0404 093 865

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Melbourne, Byron Bay or Skype sessions

Ph: 0404 093 865

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Why being fixed isn’t the answer: crisis and uncertainty as opportunities for something new


[…] much psychology has abandoned the fecundity and reverence of myth and stands under the strain of neon consciousness, powerless to retrieve or open the depth and density of the world of soul.~ John O Donohue, Anam Cara


A key difference between transpersonal psychotherapy and psychology is that psychology seeks to normalise. With its focus on evidenced-based solutions it is looking for what works for the majority. Where does an individual sit on the bell curve? Its methods are diagnosing and pathologizing. CBT is about learning to control and manage symptoms in order to ‘return to normal’, or ‘to get better’, to ‘fix’ the person. 


Psychology can, at its worst, fail to help discover, or to support, the individual’s journey to healing, wholeness and integration – to a newway of being, of becoming more inner-directed, finding one’s own truth, and own rhythms, rather than just fitting in. The Japanese have a lovely term for someone that toes the line – a Company Man. Transpersonal psychotherapy isn’t about helping you to become a better company man. It’s about finding a deeper, more enduring sense of belonging.


The old English root for healing is ‘healen’, meaning to make whole. Jung said there needs to be a different therapy for every person. In contemporary clinical psychology, the only psychotherapy funded by Medicare, the individual journey isn’t what’s important. It’s about getting people back to a ‘normal’ defined by the weight of numbers. It’s about helping people to fit back in to society. 


People often start therapy because their life has fallen apart and they want to go back to how it was. An important principle in transpersonal psychotherapy is Joseph Campbell’s idea of ‘The Hero’s Journey’. This is a quintessentially human experience, a rite of passage in every life, in which the hero (or heroine) is ‘called’ by their life taking an unexpected turn, or a crisis occurring. Something happens which we do not, and would not, choose. Something that throws our ordinary life into chaos. The hero then descends into an underworld (or dark night of the soul). By having to see and face our demons we learn that there is help and that we are not alone. We recognise our old ways of being, understanding and acting that are no longer appropriate for the life we long to live. It is through this journey into our depths, and out of our familiar literal and psychic world (life as we have known it until then), that we learn what we need in order to heal and to grow. We find mentors, and discover our hidden strengths and qualities (personal and essential). And we then can bring these learnings and resources back to help others.


A Psychology based on trying to predict and control is inimical to the great spiritual teaching of surrender. We can’t control life, no matter how hard we try to ‘push the river’. 

Perhaps the central aspect of maturing, in growing from child to adult (many people never do) is to learning to live more graciously with uncertainty. Great psychotherapists like Irvin Yalom and his mentor Rollo May emphasise that a measure of successful therapy is when someone can accept the one thing we can be certain of, but do everything to deny: death -our own death, others’ death … death in general. Only when we appreciate how uncertain and precious life actually is, can we really start to live by appreciating the gift of life - our particular life, life in general, of every day, every moment. 


‘Deepening the wonder’


Death is a favor to us, 
But our scales have lost their balance. 

The impermanence of the body 
Should give us great clarity, 
Deepening the wonder in our senses and eyes 

Of this mysterious existence we share 
And are surely just traveling through. 

If I were in the Tavern tonight, 
Hafiz would call for drinks 

And as the Master poured, I would be reminded 
That all I know of life and myself is that 

We are just a midair flight of golden wine 
Between His Pitcher and His Cup. 

If I were in the Tavern tonight, 
I would buy freely for everyone in this world 

Because our marriage with the Cruel Beauty 
Of time and space cannot endure very long. 

Death is a favor to us, 
But our minds have lost their balance. 

The miraculous existence and impermanence of 
Always makes the illumined ones 
Laugh and sing. 


- Hafiz (translation by Daniel Ladinsky)


The wonderful Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue has much to say about the value, indeed the necessity, of embracing the mystery of life’s unfolding by accepting one’s own personal path, as it transpires.


Joseph Campbell says this beautifully in another way: “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the one that is waiting for us”.


So often we compare ourselves with others (especially in these days of social media). We have all these ‘shoulds’ that we apply to ourselves.  We judge ourselves harshly. We’re constantly trying to work out how we should be, what we should do, rather than appreciating, indeed, cherishing our experience. Key examples are our work and career – what we should be doing, or who we should be with (this can happen whether we’re single or in partnership). We also constantly judge life. Thinking about how things shouldbe different. Then we try to change – things, people ourselves, as if we can sculpt the world to fit what our ego wants, as if we can choreograph or curate reality to fit our expectations.


In doing so we reject our own rhythm. We don’t hear our deep inner wisdom (Ekhardt Tolle questions the term ‘Higher self’ and suggests instead ‘Deeper self’). Rather than take the time and space to tune in to our own compass, we judge, and blame and contort ourselves to try to fit in to meet others’ norms and ideas. For example, when we feel flat or low and just want to curl up and lick our wounds, either we do this and then feel guilty and ashamed, or we don’t let ourselves, even though, deep down, we know this is what we need to do. We doubt ourselves, and then listen to our doubts over our deep inner knowing. We do this in the way we try to live our lives as well as in the ways we manage when we’re not feeling good.


In Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World (a book I’d highly recommend) John o’Donohue says:


Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their life into proper shape. The intellect identifies the goal of the programme, and the will accordingly forces the life into that shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself and you can spend years lost in the wildernesses of your own […] programmes. You can perish in a famine of your own making. 


If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more importantly it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your own presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life. 


And this is very interesting in considering the value of a somatic psychotherapy, one which includes the body:


The senses are generous pathways which can bring you home. A renewal, indeed a complete transfiguration of your life, can come through attention to your senses. Your senses are the guides to take you deep into the inner world of your heart. […] Through attunement to the wisdom of your senses, you will never become an exile in your own life, an outsider lost in an external spiritual place which your will and intellect have constructed.


Being able to tolerate uncertainty is important. Especially in times of change, in finding a new way forward. It is only by allowing the unknown that anything truly new can come in to our lives. Otherwise in working out our options, in finding solutions, all we can do is to solve the problem from the consciousness that created it. At best we can come up with solutions based on our prior conditioning and experience, replicating what we already know, and what hasn’t worked so far. This is particularly important in times of transition, such as Saturn returns (mid to late 20s), where people often find themselves at a crossroads and don’t know how the future looks. The opportunity is to learn to be with the unknown, to allow the time to discover your own rhythm and to break out of the old familiar ways of being and seeing the world that just don’t fit any more. Anyone that has felt the inspiration of an idea landing, seemingly from nowhere, or a chance meeting that changes the course of your life, can relate to the magic that happens when you open to life.


O’Donohue again:

Nothingness is the sister of possibility. It makes an urgent space for that which is new, surprising, and unexpected. When you feel nothingness and emptiness gnawing at your life, there is no need to despair. This is a call from your soul, awakening your life to new possibilities.

There is help in navigating these difficult times. Reaching out to others. Seeking help. Continuing to do your spiritual and therapeutic work. And in looking back in my own life, it’s been the unwanted, resisted, complained-about times that help most at this current time of uncertainty. The thesis that somehow disappeared from the computer and had to be re-written, enduring times of illness and incapacity, the loss of relationships, of jobs, of friends. 


How can we learn to love life as it is. Even in troubled, uncertain times? Michael Singer is very helpful about choosing the path of happiness even if our life doesn’t go as we plan. See The Untethered Soul free audiobook (from 4.38.20). 


There are many other wise teachers and resources (see the blog posts below offering resources). Why not use this time of enforced reflection and being at home to dip into some of these? A good example of inspiring teachers and approaches is this talk by Peter Levine ad Thomas Hubl from the Science and Nonduality Conference last year. Or reading Anam Cara


And please do reach out if you need help, noting that I and many other therapists are cutting their rates at this time and finding other ways to make sure you can access the support you need (such as online sessions). This is a chance to find new ways of being, of growing, and of healing.