Psychosocial Implications Of The Shadow
© Dr. Andrew Powell
The aim of this paper is to give a psychotherapeutic
interpretation of humankind's seeming compulsion to turn against its
own self as a species and commit endless self-harm. My perspective is
one of working for thirty years with individuals, families and groups
who have come for psychotherapy to extricate themselves from patterns
of destructive behaviour and the misery that goes with it. The consulting
room might seem a long way from the killing fields cast by the shadow
of mankind. But as the twig is bent, so grows the tree. Society at large
mirrors the mental turmoil in each one of us.
The beginnings of culture
I'll start by observing that on the one
hand we are as Gods, while on the other hand we are very much animals
still. Our gift of consciousness, which transcends the physical world,
has to live with a brain and body geared to the evolution of the hunter-gatherer
and the basic survival mechanisms of fight or flight. This is hardly
surprising when we consider how recently language and culture have evolved.
It is thought that Homo erectus first
appeared some 1.5 million years back. One notable achievement of Homo
erectus was to harness fire, around 300,000 years ago. Not only did
this enable food to be cooked, it also protected against wild animals.
Our progenitors could relax in safety, in tribes or clans around the
fire and begin the process of socialisation and culture. As little as
100,000 years ago, the blink of an eye on the evolutionary timeline,
Homo sapiens discovered the miracle of language. To this day we can
see how it began, as a mother reaches out to her baby with voice and
gesture and the infant responds in kind.
The mind of the infant
How does the infant mind start to form?
To begin with, the mind has no constructs with which to organise information
arising from the world of sense perception and a baby's experience of
consciousness may well be something akin to what sages and mystics know
as 'the ground of all being'. A sublime expression of this state of
wonder is found in Gerald Finzi's cantata 'Dies Natalis' or 'Day of
Birth' 1 set to the words of the seventeenth century
poet Thomas Traherne.
Sweet Infancy / O hevenly Fire! O Sacred Light!
/ How fair and bright!
How Great am I / Whom the whol world doth magnify!
O hevenly Joy! / O Great and Sacred Blessedness / Which I possess!
So great a Joy / Who did into my Arms convey?
The infant mind very soon
begins to be structured by experience. Pleasure, and pain too, initially
mediated by body sensations but then extending to the mental world,
shape the behaviour of the little person. Without mother (or the care-giver),
the child would be in acute danger of physical or mental catastrophe.2
The good mother keeps traumatic impingements
to a minimum but to some extent they are part of life. Colic, chafed
skin, bumps on the head; how does the child manage these inevitable
mini-traumas? In fact, children can cope remarkably well with all manner
of adversity provided they feel inwardly secure. Anxiety and discomfort
can be tolerated when experience has taught them it will not be forever,
just for a little while. Soon help will be on hand, best of all, a parent's
love and concern.
The origin of the Shadow
What if that same child is growing up
in a world that does present serious threats to its survival and where
there is little or no comfort? Firstly, the child dares not express
healthy aggression because if it does, it will be punished. As it happens,
the worst form of punishment is not a physical beating but threat of
abandonment. The crucial developmental step taken by the higher mammals
and primates especially is the intimacy and duration of the parent-infant
bond. Parents have no idea of the emotional impact of shouting 'you
do that again and I'll leave you right here!' The fear of abandonment
will lead children to suppress all their anger and grievances while
submitting passively to shocking abuse, just so long as they don't get
Secondly, the child has to find a way
to get rid of unbearable psychic pain so that equilibrium can be restored
to the child's ego. This is carried out by a variety of psychological
defence mechanisms, 4 best collectively understood
in terms of specific coping strategies.
Everyone has defence mechanisms on board.
They are rather like a trip switch in an electrical circuit. Overload
triggers the switch instead of burning out the circuit. A vulnerable
and insecure child with a fragile ego cannot tolerate fluctuations in
emotional tension. Instead, the child relies heavily on its defence
mechanisms to protect it. By contrast, the more that love, protection
and understanding have been given to a child, the more stable and resilient
its inner world comes to be. Accordingly, it learns to handle emotions
with confidence and not to anticipate disaster. Defence mechanisms still
come into play in the event of major trauma, but the ups and downs of
daily life can be managed well enough. Numerous defences have been identified
but I need only describe the key ones here.
Repression is the defence most people
have heard of. The traumatic event is simply split off from consciousness
and buried, out of sight and out of mind. But it is still there ten,
twenty, fifty years on, for so long as it lies concealed, the imprint
of the trauma remains as powerful as the day it was laid down. We see
this with child sexual abuse, where terrifying flashbacks may occur
for the first time during lovemaking in adulthood. But the problem can
be compounded by the unconscious choice to engage in an abusive adult
relationship. It often transpires in such cases that deep down, the
child was left with guilt and shame, or a sense of badness, and years
later unconsciously selects a partner on the basis of 'I'm not worthy
of more' at best and 'I deserve to be punished' at worst. The reality
we create for ourselves is usually the one we half expect.
Splitting and Projection
The defence of splitting and projection
is one we often see parents aiding and abetting in small ways. A child
trips over a chair and starts to cry. 'Naughty chair', says the grown
up and even gives the chair a smack. The child is comforted, since it
obviously must have been the chair's fault and the child is not to blame.
The problem has been split off and projected into the hapless chair!
This game does no harm to a healthy toddler and its self-esteem, which
had momentarily collapsed, is quickly restored.
Projection is not necessarily defensive.
We know that what we see is always coloured by how we feel, for the
world is not a thing apart but part of us. We don't see things as they
are, we see things as we are.5 When we project
love, we can find beauty in all of creation. There is no splitting,
for we are happy to feel ourselves part of it too. But when we project
anger, it makes the thing bad, 'not-me'. Me good, chair bad! Splitting
has put that bad feeling outside of me, where I can kick it, smash it
up, run away from it or enjoy watching it on television in the form
of other people's misfortunes.
Children begin making categorical judgements
about good and bad when they are still very small. Parental input is
needed to soften the harshness of those early judgements. Children have
to learn that justice needs tempering with mercy and grandiosity with
humility. This is where the action of love is required.
When we see pathological splitting at
work in the adult, we regularly find a characteristic feature, that
such persons hold their opinions with absolute certainty. Ambivalence
is to be avoided at all costs in case it leads to inner confusion.
Now the capacity for ambivalence requires
us to tolerate conflicting impulses, feelings and ideas, for example,
selfishness and generosity, love and hate, right and wrong. It means
owning the problem as your own and coming up with a mature solution.
It often results in having to bear with a degree of frustration, accepting
that you cannot have your cake and eat it. It means loving others and
yourself as well, while knowing your faults and failings, and those
in your loved ones too. As a developmental achievement, ambivalence
gives us the capacity for introspection and depth of personality. Where
would Shakespeare be without it!
Unencumbered by such introspection, people
prone to splitting often make charismatic, if immature, leaders because
of their conviction in themselves and the rightness of their view of
the world. The enemy 'out there' is ruthlessly attacked and any attempt
at conciliation is seen as a sign of weakness and scorned - a scapegoat
must be found! The dynamic operating here requires that if an enemy
cannot be found, one will have to be invented. This can lead to paranoia
- the cold war mentality - while to question such a leader's authority
is felt as an act of betrayal.
Manic-defence and Idealisation
The combination of self-idealisation
and denigration of other is known as manic-defence; the need for power
and triumph over others is understood psychoanalytically as a defence
against helplessness and depression.
An alternative way of dealing with weakness
and vulnerability is to attach yourself to someone you see as all-powerful
and who can be made the object of idealisation. But if that person should
let you down, the fall from grace is precipitous and he or she is now
seen as public enemy number one. Immediately the search is on for a
replacement to become the new hero and saviour. The hallmark of this
dependency situation is the expectation of getting rescued from without,
rather than learning how to rescue oneself.
Relationships and Projection
Splitting of the ego can take place without
projection, as in the case of multiple personality. More often, splitting
is accompanied by projection into something or someone else.6
It can be an object, as in the example I gave of the child and chair,
but projection is frequently directed at people. Hate, for instance,
can bind a couple as powerfully as love. People say, 'why not leave?'
as if it was the obvious thing to do. But then who would be left to
hate? You might discover it was yourself you hated all along and end
up contemplating suicide. (This is why paranoia and depression are two
sides of one coin, depending on whether the hostility is directed outwards
Sometimes projection systems are mutual
and complementary. Take the husband whose wife gets depressed. Until
they are seen together, the wife would seem to be the one needing treatment.
But closer investigation shows that the husband's anxieties and fears
are inadmissible because he was brought up never to show vulnerability.
Unconsciously the wife takes on the role of the carrier of these emotions
for the both of them. And she, let us say, was brought up to believe
that the woman must give support to the man. So, she projects the inadmissible
aspect of herself, her own strength, into her husband, where it fortifies
his self-esteem. Sometimes such relationships work out well enough.
But when the roles become embedded, there is usually trouble, since
neither of them are being truly themselves. They are likely to do better
if seen for therapy as a couple.
A brief note on ego development
Defence mechanisms inevitably develop
as the growing child finds out how to protect its sense of personal
identity. Two early markers of a child's ego development are worth noting.
One is the ability to say no, which comes well before the child learns
to say yes. This is a crucial step, for the child is establishing a
sense of its own, separate being. The other milestone, which holds lifelong
significance, is the discovery of the personal pronoun, 'mine', coming
way ahead of 'yours'. 'Mine' is a four-letter word with devastating
implications for human society
The advent of the human ego is something
of a two-edged sword. Without it there could be no development of will,
no mastery of the environment and no spur to emotional and intellectual
growth. The ego ideal 7 which first arises in
every child based on its love and admiration for its parents, later
acquires a prohibitive function ('I said no!') as parental injunctions
are internalised. Sigmund Freud called it the superego.8
Having a conscience means learning to set limits for oneself as a self-governed
individual with a capacity for moral introspection.
At the same time, this separating out
of self from 'other' presents an existential challenge for every child,
for where there is emotional instability, healthy competitiveness can
easily turn into destructive rivalry, admiration into envy and need
into greed. These negative developments arise when the child continues
to experience a core sense of threat, feeding the need for power. Look
at what happens in school playgrounds every day, up and down the land.
Unless a protective and respectful culture has been established by the
teachers (and for which parental support is also needed), we find everywhere
the same struggle for power that William Golding wrote about so chillingly
in 'Lord of the Flies'.9
Identification with the aggressor
In the blackboard jungle, a child who
is perceived as weaker than others is fated to be bullied, often ruthlessly.
On investigation, the psychological mechanism is always found to be
the same and we can readily understand it in terms of projection and
splitting. Anna Freud named this defence mechanism 'identification with
the aggressor'. The bully comes from a disturbed background. He or she
has experienced what it means to be a victim. Now there is a chance
to turn the tables; the child takes on the characteristics of the abuser,
relishing the feeling of power. But what is to be done now with the
split-off victim aspect, which has never known love and sympathy? The
bully must get rid of this Achilles heel at all costs, so the name of
the game is to find someone weaker, into whom this hated aspect of the
self can be projected and then attack it out there, in the other. We
call this scapegoating, but in its more malignant expression, it can
lead to murder.
Such is the danger when, for defensive
purposes, 'other' has to be treated as alien to self. It highlights
the crucial task facing the child in being helped by parents and teachers
to develop the capacity for empathy, to learn to understand what could
be going on in the mind of the other. It is our good fortune as a species
to be hard-wired for this kind of learning (neuro-psychologists call
it 'theory of mind'). Unfortunately, for a small minority, the hard-wiring
doesn't work - autistic children are severely handicapped by the inability
to put themselves in the mind of anybody else and consequently, the
world of the autistic child is completely self-centred.10
In effect, the same psychological endpoint
is reached when defence mechanisms come to dominate the workings of
the inner world. Humans then show no compunction in seducing, bullying
or manipulating others into doing what they want. It is also of note
that few such people regard themselves as bad. This leads to some bizarre
situations, for instance some mass murderers would seem genuinely to
have been conscientious and loving parents.
This brings me to the last term I want
to include, the defence known as denial. The facts may be staring a
person in the face, yet what they signify cannot be grasped. Some patients
really don't want to face that they have cancer. The unexpected death
of a loved one is another case in point - the shock is so overwhelming
that the defence cuts in and the person simply cannot take in the bad
news. Such denial is usually temporary. But in other situations, like
admitting responsibility for genocide, the denial may be lifelong and
buttressed by all manner of justifications and rationalisations. Should
such denial break down, the outcome can be fatal. Franz Stangl, who
was commandant at Treblinka, was later interviewed by Gitta Sereny weekly
for about a year.11 In the last interview, he
admitted to some degree his responsibility for mass murder. Nineteen
hours after this last interview, he died of a heart attack.
I have been illustrating how the pathological
use of defence mechanisms can operate in the individual case. Now let
us look at some of the consequences for human society.
When we consider groups, we see the collective
emergence of the same mechanisms that apply to the individual. However,
the group situation adds a whole new dimension and to help conceptualise
this, I want to include another term coined by Freud, called 'transference'.12
Transference refers to the way in which
we unwittingly transfer the emotions we have felt towards key persons
in our formative years onto other people and into other situations.
Typically, it is not uncommon for someone with a domineering father
to have difficulty, years on, with the boss at work, since unresolved
rebellious emotions surface and get in the way of a good working relationship.
Or if a child never felt sure of the parent's affection, it may be left
excessively anxious to please when grown up. Or else, if the children
in a family had desperately to compete for the parents' love, poor peer
relationships may well result later, since rivalry rather than co-operation
still feels like the only way to succeed.
These unconscious patterns surface because
the archetypal constellation of the family is always being activated
in the group situation.13 But just as the saying
goes, 'blood is thicker than water', when there is an external threat,
people will sink their differences to join forces against the common
foe, like a family under threat. The leader of the group becomes the
object of intense transference projections, for he or she now carries
the 'ego-ideal' for all, be it cause or crusade, religious uprising
or political ideology.14 Special sanctions are
dispensed in the name of the cause, like permission to kill other people.
The 'us and them' dynamic, lurking only just beneath the surface at
the best of times is now legitimised, while propaganda ensures that
the enemy is thoroughly vilified. (The army knows how dangerous it is
to allow fraternisation).
Once the rules of normal civilised behaviour
have been suspended and killing is approved, a profound taboo has been
lifted; little wonder that rape and other atrocities are commonplace.
In some cultures, it is explicitly held that taking a life is strong
magic against losing your own. This would be another example of manic-defence,
in which the person triumphs over death by projecting his own fear of
death into the other, and then exultantly destroying it out there, in
The larger the group, the more individual
identity is swept aside.15 Football matches are
a fairly harmless case in point. Group cohesion is vested in the favoured
team - a secular ego ideal that for some is as powerful as any religion;
indeed it becomes the religion. It has been argued that in a society
in which so many feel alienated and estranged, to have such opportunities
to unite with fellow man must be a good thing. Clearly a deep need is
being met, otherwise football would not hold such appeal.
Because transference reactions have their
roots in the hopes and fears of childhood, they tend to be extreme in
character, inherently unstable, riding on a wave of emotion and not
much amenable to reason. Politicians know how fickle the mood of the
electorate can be, and how suddenly disillusionment can set in. Or looked
at the other way round, how quickly it can happen that a popular leader
is felt to become a persecutor and a tyrant. Democracy may be a wonderful
thing but, the world over, leaders and led get caught alike in the dynamics
of the dependency relationship. Every child needs guiding and protecting.
Yet as it grows, it resents being controlled, the more so as the idealisation
of the parent is replaced with a keen perception of the parent's fallibility.
Parents are usually hurt by this biting of the hand that feeds, just
as politicians usually end up feeling wounded by the slings and arrows
of the electorate. In the family of origin, the solution is to leave
home. In a totalitarian state, the solution is literal repression and
the attempt is made to expunge individual memory by re-writing social
history. In a democracy, we elect a new government and with the help
of splitting, projection and idealisation, fresh hope springs anew.
The dominance of emotions over intellect
In the evolution of civilisation as we
know it, war has played a big and perhaps indispensable part. Until
now, the planet has been sufficiently large, and the weapons of mankind
sufficiently limited, to allow each nation to go on behaving as if it
was the epicentre of the world. Yet, even the most rudimentary knowledge
of the geography and history of the planet shows this to be patently
We find the same egocentrism mirrored
at every level of social structure, in each community, each family,
and each couple, down to each individual self. We must conclude that
there is a profound discrepancy between emotional reality and intellectual
comprehension. For instance, study of the earth's ecosystems clearly
shows that to survive as a species, we urgently need to devote ourselves
to caring for spaceship earth, which means confronting the problems
of pollution, deforestation, arms proliferation, conflicting ideologies,
and social and racial injustice. Yet, from the emotional standpoint
we have not advanced very much beyond the world of the child, which
experiences itself as the centre of all things. This is the field of
action of our defence mechanisms, which develop in the early years to
shield the young human being from anxiety and fear, long before the
intellect is able to grasp the meaning of the big picture. Nor can these
defences be simply extracted from the human ego, for they are deeply
woven into the ego and its limited view of self-in-the-world.
Good and Evil
The developmental psychology I have outlined
so far does not address the question of good and evil. Indeed, psychology
claims to be a science supposedly independent of moral value judgements,
seeing good and evil as best left to philosophers and theologians to
argue about. In fact, psychology has all sorts of built-in assumptions
about what is good and bad, usually implied by integration of the psyche
(good) versus fragmentation (bad), as well as placing a value on the
importance of truthfulness, the relief of suffering and the goal of
happiness, to name but a few.
Since we live in a time when whole countries
are being castigated as 'the axis of evil', I had better offer my own
working paradigm for good and evil before I discuss the psychology of
the shadow any further. I don't think psychology needs to stand back
from the question of good and evil. In our world of sense perception,
structured in four-dimensional space-time, everything is experienced
by way of its polarities. This is embodied in the ancient Chinese symbol
of the Taiji, where yin and yang entwine within the circle.16
Dark is dark because it
compares with light, inside is contrasted with outside, bigness with
smallness and, more abstractly, pleasure compares with pain, love with
hate, right is distinguished from wrong and good from evil. We therefore
know good because we know evil too, just as there can be no light without
Scientific materialism, which has been
in the driving seat for some three hundred years, argues that our awareness
of good and evil, like everything else in our consciousness, is just
a by-product of the activity of the brain. (Materialists haven't worked
out why consciousness was required in the first place but since it exists,
it is presumed to be playing its part in the Darwinian scheme of things).
So, from the standpoint of materialist psychology, through projection
of the ego ideal we invent a God of goodness, who is supposed to protect
us like a loving parent. At the same time, by means of splitting and
projection, we invent the Devil so that we can keep the badness outside.
While Freud has taught us a great deal
about defence mechanisms, applying the reductionist approach to spirituality
is completely outdated. Instead, we have a new cosmology derived largely
from quantum physics during the last century. It suggests that we live
in a multidimensional cosmos comprising a gigantic hologram, out of
which our physical universe unfolds in the dimensions of what we know
as space-time.17 Since the process is not static
but flowing, the physicist David Bohm used the term holomovement to
describe this flux between the hidden and the revealed, what he called
the implicate and explicate orders.18 Since in
a hologram the whole is contained in its entirety within the part, it
follows that humankind carries and faithfully reflects the image of
the greater whole. On this basis, what we experience as consciousness
is nothing less than the hallmark of a self-aware universe.
The most radical claim of quantum theory,
incredible though it may seem, is that through the action of human consciousness
(what is known as the collapse of the wave), we physically materialise
our four-dimensional universe of space-time and everything it contains.19
What is more, our search for meaning is not a luxury but a necessity,
for meaning is the bridge between consciousness and matter. This is
a great undertaking on behalf of creation, in which we are instruments
of the supreme consciousness we call God.
Living in our own Shadow
If this is our God-given task, how come
the folly and wisdom of humankind exist cheek by jowl and why should
the impact of hatred and violence be allowed to jeopardise our very
existence? My own view is that it could hardly have been otherwise.
Our history suggests that Homo sapiens is still at a very early stage
of evolution. Just as Neanderthal man was superseded by Homo sapiens,
(indeed they co-existed during the last Ice Age), perhaps the next stage
will be the emergence of Homo spiritus.20 But
we are not there yet; too much of our consciousness is deployed in fight/flight
mentality. And while love and compassion go about their business with
a minimum of fuss, the ego-defences shout out from the rooftops; repression,
splitting and projection, manic-defence, idealisation and denial have
noisy consequences since the human ego is given to much posturing and
Herein we have a deep ethical quandary.
There can be no solution to injustice through repression of violence,
or retaliation, for however much the retaliatory strike is seen as a
lesson in deterrence and a ridding of evil, the act of retaliation draws
the offender and the offended against into the same behaviour. Where
there was one bully in the playground, now there are two. How could
any real progress ever result? Nor is overcoming these ego-defences
easily achieved. First, by their nature they work through the unconscious
so that they fly in the face of reason. Second, a vicious circle is
invariably established; interactions based on threat and counter-threat
intensify the operation of defences. Maintaining the ego ideal means
having right on one's side. How else could one man's terrorist be another
man's freedom fighter?
Integrating the Shadow
Carl Jung was deeply concerned with how
humankind maintains its sense of goodness, what he called the persona,
at the cost of getting rid of all those unwanted aspects of the self,
which he named 'the Shadow'. While Freud was busy working out the structure
of the ego and its defences, no one had grasped the implications for
humankind as a species. Jung saw with dreadful clarity how the Shadow
falls on humankind and spares no one.21
Jung concluded that unless a way could
be found to integrate the Shadow within the psyche instead of projecting
it, humankind would be forever doomed to act out the shadow in all arenas
of life, personal, national and international. Jung saw this maturational
task as the crucial challenge for humankind. He called the process 'individuation'
in the sense of becoming indivisible, a unity, and thereby whole. Jung
believed that this potential is found not in the ego but in the Self,
which he described as 'not only the centre but also the whole circumference
which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this
totality, just as the ego is the centre of the conscious mind'.22
This means that healing, which comes from wholeness, can never be accomplished
by the activity of the ego. Only the Self, embracing the psyche of both
the individual and the collective, holds the key. Jung saw that the
Self has the power to accept and contain the internal splits and factions
within the psyche because its prime concern is with totality and completeness.
From the true perspective of the bigger picture, the squabbles of the
ego can be managed as you would manage an unruly child.
There are three implications. One is
that the Shadow can be lived with as part of one's humanity, as part
of oneself, instead of being inflicted on others. The concerns of the
ego need to be accommodated, for we never entirely outgrow childhood.
But we don't have to remain the victim of childhood when we see it from
the perspective of the adult.
The second implication is that individuation
is not merely an intellectual exercise but a path of transformation
for the emotional and spiritual development of the psyche. Overcoming
the limitations and distortions of transference-driven emotions is to
become self-sovereign, to experience freedom for the first time.
The third implication is that the collective
aspect of the Self is more than interpersonal; it is transpersonal and
makes one creature of all humankind. Jung wrote that '…what is divided
on a lower level will reappear, united, on a higher one'.23
All great leaders of peace movements
and spiritual and religious faiths express these characteristics of
the larger Self. They are not concerned with advancement of the personal
ego; on the contrary, their guiding light is humility. They are indifferent
to their own status while dedicated to the welfare of others. They eschew
all violence. They give love without reserve, unconditionally, and inspire
love in return. As to hypothesising about the exact balance of good
and evil, such leaders don't pre-occupy themselves with philosophising.
If the drama being played out on the world stage is such that some humans
are bent on destruction, all the more reason to throw your weight behind
creativity. If there is a collision of values, be steadfast in holding
to one's own without standing in judgement over the other.
The ethic of interconnectedness
Change through acceptance of self and
of other is alien to most of us since our reflex mode as an emergent
species is defence and attack. So what does acceptance actually mean?
It does not mean condoning behaviour we believe to be hurtful and harmful.
We can distinguish between the behaviour and the human being that is
driven to act destructively. It does mean recognising that not only
do we need to share the same planet, the same air, the same water; we
also participate in the same unitary consciousness of the greater Self.24
Acting out the impulse to destroy makes absolutely no sense once we
have grasped this essential point.25 When we put
aside the fortress mentality of the ego and see how the Self extends
to comprise one living, sentient consciousness, to shoot another is
only to shoot oneself in the foot! This realisation brings ego and the
Self into line; individuality and commonality are two sides of one coin.26
What is most personal is universal.
If humankind is to have a future, a quantum
shift from the ego and its defences to the Self and its inclusive vision
is urgently required. What will happen to the Shadow? It will always
be acted out in the playground of childhood, since the ego must have
its day. But retrieving the Shadow is the object lesson of spiritual
education. And while owning our own Shadows doesn't make us into murderers,
it helps us find compassion for those who take life and never realised
it was their own they were taking.
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16. Guo, B., Powell, A., (2001) Listen to Your Body - the Wisdom
of the Dao University of Hawaii Press
17. Talbot, M. (1991) The Holographic Universe HarperPerennial/HarperCollins
18. Bohm, D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order London:
19. Goswami, A. (1993) The Self-Aware Universe New York: Putnam
20. Bache, C (2000) Dark Night, Early Dawn State University of
New York Press
21. Jung, C. (1961) 'Confrontation with the Unconscious' in Memories,
Dreams, Reflections London: Fontana 1993
22. Jung, C. (1943) 'Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy'
in Psychology and Alchemy Collected Works, Volume 12: 41 London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul 1953
23. Jung, C. (1942) 'Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon' in Alchemical
Studies, Collected Works, Volume 13:189 London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1968
24. Lorimer, D. (1990) Whole in One London: Arkana. Penguin
25. Walsch, N. (1998) Conversations with God, Book 3 Vancouver:
Hampton Roads Publishing
26. Powell, A (2000) 'Beyond Space and Time: The Unbounded Psyche' in
Thinking Beyond the Brain (ed. Lorimer D). Floris Books
© Andrew Powell 2002
Dr. Andrew Powell is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist
who has held consultant and senior academic appointments in London and
Oxford. He is founder chair of the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special
Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (see www.rcpsych.ac.uk/college/sig/spirit).
Quantum Psychiatry - Where Science
©Dr. Andrew Powell
A fish said to another fish, 'Above this sea of ours
there is another sea, with creatures swimming
in it - and they live there, even as we live here.' The fish replied,
'Pure fancy! When you know
that everything that leaves our sea by even an inch, and stays out of
What proof have you of other lives in other seas?'
Kahlil Gibran - The Forerunner
Most psychiatrists regard mental disorder as caused by
a disturbance of brain chemistry, a view strongly supported over recent
years by advances in the neurosciences. There is also good empirical
evidence that psychological stress can initiate changes in brain chemistry.
This has strengthened the development of a bio/psycho/social model of
mental disorder, in which genetic and dynamic factors combine. Yet the
fundamental question of what constitutes 'mind' remains unanswered,
for mind has no physical substance.
The general view is that mind is epiphenomenal,
meaning it is secondary to the function of the physical brain. The brain
is thought somehow to generate consciousness. This is not a logical
proposition, although it sounds reasonable enough. How can something
non-physical be created by something entirely physical? Yet it is an
everyday assumption in a world based on the idea of a mechanical, material
universe, in which the five senses are held to be the only reliable
source of information.
I am going to be arguing against this
physicalist view of the world, which started with Rene Descartes and
Isaac Newton three hundred years ago. Descartes established the golden
rule for empirical science, that nothing would be held to be true unless
it could be proved to be true and Newton laid the foundation of a mechanical
universe, in which time is absolute and space is structured according
to the laws of motion.
From this time, the split between religion
and science began to widen. The Church could no longer claim to understand
how the universe worked and the spiritual and physical worlds drifted
apart. During the 19th century, the new science of psychology helped
redefine the mental world in secular terms. Sigmund Freud (1927) saw
religion as a massive defence against neurosis and even Carl Jung, despite
his own spiritual journey, limited himself to defining the soul as 'the
living thing in Man, that which lives of itself and causes life' (Jung
Psychiatry is set on proving its bona
fides as a science equal to any other, and little attention has been
paid to spirituality. Yet a survey carried out by the Mental Health
Foundation (1997) showed that over fifty per cent of service users hold
religious or spiritual beliefs they see as important in helping them
cope with mental illness. They also said they don't feel free to discuss
their beliefs with the psychiatrist. I have found that psychiatrists,
who privately acknowledge the importance of spirituality, often feel
reluctant to embark on such talk with their patients because it is outside
of their training in medicine, psychiatry and also psychotherapy (Powell
The impact of the Newtonian world-view
has been immense. Our scientific model of the psyche has no place for
the soul; there is nothing before birth and nothing after death. Everything
has to be understood as arising from within this temporary, physical
existence, with the human self the only source of consciousness. We
are all separate beings, bounded by the envelopes of our skin and moving
around in a fixed, impersonal, three-dimensional universe utterly indifferent
to our comings and goings. Little wonder that depression is the ailment
of the modern world. In the first five years of Prozac coming onto the
market, over ten million prescriptions were handed out (Kramer 1994).
Yet Newtonian science was first knocked
off its perch seventy years ago. With the birth of quantum mechanics,
the view that our physical world is solid, fixed and independent of
mind was shown to be untenable. For example, the famous wave-particle
experiment demonstrated that when a beam of light is shone through a
single, narrow slit, sub-atomic packets of light called quanta
strike the detector screen like miniature bullets. Change the apparatus
to two parallel slits and the light passing through generates a wave
interference pattern, like ripples crossing when two stones are dropped
side-by-side into a pond. Particles become waves and waves become particles.
Both 'realities' have equal validity and cannot be divorced from the
observer/participant. Behind wave-particle duality doubtless lies the
realm of the wavicle. This is just the start, for superstring
theory suggests that there are many more dimensions than our local space-time
Electrons are no longer conceptualised
as particles spinning around the atom like a miniature solar system.
Instead, the electron is smeared throughout the whole of space as a
quantum wave, which only collapses as a particle into our physical space-time
when a conscious observer makes a measurement. Nor can the velocity
and position of the electron ever both be known at the same time, for
when the quantum wave collapses, there is only a statistical probability
that the electron will turn up where it is expected. It may just materialise
hundreds, thousands or even millions of miles away. When it does so,
it arrives at that place in zero time. Both space and time are bypassed.
Here are quotes from three eminent physicists:
'The fundamental process of nature lies outside space-time but generates
events that can be located in space-time' (Stapp 1977:202).
'Ultimately, the entire universe (with all its particles, including
those constituting human beings, their laboratories, observing instruments,
etc.) has to be understood as a single undivided whole, in which analysis
into separately and independently existent parts has no fundamental
status' (Bohm 1983:174).
'The universe exists as formless potentia in myriad possible branches
in the transcendent domain and becomes manifest only when observed by
conscious beings' (Goswami 1993:141).
The quantum realm and the physical universe,
which arises out of it, is all one undivided, unitary whole. More extraordinary
still, it would seem to be our conscious participation that brings the
physical world into being.
When consciousness collapses the wave
function into three-dimensional space-time, mind and matter arise simultaneously,
like two sides of one coin. The result is what we call reality,
in both the personal and collective sense. Each one of us is self-aware,
since we are connected with the total field of consciousness, and from
this individual vantage point we bring about repeated further collapse
of the wave function. The process can be compared with how the individual
frames of a film flow together to create movement. In this way, we are
continually generating what we take to be 'reality', which we experience
both as an internal mental space and all around us in the form of the
external, phenomenal world.
The external world is remarkably stable,
which gives the impression that it exists quite independently of us.
When you return home after a day's work, your house has not gone missing.
This is because the probability wave that your consciousness collapses
as you turn the corner, materialising your house for you, has been generated
by all conscious beings throughout all time. Short of some unforeseen
calamity, your house is still standing there much as you left it.
Yet consider for a moment those rare
and unforeseen happenings we call miracles. Since the wave function
contains (in potentium) all that exists throughout all of time,
there is in principle no limit to what is possible. A mind of
unique power can collapse the wave uniquely, in one famous instance
turning water into wine.
Quantum effects show up most readily
at the sub-atomic level, but research into large scale systems (Schmidt
1987) has revealed that random number generators will, over thousands
of trials, show a trend towards high or low, correlating with the mental
intention of the experimenter. These studies have been replicated, so
we can say with certainty that mind affects matter. It has also
has been demonstrated that experimental subjects who are emotionally
attuned can synchronise their brain waves at a distance from each other
(Targ and Puthoff 1974). Mind therefore influences mind at a distance,
be it near or far.
During the 1970's and 1980's, remote
viewing experiments funded by the US Military at the Stanford Research
Institute yielded 'hit' rates of more than a billion billion to one
against chance (May 1988). The mind can 'travel' to distant target sites
and report accurately what is to be found there. Precognition has now
been firmly established on an empirical basis (Radin 1997). The mind
therefore operates not only beyond space but also beyond time.
The efficacy of prayer has been researched
(Byrd 1988), as have more than one hundred and fifty controlled studies
on healing with humans and plant life (Benor 1992, 2001). The remote
intention of one mind at a distance can promote healing and health in
But there are negative implications to
be considered. One military operative in the previously cited remote
viewing programme blew the whistle on the project when he was coerced
into taking part in remote influencing experiments (Morehouse 2000).
It follows that sorcery and witchcraft can no longer be dismissed as
working merely through the mechanism of suggestibility.
The direct cognisance of other dimensional realities is, of course,
clothed with the projections of the human mind, as the extensive literature
on the near-death experience shows (Fenwick 1995). Yet to attribute
everything to projection would be to make the same kind of mistake
as did the pre-Copernican astronomers, who were convinced the sun must
surely circle the earth.
Our problem is that we cannot see the
big picture - just like the story of the fish with which I started.
Many of us take it on trust that the ultimate consciousness we call
God knows what is going on better than we do; at least we are
aware of a reality greater than ourselves, unlike the ant that goes
about its business oblivious of being watched by the likes of us - or
so we think!
What does all this suggest for the practising
psychiatrist or psychotherapist? It is not that the neurosciences are
invalid, or that developmental psychology has got it wrong. We just
have to take care not to mistake the part for the whole. The linear
timeline that marks us out from birth to death is but one axis in a
multi-axial cosmos. The limits of perception, sight, sound, touch, smell
and taste do not define what is real. Let us appreciate our special
senses for what they are - indispensable tools for negotiating three-dimensional
The quantum domain has its antecedent
in Plato's Theory of Forms. The difference is that we now have a scientific
account of the probability wave and the infinite potentia it
enfolds. But does this mean that anything goes, that we can all claim
to be 'right' about anything and everything?
Consensus Reality and the Paranormal
Out of the history of civilisation has emerged what is known as consensus
reality - a framework of values and judgements in which religion,
science, culture and education all contribute to a coherent world-view.
We diagnose mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression not
in a vacuum but with reference to this consensus reality. Individually
each person is sovereign over his or her inner world, for good or ill.
But one man's truth is another man's delusion and if we participate
in social reality, we have little choice but to live with the consensus
truths that feed our belief systems. We absorb these belief systems
unconsciously, although they deeply influence how we make sense of what
Now I want to link the two arenas of
consciousness I have mapped out. On the one hand we have the perceptual
world of consensus-reality; on the other, the unlimited, beyond-time-and-space
function of consciousness, which gives rise to what in the West we call
For many people, awareness of the eternal
and the boundless remains largely out of sight and out of mind. This
is probably for a good reason. Consciousness embodied in the human species
is largely occupied with a continuous flux of thought and emotion taken
up with the challenge of getting through life, and for most people this
is more than enough!
It is as though we have around each one
of us a semi-permeable membrane, providing us with a dwelling place
for the ego and which delimits the world of sense perception. Without
such a boundary, we would merge into unitary consciousness - a case
of all waves and no particles! Because the membrane is permeable, we
can leave the ego at home and journey beyond space and time. This leads
to wholeness or fragmentation, depending on the degree of stability
of the psyche. Release from a well-balanced ego through prayer or meditation
is one thing. It is quite another to try to hold onto one's identity
in the course of a psychotic breakdown. If the membrane becomes porous,
there is an uncontrolled outflow of consciousness with a terrifying
loss of self. Equally disturbing is the experience of being intruded
upon by other energies or entities.
In health, there is a balance to strike
between the mind operating as a classical Newtonian instrument obeying
the laws of cause and effect, and as a quantum instrument unfettered
by space-time and which opens us to paranormal phenomena. In so-called
primitive societies, this latter function is used for the therapeutic
tasks of healing, divination, soul recovery and spirit release, to name
but a few. The spirit world is understood to interpenetrate our own
and the shaman undergoes an arduous training to enable him to enter
an altered state of consciousness in which he converses with spirit,
be it plant, animal or human, every bit as real as in everyday life
Living in industrialised nations distances
people from such experiences. In the UK, for example, the spiritualist
movement, which arose in the nineteenth century, was attacked on a number
of counts. The phenomena ran counter to the prevailing scientific culture;
nor were they amenable to the research methods of the time. There were
a number of fakes who were gleefully exposed and, not least, the spiritual
implications were an uncomfortable challenge to the Church. We have
had to wait over a hundred years for the right research tools to be
developed, aided by new scientific paradigms and daring anthropological
fieldwork (Narby 1998).
Nevertheless, in our society today there
are, as always, healers and mediums who are sensitive to other realities.
Typically, they suppress this awareness during childhood because they
learn it is risky to be known to be different to others. Later, there
is considerable relief when they find they are not alone. Psychiatrists
get a particular slant on people with such heightened sensitivity. They
easily get labelled 'borderline' and their sensitivities are seen as
pathological. Perhaps this is not surprising, since the psychiatrist
only gets involved when something has gone seriously wrong.
When a good few years ago I began working with healers, I could see
that there was indeed an overlap with the borderline state, except that
the healers were not ill, or in mental distress. They had learned how
to tune their sensitivity to what are called subtle energies
so that they could work in the service of others. Healers also initiated
my experience of other times and places beyond the bounds of sense perception.
I have written on this topic elsewhere (Powell 2000) but I will mention
briefly how it happened to me, since such things can come as a bit of
a surprise if they are not expected.
It was a group meditation, which started
with a guided fantasy. We had to imagine ourselves walking in a field
in the countryside on a summer day. Then we were asked to look around
until we saw something that attracted us and to go over and take a good
I found myself standing before a majestic
and mysterious tree. It had the appearance of a giant redwood and soared
up into the sky. As soon as I came close to the trunk I began ascending
rapidly, as if going up in a fast lift. I shot past the top of the tree
and suddenly I was scrambling up a rocky outcrop. Instantly I knew what
was going on. This was Arizona, the year was eighteen forty-eight, my
name was Tom McCann and I was being hunted down by a raiding party of
Apache Indians. I heaved myself up onto the flat top of the rock. I
could hear the Indian braves a short way below and I knew they would
get to me in a couple of minutes and have my scalp. I pulled out of
my pocket a worn leather wallet and gazed for the last time on the picture
of my wife and two young daughters. Then I took out my gun, put the
muzzle to my head and pulled the trigger. There was no sound and no
impact. I simply found myself floating peacefully up and away from the
body lying on the top of the rock. There had been no sense of invention
or contrivance. The scene had unfolded in real time, and all I could
do was go through it as it happened.
The experience can be interpreted in
several ways. Was this a soul drama woven from the archetypes of the
collective unconscious? Did the theme of loss of loved ones, and of
life itself arise, as with dreams, in response to a problem I had not
consciously recognised? If so, then the contents are part of the Self,
in Jung's meaning of the term.
I went on to explore a number of 'other
lives' with the help of a Jungian colleague and there were recurring
themes of loss, which I could readily identify from my life at the time.
This might suggest only the projection of emotions into a number of
different scenarios unconsciously selected by me for the purpose. Alternatively,
these projections might comprise no less than the working out of one's
karmic account, as taught by the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.
Indeed, we now have to take into consideration
Professor Stevenson's work on reincarnation, including studies on birthmarks
at the site of an injury such as a gunshot wound, which had ended the
preceding life. The children interviewed had vivid recollections of
their former lives and some could accurately identify members of the
deceased's family, whom they had never previously met (Stevenson 1997).
A third and middle way might be to see
the scene as summoned from the quantum domain, by means of sympathetic
resonance with the person's current psyche. We collapse the wave at
the very point where it most powerfully attracts us. It also has a bearing
on the question of the continuity of personal identity, so dear to our
hearts, beyond this earthly realm. Could it be that once we move entirely
beyond space-time - perhaps 'the point of no return' reported in the
near-death experience - we re-enter the wave and remain suspended in
the virtual state until the wave is collapsed by another, super-ordinate
consciousness? Is this where God the creator comes in? Then we'll get
actualised all over again, although we should not be surprised if other
worlds await us. Our Father's house has many mansions, we are told.
Out-of-body excursions to other times
and places are not advisable for people who have shaky reality testing.
On the other hand, symptoms that are inexplicable, such as can be the
case with phobias like fear of water, sometimes resolve with a single
session. The scene of the trauma - drowning, for instance - can be re-visited
and the therapist enables the client to take leave of the body with
release and relief, instead of fear and pain.
Influences from other Realms
The most common mental disorder is depression and it comes in many guises.
A young woman came to see me feeling unwell, 'not herself'. She was
clinically depressed, with disturbed sleep and loss of energy and concentration.
Anti-depressant medication had helped to some extent but she was still
I was struck by her use of the phrase.
Going into the background, I learned that a few months before the symptoms
began, a friend of my patient had killed herself in my patient's home,
having been staying there while my patient was away on holiday. By the
time she got back, everything had been tidied up and the funeral had
already taken place.
From a psychological perspective, this
tragedy could certainly have affected my patient more than she knew.
And yet, as we went on, I felt there was something unexplained here.
Thinking of how she had twice said she was 'not herself', I asked her
if she had the feeling of someone else when she had came back home.
She replied that she hadn't wanted to mention it in case I thought she
was mad, but every time she went into the house, she had the strong
feeling that her friend was right there in the room with her. She couldn't
shake it off; it was almost physical.
One way to receive such information when
it is offered is at face value - that in this case the earthbound spirit
of her friend was still present and probably unable to leave the scene
of suicide. We discussed this possibility and I asked my patient if
she would like us to invite the spirit of her friend to the consulting
room and see if we could get some more information. My patient was willing
to try, so I asked her to close her eyes, tune in to her friend and
trying letting her friend speak through her. It was easily done, and
we soon had the details of the suicide.
The spirit of her friend went on to express
deep regret at having taken her life. I explained that she could make
no progress by staying on and that it was having a bad effect on her
friend, who had been generous enough to lend her home to her. She hadn't
realised this and apologised. 'If only I had known', she said, 'what
I know now. I was facing the biggest challenge of my life, what my whole
life had been leading up to, and I went and messed it all up. I feel
even worse than I did before'. I said I was sure other opportunities
would be given to her. She was very relieved to hear this and we talked
for a short while about her hopes for a new life ahead. Then she said
she was ready to move on. I asked her to look for the light, (which
is the first step, and often all that is needed). She looked around,
then exclaimed with a smile 'Yes, I can see it' and left at once. My
patient immediately felt the burden lift from her and she went on to
make a full recovery.
Was this a projection of my patient's
inner world? I would say both yes and no, since I hold the view that
the psychological world is intimately related to the spiritual universe.
My last example summarises a case study
by a colleague, Dr. Azuonye, which I was delighted to see published
in the British Medical Journal (Azuonye 1997). In 1984, a previously
healthy woman began to hear a distinct voice inside her head. It said
' don't be afraid. I know it must be shocking for you to hear me speaking
to you like this, but this is the easiest way I could think of. My friend
and I used to work at the children's hospital, Great Ormond Street,
and we would like to help you'. The lady was very frightened by this
experience and ended up seeing the psychiatrist, who diagnosed a hallucinatory
psychosis and put her on Thioridazine. She went off on holiday but while
abroad, the voices returned, telling her there was something wrong with
her and she needed immediate treatment. They gave her an address in
London, which she didn't recognise. When she got back, she went to this
address and found herself outside the CT scan department of a teaching
hospital. The voices told her she had a brain tumour and must have a
The patient was most upset and went back
to see her psychiatrist. He examined her thoroughly and there was no
sign of any physical abnormality but, to reassure her, a brain scan
was arranged. It showed a mass, which the neurosurgeon said should be
removed. The voices told her they were fully in agreement. At surgery,
a sizeable tumour, a meningioma, was dissected out. When she recovered
consciousness, the voices told her, 'We are pleased to have helped you.
Goodbye'. Twelve years later, the patient remains well. The voices never
Dr. Azuonye reports that professional
colleagues were divided between those that thought the patient already
knew the diagnosis and was making the story up; those who thought the
tumour must have produced physical sensations which prompted the patient
unconsciously to gather information about the treatment options at certain
hospitals; and others who wondered if two well-meaning people, endowed
with telepathic gifts, had discovered the tumour and were offering assistance.
Some of us would entertain a further
possibility: that these unwelcome voices, which turned out to be an
inspiration, came from the realm of spirit. It would not be the first
time. A notable instance, one that changed the course of history, took
place some time ago. It happened on the road to Damascus.
Azuonye, I. (1997) 'A difficult case: Diagnosis made by hallucinatory
voices', British Medical Journal 1997; 315:1685 - 1686
Benor, D. (1992) Healing Research Vol.1 Spiritual Healing:
Scientific Validation of a Healing Revolution. Southfield, MI: Vision
Bohm, D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order Routledge:
London. Ark Paperbacks (1983)
Byrd, R.C. (1988) 'Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer
in a Coronary Care Unit Population', Southern Medical Journal
Castaneda, C. (1998) The Active Side of Infinity Thorsons
Faulkner, A. (1997) Knowing our own Minds. Published Report:
London. Mental Health Foundation
Fenwick, P., Fenwick, E. The Truth In The Light Headline 1995
Freud, S. (1927) 'The Future of an Illusion', in Standard Edition
Vol. 21 London. Hogarth Press, 1961
Goswami A. (1993) The Self-Aware Universe Putnam: New York
Jung, C. (1959) 'Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious' in The
Collected Works, Vol. 9:1 Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959
Kramer, P. (1994) 'Listening to Prozac' Fourth Estate: London
May, E. et al. (1988) 'Review of the psychoenergetic research conducted
International (1973 - 1988)', SRI International Technical Report
Morehouse, D. (2000) 'Psychic Warrior' Clairview.
Narby, J. (1998) 'The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origins of Knowledge'
Powell, A. (1998) 'Soul Consciousness and Human Suffering: Psychotherapeutic
Approaches to Healing'. Journal of Alternative and Complementary
Medicine Vol. 4.1:101-108
Powell, A. (2001) 'Beyond Space and Time - the Unbounded Psyche', Chapter
in Thinking Beyond the Brain. Ed. Lorimer, D., Floris Books Powell,
A. (2001) Comment on 'Spirituality and Mental Health' in 'Every Family
in the Land, http://www.stigma.org/everyfamily/chapter8.html
(Ed. Crisp, A.H.)
Radin, D. (1997) The Conscious Universe Harper Edge: New York
Schmidt, H. (1987) 'The strange properties of psychokinesis'. Journal
of Scientific Exploration 1:103-118
Stapp, H.P. (1977) 'Are superluminal connections necessary?' Nuovo
Cimento 40B.1. 191-204
Stevenson, I. (1997). Reincarnation and Biology. Vol. 1: Birthmarks,
Vol. 2: Birth Defects and other Anomalies. Praegar
Targ, R. and Puthoff, H.E. (1974) 'Information transmission under conditions
of sensory shielding'. Nature 251:602-7
© Andrew Powell
Dr. Andrew Powell is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist
who has held consultant and senior academic appointments in London
and Oxford. He is founder chair of the Spirituality and Psychiatry
Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: www.rcpsych.ac.uk/college/sig/spirit.
Putting the Soul into Psychiatry
©Dr. Andrew Powell
To throw some light on how the soul got
left out of psychiatry in the first place, I'll begin with a bit of
history. Then I want to say something about recent developments in physics,
which have revolutionised how we think about consciousness, time and
space. I will take up the implications for the envisioning of soul,
and how altered states of consciousness provide us with some valuable
insights. Finally, I'll refer to the empirical evidence now correlating
spirituality with mental health and why we need to be able to bring
discussion of spiritual concerns into the consulting room.
A Historical Perspective
In the West, we tend to forget that our
world-view of what constitutes 'reality' is not something absolute but
the product of our cultural history, one to which, until quite recently,
the great nations of the East remained largely indifferent. I'll begin
with Pythagorus, the Greek philosopher of the 5th century BC, the same
time frame, incidentally, that brought Buddha to India and Laozi to
Pythagorus was a dualist, holding that
mind and body co-exist, but that neither could be explained in terms
of the other. He firmly believed in the eternal nature of the soul and
is said to have recalled an earlier incarnation as Euphorbus, a warrior
in the Trojan War. At the same time, he and his students carried out
pioneering arithmetical studies, which they saw as unveiling the principle
of proportion, order and harmony throughout the universe. With extraordinary
prescience, they considered the Earth to be a globe revolving along
with the other planets around a central fire, the sun.
Some 200 years later, Aristotle emphatically
rejected these Pythagorean views. Aristotle claimed that there is nothing
in the intellect that was not first in the senses, so that his notion
of soul comes much closer to what our science of psychology calls 'mind'.
As for cosmology, Aristotle believed that the earth was at the very
centre of the universe.
Fifteen hundred years on, the Roman Catholic
Church was able to pick and mix, commending Aristotle's geocentric cosmology
as 'the handmaiden to the Queen of Sciences, Theology' while espousing
the dualist, Pythagorean view of body and soul.
The first challenge to this 15th Century
worldview came from Coepernicus, whose studies led him to conclude,
like Pythagoras, that the earth revolves around the sun. But it was
Galileo, a hundred years later, who posed a far greater threat, since
his findings were based on the newly discovered powers of the telescope.
In 1632, Galileo was put on trial and sentenced to life imprisonment.
It was to be another fifty years before
science burst its bonds, on account of the genius of Isaac Newton, who
was made Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in Cambridge at the age of
twenty-seven. Over thirty years he transformed the understanding of
the physical universe through his work on optics, calculus and the laws
of gravitation and motion, bequeathing us a concept of the structure
of the universe that we live with to this day.
It is less well known that Newton's alchemical
researches inspired his great discoveries. He described his method as
first, mystical intuition or insight into implicate truth; second, mathematical
intellection, to prove, express or explicate the implicate understanding;
third, experimentation, in order to demonstrate and verify the proof.
'Truth', said Newton, 'is the offspring of silent, unbroken
meditation'. For Newton, there was no schism between the spiritual
and physical universe; he believed that the physical world had been
created by, and was a profound testimony to, the hand of God.
A few words must be said about the other
giant of the early Renaissance, Descartes. Descartes revived the Aristotelian
principle of scepticism, which argues that nothing can be held to be
true until one is absolutely certain of it. The conclusions he reached,
however, took him along a new path, for the one thing he could not doubt
was his own existence. It led to his famous dictum Cogito Ergo Sum,
'I think, therefore I am'. This in no way distanced Descartes from God.
He went on to apply the deductive method of science as follows: to be
capable of so perfect an idea as God means that such an idea could not
have been caused by anything with less perfection than God himself.
Therefore, argued Descartes, the two classes of substance, body and
mind, must both have been created by God.
Unfortunately, Newton's scientific discoveries
were seized upon by the Age of Enlightenment as an opportunity to ditch
spiritual reality in favour of equating reality with the physical universe.
Descartes' discoveries were similarly hijacked. Man's intellect became
the new God and only empirical science was held to be truly revealing
of the nature of reality.
The dire consequences of this outlook
reached its heyday in the 20th Century with logical positivism, which
deemed that any utterance that could not be confirmed or disconfirmed
by sensory experience must be rejected as meaningless. Everything beyond
the world of sense perception, including God, spiritual values and transcendental
strivings, had to be discounted. (Alfred Ayer, the leading philosopher
of this school, had a visionary near-death experience when his heart
stopped during a life-threatening illness. However, it is said that
his disbelief in God remained unshaken.)
We are now living in a post-modernist
culture, in which there are no absolute, enduring values, in 'nature',
'truth' or 'God'. The revolution in science that Newton started has
given us a world filled with extraordinary technology and a great deal
of knowledge about the physical universe. Yet just as that paradigm
shift was resisted in its time, so has it been with the 'new' science
of the 20th Century.
The Second Revolution in Science
I am talking about the vast implications
that flow from advances in relativity theory, quantum physics and cosmology.
There are at least three reasons why the paradigm shift has met with
such resistance. Firstly, so long as the world is being seen through
Newtonian glasses, the findings are profoundly counter-intuitive. Secondly,
a lot of reputations and research rests on maintaining the Newtonian
paradigm. Lastly, the new science carries enormous implications for
the nature and purpose of existence - what I would call its spiritual
Here are some headline findings of the
new physics, many of which are detailed elsewhere:1,2,3,4
The Newtonian world of sense perception, of solid objects and space,
appears to exist in its own right, a cosmic stage on which we make
our entrances and exits. But matter is energy, objects are not solid
and space is not empty.
The illusion of separateness, which is the template for Newtonian
physics, is a phenomenon of sense perception. (Show five fingers
and they are separate. Show the hand and they become united).
Our space-time dimension is but one of many, nested within a plurality
of other dimensions. Sub-atomic particles are not confined to our
universe - they flit in and out of other universes too.
To speak of sub-atomic particles is really a misnomer. They are
more like minute strings, from which matter emanates like music.
The Universe is a symphony and the laws of physics are the harmonics
of a 'super-string'.
The 11th dimension is thought to be infinitely long but existing
only about one trillionth of a millimetre distant from every point
in our four-dimensional universe. It is right next to our skins.
Within it exist an infinite number of parallel universes, some with
laws of physics, time and space like ours, and others completely
Through the agency of our special sense organs, we experience consciousness
to be located in the body, somewhere between the ears and behind
the eyes. This is an illusion, since it has been demonstrated that
consciousness is 'non-local'.
Consciousness is primary. It is not something generated by the brain
but available to the brain, which apprehends it much as a radio
converts radio waves into audible sound. No theory has provided
a convincing explanation of how consciousness, being non-physical,
could be created by the physical brain. Imaging studies have been
used to support this notion, but all the data can equally well be
regarded as correlation effects between neurosynaptic activity and
the ambient field of consciousness.
Mind and brain are complementary. As a Newtonian instrument, the
brain functions as an object in spacetime, in which the law of cause
and effect holds true. The mind, the seat of consciousness, has
quantum properties, functioning both in and outside of spacetime.
Spacetime itself is the product of consciousness, the outcome of
what is known in quantum physics as the collapse of the probability
wave. Not even a tiny particle such as an electron exists as such,
until it is measured. Up to that moment, it is in the 'virtual state'.
The conscious act of measurement precipitates the electron into
spacetime. Even then its speed and momentum cannot be simultaneously
measured; there is inherent uncertainty and nothing is fixed.
Everything within spacetime intimately relates to everything else
by means of quantum entanglement. Two photons that once shared the
same quantum field remain connected forever. Separated by a metre
or a million miles, it makes no odds; stop the spin of one and the
spin of the other will instantly stop likewise. This is not information
travelling from one particle to the other even at the speed of light
but is a field change, happening simultaneously outside of spacetime.
So-called 'paranormal' events defy the laws of Newtonian space and
linear time, yet are within easy reach of the mind, when the signal
to noise ratio is amplified by stilling the mind and reducing sensory
There is a robust database of verified paranormal findings both
naturally occurring and experimental. These include precognition,
telepathy, remote viewing and healing by means of prayer.
Such discoveries call for
a figure-ground reversal; the Newtonian worldview is valid but we must
not mistake the part for the whole. Suppose that we never went out at
night and only saw the world in the light of the sun. We would not know
the night sky, or suspect the presence of worlds beyond our own..5
Spirituality and Psychology
If we can overcome these limitations,
we have a new vision of reality in which science and spirituality spring
from the same source. I am not talking here about religion. In the West,
the Church has behaved as though religion is synonymous with spirituality
but it is not the same thing. Religion is a way of structuring and supporting
the human impulse to transcend material reality. It provides community,
ritual and solace. It has enriched our world with art, music and architecture.
But it is a man-made system, built on doctrinal assertions about the
nature of God. I am talking about the spirituality in every human that
naturally arises as scintilla of that supreme consciousness, the source
of life, which traditionally we call God.
I shall be using the term soul to describe
that quotient of the Godhead that enlivens every human being. It is
not a question of 'having' a soul, but of 'being a soul'. There is no
conceit attached to regarding all persons as divine beings for this
has nothing to do with ego. We may equally be humbled, when we consider
the hand of which we are so many billion fingers.
Science asks the question 'how?' and this
is a very important line of inquiry, for we do need to find out all
we can about the biological substrate of mental disorder. Nevertheless,
finding meaning in life is a function not of the brain but the mind.
It depends not on the 'how' but on the 'why'. This is where a century
of psychological research comes in and we might reasonably ask if enough
of the 'whys' have been answered to do the job. In my view, the answer
is no. I don't underestimate the value of psychological insight, having
worked for twenty-five years as a psychotherapist. But for some people,
the big questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life are
of fundamental importance. They need addressing for what they are, not
by re-casting them within a psychodynamic frame of reference.
Again, our culture has set the limits
on what is legitimate inquiry. In this case, Sigmund Freud was bent
on providing a model of the mind in which everything could be accounted
for by the epic struggle of the human ego sandwiched between birth and
death; God in his heaven was a necessary illusion to avoid facing the
finality of death.6 Carl Jung challenged this
assumption, but the scientific clime of the 20th century ensured that
Jung's approach, and later transpersonal schools of psychotherapy, never
gained much purchase in mainstream healthcare. Behavioural and cognitive
treatments are post-modern approaches, tools for re-structuring thought,
which steer clear of questions that could distract from the task of
'getting on with life'. They lend themselves to goals and measurements
and don't require either therapist or client to have to tolerate uncertainty
and the unknown.
All this is somewhat ironic for psychiatry,
since the word psyche comes from the Greek, meaning soul.
The Holoverse and Humanity
If we are thinking of exchanging the materialist
world view for a participative, spiritually inclined cosmos, we might
reasonably want to know more about what we are letting ourselves in
It looks increasingly as though the universe
is structured like a giant hologram, or holoverse, as it has been called,
so that the whole is always contained in the part, no matter how small.7
The new physics is extending our ability to discern more
of the whole. But there is another very important way, that of looking
within the self, for when it comes to our capacity for love, we make
direct contact with an emotion of infinite amplitude. There is an old
saying that it's love that makes the world go round! From the transpersonal
perspective this means nothing less than to harness the subtle energy
of love for the benefit, and self-realisation, of the individual, group,
society, nation and planet.
This is not a grandiose delusion and neither
does it deny suffering. Collisions of unimaginable force are inherent
in creation. Cosmologists are now suggesting that our universe arose
from a collision in the 11th dimension of two
parallel universes. Then our baby universe had to contend with the implosion
of matter and anti-matter; only a small preponderance of matter over
anti-matter by one part in a billion ensured its survival. This drama
of colliding forces typifies our human psychological disposition too,
as first told in the story of Adam and Eve. Out of conflict comes birth
and life and death. In the ensuing play of emotions, each is paired
with, and in a sense defined by, its opposite, thus: good and evil,
hope and despair, and sorrow and joy. Last but not least, there is love
and its sworn antagonist, fear.
It seems all experience must be lived
and harvested, the suffering we go through and inflict on others, as
well as the reparation we make and our search for truth and beauty.
We could be forgiven for feeling hopeless about the human condition
but there are some grounds for optimism if we keep the whole picture
in our sights. Cosmology suggests that there is a primal thrust towards
life. What began as stardust assumes ever more complex forms, resulting
in species like us human beings, with the biological means to support
consciousness. This is the anthropic principle, which argues that the
attainment of consciousness such as ours was in the blueprint from the
In this development, conflict has an evolutionary
significance; it is a tool of the self-aware universe and a powerful
spur to evolution. But now comes a time when a quantum shift is needed,
to break through the primitive fight/flight mentality of the species.
There has to be the realization of wholeness, of interdependance and
of underlying unity. Out of this arises the golden rule of interconnectedness,
which says that since we are one, to harm another is to harm oneself.
Astronauts come back deeply moved by seeing 'spaceship earth' from afar;
the oneness of our little planet is so very striking. The task before
us, individually and collectively, is to have regard for the unity of
life, and so to make sense of our lives within the greater whole.
We may feel this intuitively but I also
want to mention a few key areas of transpersonal research into consciousness.
Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs)
The near-death experience has been reported
the world over, regardless of race, colour or creed. Some 10% of people
who clinically 'die', that is who suffer cardiopulmonary arrest and
are then resuscitated, report a complex sequence of events of which
they are subjectively conscious throughout.8
These have been attributed by some scientists
to the terminal throes of neural activity in the brain. But this is
unlikely for two reasons; the first is that the NDE appears to takes
place while the electroencephalogram is 'flat'.9
The second is that the account given is complex and follows a well-recognised
sequence. Unlike the fragmented and confused images that are seen in
organic and hypoxic conditions, the NDE conveys enormous power, clarity
The 'full' NDE includes an out-of-body
experience that may begin with watching the attempted resuscitation,
a sense of peaceful detachment, then travel through a tunnel or vortex
and approaching a bright light, meeting deceased friends and relatives,
encounter with a higher or divine presence, being taken through a life
review, the reason for coming back and, hardest of all, leaving it all
behind in order to return to the body.
Survivors of the NDE are profoundly and
permanently changed. There is never again a fear of death. With it goes
a new and deep appreciation of life, beauty and the knowledge that the
only true purpose in life is to love. However, about one in a hundred
NDEs is negative, being full of fear and foreboding and visions of hell.
These have been linked to suicide attempts but can occur spontaneously.
A second area of research concerns past
life regression.10 The past life is experienced
in real time, there is no sense of contrivance and no amount of wishful
thinking can change the script. The therapist takes the client backwards
and forwards through the life, like selecting scenes from a video recording,
and sometimes switching entirely from one life to another. Most important
is the experience of going through the death and leaving the body, which
has the same quality as an NDE. It frees the client from the emotional
impact of a sometimes painful death and allows for that life to be reviewed
from 'the other side' with wisdom and compassion. While critics have
dismissed 'past lives' as cryptomnesia, some cases have stood the test
of historical veracity, and there is the strange phenomenon of xenoglossy
as yet unexplained.11
A third area of research is
out-of-body-experiences. These include travelling to distant locations
and gathering information that can later be corroborated, bi-location
(a person manifests in one place, yet is residing in another place or
country at the time), and journeying to the realms of the Bardo - the
spirit world. There is a large literature; the painstaking work of Robert
Munroe over forty years is among the best.12
Fourthly, meticulous research on reincarnation
has stood up to scrutiny, as the researches of Ian Stevenson demonstrate.13
These are cases of young children who claim to belong to another family,
and in which they had the identity of someone who died traumatically.
When taken to that former home, they have been able to identify members
of the family and give the family history. Even birthmarks have been
correlated with gunshot wounds on the deceased.14
Lastly, we have what the Church calls
the ministry of deliverance and what in transpersonal therapeutics is
called spirit release. This is dealing with the problem of interference
by entities that have attached to humans. The Church sees these as demonic;
spirit release therapists regard the entities as discarnate souls in
need of loving but firm guidance - when helped to let go and move on,
they usually do so willingly.15,16
These various experiences have heightened
a lively debate over the last twenty-five years about the nature of
the soul and the domain of spirit. This is what I would like to discuss
Spirituality and Soul
In its broad definition, spirituality
is that which makes life meaningful and purposeful. It calls for a perspective
on life that goes beyond one's own small being - the ego has to take
second place. For psychiatrists who hold that consciousness is confined
to the body, this may be sufficient; hopefully the research correlating
spirituality with mental health will interest them in its own right.
However, there are certain obstacles to overcome. Firstly, psychiatrists
are not the norm they might suppose they are. Gallup polls show them
to be at least twice as unbelieving of matters spiritual and religious
as the population as a whole.17 Secondly,
psychiatry is still trying to attain credibility within the medical
fraternity and in this 'we are nothing but our genes' culture, the focus
is on neuroscience. Thirdly, psychiatrists, like most people, are uncomfortable
with not having answers to searching questions.
On the other hand, when psychiatrists
engage their patients with open minds, and when the patient senses that
the psychiatrist is genuinely concerned to help them make sense of the
deepest questions of life and death, spiritual disclosures are often
readily and appropriately forthcoming. Being familiar with transpersonal
concepts helps with this. Since nothing need be ruled out as impossible,
the experiences the patient brings can be worked with as authentic and
We cannot say anything with certainty
about the anatomy of soul, since this is shaped by culture and belief.
How it is perceived depends also on ones state of mind. In ordinary
consciousness, it is experienced as the spiritual attribute of the self.
In ASCs, the soul may become permeable and unbounded, engaging with
an archetypal world populated with wrathful and beatific spirits. Beyond
that, and transcending the individual ego, there is a merging with the
species-mind, in which all the joy and pain of all humankind is laid
bare.18 In mystical rapture, enlightenment or
samadhi, there is a total dissolution of the ego, a fusion of subject
and object and an experience of oneness for which there are no words.19
Some hold that the soul is immutable,
unchanging and perfect in its essence while others see the soul as making
an evolutionary journey. The picture that emerges out of the various
transpersonal lines of enquiry suggests that all of these different
perspectives hold true. I have attempted to illustrate this diagrammatically:
Suppose that in everyday
consciousness the individual soul / self (S) is travelling in linear
time along axis AB. In an ASC such as past life regression, there is
some movement along axis CG. The psyche is still experienced as individual,
but past, present and future can now be accessed from the vantage point
of (S1) as a linear sequence of births and deaths. Moving further away
from linear time (S2), the individual soul / self begins to merge with
the transpersonal collective, with a corresponding loss of ego boundaries.
Note that the perceived duration of linear time AB will diminish with
the shift towards G. The further CG extends towards infinite space,
the more acute is the angle at the apex so that as sides AG and BG lengthen
(and AB continues to contract), they approach the parallel and will
eventually unite. Time has now shrunk to zero and is no longer felt
to exist, while the Self is merged with infinite space. Such subjective
reports are characteristic of states of enlightenment.
This is just a conceptual aid to help
make sense of the diverse accounts of soul from the individual to the
collective. Similarly, whether we see the soul as being on an evolutionary
journey, or already an essence of perfection depends on how we choose
to view the picture, since linear time does not exist as a thing in
itself. We are woven into a tapestry of cosmic simultaneities; all events
both in and outside of time and space are inter-connected, and acting
The last feature of the transpersonal
domain I want to mention concerns healing. As I highlighted earlier,
from the quantum standpoint our physical separateness is an illusion.
The bio-energy field, or aura, is ubiquitous throughout Nature - we
are immersed in each other's energy fields.20
This helps to make sense of how healing might work; there is evidence
from more than 150 controlled studies on plants, animals and humans
that healing has a significant effect in over 50% of the studies.21
Under laboratory conditions, healers have been shown to accelerate the
growth of yeast cultures, the germination of seeds and the rate of wound
healing, to name but a few. Distant healing has also been researched
in a randomised controlled trial of patients being treated in a coronary
care unit, a study that has been subsequently replicated.22,23
The group prayed for had fewer deaths, needed less intubations, ventilation
and drugs, had less pulmonary oedema and there were fewer episodes of
Healing means wholeness; that is the origin
of the word. It is the hallmark of spiritual psychiatry.16
The effect of mental breakdown is invariably to feel shattered; the
need to feel whole again is crucial to recovery. Healing is mediated
by empathy, a heartfelt understanding of the other and the desire to
be of help. It means entering another's world with sensitivity to, and
respect for, the beliefs and values of the person in need. And this
takes me on to the importance of the new evidence base for including
spirituality in the clinical setting.
The Evidence Base for Spirituality and Mental Health
We know from surveys of service users
that up to half will identify their spiritual/religious beliefs as important
in helping them cope with breakdown. 24
We also know that many of them don't feel able to discuss such matters
with the psychiatrist.25 Now, thankfully,
we are seeing the emergence of an evidence base linking spirituality
with mental health and which will help bring spiritual concerns to the
attention of psychiatry. Here are some of the findings:26
Depression. Overall, some 25% of women and 12% of men suffer
major depressive disorder during their lifetime. But people with
a spiritual or religious affiliation are up to 40% less likely to
get depressed than those who don't have such an affiliation. And
when they do, they recover faster. Where psychotherapy is offered,
those receiving religiously orientated therapy sensitive to their
religious beliefs score best on post-treatment measures. (Interestingly,
the outcome does not require the therapist personally to hold the
same religious views).
Depression among the medically seriously ill. Depression
affects up to 35% of this group. A study using multidimensional
measures including the 10-item validated Hoge Intrinsic Religiousness
Scale showed that for every 10-point increase in the intrinsic religion
score, there was a 70% increase in the speed of remission from depression.
Another study showed that the more severe the disability, the stronger
the protective effect of religious commitment.
Suicide. Adults aged over 50 who have never participated
in religious activities are four times more likely to commit suicide
than those who do. This holds true after having adjusted for other
variables. Similarly, religious commitment among teenagers significantly
reduces the risk of suicide.
Substance Abuse. Religious/spiritual commitment correlates
with lower levels of substance abuse. The risk of alcohol dependency
is 60% greater when there is no religious affiliation. In a study
of opiate withdrawal, 45% of participants in a religiously orientated
programme remained drug-free at one year compared with 5% in a non-religious
treatment programme. Concerning alcohol abuse, those who participate
in AA, which is spiritually orientated and invokes the help of a
Higher Power, are most likely to remain abstinent after inpatient
or outpatient treatment.
Such findings are part of
a broader picture of the correlation of spirituality/religious beliefs
with improved health outcomes that should interest every physician.
They include: smoking prevention, substantially improved survival in
the elderly after heart surgery and improved coping with cancer and
AIDS. Not least, there is a striking correlation with longevity. One
longitudinal study of over 21,000 US adults has shown that after controlling
for other factors, attending religious services more than once weekly
increased the lifespan by an average of 7 years for whites and 14 years
for African Americans.
There is one area of negative correlation
that will come as no surprise. Spiritual/religious beliefs and practices
that manipulate or coerce, and entail punitive or condemning images
of God are associated with increased rates of depression and, in the
elderly, increased mortality.
In the UK, we have a lot of ground to
make up. In over 75 medical schools in the USA there are modules in
the curriculum on spirituality and health while in the UK we have just
one, in Aberdeen. The World Psychiatric Association and the World Health
Organisation have both called for more attention to be given to spirituality
and religious beliefs, yet in the clinical setting, religion is often
little more than a tick in the box.
Exploring spiritual/religious beliefs
and values in the clinical setting is not difficult, and can be done
in an impartial way. Here are some areas of inquiry26:
What is the patient's spiritual/religious background?
Are spiritual/religious beliefs supportive and positive, or anxiety
provoking and punitive?
What role did spirituality/religion play in childhood, and how does
the patient feel about that now?
role does spirituality/religion play now in the patient's life?
Is religion/spirituality drawn upon to cope with stress? In what
Is the patient a member of any religious community? Is it supportive?
What is the patient's relationship with their clergy like?
Are there any spiritual/religious issues the patient would like
to discuss in therapy?
Do the patient's spiritual/religious beliefs influence the type
of therapy he or she would be most comfortable with?
Do those beliefs influence how the person feels about taking medication?
In the Royal College of
Psychiatrists, two comprehensive documents are currently re-defining
the aims and objectives of training in psychiatry, the new curriculum
for Basic Specialist Training and the Membership Examination, and the
required competencies for the Certificate of Completion of Specialist
Training. The Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group is
submitting detailed amendments, which we hope will be taken on board,
for this is a major educational initiative for UK psychiatry.
Other areas of concern include distinguishing
between spiritual emergency and mental illness. Yet they are not mutually
exclusive, so this can be a matter of fine judgement. Then there is
the important question of liaison with chaplaincy and spiritual/religious
support networks, so often excluded from acute psychiatry.
Putting the soul into psychiatry is not
an esoteric undertaking. In the clinical setting it means being open,
interested, asking the relevant questions and letting the answers come
naturally. Behind those simple enquiries lies the breathtaking story
of creation, of the birth of consciousness and of enduring spiritual
values and aspirations. Psychiatrist and patient are both making their
journeys through time and space, on different paths maybe, but heading
in the same direction. As long as we are mindful that the journey is
not the destination and that finding the right question matters more
than coming up with the right answer, we have much to learn from each
other along the way.
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Based on a talk given at the conference 'The Place of
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Special Interest Group, Royal College of Psychiatrists UK and the Psychiatry
Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, London, 14th May 2002 (see
© Andrew Powell 2002