Interview with John Rowan on Conscious TV, by Iain McNay (2013)
John Rowan (1925-2018) was an English author, counsellor, psychotherapist and clinical supervisor, known for being one of the pioneers of humanistic psychology and integrative psychotherapy. He started to work in the Transpersonal field in 1982 and wrote the book, ‘The Transpersonal: Spirituality in Psychotherapy and Counselling’. John also co-wrote, ‘The Therapist’s Use of Self’ arguing that the transpersonal has a unique contribution to make in the therapy field. He has been exploring the higher levels of mysticism since 2003, and has written several papers with detailed arguments, as well as leading transpersonal workshops in 25 countries.
Conscious TV is a UK based channel that interviews conscious people in the areas of consciousness, science, non-duality, and spirituality. Its quest is to stimulate debate, question, enquire, inform, enlighten, encourage, and inspire people.
The interview transcript is available below.
To learn more about the layers of conscious experience described in this interview, take a look at these articles:
- Terri O’Fallon: Collapsing the Wilber-Combs Matrix: The Interpenetration of the State and Structure Stages
- Allan Combs and Ken Wilber: Consciousness Explained Better
- What is integral approach? (article on www.integrallife.com)
- The Stages of Leadership Maturity (interview with Susanne Cook-Greuter and Beena Sharma)
For more information about these layers of conscious experience read John Rowan’s book “Ordinary Ecstasy: The Dialectics of Humanistic Psychology“.
Iain: Hello and welcome to Conscious TV. My name is Iain McNay and my guest today is John Rowan. Hi John.
Iain: John works as a psychotherapist in London and he’s written around twenty books. I have one here, called, ‘The Transpersonal Spirituality in Psychotherapy and Counselling’, and we are going to talk today about the different levels of consciousness. We’ve had a lot of people on Conscious TV and they’ve talked about different terms and where they are, where they feel they are, and we just thought that it would be good to have a program where we start to try and put this together a bit, so we get more of an understanding about the different levels that people talk about.
So John you’ve got a really good story actually. You’ve done a lot of different things in your life. I’m just going to run through your story a little bit sequentially, and I know that when you were a teenager you were in the Crusaders and I was in the Crusaders as well for a short time. And you went to the summer camps and became a bit of a Christian evangelist (John agrees). So, how was that?
John: Well it was, it’s what you did at the time, my family pushed me into it or told me to do it or… whatever. I never got it personally, it was largely phony, this thing where you have to say, ‘I accept the Lord Jesus as my saviour!’ (Holds his arms up to the heavens). That was supposed to be a huge insight, a huge trust, a huge gift once and for all, and it was funny (he laughs), summer camp would come and I once said,’Lord, didn’t you do that last year?’ (Laughs). You sort of question whether you can do it twice. It was fun, all those evangelists. You have these wonderful songs instead of hymns (Iain agrees).
John starts to sing:
‘Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above,
deep, deep as the deepest sea is my saviour’s love.
I though so unworthy, still am a child of his care, and his word teaches me that his love reaches me everywhere’ (Finishes with a flurry).
It was good stuff, lovely, good fun for you all to join in.
Iain: It passed you by after a time?
John: Yes, even when I went into the army, (I was called up at the age of eighteen), WW2 had started and I used to kneel by my bedside and say my prayers every night in the army camp and I got the nickname of Rasputin, which was funny (he laughs), in fact, when they came round and said you were wanted for a medical service, medical duty or examination and they said, ‘Who’s next?’, they would say, ‘Rowan’ and the Sergeant, who had been away the first week I was there said, ‘There’s no-one here with the name Rowan and I said, ‘It’s me!’ and he said, ‘Oh, I thought your name was Rasputin’. (Iain and John laugh).
Iain: Anyway, when you were in the army in India, you actually met a man, a tea planter, who gave you quite a significant book didn’t he?
John: Yes, the book was, ‘The Story of Philosophy’, by Will Durant and he had Spinoza in there, Nietzsche and several others, quite a few different great philosophers. I was particularly taken with Spinoza, his sort of vision of nature and God as being One. It sort of took me to the top of a mountain as it were mentally and intellectually, as if I could see everything more clearly, as if I could feel much more, as if I understood what it was all about, that sort of thing.
Iain: Yes, in the notes you gave me, you said that it took you to a mountain peak, that over the years you saw things fitted together better. (John agrees).
John: Yes, I thought Spinoza was the bees knees. I still think that he’s very good. I often quote Spinoza, he said, ‘The effort to understand is the first and only basis of virtue’. Rather nice I think, he also said, ‘A passion can only be cast out by a contrary stronger passion.’ Quite a nice thought as well.
Iain: Then you were taken to hospital with malaria, is that right?
John: And Dengue Fever at the same time.
Iain: You had quite an experience there, didn’t you?
John: Yes I did. I was sitting on a verandah watching the sunset, it was a sort of green colour, all kinds of interesting colours this sunset and I had this strange experience of being taken out of myself and taken into another realm, the word eternity came to me from somewhere. I could see, not like ordinary life, it seemed like something quite different. It didn’t last very long, just came and went and I didn’t attach a great deal of importance to it at the time. I had no sort of framework to put it in at all. So, it just sort of came and went but I remembered it afterwards. That would be a peak experience, what Maslow called a Peak Experience. I think that’s quite a good name for those glimpses of reality.
Iain: You see, that starts our latter conversation, because people do have a peak experience and some would say, an enlightenment experience, (John disagrees), a Satori experience and it’s good to know that you are categorizing that as a peak experience. So what is a peak experience? How do you see that in the greater scheme of things?
John: Well, I think it is a glimpse of reality.
It’s a glimpse of the real world, rather than the everyday world and it’s a glimpse of enlightenment if you like.
Iain: A taste?
John: A glimpse of some kind of spiritual realm that isn’t reducible to the everyday world.
Iain: But how do you differentiate between the real world and the everyday world? What’s the difference?
John: Well, I think, if you want to be strict about it, there are several ‘real’ unquote, Worlds. Each time you take a step up the Wilberian ladder, (If I can put it that way), the series of levels of consciousness, every time you take a real step across that border, then that’s more real. Sometimes I say, it’s like stepping out of your prison cell into a bigger prison (laughs), and then eventually you decide it’s just a bigger prison and you have to get out of that and what you come into then is an even bigger prison (John and Iain both laugh). So, each time you take that step out of your prison, I think that feels like Enlightenment, it feels like, ‘Ahh, this is it! This is the real thing, this is the one!’ But you keep on discovering that it wasn’t that one, perhaps the next one is it.
Iain: So they are real in so far something happens but it’s not it. Yeah?
John: I sometimes wonder if there is a final step. I’m not sure there has to be a final step. I feel as if I’ve taken the final step but how do you know? How can I possibly know that there’s nothing beyond that? It seems to me there’s a bit of pride, hubris, if you say, ‘I definitely know what the ultimate is’. Well ok, maybe you do, maybe you don’t.
Iain: Well, we will follow your story, then we will come into the nitty gritty, and then you met Harold Walsby, I hadn’t heard of him before.
John: No, he’s not very well known. He wrote a marvellous book called, ‘The Domain of Ideologies’, in 1948 and was very well versed in Hegel and Hegelian thought and stuff like that, Marxism and so forth. Very, very influential figure in my life, and he played this horrible trick on me, which I later discovered he got from the Madhyamika school of Buddhism, laid down by Nagarjuna about 100-200 A.D. The Madhyamika school had this way of asking questions which defeats any attempt to hold on to a final truth or final assumption or anything that is the final ultimate truth.
They have a systematic way of doing that, which is described very well in one of Wilbers’ books, his first book actually. What they do and how it was done to me is; Name a fundamental belief of yours..BOOM!..then they would show that it was self-contradictory.
Iain: What was an example of a fundamental belief at that time?
John: Well, I suppose it would be something like, the universe exists, something like that. The Madhyamika School say, ‘Well that can’t be the fundamental truth because it excludes the universe not existing or part of the universe existing or some part of it not existing, or anything like that, so that cannot be a fundamental truth, so on and so forth. You can always show that it excludes something or other, whatever this great truth is of course and if you are excluding something, it cannot be the ultimate truth. The ultimate truth has to include everything and the Madhyamika questioning procedure shows there’s no such animal.
Iain: What are you left with then?
John: You’re left with nothing. You’re left with complete emptiness. What Walsby did in fact, was use it to introduce me to Hegel. In this version, lightly revised by Francis Sedlak you actually say, ‘Let’s start with nothing.’ You can’t have anything much simpler than that.
Iain: But how did you feel when you were left with nothing?
John: Well, I had no fundamental beliefs, he’d taken them all away.
Iain: How was that for you?
John: Well, it was horrible – absolutely horrible! It was shattering! I didn’t know who or what I was, who or what the world was, who he was, saying all this or anything. It was just kind of shattering, it was mind shattering, mind blowing! It was awful, I can’t tell you how horrible it was – but then he said, ‘Ahh, you’re left with nothing, is that right?’ ‘Yes’, I said and he said, ‘ Let’s start with nothing, let’s start with nothing, suppose we start with nothing?’
Well, this nothing, well it obviously is, because we are talking about it. So now we’ve got the being of nothing, so that’s nothing and being, and being and nothing, and nothing and being, being and nothing, but that nothing and being reflecting into each other, that’s a new category, that’s becoming, becoming nothing and nothing becoming being, but once we get becoming, pretty soon we get something that has become, and as soon as we have something, we have something else, we have other. So, we’ve got something and other and of course that’s the beginning of Hegels logic.
He creates all the categories of logic out of the beginning of being and nothing. He also says that being and nothing are one and the same. So it’s a bit of a funny starting point but it worked for me.
Iain: It had an effect on you, didn’t it?
John: I thought it was wonderful, so I studied Hegel and kept on studying Hegel for fifty to sixty years, something like that.
Iain: Then you did some experimenting with LSD.
John: Yes, that came in the 60’s and early 70’s, late 60’s and early 70’s for me, other people got there first I think. First of all it was just a vision where everything connected with everything else in the universe and it was a marvellous construction, where everything linked with everything else. You could almost see in the room the lines of force crossing and criss-crossing in the room, connecting everything. Then I took it more seriously and made it part of my therapy. I would take a tablet of LSD, about 400mg and sit with my tape recorder in my shed at the bottom of my garden, speak into this tape recorder for eight hours or so.
Iain: You talked for eight hours!?
John: Yes, yes, that’s how long it lasts. A day trip, yes.
Iain: You recounted your feelings and whole experience through the whole trip?
John: Yes, yes and I still have got the tapes but I can’t find anyone who can transcribe them now because they’re so old, nobody does that anymore. It’s all there if someone cared to dig it all up. I wrote some of it down.
Iain: But what did you find with the LSD experience? What did it show you?
John: Well, the thing was… it’s something absolutely necessary in therapy to get, somehow or other it opens the spring doors of the mind and keeps them open so you can access stuff that you couldn’t access otherwise. It’s as if the mind opens up, so to speak, reveals all its treasures and all it’s weirdness, weird, weird, weirdness and strangeness and amazingness, very good, very good for me.
I wouldn’t say it was that frequent. It might have been once a month or something like that, maybe not even that. At the end of the course I stopped all together… late 70’s I suppose. It started to become illegal and hard to get, punishable and all that kind of stuff. It wasn’t that brilliant anyway once you’d done it awhile, that was it.
Iain: Yes. It turned you on to Jack Kerouac and Allan Watts didn’t it, opened an interest there?
John: Yes, those Beat people and so forth and Zen Buddhism and Christmas Humphreys and Daisets Suzuki, all those other popular Zen people at that time, who actually were very good people.
I mean Daisets Suzuki is a good man and I read all these lovely Zen stories, Mumonkan and the Gateless Gate, all that kind of stuff, all these lovely stories about Zen monks suddenly getting Enlightenment, soul koans and all that kind of stuff.
Iain: And that excited you?
John: Yes and in the 80’s I’d been through ten years of therapy, mainly in cathartic groups and I’d been reborn about six times, maybe four, maybe five times.
I don’t know the exact number but I had a lot of rebirths. Really, really deep experiences where I dumped false assumptions by the bucket load and I think the whole task of therapy is to dump false assumptions and I was dumping them like billy-ho. I couldn’t get enough, mainly through groups, also in co-counselling, which I found very good for me and it was cheap. I didn’t have that much money and it was good to have something cheap.
Iain: Let’s go on to your next important thing that was the, ‘I want nothing experiment’.
John: Yes, that was a little experiment in one of Marion Milner’s books. You look at a tree or bunch of flowers perhaps and you look at it and you say, ‘I want nothing!’ and as soon as you say that, they come out towards you and you realize in normal perception you hold it at a safe distance, you hold everything away and holding things at a safe distance is a lot of what ordinary, every day consciousness is about. It’s about not getting too involved with anything, not getting too close to anybody or anything. That is what everyday life is like, safety, safety, safety, nothing too close, please/thank you, and so this was a good exercise. It taught me that you didn’t have to do that. You didn’t have to keep things or people at a safe distance, you could let them in.
Iain: Yes, I was just reading your notes that you gave me here, you say, ‘As I practised this I could see the connection between this and the experiences of unity and eternity, I already had.’ So again it was showing you another facet of a different truer reality.
John: Yes, and at that time I interpreted it as the real Self, the Existential Self, the Authentic Self, this kind of level of consciousness, which I did gain through psychotherapy.
I actually got completely and fully into what Wilber describes as the Centaur Stage, the Centaur Level of consciousness, which is what Maslow calls, ‘Self-Actualization.’
So in 1980 I declared myself Self-Actualized because I realized that all Maslow meant by that, is entering the Centaur Level.
That’s all, that’s all it is, Self-Actualization is becoming fully involved and open to the Centaur Level of consciousness, which is simply the existential level of consciousness where you take responsibility for yourself instead of seeing things through other peoples’ eyes and wondering what the correct doctrine is on this or that or the other, you start to see things through your own eyes. That’s a very important stage or level of consciousness, which I think no-one described till Keirkegaard in the early 19th century. I don’t think it’s in the ancient Greeks and I don’t think you would find it in Buddhism. I don’t think you find it in any of the Eastern stuff. I think it’s a modern invention.
Iain: And did you feel at that time that you’d got to the end of the road?
John: Yes, oh yes!
Iain: So you felt in a way you were enlightened?
John: Yes, I felt okay. This is what they all say is so important and I’ve done it. So that’s it! But then at that point the question came into my mind, ‘ Okay, what next?’ And I asked around and it seemed everyone agreed that it seemed to be something spiritual, something in the spiritual realm, somewhere. So, I asked around. I went to the Raja Yoga people in Cricklewood and I went to the Osho people in Camden Town and I went to Sogyal Rimpoche in Kentish Town, none of them helped me and none of them seemed to know what I was talking about and then I met this woman at a party, who said, ‘Why don’t you try Ken Wilber, he writes a bit like you do and I think you would find him interesting.’
So I started reading Ken Wilber and he was so accurate about where I’d been up till then and I thought, ‘Aha’.
So perhaps he’d probably be accurate about where I had to go next and where I had to go to next was what he calls, ‘The Subtle Level.’
The Subtle Level of consciousness which is where you declare yourself to be a spiritual being, you own up to being a spiritual being and you start being interested in myths, legends, angels, demons, standing stones, wishing wells, tree spirits and nature and stuff like that. In other words concrete representations of the Divine.
Iain: Let’s just recap then. So far we’ve had the normal sort of Ego level, then we’ve got the Centaur level and now you’re talking about the Subtle Level. Okay, obviously one is higher than the other.
John: Well, I say it is but not everybody agrees with that. A lot of people say the Subtle is just one form of yoga, it’s Bhakti Yoga. You’ve got Hatha Yoga, you’ve got Jnana Yoga, you’ve got all kinds of different types of yoga but they’re all equal. They’re all the same level, they’re all just different approaches to yoga. So, I don’t want to defend the idea that’s a higher level but it was higher for me. It was the next thing for me.
Iain: Let’s go back again to your peak experiences. Where would peak experiences fit into these three levels that we’ve talked about?
John: Well, sometimes they are glimpses of the Subtle Level and sometimes they’re glimpses of the Causal Level.
Iain: Which we haven’t quite got on to yet. Okay, we will come back to that.
John: Quite often they’re glimpses of the Causal Level.
Iain: Okay. So one thing that I also wanted you to mention which we skipped over was, you had an experience in 1973 of facing ‘the ultimate abyss,’ which seemed that this was the nothingness I was the most afraid of’. Just talk about that briefly.
John: Well, that was in a co-counselling session. I seemed as if. you couldn’t call it a dream because I was awake but it was a vision, this fearful abyss, dark, dark, dark hole of unknown depth but very, very deep and so, so scary, so frightening, so impossible to contemplate. My co-counsellor encouraged me to stand on the edge and jump. I had enough confidence in these kind of things now to take that step and so I jumped off the edge of this abyss, edge of this precipice into this abyss.
I ended up, quite soon at a place full of light, a place of no danger with lots of light, a nice firm warm, perfect, nothing wrong with it place. I felt about ten feet tall, that kind of feeling as if, ‘Wow, this is more like it, this is really living, (John and Iain laugh), this is what I was born for, what I was meant for’, sort of feeling. That was a great lesson for me, it taught me that these awful abyss’ and these terrible tests and so forth are okay, you don’t have to be too frightened of them, just go ahead and see what happens.
Iain: So, you’ve now mentioned the Causal, so let’s have a look. How did you discover the Causal?
John: I was in supervision with a guy called Ian Gordon Brown who was a very famous Transpersonal Psychologist in Britain and he and his partner, Barbara Summers, started the first Transpersonal Psychologist training course in Britain in 1973.
He was a guy I respected and that’s why I was in supervision with him. I said, ‘I gather that the next thing I have to do after ten years of working in the Subtle (which I did), I should be ready for the Causal, but how do I do that?’ He said, ‘You just do it’.
Iain: So you were aware of the Causal without experiencing it?
John: Yes, Wilber described it. So I knew what it was supposed to be. I knew the external description of it. I just didn’t know what it was from inside. Wilber says that the only thing that stops you from going into the Causal is your contractions and contractions are just things you tell yourself. ‘I’m not ready. I’m not worthy. I’m not good enough. I haven’t been through a training course and submitted to tests’.
Iain: Doubts by the sound of it. Plain old-fashioned doubt.
John: Yes, to take the step. So I took Iain Gordon Browns’ word for it and the next time I went into meditation, which I do every morning, I said, ‘Okay, let’s drop the contractions,’ and immediately I was there in the Causal. That was it. So I pursued that for the next ten years, experiencing it, reading it, teaching about it. It was the best you could do to explore the state of consciousness. So, I got the hang of that pretty well and of course when you first come across it, there’s this amazing feeling of freedom, ‘I don’t have to believe in all that shit anymore!’ (Laughs).
Not only do I not have to believe in the mental ego stuff about being good enough to make a living and respected by your peers and all that kind of rubbish, you don’t even have to do the Centaur stuff believing yourself and being a real person, standing up for the right and all those kind of Centaur Level stuff.
You don’t have to even do anything at all about fairies, angels, standing stones and all that stuff.
All that is totally unnecessary, it’s a complete waste of time. All you can do at that point is to laugh at how ridiculous it is that people go on hanging on to all this stuff as if their life depended on it, as if it’s really, really important stuff. Different people hang on to different things but the point is that you don’t have to hang on to anything at all because there’s nothing to hang on to. Just forget about it.
So there’s a terrific freedom about the Causal especially when you first come across it and you think that’s it, the final step. What more could there be than losing all your assumptions, losing all your fears, losing all your hopes, losing all your language, losing all your assumptions.
Iain: You lose yourself, you lose your idea of yourself.
John: Exactly. Exactly. Don’t be afraid of that either. That’s okay. It was only later that I discovered that wasn’t quite the final step because at the Causal level you’ve still got this huge assumption that everything is one and there’s a lovely poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson called ‘Brahma’, which you’ve probably come across which is all about that. People think that they’re real and they think they are doing this but there’s just me, I’m Brahma and it’s all just me. You think that there’s This, and you think that there’s That, and you think this is important and you think this is a table, by God (he taps the glass table in front of him), all kinds of stuff is really just me.
There’s a nice poem that I couldn’t come across, I thought of it yesterday actually, it goes something like this;
‘Something the something,
Being the pain,
Something the something,
The faraway train,
Iain: So you know you are all one but you think you are the One.
John: Yes, yes.
Iain: What you’re saying is that it is another trap, more subtle but another trap?
John: Yes. It’s a great place to go, the Causal. It’s really, really all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s a terrific, great destination (laughs). Ken Wilber, in one of his books has a lovely page on some great guru who came to San Francisco. His one message was, ‘Everything is Ati’. I’ve forgotten what Ati means, presumably the Ultimate, the Absolute, something like that. Everything is Ati! He says this is it. The whole book is called, ‘One Taste.’ So that’s the one, Ati, whatever that is.
You must have come across many versions of this. This is the one ultimate thing and nothing else exists, just this one and that is the final assumption, and as long as you have that one final assumption that everything is one you cannot get the Mu koan.
There’s a great koan, called the Mu koan. Where one of the monks asks Joshu, a great fellow, (actually nowadays that’s not the absolute correct pronunciation. I’ve forgotten what it is from books I’ve read in the 70’s and 80’s). They ask Joshu, ‘Does a dog have a Buddha-nature?’ and Joshu says, ‘Mu!’ Mu actually means No. A lot of the Zen scholars fiddle and faddle around this word, making all kinds of mystical things up. It means no! That’s what it means. No!
You know that great document, the Mumonkan, the Gateless Gate, no gate? He said no, but of course at the Causal Level, if everything is one, you cannot have a no, everything is yes, you see?
Iain: But surely everything would be yes, it wouldn’t be yes or no. It would just be.
John: But Joshu said no. So that’s an absolute horror because at the Causal Level, a Buddhist believes everything is Buddha nature, that’s the Causal.
Everything is Buddha nature, that’s it, that’s the answer to everything. So, how can Joshu say that a dog doesn’t have Buddha nature? Everything is Buddha nature, how can you say that?
So, you cannot get this koan. In order to get the koan you have to go a further step to giving up your assumption that everything is one. The moment you give up that, you are in what we call the non-dual. Once you are in the non-dual you can get the koan because the art of koan is laughing at that naughty Joshu, (Iain laughs with John), how wicked he was to say no. How clever, how naughty, how wicked, what a joker to say no because whatever intellect you’ve got gets in a complete tangle at that point. You can’t say no, you can’t say no. You can’t just say No, can you? (Laughs). But at the non-dual you can get it and getting it means laughing and my discovery about the non-dual is that it’s so funny.
Iain: But most people talking about non-duality are very serious, that’s the dilemma.
John: I can only talk about me, I can’t talk about them. (Chuckles)
Iain: Of course. Where are you now? Do you stay at one level or do you go up and down the levels. How is it living a human life?
John: My statement is quite clear that I have experienced the non-dual. I can experience the non-dual, I can go into the non-dual at any time I like. I have reached a non-dual stage. Wilber makes a distinction between a stage and a state. He says, ‘Anybody can get into these states but it takes real work in meditation to get to that stage.’ I claim to have got to that stage, but that’s me.
My case is that the further you’ve gone along the path, Ego, Centaur, Subtle, Causal, the further you’ve gone along that path, the more choices you have as to where to be on any given occasion.
So, when I go shopping in Sainsbury’s let’s say, the Ego Level will do perfectly well for that. I can go to the Centaur Level and get really worried about, ‘Ah but, where does this come from?’ If it comes from near here, I’m more in favour of it, than if it comes from Java or Borneo or Australia or somewhere because of the air miles that had been covered. So if I am aware and conscious of how air miles pollutes the atmosphere and makes the world a worse place and so forth then I will be my Centaur self and will care about all those kinds of things because my awareness will be awakened, as far as that is concerned.
Iain: So when people talk about the different states, let’s look at the peak experiences again. The peak experience can actually appear in any of the states. Can you have a non-dual peak experience?
John: Oh yes, I think so, certainly!
Iain: When someone has a peak experience, it’s a glimpse of that state and shows them a potential if they want to pursue it, which you did to some degree. So, it’s work in meditation, mindfulness, awareness to then refine yourself so you are able to, as you say, go to different stages at will. Is that correct?
John: Yes. What I say also is that to get from the mental ego to the Centaur, you need psychotherapy, that sort of thing, because that’s what deals with the shadow, which is what you need to deal with at that stage.
To get from the Centaur to the Subtle you need a group including rituals, celebration and that kind of stuff. To be initiated into the Subtle world, because it’s a very social world and other people’s experiences can help us a lot in entering into that and declaring yourself as a spiritual being.
To get from the Subtle to the Causal you need meditation and more meditation if you’re going to go on from there.
Iain: Are we talking about any type of meditation? What is appropriate?
John: Well, there are four types of meditation. And I think they would all do the job but I prefer, what I call, the upper right.
Iain: Let’s just go through the four different types of meditation.
John: On my diagram, the upper left is concentrated meditation, that’s where you concentrate on one thing. It could be a vase, it could be a mantra, it could be a yantra, it could be a mudra, it could be anything. The idea is, you hold your attention onto that and if your attention drifts, you bring it back. The most common one is counting your breaths, one to ten, and if you lose count you start again. I think this is really stupid because it makes you feel like a failure, nobody can do that and then they teach you devices for dealing with distractions. So then you’ve got another layer to work through, now I’ve got to remember my device for distraction and so on… BS, I don’t like that kind of meditation, I think it’s too much like hard work.
Then the second type is what we call Expressive Meditation, that’s the kind of meditation Osho used to do where you do vigorous exercises.
Iain: Dynamic kundalini…
John: One kind or another, then you collapse onto the floor. I knew a guy who used to go to conferences and did laughing meditation, where you laugh for ten minutes. All those active, expressive things come in that quadrant. Then there’s the third quadrant, on the bottom right of my diagram is the Via Negativa, the way of negation. Where the only instruction is, empty your mind, empty your mind. That’s it! That’s all you have to do. Empty your mind, which I think is the most boring form of meditation you can imagine. So that’s that one.
My favourite is the upper right, which is Mindfulness Meditation. Sometimes there’d be Vipassana Meditations. Sometimes there were Satipatthana Meditations, where you pay attention to what is at this moment. Whatever is going on at this moment, you’re paying attention to it.
If that changes, you simply shift attention on to whatever it shifts on to, that shifts and that’s okay too.
Iain: So, you’re completely aligned with your mind, where it is. Just complete awareness. The trick is to stay with the mind and not to get, or let the mind wander off and you’re not where the mind is.
John: Well, you can also wander off as long as you are aware of where you’re wandering off. Wandering off is fine as long as you are aware of your wandering off. The reason I like that much the best is because it’s more compatible with psychotherapy. That’s what you are doing in psychotherapy all the time, you’re staying with what is.
Iain: I want to look at the right page of my notes here because I want to spend the last few minutes talking about how you work as a psychotherapist. You say, ‘I tune myself to the client’s way of being in order to get to the same wavelength, and what has been called an ‘authentic trickster’, in the sense I can genuinely match the client’s level of consciousness at all times.
John: Yes, yes.
Iain: So the client sits with you. Is it by what they say or what you feel what state they’re in?
John: Both, yes. They generally are the same. If I see a disparity, then we explore the disparity to see if they are aware of it as well as me, or is it just me. Also, what I do nowadays, a bit more than I used to, is ask the person, what level of consciousness they would like to work in today.
In a workshop I did last month in Hampstead, I first of all took people through various levels. They were all experienced people and I said, ‘Okay, I’d like to do a Causal session now. Who would like to work at a Causal Level?’ And you must always ask your client because the Causal can be pretty brusque. The thing is at the Causal there is no empathy. Most psychotherapy depends a lot on empathy and almost idolizes empathy sometimes.
At the Causal Level, there is no empathy, it’s simply very acute perception, which cuts through all the pretensions, all the surface, all the wangling, all the rubbish, and goes straight for whatever is actually being revealed by a client at that moment. And so, you don’t want to spring it on a client, you want to say, ‘Is that what you’d like? Do you want to work at that level? Because it could hurt, so I just want you to be aware that this is Causal Level stuff. So is that what you want at this moment?’ And that’s my advice if you want to work at these more advanced levels, make sure the client is ready for that because it can be pretty rough.
Iain: Is it possible for people to go to any of these levels in time, if they do the homework, the therapy and the meditation?
John: Anybody can access any of these states.
John: Yes. It’s what we call the ‘Wilber Coombs Lattice’, which gives a diagrammatic representation of the idea that you can get into any spiritual state at any moment, simply by an act of will. You can’t stay there for very long unless you’ve really reached that stage. But anybody, at anytime can go there, can access any of these states.
Iain: The ironical thing is, at the two top states, there’s actually nobody there, is there?
John: No, no.
Iain: Someone’s going there but someone’s returning, even though no-one’s actually there when they’re there.
John: Well, this is becoming quite a familiar paradox to me that somehow you can do it. A Japanese therapist put it rather well in something I read. I think it was in an Almaas book, I’m not sure. Someone asked him, ‘If there’s nobody there, how can you be a therapist?’ He said, ‘ Well, love can bridge that gap’. That’s an interesting answer I think. That love never disappears, it’s always there in some shape or form or it’s always accessible in some shape or form and it’s that which makes it possible to play about with states in a positive way, a helpful way. I think that’s quite an interesting answer.
Wilber has an interesting thing to say which is a bit parallel, he says, ‘ Whatever states you get into, no matter how empty they may be, never forget, there is always an ‘I Am’ at the bottom of that. In the Bible it says, ‘before Moses was, I Am!’ That’s not explaining it exactly but what it’s saying is, never lose sight of the fact that somewhere there is still an, I Am, whatever state you might get into.
Iain: So, where is your I Am at the moment?
John: (Laughs). I don’t think where is the right question.
Iain: It’s the best I can do. (Laughing)
John: I don’t know where is or how to answer that.
Iain: Well, we’re going to have to finish in about two minutes actually. Is there anything you’d like to say in the next two minutes?
John: No, I’ve had fun. It’s quite interesting. I hope I haven’t been too disrespectful.
Iain: I’ve enjoyed our interview.
Iain: I’ve learnt something. I’ve got something out of it. They’re always the best interviews when I learn. I love meeting people but I also like to learn. So thank you for that. And thank you for watching Conscious TV and as always I hope we see you again soon.
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