Time for the luxury of postmodern nihilism has surely gone
By Jim Robinson
To me there is a need for Gestalt to accept that its philosophical base is ‘spiritual’ in the sense that it is about healing and growth towards realising our potential to transcend our ego (whilst including it of course). What needs to be clarified is that after all the work of healing and development in ‘Growing Up’ there is this extraordinary possibility of completely ‘Waking Up’. As our need for our ego drops away, there are stages of ‘transformation’ in the quality of a person’s being. These stages lead towards our possibility of embodying an extraordinary degree of freedom, Consciousness and Love.
This is what has been at the ‘esoteric’ heart of all the world’s great spiritual traditions for millennia. Be it Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Zen-Buddhism, Christianity or Islam and Sufism. This ‘transformation’ can have different ‘flavours’ depending on whether the emphasis is placed on the mind with awareness or Consciousness, on the heart with Love and Compassion, or on the body with Energy, breath and sensation. With all three perspectives consciously combined, there is of course the fullest possible ‘Beingness’ or ‘Realisation’.
What is clear (e.g. see Henry Shukman on batgap.com or Dan Siegal) is that Love / Compassion is a fundamental aspect of our experience of life in our deepest connection to here and now. It is there when we become conscious of our wounds, lose our identification with our victimness, and manage to accept and forgive ourselves. It is there whenever we open to the miracle of aliveness that is always deep in the here and now (the closer you get to the ‘hub’ in Siegal’s wheel analogy). It is there whenever we tune into our body. This shift into less ego dominated living opens us to our humanness and the Love that we need so desperately to transform our world, to realising that the other is me; that on the most profound level I am not separate from the world, it is me and I am it.
Our ability to embody this ‘Conscious Love’ depends on how free of our ego we have managed to get, and it is clear, from Shukman and many others, that there is a big step possible into a different level of being/living that can happen where the ego is substantially let go of. It is this Love, this Freedom and Consciousness that calls to us, that invites us to journey towards it, because at some level we know it is our ‘home’. Here meaning and purpose are clear and unequivocal. It is this that provides us with the only motivation that really cuts it.
It seems to me that the more clearly and widely that we understand this, the more powerfully we can bring about the changes we need to make on the, personal, organisational and societal levels, to enable us to survive, in any civilised way. There seems little doubt that we have already entered into catastrophic climate change chaos with all its unimaginable suffering for life on earth.
Gestalt therapy needs this clarity of meaning and purpose, not just because it is ‘the truth’, but in order to support change with greater effectiveness. Gestalt can do even more than it has, to support the wider progressive forces within our societies, by providing this renewed sense of purpose and meaning that we so desperately need. At its heart Gestalt has always been revolutionary. It is uniquely placed to articulate this perspective with its understanding of the processes of change and development through greater awareness, the knowledge that it is trauma that enslaves us to our past and our ego, and the knowledge of the healing and liberating power of the here and now.
What I think has held Gestalt back, is confusion about the aim and meaning of human life. There has been too much fear and caution around being acceptable and respectable, too much postmodern nihilism, as well as getting somewhat side-tracked by the ‘Relational’ perspective as though that was the whole ‘Answer’. All this has confused and diluted the fundamental philosophical message. The message that human development is towards the liberation of finding freedom from our ego, towards the extraordinary potential in ‘Being’ and ‘Love’, that awaits us as an integrated self, in the depth of the here and now. Gestalt Therapy (PHG) hinted at this many times, Naranjo took up the cause and many others have edged it along, but there has been no generally accepted consensus about the meaning of our existence and consequently a loss of power.
We need the strength that comes from this philosophical and emotional clarity, the strength that comes from our hearts being open and unafraid, if we are to meet the scale of change that is coming. Yes, we need to be wary of evangelism, it can after all be difficult to distinguish between the power that emerges from a clarity of being, and the ‘certainty’ that can emerge from our ego’s projections (though ‘conscious love’ is the litmus test here I think). But a broader difficulty comes from the confusion that arises from having to live with the paradox of existing in both the relative and absolute worlds simultaneously. We have to aim for what is un-aimable at, because ‘It’ is already here now, right under our noses. We need to accept that our fate is to live this paradox.
Jim Robinson – Gestalt Psychotherapist and Supervisor in private practice in the north of East Sussex. I have been “searching” since being a troubled teenager and have explored many philosophical, spiritual and psychological paths along the way. Starting therapy (in my early thirties), left me with a deep and ongoing commitment to understanding the relationship between our psychology and the spiritual dimension of our lives. Our development needs us to both “grow up” and “wake up” if we are to realise the extraordinary potential we have as human beings.