The Experience of Being & Meaning
By: Mark Bancroft, MA
|Part One:||Defining Consciousness|
|Part Two:||Plato's Influence & The Meta-Paradigm of Western Society|
|Part Three:||Paradigms & the Perception of Reality|
|Part Four:||Quantum Consciousness & Therapy|
|Part Five:||Living Systems Theory as a Therapeutic Resource|
How consciousness is defined has important and far-reaching consequences. How a person defines consciousness is likely to say more about the person than it does about consciousness. In many respects a definition of consciousness operates as a reflection of one's relationship with him/herself and the world. What is included in one's definition of consciousness also determines what gets excluded. If my definition and understanding of consciousness only goes so far as psychological self-awareness, then my boundary of self is primarily 'set' to go no further than my own thought and personal identity.
In a sense, when a person defines consciousness they are, in effect defining themselves. How broad or narrow one's experience of self extends typically mirrors how that person is likely to define consciousness. As the boundaries of one's self expand, so too does the recognition and identification with the self beyond the immediate thought processes of the ego. How a society generally defines consciousness is also an important consideration. If consciousness is exclusively a human trait, chances are that the society in question will not place much value on nature and the environment. While a definition of consciousness appears merely theoretical, its effects are far-reaching and consequential on many levels.
Scientifically, developing a definition of consciousness has not been a hot topic of inquiry. Throughout most the scientific era consciousness has been excluded. It was generally not acceptable to concern one's self with the "C-word", as it was referred to. The subjective nature of consciousness did not fit with the development of pseudo-objective science. Science is about description, not subjective speculation. However, the relationship between science and consciousness is beginning to change.
The advent of quantum physics has all but forced science to reconsider the importance of consciousness as an area of study. In many quantum theories consciousness is called upon to "fill in the holes" in order to account for the strangeness found in many subatomic experiments. To call consciousness the necessary evil of science is not entirely inappropriate. Physics has been and is likely to remain the backbone of hard science. Advances made in the hard science of physics generally make their way to the soft sciences. Therefore, the foundation of modern science is unsteady. The solidity of perceived-objectivity has begun to erode. Consciousness is making itself known beyond the inner mind.
The most common scientific definition of consciousness finds its roots in the "emergent properties" theory. A general scientific definition would maintain that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon arising from the brain's hardware and operative functioning. While the phenomenon cannot be accounted for or explained by the theory entirely, consciousness itself is not considered to be a particularly special event. AI advocates insist that once computers become complex enough, they will be able to demonstrate that machines can be conscious as well. It is believed that once a threshold of complexity is reached, be it through neurons or computer binary data, consciousness emerges. Take away enough neurons, or turn off the computer's electricity, and consciousness will apparently cease to exist. Either way, it is believed that consciousness is reducible to physical correlates- its basis is purely a physical event.
In the most general terms, the psychological definition defines consciousness as self-awareness; the state of being conscious. If there is awareness of one's self, environment, sensations, and thoughts then consciousness is considered to exist. Therefore, consciousness is the experience of an inner and outer world.
The joint or mutual knowledge definition expands on this most general definition and considers consciousness to be an expression closely related to the ability to share thoughts with others. Through learnt expression a person develops the ability to be aware of her/himself. Conscious awareness is considered a learnt phenomenon dependent upon social interaction and conditioning. The opposite viewpoint maintains that consciousness is the ability for inner knowing- not dependent upon, nor resultant from social exchange.
Other psychological definitions of consciousness include the sum total and information processing explanations. The sum total definition defines consciousness as the totality of the impressions, thoughts and feelings which make up a person's conscious being. In general terms, the definition postulates that consciousness is the sum total of all which occurs within the mind. The information processing definition considers consciousness to exist at many levels. Rather than excluding all phenomenon outside the realm of rational thought, this more inclusive definition allows for the existence of altered states, paranormal occurrences, as well as multiple levels/degrees of consciousness.
Finally, William James defined consciousness as a function of knowing. He considered consciousness a tool which, by its nature, is selective, fluid, and personal- a tool founded upon logic which serves to create an inner coherent reality. He also believed consciousness to be a continuous process. Sleep was seen to be a "time-gap" during which consciousness subsides, but nonetheless remains in tact. James also recognized the existence of altered states of consciousness which he felt should not be ignored or discarded.
Rather than getting caught up on what to include or exclude with respect to consciousness, ecological definitions bypass the psychological considerations altogether and approach consciousness from a much broader perspective: consciousness as life. Ecological definitions generally depict the biosphere as consciousness. The noosphere is perceived as having its roots deeply embedded in the biosphere. In fact, it is accurate to say that the noosphere is dependent upon the biosphere for survival. In turn, the biosphere is dependent upon the physiosphere for its existence. Here we begin to see the definition of consciousness extending beyond the mind and ego boundaries; expanding outward to include connections with all life. Human supremacy is called into question.
In the Gaia hypothesis both spheres become intricately connected as a whole. Consciousness is the permeating and emergent thread bringing the three into unification- a One. The foundation and the expression of the spheres act in both a self-serving and self-supportive fashion. A relationship of mutual dependency is created where the organism's actions serve not only the organism but the entire whole. This perspective depicts humankind as having a definite role within a larger framework which extends across every dimension of the environment. The issue of responsibility arises.
In most ecological models human behavior, being overly self-serving out of greed and fear is analogous to a cancer infecting an otherwise healthy organism- Gaia. It is here that we begin to see a definition of consciousness extending well beyond the realms of the mind. The important consequence being, of course, a disintegration of the split between "inner" and "outer". Really grasping what lies at the heart of our interdependency with the environment, or biosphere, is a challenging endeavor. As our definition of consciousness expands, it calls us to question some firmly established convictions and beliefs. Finite resources really does mean finite! Consumerism and over-consumption turn into a ritual leading headlong into mass-suicide. Identity issues erupt for the very reason that our definition of self has been drastically questioned and/or altered.
As the definition of consciousness continues to expand beyond identification with the biosphere, we enter into the spiritual domain. It is in the spiritual definitions of consciousness that we glimpse the complete disillusionment of the ego. No longer the defining characteristic of consciousness, the importance of the ego is brought under serious scrutiny. In fact, the ego is seen as illusion, or Maya. No longer the container of consciousness, the sense of self expands to encompass everything in the universe. Consciousness is. In spiritual definitions consciousness is all there ultimately is. Everything else, the sense of an individual self; objective reality; recognition of there being an "other"; is understood to simply be an expression of consciousness. It is the process of the universe, or consciousness, becoming aware of herself.
Defining consciousness from a spiritual perspective is like trying to define the Tao. "The Tao that can be described is not the Tao..." The capability of the conscious mind, as intellect, is insufficient to grasp consciousness in its entirety. Consciousness is the all that is. It includes the noosphere, the biosphere; and the physiosphere as well. Glimpsing this larger reality brings with it the overwhelming desire to share the experience with others, while at the same time the understanding that any attempt at doing so will be futile. Consciousness in this sense is infinite, ineffable, and knowable- though not through the ordinary means of cognition. From this perspective, consciousness must therefore be experienced directly. Any other definition besides direct experience is not a definition of Consciousness... only a faint expression of it. (back to top)
Plato's Influence & The Meta-Paradigm of Western Society
To overstate the power and influence of Plato would indeed be quite a challenge, for Plato is the grandfather of dualism [Garrett, 1997]. What appears at first glance to just be yet another antiquated and outdated philosophical school of thought, is, in fact, a living structure of consciousness. The influence of Plato permeates nearly every sphere of modern life in Western society. To this day, Plato's influence functions as the foundation, or meta-paradigm, upon which tens of millions of lives are directly affected. And, like most paradigms, its presence and influence operates primarily at the unconscious level; giving it power, strength, and fortitude. Plato is so ingrained in Western society that the assumptions upon which the philosophy is built go unquestioned and unexamined. They are givens, they are "natural", and they have become reality.
It is in the Republic and the Myth of the Cave that dualism finds its most rigorous expression. It is with Plato that one confronts the human drama of dualism. A drama taking place on two all-important levels; the individual and the universal. A once "in-tact" universe is suddenly split into two distinct opposites: the eternal (the world of forms, being) and the temporal (the cave, nature). Consequently, in a dualistic universe the human is bound to a dualistic self-nature: there is body, and there is psyche. The implications of this dismemberment are enormous.
The Homeric worldview which maintained nothing existed outside of nature crumbled under the weight of dualism's inspiring aspiration and console in the existence of an afterlife. Plato transformed the human condition from tragedy to eternal aspiration. In the Homeric tradition the body was valued as the connection to reality (nature). Loss of the body meant loss of one's foothold on reality, and the decent to Hades. In Plato the loss of the body becomes a disconnection from the "cave" allowing the psyche to ascend to the eternal realm.
Consciousness evolved. Identity with nature and the body gave way to a reality that was/is perceived to be ultimately supernatural. Likewise, physicality became likened to a dark cave where the shadows cast upon the cave walls, which are merely reflections of the eternal (perfect) forms, are considered reality...a grave mistake!
Because reality is depicted as supernatural, Plato's philosophy (paradigm) is based upon aspiration; it calls the individual from above. Unfortunately, for the very reason that one is aspiring toward 'ultimate reality' the teachings became an aspiration for perfection. Obsession with supernatural perfection resulted in a rejection of body and nature; and ultimately the world. Interestingly, perfection is a misperception that is rooted in imperfection. Perfection exists not without imperfection! Belief in perfection results in a disparagement of the world, and fosters intolerance towards others who do not agree wholeheartedly with your truth. This shadow side of perfection is clearly witnessed in Laws which prescribes and rationalizes the most extreme forms of oppression; all for the supposed good of the individual/citizen. Aspiration to perfection based upon duality is the fatal flaw of Plato [Garrett, 1997]; and the meta-paradign of Western society.
"Behind the duality is unity. If we do not rise beyond duality and move toward unity, we do not attain perfection, we do not attain spirituality [Khan, 1983, p.133]."
Throughout his life Plato was unable to move past duality. The entire concept of unity was alien and contradictory to the philosophy he developed, and by which he was bound.
Furthermore, Plato succumbed to the liability inherent in the mystical quest. As the quest unfolds the seeker ends up being satisfied only in the timeless realm. The seeker's truth becomes objectified, it becomes the truth. This is supported by the perennial philosophy which depicts (and skews) all other religions by perceiving them as nothing more than varying paths up the same mountain; all paths leading to the same truth. This 'same truth' is, of course, the "objective" truth found by the seeker. Therefore, the seeker maintains that all paths are essentially the same, without ever realizing that it is he who is simply having the same experience! Plato's fallacy is that he allowed (convinced himself that) the mystical experience is independent of the person [Garrett, 1997]. The mystic then becomes the spokesperson and representative of the absolute truth which he has the ability to directly experience.
The reason an understanding of Plato is so important is because the Platonic influence has infected nearly every aspect of our society for over two-thousand years. The consequences wrought by this influence have been and continue to be monumental.
To begin with, as nature and body became disparaged, women ended up taking the rap. Feminist qualities were buried and violently repressed to the extent of justifiable and institutionalized murder. To this day, the much needed feminist qualities required to balance an out of control 'patriarchal' system remain repressed,
"Modernity stripped down the meaning of life to a struggle between the human mind and the rest of the natural world...Because it is now apparent that modernity has failed to fulfill its promises of "a better life" in many of the deepest senses, we are compelled to search for new, or perhaps recovered [feminist], modes of understanding our nature and the relation between our species and the rest of the natural world [Spretnak, 1991, p.12]."
The dualistic split between mind and nature has brought with it the realities of environmental degradation, which is a form of collective suicide and mass destruction.
In addition to the mind/nature split, the split between mind and body has and is taking its toll as well. Other, more intuitive ways of knowing are lost. Because the body becomes an "other", the common tendency is to disown the contradictory drives and motivations of the body. This is especially apparent in the many issues surrounding sex in today's society. For many Westerner's, the "total" human organism has been severed into incongruent, disjointed parts, where the mind claims the right of commander in chief.
"Asian teachers of meditation have long admonished us: The core of Western weakness lies in the fact that we have displaced our center too far upward-into the chest and the head. That's why we tip over so easily- literally as well as figuratively [Berendt, 1987, p.131]."
The last major impact of Plato's influence is seen in the general intolerance and future orientation stemming from the aspiration for perfection. Life, as it is in the present moment, is non-acceptable. Holding onto perfection insures the need for imperfection, no matter how annoying and repulsive. Normal waking consciousness literally becomes trapped in a state of deficiency, inadequacy, and scarcity. This, in turn, harbors its own unfortunate and destructive consequences. An inner void of discontentment breaks wide open. The purpose of life becomes that of filling, or getting rid of the scarcity void issued forth by perfectionism and the ever-distant promise of divine fulfillment.
The answer to this felt-sense of loss and emptiness has primarily been the false promises so loudly espoused through consumerism, a quick-fix solution not requiring conscious awareness. Because the void is so immense, the cancerous belief in infinite needs infectiously grows. Faster, better, sleeker, sexier, thinner, superior...yet time and again the products ultimately fail in their promise to 'fill the void'.
The function of the shopping mall in US society has become eerily similar to the role of the church in the Middle Ages. In a very real sense the malls are now the modern cathedrals where individuals and families go (especially on Sunday) to find comfort, security, and a sense of hope- a quick-fix solution to eradicate the inner despair. The allure of owning a piece of the eternal perfection by means of purchasing a new product is deceiving. A destructive cycle begins; threatening both the individual and the entire natural world as a result.
Therapeutically, such Platonic pillars can readily be seen in action. Therapy is often initially turned to in order to help keep the Platonically founded structure of consciousness from falling apart. As the vast amount of energy needed to sustain the ideals begins to evaporate; stress, dissatisfaction with life, frustration, and disappointment with one's present life typically surface. The aspiration for perfection, if taken too far, literally begins to "kill" the individual. Stress threatens physical health. Emotions, once deeply repressed, begin to surface and wreak havoc upon interpersonal relationships (projection/shadow issues). Spiritual needs, once unconscious and unmet, make their presence known, calling for a deeper, more expansive and meaningful understanding of one's life and place in the cosmos. The greatest value offered through therapy work is its ability to create a structured, contained, and guided "space" for transformation to occur. Ultimately, such inner transformation is, in essence, the creation/emergence of a more expansive, encompassing structure of consciousness within the individual.
The point is that Plato's root paradigm, if not examined, has a detrimental affect upon each sphere of our lives, and therefore our entire life experience is affected, if not governed, by it. Many of the issues, concerns, and problems found in today's society, both individually and collectively, are based upon the Platonic meta-paradigm. Therapeutic application of this awareness has within it an incredible potential ability to illicit deep transformation that goes well beyond simply rearranging the "furniture" inside the room (paradigm). (back to top)
Paradigms & the Perception of Reality
A paradigm provides an apparent solid contextual framework for subjective interpretation. Infused with the power to organize, determine, and explain subjective experiences, paradigms can be seen as the overseers of the subjective universe. Because of this their effects also shape, mold, and greatly determine a person's experience of the objective/external world as well. Unknowingly, we end up confusing a set of mental constructs (beliefs and assumptions) as reality, enveloping both the 'objective' and subjective dimensions.
"We see the world, not as it is, but as we are- or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see, we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms [Covey, p.28]."
Through a two-fold process, paradigms demonstrate their power to directly affect and influence the conscious experience. First, they provide the unseen/unconscious framework through which the subjective and 'objective' realities are experienced. Secondly, they have a direct relationship with the physical world. Paradigms cause us to view the world as we are; and, paradigms underlie our motivations and behaviors in the external world. The objective world is very much a projection of the subjective world; in many respects it functions as a reflection of what's taking place within.
"The world is as you dream it. Your people dreamed of huge factories, tall buildings, as many cars as there are raindrops in this river. Now you begin to see that your dream is a nightmare [Perkins, p.19]."
The trick to understanding paradigms is to see beyond the illusion of freedom/ freewill they create within the 'dreamer'. Paradigms are both dynamic and rigid. Individual beliefs and assumptions which culminate to form one's paradigm are subject to revision, mutation, and alteration at any moment. A person may engage in the process of changing inner beliefs and assumptions with the experience of having drawn upon freewill and inner freedom. However, if the underlying paradigm structure remains in tact and unexamined the likelihood of transformation is highly unlikely. The unexamined paradigm tends to be rigid and unyielding, while the emergent surface beliefs and convictions exhibit a dynamic, changing quality.
An exploration of one's paradigm(s) is a challenging undertaking oftentimes resulting in evolutionary consequences. To become aware of one's paradigm requires a break from that structure of the unconscious mind. Oftentimes such a break is experienced as liberating and frightening at the same time. To honestly question the in-tact paradigm takes even more courage. The very foundation of the person's life comes into question. This not only involves the present life, but all the efforts throughout the past while that particular paradigm was functioning as the primary structure of consciousness. Work at this level inherently calls for change. Because the foundation is being reworked, many cherished truths become shattered. Deep issues surrounding perception, identity, and self-image nearly always arise as a result.
In addition to the personal questioning of beliefs and convictions called for by paradigm-work, a questioning of social and collective assumptions invariably come up as well. Keeping in mind the objective and subjective worlds are intimately connected, this should not come as a surprise. However, extending the inner work to include this dimension as well can demand a considerable amount of courage.
To set one's self apart from the norm; to question the customs and dictates of the society in which one finds her/himself; and, to stand as a unique individual carries with it risk, uncomfortable-uneasiness, and uncertainty. From within it becomes impossible to hide out in blind-faith religions or pseudo-spiritual pursuits. The awareness, while bringing degrees of liberation, also contains within it the need and desire for personal and social responsibility. The truth of this most intimate experience seeks to be integrated, expressed, and shared in a way that may be of service and value to others.
The number one priority in applying paradigm awareness to the therapeutic setting is the need to be gentle and have respect for the client's boundaries. Work at this level is essentially an interpersonal process between the client and the therapist. Issues around the therapist's level of confidence must be addressed beforehand. If not, the potential for the therapist to maintain their 'superior' role/mask as the knowledgeable-expert will likely end up interfering with the process. Even in the group setting gentleness and respect are prerequisites for any facilitator or group leader.
While paradigmatic work can be highly transformative, it is a slow and tedious process. Requiring a balancing act between staying effective and getting things done 'in the world', and constructively 'losing one's self' in the underworld (unconscious) where the inner work ultimately takes place. Oftentimes, the dynamics of a paradigm will become illuminated by a tremendous insight sparked in the process work. Yet, months later the paradigm is back! The central issue surrounding the paradigm having been transformed at one level becomes manifest on a deeper level of the unconscious mind. For this reason it is important to remember the work is a process.
Working on one's own paradigms has a strong impact on the ego structure of the particular individual. Because of this, too much work too soon can result in great harm being done to the client. The boundaries of the ego may dissolve, disappear, or become repressed leaving the client in an unhealthy, vulnerable state of being. Abandonment of the ego while living in a society driven by ego pursuits is not wise or spiritual, it can be devastatingly harmful. On the other hand, if paradigms are not addressed, at least to a certain degree, then there is very little chance that any genuine inner work is being accomplished. Again, rearrangement of the furniture does not equate transformation.
Furthermore, because the work is a process, it is also ongoing. It touches every sphere of the person's life. It is all-inclusive. In time it becomes clear that the particular issue which motivated the client to seek therapeutic guidance spreads across and touches every life area. The theme, or story, of the particular issue begins 'appearing' in multiple life areas- the appearance being attributed to expanded self-awareness and understanding. For this reason it is advisable for the therapist to offer genuine support and encouragement. Once a troublesome issue begins manifesting across the board in this way, the client's motivation, enthusiasm, and commitment to the process is likely to wane. Again, the client must understand at the beginning that such work is not a quick-fix or simple solution. It is a process. It will require commitment, dedication, and perseverance. Yet, as a therapeutic tool, working with paradigms in a conscious fashion can be tremendously effective at cultivating and nurturing inner healing, peace, and harmony. (back to top)
Quantum Consciousness & Therapy
Perhaps the greatest untapped discovery of modern science is quantum theory. The implications of quantum dynamics have the power to radically transform the present structure of collective consciousness. The conflicting nature between quantum theory and the established scientific paradigm has slowly but surely begun to be revealed. Like the tedious process required for addressing personal paradigms, the collective scientific paradigm has been subjected to its own form of inner work for the greater part of this century. The discoveries made in quantum physics during the first decade of the century continue to arouse doubt and skepticism about the legitimacy and validity of modern science. The collective scientific paradigm has begun to be questioned.
The next two sections of this paper will focus upon quantum physics and living systems theory as they may potentially be applied to the therapeutic setting. The focus will be to examine how these two scientific endeavors can serve as theoretical models of consciousness that are useful for enhancing physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. The goal will be to develop the material of these two disciplines into 'tools' that can be used for working with paradigms and enhancing deep transformational work.
One of the most incredulous discoveries in quantum physics came from the results of the two-slit experiment. The experiment showed that mass (electrons) exhibited both particle and wavelike characteristics. Until this time (the 1920's) it had been established that light, once considered a wave, is more accurately described as a particle with wavelike characteristics (hence the term "wavicle"). That matter also held this paradoxical nature meant that, at the subatomic level, matter, as we know it, simply does not exist.
"In the two-slit experiment, if the physicist looks for a particle (uses a particle detector), he will find a particle; if he looks for a wave (uses a screen), he will see a wave pattern before him [Zohar, 1994, p.45]."
This implies that reality can be a wave or a particle depending upon the observer. Furthermore, because the 'stuff' comprising the physical universe exhibits wavelike behavior it means that at the quantum level everything is connected to everything else instantaneously; the universe is interconnected!
The interconnected nature of the subatomic realm was proven in 1981 by Alian Aspect who conducted the EPR experiment for the first time. Aspect and his colleagues, "demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that common sense (and Einstein) were wrong, and that non-locality [interconnectedness] really does rule the quantum world [Gribben, 1995, p.23]." Put another way:
"If you want to believe there is a real world out there, you cannot do without non-locality; if you want to believe that no form of communication take place faster than the speed of light [a theoretical impossibility], you cannot have a real world, independent of the observer [Gribben, 1995, p.159]."
According to the hard science of physics, it has been proven that we live in an interconnected universe where mind (consciousness) and matter are not dualistically split.
In addition to this the Copenhagen Interpretation maintains that the experimenter (observer) and his/her experiment are inseparable; there is no such thing as an independent observer not affecting quantum experiments. This 'official' quantum explanation maintains that reality exists in the form of probability waves. Physical objects only "appear" due to the collapse of their probability waves by a conscious observer. Consciousness creates reality.
Through quantum theory the meta-paradigm of Western civilization, duality, is brought into serious question. Because the implications of quantum mechanics penetrate to such a deep level of the psyche, many sub/personal paradigms also lie straight in the path of direct confrontation. However, rather than being a scientific threat, the discoveries made in quantum physics can serve as powerful therapeutic tools. Instead of being used to prove wrong-ness or rightness the knowledge can reveal a therapeutic path leading to greater wholeness.
The power of quantum dynamics as a therapeutic tool can be most readily seen in its ability to give permission for thinking in post-Platonic/dualistic ways. Because physics is the hard science, the notion of an interconnected universe co-created through consciousness becomes "objectified". The teachings of the mystics become validated. Because the realities of the quantum physicists and mystics are so eerily similar, religious/spiritual philosophies acquire meet with new credence. Teachings which were so contradictory to the ruling paradigm find a new audience through the scientific validation resulting from quantum theory. The ultimate factor to consider is that the ruling paradigm is being questioned from within! Collectively, this means that the process of paradigmatic transcendence has begun. In fact, the process has been going on since 1890, the year Max Planck postulated that light is emitted or absorbed in packets of definite size- the quanta.
Despite disapproval from some quantum physicists and literary writers (most notably Ken Wilber), the fact remains that quantum knowledge has been popularly received as the physicist and mystic coming together and shaking hands. In the therapeutic setting quantum theory can be used as a safe and effective means by which to engage the client in dialog on matters that lie clearly outside the established norm, and the client's meta-paradigm. Discussions about unity and consciousness extending well beyond the typical body boundary can take on a non-threatening, even inviting feel when approached through such 'quantum discourse'. Even sharing a book on quantum theory and the nature of reality can be of tremendous value for the client. Unacceptable subject matter that contradicts paradigmatic thinking has a way of becoming most agreeable when placed within the scientific context.
More specifically quantum theory also serves as a reminder of the importance of recognizing and honoring interconnectedness. To being with it is well to keep in mind that a particular issue is more than likely connected throughout the entire psyche. Approaching the client's issue in a mechanical/ part-oriented way might not be too effective because the phenomenon is probably not an isolated event. The interplay between the therapist and client (Copenhagen Interpretation) must be acknowledged as well. The client's work, marriage, home life, past, future, and identity are other additional factors which are probably interconnected with the prevailing issue. In this context, the role of the therapist moves from that of surgeon to holistic healer.
Quantum dynamics can also function as a model for doing the actual therapeutic work. Instead of approaching the client's desired goal as a some-thing existing out-side the client; the quantum approach would suggest that the client's healing will be found within. Instead of getting consumed by the past, an understanding that present-consciousness affects the past (colors/filters it/re-writes it) would be taken into account when doing any type of regression work. In altered state work the common depiction of having to obtaining an illusive hypnotic/meditative state could be abandoned in favor of recognizing that all states of consciousness are ever present potentials simply requiring a slight change in perception in order to experience. Other possibilities include infinite-probability work; remote healing and prayer work; and the acceptance of psychic abilities which bend time and space.
The potentials to revise the current standard of psychotherapy work via quantum awareness are real and practical. In my own experience I found that many clients got a tremendous amount of value from the time we spent together discussing such strange possibilities before the session began. This "freeing up" of the mind was extremely beneficial for it helped unlock the creative healing abilities of their mind and imagination.
Simple conversation into uncharted territories which lie outside the normal paradigmatic thought patterns appeared to have their own healing effects as well. (back to top)
Living Systems Theory as a Therapeutic Resource
Whereas quantum theory addresses interconnectedness from the ultra-microscopic level, living systems theory (LST) demonstrates that the same principle applies to the macrocosmic level as well. LST maintains that in order to understand a 'part' (i.e. a living organism), it is imperative to also consider all environmental interactions taking place with between the part and its surrounding environment. To exclude the 'larger context' in which the system operates means missing the essential nature of the system; critical insights go unnoticed. The emergence of unity between living systems also imparts the recognition of 'synergistic effects and influences'. The universe is perceived as a one-thing; as a unity of infinite interconnections. It is considered as the mega-system which is comprised of many subsystems. Each subsystem is, in turn, a system in its own right, as well as an interconnected subsystem of the greater whole. Thus, the nature of the universe is a web of interdependent subsystems giving rise to a unified 'super-system'.
Perceiving consciousness as a living system is certainly a valid undertaking. The similarities between living systems (organisms) and consciousness are striking. By applying our knowledge of living systems in this way we may glimpse, perhaps for the first time, dynamics of consciousness never before understood.
To begin with, the idea of open systems developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy characterizes living structures by their dependence on continuos inflows of energy and resources [Capra, 1996]. Likewise, consciousness functions as an open system. Sensory inflows and environmental interaction is required for the system of consciousness to function. Research studies on tactile depravation of newborns had to be terminated prematurely for endangering the infant's physical survival [lecture notes, 1992]. Altered states research clearly shows that if stimulation from sensory inputs is eliminated or greatly altered hallucinations results. Loss of identity, difficulty in meeting basic survival needs, apathy, and depression are common manifestations of a total sensory deprivation environment. Research subjects typically find the experience intolerable within only four days [Wallace & Fisher, 1991]. In order to function, consciousness must operate as an open system.
The need for boundaries as found in living systems holds for consciousness as well. To be effective boundaries must possess the characteristics of plasticity and flexibility. The absence of a consciousness-boundary results in schizophrenia. Likewise, over-emphasis of one's boundary results in psychological dysfunction; consciousness becomes a closed system and begins to shut down. Furthermore, boundaries are known to spontaneously collapse, as with the mystical experience. The expansion of one's conceptualized boundary has been persuasively likened to psycho/spiritual growth.
Consciousness and living systems also rely upon the need for identity and purpose for healthy functioning. For consciousness, an "I" is created that acts as the singular collective voice for the psyche. The magical "I" may identify the person with his/her body, spouse, career, or car. Highly structured boundaries typically result in excessive identification at a particular level: obsession with one's appearance resulting in anorexia or bulimia; obsessive national allegiance which feeds collective insanity (Vietnam); ethnocentricity responsible for institutionalized oppression. A sense of purpose ties into a person's identity giving meaning and significance to the experience of self.
Living organisms maintain themselves through the day-to-day processes of metabolism. They exhibit an ability to repair damage and reproduce themselves. Metabolism as displayed by consciousness take the form of taking in ideas, thoughts, beliefs, conversations, gossip, the media. Reading books, listening to music, going to the prom, watching a movie, or perusing the Internet constitutes metabolism. The capacity for consciousness to repair itself is demonstrated in psychotherapy, the self-help industry, religions espousing redemption and salvation. Reproduction takes the form of passing on stories, folklore, creative works of art, notable achievements. Autobiographies, architecture, and history represent the potential sustainability of consciousness despite physical mortality.
The need for living system to maintain themselves on the tightrope between order and chaos is also reflected in consciousness. Consciousness displays an inherent tendency to act and create. Marital, financial, career, or existential crises (chaos) oftentimes result in psychological growth. Too much chaos and uncertainty can cause a person (unit of consciousness) to literally shut down. Anxiety disorders and nervous breakdowns may indicate the need for more order/structure. Yet, too much order and the probability of self-sabotage increases.
Applying Living Systems Theory to consciousness generates important therapeutic insights. Most notable is the opportunity to develop a pattern/relations therapeutic modality. Through pattern observation the client is afforded the opportunity to discover the themes and 'myths' currently playing out in their life. Awareness of area-dependent themes and synergistic myths encompassing a multitude of life areas simultaneously can provide the insight which facilitates psychological and spiritual growth. By observing one's life pattern an expanded therapeutic context is created. Over-identification with an unpleasant theme can be surmounted via the observer technique. Appreciation for the whole-life context can lead to greater self appreciation and compassion.
Systems thinking in the therapeutic context also increases the client's awareness of 'subtleties'. Recognition of how day-to-day activities, events, and interactions feed into and out of the client's 'system of consciousness' increases awareness of what works and what doesn't in daily life. What may have initially appeared to be insignificant and unimportant aspects of one's life may actually turn out to have a profound effect upon the consciousness system- very much like Edward Lorenz' "butterfly effect". Because subtle interactions are given greater importance, the health of the consciousness system can be accessed more thoroughly. Additionally, the development of more appropriate and effective interventions may result as a consequence.
Another powerful ability LST has to offer in this area is the deconstruction of the isolationist (particle-like) worldview that serves as a drain upon personal empowerment and motivation. When the client becomes aware that even their most subtle interactions with the world sets up a 'resonance effect' the inner conviction that he/she can and does make a difference in the world greatly increases. To bring healing and change to the world no longer requires one to be an ultra-successful author or lecturer with the letter MD after their name. Knowing that even one shared comment can take on a life of its own and circulate throughout collective consciousness is an empowering experience. Instead of living as an isolated entity incapable of effecting change, the client may indeed come to recognize and honor their unique contribution to the world. No longer being engulfed with fear or overwhelmed by the collective insanity depicted in the nightly news, the ability to act as one is increases, resulting in personal empowerment.
Finally, LST teaches that when an organism reaches equilibrium it soon dies. The realization that chaos and uncertainty are necessary life components has the potential to restructure therapeutic ideals/goals. The quest for supreme peace and tranquillity may actually be a detriment to enjoying life. The manifestation of goals and desires for the purpose of achieving a 'perfect' inner/outer world fit could prove disastrous. Once obtained the potential for unconscious self-sabotage (an affair, reckless behavior, stupid mistakes, etc.) skyrockets... if new sources of chaos and uncertainty (challenge) are not allowed to emerge. The premise and expectations underlying the therapeutic work must be examined! Expectations which appear positive on the surface may actually contain within themselves the seeds of one's own destruction. LST serves to remind us that life is about challenge, creativity, and action- it's not about reaching a state of equilibrium. (back to top) (back to articles)
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Mark Bancroft, MA, CHT
Nevada City, CA
Article: Copyright (C) 1998. Mark Bancroft, MA, Nevada City, CA, 95959. All rights reserved.