Author: Bruce Stevenson

Why Scientists don’t get consciousness…

I spent twenty years teaching children excluded from school - mostly boys in their early teens - with thick files, police records, and usually a psychiatric diagnosis. As a home tutor supposedly able to teach Design and Technology, I carried a large blue laundry bag full of Technic Lego. Most of my pupils recalled almost nothing from school, and had to be cajoled into taking part in something educational - boys almost universally allowed themselves to be interested in making model cars and robots. I dignified this by making attempts to educate them about gear wheels and centimetres and right angles, all of which had passed them by at school.

Gradually as I became user friendly to the boys - and to their mothers who were all at their wits’ end - they opened up to me. One boy masquerading as a young thug who enjoyed intimidating all the other pupils, told me, ‘Bruce-Man!  You don’t know how angry I am.’ I asked him, ‘Are you afraid of your anger ? He said yes, and coming out from behind his imitation of power melted down into a vulnerable fourteen year old whose father was a thousand miles away in Morocco. 

Another boy, just eight years old had nearly strangled a classmate. After this he could no longer be taught in a pupil referral unit, and I was sent to teach him at home. His mother told me, ‘My son does not have mental health problems!’ I said, ‘Well, we all do’…and asked the boy, ’What sort of animal is your anger ? He said, ‘Its a lion that kills its prey!’ Next week, I said, ’How’s your lion ?’ He said ‘The lion and me  think differently, he goes boo, and I go eek!’  It was a breakthrough for him to dis-identify from the lion and recognise the frightened little boy who went eek, it was trying to protect.

This is mindfulness - directly knowing and seeing for yourself what is going on in consciousness so it is possible to see your reactions and not be blindly identified with them.

Unfortunately, in my experience this is not what happened routinely in the boys’ experience of mental health services. Most of my pupils had been diagnosed after an hour or so by a psychiatrist, and left with labels like ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) or ADHD or depression, and medicated. Boys felt ashamed and judged - feeling like ’divs’, in their language - and believing their reality had been ignored. Instead they felt saddled with an image that made them feel stigmatised and reified.  

 Given that some pupils had terrible home lives - mothers on heroin who cut themselves in front of their son in order to blackmail him to get his Dad home  - who was off with other women - it is not surprising that pupils rarely felt safe enough to tell psychiatrists the truth about their experience. 

I came to realise that the thick files that came with my pupils, were almost entirely useless when it came to really understanding what they had gone through. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are dedicated to models of understanding humans which almost entirely rely on attempting to get them to fit into the conventional scientific mode of measuring something through the senses.

Conventional science has been wildly successful at sending rockets to Mars, but I suggest wildly unsuccessful when it comes to helping humans understand themselves.  (In my lifetime humans have gone a long way to destroying the planet they live on, and show very little sign of restraining their greed for fossil fuels)

Why is this ?   Scientists as a result of the ‘Enlightenment’ found a way to throw out subjective assumptions, and rely on Objective data measured through the senses. Unfortunately this lead them to ignore and disavow what could be called the Subjective with a capital S - their very own knowing which allows them to design experiments and see for themselves what their experiments show.

Consciousness has been dubbed the ‘hard’ problem - BUT if we dare to release all the hidden mental assumptions which we absorb from infancy, and with which we are so identified that we completely forget we are looking through them, it is possible to dive into the knowing, and know it by tapping into the direct experience of BEING the knowing. This is a place of the utmost simplicity.

If we are to understand each other, scientists need to recognise how lost we are without an understanding of consciousness, and dare to make a Kuhnian leap into another way of knowing consciousness.

Given we are witnessing the early stages of a psychedelic renaissance, I’d like to recount my own experience of what it takes to dive into consciousness.

In my second year of studying Anthropology at Sussex University in the late 1960’s  I took some LSD. I can remember blinking and swallowing and suddenly discovering the entire universe and I were of one substance. Walking around it was obvious that humans are largely delusional - we believe we are separate entities, and because we are identified with a mental construction  of ourselves, we are constantly estranged from feeling at one with Life, and all too often in contention with each other. 

Reading R.H.Blyth’s marvellous book, ‘Zen and English Literature and Oriental Classics’ I saw that Zen appeared to understand what I had experienced on LSD. My Zen teacher who had had the courage to take LSD herself said my experience was a barrier to seeing the truth and that LSD only ‘inverted the relations between the conscious and the unconscious’. Whether or not this is true the experience gave me a lot of faith. 

 I eventually became a Zen monk and went through the trials of what is called ‘great doubt’. Great doubt means wrestling with all the mental assumptions that usually prevent us from knowing the world as it is.   

In my case I was on fire with doubt for some years. I had an awakening where it felt like I literally fell a long way. I think in retrospect it was like a young version of myself had held onto the impressions of Life I took on board from my parents - like holding onto the cards I had been dealt, and the cards falling out of my hands so that I was able to fall into being the mystery. 

I was on retreat with a famous Chinese Zen teacher when this happened, and he was ten feet away. I went up to him, and said ‘I can see!’  ‘See what!’, he retorted. I said ‘My heart is open’. Later in interview he said if I wanted this ratified as enlightenment he’d have to get an interpreter, and I said,’ I don’t want you to put a label on it, and I don’t want to put a label on it either.’ The mystery is self-revealing and immanent and has no need of a label.

Rinzai, the Zen monk who began my tradition of Zen, says, ‘Followers of the Way: the Dharma of the heart has no form and pervades the ten directions. In the eye it is called seeing; in the ear hearing…Fundamentally, it is one light; differentiated it becomes the six senses.’

My experience of the mystery of consciousness is that the separate self we take ourself to be melts into nothing and everything. Usually, we are so deluded by our mental constructions, and so convinced by our perceptions, that we experience the world as made up of separate objects. In reality they are arising and passing back into the mystery. It is as if there is a little boat made of ice called ‘me’, which has to melt to know the water directly.

Of course, It is unlikely that scientists will start meditating ardently, or go through the great doubt, but it is possible to begin to enquire into our experience, without obscuring  it with our preconceived mental agenda and assumptions.  This is tricky, because we  start out already looking through clusters of mental representations we’re identified with.  It takes a sincere heart to pierce through our delusions.

I am following the work of A.H.Almaas here, as a point of departure - his work helps to recognise what he calls basic knowing.  When I do crosswords, I often feel stumped. Precisely in allowing myself to recognise I do not know what the answer is, I can also recognise there is still knowing - knowing I don’t know.  This deeper knowing stripped of all preconceived assumptions is what is called mindfulness in Buddhism.

I believe mindfulness is often not understood so that an attempt is made to be non-judgemental in the present, which is laid over the usual ego structure of a (who I take myself to be) ’me’ in here and a ‘world’ out there.  It takes  a much deeper dive, and more rigorous discrimination of our preconceived assumptions to allow consciousness  to begin to know the immediacy of our experience —be the knowing

 It takes willingness to see what Cynthia Bourgeault, a Christian mystic,  calls the ‘mechanical ego-self puttering along on auto-pilot’, and courage to begin to directly experience what is here in the moment.

It is time to question whether the social sciences and the world of psychology are not largely exercises in the institutionalisation of ignorance, where as psychiatrist RD Laing put it long ago, ‘Man’s being can be seen from different points of view…even the same thing, seen from different points of view, gives rise to two entirely different descriptions,. And the descriptions give rise to two entirely different theories, and the theories give rise to two entirely different  actions.’  This is like the parable of the five blind men and the elephant - each of whom grabbed a part of the elephant and concluded (from the ear) an elephant is like a leaf, (from the tail) it is like a rope, (from the leg) it is like a pillar and so on - but none knew the nature of the elephant itself.

What if this is a consequence of our ignorance of consciousness, and our futile attempt to objectify it from many points of view? 

When your view of reality comes from a more non conceptual place without the usual mental constructions, your perspective on everything changes.

Diving into consciousness and allowing oneself to know it directly and immediately - can mean for example noting my cat lying around with all four legs in the air, appearing to feel without a care in the world, I begin to feel and know a sweet tender appreciation as a direct experience In my heart - knowing love not by separating myself from it, or objectifying it, but by being the love itself. Love knows itself by being itself. Almaas describes the various implicit forms consciousness takes, and in this instance calls this form of love the pink.

 I remember as an Anthropology student, reading Durkheim who believed religion was due to the ‘collective effervescence’ of crowds. Watching England score a  goal against Sweden and feeling and seeing the crowd erupt in joy and a sense of dynamic expansion, I could turn his observation on its head, and see how winning a goal, revives the dynamic unity implicit in consciousness, but the ego takes the credit, so that for a moment England feels on top of things, and with that a sense of confidence and expansion. Consciousness has to be unpeeled from the reified self-representation of ‘England’ to know the sense of expansion and joy directly. 

Perhaps literature has always known this - watching Harrison Ford dare to stand up to a corrupt President in ’Clear and Present Danger’, I feel the stirring of what it takes to speak truth to power - and the uprightness and natural support that goes with this - qualities of the will that are implicit in consciousness.

Consciousness has many such implicit qualities, which can be known only by experiencing them so deeply, that the apparently separate ‘me’ falls away and allows us to know the quality through direct experience. This is not a surrender into the wilderness of subjectivity, but an appreciation of qualities of consciousness which can be discovered by anyone willing to dive into the depths of their own heart.

Exploring Consciousness

This article is an adaptation of a talk I gave at a conference in India….it starts off with a sensing exercise, which the reader may or may not wish to do.

Read it here or watch on YouTube:

Sense into the temperature, shape and weight of your right foot; are you able to sense your foot directly and immediately?  or are you only visualising it, or seeing it from your head?    Can you just be with the sensations, and let them come to you - its like putting your foot in the bath - thinking about it doesn’t help. Simply opening up to and trusting the sensations you feel allows YOU to be here in this moment..

I want to say something about where I’m coming from as a preface to this talk - because exploring consciousness is an intimate personal journey of feeling into what is true for you through all the layers of  ‘me’; all the way down to the truth.

 In the beginning it can be very confusing because the ‘me’ is estranged from the truth, and lives in the total conviction that we are a separate being. We find ourself already looking through the eyes of this separate ‘me’ who longs to find the truth, but cannot find it, and does not know where to look. Only if the ‘me’ melts down: like a little boat made of ice, can it know the ocean.

 I spent twenty years teaching children on a one to one basis, who had been excluded from school - usually because they had done something violent like pulling a knife on a teacher. They all had thick files, including psychological assessments and usually a diagnosis from a range of authorities. They included clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, neurologists, headteachers, and policemen. 

I was struck again and again that the authorities didn’t  listen to the children I taught. They looked at them from the outside as if they were objects. They diagnosed them, by identifying a clinical syndrome, such as depression, or ADHD, or oppositional defiant disorder, according to a checklist of symptoms. They believed they had access to objective truths about the children, which did not require them to listen to or understand the children.

Consequently, in the children’s experience, they simply felt they had been judged, that they must be bad, and that no-one had listened to them.

One of the children I worked with was eight years old, and was excluded from school because he had nearly strangled a classmate. It took three women to pull him off. When I went to his home to teach him, I asked him, ‘What sort of animal is your anger ?’ He said immediately, ‘It’s a lion that kills its prey!’ The next week, I said to him, ‘How’s your lion?” He said, ‘The lion and me think differently, he goes ‘boo’ and I go ‘eek!’ Those of you who know about internal family systems theory may recognise a firefighter and an exile.

This has always stuck in my head, because in that moment he knew his own mind, and trusted his  experience. In knowing and speaking for himself, he was able to step back into mindfulness, and recognise the lion and understand that it was a part of him who could be very angry but had a job to do -  to protect the boy in him who went eek! It was a breakthrough for him to dis-identify from the lion, and recognise the scared little boy in him, it was trying to protect.

This immediate direct knowing and being for himself was so different from what happened to most of the children I worked with who were diagnosed by authorities who didn’t listen to them, so that the children felt alienated and judged and labelled from the outside, by someone who didn’t know them.

One of my favourite sayings from the Buddha is, ‘You can’t come to the end of suffering unless you come to the end of the world, but you can’t come to the end of the world by travelling’. 

What does this mean ?  I was flying somewhere, and my pen suddenly leaked all over my shirt. It had never done this before, and I was curious. ..

Buddhists say we construct our experience of reality moment by moment as we contact an object of the senses through a sense organ, whilst interpreting and shaping what we know through the lens of a perception. Perceptions - in this case  - objectified and reified my pen so that I believed it was an object out there, existing independently and belonging to me.

 Seeing the ink leak over my shirt, allowed me to recognise my pen did not exist independently as I  had thought. It was subject, like everything else, to a network of causes and conditions. In this case because the atmospheric pressure on the plane was different, it behaved differently.

It is astonishing how deeply humans construct perceptions of reality which they believe are real and exist independently. Take the perception ‘England’, for example, you cannot find ‘England’ anywhere; it does not exist. Nonetheless, people are deeply attached to their imagination of what it means, and are even willing to die for these abstractions.

 Ignorance in Buddhism means believing something exists separately; in order to penetrate our ignorance we need to recognise the preconceived assumptions we have which prevent us from seeing clearly.

Philosophers like David Chalmers have dubbed consciousness the hard problem - actually once you drop all the preconceived assumptions about what it is - it is obvious and simplicity itself. But you have to drop the deepest and often most unconscious assumptions - the most important of which is the belief in me as a separate entity, and the world as out there.

Western Science focuses on measuring the world we experience through our senses. Even when it uses instruments such as microscopes and telescopes, it  never gets outside of our senses. Scientists have been so wary of the biases, opinions and preconceived assumptions that the subjective is associated with, that they have forgotten their own knowing - they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Yet scientists plan their experiments in their minds, and know the data they produce with their own subjective knowing. 

Consequently, the conventional western paradigm of consciousness tries to explain it in terms of biochemical processes. A paradigm is a set of assumptions,  a set of crystallised perceptions, with which our own knowing can be so fused, we quite forget we are already looking through a point of view based on arbitrary assumptions. Because we have split off the subjective and only value the objective world, it appears devoid of being and meaning. We have enshrined the rational mind as the sole guide to what is true without beginning to understand its drastic limitations. It is not an accident that although western societies have been greatly enriched through the use of technology,  the level of distress and unhappiness in our societies has soared as a reflection of our alienation.

Anil Seth, the professor of neuroscience at the University of Sussex, where I went so many years ago, describes in his new book 'Being You' that scientists used to believe in principles like phlogiston – which was believed to be at the root of anything that burned - which gradually yielded to biological and chemical explanations. Consequently, he put aside any idea of explaining consciousness outside of biochemical reactions and from this arbitrary standpoint, claims that consciousness is a sophisticated way of predicting what's going to happen next.

It is true that it is profoundly challenging to take our own knowing seriously, to dare to explore the immediacy of consciousness outside of the paradigm of western science. It appears tricky - if you ask yourself - 

 who is saying my name ?  you can say myself, but the knowing jumps back before our attempt to objectify it. Do this now - say your name to yourself slowly and watch how it appears from nowhere and vanishes into nowhere. Who or what is knowing your name ? The second you try to grab this knowing it vanishes - it cannot be objectified.

 In the bible - actually I think it is originally an ancient Indian story - there is a parable of five blind men who are asked what an elephant is. One gets hold of its tail, and says it is like a rope, another gets hold of its ear and says it is like a leaf, another gets hold of its leg and says it is like a pillar, and so on. We end up with a series of attempts at grasping what the elephant is from the outside, but only succeed in reifying and objectifying parts of  the animal. 

But what is the whole elephant ?

 My experience of the social sciences and psychology is that in the absence of a theory of Mind, in the absence of recognising and understanding how crucial consciousness is - in the absence of an understanding of the whole elephant, they take up arbitrary standpoints, which grasp at consciousness from the outside. 

 RD Laing, in 'The Divided Self' says, “Even the same thing seen from different points of view, gives rise to two entirely different descriptions and the descriptions give rise to two entirely different theories, theories which result in two entirely different sorts of actions.”

Carlo Rovelli, an Italian quantum physicist writes that the long search for the ‘ultimate substance’ in physics has shipwrecked on the relational complexity of quantum theory, and that perhaps an ancient Indian Buddhist thinker - Nagarjuna - can provide the conceptual tools physics needs.

Many religious traditions have known for a long time that the truth of Being cannot be objectified - it can only be approached from the inside by diving into the direct immediacy of knowing.  ..

So how can we explore consciousness, in a way that honours our own knowing? As a baby we have what can perhaps be said to be an original innocence and since consciousness partly operates as a camera and as a tape recorder, we record impressions of who we are, and what the world is. 

 These impressions are structured around the belief that we exist as a separate entity formed in response to our parents. Consequently, as we come to adulthood, we find ourselves locked inside a whole mass of mental representations with which we are deeply identified. These pictures of ‘me’ are alienated from the direct immediacy of knowing. From here we imagine consciousness is just a function of the brain, and fail to explore it directly or take it seriously. 

Another way of putting this is that we learn to define, signify and regard ourself from the outside, through the lens of our mental representations. For example, I am a white English elderly psychotherapist, and I have learnt to see myself through these concepts.  I shall call this - after Almaas - conventional knowing.

Many Indian gurus such as Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi were very clear about what it takes to die to all the stories in one's mind about who one is and dive deep into the truth beyond the mind. Following Almaas - I shall call this basic knowing; this is simply being the direct and immediate knowing stripped as far as possible of all assumptions.

 I have had my own taste of this kind of diving into being the knowing and it may help you understand if I tell you some of my own experiences. Given that we are experiencing a psychedelic renaissance, it is worth stating that fifty years ago, I took some LSD. 

I should say LSD is a very volatile drug, and I am not recommending its use without great caution. Perhaps I was lucky: I remember blinking and swallowing and suddenly finding myself as no longer being the separate entity I had taken myself to be but inside the entire universe and utterly at ease. Aldous Huxley called this ‘Mind at Large’. 

I saw everything was the One Mind, and yet I could see how people were at the same time at cross purposes with themselves and fixated on the idea they are a separate entity, and from that place trying to resist the flow of life.  

Hubert Benoit says, “We are already here and now awakened but this truth is hidden from us because our normal habits and reactions are constantly at work, and they set up a vicious circle within us. Our rumination and inner monologue prevent us from awakening to our Buddha nature. We, therefore, believe we lack essential reality and so we are obliged to imagine in order to compensate for this illusory defect.

 I believe that I am separated from my own ‘being’ and I look for it to  reunite myself with it. Only knowing myself as a distinct separate individual, I look for the absolute as a distinct individual; and I want to affirm myself-absolutely-as-a-distinct-being, as being unique. This effort creates and maintains in me, at the level of phenomena, my divine fiction, my fundamental claim that I am omnipotent as an individual.”

 Later having discovered Zen, it seemed to describe the truth I had experienced: I did many Zen retreats and became locked into an all-consuming doubt about who I really am. After years of struggle, I came to an awakening on retreat about ten feet away from a famous Chinese monk – Master Sheng-Yen. It felt like I had fallen a long way and that I was everything and nothing. Everything was arising and passing away, out of and back into a silently shining mystery. 

The first words out of my mouth were: ’I can see! 

 The Chinese monk who began the meditation tradition I studied with: Master Rinzai, says:

“Followers of the Way, mind is without form and pervades the ten directions:

In the eye it is called seeing, 

in the ear it is called hearing. 

In the nose it smells odours, 

in the mouth it holds converse. 

In the hands it grasps and seizes,

in the feet it runs and carries. 

Fundamentally, it is one pure radiance; divided, it becomes the harmoniously united spheres of the senses. Since the mind is nonexistent, wherever you go, you are free.  ..”

This is not to ignore neurochemistry but to say the brain acts as a conduit for this mystery. MDMA for example may release serotonin and soften up the default mode network at the same time as allowing the mind to expand and know itself on a deeper level.

 So now we're going to do a brief exercise, one of the purposes of which is to begin to distinguish basic knowing from conventional knowing.  Almaas writes that “we need to become comfortable with not-knowing, we have to embrace not-knowing - not as a deficiency or a lack but as the manifestation of basic knowingness. Not-knowing is itself knowing. Otherwise what we experience will be the repetition of the same things we have known in the past and believe we know.”

The thoughts we have in our mind often contain all kinds of assumptions which are  unprovable or arbitrary. More importantly, we believe we are separate from the situation we are In.

 However, If we sense into our bodies, not think about them but directly know them we can begin to taste mindfulness, or basic knowing.  It is like putting your foot in the bath to check the temperature, thinking about it will not help, directly knowing and being fully in touch with the flow of sensations will.

To the extent we can do this without what the Heart Sutra calls 'thought coverings' we can begin to trust the knowing.

Exercise:  on sensing the right foot - see if you can fully sense into your foot, and know the temperature, and the weight and the shape of your foot directly. Without leaving your foot bring your consciousness into the right ankle, and th calf, the knee and up the right leg moving across to the palm of the right hand moving slowly at the top of the right arm jumping across to the top of the left arm going down the left arm down to the left hand then go into the left pelvis left buttocks left leg left foot.

 Seeing and hearing with the whole body: allow sounds to come to you; allow the world to come to you, rather than you going out after it. Receive the sounds of the work just as they are.

Open to all your physical sensations,  the feel of your clothes, the pressure of your chair, any physical tensions or discomfort in your body, then include all the thoughts and the feelings that are there. See how much you can allow yourself to open up to the way it is..

Rest in the field of everything you experience and then pose the question: ‘What experiences all this ?’ Do not try to answer the question just pose it and see what happens 

So this is the traditional way of aligning with our own knowing, of developing mindfulness, of learning to contemplate all that arises and passes away as changing conditions in nature. 

However, my first Zen teacher was very unusual in that she emphasised that the passions are the Buddha Nature. She did not emphasise teaching mindfulness because mindfulness is so easily contaminated by the mind, and turned into a mental activity which actually gets in the way of the depth of surrender and simplicity required for the spiritual eye to open. She emphasised facing the waves of our passions directly, suffering them out and allowing them to take us down into our ocean nature.

Whilst I was a novice Zen monk in Japan I had a dream of a ghost and an elephant. The elephant was under a concrete arch and covered in mud, but it had a golden Buddha in its trunk. I was looking through the eyes of the ghost and afraid of the power of the elephant. This dream was  a gift, a very difficult gift - a snapshot of how the infant me had split himself, turned to the outside, and taken his strength prisoner.

 I eventually discovered the teachings of A. H.Almaas. The very first words he ever said to my group were, ‘This is not an integration of the psychological and the spiritual, but a recognition they come from the same place.’

It was very helpful to me that Almaas is so clear that anger - which I had mistaken the power of the elephant for - is fundamentally the strength of true nature or the Buddha,

In order to know that the passion of anger is strength, it requires one to strip away all the storylines it has been associated with and simply experience its heat and power. 

If one  has the courage to do this, it gives one the strength to separate from being the child of our parents. As Almaas says it is like going from one star system to another star system to separate from our mother, and to stand on our own  two feet. In so doing we separate from all the identifications we have taken ourselves to be, and find ourself able to see clearly through the eyes of the Buddha.

 A.H.Almaas as he calls himself has published about 19 books and has evolved a form of inquiry which is about knowing and discriminating the truth of our experience. It often involves tuning in to the felt sense of the body. As we know the felt sense of the body immediately and directly, it is a doorway into deeper qualities of the heart, the will and the mind. This enquiry allows us to recognise and discriminate different implicit qualities of true nature.

For example, I have a cat who lies around in the most nonchalant fashion with all four legs in the air which to my somewhat harassed mind is utterly disarming. I find myself feeling this tender appreciation in my heart. If I sense into this directly it feels like a sweet tender appreciation. Very often we treat consciousness as a function so that we focus on the object we are knowing,  but fail to open up to the consciousness itself. In this case you can know the quality by being it directly – knowing yourself as tender appreciation. Almaas calls this quality of love the pink, because he directly experience its colour and taste, which he says is like candyfloss.

Some years ago I watched England play Sweden in the World Cup. We scored a goal, and I found myself along with the crowd experiencing a huge sense of expansion and joy. This is the subjective experience of winning, where the ego glimpses the unity of Life. Of course, the crowd attributed this sense of expansion and unification to the label England is winning.

 Durkheim, the French sociologist believed that  what he called the ‘collective effervescence’ of crowds, was responsible for the phenomena of religion.

 What if we turn this observation on its head, and see that we get a  glimpse of our true unity in feeling the power of the crowd, but misinterpret it because we see it through the lens of our identification with our nationality. You can see how easily patriotism  becomes a  mask for a collective narcissism. A society is also a set of assumptions, that we often uncritically identify with.

 Narcissism in this case means conflating our own entitled hopes and fears with the unconscious unity of the whole - then we see through the lens of an inflated ‘me’. There is a medical students’ joke -  but it happens to be also a very accurate observation - that “neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics live in them, and the psychiatrist collects the rent.”  The castle in the air functions as a kind of airbag that we identify with which keeps us separate and unable to be fully with reality as it is.

The inflated ‘me’ is actually very fragile because it isn’t real and is desperately trying to imitate our real self, and is terrified of being exposed. 

Hence it is frequently accompanied by an idealising transference in an attempt to shore itself up by leaning on others who are believed to be strong.

The fragile ‘me’ can also be shored up by looking outwardly for appreciation and validation in the mirroring transference. In this way we create images of ourself. We often project these idols onto a leader.  As John Calvin put it : ‘the heart is a perpetual idol factory’.

I often find clients may be touched by something but resist feeling how moved they are because they fear losing control.  If we  allow ourselves to lose control and cry, for example, we fall out of our minds and experience the crying directly as a powerful release - a wave that can take us back down into becoming one with the  ocean.

 It takes honesty and courage to feel disappointment, as we are dying to the entitled hopes we have been identified with, but as we do this, our hearts begin to expand and recover their capacity to love  again.  As Trungpa put it, ‘Disappointment is the chariot of the Dharma.’

If we stay with disapointment, we can feel sweetness in our own heart directly and immediately. This is very different from knowing oneself through the objectifying lens of the mind.

 As I work with clients, I find they have a vestigial awareness of this kind of love but rarely allow themselves to feel it fully and directly; one of my clients told me that he felt rosy towards his son and it took a few questions to help him really land in the depth of his love and tender appreciation for his son. Enquiry opens up the space to feel more and more deeply into what is true for you.

 So, this is a revolutionary way to begin to unpeel true nature using basic knowing.

I have found as a client in the world of psychotherapy that the only thing that seemed to heal me are moments of grace that soften up and infuse my ego structure.

 To give an example I had a client who took her needs prisoner as an adult and would only eat once a day. 

However she had a wonderful marriage with a man she loved dearly and who loved her deeply; unfortunately he died at the end of a long and painful illness.

 As we enquired, and as she could allow her sadness room to be felt  directly and immediately, so she could surrender the layers of defence, and feel the lack and longing in her heart.  As she stayed with this, love began to emerge in her heart and she could feel and know her own sweetness and tenderness.

The following exercise is an opportunity for you to pay attention to the felt sense of your body as you share an important moment in your life with someone else. Of course it is important for the one who listens to be simply present, and as open as possible, and allow yourself to be touched by the other person. Do not in any way offer criticism or judgement. 

 Share an important moment of your life in pairs and how it affected you. Take five minutes each. As you share, sense into your body and tune in the feelings that arise. See if you can open to the feeling and know the feeling by being it, rather than just looking at it through the lens of the story you are telling.

For example, one of the women in a group who did this exercise before talked about her anxiety before giving birth, however once she saw her baby she felt this delicious certainty that everything was right and it  moved all of us. 

Sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette…

Albert Low was a Zen master based in Canada, who I had the honour of corresponding with. His essay reprinted here cuts through so many of the dilemmas we are paralysed by in the modern world.

“So, what is it then?” We were sitting on the top deck of a London double-decker bus peering at a cigarette “Um, a cigarette,” she offered. We had only known each other for a short while, although she was destined to be my wife. At that moment, though, she no doubt wondered what she had got into. That was 1950, well before cigarettes were linked so clearly with cancer and I usually had a cigarette between my fingers. “That’s the name we have given to it,” I said. “Beyond the name, what is it? For example, one could say it is something white. But, science tells us, whiteness is what it is not. Whiteness is the result of light waves that have been reflected by the cigarette. It’s similar with weight and smell. Weight comes from the pull of gravity. The smell comes from molecules that are no longer connected with it in any way.” I repeated, “So what is it in itself?” We both looked somewhat glumly at the cigarette. I had only just encountered the question, which was really the question “What is reality?” and I was fascinated by it. The fascination has persisted throughout my life.

“What is reality?” has not just been an intellectual question for me. Several experiences I have had have shown that what we call reality is provisional, tentative. Probably the first of these occurred when I was about seven or eight years old. I had two precognitive dreams in fairly quick succession. Although many of the questions that life has posed have been put to rest, how one can possibly foretell the future, not in some vague way, but with specific detail, has remained a mystery for me. Given that they were authentic, and I have no doubt in my own mind that they were, then precognitive dreams show that reality must be quite other than we normally believe.

One of the dreams was about a propelling pencil that my grandfather had given me. I lost the pencil. Then I had the dream. In the dream a ginger haired boy passed the pencil through the wire mesh of the fence that surrounded the school that I attended. I recognized the boy in the dream; he lived opposite the school. A few days later the boy with ginger hair who lived opposite the school passed the pencil to me through the wire mesh of the school fence. A writer, J.W.Dunne, an early aeronautical engineer, wrote several books on the subject of precognitive dreams. One was called An Experiment with Time in which he tries to account for them. He had a number of them himself and had collected examples of these dreams from other people. It was after reading that book that I really wondered about them.

Another experience, a pivotal one, has been at the origin of most of what I have thought about during the rest of my life. It occurred in 1957 when I was on a ranch in the northern Transvaal, in South Africa. I had gone there, with Jean and our young daughter, to study for a degree. I was studying with the University of South Africa by a correspondence course. We lived in a partially completed house with a thatched roof, without electricity, phone or cooking facilities, and we had no car. Jean cooked on an open fire in the courtyard surrounding the house. Our nearest neighbor was six miles away and the nearest town 12 miles distant, although there was a Poste Restante about six miles away. Mail for the surrounding area was delivered there, and it was open twice a week for people to collect mail. I went there each time it was open to pick up and drop off assignments and books, doing the 12-mile round trip on foot. The area was a semi desert and only tough grass and stunted trees could grow there. The ranch was located in a hollow surrounded on all sides by low hills, and a strange but peaceful silence pervaded the whole area. It was an ideal place for deep meditation.

I was studying philosophy and psychology as main subjects, and at the time of the experience I was studying Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Kant too had evidently been fascinated by the question ‘what is reality?’ and he broaches the subject in that book. He says that what we know is the phenomenal world and this is a mixture of mental categories and sense perceptions. The categories act as a kind of mould that determines the shape, so to say, of our experience. But, he says, a noumenal world lies beyond the phenomenal world. The noumenal world moreover cannot be known. It is not simply unknown, but unknowable. The cigarette that I see is a collection of sense perceptions: whiteness, acrid smell, light weight and so on, molded by categories of time, space, causation and unity. But beyond this world that I perceive lies the noumenal world.

What he said resonated with me. The two most common philosophical answers to the question ‘What is it?’ are naive realism and idealism, and I felt that both were unsatisfactory. Naive realism denies any kind of mystery. A cigarette, a naïve realist says, is a cigarette and all questioning of that fact comes from an overwrought mind. Naïve realism is the common sense view of things. If we see a bus coming toward us, we step out of its way as fast as we can. The idealist says that all that we can know of the cigarette is what we know of it. This may seem tautological but it is not really so. For the naive realist the world is there and then I see it. For the idealist the seeing comes first and what I see is contingent. Both of these views are logically irrefutable and mutually exclusive. Now Kant comes along with a third view. His categories acknowledge the part played by the subject, and the sense perceptions acknowledge the part played by the object. But they both ‘come out of’ the noumenal world.

That the noumenal world is neither a sense perception nor a category means that it cannot be known. This created a problem for me that could be roughly stated as, ‘How is it possible to talk about what cannot be known?’ This is not quite the problem and it could also be stated, ‘How is it possible to know what cannot be known,’ or even, ‘How do we know we do not know.’ I am vague about the question because, in a way, it just cannot be formulated. In Zen Buddhism this same question became stylized into ‘What is Buddha?’ or ‘Why did Bodhidharma (the first Zen Patriarch) come to the West?’ The question was formalized in this way because, although very real, it is beyond the reach of the conceptual mind, and comes out of the nature of human existence itself.

I wandered around in something of a daze locked into this question that could not really be formulated, and so could not be answered, or at least could not be answered conceptually in a clear and distinct fashion. Suddenly everything became clear, in a moment of lightning insight. The nearest that I can come to saying what was revealed is that I am at the center and at the periphery of the world at the same time. How this related to my original puzzlement was not at the time either clear or important.   For several months afterwards I lived in a clarity and lack of concern, even though I was stricken by tick bite fever, and was harassed by a number of other difficulties, not the least of which was finding a job. As luck would have it the onset of the illness coincided with our decision to return to Johannesburg. In spite of this attack of tick bite fever, and of the difficulty in finding work that I had after I recovered, my sense of freedom and clarity persisted.

Since that moment of clarity I have been trying to communicate the import of what I saw. I have only very recently, forty-five years later, seen the connection between the way I formulated the insight: ‘me-as-center/me-as-periphery’ and the Kantian account of the noumenon. However what I saw on that ranch revolutionized my whole way of thinking and it eventually drove me to practice Zen.

I will try to elaborate on what I saw that day, but must warn you that the exposition may not be easy to follow. The main difficulty comes from the fact that what I want to talk about lies upstream of consciousness. Indeed I am firmly convinced through my own experience and by the teaching of Buddhism, that what we call ‘I’ and ‘consciousness’ have evolved as buffers, so to speak, against its implications. This means that it is pre-verbal. It is also prior to logic. One of the main outcomes of this experience is that I have had to evolve a new logic to talk about it and its consequences. I call this logic the logic of ambiguity. Another difficulty in talking about this experience is that our civilization has almost lost sight of the importance of the dynamic center.   Some writers, such as Rudolph Arnheim, on art, Zuckerkandl on music, Jung on psychology, and above all Mircea Eliade on mythology, have recognized its importance but in a limited way.

Let me start by talking about the dynamic center as indeed ‘conscious’ life begins with it. I put the word ‘conscious’ in parenthesis as I use it provisionally for the moment. I will need to refine my vocabulary as we go on. Each sentient being is a dynamic center, a viewpoint. This means that you, the reader, are a viewpoint. If you were to be on an ocean liner far out to sea, or were in the midst of the prairies, you would understand immediately what I mean by saying also that you are a dynamic center. It would seem as though the whole world were a vast plate and you were at the center of this plate.

A soccer match can illustrate the difference between a dynamic center and a geometric center. The geometric center is marked on the field and is at the center of a central circle, which is equidistant from the two goals. This geometric center is fixed. The dynamic center is the ball. The center of gravity of the game is always in the ball. When the ball goes out of play a certain kind of tension leaves the field, which only returns when the ball is back in play. The dynamic center therefore moves around the field and a field of power surrounds the ball, which diminishes as one moves away from the ball.

When I say that you are at the center of the sphere, however, I am only giving half the story. The other half shows itself most clearly when you are with another person, particularly if you are also looking her or him in the eyes. Now, instead of being simply at the center of the world looking out at it, you are also looked at by another center of the world to which you are peripheral. In other words, you are simultaneously at the center and at the periphery.

Most people, under normal circumstances, find that they get somewhat tense if they look another in the eyes. Good manners dictate that one does not stare at another, but rather that one looks into his or her eyes and then looks away, then back again and so on. Sometimes one is even forbidden to look into the other’s eyes. For example, when I was at boot camp as a sailor in the British navy the petty officer would yell, “Don’t eyeball me sailor!” if one inadvertently looked him in the eye. This is done because the one who looks is in the position of power and the petty officer knew that he alone must have the power. Sometimes a contest will arise between people in which one tries to stare down the other and so determine who is the most powerful. Boxers for example will lock eyes while touching gloves before a fight begins, and the fight may well be determined at that moment. Macho men will often wear sunglasses, even though the sun is absent, because in this way they can look, but not be looked at in the eye. What all this illustrates is that only one dynamic center is possible at a time. If two dynamic centers arise, and one will not yield to the other, then tension and even a fight will follow.

This encounter with another simply illustrates what I mean by me-as-center/me-as-periphery. My tension is not caused by the existence of the other, but is triggered by him. He triggers the tension, which lies dormant within me, a tension that arises because ‘me,’ the viewpoint, is divided in itself: me-as-center/me-as-periphery. This means that the original conflict is not between him and me, but within me, the viewpoint itself. The viewpoint is at the very source of my entry into the world, and so this schism or wound is at the very heart of my being. The viewpoint is the center, but the viewpoint sees itself as the center and in this way it is at the periphery of itself. This is often referred to as awareness of awareness, which, as most people know, is the basis of consciousness. The ancients depicted this as the oroboros, a snake that swallows its own tail. However, the situation is more complicated than this picture will allow as it cannot be determined which is the head and which the tail of the snake.

Is there any evidence to support what I am saying? I think that all kinds of evidence exists. For example, many different organisms– caterpillars, moths, frogs, and insects, fish — have false staring eyes “painted” on their bodies. These false eyes are perceived as threatening by would be predators, and this gives the organism a greater chance of surviving. However the eyes themselves have no power; they are simply patches of color in the shape of an eye. The power is derived from the conflict within the predator. Staring eyes are a cliché in horror movies and are used to evoke terror. The camera will suddenly switch to the staring eyes of a doll or a cat or a blind man. This will cause the audience to experience a thrill of horror, although the ‘eyes’ are no more than shadows thrown onto a screen. Again they just awaken the schism dormant upstream of the conscious mind.

Because they do not create the fear but only trigger it, the eyes do not necessarily have to be physically present. You can have the feeling that another is watching you even though you cannot see another. You may have this feeling when alone in a strange house at night, a feeling that is often accompanied by frissons of fear. This ‘feeling’ of another being present is a very well known mystical phenomenon and many accounts of it are available. Perhaps one of the most famous is Saul’s encounter with Christ on the way to Damascus. Other accounts are given of people having a near death experience during which they ‘meet’ a being of light, which, depending on their religion they might call Christ, Buddha, Krishna or even God.

Frank Tipler, a physicist, suggests that computers will one day be perceived as being alive. He gives the following criteria by which you will tell if a machine is alive, and in doing so he follows the lead of Alan Turing, one of the early pioneers of the computer. He says, “if you talk to the machine – really talk to it, carry on a conversation with it just as you would with another normal human [sic] being – then the machine is intelligent. If after interacting for years with the machine it acts as if it has a personality, has consciousness, (and a conscience), then it really does.” But of course any young child could have told him that. The young girl nurses her doll, talks to it, feeds it and for her it is alive. One only has to remember the cartoon characters Calvin and Hobbes. But no sane adult will agree with the child. Is the child then mad? No, no more mad than Tipler. In both cases the other that they encounter is not the machine or the doll but the other half of ‘me-as-center/me-as-periphery.’

All of this suggests that the other is not ‘out there,’ but the other half, so to say, of ‘me.’ I am not suggesting for a moment that the other is a product of my imagination or consciousness or anything like that. You and me come into existence at the same time; neither is dependent upon the other, both are equally ‘real,’ but neither is dependent upon being ‘something’ — a body, soul or spirit — to exist. Many people have difficulty with this idea because they are convinced that they are an isolated ‘something’ in a world that is simply a collection of somethings. Many go further to believe that they are simply the body and all that happens — imagination, thought, feeling and so on — are but movements of matter. Others believe that they are a unique, independent soul. If any of these hear that the other is but the other half of the self then they immediately construe it to mean that the other is simply a product of my imagination and that I am condemning everyone to some kind of solipsistic isolation. On the contrary, what I am saying is a refutation of solipsism.

Another objection that may be raised is that looking another in the eyes, or the encounter with the other in a mystical encounter, does not necessarily create tension, but, on the contrary, may generate powerful feelings of love. Everyone knows that looking into the eyes of the one whom one loves arouses the feeling of love. Many love songs tell us about this. Furthermore the mystical presence of the other often brings very powerful feelings of love, feelings that are much more intense than the secular love that we feel for another human being.

This means that the context within which the ‘encounter’ occurs is important. The same situation in two different contexts can provoke two entirely different reactions. But then is it not well known that love can turn easily into hate and hate into love? Not unusually, a mystic, after a period of intense ecstatic communion with the other, falls into deep anguish. The 5th century mystic of Ireland, St Anthony is an example of this.

At the time I had the experience I was not able to make sense of it in the way that I have written above. I knew at the deepest level that what I had seen into was of immense importance but it has only been after years of reflection and an intense meditation practice that it has come to be conceptually meaningful.

The next step in the evolution of my thinking came about seven years later. By this time I was living with my family in Ontario, Canada. We had left South Africa in 1963 because of the political situation. This was the time of the Sharpeville massacre and the treason trials and the trials of Nelson Mandela when he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. In Canada I was working for a Utility company in Southwest Ontario and had the responsibility to set up wage scales for the Company. In order to get ready for the task I read up on the latest literature about the subject and came across the work of Elliot Jacques.

Jacques was originally from Montreal and had graduated from McGill as a MD. He had gone on to Harvard and obtained a doctorate in social science and then went to England to work with the Freudian analyst, Melanie Klein. After the 39-45 war he joined the Tavistock Institute and was part of a team that researched ways to ease the transition from a wartime to a peacetime economy. He went to the Glacier Metal Industry and worked with the CEO, Wilfred Brown, who had been first made CEO at the age of` 33. The result of this partnership was quite remarkable. Brown was eventually made a peer of the realm for his contribution to British industry. The work that Jacques and Brown did attracted so much attention that in order to cope with it they set up the Glacier Institute of Management, which eventually became internationally famous.

I discovered that Jacques and Brown were to conduct a seminar at Illinois University and attended the seminar together with my boss and another VP. During the seminar I had what one might call a psychological subterranean explosion. On the surface nothing seemed to have changed, but then I found that I was thinking quite differently about a company, what a company is, as well as about other things that had puzzled me. For the next nine months I struggled to make sense of this. Eventually I sent what I had written to J.G.Bennet and he published a synopsis of it under the title of Systematics of a Business organization, in a journal called Systematics that he published at his Institute at Coombe Springs, England. This was later expanded and became the basis of my book “Zen and Creative Management.”

Bennett was quite a remarkable man. He spoke many languages. He was a philosopher and a mathematician. He was also a student of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. The Institute at Coombe Springs was originally dedicated to teaching Gurdjieff’s methods and thoughts, but Bennett extended the scope of the Institute later in his life. I had first encountered Gurdjieff’s work in 1949 when I read In Search Of the Miraculous written by P.D.Ouspensky. The work of these three men has influenced me very profoundly. The part that is particularly germane to what I am saying now is Gurdjieff’s teaching of the ‘cosmos’ and eneagram, and Bennett’s adaptation of this in Systematics, which he wrote about extensively in vol. 3 of his work that he called The Dramatic Universe.

Another writer whose work I have admired was Arthur Koestler. I had read his book The Act of Creation not long before going to Illinois. At Jacques’ seminar, Koestler’s definition of the act of creation, Jacques definition of work, Bennett’s Systematics and my own insight that we are the center and periphery simultaneously suddenly coalesced in my mind, although, as I have said, it took awhile before the result of this coalescence could be articulated.

I cannot give a full account of all that this implied. The books that I have written since, with the exception of An Invitation to practice Zen, are dedicated to clarifying the implications of this. What came to me was not simply a new view on the organization of a company but an insight into the nature and process of life itself. I saw particularly that creativity was basic to life, but it has taken years for me to grasp what this means.

The bare bones of what was revealed are the following. Jacques defined work as the exercise of discretion within limits in order to produce a result. Koestler said that creativity arises when a single situation or idea is perceived in ‘two self-consistent but habitually incompatible frames of reference. I saw that Jacques’ definition of work falls within Koestler’s definition of creativity. Jacques said that the most basic limits are cost and quality. Thus on the one hand quality must be the highest possible, but the costs must be kept as low as possible. The two limits are incompatible. But Jacques’ definition of work also transformed my understanding of creativity, because it shows that creativity always occurs within limits; it is not simply an arbitrary happening.

At a deeper level still we can see, using the same insight, that our life itself is an on going creative process. The two most basic incompatible frames of reference of Koestler’s definition of creativity are me-as-center/me-as-periphery. These are also the limits within which subsequent creativity will occur. Because each of us is an individual, that which cannot be divided, each of us is a single force that arises in these two incompatible frames of reference. No entity is involved. The individual, me, is a viewpoint, something that is happening, not something that ‘is.’ Individuality is also not ‘something,’ and later I came to see that individuality comes out of a basic ‘dynamic unity.’ This means that each of us is creativity, a symphony that is unfolding, a creation in process. If we prefer to use Jacques’ definition of work, then we are work in process; the limits are the same incompatible frames of reference, me-as-center/me-as-periphery. But what is the product or result that is being created or produced by this work?

Let me put what I have said in a slightly different way. As an individual I am single; as a viewpoint I am divided against myself. I am one yet two. The Sufis call this the unoambus. All our joys and agonies arise from this impossibility for the following reason. I pointed out that when two men look each other in the eye a contest is likely to break out about who is the dynamic center, who has the position of power. If they are equally matched and if neither can give way to the other, then the contest is likely to escalate into a fight. The fight could be a fight to mutual destruction. In the divided viewpoint two equally matched centers arise, neither of which can give way to the other because both are ‘me.’ Me, the center, is the same me that is periphery. But, in that they are both me, which me is the center and which periphery? This is as though you were the actor on the stage and a member of the audience at the same time. The upshot is that me is in contest with me for dominance. This leads to a vicious circle and the various emotions arise out of this vicious circle.

We are all aware of what this means. We become anxious. We then get anxious about being anxious. This builds up until we begin to panic because we are so anxious and then we panic because we are panicking. Or we are angry. We get angry about being angry. This builds up until we are in a rage about being angry and then in a rage about being in a rage. The same cycle can be found to exist for depression and for joy. The emotion comes from me separating myself from myself. We have the expression “I was beside myself with anger, or anxiety or fear” and so on.

An opposite cycle builds up with love. In love we yield the center to the other, while the other yields the center to me. This encourages me to yield further, encouraging the other to yield further and so the love increases in intensity. Whereas the first cycle leads to the feeling of me being swallowed by me, in love the feeling is of me becoming one with me. Mystical states, the feeling of a beloved being present and of a loving light, or a being of light as it is also called, being present can be understood in this way.

A moment ago I said that we are work in process and then I asked what is the product or result created or produced by this work? Just after the Jacques seminar I saw that a product is an idea in a form with a demand.   This perception itself was a creative leap.

At that time management by objectives was the managerial mantra, and it seemed to me that this was very much management by pie in the sky. If work really was the exercise of discretion within limits to produce a result, the result is a product. This meant that each role in the company was there to produce a specific product or number of products that would be in demand by other parts of the company and eventually by the company product. This also meant that the way roles interacted within a company could be clearly defined according to the product of a role and its relation to that part of the company that needed the product.   This offered a new way of looking at a company, which among other things would supercede the old staff-line way of seeing a company.

But it also offered an answer to the question, “What is being created by the work in process that I call my life?”

Before I explain what I mean by this let me repeat, creativity arises when a single idea brings about a resolution of the tension inherent in two incompatible frames of reference. The resolution takes the form of a new unity. Perhaps the best illustration of the tension being resolved in a creative act is given in humor, because we are all familiar with the explosion of laughter that often accompanies a joke. The following joke gives an example of what I mean:

Two hunters were out hunting and one of them suddenly collapsed. The other, fearing his friend had died, took out his cellphone and, in a panic, called 911. The operator, wanting to get some control over the situation said, “Look, please calm down. Just make sure that your friend is indeed dead.” There was silence on the line for a few minutes. The operator heard a shot and then the caller said, “Right, what’s next?”

“Just make sure that your friend is indeed dead” can be understood in two entirely different and incompatible ways. As each way has equal call on us we are faced with two incompatible frames of reference in which we have to find a single understanding. In a joke the tension is released in laughter. Many doctors recognize the curative power of laughter because the release may not simply be the release of the tension induced by the two incompatible statements, but the release could be of tension induced at a much deeper level, the level of me-as-center/me-as-periphery. This tension in the extreme can be felt as terror, horror, uncontrollable rage and so on. Most frequently however the tension is controlled and we feel it as a grumbling sense of dissatisfaction, remote emotional pain, a feeling that something valuable escapes us.

The control that I speak of is maintained by the ‘product’ that arises from the creative tension generated by the basic wound. We call the product that is created the ‘self,’ ‘personality,’ ‘experience,’ ‘I’ and so on. Furthermore, with the aid of language, consciousness evolves, and the threat from the basic schism is controlled even more. This is why I said earlier that ‘I’ and ‘consciousness’ are buffers protecting us from anguish. But they are also creations.

Nevertheless the threat, although under control, remains. Periodically the stability of the ego is shaken and anxiety, anger, depression or fear asserts itself again. Buddha said that life is suffering and the word he used for suffering was duhkha, dualism, twoness.

Me-as center /me-as-periphery can therefore be understood not only as the cause of suffering but also as the basis for the creativity of life. One can see how far life is from being a mechanical process, and how far organisms, including human beings, are from being simply machines. One can see that life is essentially an ongoing creative process and organisms themselves are essentially creativity.

One aspect of the product ‘I’, or what is known pejoratively as ‘ego,’ must be mentioned because it plays such a dominant role in our lives. Each viewpoint sees itself as unique, special, apart and superior. The famous saying that comes from Yorkshire, England, sums it up well. “All the world’s a bit queer except thee and me. But sometimes I’m not too sure about thee.” Evidence for saying that each viewpoint sees itself as unique abounds. Nationalism, competition in industry, in sports, in fashions, in academia, as well as the need to be the first or the only one are examples of what I mean. The Guinness book of records tells of the extent to which we will go to be the first in something, unique in some way. That periodically we come to the brink of destroying the world shows how important it is for each of us to feel that he or she is unique, the only one. The reason for this is obvious. We are individual, One. We suffer because we are divided against ourselves. We seek to overcome the suffering by discovering a new unity, uniqueness.

That I am unique is not enough. I must be known to be unique by others. In other words the product must have a demand, it must be linked into a wider context, which in a company is called a market. We look for praise, acknowledgment, and recognition. We seek after certificates, honors, degrees, medals, and rank. We also invest this uniqueness in a flag, a country, another person, an ideology, or what have you, and then claim that country, flag, ideology and even ‘the Fuhrer’ to be ‘mine.’

I met Jacques and Brown at Illinois in the spring of 1965 and for the following year I was struggling with what I had seen into. It was during this year that I wrote The Systematics of a Business Organization and that I started talking to the management of the company about these ideas and trying to find some way to use them in practice. I received great encouragement from the president of the company to whom I had given an outpouring of thoughts and ideas that lasted over an hour. I don’t think he understood much of what I was talking about, but he obviously was infected by my enthusiasm and encouraged me to talk to the rest of management. I was to do this for the next six years on and off with varying degrees of success.

In the autumn of 1966 Jean and I met the Japanese Zen master, Yasutani roshi and we began formal Zen training. I had been sitting in meditation regularly since the spring of 1964 and even before that had sat in a desultory fashion since 1961. The encounter with Yasutani had a dramatic effect on my health and on me. My blood pressure shot up and I was to suffer long periods of insomnia and my life became a constant struggle with anxiety. I had no doubt that in Yasutani and in the practice of Zen I had found what I had sought for years so ardently. I remember the sheer elation that I felt after attending a weekend workshop with Yasutani at a holiday resort that was rented north of Toronto. We followed this with a four-day retreat near Rochester, New York. We then became members of the Rochester Zen Center where we practiced for the next twenty years, and for three of these we were residents at the Center. Yet with my meeting with Yasutani it was as though a dam had burst and I had difficulty keeping everything in balance. Fortunately I had an understanding wife, three bright children and a challenging job, all of which anchored me solidly to the ground. I continued working on the ideas of organization and Jean and I did three hours of meditation a day: two in the morning and one in the evening.

Unfortunately, for him but also for me in a far less terrible way, the president of the company where I was working contracted Parkinson’s disease and was forced to retire. His replacement was a much younger man who was full of ideas on how to modernize the company. He did not agree with what I was doing and felt that it was more suited to a university and stopped all of the work I had undertaken. This was in 1972.   I then decided that I would have to leave the business world and do something to promote Zen.

I started to write a book, although I did not feel that I had really resolved the practical issues of the theory. I had seen that the principal products that most people made within a company, certainly those at the supervisory and foreman levels and above, are decisions, and the company therefore is a network of decisions. I tried to come up with decision tables to show how this network was linked. This was a very crude idea but the new president did not give me the time to refine it into something more worthwhile. Had personal computers been as available as they are today, I think I could even so have made something worthwhile of the theory. We were working with IBM 360’s and it took two to three days to get documents processed, documents that these days would be processed in two to three seconds.

Another big obstacle to a decent theory of management and organization is that a company is not simply a decision making structure, which would be dependent upon a structure of perceived authority. It is also a power structure. Authority is exercised within limits and is a property of the role, whereas power has uncertain limits and is a property of the person exercising it. Whereas the decision structure is ultimately centered upon the company product, the power structure is centered on particular individuals and the relation that these have with other centers of power in the company. I could see that a whole new kind of research would have to be conducted to determine whether ways could be found to identify the power structure, and then perhaps to limit its deleterious effects on the decision structure.

On a retreat at Rochester in December of 1974 I came to awakening. This eliminated in one stroke the anxiety and oppression with which my life had been encumbered for so long. I had a freedom of spirit that could have hardly been imagined possible just days before the awakening. My understanding of course also underwent a further development.

One of the first things that became evident was that things are ‘empty.’ One metaphor that is used in Zen to explain what this means is the metaphor of the mirror. We see reflections in the mirror; we do not usually see the mirror. Analogously the world is the reflections; the mirror is the ‘knowing.’ We usually say, “The sun is shining” or “the house is over there,” or “the flowers are blooming.” In other words we make statements about the world and imply by those statements that the world is separate from us, ‘over there’ so to say. Science is based on this belief in the independence of the world. This is the objectivity of science as well as the objectivity of naïve realism.

However the statement ‘the sun is shining’ is a shorthand statement, and is really incomplete because we ignore the ‘mirror.’ The full statement should be ‘I know the sun is shining.’ ‘I know the flowers are blooming.’ And so on. The ‘I know’ is usually dropped because it is taken for granted, and it is taken for granted because the ‘I know’ is always the same, always constant. Earlier, when speaking of the naïve realist and the idealist, I said that as a naive realist I would believe that the world is there and then I see it. As an idealist I would believe that the seeing comes first and what I see is contingent. Both of these views are logically irrefutable and mutually exclusive. Using the language that I have now introduced I could say that for the naïve realist ‘[I know] the sun is shining’ would be ‘I know [the sun is shining]’ for the idealist. Each would claim that what is in the brackets is dependent upon what is not. In truth each part, the knowing and what is known, is equally important; neither is more dependent than the other.   This means that contrary to scientific objectivity, knowing is as important as what is known. Knowing is not, in other words, derived from matter however complex the matter might be, because matter is what is known. Quantum mechanics acknowledges the equal importance of the observer and the observed, although a number of scientists object to this and feel that to admit that they have equal status indicates a shortcoming in the theory and not a fact that must be taken into account.

One could refer to a realm of being. This is the realm where everything is. Rocks, trees, fields, mountains, houses, roads, cars, all ‘are.’ However the realm of being is not the only realm. Another, equally important, realm is the realm of knowing. If the realm of being is the objective realm, the realm of knowing is the subjective realm. Science looks askance at subjectivity. Part of the reason for this dislike is that the word ‘subjective’ is ambiguous, as is the word ‘objective’. Subjectivity can mean colored by my desires, hopes, fears, prejudices and so on. But it can also mean belonging to the realm of knowing. Objectivity likewise can mean not colored by my hopes, fears, etc, or belonging to the realm of being.

Yet even so, to get some scientists to accept that the subjective and the objective have equal validity is very difficult. As I said, many physicists object to the notion that in quantum mechanics an observer is as essential as what is observed, and they still make great efforts to eliminate the need for the observer in the equation. In the field of evolution also the lengths that biologists go to to exclude knowing from the study is extraordinary. Neurologists who study the brain and mental processes perform the same mental gyrations. Many scientists now take it for granted that knowing, or what is more generally called the ‘mind,’ is the result of the complexity of matter. Researchers in the study of artificial intelligence also take for granted that once computers are sufficiently complex, ‘consciousness’ will emerge.

Not only do knowing and being have equal status, but also one cannot have the one without the other. Although one does not have to know something to be, or be something to know, nevertheless knowing and being are inseparable as knowing/being. In Zen this is summed up in a famous statement: “form is only emptiness /emptiness only form.” At the level of experience this means that the world and I are one. Zen master Bassui put it this way, “The universe and you are of the same root, you and every single thing are a unity. The gurgle of the stream and the sigh of the wind are the voices of the master. The green of pine, the white of snow, these are the colors of the master, the very one who lifts the hands, moves the legs, sees, hears. The One who grasps this directly without recourse to reason or intellection can be said to have some degree of inner realization.”

One wonders why scientists fight so hard and deny knowing, or subjectivity, at all costs. One only has to read the absurd excesses of so called evolutionary psychology to realize how this denial is pushing us away from scientific integrity into the realm of ideology.

The reason for all this, apart from the confusion about the word subjective, is that the realm of knowing and the realm of being are two incompatible realms. This means that according to the principle of the excluded middle of classical logic either knowing is dependent on being or being is dependent upon knowing; hence the two schools of philosophy, — idealism and realism.

At the time of awakening I had no inclination to subject emptiness and its implications to any kind of analysis. I was more aware of the freedom and openness that accompanied it. But later I wondered about emptiness and how it could be understood in Western terms.

In 1976 I finally left the company and, our three children having left home by then, Jean and I went to Rochester to live at the Zen Center. We stayed there for three years and lived a semi monastic life. However each person had a job to do and for most of the time I acted as editor to the Rochester journal, while Jean was in charge of the sewing room, making cushions and robes.

During my stay at Rochester I had another breakthrough. It occurred half way through a seven-day retreat. I saw all is One. I know how corny that sounds. All is One is a New Age mantra. It was also a mantra of the German Idealists and has a long history of effete philosophy. But for me it was not a philosophy. I looked at everything in wonder. Everything was it; everything was the one. I remembered reading Plotinus saying, “It is by the One that all beings are beings. (If) not a one, a thing is not. No army, no choir, no flock exists except that it be one. No house, even, or ship exists except as the one.” I knew that he and I were saying the same thing. But how to convey what I had seen?

It so happened that I was invited to give a talk at an art school in New York shortly after this breakthrough. At the time it was so obvious to me that I felt all that I had to do was say to people, “Everything is the One; all is one and One is all!” and they would immediately understand. I know that that may well sound naïve, but what I had to say was, and still is, so obvious, but so very important, that I tried to say it in various ways to a group of about fifty young and eager people. I could see that after a very short while I was losing them. They became restless; they started to look at one another. Those at the back started to creep away, and within an hour I had lost at least half my audience and thoroughly confused the other half. What I wanted to say is too obvious, too simple. Gradually I have come to realize that this is true of all that is worthwhile saying and I have grown to have great respect and admiration for the old Zen Masters with their mondos [dialogues] and koans. These are ingenious methods by which one is able to speak about the unspeakable, think about the unthinkable.

Once one sees that everything is the One, not in an abstract theoretical way but concretely and immediately, it becomes obvious that oneness is not simply what is left after all the other qualities have been drained away, it is not an empty concept but a dynamic power, or, rather, the dynamic power.

About 1980 I first began to feel that we had to find a way out of the limitations imposed by classical logic. I had read Korzybski’s book Science and Sanity a long time ago and had been aware of his objections to classical logic. He saw quite clearly that the map was not the territory, that the word is not the thing.   He saw too what Bergson had seen: that things do not change; things are change. The principle of identity, A =A obscures this truth. It gives the appearance of there being static things – things that change into other things, and other things that cause the change

Classical logic refuses to recognize ambiguity, declaring it to be a failure of thought. Classical logic, dependent as it is upon clear and distinct ideas, demands that one datum has one concept: X is either A or not-A. However our thinking is plagued by dichotomies brought about by this either/or kind of thinking. ‘Knowing or being’ is the most basic of these dichotomies, with its better-known variant of ‘mind or body’. But some of the others that haunt our thinking are ‘nature or nurture,’ ‘structure or function,’ ‘reductionism or holism,’ ‘mechanism or vitalism,’

Before going on, let me be clear about what I mean by ‘ambiguity.’ I do not mean vague. Ambiguous is often used to mean unclear, vague, and not immediately obvious. For example, one is walking in a wood at night and ambiguous shapes and shadows surround one. I do not mean this kind of ambiguity. The word ambiguous is derived from the word ambi that means two: ambidextrous, ambivalent are two other uses of ambi.

Being and knowing are ambiguous. One could define knowing as that which is not being, and being as that which is not knowing. But if you do not have being you cannot have knowing; if you do not have knowing you cannot have being. The unity from which they are derived is the unknowable dynamic unity that I referred to above. Likewise me-as-center/me-as-periphery are ambiguous. The unity from which they are derived is the viewpoint ‘me’ and the viewpoint is dynamic unity in action.

The logic of ambiguity is the logic of creativity. Because classical logic cannot take account of creativity, it will necessarily follow that those for whom classical logic is the only possible logic will favor mechanism over vitalism. This tendency will be enhanced by another tendency that also follows from classical logic, and that is the tendency towards reductionism. Reductionism is a necessary consequence of the need for clear and distinct ideas, that is, one concept for one datum. If life is essentially creative, then as long as we only have classical logic we can never have an adequate scientific theory of living organisms and their evolution.

I am not rejecting classical logic, just saying it should not be regarded as the only possible logic. On the one hand modern technology, including the amazing advances that have been made recently in computer science and artificial intelligence, and, on the other, the long history of use of classical logic in philosophy, theology and science in general, give proof of its extraordinary heuristic value.

Science has many references to Unity or Oneness as a cohering principle. When Einstein said that God does not play dice, he was not, I believe referring to the God of the Catholic Church but to this principle of unity that pervades everything. The very word ‘universe’, whose etymology means ‘turning to the One’ is itself evidence of how deep this intuition of an all embracing unity is. The world’s religions and philosophies too abound with references to the One.

In addition to this ‘inclusive unity,’ is the exclusive unity of the law of identity. If the ultimate of the all-embracing unity is the Universe, then the ultimate of the exclusive unity is the dimensionless point or singularity. Both the inclusive and exclusive unity are the one. So which is the one? Again we encounter ambiguity.

Unity is unity, how can it possibly be ambiguous? This objection comes from those who believe that everything can in principle be explained and understood. Logically, and that of course means according to classical logic, Oneness cannot be two. But logic aside, existentially one cannot possibly be two. Although impossible, yet it is so. The creativity of unity explodes out of that very impossibility. Exclusive and inclusive unity are mutually exclusive and incompatible. The unity of which I speak is dynamic, vibrant and creative. Yet we are talking about unity and we see in this the original application of Koestler’s definition of creativity. One is the single idea, the exclusive one and the inclusive one are the two incompatible frames of reference.   This seems like a variation of the old physics conundrum of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object.

Inclusive Unity is he Unity of religion and mysticism; exclusive unity it the unity of classical logic, the exclusive unity of either/or, of this is this (A=A). The full rendition of the logic of ambiguity would be: there is an ambiguity, one face of which says there is no ambiguity; the other face says there is an ambiguity. The face of no ambiguity is not itself unambiguous. Put more succinctly: the logic of ambiguity has one face that is ambiguous in principle but unambiguous in expression; it has another face that is unambiguous in principle but ambiguous in expression. However, as a whole, the logic is one ambiguity in principle but two in expression.

I have traveled a long way since asking the question about the cigarette, through fifty years of doubt and sorrow, discovery and joy. Where have I arrived?   We could change the wording of one of the koans and say, “If you call it a cigarette I will give you thirty blows of my stick; if you say that it is not a cigarette I will give you thirty blows of my stick. So what is it?” To say it is a cigarette is to take the realist stance; to say it is not a cigarette is to adopt the idealist stance.

But why the koan? Why do those who practice Zen work long years on koans? I worked for eight years before penetrating the first koan and another 12 years working on subsequent koans. By work I mean several hours a day in formal meditation and retreats each month of three, four and seven days. Even now, as a teacher, I still work on these koans, either with individuals in private audience, or in talks that I give on retreats that we have at Montreal.

Perhaps some clue is given by a commentary that a Zen master, Mumon, made on one particular koan. He said, “In order to practice Zen you must pass the barriers set up by the patriarchs.”   The barriers of the patriarchs are the koans. He goes on, “ To reach subtle awakening you must cut off ordinary ways of thought.” The ordinary ways of thought are thinking logically in a linear way, and using reason and cause and effect. Another teacher said that one must think the unthinkable. When asked how one could do this, he said, “Without thinking.” That is without the use of concepts, ideas, memories, even without intuition. These ways are adequate when we can address a closed system, when we can define our terms, have clear and distinct ideas.

But what is this thinking without thought? This is the question to which all the koans, and Mumon in his commentary are calling us. To answer this question we must, as Mumon says, “Arouse our entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and its eighty four thousand pores; summon up a great mass of doubt and pour it into the koan day and night without ceasing. Question it day and night.” The thought without thought then becomes a question without form. By arousing ourselves in this way the whole body and mind become the question. With this we go beyond the conflicts of inside and out, yes and no, this and that and become simply the full and complete manifestation of dynamic unity.

One might think it overkill to ask the question, “What is a cigarette?” with that degree of intensity. However a Zen Master said that if you see through a speck of dust you see through the whole universe. The cigarette or the hand or stick or whatever are just the focus of the questioning. They are not what is important but the questioning itself. Mumon goes on to insist, “All the delusive and useless knowledge that you have collected up to the present — throw it away.   After a period of time, this striving will come to fruition naturally, spontaneously giving way to a condition of internal and external unity.”

Let us remember that to say, “That is a cigarette,” is only half the truth. The full truth is “I know that this is a cigarette.” We also know that knowing and being are mutually exclusive. We normally overcome this problem by saying that knowing is ‘internal,’ the cigarette ‘external’ and everyone knows that these are mutually exclusive. Everyone ‘knows’ that we have a private life, and that the cigarette exists in the outer world. The scientist in the search for unity then says, ”Oh, so you think you have a mind and it is inside. I cannot find it when I look for it in your brain!” But of course the brain is what he knows. He cannot know the knowing in this way. The only way he can know the knowing is by deep meditation.

Mumon says that if you really apply yourself you can go beyond this dichotomy of inside and out. He says, “After a period of time, this striving will come to fruition naturally, spontaneously giving way to a condition of internal and external unity.” I have emphasized this last phrase because it is a key phrase. As I said just now, what we thought was an outside world and an inside world turns out to be one world, an inconceivable and indescribable world. He says, “You will know this, [one world] but for yourself only, like a dumb person who has had a dream.”

He then goes on to say, “Then suddenly it will all give way in an explosion and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth. It will be as if you have seized the great sword of Kan-u. If you meet the Buddha you kill the Buddha; when you meet the patriarchs and masters you will kill the patriarchs and masters. On the brink of life and death you have the Great Freedom.” The freedom is the freedom from the dichotomies, from ‘it is’ and ‘it is not.’ If you held out a cigarette in front of me and asked “What is it?” I would take it in my hand and crush it into a thousand pieces, or even, if I still smoked, light it up and smoke it.

But as Mumon says, one must earn the right to do this. He says, “Every ounce of energy you have must be expended on [the question.] But if you do not give up on the way another Lamp of the Law will be lit.”

A monk on coming to awakening said,

The moon’s the same old moon,
The flowers are not different,
Yet now I see
I am the thingness of things

Inside the Revolutionary Treatment That Could Change Psychotherapy Forever

This is a recent article by Ben Blum. It is a rather naive account which fails to acknowledge the strengths of other therapeutic approaches (such as Gestalt, Focussing, Ronald Fairbairn and Relational Psychoanalysis) but nonetheless a readable account of IFS>

IFS therapy is upending the thinking around schizophrenia, depression, OCD, and more

In May 2014, three days before graduating from college in Massachusetts, Ross Calvert (name changed for privacy), a quiet, artsy guy whose hopeful eyes and side-parted mop lend him some of the cherubic quirkiness of a Wes Anderson protagonist, had a bad acid trip from which his brain somehow failed to come back. His best friend’s face kept looking weird and sinister. Passing strangers seemed to be whispering about his appearance, his mannerisms, his thoughts. Ross managed to keep it more or less together when his family arrived for his graduation, but for the next severalmonths, voices came in and out of his head in a constant swell. One evening, Ross locked himself in the bathroom of the house he shared with friends just outside Boston and refused to come out. After exhausting all other avenues, his friends finally called the police, who broke down the door, hauled Ross out to a squad car, and delivered him to the hospital, where he was stripped of his clothes and belongings, forcibly administered antipsychotic medication, and confined to the psych ward.

The conventional view of psychosis in modern Western medicine is that it is essentially biological in nature. The focus is on rapid diagnosis and medication. Involuntary hospitalization remains common, despite evidence that it can often be avoided through early intervention involving families and psychotherapy. In one small but suggestive study, involuntary hospitalization induced post-traumatic stress disorder in 31% of patients.

“When I first saw Ross, it was almost as if there were a pane of glass between us,” says David Medeiros, the therapist who Ross’s parents brought him to after he got out. “His speech was delayed. And then every time there was another hospitalization, it felt like another glass was put in place.”

In March 2016, two days after yet another hospital release, Ross spiraled into another crisis. Again the police delivered him to the hospital. Again he was confined to the psych ward and forcibly medicated. This time he received a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

It was a devastating blow for Ross, his family, and his therapist. Between 85% and 90% of schizophrenic patients are unemployed in the United States, one of the most difficult places on Earth to live with the diagnosis. In a 1992 World Health Organization study of schizophrenia that continues to spark controversy in the field, patients in developing countries healed and went into remission at significantly higher rates than their counterparts in developed countries like the United States.

The problem is much bigger than schizophrenia. All too often, patients in today’s U.S. mental health system fall into a downward spiral of increasing diagnoses and increasing medication. As journalist Robert Whitaker reported in his controversial classic Anatomy of an Epidemic, the number of people on government disability for mental illness has actually increased since the introduction of Xanax, Prozac, and other drugs that were once billed by pharmaceutical companies as a panacea for mental health. Though psychiatric medications have brought relief to millions of patients,the impact of long-term use of many drugs isonly starting to become clear: chemical dependency, mounting side effects, andfundamental changes in the neurochemistry of the brain. For patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the effect is particularly severe. Numerous studies have found that schizophrenics fare worse on long-term antipsychotics, though it remains the standard of care. Ross was teetering on the edge of a long, steep hill that ended in near-total dependency: on daily meds to manage symptoms, on hospitals to arrest full-blown psychotic episodes, and likely on disability checks to provide for a living. (He had already begun the process of applying.)

Medeiros, Ross’s therapist, didn’t want that to happen. He had known Ross since age 11, when his parents had first brought him in for germophobia, and couldn’t help believing that the warm, quirky kid he remembered lay somewhere inside the shell-shocked guy who now showed up each week in his office. But nothing Medeiros had tried seemed to be getting through. Ross kept ending up back in the hospital and coming out even more wary and cut off.

On the day after the 2016 presidential election, terrified by what it meant for the country, Ross slipped into psychosis yet again, wandering into the courthouse downtown and making a scene before the police finally hauled him off to the hospital. This was the fourth hospitalization in two years, and Medeiros was running out of options. At a loss for what else to do, he decided to try something radical: a novel therapeutic model called internal family systems therapy (IFS).

All too often, patients in today’s U.S. mental health system fall into a downward spiral of increasing diagnoses and increasing medication.

IFS had recently been the subject of a lot of chatter in the psychotherapy community. It was based on a novel theory of the mind so profoundly at odds with the biomedical model of mental illness that, if true, called decades of clinical orthodoxy into question. In IFS, mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, paranoia, and even psychosis were regarded not as impassive biochemical phenomena but as emotional events under the control of unconscious “parts” of the patient — which they could learn to interact with directly.

Medeiros had only been undergoing IFS training for a year and didn’t feel ready to do more than some preliminary exploratory work with Ross. But he had some idea who could help: Richard C. Schwartz, PhD, the developer of the therapy, whom Medeiros had had the good fortune to meet in person back in June 2016. When Schwartz appeared on the lineup for a trauma conference in Chicago, Medeiros signed up with the hope of speaking to him again. Nearly holding his breath with anxiety, Medeiros found an opportune moment to seek Schwartz out and explain Ross’s case. Schwartz listened intently.

“Why don’t you bring him to Boston to see me?” Schwartz said

Richard C. Schwartz, who goes by Dick with friends and colleagues, is an unlikely revolutionary. Modest and short-statured with a salt-and-pepper goatee, he has the gentle, close-set eyes of a slightly sleepy teddy bear. Though he is not widely known outside professional circles, those in the upper echelons of psychotherapy have been quietly spreading the word about him for some time. Bessel van der Kolk, the world-renowned trauma guru, has written that it was through Schwartz’s work that the metaphor of the mind as an internal family “truly came to life for me and offered a systematic way to work with the split-off parts that result from trauma.” Gabor Maté, a celebrated expert on addiction, has called IFS “a profound psychotherapy model” and directed his own followers to Schwartz’s lectures. In 2016, Schwartz was invited into dialogue with the Dalai Lama as part of Europe’s Mind & Life Conference in Brussels. Other influential figures in psychotherapy speak of Schwartz in language just shy of incantatory.

“Dick is a true visionary,” says Deany Laliotis, director of training for the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Institute, a central hub for one of the most widely respected and empirically grounded trauma therapies. “He’s made a huge difference in the profession and in the world.”

Terrence Real, bestselling author, expert on male depression, and co-founder of Harvard’s Gender Research Project, agrees. “Dick is the St. Francis of Assisi of our generation,” he says.

The son of a renowned endocrinologist, Schwartz went into practice as a therapist in the 1980s, beginning his career as part of a burgeoning movement of “family systems” therapists who believed that mental illness arose not from individual pathology but from family dynamics. Schwartz specialized in bulimia and other eating disorders. He would ask the parents of his largely teenage clients to come to his office so he could explain the way a child could become a zone of proxy warfare, absorbing the familial pathology into themselves. When parents followed Schwartz’s directives, the emotional health of the family tended to improve, but the patient’s eating disorder would often persist.

It was based on a novel theory of the mind so profoundly at odds with the biomedical model of mental illness that, if true, called decades of clinical orthodoxy into question.

“The patients kept refusing to see that they were cured,” Schwartz dryly recalls.

It took a long time for Schwartz to break out of family systems orthodoxy and ask his patients about their interior lives. What he noticed in their responses was a surprising echo of the conflicted interpersonal relationships he had been trained for: They tended to talk colloquially about warring “parts” of them. One part of them wanted to be skinny; another part didn’t care what people thought. One part felt shy and introverted; another part liked parties. One part sometimes seized control and ate and ate in a numb haze; a colder, more punitive part then took over and made them purge.

Schwartz found that one after another of his patients were able to identify regular voices in their heads that got into repetitive arguments with each other, often just below the level of language. At first, Schwartz was alarmed. He almost wondered if he was seeing undiagnosed dissociative identity disorder. But the symptoms didn’t quite add up. For those with DID, the switch between “alters” meant a discontinuity in consciousness and memory, but switches between “parts” were usually more subtle than that. As one early patient put it, “In the course of 10 minutes I go from being a professional who has it all together, to a scared, insecure child, to a raging bitch, to an unfeeling, single-minded eating machine.” Was it possible that parts were just a normal part of conscious experience — that everyone had parts?

Schwartz spent a while looking inside himself. Sure enough, his own inner conflicts separated out into distinct perspectives which voiced coherent points of view. In stressful situations, one or another of them would often hijack his consciousness to impose its own distorted perspective on the world, a process Schwartz came to call “blending.” It seemed that Schwartz himself, like his patients, had parts. He considered coining a technical name for them, but eventually decided “parts” worked just fine.

For a while, drawing on his family systems training, Schwartz tried thinking of parts as internalized parents. The trick, he assumed, was to learn how to stand up to them, take back control. Then he had an encounter with a patient that changed his understanding forever.

Roxanne (name changed for privacy) was a deeply traumatized young woman who had been sexually abused as a girl and now cut her forearms with razor blades. For most of an hour-long session, Schwartz demanded that Roxanne’s cutting part agree not to cut Roxanne’s arms this week. He was firm, insistent, scolding — all the qualities he believed Roxanne needed to learn in order to control this part of herself. At last, looking beleaguered and exhausted, Roxanne relented and said she wouldn’t cut her arms.

The next week, she walked into Schwartz’s office with a long gash down her face.

“I just collapsed,” Schwartz recalls. “I come from this ‘first, do no harm’ background with my medical father and family, and I could just see that I was doing harm to her, and that was a horrible feeling for me. A part of me literally wanted to give up, and I said that to her: ‘I give up. I can’t beat you at this.’”

It was an extraordinary admission from a therapist, puncturing the conventional patriarchal frame of the relationship. In an instant, the combative tension of the previous week drained out of the room. Roxanne looked at Schwartz curiously and said, “I don’t want to beat you.”

With that, her cutting part began to open up. As Schwartz listened with growing astonishment, it explained that it felt it needed to cut Roxanne to distract her from surges of rage and fear that it believed would be terribly dangerous to succumb to, a strategy it had first learned while she was being abused.

“The story made more and more sense to me,” Schwartz says. “I could, in my own mind, shift my view of the part from some kind of enemy or antagonist to a hero. It was a hero in her life, but it was also stuck in time.”

It was the beginning of Schwartz’s years-long investigation into the strange, often phantasmagoric world of parts. He soon learned that, like Roxanne’s cutting part, parts tended to be trapped in desperate situations they had encountered years before, using strategies to cope which had long since ceased to be adaptive. Schwartz got to know anxious achiever parts and depressed caregiver parts, super-efficient manager parts and flirtatious social butterfly parts, five-year-old parts which covered up pain with temper tantrums and 40-year-old parts which covered it up with drinking, parts which had never gotten over a small playground slight from a friend and parts which were trapped in horrifying scenes of child abuse or of war.

In IFS, mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, paranoia, and even psychosis were regarded not as impassive biochemical phenomena but as emotional events under the control of unconscious “parts” of the patient.

It would have been tempting to fit all this into a baroque theoretical framework, but Schwartz took his humbling experience with Roxanne to heart. Rather than impose his own ideas, he tried to approach parts with open curiosity, asking them to explain their roles and relationships with each other in their own words. To this day, when a young therapist attending one of Schwartz’s workshops comes up to the mic to ask whether a suicidal part is just seeking attention or a comedic part is covering for shame, the answer Schwartz generally gives is, “You’d have to ask it,” invariably provoking a wave of nervous laughter from the room at his failure yet again to act like a guru.

Eventually, Schwartz did come up with names for the most common roles he saw parts taking on in their relationships with each other. Parts that he called protectorsused a vast array of coping strategies, sometimes very extreme ones, to manage the emotional pain of deeply buried parts that Schwartz called exiles. Exiles were often very young and lived in a nightmarish limbo, interpreting even minor adult pain through the lens of the childhood memories they were trapped in. Because they were so vulnerable, exiles were hard to access. You had to go through protectors to get to them, and protectors could be tough customers. To speak to a seven-year-old exile carrying the pain of a father’s abusive criticism, for example, you might have to reckon with a blustering 40-year-old protector of a different exile who thought the seven-year-old was just as much of a pussy as his father used to call him — and that you were too, for taking his concerns seriously.

Luckily, it turned out there was an easier way of negotiating with protectors than having patients blend with them. If a patient simply closed their eyes and asked a part to “step back” a pace, they could often get enough emotional distance from it to speak for the part rather than fromthe part: “My defensive part is jumping up and down with rage that you would say something like that,” rather than “fuck you.” In this unblended state, the patient could ask questions of the part, listen to it, even bargain with it. If the part felt that its concerns were being taken seriously, it was often willing to step aside completely for a while, entering a visualized “waiting room” with the door closed behind it so that the patient could begin work on whatever part came up next.

If a patient got all their parts to step aside, protectors and exiles alike, something curious happened. They entered a state of mind far clearer and more joyful than any they seemed able to maintain in day-to-day life: calm, confident, curious, compassionate.

“What part is this?” Schwartz asked, amazed, the first few times it happened. He always got the same answer: “This doesn’t feel like a part. It just feels like myself.”

So Schwartz decided to call it Self: a unified mode of consciousness that seemed to lie just beneath all the sound and fury of parts, surprisingly reminiscent of the clear mental waters that Buddhists sought with mindfulness meditation. When a patient went into Self and visualized approaching an exile with total openness and compassion, something extraordinary happened: They began spontaneously to do the kind of work with their exiles that Schwartz himself would have done, far more effectively than Schwartz had been able to do from outside. With relief and gratitude, exiles opened up to Self about pain that they had held inside for decades. Patients sobbed, shook, screamed. Some reported seeing images of the exile opening its arms out for a hug or crawling into their laps, its long wait for rescue finally over. It almost felt to Schwartz as if he had hacked into the mind’s built-in system for psychological self-repair.

Schwartz decided to call the process “unburdening,” since his patients found it natural to visualize the exile’s pain as a physical burden that was being burned away, dissolved into the ocean, or released into a great beam of light. Once an exile was unburdened, Schwartz found, the protectors that had been managing its pain — for instance, by eating mass quantities of ice cream every time the exile got triggered — tended to be more than happy to abandon their stressful old roles and find more fulfilling new ones. The transformations were powerful and lasting. Schwartz’s bulimic patients finally stopped bingeing and purging.

Was it possible that parts were just a normal part of conscious experience — that everyone had parts?

Schwartz began giving talks at conferences about what he was doing. But his colleagues were far from convinced. Family systems therapists balked at the internalization of problems they were still convinced were located in families rather than individuals. Cognitive behavioral therapists thought distorted beliefs and attitudes had to be corrected, not coddled. Psychiatrists favored biochemical explanations that could be addressed with psychiatric medications, not nebulous internal dramas surrounding a mystical-sounding “Self.” Even Schwartz’s family wasn’t convinced. According to Schwartz, his first wife and kids suffered from his obsessive early efforts to evangelize what he had decided to call internal family systems therapy. To this day his adult daughters rib him for all his strange talk of “parts.”

Though Schwartz would end up consigned to the margins of psychotherapy for the better part of two decades, he never gave up on IFS. He felt sure that he was onto something.

On a chilly winter’s day in 2017, David Medeiros met Ross Calvert at his office in Newton, Massachusetts, and from there drove through 45 minutes of traffic to meet with Dick Schwartz in Boston. Ross was wary and quiet. Once in Schwartz’s office, he took off his thick jacket and lay back stiffly into the depths of the couch as if dropped there from a great height, his eyes blank and distant behind his thick-framed glasses. Seeing him in this new context brought home to Medeiros just how sick Ross was. Medeiros hoped that Schwartz would be able to get through to him, but it wasn’t looking good.

“It was taking Ross 10 seconds to answer simple questions,” Medeiros recalls.

Schwartz began by asking Ross to report what he was feeling, to notice where it came up in his body. For a time he helped Ross get to know an inner critic part that attacked him for small social mistakes. Finally Schwartz took the plunge into the heart of it all: the paranoid part responsible for the wild outbursts which had landed Ross in the hospital.

“I’m really interested in that part,” Schwartz said. “Are you ready for that? How do you feel towards it?”

There was a long pause.

“I feel a bit afraid of it,” Ross said in a faltering monotone.

Medeiros knew enough about IFS by now to recognize this as the telltale sign of another part of Ross coming in. Ross’s hospital stays had been traumatic battles between different parts of him, the paranoid part wrestling for control with other parts and wreaking havoc when it won out. No wonder Ross was afraid of it.

“Let’s see if those scared parts can go into a waiting room,” Schwartz said.

Medeiros recognized the common IFS “waiting room” technique that he had been learning about in training. It could be surprisingly effective.

Schwartz asked how Ross felt toward the paranoid part now.

“I sort of feel like it’s kind of… silly,” Ross said. “Or… pointless.”

It was a step in the right direction, but even these gentler judgments were a sign of another part interfering. Schwartz chuckled.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s get that part to step back, too. We just want to be open and curious with it, if that’s possible.”

There was another pause as Ross asked the judgmental part who had just spoken to step aside and returned his attention to the paranoid part.

“I sort of feel bad for it,” Ross said.

“Yeah, so let it know that,” said Schwartz, obviously pleased.

It was the first glimmer of Self, the built-in mental healing mode that Ross would need to tap into to heal his paranoid part. But it turned out that the paranoid part was wary of being contacted, fearing the critical parts which had attacked it so often before. For the next 45 minutes, Schwartz helped Ross strengthen his connection to Self, extending enough sympathy and compassion to the paranoid part that it began to trust Ross to help. By the end, Ross was describing himself sitting side by side with his paranoid part in the dorm room where he’d experienced that nightmarish LSD trip just before graduation. The part talked about its intense fear of the end of college, about the way Ross’s best friend’s face had started looking increasingly scary, about how a number of little incidents over the past few days had seemed to add up to a plot among his friends to betray him.

It almost felt to Schwartz as if he had hacked into the mind’s built-in layer for psychological self-repair.

Schwartz asked if the part was ready to leave that place behind. Ross said that it was. He imagined driving the part around in the passenger seat of his old car.

“See if he’s interested in unloading any of the thoughts or beliefs or emotions he got back there,” Schwartz said.

Ross’s eyes closed behind his glasses. His shoulders slumped. Three whole minutes passed in silence on the clock before his eyes opened again.

“Um,” he said. “I think I was able to release a lot of what it was holding onto. Pretty much all of it.”

One by one, he explained, he and the paranoid part had walked through all the distorted beliefs from the psychotic break and given them up into a great beam of light.

“How do you feel?” Schwartz asked.

A tentative smile cracked Ross’s face.

“I feel unburdened in a literal sense,” he said. “I feel a lot lighter. I feel good. I feel hopeful.”

And with that, Medeiros couldn’t restrain himself from jumping out of his chair and giving a little cheer.


The idea of internal multiplicity is at least as old as Plato, who argued in The Republic that just like a city is divided into different social classes, the soul too is divided into parts with different characters, thriving only when justice and harmony reign among them. Many evolutionary psychologists subscribe to the “modularity of mind” hypothesis, which holds that the mind is built up of semi-independent evolutionary modules with different functions and goals. Famed neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga discovered in a series of landmark experiments beginning in the 1960s that “split-brain” patients who have had their brain hemispheres surgically disconnected possess, in effect, two minds in one body. Gazzaniga posited that even fully connected brains were best understood as communities of semiautonomous agents.

It remains a significant conceptual leap from theories like these to the clinical phenomenon of “parts,” but Schwartz is not the first to have stumbled upon it. The Italian Freudian analyst Roberto Assagioli called them “subpersonalities” and developed a psychoanalytic school of thought known as psychosynthesis at the beginning of the 20th century that sought to integrate them into a harmonious whole. Half a century later, husband-and-wife team John and Helen Watkins developed ego-state therapy in the United States with different terminology but much the same goal.

The idea of internal multiplicity is at least as old as Plato, who argued in The Republic that just like a city is divided into different social classes, the soul too is divided into parts.

What sets IFS apart is the radically open and de-pathologizing stance it takes toward even the most extreme parts, which are presumed by default to be protecting exiles, and the calm, compassionate Self that seems to emerge in response. Schwartz credits the value so many have found in IFS’s map of internal multiplicity to the fact that, as a family therapist, he was largely ignorant of what had come before.

“I was forced to come to the phenomenon without any presumptions or preconceptions,” Schwartz says. “There’s no map that’s an exact replica of the territory, but I think [IFS] is closer than many others simply because I was so much in what the Buddhists call the beginner’s mind — total naive openness.”

Through the 1980s and ’90s, Schwartz managed to build a devoted cult following and earn a few high-profile champions, most notably trauma pioneer Bessel van der Kolk, who would first introduce many readers to IFS in his bestselling book The Body Keeps the Score. But initially, Schwartz failed to reach a larger audience. He attributes the upswing in IFS’s fortunes that followed in part to using IFS on himself: His crusading, moralizing attacks on mental health orthodoxy had come, he realized, from a protective part, defending against his fear of presenting such radical ideas. Schwartz came to the view that IFS was not a replacement for but a complement to other modalities. Different parts responded best to different kinds of treatment — including, in some cases, medication. For therapists with broad training, IFS could serve as a kind of umbrella framework that gave patients a simple conceptual language for tracking their issues. For instance, a patient might have a suicidal part, a self-harming part, a bingeing part, and a socially anxious part, each requiring different kinds of care.

Slowly the tide began to turn. The increasing popularity of mindfulness meditation brought wider openness to the idea that we all might have inside us a compassionate state of mind like the one that Schwartz calls Self. The 2015 Pixar hit Inside Out offered perhaps the first positive view of internal multiplicity ever to hit the big screen, depicting five endearingly personified emotions wrestling for control inside an ordinary 11-year-old girl’s head.According to Schwartz, from barely a few hundred IFS-trained therapists throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the rapidly expanding IFS Institute (formerly the Center for Self Leadership) has now trained nearly 10,000 in 20 countries. Between 2016 and 2019, new Level 1 trainings more than doubled, from 14 courses per year to 35. Even with these much-expanded offerings, the Institute is struggling to keep up with demand, with long waitlists in many regions.

“So many people I know are in IFS therapy,” says Rich Simon, editor in chief for 40 years of Psychotherapy Networker, one of the field’s most widely read trade publications. “A lot of senior therapists who have been exposed to all kinds of other different models have found this very helpful. They themselves have availed themselves of IFS therapy.”

Some of the demand comes from mental health professionals disillusioned with mainstream mental health treatment in America, with its relentless focus on diagnosis and medication. In IFS they have found what they see as a desperately needed alternative.

“The public mental health system is so fucked up,” says Sascha Altman DuBrul, co-founder of influential mental health support network The Icarus Project (since reorganized as Fireweed Collective) and former recovery specialist and trainer at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “Fundamentally, the way that we look at people is we see them as having illnesses, and diseases, and disorders. That immediately, in and of itself, ends up taking away agency from people. Young people who are diagnosed with psychotic disorders who are coming in are thought to have a disease of the brain.”

More than 20 years ago, DuBrul himself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and hospitalized repeatedly with psychotic symptoms. He has since devoted his life to helping other patients navigate the mental health system. After three years at the Psychiatric Institute, he has recently left to open a private practice incorporating IFS.

“The beauty of IFS is that it shifts the frame,” he says. “If I’m someone with a psychotic disorder, let’s say, then all of a sudden my identity very easily can get wrapped up in this idea of ‘I’m bipolar’ or ‘I’m schizophrenic.’ Whereas IFS understands we have a bunch of different parts, and we can have parts that have a lot of work to do. We can have these exile parts that are full of pain and trauma and we can have these protector parts that are just trying to help us. That can end up looking like what’s considered mental illness. If I’m sitting with someone who has what’s considered a serious diagnosis, I don’t have to see them as ill. I can see them as someone who has a bunch of stuff going on, and we can kind of isolate it and tease apart the different pieces.”

Patients have found it equally liberating. In the last few years, IFS has begun popping up everywhere, from the bestselling new memoir by Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness to an essay on by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame to podcasts by Alanis Morissette and Van Ness to Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site Goop. British cartoonist Mardou is publishing an ongoing series of comics about it. Pioneering neuroscientist Ed Boyden recently revealed that although he has devoted his professional life to studying the brain using optogenetics (genetically modifying animals so their neurons can be controlled with light), he studies his own mind using IFS therapy. An enthusiastic online community has begun sharing stories of ongoing IFS work and tips for working with recalcitrant parts.

“I bring it up as much as I can because it’s really changed my life for the better,” says Nancy-Lee Mauger, an artist and French hornist in Boston, who first encountered IFS after receiving a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder in 2010. “There’s an old idea of [DID patients] being shattered or fractured from a single entity, and then to bring something new to the table, to say, ‘No, no, everybody’s built this way, and they have parts that have different roles,’ it has been life-changing and life-saving.”

In the IFS view, DID represents the extreme point of a spectrum we all lie on, typically developing in response to severe childhood trauma. Mauger was abused by a houseguest as a child and suffered further sexual trauma in adulthood. IFS therapy has helped her develop a positive relationship with an alter ego named Sally who used to engage in various destructive behaviors. It has also helped her get in touch with parts she hadn’t been aware of.

“For me, the most amazing thing was learning about a part of me that was suicidal and knowing that that was just a single part of me. It wasn’t my entire being. That changed my world. I try to share that with a lot of people because I know a lot of people who get very depressed and sometimes feel suicidal. If you can step back from that feeling and realize that it’s just a part of you that’s trying to take away your pain and suffering, then you can move through it and find a different way to deal with it, to help that part.”

If there is indeed a spectrum of internal multiplicity, Maya Bourdeau, founder and co-CEO of a neuroscience-based market research and strategy firm in San Francisco, lies at the opposite end of it from Mauger. She had no sense at all of being anything but a unified personality when her therapist first suggested IFS.

“I was resistant to it,” she recalls. “I just thought it was strange. I’m such a rational person — I’m not a woo-woo person at all. I do spreadsheets.”

A Harvard Business School graduate with an undergraduate Harvard degree in psychology and an illustrious business record, Bourdeau waspresenting global market research reports to major multinationals in her twenties despite being so depressed she could barely get out of bed.

“I was kind of like the textbook definition of a successful career woman, and yet on the inside, I was a complete mess,” she says.

After two years of work on her depression, her therapist brought up IFS again. Bourdeau finally trusted her enough to try it.

“I think once the trust is there and you’re able to let go, our minds naturally do this,” she says. “All of a sudden, I saw in my mind such vivid, vivid things.”

In her first sessions, she worked with a despairing part that thought there was no reason to go on and a crusading part she calls “Joan of Arc” that rushed in to try to help others, often doing more harm than good. Describing the way she came to love and understand them and the transformations they underwent in response still brings tears to her eyes. IFS no longer seems so strange to her; she has even managed to reconcile it with her neuroscience training.

“For me, the most amazing thing was learning about a part of me that was suicidal and knowing that that was just a single part of me. It wasn’t my entire being. That changed my world.”

“We naturally think in stories and metaphors,” she says. “It’s how we encode memory, so in a way, going through metaphor to access the subconscious is the most natural way to do it.”

She also credits IFS with helping her connect with and heal an angry part that came near to destroying her marriage.

“[IFS] absolutely changed my life,” she says. “If more people knew how effective it was, how wonderful that would be.”

Robert Fox, a therapist in Woburn, Massachusetts, also wishes more people knew about IFS. Diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder at age 21 after a lifetime of unusual compulsions, he spent 23 years receiving the standard care: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure response prevention (ERP). Neither had much effect, especially ERP, which involved repeatedly exposing himself to things he was anxious about in the hopes of gradually habituating to them.

“When you think about it, it’s a very painful method of therapy,” he says.

Fox discovered IFS in 2008. Before, he had always been encouraged to think of his compulsions as meaningless pathologies. Now, for the first time, they began making sense to him as the behavior of protectors who were trying to manage the underlying shame and fear of exiles.

After two particularly powerful unburdenings, his symptoms abated by 95% and stayed that way.

“[OCD] used to be almost like kryptonite around my neck when I would have serious flare-ups,” he says. “I feel a lot of freedom and peace and I really owe it to Dick [Schwartz] and the model.”

Fox now practices IFS with his own OCD patients. He is haunted by a memory of a germophobic woman with OCD whom he met once while she was hospitalized. As part of her ERP therapy, the therapists took her into the bathroom and had her wipe her hands over the toilet and sink and then rub them through her hair. She wasn’t permitted to shower until the next morning.

“I would love to see a study on IFS and OCD,” Fox says, “because if we were to march over to your local hospital, they would still be doing ERP in the unit with their clients, and it just doesn’t need to be that way. There is this other model of therapy that I think works wonders.”

Not everyone is so enthused about IFS. It has its skeptics and critics, too, some emerging from a scandal at a St. Louis eating disorder clinic called Castlewood. In 2011 and 2012, former Castlewood patients filed suit alleging that they had been pressured into recovering memories of childhood abuse that had not in fact occurred. Richard Schwartz had spent a year and a half at Castlewood training its staff in IFS therapy at the invitation of the clinic’s directors, Lori Galperin and Mark Schwartz (no relation). Though Schwartz did not himself treat patients at Castlewood, IFS played a role in patients’ negative experiences there.

Schwartz is dismayed by what happened at Castlewood, which he calls a misuse of IFS. He says he has no present relationship with Mark Schwartz and Lori Galperin.

“In what I teach and what I do myself,” Schwartz says, “when [a patient] comes up with memories that they didn’t have before, I take the position that we can’t know whether they’re true or not without corroboration.”

The other issue that IFS skeptics tend to point to is a dearth of empirical support. Despite growing anecdotal evidence about IFS’s effectiveness for OCD, DID, depression, and a host of other disorders, few clinical studies have yet been done. Less easily reduced to repeatable techniques than competing modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, IFS has attracted little academic attention.

That may be starting to change. Frank Anderson, a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, was working as a staff psychiatrist at Bessel van der Kolk’s renowned Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, when he first encountered Schwartz and IFS. It flipped his world upside down.

“I had been working with severe trauma for a long time at the Trauma Center, and I was one of the many people who go, ‘Oh wow,’” Anderson recalls. “Within the mental health world, it’s a huge paradigm shift. IFS is very non-pathologizing. Every part, every symptom has a positive intention. That kind of blows therapists away. ‘What do you mean, shooting heroin has a positive intention? What do you mean, cutting yourself or bingeing has a positive intention?’”

In 2013, Anderson became chair and later executive director of the Foundation forSelf Leadership, IFS’s research arm, with the aim of finding academic partners willing to try IFS in clinical tests. The first opportunity was with rheumatoid arthritis patients. IFS proved not just to significantly lower their depressive symptoms but to diminish pain and improve physical function as well. The study earned IFS official designation as an evidence-based treatment in 2015. More recently, a complex PTSD trial (currently under submission to journals) confirmed, Anderson says, the longstanding belief and clinical experience of IFS therapists that IFS is a very effective trauma treatment. After 16 sessions of IFS therapy, 12 of 13 trial subjects no longer qualified for the diagnosis.

Though promising, these results are preliminary. Even some of Schwartz’s biggest fans worry that he may be overselling what IFS can accomplish.

Deany Laliotis, the EMDR therapist and trainer, is among them. She is a big proponent of IFS, viewing it as complementary to EMDR and including IFS concepts in her own EMDR trainings, but she has reservations about the scope of the paradigm shift Schwartz is hoping to achieve.

“I appreciate that de-pathologizing people’s emotional struggles and challenges is important,” she says, “but it’s not just about our parts; it can be about other things, like biochemical changes, too.”

Schwartz says he has heard this concern many times in the course of his career but maintains that IFS respects the place of biochemical issues and medication’s role in addressing them.

“If you’re talking about things like schizophrenia and intense depression and so on, my position is that we all have genetic predispositions for certain conditions,” he says. “I have one for asthma. I’ve just been getting over a bit of an asthma attack, and migraine headaches. Those are physiological, biomedical things. They’re real. But our parts get wind of those things, and begin to use them when they don’t feel like they can get through otherwise.”

In a workshop at last year’s IFS conference in Denver, Schwartz and bestselling author Dr. Lissa Rankin discussed the success many therapists have found in using IFS to alleviate physical symptoms by healing the parts that trigger them. From an IFS perspective, Schwartz says, Ross’s psychotic symptoms likely came about in much the same way that a part-induced asthma attack might come about: through a genetic proclivity for delusions that a part made use of to get Ross’s attention.

“That was, from my point of view, a biochemical reaction,” Schwartz says. “He had the gene to make him hear voices that way. Once the part realizes it doesn’t have to do that anymore, the biochemical thing stops.”

This is a radically unorthodox view of schizophrenia, but it appears to be working for Ross. Three years after his first IFS unburdening, with vastly diminished paranoia and no further hospitalizations, he points to that first session with Schwartz as the turning point in his recovery.

“Once I had that experience doing an unburdening,” he tells me, “feeling the major change that happened, it really opened things up for me. It changed everything. I can’t tell you it immediately cured me, that one session, but it was such a dramatic shift that it really opened up the path to the eventual work. It made me feel like my goal of getting better was really possible.”

Ross’s voice today is lively and articulate, a far cry from the halting monotone that stymied Medeiros. He says that while antipsychotic medication calmed him and made the voices in his head less terrifying, it didn’t actually help him heal.

“To be honest, I really was always hearing voices,” he says. “It was something I felt I had to deny when I saw psychiatrists because I very much didn’t want to have a higher dose of medication, and I was concerned about being hospitalized, too. But I think as I am now, where I hear so little of the voices that they just don’t even register, it’s kind of like — I don’t think that’s the medication suddenly kicking in. I think that’s all IFS.”

When I first spoke to Ross in August 2019, he had just been hired for his first job, an extraordinary step away from the downward spiral of dependency that our mental health system sends so many patients down. Though he told me that he had parts that still required attention — an inner critic, a numbing part which muted his feelings, an “unacceptable part” that carried childhood shame — they had calmed down significantly since he had built positive relationships with them using IFS and relieved them of some of their burdens. When one of them or his “voice-hearing part” got activated, he practiced what Schwartz calls “Self-leadership,” taking a step back from the part (“unblending” in IFS parlance) and hearing out its concerns. He told me he planned to taper off his antipsychotic medication in consultation with an IFS-trained psychiatrist as soon as he had proved to himself that he could live independently.

“There are certain conditions I want to meet,” he said then. “I want to work full time — I’m only working 20 hours per week, and that’s not quite enough to support myself. Then I want to move out of my mom’s house, take a little time, and then start the tapering process.”

By the time I checked in again a few months later, Ross was up to 40 hours per week, had begun driving himself to work each morning in his own car, and had moved into an apartment with a roommate. He was continuing to make progress on healing his parts, both in sessions with Medeiros and in work on his own.

The most powerful thing about IFS, Ross says, is the way it has restored his sense of agency.

“It wasn’t just like I needed to be fixed by some external force,” Ross says. “It was like, ‘Yeah, I can make these changes.’ That was huge.”

With passionate advocates like Ross and an expanding community of IFS therapists committed to affecting Schwartz’s paradigm shift, IFS is beginning more and more to feel like a movement, one which has already evolved the culture of psychotherapy toward de-pathologization and an acceptance of inner multiplicity.Patients can find IFS therapists in all 50 U.S. states through the IFS Institute’s online directory or on Psychology Today. Many have also done“parts work” on their own using psychologist Jay Earley’s popular guide Self-Therapy.

Schwartz likes to joke in talks that he is planning to rewrite the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), psychiatry’s bible, to explain the basis of each disorder in non-pathologizing terms of protectors and exiles, thereby challenging the dominant “chemical imbalance” view.But for all the humor, his real ambitions are even greater than that. Experts in conflict resolution, anti-racist education, high school guidance counseling, mediation, 12-step addiction recovery, and a growing list of other fields have begun adopting IFS techniques and developing pilot programs based around its principles.Just as important, Schwartz wants IFS to transform the way we connect to each other one-to-one.

“This is a radically different paradigm for understanding human beings than the ones that dominate our culture,” he says. “If it is true that these things we think of as our inner enemies are really heroes stuck in time, that by itself allows people to relate inside with a lot more compassion and love, which translates to how they see outside enemies and relate to them.”

In an era in which Congress, the internet, and the U.S. population at large can seem just as polarized into mutually attacking parts as the “internal families” of Schwartz’s most profoundly unwell patients, that’s a tantalizing message. Is it really possible that even those who most infuriate us have compassionate, relatable Selves at their core, hidden behind a screen of protectors who would gladly give up their hurtful behavior if the pain they were defending were seen and healed? As Schwartz himself often says when speaking to new crowds, it would certainly be wonderful if it were true.


By Lynn Ungar:

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now, 
on trying to make the world
different than it is. 
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Why Psychology is so out of touch with the real you!!

As a green eighteen year old, I went to university to study Social Psychology. I was scared of the number of statistics involved and switched over to Social Anthropology. In many ways in those halcyon days of 1968, I was very privileged but found myself on the receiving end of tortuous theories - all insisting I was an epiphenomenon of society. Deep down I was convinced this was not true, especially after I took LSD, blinked twice, and realised everything was one thing, and I was the knower. It is gobsmacking just how confusing the world of philosophy, psychotherapy, and psychology is - because almost none of the practitioners have known they were looking through mental shackles.

The following is a brilliant account of science by a contemporary of mine who studied physics at Cambridge but went on to lose his mental shackles as a Buddhist monk: Ajahn Brahm

"Buddhism, the only real science.

I used to be a scientist. I did Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University, hanging out in the same building as the later-to-be-famous Professor Stephen Hawking. I became disillusioned with such science when, as an insider, I saw how dogmatic some scientists could be. A dogma, according to the dictionary, is an arrogant declaration of an opinion.This was a fitting description of the science that I saw in the labs of Cambridge. Science had lost its sense of humility. Egotistical opinion prevailed over the impartial search for Truth. My favourite aphorism from that time was: “The eminence of a great scientist, is measured by the length of time that they OBSTRUCT PROGRESS in their field”! To understand real science, one can go back to one of its founding fathers, the English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561 - 1628). He established the framework on which science was to progress, namely “the greater force of the negative instance”.This meant that, having proposed a theory to explain some natural phenomenon, then one should try one’s best to disprove it! One should test the theory with challenging experiments. One must put it on trial with rigorous argument.When a flaw appears in the theory, only then does science advance. A new discovery has been made enabling the theory to be adjusted and refined. This fundamental and original methodology of science understood that it is impossible to prove anything with absolute certainty. One can only disprove with absolute certainty.For example, how can one prove the basic law of gravity that “what goes up comes down, eventually”? One may throw objects up one million times and see them fall one million times. But that still does not prove “what goes up comes down”.For NASA might then ‘throw’ a Saturn rocket up into space to explore Mars, and that never comes down to earth again. One negative instance is enough to disprove the theory with absolute certainty.Some misguided scientists maintain the theory that there is no rebirth, that this stream of consciousness is incapable of returning to a successive human existence. All one needs to disprove this theory, according to science, is to find one instance of rebirth, just one!Professor Ian Stevenson, as some of you would know, has already demonstrated many instances of rebirth. The theory of no rebirth has been disproved. Rebirth is now a scientific fact!Modern science gives a low priority to any efforts to disprove its pet theories. There is too much vested interest in power, prestige and research grants. A courageous commitment to truth takes too many scientists out of their comfort zone.Scientists are, for the most part, brainwashed by their education and their in-group conferences to see the world in a very narrow, microscopic, way. The very worst scientists are those who behave like eccentric evangelists, claiming that they alone have the whole truth, and then demanding the right to impose their views on everyone else.Ordinary people know so little about science that they can hardly even understand the jargon.Yet, if they read in a newspaper or magazine “a scientist says that?”, then they automatically take it to be true. Compare this to our reaction when we read in the same journal “a politician says that?”! Why do scientists have such unchallenged credibility?Perhaps it is because the language and ritual of science has become so far removed from the common people, that scientists have become today’s revered and mystical priesthood.Dressed in their ceremonial white lab coats, chanting incomprehensible mumbo jumbo about multi-dimensional fractal parallel universes, and performing magical rituals that transubstantiate metal and plastic into TVs and computers, these modern day alchemists are so awesome we’ll believe anything they say. Elitist science, as once was the Pope, is now infallible.Some know better. Much of what I learnt 30 years ago has now been proved wrong. There are, fortunately, many scientists with integrity and humility who affirm that science is, at best, a work still in progress.They know that science can only suggest a truth, but can never claim a truth. I was once told by a Buddhist G.P. that, on his first day at a medical school in Sydney, the famous Professor, head of the Medical School, began his welcoming address by stating “Half of what we are going to teach you in the next few years is wrong. Our problem is that we do not know which half it is!” Those were the words of a real scientist.Some evangelical scientists would do well to reflect on the (amended) old saying “Scientists rush in where angels fear to tread” and stop pontificating about the nature of the mind, happiness and even Nirvana. Neurologists are especially prone to such neuroses (Neurosis: an undue adherence to unrealistic ideas of things).They are claiming that the mind, awareness and will, is now adequately explained by activity in the brain. This theory was disproved over 20 years ago by Prof. Lorber’s discovery of the student at Sheffield University with an IQ of 126, a First Class degree in mathematics, but with virtually no brain (Science, Vol. 210, 12 Dec 1980)!More recently, it was disproved by Prof. Pim Van Lommel, who demonstrated the existence of consciousness activity after clinical death, i.e. when all brain activity has ceased (Lancet, Vol. 358, 15 December 2001, p 2039).Although there may be correlation between a measurable activity in part of the brain and a mental impression, such co-occurrence doesn’t always imply that one is the cause of the other. For instance, some years ago, research showed a clear correlation between cigarette smoking and the non-occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease.It was not that smoking cigarettes somehow caused immunity from Alzheimer’s, as much as the tobacco companies might have wished, it was only that many smokers did not live long enough to get Alzheimer’s disease!Thus a co-incidence of two phenomena, even when repeated, does not mean that one phenomenon is the cause of the other. To claim that activity in the brain causes awareness, or mind, is plainly unscientific.Buddhism is more scientific than modern science. Like science, Buddhism is based on verifiable cause-and-effect relationships. But unlike science, Buddhism challenges with thoroughness every belief.The famous Kalama Sutta of Buddhism states that one cannot believe fully in “what one is taught, tradition, hearsay, scripture, logic, inference, appearance, agreement with established opinion, the seeming competence of a teacher, or even in one’s own teacher”.How many scientists are as rigorous in their thinking as this? Buddhism challenges everything, including logic.It is worth noting that Quantum Theory appeared quite illogical, even to such great scientists as Einstein, when it was first proposed. It is yet to be disproved. Logic is only as reliable as the assumptions on which it is based. Buddhism trusts only clear and objective experience.Clear experience occurs when one’s measuring instruments, one’s senses, are bright and undisturbed. In Buddhism, this happens when the hindrances of sloth-and-torpor and restlessness-and-remorse are both overcome. Objective experience is that which is free from all bias.In Buddhism, the three types of bias are desire, ill will and sceptical doubt. Desire makes one see only what one wants to see, it bends the truth to fit one’s preferences. Ill will makes one blind to whatever is disturbing or disconcerting to one’s views and it distorts the truth by denial.Sceptical doubt stubbornly refuses to accept those truths, like rebirth, that are plainly valid but which fall outside of one’s comforting worldview.In summary, clear and objective experience only happens when the Buddhist ‘Five Hindrances’ have been overcome. Only then can one trust the data arriving through one’s senses.Because scientists are not free of these five hindrances, they are rarely clear and objective. It is common, for example, for scientists to ignore annoying data, which do not fit their cherished theories, or else confine such evidence to oblivion by filing it away as an ‘anomaly’.Even most Buddhists aren’t clear and objective. One has to have recent experience of Jhana to effectively put aside these five hindrances (according to the Nalakapana Sutta , Majjhima No. 68). So only accomplished meditators can claim to be real scientists, that is, clear and objective.Science claims to rely not only on clear and objective observation, but also on measurement. But what is measurement in science? To measure something, according to the pure science of Quantum Theory, is to collapse the Schroedinger Wave Equation through an act of observation.Moreover, the “un-collapsed” form of the Schroedinger Wave Equation, that is before any measurement is made, is, perhaps, science’s most perfect description of the world.That description is weird! Reality, according to pure science, does not consist of well-ordered matter with precise massed, energies and positions in space, all just waiting to be measured. Reality is the broadest of smudges of all possibilities, only some being more probable than others.Even basic ‘measurable’ qualities as ‘alive’ or ‘dead’ have been demonstrated by science to be invalid sometimes. In the notorious ‘Schroedinger’s Cat’ thought experiment, Prof. Schroedinger’s cat was ingeniously placed in a real situation where it was neither dead nor alive, where such measurements became meaningless. Reality, according to Quantum Theory, is beyond measurements. Measuring disturbs reality, it never describes it perfectly.It was Heisenberg’s famous ‘Uncertainty Principle’ that showed the inevitable error between the real Quantum world and the measured world of pseudo-science.Anyway, how can anyone measure the measurer, the mind? At a recent seminar on Science and Religion, at which I was a speaker, a Catholic in the audience bravely announced that whenever she looks through a telescope at the stars, she feels uncomfortable because her religion is threatened.I commented that whenever a scientist looks the other way round through a telescope, to observe the one who is watching, then they feel uncomfortable because their science is threatened by what is doing the seeing! So what is doing the seeing, what is this mind that eludes modern science?A Grade-One teacher once asked her class “What is the biggest thing in the world?” One little girl answered “My daddy”. A little boy said “An elephant”, since he’d recently been to the zoo. Another girl suggested “A mountain”.The six-year-old daughter of a close friend of mine replied, “My eye is the biggest thing in the world”! The class stopped. Even the teacher didn’t understand her answer. So the little philosopher explained “Well, my eye can see her daddy, an elephant, and a mountain too. It can also see so much else. If all of that can fit into my eye, then my eye must be the biggest thing in the world.” Brilliant!However, she was not quite right. The mind can see everything that one’s eye can see, and it can also imagine so much more. It can also hear, smell, taste and touch, as well as think. In fact, everything that can be known can fit into the mind. Therefore, the mind must be the biggest thing in the world. Science’s mistake is obvious now. The mind is not in the brain, nor in the body. The brain, the body and the rest of the world, are in the mind!Mind is the sixth sense in Buddhism, it is that which encompasses the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, and transcends them with its own domain. It corresponds loosely to Aristotle’s “common sense” that is distinct from the five senses.Indeed, ancient Greek philosophy, from where science is said to have its origins, taught six senses just like Buddhism. Somewhere along the historical journey of European thinking, they lost their mind! Or, as Aristotle would put it, they somehow discarded their “common sense”! And thus we got science. We got materialism without any heart. One can accurately say that Buddhism is science that has kept its heart, and which hasn’t lost its mind!Thus Buddhism is not a belief system. It is a science founded on objective observation, i.e. meditation, ever careful not to disturb the reality through imposing artificial measurements, and it is evidently repeatable.People have been re-creating the experimental conditions, known as establishing the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, for over twenty-six centuries now, much longer than science. And those renowned Professors of Meditation, the male and female Arahants, have all arrived at the same conclusion as the Buddha.They verified the timeless Law of Dhamma, otherwise known as Buddhism. So Buddhism is the only real science, and I’m happy to say that I’m still a scientist at heart, only a much better scientist than I ever could have been at Cambridge.Courtesy: Buddhist Society of Western Australia."