We have seen that mankind hasn’t evolved much, physically speaking, since the first human beings appeared on this planet. On every other level, however — , culturally, spiritually — development, both quantitatively and individually, has been astonishing. Darwin didn’t describe natural evolution as necessarily upward, and I don’t refer to the evolution of the human species as progressive either, inasmuch as history shows civilizations as constantly rising and falling. Changes, however, of outlook, taste, and cultural values have included as much variety as imagination is able to conceive.
The lower animals haven’t shown anything like this flexibility. The legend, still visible on the gate of a home in ancient Pompeii, reads, “Cave canem (Beware of the dog).” The same warning may be seen today on homes everywhere in the world. I suspect that the canine penchant for chasing moving vehicles hasn’t changed at all, either, in thousands of years. Cats may disdain the dog’s protective functions (though history actually records a few bizarre instances of “guard cats” — products, one supposes, of trainers’ ingenuity), but as far as I know cats have at least been comfortable always with their role as mousers.
Human beings are unpredictable. In this sense they resemble the little hedgehogs in Alice in Wonderland, which were supposed to act as balls in a croquet game, but which kept uncurling themselves and wandering off in their own directions. Every human being, similarly, is simply himself. He can rise or fall; grow more intelligent or less so; develop tastes he never had before or lose those he once thought defined him; become kindly or aggressive; calm or nervous. It is true that everyone has an essential “I” that never changes — may be observed by comparing the photograph of a little child with a recent one of the oldster he has become sixty years later; something in the eyes has remained the same. Grown-ups, however, can manifest tendencies far removed from those they had as children — in their persona due to past responses to life’s challenges.
Modern psychology has tried to arrest this developmental process by freezing human nature in definitions. Carl Jung classed people in two categories: introverts, and extroverts. Alfred Adler saw the need for excelling as a compensation for what he called the “inferiority complex.” Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, claimed that the libido, or sex drive, is mankind’s basic reality. All three men only followed the trail science had already blazed in its efforts to define everything.
Human beings cannot, however, be pinned onto boards like butterflies. To assign them fixed roles is to hinder their further psychological and spiritual development. Even butterflies get pinned onto boards only after they’re dead. Who can even predict, of a living butterfly, what its next direction of flight will be?
A theme that runs through all the writings we’ve considered is competition. Machiavelli pitted rulers against their subjects. Adam Smith pitted people against one another in their ambition for wealth. Thomas Malthus described in terms of competition the earth’s ability to feed its inhabitants, as opposed to the population’s increase numerically. Hegel said that rational conclusions arise out of a dialectic — , again — two concepts, resulting in synthesis. Charles Darwin’s concept of natural selection was based on life’s competition for survival. Darwinian evolution led to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels with their theory of class competition. (Marx and Engels considered themselves the direct ideological heirs of Darwin.) This long line of thought led eventually — , inevitably — Sigmund Freud and his investigations into the human psyche.
Freud discerned within the individual the competition others had observed outwardly. He discerned there a tangle of hidden conflicts, or “complexes,” for which he invented psychoanalysis as a way of resolving them. Freud’s writings, in their grandiose sweep and pompous terminology, betray an amusing suggestion of Wagnerian hyperbole! He felt a need to create new words and definitions — more ponderous the better! — dignify psychoanalysis as a science.
Biological evolution as Darwin explained it has no discernible purpose: It demonstrates only Nature’s extraordinary prolificity. Freud, similarly, saw psychological evolution as having no purpose, and human life as without meaning. Like those others, he was interested in how things work, and from that starting point sought to help people to function normally. And what constituted normality, for him? He never said; perhaps he never even thought of saying. He simply reasoned that, if a person can be released from his repressions, he will find it easier to cope with life.
The human mind is not like the body, in that it is capable of infinite and very varied development. Freud, however, treated it as a fixed reality, as though it were essentially physical. He considered mental health something merely to be established and maintained in a state of “normality.”
Philosophically speaking, man is faced with two absolute alternatives. They are mutually exclusive: consciousness, and unconsciousness. Science considers inert matter the basic and universal reality. From that premise consciousness is assumed to be, not basic, but only an aberration of bedrock reality. The alternative to this assumption, of course, is that everything is consciousness, whereas inertness and unconsciousness are only appearances. Nothing could be more inconvenient for someone who wants to measure everything, as science does, in terms of mass, weight, and motion.
Freud viewed himself as the heir to the traditions of science. He took matter’s unconsciousness, therefore, as his absolute. His explanation for human behavior was predicated on the assumption that it is essentially a mechanism. He would have liked, if possible, to reduce all human behavior to immutable laws like those of physics and chemistry. Only by so doing, indeed, could he win acceptance for psychology as a new and genuine branch of modern science.
Freud’s technique for helping people to gain release from their repressions is known as “free association.” The patient reclines on a couch in a dimly lighted room, and gives random utterance to a so-called “stream of consciousness.” Months of such outpouring are supposed to produce significant data, through which the psychoanalyst must then cull.
Freud analyzed dreams also, claiming that in dreams people reveal their unfulfilled or repressed desires.
Needless to say, valid insights into all this data require considerable sensitivity on the part of the psychoanalyst. Intellectual analysis is inadequate for this task, for deep perception requires also sympathy: Indeed, it requires intuition. Unfortunately, the word analysis suggests only an intellectual function. Given the direction of modern thought, no other method of diagnosis would be acceptably scientific.
Deep feelings, however, cannot be understood by analysis alone any more than a song can be understood by impersonally observing the singer’s gestures and expressions. Sympathy, especially calm sympathy, is essential to understanding people, much more so than detached analysis of them. Many men and women no doubt enter the psychiatric profession out of a desire to help others. Nevertheless, the training they receive conditions them to analyze people intellectually. For in the classroom they must learn the need for preserving scientific objectivity. The process is likely to deaden their natural empathy.
I had an amusing dream recently. It was just before waking in the morning. I was to play a trombone solo with Glenn Miller’s band. I’ve never played the trombone, and had never done so in the dream, either. I tried a few tentative notes, and was surprised that they came out mildly well. The band members smiled in appreciation for my effort; one of them called out, “All right!” Their reaction was friendly and supportive, though hardly overwhelmed. Before I could continue, it seemed I was to sing a well-known Glenn Miller number, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” with Glenn Miller himself singing the introduction. This all took place in a studio, not on stage before a crowd. Song sheets were spread out before us on a piano top, and the pianist was about to begin playing when I awoke.
Now then, what did this dream mean? Glenn Miller’s was probably the best-known band in the early 1940s. He played the trombone superbly. A tie-in comes to mind: Two days earlier, I had noticed on a brochure for a new medical device the name, “At Last.” This was also the name of a song Glenn Miller recorded many years ago for a movie. A tenuous link? Well, anyway, there you have it.
Looking at my dream from a Freudian perspective, I can imagine a psychoanalyst saying that it portrayed wish fulfillment — , if not that, then a fear of public embarrassment. Would either analysis be correct? There was no public in the dream, so of that particular fear we may say it wasn’t likely; in fact, I wasn’t fearful at all. The band members were friendly to me, and not in some way opposed to making it all happen. Was I in any other way emotionally engaged: nervous? apprehensive? competitive? overconfident? eager to show off? happy to find myself in the company of a famous person and with a prominent band? worried about the public’s reception? pleased with the music? displeased with anything? concerned about my ability to perform well? None of the above. I was interested, but otherwise not involved. As far as I can tell, the dream had no meaning. When I awoke, it was with amusement over this quite trivial fantasy.
A psychoanalyst, however, might see promising possibilities here. I’ve said the dream contained no wish fulfillment. “Are you sure?” he might ask, skeptically. “Are you being completely honest with yourself?” I’ve said I felt no apprehension. “You may only be fooling yourself” might be his warning. I’ve said I wasn’t concerned about the public’s reception, but (he might remind me) fear of appearing in public, and especially of speaking or performing on a stage, is one of mankind’s major phobias. So then — ’s to say?
I imagine that any number of “revelations” might be ferreted out of that dream, were a person so inclined. Yet when I awoke it was with a smile of amusement. I’d have dismissed it all from my mind if it hadn’t occurred to me that this might make an interesting addition to the present chapter. A psychoanalyst, relying only on his intellect, might have much to say on the subject, but if he took my own feelings into account — this was my dream, after all! — think he’d soon close his notebook and look elsewhere for clues to the real Don Walters.
As I contemplate dreams that I’ve found meaningful in my life — wasn’t one of them! — seems to me that usually their message was not revealed so much in their literal content as in the feeling that lingered with me afterward. Sometimes this feeling conveyed a clear message. Sometimes the message itself hadn’t much bearing on the events of the dream. What mattered was that I awoke with some new and deeper insight, or some new resolution. Feelings like these are subjective and personal; I wouldn’t want others picking them apart. What the dreams accomplished was significant for their results, not for any analysis I might have made of their contents.
One problem with free association was pointed out in 1942 by Ludwig Wittgenstein, the prominent Austrian-British philosopher. “Queer” was his word for it. “Freud,” he wrote, “never shows where to stop.” He noted, in addition, that Freud never told his patients, “This is the right solution.”
Psychoanalysis offers its patients no real goals. Its greatest lack may be the fact that it holds out no special hope of happiness — one thing everyone most deeply desires. Patients are left more or less where Darwin dumped them: in the mire of their animal origins. They are given nowhere to go and nothing particular to expect. If monkeys were our ancestors, or lemurs, or any other low species, and if our evolution to date has been purely accidental, then to be human is not significantly different from being any other animal. In any case, we all face the same old struggle: survival. Our animal self is what we really are, no matter how pretentiously we clothe ourselves. Indeed — squeeze the last drop of self-honesty from this depressing admission — of our pristine origins ought to take us back farther still in evolution: to the worms, the molluscs, the amebas.
What does it accomplish to tell ourselves that we are “only” animals? It was this admission that Darwin, by posing survival as his criterion of evolution, demanded. If the past is our key to the present, then aspiration of any kind is a delusion and has no bearing on the real issue of life according to Darwin: survival.
Freud makes much of man’s “animal” libido. Interestingly, many lower forms of life are asexual. In the higher animals, moreover, sexual expression is usually seasonal, not obsessive as it can become in human beings. The conclusion is inescapable: Addiction to sex, for those who are subject to it, comes not from man’s animal but from his human nature. Man’s highly developed intelligence can make his imagination insatiable. Rarely, if ever, do fetishes of this sort appear in the lower animals.
Freud described the human psyche as possessing three levels: the Id, the Ego, and the Superego.(1) The first of these, the Id, reaches far back into our animal past; it is, he said, “the dark, inaccessible part of our personality,” animal in nature, sexual, and unconscious. The Id “contains everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, that is fixed in the constitution.” It is blind and ruthless. How many animals, one wonders, might be so described? Beetles, maybe? Mammals, certainly, demonstrate kindness, also, and an ability to care for one another. Any attempt to attribute mere “mechanisms” to such behavior must be labeled pure — not very well reasoned! — The Id’s sole impulse, Freud said, is to gratify desire, in utter indifference to the consequences. It has no values and no moral sense.
Freud’s next step up the ladder of the psyche was the Ego, which, according to him, is what develops out of one’s awareness of the world around him. The Ego is our response to the need to curb the Id’s “blind and ruthless” tendencies, so as not to place ourselves in conflict with others’ expectations of us.
The final level of the psyche was the Superego, which Freud said is our conscience. The Superego as he described it develops in response to the prohibitions and rules of conduct that society — , teachers, and other authority figures — upon us.
Both the Id and the Superego, Freud said, are unconscious. This description of them as unconscious is hardly felicitous. Nothing connected with the mental processes can be literally so! “Subconscious” would be a better word, inasmuch as it describes those parts of the psyche which lie deeper than normal awareness. Neither the Id nor the Superego is above that awareness. The word, subconscious, moreover, has been available since Baron Leibniz in the seventeenth century, and Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth. Those men, however, associated it with merely peripheral awareness, whereas Freud’s “unconscious” descends to levels that had never been contemplated before. This, no doubt, was why he felt the need to invent new names. His nomenclature, however, opened the door to quasi-mystical, and certainly unprovable, “intuitions,” which constituted part of what I’ve called his Wagnerian hyperbole. In any case, and regardless how deep the Id goes, it cannot ever be unconscious. Were it so, it simply wouldn’t exist.
Freud is deservedly famous for making us aware of how many of our mental processes lie far beneath the waking state. To scorn his contribution would be like criticizing Christopher Columbus for not describing California. Nevertheless, it would be well also to realize that Freud was speaking not with the authority of a long tradition, but rather as a pioneer of new knowledge. It would be unfair to demand that he also be infallible.
The title of Chapter Four was, “Ask First: Does It Work?” This is what we must do with Freud’s theories: ask ourselves, first, Do they work?
Freud dealt largely with mental abnormalities. The important thing, to him, was to help his patients to regain what he considered a state of normal mental health. What he gave them instead, however, was a boat without a rudder that took them anywhere, or nowhere, as the winds and ocean currents wafted it. Since the only clear direction he indicated was the shore left behind, his patients were asked only to ponder their hidden origins, as they hacked away at that rope — repressions — them to the shore. The shore and the rope were the only realities he proposed. Psychoanalysis — invention — supposed to enable one to sever the rope. Afterward, however, one was set adrift in a derelict vessel.
“The theory of repression,” Freud wrote, “is the cornerstone on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis rests.” One must seriously question whether the release he envisioned can really be achieved by this merely negative emphasis. How could anyone be expected to abandon something tangible (the life he has known) for something intangible and unknown (the Id, which isn’t even conscious)? Far more effective, surely, would be a positive approach. For that, two methods suggest themselves: affirmation, and visualization.
Affirmation, to be effective, must be — , affirmative! One should never tell himself, for instance, “I will not fail!” He should say, rather, “I will succeed!” Self-correction, too, should not emphasize the difficulties one faces. One shouldn’t say, for example, “I have all these complexes to process.” Rather, he should say, “I will do everything I can to reconstruct my life!” Visualization should be practiced with a view to reinforcing the ability to overcome. Here are a few methods — , only:
Imagine yourself standing on the shore of a lake. Mentally cast your obstacles, like hard crystals of salt, into the clear water. Watch carefully as they dissolve and disappear.
Again, visualize a bonfire. Cast your obstacles into it as though they were chips of wood. Watch them as they are consumed in dancing flames of joy.
A third method: Touch your mental obstacles with a Christmas sparkler of laughter. Concentrate not on the obstacles themselves, but on the light the sparklers emit.
Mental “tricks” like these will not help everyone, but the point in any case is to direct energy away from your obstacles, and toward their solutions. One must develop solution-consciousness. Far more helpful is it to seek solutions than to let oneself be sucked into a whirlpool of negativity.
Clarity cannot be achieved so long as the emotions are disturbed. To achieve calmness, it is insufficient merely to think one’s way out of one’s disturbances. Freud’s focus was on the intellect, but the intellect alone, without calm feeling to balance it, is like a bark without a rudder. Today’s reasoned “break-through” finds itself drifting two days later into a fog, as one asks himself, “Now, what was that insight I had?” It was a gossamer! Thoughts fluctuate constantly. They need guidance from deep feeling if they are not to be more than evanescent. Calm feeling requires that one be established at his own center, and not hopping about erratically at his periphery.
These principles are important not only for individuals, but also for intentional communities. Their members may tend to focus on the problems they face, in their efforts to solve them. The leaders, too, may devote excessive energy to helping the “problem” members in the hope of integrating them into the over-all spirit. The community’s continued development, however, depends on its mental vigor, its solution-consciousness. Goals are best achieved by fully expecting them to be achieved, then by working toward them energetically in a spirit of freedom, and not burdening oneself with excessive concentration on the difficulties.
No good can be served by devoting too much energy to unsupportive members. Of these there will always be a few, for it happens that someone who starts out with good intentions loses steam once the novelty has worn off. Usually, the best hope in such cases is for any negative influence that exists to be neutralized. Dissidents won’t promote ideas they don’t personally like. It is better for the community to devote its energy to those who support what is going on. Positive energy is magnetic and attracts to itself more positive energy. Negative energy, however, if given excessive attention, can actually be a drain on positive energy.
Those who receive personal counseling should be advised not to concentrate too much on ridding themselves of their complexes. All they’ll accomplish, if they continue down that path, is to nourish those conflicts with fascination for them. People should be urged, rather, to set themselves positive goals. This needn’t mean pretending that the conflicts don’t exist. Indeed, awareness of them can awaken the energy to overcome them. But why go to the trouble of ferreting all of them out? That very attempt could easily take one a lifetime, and at last recognition would dawn that, having given them so much attention, little energy remains for positive accomplishments. Success depends almost always on solution-consciousness. It is actively attracted by positive expectations. It can be delayed indefinitely, however, and even repelled, by problem-consciousness.
An important question, after asking, “Does it work?” is to ask further, Has psychotherapy ever produced radiant, magnetic, outstandingly successful human beings? I am not aware that it has. The question, “Does it work?” should be applied moreover not only to patients, but to the psychoanalysts themselves.
Freud wrote, “No psychoanalyst goes further than his own complexes and internal resistances permit.” This statement begs for an inquiry into the man himself, instead of only studying his theories.
Sigmund Freud, according to his long-time friend and biographer Ernst Jones, had a good, if ironic, sense of humor. Despite the fact, moreover, that toward the end of his life he suffered intensely from jaw cancer, he was never heard to complain about it. These are indications, certainly, of a well-integrated personality.
On the other hand, Ernst Jones wrote elsewhere that Freud was also obsessively concerned with death, especially with his own. He was deeply distressed, moreover, when colleagues challenged his concepts, as happened in the definitive falling out he had with Carl Jung and Alfred Adler. Freud’s lack of objectivity in that altercation — too, after all, was only a pioneer in that field — an obsession with being in control. Obsessiveness is suggested also by his preoccupation with death. Such an exaggerated fear must be considered neurotic. Freud himself, had he observed it in someone else, would surely have labeled it that.
It may not be fair to read too much into photographs. Even so, the photos I’ve seen of Sigmund Freud do not awaken in me the thought, “I’d love to be like that man!” Rather, they suggest to me a nature dour, self-preoccupied, and over-absorbed in its own theories. Such a man could be insensitive to others as people. There is no evidence, here, of the friendliness one naturally looks for in someone to whom one has gone for guidance.
So then — radiant patients; no radiant physician; no radiant results from the physician’s methods. What is left? Psychoanalysis is still of course, relatively speaking, in its infancy. We should judge leniently those who work earnestly in this new, important branch of human knowledge — all branches, indeed, the most elusive. Psychiatry, moreover, has come a long way since its first pioneering years. Though it has yet a distance to go, one may hope that, in time, it will learn how to offer truly intuitive guidance, and above all how to encourage people to develop their own highest potentials.
The greatest obstacle psychiatrists face has always been a temptation to arrogance. Wisdom is not common anywhere, for it is the fruit of maturity, not of training. Wisdom depends above all on humility, and on deep, sincere sympathy for others. Meanwhile, it is important that psychoanalysis not become a new, surrogate religion. Were this to happen, further development in this field would cease, at least temporarily.
Years ago I had an instructive experience. I’d injured my vocal cords, having led over a hundred people in singing while being myself afflicted with a severe case of laryngitis. I’d protested that I couldn’t do it, but people had insisted, and I’d relented. My vocal cords, consequently, became ulcerated. For months thereafter, I was forced to rest them. During that time, I visited several doctors. One of them finally suggested that I try speech therapy.
The yellow pages of the telephone directory listed a woman therapist whose office was not far from where I lived. As it turned out, she also practiced psychotherapy.
I was seated in her office for my first appointment, when a man in the outer room, visible through the open door, took his leave. On his way out he waved to her and called out, “Goodbye!” That was all. His tone of voice, however, his body language, his ingratiating smile: all projected the message, “See, Mother, I’m much better now — ’t I?” He exuded immature dependence. I don’t remember what her reply was, but I recall her attitude as she made it. It held motherly reassurance as if to say, “You’re doing just fine, dear.” To me there was something vaguely distasteful in this brief episode. Here was a grown man, I thought, not a child. To be “much better now” should have meant that he now felt strong in himself, not vaguely anxious for reassurance.
She closed the door, then asked me to stretch out on a couch. Sitting beside it, she leaned close to me and asked — in that sweet, motherly tone of voice — “What would you like me to call you?” Was she wanting me, I wondered, to open my arms to her like a little boy to his mommy? This was our first meeting. Her question struck me as highly inappropriate.
“You may call me Walters,” I replied. “I never ask strangers to address me by my first name.”(2) Immediately she backed off. And so ended the only psychotherapy session I’ve ever had. Outside, afterward, a medical friend suggested I try chiropractic treatments. Two neck adjustments later, I was completely cured.
There seems to me something unwholesome about therapy that seeks to reduce patients to a state of dependency. It affronts their sense of self-worth, their natural dignity. It isn’t that I don’t believe in humility. I believe in it very much. To accept a negative image of oneself, however, is not humility. Rather, it leads to self-absorption, which is the very opposite of humility.
Humility means self-forgetfulness. It means to respect others, and out of respect to refrain from intruding unless they themselves extend an invitation. Even so, to preserve a certain mental distance, based on respect, makes communication easier. This is as true for communication between friends as between strangers. Respect keeps a relationship non-invasive. Excessive familiarity, on the other hand, is demeaning to true friendship.
My objection to psychoanalysis — analysis only, not as wise and sympathetic inquiry — that it encourages people to become self-centered. How can anyone find inner release if he keeps thinking about himself?
On a cruise through the fjords of Norway a few years ago, I had a conversation with a New York psychiatrist. He asked me, “How do you work with the people in your communities?”
“We encourage them,” I replied, “to stand on their own feet, and not to depend too much on others for help. We urge them also not to focus on their shortcomings or on how others have treated them, but to work on developing their own strength and clarity.”
To my astonishment, the man’s reply was abrupt: “In other words, you’re the competition!”
What a statement! and how demeaning, I thought, to his patients! Psychiatry, alas, too often fans people’s victim-consciousness — if freedom could be attained by blaming others, instead of by scrupulous self-honesty.
Not long ago I watched a videotape of the movie Pride and Prejudice, based on the novel of the same name by Jane Austen. Featuring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, the movie contains a sequence, which isn’t in the novel, where Olivier (Mr. Darcy) tries to teach Garson (Elizabeth Bennet) how to shoot a bow and arrow. Mr. Darcy doesn’t know it, but Elizabeth is actually better at archery than he. Her three arrows all hit the bull’s eye. His one arrow, shot with the purpose of teaching her the right technique, misses the bull’s eye — it does hit the target. As I was watching this episode, I thought: This is how psychotherapy can help people. It can offer them goals, then show them how to direct energy toward achieving them.
To return to cooperative intentional communities: Their real purpose should be to inspire people toward actual ends, both communal and individual. Intentional communities would be of little practical service if they encouraged people merely to live together as friends on the same property. Goals are needed to inspire the whole group. If their boat — return to our former analogy — both a rudder and a compass, it will simply drift. And if the group has no positive purpose, even though its members enjoy their friendly interaction together, it will bring most of them, after a time, the feeling that something is amiss.
Counseling given with a view to definite ends might be named, “Directional Therapy.” For a clear direction is required for notable success to be achieved. If, for example, a person takes up painting without any clear notion of what he’d like to do with it, he won’t progress beyond the stage of gay dauber and dilettante.
Psychologists point out the problems caused by conflicting impulses, of which the origins, usually, lie deep in the subconscious. Is it really necessary to understand those impulses in order to function effectively? Only if they seriously impede one’s ability to function at all. Usually, it is better to direct one’s energy positively than fret over what is obstructing that energy. Even a short move in a positive direction will often generate the energy needed for the next step.
Intentional cooperative communities are living laboratories. People’s shared commitment to an ideal soon reveals which attitudes work well, which ones are less effective, and which ones don’t work at all. If a person’s first thought is, “I must get my own situation together, smooth out my own problems, and figure out what I really need to be doing,” he’ll never get it together! But if he forgets himself to focus on the larger issues; if he expands his interests to include the needs of others; if he determines to do something positive in cooperation with others, then he may inspire many even when he finds himself beset by personal problems. Most important, he will find inspiration in himself.
If an archer lets himself be distracted by people’s chatter, he probably won’t hit the target. Similarly, for the mind to achieve anything worthwhile it must be withdrawn from objects of distraction and focused on what one intends to accomplish. Distractions include subconscious conflicts. Even with these, one can withdraw the mind from them instead of wrestling with them mentally. The way to withdraw it is to relax from concentration on them.
The problem of how to direct energy wisely brings us back to Adam Smith and his claim of the importance of self-interest. When self-interest is contractive, it produces unhappiness and is therefore unwholesome. When self-interest is expansive, however, and embraces other interests and others’ needs, it creates happiness both for oneself and for others around one.
To practice directional therapy, a psychiatrist could offer his patients specific, uplifting goals. At present, with Freud’s influence still looming over the scene like a grey cloud, a patient, after finishing his treatment, usually goes out with the bland assurance that he is as normal, now, as other people — is to say, no more neurotic than they. And what are the norms he is expected to embrace so confidently? They include selfish ambition; unappeasable desires; self-preoccupation; intolerance of the unfamiliar; anger toward anyone whose interests conflict with his own; and the effort to release negative emotions by giving vent to them rather than by calmly accepting things as they are. “Norms” like these, if in fact we accept them as normal, create either a sense of desperation or a yawning sense of ennui! For a patient to achieve true release, and certainly for a community to achieve worthwhile ideals, the norm, instead, should be to make inner fulfillment one’s outward goal.
Freud’s only “firm” reality was what he called the “unconscious”: not so firm, obviously — fact, so vague as to invite almost any understanding of it one likes. He defined human nature in terms of sexual desire. Adler defined it as the inferiority complex, giving rise to the will to power. Jung defined that large continent beneath conscious awareness as the “collective unconscious.” All three men got their patients to ponder things they couldn’t see or understand. Incomprehension caused them to focus all the more intensely on mere shadows.
Some years ago, I was invited to lecture to a Jungian community in Germany. I felt concern for them when I saw how desperately anxious they were for self-improvement. “Relax,” I urged them. “Think of what you want to achieve in life. Don’t worry so much about the obstacles in the way of that achievement.”
They took stern issue with me. “We must first face our darknesses! We must bring them out into the open, so that we may deal with them honestly.”
“Indeed, I agree,” I replied, “self-honesty is essential. But you won’t free yourselves of those ‘darknesses’ by merely dwelling on them. Why not banish them by turning on the light?”
They continued to argue with me. In the end, their leader remonstrated, “My dear sir, you are just too reasonable!” I was forced at last to accept that one lecture wasn’t enough to alter their opinions. Their problem, I reflected, was that they were committed to a philosophy that offered them no solutions — processes.
What solution do I propose, then? I don’t say, Become a “Super Achiever!” That, as we all know, is the way to an early heart attack. But what about exploring your own higher potentials? These, though certainly not clear at present, may yet raise us to levels of awareness that are more refined than any we know at present. If your potentials seem vague to you, so also is genius. And if even one human being can achieve genius, why cannot all achieve it?
There are goals everyone seeks. These include happiness, peace of mind, inner freedom, love, and wisdom: a very good beginning, surely, in any attempt at personal development. Other goals there are also, particular to the individual. The important thing, always, is that one’s awareness expand, not contract in self-absorption.
In the next chapter we’ll consider the question of how community members who are dedicated to high ideals can achieve them more easily in a group than alone. Can a goal as imprecise as happiness, for example, inspire people to strive for it in practical ways? Not as something concrete, admittedly, for happiness is a direction, not a fixed end. That it exists, however, should be obvious enough. If we don’t share whatever we have of it with others, but hoard it instead like a private possession, it will wither and die.
Happiness is a state of mind. As such, it doesn’t depend on material things and conditions. As gas expands, so also does consciousness, if it isn’t kept confined in a little bubble of selfishness. Consciousness is, of course, inconceivably subtle compared with gas. One can at least imagine it, therefore, as capable of infinite expansion. Indeed, it is unreasonable to think consciousness can be contained within the mere confines of a skull. We reach out constantly to the world around us, and it is in consciousness that we do the reaching. Our outreach is not only in thought, but in feeling as we seek constantly to explore our relationship to broader realities.
Freud described the psyche as existing on three levels, of which he said the first and last — Id and the Superego — unconscious, and only the Ego is conscious. His reasoning contains a serious flaw: He describes us as willing things at lower than egoic levels, so how can those levels be unconscious, literally? They may be hidden from superficial awareness, but, like sunken treasure, their allure may be all the greater for the fact that they are invisible. Considering how careful Freud was with his terminology, this confusion of unconsciousness with mere lack of active awareness seems slipshod.
Since the Ego is one’s sense of self, moreover, it doesn’t acquire self-awareness from other people as Freud claimed. Self-awareness begins at least at the time of birth. It gains definition through contact with others, but even without that definition it is real; it isn’t imposed on us from without. Self-definition depends on an already-existing consciousness of existence: otherwise, it couldn’t exist. One need only observe the anxiety of a newborn baby to focus — earnestly! — its own body. With its first breath, it demonstrates sufficient awareness to cry. And if it should find it difficult to take that breath, it would be quite aware enough to register an active protest. Ego-awareness cannot be entirely absent even at the level of the Id.
The Superego, finally, as explained by Freud, is an alien imposition: not superior to the ego, but remote from and even hostile to it. (How, one wonders, can so active a feeling as hostility be unconscious?)
The dark realms of the Id, however obscure to us in the waking state, are nevertheless part of our egoic awareness. They relate to our sense of self, for it is we ourselves who possess those memories; they don’t exist in someone else’s mind. Nor are they, more vaguely, a part of some “collective unconscious.” They exist consciously in our own selves.
Freud’s exclusion of the Id from egoic as well as from conscious awareness opened the way for Jung’s pseudo-mystical concept of a “collective unconscious.” Group thoughts do influence people, of course — so than most realize. Rational human beings, under the influence of a mass emotion, will sometimes behave quite irrationally. There is nothing unconscious, however, about the process. When calmness returns, a person may regret something he did under that influence, but to label the influence unconscious is a poor excuse for avoiding blame.
Thoughts also leave their imprint on places. I have noted, in a lifetime of traveling, that although past civilizations may not exert an obvious influence on the present, they still exert a subtle influence. In North America, descendants of European immigrants may feel a certain rapport with the so-called American Indian(3) that newcomers don’t experience. Descendants of settlers in Australia describe similar feelings toward the aborigines of that continent — that I, as a casual visitor, find some difficulty in experiencing. There does seem to be a “collective” awareness of some sort, not “unconscious,” which affects us all.
So then, we have an Id; good enough. We have an Ego: quite obvious, though the ego cannot be imposed from without. What about the Superego? Freud explained it as another outside imposition, and defined it as man’s “conscience.” If it is in fact imposed, it cannot be “conscience” in the usual sense of the word, though others’ opinions do of course affect all of us to a certain extent. Their influence, however, accounts only for our “social conscience”; it is not that deeper recognition of right and wrong which is native to all of us, even if we suppress it, and which arises from deep levels of our own consciousness.
Is this recognition, as some people believe, artificial? Is it due only to outer conditioning? There are laws at least of a physical nature that affect us all. Were we to eat nails, for instance, we would offend against the way our bodies were made, and might die. We usually know when we’ve offended against at least some of the laws of our bodies, for we suffer pain as a result.
There are also laws governing the mind. If we deliberately cause someone pain, for example, we feel badly, not only out of fear of his displeasure, but because we’ve created disharmony in ourselves. We’ve gone against the natural flow of feeling in our hearts. In fact, to return to a point we made earlier, we’ve shrunk that feeling inward upon ourselves.
Notice how people, after making an unkind remark about someone absent, tend to follow that remark with a light laugh. The laugh is a mere reflex; it indicates an affirmation of inner harmony. It shows an attempt to convince oneself that one’s peace hasn’t been disturbed — , of course, it has been!
“Conscience,” as Freud described it, works on the subconscious also, and often results in repressions. It cannot rightly, then, be called unconscious. Freud might even have designated it, instead, the Extra-ego, not the Superego, for its influence comes not from above us, but from outside. There remains a need for recognition of the existence of another level of the psyche: a transcendental awareness. A good name for this level would be the superconscious, for it is actually above the normal wakeful level of awareness. Scientists say that we use only a small percentage of our potential brain power. Perhaps the superconscious describes that higher potential.
Or perhaps, again, the brilliance of genius is due not so much to an unusually well-operating brain, but to a greater-than-usual openness to higher inspiration. Perhaps even Jung’s reservoir of “collective unconsciousness” exists not as something unconscious, but as a reality more conscious than our so-called “norms.”
For decades science debated whether light is a particle or a wave. The dispute was finally settled when light was proved to be both! Perhaps that portion of a person’s consciousness that we associate with the brain (in this analogy, the particle of light), and that which comes from an unconfined source (the wave), will be found, similarly, to be one and the same thing.
Many people of genius have described inspiration as coming to them in a flash. They don’t work laboriously to achieve it. Works, on the other hand, that are produced by careful ratiocination give no evidence of having been inspired.
There are gradations of inspiration, moreover, the highest of which come only when the mind is calm and, so to speak, inwardly listening. Hard work may be necessary, afterward, to present that inspiration clearly to others, but true inspiration depends first of all on receptivity. It carries with it a deep sense of conviction. These facts are relevant also to scientific discovery. The mind in all cases is calm, focused, and intensely aware; it can’t be restless. The ego itself, finally, is only minimally involved.
To clarify these concepts, visualize a stained-glass window of many colors. The time is early in the morning before sunrise, and the outdoors light is still dim. The window’s colors cannot easily be distinguished from one another: The reds look like the yellows; the blues resemble the greens.
Then the sun rises, and the colors assume clarity and brilliance. What is it that gives them their beauty? Obviously, it is the sunlight. The colors cannot manifest themselves.
Let’s continue this image. The sun now is high overhead; we go out of doors to bask in its warmth. No longer is the sunlight filtered to us through colored panes of glass: It is all around us, coming to us from the sky above. Indoors, the colored panes broke the light into many colors. Out of doors, it is the earth’s atmosphere that gives the light its color. Were there no atmosphere, the sun would appear as if suspended in total blackness.
Because our minds are finite, we may prefer to see the light framed in a colored window to blazing alone in empty space. Perhaps the brain, too, like those colored panes, is only a filter for consciousness, particularizing it, rather than acting as a mere organ for the “excretion” of consciousness. In this case, Leonardo da Vinci may be described as the filter through which inspiration came to him, enabling the production of his great works of art. Perhaps it was a wave — an ocean of consciousness? — inspired him, even as waves of light may be said to form its particles.
The wave of inspiration that was particularized by Leonardo might have been filtered differently by other minds. His genius lay not only in his openness and receptivity to inspiration, but in his talent for individualizing it.
It is right and natural that we honor the great artist, Leonardo, through whom those works came into being. To return, however, to the analogy of light as both a particle and a wave, if consciousness itself is greater than that which exists in the brain, then Leonardo was the co-creator of his works, not their sole originator. He was — change the analogy — thousand-watt light bulb compared to which the bulbs of lesser minds had a lower wattage. All minds, however, were recipients of the same voltage from the power plant, regardless of their individual capacity.
Many scientific discoveries have been made almost simultaneously by more than one person. This fact is well known, and suggests that the truths revealed by science were simply awaiting discovery by minds that were attuned to their particular “wavelength.” Indeed, it has often been said that, had Charles Darwin delayed publication of The Origin of Species by only two weeks, Alfred Russel Wallace, who was on the same track, would today be known as the originator of the Theory of Evolution.
Nikolai Lobachevsky in Russia, and János Bolyai in Hungary, discovered non-Euclidian geometry more or less at the same time. Euclid had reigned unchallenged as the authority on geometry for over two thousand years. All at once these two men, unknown to one another, had the same revolutionary insight.
In mathematics, again, Isaac Newton in England and Baron Leibniz in Germany (he who first drew attention to the subconscious) discovered calculus. They didn’t collaborate in this discovery, yet they made it almost simultaneously.
Consider, too, how waves of inspiration move across the world. They touched Germany during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, resulting in the great musical masterpieces of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and many others. Those waves touched Athens, Greece, during the fourth century B.C., when that country flowered with great philosophy. They touched France in the seventeenth century, and the dramatic works of Corneille, Racine, and Molière came into being.
In studying this historical phenomenon, one encounters case after case supportive of the theory that consciousness is not a creation of the brain, but comes to it from higher levels, giving it the very power to think.
Let us return to the “collective unconscious” of Carl Jung: If his reference was not to something literally unconscious; if it wasn’t a mere composite of many people’s thoughts, but the source, rather, from which they derive their ideas, what can it be? In this case, the world’s cultures must have developed not only out of collective decisions made by many human beings, but out of the attunement of those people with a broader consciousness. Scientific invention, artistic and literary inspiration, and great achievements of all kinds derived from attunement with various levels of consciousness, and not from anyone’s thinking, thinking, thinking as the mind dizzied itself like a whirling dervish with all that effort.
I have suggested that this greater consciousness be called the superconscious. Freud’s Superego is misleading, since it really isn’t above the ego. He related it to the conditioning we receive from society, and claimed that its conditioning is responsible for the conflict between the Superego and the nature with which we were born — Id, or aggregate of our “animal” impulses. Conscience, according to Freud, causes most of our unhappiness. He said that in responding to its strictures we suppress what we really want in an attempt to adjust to the demands of others.
Inner conflict, according to his view, is inevitable. It forces us to repress our natural impulses, thereby producing deep-seated tensions and consequent inner frustration. Such tension and frustration can lead in extreme cases to madness. Human life therefore, according to him, can never rise above grim compromise, a sort of Hegelian synthesis born of the conflict between two harsh alternatives: the individual’s self-interest on the one hand, and society’s self-interest on the other. Happiness, in this case, is impossible, and the best we may hope for is, by releasing our repressions, to be able to function more or less normally in a basically abnormal world, where conflict and competition are the “norms.” Suppression is the “Trojan horse” that threatens man’s peace of mind. Release from suppression is the only possible way to fulfillment.
Once again, we must ask the question: Does it work?
There is an aspect of suppression that too few people, especially if they’ve been influenced by Freudian concepts, take sufficiently into account: namely, that suppression is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, indeed, it may even be a good thing — not as a means of avoiding shame and ignominy, but as a help to developing strength and a noble character. These are assets; they enrich the soil in which the tree of happiness grows.
Imagine a fairly usual situation: A man loves a woman, and she requites his love. She poses a threat, however, to some principle that he holds dear: perhaps his love for his country, or for a noble cause, or for God. In the first case, it may be that she is a citizen of an enemy country. In the second case, it may be that she is wholly indifferent to the cause that is dear to him. In the third, perhaps her desire for worldly satisfactions prevents her from feeling any interest in spiritual matters. What should he do?
In each case, a psychoanalyst might say to him, “Your conscience is society’s imposition on you. Objectively, it has no validity. Do what you yourself feel good about doing. If you choose the path of honor (as you mistakenly call it), and renounce love, you will only suffer by repressing your true nature, as it is defined by your desires. What point is there in suffering? Accept that fulfilling your desire is, where you are concerned, the only good. Choose the girl.”
Let us assume he follows this advice. In his heart he knows that in so doing he sacrifices something precious to him, even though intangible. He may content himself for a time with that choice. Eventually, however, he will surely suffer, for in denying his ideals he will have stifled another very real part of his own nature.
To renounce personal gratification for the sake of a principle is, many psychoanalysts say, a mistake. In most cultures, however, such renunciation is considered a virtue and a path to honor. Pain is not always a bad thing. To do what one feels is right, as opposed to what is merely pleasant, is the way to enduring happiness. This uphill path is not always easy, but its rewards are infinitely greater than the consolations one experiences by flowing with desire. Was Freud right? Has humanity for so many centuries been wrong?
“Do what feels good,” the psychiatrist may say. Does it “feel good” to affirm selfishness? We have seen that, in the long run, it does not. The way to feel lastingly “good” is to expand, not contract, one’s self-identity.
Some years ago I read an account of a woman whose husband had recently died. Someone asked a friend of hers, “How is she holding up?”
“Oh, marvelously!” the friend replied. “She’s kept on such heavy sedation, she barely knows what’s happened to her.”
Is it really good to place so high a priority on avoiding pain? Surely, by facing pain and accepting it one’s strength and insight increase. Constantly to shirk pain shows an unwillingness to face reality; it is a mark of emotional immaturity.
True enough, blocked energy is unwholesome. If we suppress or ignore it, moreover, it won’t simply shrivel up and die. It must be redirected. In so doing, great power can be generated in oneself. Pain encourages one to re-think his priorities. When suppressed energy is released and channeled wisely, one’s initial disappointments can end in shining success and happiness.
Genius requires moral vigor. It never flourishes by compromising with unnecessary conventions. True conscience, as opposed to superficial “scrupulosity,” summons one to live up to the highest that is in him. This conscience comes from within: It cannot be imposed externally. This is a more difficult path than lying on a couch and giving utterance to streams of consciousness to release blocked energy in the Id. In the end, however, this difficult path is infinitely more rewarding.
Communities offer an especially practical path to self-conquest. They require outer goals, also, toward which their members can aspire together. If it were only a question of everyone’s exploring his own potential, people might as well become hermits. But people need one another. Good company and good environment: Both are needed — much so as the body needs nourishing food. Communities that are dedicated to high principles are an important way of inspiring people to make an effort that few would make on their own.
In the next and last chapter, we’ll consider what, specifically, a community might do to establish goals that are expansive, as opposed to ones that are narrow and constrictive. Communities are a way of helping people to grow toward maturity as human beings, and not allow themselves to diminish and stagnate.
- For clarity, I shall capitalize these three words in reference to Freud and his theories. Otherwise, the word ego appears, as it normally does, in lower case.
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- To clarify that statement, my reply was because she’d asked me that question. Otherwise, as far as I’m concerned people may call me whatever they like.
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- I can’t resist sharing a joke here that I heard recently. Someone asked a Sioux Indian, “Would you rather be called an Indian, or a Native American?” The other replied, “Well, since we’re neither, we’re only grateful that Christopher Columbus, in discovering America, wasn’t looking for Turkey.”
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