?
`From one side is no-thing… (but also we are) things happening spontaneously by themselves when one learns the feeling of thoughts and mental impressions coming and going of themselves, one has discovered the clue to a mastery of the mental art which could, if so desired, be applied to experiments in parapsychology.”
Capra says that the Eastern world view is dynamic and organic, seeing the cosmos as one inseparable reality, spirit and material at the same time. The aim of certain spiritual practices are to penetrate behind the veil of the accustomed reality into an awakened state or enlightenment. Ordinary consciousness is regarded as being in a deep sleep.
Mark Epstein says that one of the tasks of being an adult is to discover the ability to lose oneself, which we often have in childhood. The paradox is that we can only truly find ourselves by surrendering into the void. This is not disintegration, however, but an opportunity to have new experiences which are no longer centered in our thinking mind.
If we allow thoughts, emotions, mental impressions to pass though us and are fluid, not identified with anything, then freedom comes from accepting what is. Therapy and meditation offer a window into our liberated state of mind that comes from an absence of identification. Being in a free state of mind means that we can really follow what is happening in the moment as there are no edges.