Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Self in Internal Family Systems

I'm here in the burbs of Chicago for the annual Internal Family Systems conference. On the way here, I was rereading the book on the plane. It's been a while since I've read the book, so I thought a refresher was a good idea.

One thing that struck me, and I'm not sure why, is Schwartz idea of the Self. Here is a section titled "Particle and Wave" that interests me from an integral perspective.

By now, the reader may have noticed that I have described the Self in two different ways: as an active, compassionate inner leader, and as an expansive, boundaryless state of mind. How is it possible for the Self to be both? Some models reconcile this dilemma by differentiating between a "higher Self" and a more mundane, executive Self, or ego. My clinical experience argues against this dichotomy -- the Selves of my clients that interact with their parts are the same ones who, when leaving the parts and going up on the mountain, gradually stop thinking and enter a transcendental state. Thus, I believe that the Self is both an individual and a state of consciousness, in the same way that quantum physics has demonstrated that light is both a particle and a wave. That is, photons that make up light sometimes act like particles -- like little billiard balls -- and other times like waves in a pool of water. They have both qualities (Zohar, 1990). Likewise, the Self can at one time be in its expansive, wavelike state when a person is meditating (fully differentiated from his or her parts) and then shift to being an individual with boundaries (a particle) when that person is trying to help the parts or deal with other people. It is the same Self but in different states.

When in the wave state, a person feels more connection not only to the universe, but also to other people. It is as if, at that level, people's waves can overlap, creating a sense of ultimate commonality and compassion. Thus, helping people differentiate the Self not only helps them harmonize their inner worlds, but also decreases the feeling of difference or isolation among people and builds connectedness. (pg. 38)

This sounds nice, and I am big fan of the project to get people differentiated from their "parts" so that they can be Self-led in their inner life. But, this passage seems to me to be talking about one Self in two different states -- not wave and particle (although those are nice descriptive words), but centaur and subtle. Maybe?

As quoted, on the Centaur, at Kheper:

As consciousness begins to transcend the verbal ego-mind it can… integrate the ego mind with all the lower levels. That is, because consciousness is no longer identified with any of these elements to the exclusion of any others, all of them can be integrated: the body, the persona, the shadow, the ego- all can be brought into a higher- order integration. (The Atman Project)

Then many years later, here is Wilber on higher states of consciousness:

Briefly, the psychic state is a type of nature mysticism (where individuals report a phenomenological experience of being one with the entire natural-sensory world; e.g., Thoreau, Whitman. It is called "psychic," not because paranormal events occur--although evidence suggests that they sometimes do--but because it seems to be increasingly understood that what appeared to be a merely physical world is actually a psychophysical world, with conscious, psychic, or noetic capacities being an intrinsic part of the fabric of the universe, and this often results in an actual phenomenological experience of oneness with the natural world [Fox, 1990]). The subtle state is a type of deity mysticism (where individuals report an experience of being one with the source or ground of the sensory-natural world; e.g. St. Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen). The causal state is a type of formless mysticism (where individuals experience cessation, or immersion in unmanifest, formless consciousness; e.g., The Cloud of Unknowing, Patanjali, pseudo-Dionysus; see Forman, 1990). And the nondual is a type of integral mysticism (which is experienced as the union of the manifest and the unmanifest, or the union of Form and Emptiness; e.g., Lady Tsogyal, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Hui Neng [Forman, 1998b]).

My sense is that Schwartz conflated various states of Self into a single entity. An easy error to make. If Wilber is correct -- and based on the available reading, I'd have to lean that way -- then IFS can be greatly enriched by bringing an integral understanding of Self to the table.

Either way, I like the idea of greater distinctions. The Self is a complex thing, capable of many states of consciousness.

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