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by John Welwood
Shambhala Publications, 2001
Review by H. Kimball Jones on Jun 22nd 2002
John Welwood's book, Toward a
Psychology of Awakening, is a gem.
Several books have been written in recent years about the relationship
between Eastern Meditative Practice and Western Psychotherapy, but few have
reached the level of insight and clarity of thought that Welwood achieves
here. Lay people, religious
professionals and psychotherapists should all find this book to be rich and
insightful. Welwood does not assume a
prior understanding of meditation or psychotherapy on the part of the reader
and manages to convey a very clear and readable understanding of both
disciplines that should be instructive to the lay person, while at the same
time dealing with complex and intricate issues which should be both
enlightening and challenging to professionals.
Few authors have managed to pull this off without either resorting to
overly simplistic descriptions, or getting lost in tangled esoteric
distinctions. That Welwood has managed
to achieve this kind of clarity is testament to the depth of his understanding
of both Eastern Meditative Thought and Western Psychology.
The book is divided into three
sections, each of which could be a book in its own right: I. Integrating
Psychology and Spirituality, II. Psychotherapy in a Spiritual Context, and III.
The Awakening Power of Relationship.
Welwood suggests that some readers might want to skip the first part if
they are less interested in philosophical than practical matters. I think that would be a mistake. While Part II is geared more toward the
skills utilized in bringing Eastern Meditative Practice to bear in the process
of psychotherapy, Part I is, in my opinion, the most challenging and
interesting part of the book. In the
eight chapters that make up Part I, Welwood offers a thorough and fascinating
theory of the structure and phenomenology of the human psyche when viewed from
the combined insights of Eastern Meditation and Western Psychotherapy.
In this discussion Welwood
acknowledges that he has been influenced strongly by existentialist philosophy,
especially the French Existentialists; by Zen Buddhism, with particular
emphasis upon its meditative practices; and by the psychology of Eugene Gendlin
and his theory of "focusing."
Drawing upon all three of these sources, Welwood clarifies some of the
more helpful insights of Western Psychology while, at the same time,
challenging some of its most cherished beliefs. He describes the therapeutic
process as one that involves an unfolding from the confined space of
compulsions and conditioned responses to a larger open space that transcends
the ego-bound limits of the individual personality. For this unfolding to occur he suggests that both client and
therapist must start from a position of unconditional acceptance of all
accessible feelings without giving in to the urge to criticize, judge and
change the existing personality. Paradoxically,
healthy change in neurotic patterns can occur only when there is first this
unconditional acceptance of what is felt and experienced. He suggests that the focusing
technique of Eugene Gendlin which seeks to go deeply into ones feelings
without making evaluative judgments of them can be helpful in this process:
first step in turning personality into path is developing a commitment to
seeing ourselves as we are, no matter how much we might dread what well
discover. (p.31) Meditative practice
can be helpful in achieving this, because it allows us to free
the mind of all thoughts that would
judge troublesome feelings as being unacceptable.
In Chapter 5 Meditation and the
Unconscious Welwood challenges some of the basic assumptions of modern depth
psychology about the unconscious. He
suggests that while there are, indeed, rich sources of depth and meaning within
the psyche that are normally inaccessible to the ego, to see these contents as
residing in a separate realm the unconscious is an unnecessarily dualistic,
inaccurate assessment. From a Buddhist
perspective, the idea of an unconscious as a separate mental realm reinforces
the self/other split. This becomes
apparent in the practice of meditation.
In meditating, one gains a clear awareness simultaneously of conscious
and unconscious contents. Welwood suggests
that using a model of figure and ground can be helpful here, seeing conscious
as figure, unconscious as ground.
Within what is normally described as the unconscious mind there exists
several layers of ground progressing from the personal to the transpersonal and
ultimately to the open which is the fundamental ground of pure awareness.
(p.71) As the inmost reality of human
consciousness, the open ground is what allows the endless flow of moments to
unfold and have meaning. It is not an unconscious mind situated somewhere
inside the organism. (p.75) One must read this chapter to gain full appreciation
of what Welwood is suggesting here.
This intriguing view puts a new perspective on what lies at the core of
neurosis and psychopathology. From this
perspective, what makes the ego anxious is not threatening unconscious contents
so much as the groundless, open nature of our being
Resistance, repression and
defense are ways that we armor ourselves against this larger openness that
threatens our attempt to establish a permanent separate identity. (p.75) This is a persuasive and fascinating
argument, and may cause many to rethink how they understand the very structure of
the human psyche.
Having posited the goal of undivided
awareness, Welwood then asks how psychotherapeutic reflection, which by its
very nature is a form of divided consciousness, can help one to achieve this awareness. He suggests that this can best be achieved
through what he describes as presence-centered psychotherapy which, he
suggests, is psychotherapeutic work in a spiritual context. Using a focusing-like technique, this
process progresses beyond the conceptual reflection that marks much of
traditional psychotherapy, through a phenomenological reflection, to a witnessing
that is close to a meditative state of mindfulness, and finally to a transreflective
resting in open presence within whatever experience arises, which is no other
than pure being/emptiness (self-liberation). (p.127). In describing the levels of this process
Welwood acknowledges that this is an ideal progression that many people can only
begin to approach and which may not be practical for some who suffer from weak
ego structure and serious early personality damage.
In The second part of the book Psychotherapy
in a Spiritual Context Welwood describes the process of presence-centered
psychotherapy in greater detail and with more practical application, drawing
helpfully on several vignettes form his own psychotherapy practice. He suggests that the practice of meditation
can be invaluable to psychotherapists in achieving the kind of loving,
unconditional presence that is required to facilitate the unfolding process of
presence-centered psychotherapy. By
experiencing the kind of open awareness that comes with disciplined meditation, the therapist can
avoid being drawn in to the clients need for solutions based on radical
personality change. In the tradition
of R. D. Laing and Karl Meninger, among
others, he suggests that the seeds of real change lie within the core of the
neurotic symptoms themselves, which need to be acknowledged as creative, and
sometimes brilliant, adaptations to difficult life situations. In saying this, Welwood is not romanticizing
pathology, but rather seeing the clues and tools for positive change to lie
within the adaptive defensive techniques of the psyche. He is suggesting that new
strategies for coping often emerge from these very adaptations rather than from
changes brought about in the core of the personality.
In Chapter 14 Embodying Your
Realization: Psychological Work in the Service
of Spiritual Development -- Welwood
again breaks new ground. Here he suggests
that while many have written on how spiritual disciplines can help increase
psychological awareness, few have talked about how psychological reflection can
aid spiritual work. Spiritual insight,
while frequently dramatic, is often short lived. Spiritual disciplines often fail to teach how to fully embody
what we have learned and how to weave it into the fabric of daily life.
where psychological work might serve as an ally to spiritual practice
to shine the light of awareness into all the hidden nooks and crannies
conditioned personality, so that it becomes more porous, more permeable
larger being that is its ground. (p. 196)
In Part III The Awakening Power of
Relationship Welwood suggests that one area where psychotherapy can be
particularly helpful in the service of spiritual development is in helping to
understand the dynamics of human relationship.
In the sacred space of intimate relationship we often experience the
tensions and dualities of life with a special intensity. In
understanding the dynamics and intricacies of relationship including the
destructive role of projection, which Western Psychology teaches us, we can
become more open to the fullness of being in all aspects of our lives. Eastern Meditative Practice, on the other
hand, can help us to achieve the kind of clarity that can break through
projections and experience intimate relationship as a sacred path.
In sum, in this enlightening book,
Welwood offers us a very rich and fresh look at the weaving together of Eastern
Meditative Practice and Western Psychotherapy.
He succeeds both in feeding us with helpful insights while also challenging
some of our basic assumptions about ourselves and the world. One cannot read this book without feeling
both moved and challenged.
2002 H. Kimball Jones
H. Kimball Jones is a Pastoral Psychotherapist
who lives and practices on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. He is a Diplomate in the American
Association of Pastoral Counselors and a former Vice President of the Board of
the C. G. Jung Foundation in New York.
He has a full-time counseling practice and serves as West-Side Area
Director for the Psychotherapy and
Spirituality Institute (www.mindspirit.org). Dr. Jones is an ordained minister in the New York Conference of
the United Methodist Church and Chairman of the Sangha Council at the Won
Buddhist Temple in Manhattan where he has worshipped for the past 8 years. He has always been interested in the
relationship between psychology and spirituality and particularly in the
relevance of Buddhist thought and meditative practice to Western Psychotherapy.