Thursday, March 12, 2009

Robert Masters on Eckhart Tolle


I found this in the Robert Masters group at Gaiam. The stance taken by Tolle echoes to me some of the criticism of psychology I have seen from Buddhists, so I like Robert's response. Well said.

Tolle seems to think that everyone can simply adopt absolute truth in their daily lives, but that's silly. And there is where we need psychology and therapy - to alleviate some suffering, enough that the client can than seek a more wholistic path in their lives.
Dan/Crystallake asked on March 8, 2006:

“The ego is the mind-made sense of self, the “problematic me”. You then go to a
therapist to sort out the problems of this fictitious “me”. By developing presence and bringing space to this conditioned self, object oriented identifications begin to unravel. After years of psychotherapy the therapist will finally say ‘I am done with you’ and hand you all the notes and insights into yourself in book entitled “Me”…and you will still are not any closer to the root of the dysfunction the ego creates.” -Eckhart Tolle

How do you view the statement that seeking out a therapist is actually an exercise in sorting out the problems of the fictitious self (ego). Tolle’s premise is that the dynamics of “having problems” is a structure of the ego, and that in reality there are no “problems”. If this is the case, does it alter the value and effectiveness of psychotherapy? I get the impression that the statement is saying that psychotherapy can actually perpetuate the illusion of a separate self and the whole process might be overridden by going to the root of the ego or self by practicing presence and the witness, therefore seeing our “problems” as an illusion. Hand in hand is the premise that one root of the ego is the need to be unhappy, making “enemies” with the now moment (as the space in which all things manifest as objects of consciousness).

How do we distinguish when psychotherapy perpetuates the illusion of self in a dysfunctional manner and psychotherapy that heals a fragmented “little me” and thus enabling a higher expression of the Self to emerge. You mentioned an Integral therapist, this means an AQAL approach?

Robert Augustus Masters answers:

First of all, I’ll respond directly to the quote:

I don’t know how much experience Eckhart has with psychotherapy. Does he really think the reason (or the only reason) people go to therapists is to “to sort out the problems of this fictitious ‘me’”? If a woman comes to me in agony because she’s just discovered that her husband of two decades has been having an affair with her best friend, I’m not about to regurgitate for her the notion that her ego is fictitious or a mere sleight of mind, whatever truth that might hold. Rather, I’m going to help her deal with her pain, which is not just a problem of her ego (except to the degree that she dramatizes it).

In his quote, Eckhart simply demonstrates his all-too-conventional (and increasingly antiquated) notion of psychotherapy. Does he not realize that psychotherapy can be integral, can include the body, can incorporate spiritual practices and insights, can effectively work with egoity? I have seen clients have direct experiences of the Real during sessions, without any meditative intervention or discussion of the fictitious nature of the ego. Good psychotherapy will bring you closer to what Eckhart refers to as “the root of the dysfunction the ego creates.” (I don’t think we ought to be blaming the ego for this; egoity that is kept peripherally functional to Being does not create dysfunction on any significant scale. What matters is what we do with our egoity.)

And is ego really fictitious? Ego, which is not an entity, but a process, exists, however illusory or fictitious its representational elements may be. If we identify with it, it of course seems pretty solid, especially when it gets to refer to itself as a “me.” What is fictional then is not egoity itself, but the role we have allowed it to assume. If we don’t identify with our egoity, it’s going to seem far from solid, especially when it is allowed to become transparent to Being. But it is still real, if only as a process, an activity, a cult of one awaiting animation. I would say that egoity is not an illusion, however illusory it may be. Its fictitious features do not invalidate its reality.

Now on to your questions (which the above largely answers): “How do you view the statement that seeking out a therapist is actually an exercise in sorting out the problems of the fictitious self (ego)”? Mostly false. False how? The ego (which is more verb than noun) is not necessarily fictitious, and so-called problems are, more often than not, clearly arising in interpersonal space, rather than just belonging to a self-contained somebody, and may also be challenges, very real challenges, to one’s core individuality. And true how? Many only see their problems from an egoic viewpoint, thereby severely limiting their options, including being drawn to therapists who operate from an merely egoic perspective (and whose rationality may be disembodied enough to actually be operationally irrational).

“Tolle’s premise is that the dynamics of ‘having problems’ is a structure of the ego, and that in reality there are no ‘problems’. If this is the case, does it alter the value and effectiveness of psychotherapy?” Yes, in reality there are no problems, but this does not alter the value and effectiveness of psychotherapy (and I’m talking here about good psychotherapy), because what are referred to as “problems” often still need to be addressed, whether they’re reframed as “challenges” or “opportunities” or whatever. I’ve seen many spiritual seekers trying so hard to follow nondual teachings that they shortcircuit or bypass much of their humanity, treating it as though it were a problem!

Good psychotherapy does not just increase functionality, but also can awaken. Yes, psychotherapy can perpetuate the illusion of a separate self, but it does not have to, and can in fact illuminate that illusion to such a degree that the inherent inseparability of all that is becomes blazingly obvious. The fact that this doesn’t happen more often doesn’t mean that psychotherapy is a suboptimal strategy, but rather that not all that many psychotherapists have effectively integrated spirituality into their practice.

“How do we distinguish when psychotherapy perpetuates the illusion of self in a dysfunctional manner and psychotherapy that heals a fragmented ‘little me’, thus enabling a higher expression of the Self to emerge?” Compare psychotherapies and psychotherapists, and check out their results. Psychotherapy that heals and integrates has a very different feel than psychotherapy that merely rearranges belief systems or settles for cookie-cutter diagnosis.

- Robert Augustus Masters

1 comment:

Dan Oestreich said...

William, thanks for sharing my photograph as part of your post. It looks good! And, at least from my standpoint, complements your content -- which is very interesting, by the way. (I agree with Masters, too.)

The photo was taken one evening outside the Alibi Room at Pike Street Market in Seattle. The wall has become art. If you look closely, you can see someone's styrofoam cup near the center of the photograph sitting on what is actually a short pillar.

Best to you and good luck in your Work.