Managing Criticism


Dear William
I attended a couple of your recent workshops – one being ‘Holistic Leadership’, which I really enjoyed and got a lot from! But I have an issue that I need some help with!
I ran a mini- workshop in a primary school this week. And it was the trouble maker/ know-it-all that I found difficult to handle!! It was fine in the actual workshop- and I can give myself a pat on the back for dealing with it as best I could in the class situation. But its the after effect that Im struggling with. This person gave me really negative criticising feedback and out of all the positive Im finding it hard to shake off the negative! I’ve been honest with myself and looked at her feedback as a tool for improving my teaching and admit that some of it is fair constructive criticism – but I cant shake off the feeling that she was there to put me down- and from her very detailed feedback she seemed to take some enjoyment in picking apart the whole workshop!
She obviously tapped in to some of my insecurities and has really pushed some buttons! Id appreciate any advice.
Thanks for writing.
Yes! What a horrible situation.
It is always the one person who criticises and therefore causes fear and anxiety who is remembered. I have seen many very well known speakers come off a podium and only remember their critics and not the support.This is basic reptilian survival stuff. It is a totally normal reaction to remember the criticism and threat, and not the positive feedback.
The lesson right now for you is to clearly recognise is that the criticism caused you anxiety and some fear. This has frozen your body in a fight-flight-fright response. You need to shake, scream, swim, move, dance, rave all to move the frozen energy. You need to feel yourself pushing back at her any energy that she might have dumped on you. And then seal up your energy field.
Then, with tenderness, give your brain cells some attention. They are probably obsessing about the criticism. They need some loving attention, sympathetic, listening, internal dialogue, allowing closure. Sit quietly and turn your awareness to the matter inside your skull. You will be able to feel the subtle head-ache feelings that go with compulsive thoughts. Turn your focus towards that part of your head and direct soft healing towards it. This is a subtle process and may take a while.
Finally, at a mental/intellectual level: Hear any constructive feedback. Reject any dumping. In general: Nurture your normal insecurity with careful understanding.
Hope this helps.

Managing Financial Anxiety

The Black Hole of Anxiety

A while ago I knew one of the richest men in Europe. He owned large areas of his nation’s capital city as well as several stately homes, farms and forestland. I was with him once when he went through a temporary financial crisis and instead of borrowing some money against his considerable assets, he decided to sell one of his houses. This house was worth only a fraction of his total fortune. Nevertheless he went into an infantile tailspin of anxiety and rage in which he felt that his whole life was threatened.
This wealthy man was not only dealing with his own personal fears. He had also connected with an energy field that a friend and I once named the black hole of financial anxiety. Most people have connected with this horrible energy at one time or another. You go into financial panic. You sweat. You feel faint. You may even actually faint. It might have happened when you received a bill you did not expect or when a bank statement did not make sense to you. It is a common experience and very unpleasant.
The power of the black hole of anxiety comes from the fact that it has been created over many thousands of years and it contains humanity’s mass fears around money and survival. Having no money may have terrible and very real consequences: death, starvation, victim to others power, corruption, prostitution, shame, failure, worthlessness and so on. All these emotions, felt powerfully by millions of human beings over thousands of years have created this enormous energy field of panic and fear.
When you personally experience some natural anxiety around your financial situation, you may unwittingly and unfortunately connect yourself through the law of resonance and attraction with that greater energy field. Suddenly your small personal fear is flooded with an overwhelming panic that is not yours, but that belongs to the human collective. Billionaire or pauper, people may plug themselves into this resonance and have a terrible experience.
The solution to this connection? If and when it happens to you, pause and calm yourself. Recognise that the sensation of overwhelming panic is not yours but belongs to the whole of humanity. Be still. Come to centre. Breathe. Pray that this piece of collective karma be healed. Bless it.
Its All in Your Mind
Let us take another perspective. There is a famous visualisation exercise for prosperity, which begins with you going into a calm state. In this relaxed space you contemplate what it is like to have millions of pounds as much money as you want. Enough for many wonderful homes around the world. Extraordinary views. Fantastic comfort. You can be a public benefactor, start charities and finance global healing.
You spend a long time in this relaxed state enjoying your dream of prosperity. You are then asked to notice all the body sensations and feelings that go with it. The relaxation and warmth. The confidence and safety. And so on. You write down all your feelings detail by detail and share with a partner who has also just done the same exercise. Then the coach asks:
Did you enjoy the visualisation and the feelings?
Oh yes! says everyone.
And, says the trainer, you want money in order to feel that way? Is that right?
You and everyone else shout, Yes!
Well you can have all those feelings without the money! You just had them! Its all in your mind!
Some Facts
Most people want money in order to feel safe and happy. But we see billionaires who are financially anxious and paupers who are content. Where do you want to be on this spectrum? Rich and anxious? Poor and happy? Or a bit of both? Or even rich and spiritual?
So lets face the facts. There is material financial success. And there is a spiritual sense of prosperity. They are not the same. They are two separate realities. One is material and the other is psychological/spiritual.
Lets face more facts. If we want money, we have to work hard and consistently for it. We have to put ourselves in the kinds of situation where a high salary, income stream or profits are possible and then go for it with endurance and persistence.
If you think that by using law-of-attraction exercises you will win a jackpot or that a nice person will give you a fortune, then you are not being realistic. In my opinion, that kind of naivite does not serve you or anyone. But I still wish you good luck.
People make money through hard work in the right situation. (And, yes, there are a few lucky fat cats who get there without working, but they are very rare and, in my experience, usually have an uncomfortable karma which does not deliver them happiness. You don’t want that, do you?)
Achieving a true sense of spiritual prosperity and psychological contentment is, however, available to you. Right now. In this moment. For free. Donated by the flowing and benevolent spirit of the universe.
How do we get it? It goes something like this: First be open to receiving it. Then surrender! Surrender and yield yourself to compassion, love, wisdom, enlightenment and divine power and spiritual abundance is yours. Surrender to the Flow. I have no hesitation in recommending this to you!
And if you choose also to work hard to make money, then that is great too.
But, whatever your material wealth, manage your finances with dignity and generosity.
Also be realistic and know that at the end of the day, you cant take money with you but that love is eternal.
Go well.

Liver Cleanse

Since my early twenties I have had an instinct for a clean diet, but I also had a compulsive and addictive side. So before I cleaned up, through my teens into my thirties, I enjoyed enough cigarettes, drugs and alcohol to last several life times. Then in my forties I began to experience hip arthritis and also became concerned about my whole lower abdominal area because my father had died of colon cancer. I did my first colon cleanse, which immediately cured the hip pain and also made my complexion cleaner and clearer.

Twice a year now I also do a liver cleanse, which releases bile from the liver. That phrase releases bile says it all. If there is stuff clogging up your liver it not only damages your immune system and life expectancy, it is also irritating – physically and psychologically irritating. So it is very useful to flush your liver out regularly, perhaps once a year. I use a classic strategy which takes seven days.

Instructions for a Liver Cleanse

If you have any concerns or caution about doing it, then do not do it.
If your health is fragile then consult a medical doctor first.

So here is the process that many of my friends and I use. It is simple and effective.

Ingredients Needed:
  • 6-12 litres organic apple juice
  • Golden Seal tincture
  • Black Walnut Hull tincture
  • 2 organic grapefruits
  • Organic olive oil
  • Epsom Salts

DAYS 1-6

Clean up your diet. Don’t overeat. Avoid dairy, wheat, sugar, salt, alcohol, processed food, stimulants, red meat.

Every day spread throughout the day drink 1-2 litres of organic apple juice. (All of this softens the stones and opens up the bile ducts.)

Every morning shortly after you have woken drink a half litre glass of warm water.

15 minutes later swallow a tablespoon of organic olive oil mixed with a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.

Wait 20 minutes before drinking anything else. Some people wait up to two hours before eating anything because they report feeling nauseous.

Four times a day take 3 drops of Black Walnut Hull tincture either in water or the apple juice. (This helps kill any bacteria and may be particularly helpful for candida.)


Do not eat anything after 2.00pm. You may drink water.

Around 6pm mix 4 tablespoons of Epsom Salts (these used to be called liver salts) with 3 cups of water in a suitable container. This makes 4 servings of 3/4 of a cup. Drink your first serving now at around 6pm. This will taste a bit bitter.

Around 8pm drink your next cup of the Epsom Salts. The Epsom Salts will flush through you, usually triggering dramatic bowel movements.

If by 10pm you haven’t had a bowel movement give yourself an enema to start the flushing process.

Around 10pm squeeze 2 fresh organic grapefruits to make a cup of juice. Pour this into a container (with a screw top) with a cup of organic olive oil. Add to this 10 drops of Black Walnut Hull Tincture. Shake the container vigorously to blend it all.

Get ready to go to bed. (You may need to visit the bathroom a few times first as the Epsom Salts pass through your bowels.) Now stand by your bed and shake the container again. Standing up, drink it all down in one go.

Lie down immediately flat on your back and relax. Have a kind and compassionate attitude towards your body, especially towards your liver. Impressions and images may arise. Sense, visualise and feel the mixture passing effectively and smoothly through your liver, removing all impurities.  Watch, breathe and enjoy. Go the bathroom if and when you need. Sleep well.


Between 5.00 and 7.00am have your third cup of Epsom Salts. Rest.

Between 7.00 and 10.00am have your last cup of Epsom Salts. Rest.

During this period you may now drink as much water as you want – especially as you may be feeling dehydrated.

You may start eating lightly from mid-morning.

With all your bowel movements you may want to take a torch into the bathroom to see what you are expelling. You will see gallstones floating and sinking, ranging in colour from white to green to brown, as well as the white foam of tiny cholesterol crystals.

You may experience some headaches and discomfort during and immediately after the whole process, but this is completely normal during any detox. It is also possible that your anus may feel sore; if this is the case you can apply a healing ointment such as calendula cream.

If you discharge a very large quantity of stones and pellets, this is a sure indication that you need to do the process again. The timing is up to you but I would suggest you give yourself a break of three months. What you want to see finally is a liver flush in which hardly anything comes out, after which you just do a liver flush as an occasional process.

The result of this? A healthy liver, stronger immune system and much better mood.

I received a letter from a 72-year old who felt frail and asked whether she ought to go ahead with the cleanse because she was feeling nervous about it. I replied:

Thanks for your email and enquiry.

With all these cleansing strategies you need to make careful decisions after careful research. You know your own body and what it can handle better than anyone else. You also know whether in recent years you have been eating good food or rubbish. Equally its important to maintain a strong constitution through exercise and stretching.

If in doubt, back off from a dramatic cleanse. BUT you can clean up your diet. You can also read up about teas that cleanse the kidneys and liver. Then when you are feeling more confident, you might choose to move ahead.

Managing your own body is a thoughtful business of trying out new things and noticing what makes you feel good.

I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful.

I received a similar letter from a young mother who was still breastfeeding. I absolutely advised her not to do the cleanse until she was strong and ready.

If in doubt please consult your medical doctor.

There is also some sceptical comment passing around saying that a liver flush is a waste of time and the results are ineffective. These comments suggest that the stuff you can see in the lavatory after the flush is not discharge from the liver but the effects of the olive oil. — I don’t agree with this for two reasons. First, on each occasion that I do a liver cleanse I feel substantially better afterwards (better mood, more energy) and I am very mindful and aware of the possibilities of a psychosomatic effect. Second, when I first started doing the cleanse I experienced a huge ammount of discharge and pellets. After several cleanses there was very little or none.

The Insights that May Come with Illness


We all want to feel well and have good health. And there are wonderful strategies and insights to support us.
But – and here is a provocative question – is spirituality really about well-being, happiness and good health, or is all that just the business of medicine and social care? When I was ill and had surgery last year, what was more important – that I recovered my health or that I used the situation as an opportunity to expand and deepen my consciousness and my compassion? Health or spiritual development?
A good friend of mine, the co-founder and co-editor of Cygnus Magazine, Ann Napier, recently passed through a horrific cancer scare and I, for one, rejoice in the fact that she is now well again.  Recently, by chance, I met her as she was walking with her family through Glastonbury and it was wonderful to see her walking and looking good, wheelchair and sickness in the past. But even more inspiring was her sparkle and her obviously stronger connection with the energy and wonder of life. The illness had been transformational.
Now I want to be absolutely clear here. I do not want to be misunderstood. I do not wish distress, pain, anxiety or suffering on to anyone, not even as opportunities for spiritual growth. I want everyone to be healthy, happy and well. But, and it is a big but, the reality for all of us is that physical illness and psychological distress are facts of life. They are unavoidable. We cannot magic them away. So it is naive for anyone to pretend that they can create a life that is free of sickness and sorrow. Aging is inevitable, as is death.
So what is the right spiritual approach to health and illness?
From one perspective, the right spiritual approach is obvious. We need to give healing, relieve suffering and support well-being. At the same time, however, we need to acknowledge that sickness and sorrow are also circumstances that can enable great spiritual growth, increasing our connection with spirit, opening our hearts and waking us up. During one period of my life, after a back injury, I was for several years wracked with a pain that I would not wish on anyone, but once I had stopped complaining and feeling sorry for myself, it transformed my awareness. This kind of personal development inside pain and illness is not unusual. Many of us grow spiritually during our crises, like pearls stimulated by the grit in an oyster, like phoenixes rising from the ashes, like alchemical lead transforming into gold.
In stories of how people manage their terminal illnesses, we often hear about these startling personal transformations. ‘My body may be dying, but I feel healed and changed.’
True spiritual therapy, therefore, works at two levels at the same time. It relieves suffering and it also supports spiritual growth, the development of heart and consciousness. In fact, Margaret Newman, a professor of nursing in the United States, suggests to her nurses that real nursing is not about supporting physical health, but is about nursing and midwifing the birth and development of spiritual consciousness.
Her perspective is realistic. There is no avoiding the stark reality that a normal human life includes being sick and being healthy. That is just what we all do, in the same way that we are all born, eat, sleep and eventually demise. The real issue therefore, for those of us who take a spiritual approach, is not our health but our consciousness. Our real challenge is to wake up and be conscious inside our crises, illness and distress.
This, of course, is a central tenet of Buddhist practice. It is not what we do that matters, but our state of consciousness that is all important. If we are ill, what matters is our attitude towards to it. Are we compassionate, philosophical and aware? In Christianity too, there is no special attention given to people’s health. In fact, in mystical Christianity there is a clear understanding that the whole business of being in incarnation, in a body, is a form of crucifixion and sacrifice, out of which is born a state of unconditional love and Christ consciousness.
In fact, this is one of the consistent themes of all the great esoteric and mystical schools – kabbalah, sufi, rosicrucian, hermetic and more – that there is a built-in friction to incarnation and being alive. Two different energy fields and vibrations are meeting, that of the incarnating soul and that of our bodies. Where soul and body meet there is a friction and a fire, a marriage, and through this hot meeting of polarities is born the flame of human consciousness, compassion and wisdom. This is the inner story of the fallen angels and slain deities of the sun, who rise again, born anew.
How fantastic, then, to be a nurse, healer, midwife, enabler and therapist to this process – to be a loving presence, relieving pain and simultaneously encouraging the growth of heart and mind.
When I went into the operating theatre last year, my trolley was pushed by a male nurse who radiated a balm that soothed me. He did not relieve my physical pain, but he supported my spiritual growth through creating an atmosphere of healing safety. This is a gift that we can all give each other.

Grateful for My Illness

March 2010

I am currently enjoying the third big illness of my life.
The first occurred when I was twenty-seven at the end of a two year retreat. I collapsed with a severe hepatitis which the doctors thought would kill me. As it was, I lacked all vitality for a while, had a succession of near-death experiences and took two years to recover. It was a wonderful lesson for a speedy young man. I was very grateful.
Years later in my mid-forties I had my second major illness, an extreme lower back crisis – three herniated discs and torn spinal tendons – which created pain that made me faint, put me in a wheelchair and crutches, and took eight years before I could walk normally again. This illness too taught me profound lessons about patience, acceptance and forgiveness.
Right now I am managing a third very interesting illness, of the parathyroid (not thyroid) which if not stopped, will slowly turn me into a lump of chalk because of a calcium imbalance, the sensations of which I am already experiencing. (In my case, it turns out that minimally invasive surgery is available. Hooray. Of all people, I have a wonderful network of healers, therapists and medical doctors in the UK who are my friends; so trust me when I say that I have explored all possibilities for healing and have great support. My surgery date is early April and if anyone wants to offer distant healing, I’d like you to send good energy to the surgeon and visualise me on a walking holiday a couple of weeks later.)
Temporarily weakened by the condition, however, I did decide to get a tonic from Ned Reiter, a very experienced herbalist who lives locally. During our consultation, he asked:  ‘And what story are you telling yourself about your illness?’
‘Many, many stories,’ I replied.
I consider myself very lucky because when I first started studying spiritual healing in my twenties, I read what I still consider to be the wisest and most helpful book on the subject, Alice Bailey’s Esoteric Healing. If you are seriously interested in illness, healing and the process of death, then in my opinion it ought to be top of your reading list.
It deals in depth with the relationship between the endocrine system and the chakras, and the various factors that cause malfunction and disease. More than that it provides a crucial overview of the causes of illness. This includes, for instance, a startling and provocative suggestion that the ultimate source of illness lies in the imperfection of God. As part of God’s body, we participate in that imperfection whether we like it or not. (I like this insight because it perceives deity itself to be in a process of change and it also releases humanity from the dismal dungeon of original sin.)
Another profound insight from Esoteric Healing is that the actual material of our bodies comes from earth and will return to earth – dust to dust; and that even while we are healthy and vital, earth exerts an ongoing magnetic pull to reclaim the material that makes up our bodies. From this perspective, when we experience an illness or wound, the tissue of that part of our body is seeking to return to earth. To heal that tissue, what can we do for it, so that it is more attracted to stay in human incarnation than return to its mother? For me, that is a fascinating elemental perspective.
Esoteric Healing also provides a truly holistic perspective on the major causes of illness. These include, for example, personal karma, group karma, the karma of the earthly matter in our bodies, negative thinking, negative emotions, war, epidemics and pure chance.
So when my friend Ned the herbalist asked me what stories I was telling myself, it was a great question for I had been examining a multitude of possibilities.
One cluster of stories focused, of course, on my throat chakra and how my expression, my voice, was in some way inauthentic or constrained. Did this mean I should express more love or that I should release it to full expression? More humble or more assertive? Was the source of this constriction in my emotional life, my work, my family or was it ancestral?
Another cluster of stories worked with elements to do with the environment. I had been drinking coffee over the previous year and the PH of my body had become far too acidic. Or perhaps there was a speck of asbestos from some rebuilding I had done. Or a grain of LSD from my youth. Or the electromagnetic pollution from all the mobile phones and computers.
Was this illness purely my stuff or ancestral or collective or just one of those things that happens? There were so many possible stories.
I could have opted for immediate surgery but I chose instead to move forward at a more sedate pace (a choice I might not have made were it an aggressive cancer.) I chose to give my illness a relaxed and contemplative study so that I could look at all the possible causes. Like my friend, Ann, managing her cancer, I have milked my situation for insights and development — and for the opportunity to learn more about love, freedom of consciousness and healing.
Esoteric Healing not only looks at causes of illness but, of course, suggests strategies for healing through a series of laws and rules. The first of these laws states:
All disease is the result of inhibited soul life, and that is true of all forms in all kingdoms. The art of the healer consists in releasing the soul, so that its life can flow.
This leads to the major strategic question for self-management: Do we actually know how to harmonise with the soul and facilitate its flow?
The basic strategic answer is classic. We have to know the skill of being able to sink gently into soft breath, open heart and calm mind.
The ambience of this calm state harmonises with the resonance of our souls. The soul’s magnetism can then reorganise and reactivate the material of our energy bodies, bringing healing and development.
So real healing begins in this profoundly soulful atmosphere regardless of the cause of the illness or the healing technique.
In this state of calm awareness, we can also compassionately contemplate the inevitability of our own death. Here in this accepting state of consciousness, we can see that true spiritual development does not belong to this transitory day-by-day identity – our gender, our age, our habits, our daily sense of self.
Genuine development is ultimately about the progress and liberation of our soul.
So here I am in the middle of an interesting illness. It is teaching me more about true soul growth and liberation. More love, more consciousness, more compassion. And for this, I give thanks.

Humanistic Psychology – Mystics & the Transpersonal


This article was originally published in Self and Society the journal of the Association of Humanistic Psychology as part of their ongoing discussion about the Transpersonal dimension of psychology. I’ve lost my copy of the journal and can’t remember the date it was published.
Teaching meditation and what is now becoming known as energy medicine over the last twenty years, I have often been curious about the background of the large number of professional carers who come on my courses.
It is usually obvious why they come: the techniques and concepts of practical mysticism and energy medicine help therapists and carers maintain a clear personal centre; and they also give insights into the energetic dynamics which can distress and release their clients. (Energy medicine and mysticism accept that the universe, nature and human beings are made up of wave-fields of moving energy with which we can consciously work.) Also because of my own therapeutic background, I teach this work in a way that is, I hope, emotionally literate and aware of the psychological dynamics. My most popular course over the years has been on psychic protection which teaches very specific and simple strategies for maintaining an attitude of confidence and encouragement even in distressing situations.
Originally I assumed that the carers attracted to my courses had some background in transpersonal psychology or psychosynthesis, from Jung or Buddhism or Assagioli. Some did, but listening to my students I learnt that most had no formal knowledge of transpersonal psychology, but were much more familiar with or trained in humanistic psychology.
Many of my students have also regularly fed back to me that the energy approach I teach has more in common with existential or humanistic psychology than it does with the transpersonal schools. This surprised me because the techniques that I teach all derive originally from mystical schools. They are essentially metaphysical, which I assumed was the starting point of the transpersonal approaches.
All of this has led me to pondering on the possible differences between the energetic approach of the practical mystic and that of transpersonal psychology. In fact, sometimes, there appears to be a direct conflict. This paper then, I trust, offers something useful to the ongoing ‘What is the transpersonal in transpersonal psychology?’ discussion in Self & Society.
For practical mystics and energy workers, the paramount drive and purpose of life is to achieve a complete and ongoing full-body experience of being an integral part of a benevolent, interdependent and purposeful universe. This is not an intellectual or theoretical concept. It is an existential here-and-now experience. It has much in common, in fact, with the bioenergetic approach to full body flow and presence. It is also, of course, Maslow’s peak experience par excellence. The energy worker, however, is interested in discovering and pursuing the practical strategies which will turn the peak experience into an ongoing plateau. To live continuously and consciously in the peak experience of connection is the energy workers concept of fulfilment and actualising human potential.
All is one. That is the major experience which the fulfilled mystic and energy worker is seeking. That is the cognition, the interpretation, the perception and the experience. The practical mystic is working towards an integration of the self, the psyche and the body with the benevolent power that runs through nature and the universe. Different mystical schools teach different ways of doing this from meditation, through dance to attuned love-making. The process is not haphazard but is structured and it is always internally observed by a detached aspect of the mind a witness who is kind, philosophical and compassionate, and carefully experimenting with energy work and altered states of consciousness.
Sometimes the peak experience can be overwhelming and the witness can get temporarily lost. The practical mystic, the energy worker, however, focusses to maintain a calm and watchful centre.
But beneath all this jargon and perhaps for some banal holistic language, what is actually going on in these peak experiences of connection? It is possible, I believe, to be specific and grounded about it all.
There are, I suggest, two major dynamics running through the peak experience of connection. The first dynamic is body-based and is made up of first, flowing endorphins and second, melting bioenergetic armour. First, the feel-good sensation of connection is experienced physiologically because there is a flood of morphine-like neuropeptides rushing through the body. (1) Second, they flow easily through the body because the tension and body armour, created by past traumas and usually blocking a healthy physical and emotional fluidity, are relaxed. (2) This relaxation can be facilitated by many different triggers meditation, love-making, sport, landscape, art, dance, companionship and so on.
The second dynamic which is usually new information for therapists is that as the body armour melts and the whole body-personality relaxes into an endorphin feel-good, it now becomes very easy physically to feel the benevolent wave-fields of energy that permeate nature and the universe. Of course this may not be a conscious experience. In general, people do not pause in the middle of love-making or sport or dance to reflect, Ahhh, I am feeling so good because I am now relaxed and sensing the good vibrations and atmosphere of a benevolent universe. Though pausing and acknowledging this is precisely what practical energy workers do do.
The endorphin and armour-melting experience is triggered by many different circumstances and may start in different parts of the body depending on the psychological history of the individual. Not surprisingly, many men often meditators have this first experience of melting and endorphin flow in the actual tissue of their brains: white light and so on. Equally unsurprising, many women first experience this melting and feel-good in their hearts and bellies.
This leads us now to the distinguishing feature of a practising energy worker. Having triggered both a flow of endorphins and a melting of armour, she then consciously works with both the body and the wave-fields to deepen and expand the experience. The contemporary scientific metaphors of wireless and television transmissions, of holographic technology, of quantum physics, of chaos and emergence all help to make the language and concept of working with energies less flaky and more accessible.
In learning how to engage with these wave-fields and harmonics partly through mental focus and kinaesthetic visualisation, and partly through an attitude of receptive surrender the energy worker also needs to learn balance, discernment and generosity. The‚ worry here is that the energy worker might fall into a selfish state of feel-good, a pool of personally and socially harmful narcissism. In general, though, because the mystic connection is felt as flowing and interconnected, there is a strong instinct to circulate and radiate the connection as goodwill into relationships and community.
But all of this is meaningless unless grounded in daily life. Although the mystic experience may start for some people as a transcendent head or heart trip, as beautiful experiences of expanded consciousness, of samadhi, of white light and of bliss, all these must sooner or later be guided into full body incarnation and manifestation. This is to say that the whole person must show up. Be fully present. Be here now. Incarnate.
This process of grounding and integrating the feel-good peak experience into our day-to-day three-dimensional reality is painful and long hard work. It requires bringing the feel-good deep into the suffering, the psychological wounds and shadows which have previously been denied. The practical mystic therefore needs the skills, taught as practical energy exercises, for staying fully in the body and able to hold a calm and confident centre whilst meeting very uncomfortable psychic realities. (3)
All of this asserts that the practical energy approach is, or at least ought to be, fully existential and body-present. It is concerned with here-and-now experience. This of course is precisely where it is relevant to the humanistic approach. It directly supports counsellors, carers and therapists no matter what their training or methodology. It is concerned with the presence of the therapist.
All the strategies of the practical mystic to come fully present are directly applicable to the carer. But more than that, the practical mystic also knows that if she is fully present, then there is a benevolent wave-field emanating from her which touches and holds her client, companion or friend. There is an atmosphere which directly transmits or radiates to the client. It is not superficial body language or communicated cues. It is a distinct atmosphere and supportive energy. It supports, deepens and sustains compassionate co-presence and holding. (And please note that co-presence and holding are worthless if practised with cool detachment and alienated witnessing; they only make the therapist feel clever or, worse still, enlightened.)
In a sense, as many of you must have thought by now, this is almost pure Carl Rogers. He was right, I believe, when he said that the actual methodologies of therapists are more or less irrelevant. What really matters is the attitude and quality of the therapists presence: the degree of unconditional positive regard, authenticity and full presence. These are precisely the attitudes developed by the practising energy worker. The only difference is that the energy worker understands what is going on here in a metaphysical and energetic way.
Following the hierarchy of human needs, the energy experienced and radiated by a practical mystic by someone who senses their connection with a benevolent universe  creates an atmosphere and presence of supportive safety, a prerequisite for many first steps in psychological growth and the process of self-actualisation.
The therapists and human beings who feel a connection with the creative juice of life are far better to pass time with than dry and earnest do-gooders. I would go so far as to suggest that therapists who do not, consciously or unconsciously, have this sense of connection with the creative and benevolent power of life burn out. They burn out because they have no real support. (Holidays, relaxing baths, watching television, good meals and so on are not tangential requirements in a therapists life. They are central planks of sustenance because they all create opportunities to connect back with life.) Equally, I am prepared to suggest that there comes a certain point in a clients progress when she can go no further without some internal joie de vivre whose precise source is of course this sense of connection. It is this connection with the benevolence of life which provides the ultimate resource for healing and transformation.
The good therapists, whether or not they are conscious of it, precisely provide this connection. The good therapists actually model it: full presence, unconditional positive regard, authenticity. In fact, we can easily say that when therapists are not actively intervening, it is the warmth of their presence which feeds and holds the client and is (whether their therapeutic model owns it or not) healing.
And here let me point out another fine and very relevant paradox. This experience of connection with the benevolent wonder of nature and the universe requires no religious belief system. In fact there are self-professed atheists and agnostic humanists who are filled with the joy and brilliance of life; just as there are self-professed mystics and transpersonal therapists who are miserable wallies. My own analyst was a famous atheist, but he loved me.
Occasionally therapists use me for supervision and recently one man phoned me, overwhelmed by one of his clients. He described how he lost centre and became uncomfortable with this client, and I asked a few more questions. We then decided to move his chair so that he could see out of the window when working. When he started to feel overwhelmed, he would then withdraw attention from the client, calm his breath, centre his body energy and look out of the window using the sky and clouds to connect with the universe and nature. Using this method, he stabilised his relationship with his client and was then able to look more contemplatively at the psychodynamics that were triggering his abreaction. His own process and his usefulness as a therapist were supported by something as simple looking at the sky.
But there are many criticisms levelled at both the transpersonal psychologists and the mystics. The major fear of humanistic, biologically based and existentially oriented therapists is that the mystics’ basic concepts and methodologies will abstract away from their clients’ actual situation and experience. Subtle form of conceptual denial will inform both the therapist’s life and their client work. To put it at its most harsh, the mystics or transpersonal therapists may be more interested in their clients’ symbolic stories and mystic realities rather than in the flesh and blood experiences which require help.
But as I have already written above, the practical mystics are also profoundly concerned about any tendency to space out or lift away from reality, either theoretically or when dealing with life challenges. Time and time again, practical energy workers drawing on strategies as widespread as Taoist medicine, Jewish Qabalah, Wicca or Yoga are using breath and centring to bring them back to their bodies, securely anchored in their lower bellies, compassionately watchful, sensing everything. Equally, the practical energy worker understands that you cannot radiate a benevolent atmosphere unless you are first fully in your body.
I wonder then whether the transpersonal schools need to adopt this form of energetic body awareness, not as a useful add-on, but as a primary plank in their training especially as so much transpersonal and mystic stuff goes on in and out of the head, in the imaginal realm.
The actual psychological model of the transpersonal and mystic schools is of course absolutely necessary. All the dimensions of the psyche must be on the map and understood, and then drawn into play at appropriate times in the therapeutic process. (4) But there is this ongoing suspicion that, conceptually and in practice, transpersonal and mystic therapy does abstract away from the real problems of the client (and the therapist.) This appears to be a clear tendency in transpersonal sources. Let me give a few well-known examples.
a. The Buddhist and Eastern sources of transpersonal psychology often regard daily reality as an illusion to be transcended. Everyday life is Maya. Wisdom comes from transcending it. As a therapeutic approach, therefore, it may encourage strategies of escape into an inner world. The enlightened man, according to this approach, is therefore observant and not engaged. This is not a functional full bodied human being.
b. Then there is Jungian archetype and dream work, which may very easily become more interested in the clients story than the clients actual lived experience. The clients become walking symbols, like weird tribal folk observed by a visiting anthropologist. The pain in your left breast is interesting, but even more interesting is the fact that it is in your breast and your left one at that. So much for the clients distress. But the symbolism is engaging. This is therapy as a head-trip. (I remember my fury at Van der Post as he surveyed a group of boys and adolescents going through circumcision rites. He commented ingeniously, obviously fascinated, on the archetypal symbolism of the rite, without a nod to the boys fear and physical wounding.)
c. The psychosynthesis model deliberately seeks to connect individuals with the core source of their being and creativity their soul. But, in so doing, there is a tendency to lift away from physicality. There is for example a well known and much used psychosynthesis mantra:
I have a body, but I am not my body.
I have emotions, but I am not my emotions.
I have a mind, but I am not a mind.
This is very similar to another awful Buddhist mantra: I am a sack of skin filled with unpleasant things . . . .(Interestingly Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, was a dedicated mystic and student of meditation but he tried desperately to keep the two sides of his life separate. He feared that if his mystic tendencies were known it would devalue his academic credibility. And I have to note that in general the transpersonal schools from Jung onwards have separated from universities, thus avoiding the real rough and tumble of academic challenging; whereas the humanistic approach has a firmer base in higher education. Nevertheless the transpersonal schools are eager for formal academic accreditation.) I would rather the psychosynthesis mantra read: I have a body and I am more than my body . . .
d. Within the transpersonal and mystic models there is also a tendency to create a hierarchy of importance. The soul or core self is very important. The mind is less important. The emotions even more unimportant and the body itself is an irrelevant nuisance.
But what are the criteria for this valuation? Possibly that the core self lasts longer than the rest of the package. But this is akin to asserting that a butterfly is less important than an elephant, less worthy of attention and appreciation. It is an absurd approach. Historically this approach tends to belong to religious patriarchs, seeking to transcend a bestial body and incapable of harmonious relationships and honest sex.
So what in the end am I saying?
I am clearly suggesting that it is right to be suspicious of those approaches which abstract away from the body and existential suffering. But do not place and judge practical energy workers and mystics in the same framework.
I am also suggesting that all therapies can benefit from the strategies of practical mysticism and energy work which centre and connect us. No one surely will argue against any strategies which support and inculcate the warmth of compassionate co-presence
Practical energy work also provides a clear and integrating bridge between the body-based and the transpersonal schools of therapy. The comfortable acceptance in bioenergetics of flowing waves of energy running through the body and the universe can be an essential building block in the foundations of transpersonal psychology.
Equally, the energy worker goes one step further than the usual transpersonal approach, asserting that true health comes not only from an alignment with the individuals core or soul, but also from an experiential connection with the benevolent energies of nature and the universe, with the soul of all life.
(1) Candace Pert, Molecules of Emotion, Simon & Schuster, 1998.
(2) Alexander Lowen, Bioenergetics, Penguin, 1976.
(3) William Bloom, Psychic Protection, Piatkus, 1997.
(4) John Rowan, The Transpersonal : Psychotherapy & Counselling, Routledge, 1993