The Ten Commandments for transpersonal researchers

What if scripture points you to how to develop your inner life? Your reflexivity? Adopting an esoteric reading of the Ten Commandments, we can find reflexive ways forward.  The thinking here is a development of the work of Edward Edinger in ‘The Bible and the Psyche: Individuation Symbolism in the Old Testament'(1). I have extended and applied his work to qualitative research practice. So what follows covers both a psychological view of the ten commandments, and also an extension for qualitative researchers (I am getting deep in to my doctorate…..!)

This post is taken from the appendix to my 2015 paper on Self Inquiry, which you can see on the ‘Papers’ section of my blog. For the uninitiated, Self Inquiry can be understood as a spiritual practice, as a way of thinking about psychotherapy, and as a research method (where it is often called auto ethnography or heuristic inquiry, or where it is found as an aspect of other research methods).

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1.You shall have no other gods except me. At a psychological level this can be thought to refer to the Self, the fundamental feature of which is that it is integrated, and whole. It is the All. In research using Self Inquiry we can understand this as an injunction to obey that which arises from the centre, to be rigorous in our integrity and authenticity in approaching our research.

2.You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. Psychologically this can refer to the tendency to separate and worship one part of the psyche at the expense of the whole. Spiritually perhaps it refers to a tendency to want to split the divine in to something we can manage or understand. In research this refers to the need to question and move on from any proposition set out, questioning and challenging as we go.

3.You shall not utter the name of Yahweh your God to misuse it, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished the man who utters his name to misuse it. Psychologically this can refer to the false claim that one is whole or in some way ‘enlightened’, as Edinger  says ‘the presumptuous assumption that one is operating out of wholeness’. In Self Inquiry as a research method this could be understood to be  a warning against assuming a piece of content is arising from your Self, when in fact it is unverified by inner process and may in fact be tinged with shadow, with egoic material.

4.Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy as Yahweh your God has commanded you For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath for Yahweh your God…For in six days yahweh made the heavens and the earth and the sea and al that these hold, but on the seventh day he rested; that is why Yahweh has blessed the sabbath day and made it sacred. The advice for Self Inquirers here is clear – take time away from your labours. The importance of incubation is stressed by many writers on the research methods which most use Self Inquiry such as the heuristic inquiry of Clark Moustakas and the Intuitive Inquiry of Rosemarie Anderson (see the 2015 paper for more detail). At the level of inner work, there are cycles of action and rest.

5.Honour your father and mother, as Yahweh your God has commanded you, so that you may have long life and may prosper in the land that Yahweh your God gives to you. Respect your sources. That which sources you and resources you. Take care of your body, your environment, and the shoulders of the giants on which you are standing. And do so with an attitude of humility. Reference properly. Be nice.

6.You shall not kill. Psychologically this injunction requires us to allow unconscious contents to emerge and not be repressed. In research it refers to the same situation – allow what is difficult, consider your outliers .

7.You shall not commit adultery. This means to ensure that what emerges is not adulterated, but psychologically this relates to material which proceeds from the conjuncito, that which follows union or marriage at an inner level. Edinger says ‘psychological adultery is a violation of ones highest perceived value, a regressive back-sliding’. In Self Inquiry as a research tool this refers to the process of discernment in your research, the ability to  know when to bring in other material, and when not to.

8.You shall not steal. At a psychological level this refers to the necessity to know what is yours and what is not, or not yet, yours. It might also refer to the necessity for sacrifice and exchange on the inner path. In research we know about the importance of not plagiarizing the work of others. How does this relate to Self Inquiry? how might the Self be stolen from by the ego?

9.You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. In psychological inner work this commandment can be understood as relating to the shadow, and to the process of projection. We are required to be honest about the parts of ourselves with which we are less comfortable, and to own them as our own and not to project them out on to our neighbour. In research using Self Inquiry this teaches us the discipline of drawing each insight back in to the self and testing it against one’s inner compass, finding the inner resonance.

10.You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, you shall not set your heart on his house, his field, his servant – man or woman – his ox, his donkey or anything that is his. Not only must we not steal what is not ours we must not want it either. We must not even want what is not ours. Do not compare yourself to others, but be willing to find your own path. In Self Inquiry we follow our own path, wanting that which is ours, uniquely, our own subjectivity.

 

 

  1. Edinger, E. F. (1986). The Bible and the psyche: Individuation symbolism in the Old Testament. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.

 

 

 

 

Fuelling hallelujahs – a parable about an apple tree.

‘And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.‘  (L. Cohen)

There is an apple tree in my garden, a lovely old  rambling Bramley. It is gnarled and distinguished, and for a number of years had been having diminishing returns on the apple front.  It clearly had not had a good prune in a while, since long before the garden came to me to steward, so I called in someone who purported to know what he was doing with apple tree pruning and set him to work. He did a drastic job. I cried when I saw how far he had taken the tree back. It looked so empty, naked, so wounded. I had committed a tree crime. The old, loved, beautiful, noble tree was devastatingly reduced.

The worst thing was that there had been a long limb growing over my neighbour’s garden and the pruner had taken it off completely, so my neighbour could no longer share the (sadly jeopardised) apple harvest.

I felt sad, ashamed, negligent, regretful, and full of remorse and recrimination.2011-09-01 08.59.08

That was a couple of years ago years ago and the tree has recovered, somewhat. In the year of the great pruning, it weakly managed enough leaf growth to photosynthesise. It was touch and go whether it would survive, but it did.  The next year there was a tiny amount of blossom and a couple of (precious) apples. This year there was more blossom and I can see more apples coming. But the tree doesn’t sprawl luxuriantly as it used to.  It stands chastened.  And I see my neighbours have planted an apple tree of their own, ensuring their self sufficiency of apples in the future. They are not trusting the generosity of the harvest from my garden any more.

But in spite of how  incredibly, achingly regretful I feel about the whole Bramley pruning experience, I can see that it has revealed more than one vein of gold I may not have struck without it.  I learned how much I love this tree, really love it, and how its life and my life are connected through that heart link. This is an incredible thing to become aware of.  I did not know that until my negligence and hubris nearly destroyed this incredible being with whom I share my space.  I am learning respect, and care.

Furthermore, I learned not to delegate so readily to people I do not know and with whom I have not had a lot of conversation about what matters to me, and to them. The values we live by may be different, and I have learned that I need to explore that with people. I have also learned that I want more connection with my neighbours. And now we have another apple tree in the vicinity, and I like that! Finally, I learned that apple wood fires are warm and slow and fragrant and forgiving.

Above all, and the message I want to offer here, is that the world can speak to us – wisdom can speak to us – through all events, not just the events we feel ok about. The world is alive with speech. The tree is not just a symbol, it is alive with communication.  Leonard Cohen, as he so often does, puts it beautifully….

 

‘There’s a blaze of light in every word

it doesn’t matter which you heard

the holy or the broken,

             – Hallelujah.

 

And  even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

with nothing on my tongue but

            –  Hallelujah.’

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(and here is the tree this year, and yes, that is a swarm of bees in the foreground….that is a whole other story…..!)

Version 3

Brexit – a projection shit storm

We are in the midst of a projection shit storm and  we neglected to dress for the weather. The  national psyche is in crisis, and most of us are of the opinion that it is someone else’s fault. This is why the 52 voted the way they did, (blaming Brussels, blaming bureaucrats, blaming ‘foreigners’, blaming London) and this is why the 48 are so cross and angry now (blaming ignorance, blaming bigotry, blaming Eton, blaming Corbyn/Cameron/add your personal blame target). The withdrawing of projection is step one in cleaning up mess – shadow projections contaminate the environment. Keep Britain Tidy, lets pick up some of our rubbish.

So ask yourself, what is it that is uncomfortable for you to sit with?  What are the features and the qualities of the people you are trying to distance yourself from right now? Write them down, make a list, and then find them in yourself. At least try. At least make an attempt to defragment yourself. That is step one of withdrawing projections and beginning to reach out towards wholeness.

I suspect that each of us is going to need to engage with this personal journey before we can be successful in any meaningful way in repairing our fractured political and social landscape. The terrifying spectres of betrayal, rage, exclusion, and shame are not easy to confront as they rise up in the self (and I know it is not just me who has been encountering some of these monsters recently…..).  We have work to do and it  starts, as it always does, with a long hard look in the mirror.

Be kind to yourself. Lets be kind to each other. And when we fall back in to blaming and projection, which we will, ten thousand times and more? Start again. Keep the faith. Turn again. Keep turning, turning towards a wholeness which includes the light and the shadow all together.

Some Rumi, which always helps………

Come! Come whoever you are!

Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving,

It doesn’t matter.

Ours is not a caravan of despair!

Come! even if you have broken your vow

a thousand times

Come, yet again, come, come.

 

 

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Self Inquiry -avoiding the ‘me’ trap

‘The treasury of the heart is the library of God’ (Ibn Arabi – Kernel of the Kernel)

I have just uploaded my 2015 paper on Self Inquiry to the Papers section of this blog. In the paper I explore how self inquiry can be undertaken as a spiritual practice, as a joint enterprise in psychotherapy, and as a qualitative research method in disciplined inquiry.

‘When it is over I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world in to my arms’  (Mary Oliver)

The most important thing about self inquiry is to avoid sinking in to an egoic whirlpool of solipsism, narcissism and delusion. Obviously in therapy we all go through this at a phase of the therapy (it is to be welcomed and celebrated, and held gently and lovingly by the therapist) – but for a successful outcome for the therapy we have to overcome it.

In my paper I put it like this

  • In spiritual practice the injunction to keep going and not identify with what you have found in your self on the path – don’t be distracted by yourself, keep going out, or up (or down….) further, further, further…..
  • In psychotherapy the practice of relationship comes to the forefront of the work when the selfness is seen clearly, so that the heart is engaged. As therapists we open ourselves to what arises. We have set up strong ethical injunctions to keep our work adequately supervised and overseen so that we can do this well.
  • In disciplined inquiry we guard against narcissism by adopting rigorous procedures, and clear and conscious criteria for assessing the ‘validity’ of our work – its capacity to touch and to transform for example.

The paper particularly concerns the  qualitative research aspect of Self Inquiry, but spiritual practitioners and psychotherapists might like it as well.

 

(The image attached to this post is a collage made by my friend Viv Stacey, one of a series of contemporary icons based on the work of d’Osuna)

 

‘Many Beings in One Being – inside the wheat grain a thousand sheaf stacks – inside the needle’s eye, a turning night of stars……’ (Rumi as per Coleman Barks)

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