THE RADICAL NATURE OF 21ST CENTURY DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY AND THERAPY
My work brings radical changes to 21st Century depth psychology and depth therapy. In the sense that these changes focus on the root and the very heart of understanding the human mind. Contemplative science research findings call into question established psychology and therapy's, assumptions and significance.
For illustration, let's recall the findings of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. His work changed everything. Through his careful empirical observations, Copernicus made a discovery that transformed astronomy: The sun is the center of our solar system, not the earth. Like it or not, astronomy had to integrate this new knowledge, and adapt to its implications.
CONTEMPLATIVE SCIENCE & DZOGCHEN PSYCHOLOGY
Contemplative science, Dzogchen psychology in particular, can do for psychology what Copernicus did for astronomy. Consider that western psychology presumes that the ego is the centering and determining point of psychological life, as well as the foundation for personal identity. But we now know that this presumption is an error. An error akin to mistaking the earth as the center of our solar system. If properly functioning, the ego has an important role to play in our psychology. But when improperly functioning it can be the source of human suffering and calamity.
Dzogchen psychology experiential research discovered the mind's very root. Its innermost essence or primordial nature. This root is the mind's natural condition, its Natural State. When we are in our mind's Natural State, we are who we truly are. And we are awake, healthy and sane.
Dr. Henry Vyner, physician, anthropologist and psychologist, spent 27 years studying contemplative science research findings. He presents his work in his well-documented 2019 book, The Healthy Mind. I’ve worked in the contemplative sciences for more than 30 years. I’ve carefully integrated Dzogchen psychology’s research findings in my writing and work.
DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY & CONTEMPLATIVE SCIENCE
Depth psychology and depth therapy run deep enough to shake hands with contemplative science research and praxis. They run far deeper than the concerns and preoccupations of most psychologies and therapies. Because the latter are typically focused on ego-centered concerns. Consider that Jung purposed psychology and therapy for self-realization. For the pursuit of the deepest possibilities within human life. He referred to this ‘privilege of a lifetime," defined as: “The Realization of Who We Truly Are.” Unlike most of his colleagues and followers, Jung was a gnostic. He was a deep mind research-traveler in search of the inner truths that lay within the deep interior of the mind.
But during Jung's lifetime, "self-realization" was just a conceptual idea about ultimate identity. A valuable idea, for sure. But no depth psychologist, (even Jung), knew what ultimate identity, i.e. the “Self,” was—as a living experience. And although Jung and some others, with and after him, picked up the scent, they lacked the know how to directly experience what they intuited.
Today, thanks to contemplative science research we can access the precise knowledge and methods we need to make our way into the experiential discovery of who we truly are. Jung intimated the existence of ultimate identity correctly, but didn't experience it, strong and stable, until his Near Death Experience (NDE), at 69. We have a remarkable opportunity today, one Jung didn’t have. We don’t need a Near Death Experience to encounter who we truly are.
Today, most “Jungians” follow Jung’s conceptual work, more or less. But not his passion to make his way into a direct experience of the essential core of mind. At its best, depth therapy heals and liberates. By enabling us to become aware of, and break free from, our unconscious and conditioned conflicts, patterns and programs that are the bed of nails we frequently live on. Many of depth therapy's foci and methods, including dreams, active imagination and alchemical work, will clarify, relieve and resolve painful psychological problems. Including alienation, emptiness and dissatisfaction. As well as grief and trauma, and the “miseries” so common today: stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia.
But we must become free from the heavy burden of conditioning before we can enter into direct experience of our mind's deepest nature. And so come home to our innermost core, a homecoming that’s what 21st Century depth psychology and therapy can be all about. Using depth psychology and contemplative science methods to systematically observe and study our own mind, we can discover the forces at play that give rise to our pain, problems and suffering. And that give rise to cycles of heartache and emotional confusion. These forces leave us imprisoned in a surface-identity rooted in our past conditioning. For example, our conditioned self-image, whether accurate or not, determines much of what we think, feel and do, often to our detriment.
PERSPECTIVE: DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY & DEPTH THERAPY
For clarity and simplicity’s sake, let's subsume both Freud and Jung’s work in all forms, as well as that of their many esteemed followers and colleagues, including psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts, under the category of depth psychology and depth psychotherapy.
Let's note an interesting fact: Freud and his work have been misunderstood from day one, especially by physicians and scientists trying to colonize and exploit his insights, knowingly or unknowingly. Freud was not a physician trying to understand and cure mental illness. He was an artist, as all true depth psychologists and depth therapists must be.
In Freud’s own words:
"Everybody thinks…that I started by the scientific character of my work and that my principal scope lies in curing mental melodies. This is a terrible error…I am really by nature an artist. … in all countries into which psychoanalysis has penetrated it has been better understood and applied by writers and artists than by doctors. My books, in fact, more resemble works of imagination than treatise on pathology…."
If depth psychology is to evolve and prosper, it must not lose its way by pandering to the formalisms of western science and university psychology departments—for acceptance and approval. Depth psychology must honor its true nature. In essence, it’s more at home in the deeper waters of contemplative science and in the humanities than in empirical science.
First person experiential knowledge is the foundation of contemplative science experimental methods. Experiential knowledge of psychology arises only from the well-trained systematic observation of one’s own mind. Not from the intellect’s abstract conceptual theories, especially theories based on third-person empirical experiments and statistical data. Such is the so-called scientific psychology found today in the shallow end of the pool at most universities and psychotherapy training institutes.
A much needed scientific revolution is on the horizon. If we can overcome the inflexible formalism of the dogmatic views that limit science today. This revolution, whether far or near, is inevitable. It will finally understand and recognize the reliability and validity of experiential, contemplative science methods, along with empirical ones. The systematic observation of one's own mind can yield knowledge about how the mind works when operating in its discursive thinking and conceptual reasoning modes. And experiential research praxis will also unveil what our deeper mind actually is, when in its natural state. A psychology based on empirical science alone can only examine and study the surface thinking-mind. It will never lead us into an appreciation of the healthy mind and true sanity. This appreciation is exactly what a new day in depth psychology and depth therapy are turning toward today.
Depth psychology is both art and science. Again, the humanities feel more like depth psychology’s true home. As Freud intimated, depth psychology's Mother is the Creative Imagination. A Mother shared with all authentic artist siblings, those committed to inner life and loyal to art and psychology’s deepest obligation. An obligation captured, especially well, in a compelling word-image by composer Robert Schumann: “To send light into the darkness of men’s heart...." And by celebrated depth psychologist James Hillman, who defined psychology as "the work to discover that nature and essence of the soul." As depth psychologists, we must realize that we can't send light into another's heart, or help anyone discover their soul, until or unless we have done it for ourselves.
MORE ON DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY & CONTEMPLATIVE SCIENCE
Using depth psychology and contemplative science methods properly, we can systematically observe and study our own mind. And discover the forces at play that give rise to our pain, problems and suffering. These forces leave us tethered to a fictional surface-identity rooted in our past conditioning. To become fully alive, we must break free from the conditioned patterns and programs that control our lives.
I include the views and methods of contemplative science in my depth psychology vision for the future. And in my depth therapy work. Because contemplative science, particularly Dzogchen psychology views and methods, can grant us access to the to the mind's natural state. As an experience of awareness and presence in the timeless moment. Being in our mind's natural state is an experience with many favorable consequences. Among them is the instant temporary liberation from our conditioning. This allows us to reset our view of ourselves, reality and our lives. It was Jung's experience of this that profoundly changed his life.
The non-directive states Jung dropped into were contemplative experiences that connected him with his deepest core. An awakened and present inner core free from conditioning. Once awakened, Jung intuitively gravitated to contemplative science methods. As celebrated depth psychologist and former director of training at Jung's institute in Zurich, James Hillman's, first wife Kate described in Hillman's biography. In her words:
“Jung lives now in an “in-between state somehow, most often he lets himself drop off into awake non-directive states, leaving the ego...out. He says he experiences truth as light, that is not with the consciousness that he has preached all these years, but another kind of awareness on a very deep level…. Jung says he does not trust consciousness in the usual sense anymore… …it means giving up a great deal to enter into this state where truth so to say lingers on a different level, that Jung has always known about it, but not until now really taking it on as a change in himself.”
Without a direct experience of our mind's natural state, its true condition, it's impossible to encounter who we truly are. And what we need to know, experience and understand to appreciate what a healthy mind and sanity look and feel like, and why. This critically important part of Jung's work and the work of contemplative scientists begs to be properly recognized, studied, understood and experienced. By depth psychologists and depth therapists who, unlike the Jungian Church Fathers, are able and willing to look through "Galileo's telescope" and SEE the new depth psychology world. One that Jung saw clearly. Jungian depth psychology is a treasure trove indeed. Much profound work has been done within the tradition by many capable and gifted people. But too often Jungian depth psychology has become formalized and closed-minded. Particularly in some areas, including some Jungian training institutes and "clubs." We need to remember that Jung was not a Jungian. He would surely eschew any efforts to idealize him and make a dogma of his work.
ALL DEPTH PSYCHOLOGISTS AND DEPTH THERAPISTS NEED EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING
The educating and training of depth psychologists and therapists needs to change. They've become mired in the problems that arise when an educational and training program becomes burdened by institutional convention and conformity. In the west, for example, we call people “psychologists” who pass tests and write dissertations. But too many of these “psychologists” (and therapists) haven’t spent 50 minutes in a direct experience of their own mind. Intellectual training, though valuable, is not nearly enough. Depth psychology especially, must become a deeply experienced way of life. Not merely a career or a conceptual school of thought.
We can’t really consider ourselves depth psychologists if we haven’t made deep dives into our own mind, dives that connect us to —who we truly are.