Published Writings & Presentations

Books Published

Valle, R. (Ed.) (1998).  Phenomenological inquiry:  Existential and  

       transpersonal dimensions.  New York, NY:  Plenum Press.

Valle, R. (Ed.) (2016).  The changing faces of therapy:  Evolving

      perspectives in clinical practice and assessment.  Raleigh, NC:

       Lulu Publishing & Alameda, CA:  Argosy University, San Francisco.

Valle, R. & Halling, S. (Eds.) (1989).  Existential-phenomenological

      perspectives in psychology; Exploring the breadth of human

      experience; With a special section on transpersonal psychology.

       New York, NY:  Plenum Press.

Valle, R. & King, M. (Eds.) (1978).  Existential-phenomenological alternatives

      for psychology.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press.

Valle, R. & Mohs, M. (2006).  Opening to dying and grieving:  A sacred

      journey.  Saint Paul, MN:  Yes International Publishers.

Valle, R. & von Eckartsberg, R. (Eds.) (1981, 1989).  Metaphors of

       consciousness.  New York, NY:  Plenum Press.

Selected Writings

(scroll down to read each entry)

Integrating the Changes in Life:  A Unifying Process

Aging with Awareness

An Integrated Therapy Approach for PTSD and Chronic Pain

The Science of Yoga and Western Psychology

Transpersonal Awareness in Phenomenological Inquiry

Toward a Psychology of Silence

Integrating the Changes in Life:  A Unifying Process

Paper presented at the Society for Humanistic Psychology Conference, Santa Barbara, California, February, 2013.

Ron Valle, Ph.D.

We are living in a world where our differences are emphasized, even glorified.  There is an emphasis on uniquesness on both the individual and cultural levels, and we rightly celebrate the seemingly infinite ways that we as human beings creatively express ourselves in our languages, customs, and means of expression.  American society especially, being so rooted in the Protestant Ethic, values individuality, self-responsibility, and independence training from each person's earliest years.

Yet, what price are we paying for this almost tunnel-vision with regard to each individual's betterment without an empathic sensitivity to and compassion for the needs and inherent suffering of others.  Without a sense of community welfare, we aim to increase our own pleasure and security without regard for, or even at the expense of, others.  We often lapse into more unconscious states of believing that our well-being, our values and morals, and our particular world-view is the only valid way to be in the world.  In the name of national, political, or religious identification we defend our position on the one hand, and even attack and kill others who do not hold our views on the other.  Human history has a long list of genocides, wars, and prejudicial cruelty carried out with a justified sense that "who we are" is the superior and only way to be, and that others who are not like us do not deserve the same joy and happiness that we have.  They are inferior in some way, and are somehow responsible for the pain and death that we inflict upon them.

This paper proposes that this very same death, and the process of dying itself, that we collectively so fear and deny, hold the secret to reducing our separateness and, hence, our conflicts and self-created suffering.  The fact is that every human being inevitably dies, that death is a part of life that each and every person shares, regardless of their differences in culture, politics, or religious ideology.  And, to the extent that we become emotionally attached to one another, that we have "loved ones" in our lives, we also share the experience of grief, that intensely painful process that most often follows when one of our loved ones die.  Here lie the dimensions, the foundation of what we all have in common, of what we all share.

Bringing awareness to, and then openly examining the nature and implications of, this major aspect of our lives that has been largely denied or ignored, can provide a guiding light into, and eventual relief from, this continued madness of fighting with one another in the name of our differences.  It is beyond time that we focus on what we share and have in common, what unifies us rather than what divides us.  Opening to our mortality is a foundational and essential place to start.  What follows is a presentation and discussion of ideas, insights, and perspectives regarding the nature of living, dying, and grieving, and, thereby, of what we have in common, together providing a truly trans-cultural perspective that we all can recognize and share.

Living, Dying, and Grieving

Living, dying, and grieving cannot be separated.  Speaking of any one of them implicitly implies, by its very nature, the other two.  In our worldly existence, life and death are defined in terms of each other, while change and loss are part of life’s tapestry.  Our response to that loss, our grief, seems unavoidable since we become emotionally attached to special people and things in our lives.  Death and dying are ultimately about life and living.  Unfortunately, many of us wait until the end of our lives to truly open to life and find the authenticity that is necessary to truly live life to the fullest.  We need to focus, not on the why or what of death and grief, but, rather, on the how—namely, how to be with and use the pain of loss in order to gain a deeper understanding of what lies beyond this mundane realm of reality.  This new understanding then serves as a key to discovering a deeper truth that lies within.

I invite you to open fully to the dying and grieving in your life, both that of others as well as your own.  Your own experience will then guide you in realizing what is true for you, and what is not, when hearing the words of others.  Only when we face our own grief and pain, and move through it, can we find the essence of the true life within us that remains unaffected by the changing world.  This deeper, some say divine, reality that lies outside of space and time was never born, and, therefore, never dies.  Only our direct personal experience of this inner realm can validate this reality.

We know in our hearts that living and dying are inseparable, each dependent on the other for its sense and purpose.  They are so inextricably intertwined that in our day-to-day understanding and language one actually has no meaning without the other.  They are quite literally two sides of the same coin, not just in a philosophical sense, but in an actual lived-sense as well.  If, for example, one would like to know how afraid one will be when receiving one’s terminal diagnosis, one only has to look at how afraid one is to live fully right now.  To live fully is to love without fear, to give of oneself without any condition or expectation of something in return.  From this perspective, fear of death and fear of life are truly one and the same.

Life and death are everywhere, whether it be the birth of a new idea or a leaf falling from a tree.  Dying refers to the most profound experience in life.  The fact and mystery of death is with us every moment of every day; it lies in the very fabric of our lives.  The inevitability of our own impending death reminds us that life is limited, yet, when we live with this awareness, every moment of our lives becomes that much more precious.  Being mindful of death thereby enhances life.

Life involves constant change.  Everything is born, everything changes, everything dies.  All things begin and all things end.  To the extent that we base our happiness on the condition that someone or something will not change or die, mirrors the degree of grief that we will experience when that person or thing does eventually change or is suddenly gone.  Grieving is, thus, a part of living.  We die into the way things are when we grieve, and we grieve the loss of everything we have in this world when we die.  In opening to living, dying, and grieving, one cannot truly understand any one of these processes without both explicitly and implicitly addressing the other two.

Yet, we resist and fear this change that is so inherent in life.  King (1992) addresses this very issue:  “We fear change because we believe that externals control our lives.  In order to feel safe, we need all of life’s externals in place, remaining the same as they were, so we can cope with them.  We do this even if we are unhappy with the result.  Should we be offered a chance to change our situation to something new or unknown, we often choose to stay exactly where we are (p. 13).”  Of all the changes that occur in life, the single greatest change is marked by death, so that choosing “to stay exactly where we are” ultimately means wanting to remain alive just as we are.

Fear of Death

Traditionally, ways of being with grieving, dying, and suffering reflect, on an institutional level, the deepest individual fear—the fear of death.  Rather than being recognized as the natural companion of life, death has been seen as an enemy to be conquered with our latest drugs and surgical techniques.  Or, when it cannot be avoided or significantly delayed, it has been hidden away in nursing homes or the back rooms of special hospital floors.

The impact of this institutionalized fear and denial on the individual facing a life-threatening condition has been immense.  Surrounded by those who have not examined their own feelings or faced their own fears, many have suffered and died alone without an opportunity to express their emotions or to share their experience with a compassionate, listening other.  Literally tied to life-sustaining machines, many have died in an atmosphere ranging from cool, professional distance to an actual avoidance on both a physical and emotional level.  This pervasive attitude has also affected issues related to death and dying, including the nature of grief and the grieving process, and euthanasia and the right to die.

All our fears have their origin in the fear of death.  If we turn and face death for what it is and, thereby, come to peace with our mortality, all other fears dissolve, including the fear of pain and suffering.  If one’s mortality is accepted, not just intellectually, but in the core of one’s being, what is there to be afraid of?  Our neighbor’s opinion of us?  Our new car being scratched?

No one has ever been hurt by death.  It is the fear of death that creates the suffering.  If death is embraced as safe and natural, what can possibly harm us?  This same fear of death, left unexamined and unfelt, spills over into our everyday lives. From our desire to alleviate this largely unconscious fear, we attempt to control others and the environment in which we find ourselves.  This need to control keeps us from living in a creative, loving, and meaningful way.  Rather than celebrating the rich variety and beauty of human expression, we tend to mistrust our spontaneous and passionate responses that are manifestations of the intuitively inspired, creative energy within us.  Our fear of death keeps us from being fully alive!

By emphasizing the essence in each of us that is unaffected by death, Levine (1982) and Ram Dass (2000) have played a significant role in addressing spiritual experience per se as an integral part of living, suffering, and dying in current American culture.  They speak, for example, of that which doesn’t change behind all of the world’s ever changing phenomena.  Their contemporary presentation of spiritual tenets are wholly consistent with the teachings of many renowned spiritual figures representing the world’s great spiritual traditions who have described the nature of who we are before we entered this body, how this essence is here, right now, even as the body-object itself is aging and changing, and the way in which this soul-essence will continue after death when identity with the body has ended and the body has decayed.

In the context of becoming aware of our spiritual essence, serving others selflessly in life (Ram Dass & Gorman, 1985) and surrendering one’s self-identity as a unique body and ego in death are, in the end, two facets of the same process—spiritual awakening.  Both entail a process of letting go of habitual ways of defining oneself and being with the fear of opening into the unknown, of realizing that one’s nature extends beyond the self-imposed limits of the ego-self.  It is here, in this process of self-transformation, that spiritual experience becomes the ground for understanding, not as a blind belief in something more important or greater than oneself, but as an actual experience, or felt presence, of a new way or mode of being.

The words one uses to describe these more subtle realms of experience are not particularly important here.  In this context, there are many commonly used words to choose from, including spiritual, sacred, transcendent, soul, Self, essence, God, transpersonal, and divine.  When all is literally said and done, however, what really matters is the immediate and direct experience of that to which all of these various words refer.

Seeing life and death as ultimately two facets of an ongoing spiritual journey or process offers a special opportunity for those who are knowingly approaching the end of their lives.  From this perspective, dying and grieving become spiritually auspicious times to awaken to our essence or soul nature.  In the midst of the ever-changing phenomenal world, dying and grieving offer a space or opening in one’s life where personal priorities are rearranged, previously unconscious patterns are revealed, and deeper questions arise.

Important issues also arise for those working with the dying and grieving.  It is often assumed, for example, that individuals who choose to be with those who are grieving and dying, experience sadness, fatigue, and depression much of the time.  And, yes, those of us who spend a lot of time with the terminally ill and their loved ones have cried many tears.  But the truth is that working in this arena brings one in direct contact with core issues within oneself over and over again.  This process is often rich and fulfilling.  The ego usually tends to run here and there chasing after promised pleasures, and it is especially fond of pushing away pain.  If you push away death, however, you push away life, because death is part of life.

If, therefore, one stays present with the reality of dying, one’s ego must turn and face its fears.  There is no longer anywhere to hide.  Avoiding pain no longer works as a protective strategy when one is reminded on a regular basis of one’s deepest inner issues and what really matters in life.  Rather than being the source of sadness and withdrawal, being with dying becomes a foundation for living life fully with more energy and greater awareness of self and others.  Buddha advised his disciples to live with death on their shoulders.  To the extent that you remember and live with the knowledge and awareness that your time here is very limited, that everything of this world without exception changes, how precious everyone and everything becomes.

These times represent true opportunities, for both the individual who is dying or grieving and for the one who chooses to be with this person, to become aware of that which doesn’t change.  These are, therefore, special times to ask those deeper questions regarding the nature of life and death in a spirit of mutual exploration.  Who is it that lives and dies?  What is the essence in each of us that is untouched by death?  From where does grief arise?  Is suffering inherent in loss?  Is there a joy that goes deeper than our daily happiness and sadness, wellness and illness?  What does healing really mean in the context of a life-threatening illness?

By opening to such questions with a loving and peaceful presence, the person attending offers conscious and compassionate support for the one who is dying or grieving.  Whenever there is suffering, there are opportunities for deepening the self-understanding and spiritual awareness of those involved.  In this way, there is always grace in suffering.

One might wonder what it would be like to live life, not only aware of life’s losses and accepting of one’s reactions to these losses, but also being aware of that which never changes, untarnished, unblemished, pure, outside of time and space.  Our fear of pain and limited sense of self keep us, however, from sustaining this more balanced and open way of holding our experience.  Self-identity exists in many forms including reference to one’s age, race, parents, intelligence, occupation, place of residence, and emotional state.  The grossest level of self-identity, and perhaps the most powerful, is the identity with the physical body itself.  If someone or something threatens to harm your body, an intense, instinctive, defensive reaction almost always follows, as if it were you that was being threatened.

This identity is so strong that it seems odd to even question its nature or limits.  Swami Rama (1996), in fact, sees our minds as addicted to their identification with the physical body, and that this primary addiction is the foundation of all our other addictive inclinations.  From this perspective, facing our mortality and opening to the fear of death leads us eventually to the realization that we are more than our bodies alone, and that death is just another change in the existential circumstance of the unchanging soul.  When the core of our addictions and our deepest fear is faced, all of our other addictions and fears dissolve.

Without this deeper exploration and awareness of our soul identity, the sense that we are our bodies runs deep within us.  “This is my body.”  “These are my arms.”  “This is my face.”  This belief is the primary reason why being with death and dying is so difficult for so many.  Yet, this is also what makes working consciously with the dying process such an important opportunity regarding awareness of the sacred within, and, thereby, coming to realize that having a body is only one aspect of who we really are.  Working with the dying and facing death is a primary forum for helping to question and, thereby, to dissolve this foundational level of personal bodily identification that keeps us from knowing our true nature as the immutable, eternal Self, from knowing that unchanging aspect of ourselves that never dies.

Have you ever been with someone who has died?  In other words, have you ever been with a corpse, a cadaver, a dead body?  If you have not, we highly recommend the experience, spiritually speaking, because it is here that no philosophical or mystical interpretations are needed to understand the clear, scientific, objective fact that the body is an object.  In fact, science tells us that the cells that comprise the body are constantly regenerating, that there is this continuous process of death and birth such that, in cycles that span many years, every cell in the body is different.  It literally becomes a different object, a different body, time and time again.

This seems initially puzzling since, even though we identify so directly and immediately with our bodies, we do not live as if we are a completely different person time and time again.  We are aware that the body is like a puppet.  It moves when we wish to move it—raise an arm, stand up, turn around—and lies still when we wish to be still.  Opening to this puzzle, there appears to be a constant thread that spans the years of bodily aging and change—an awareness, a sense of “I” or “me” that both moves the body while, at the same time, is separate from what the body is or is not doing at any given moment.

When observed and investigated as an experience, this sense of “I” is a doorway into that which doesn’t change, to that which lies beyond the physical realm of time, space, and causation, to that which is in the body, but not of it. Tigunait (1997) in his book, From Death To Birth, notes that the body is like a rented apartment.  When the lease expires, we are evicted.  This image raises still further questions:  What is this body?  What is its purpose?  Whose body is this, really?

Bringing Awareness to Dying

When the person who is dying and the person who is attending this process agree to work together, a special type of relationship is formed.  To the degree that spiritual awareness and compassion are the cornerstones of this living relationship, the dying process becomes a conscious dying for both involved.

As a person faces his or her mortality directly, basic questions arise.  What is life on earth really about?  What is the meaning of life?  What is the purpose of having a mind and body?  What is the soul?  Does the soul animate the body/mind?  What keeps us from realizing our soul-nature?  It seems that our identification with and emotional attachment to the persons and things of the world keep us distracted at best and, most often, ignorant of our true identity as the conscious, eternal, unchanging soul or spiritual Self.  What follows is a closer look at the nature, function, and power of attachment, so that we might better understand how we become entangled in the web of life.  This entanglement is in the very fabric of the fear of death.

The Anatomy of Attachment

The importance of letting go of what we are attached to is given special emphasis in a number of spiritual systems and traditions.  The twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, offers the aphorism “Let go, let God,” the heartfelt advice being to surrender to a greater reality.  The Christian tradition emphasizes the importance of ego surrender, while the yoga tradition regards not being attached to the outcome of your actions as a key to spiritual realization.  As another example, Buddhism stresses the importance of realizing the impermanence of all things in the process of becoming enlightened.  Basing one’s happiness on that which is impermanent, that is, becoming attached, leads directly to suffering.

Attachment is so much a part of our lives, it usually works outside of our awareness.  Even when recognized, it is difficult to comprehend.  What is this phenomenon that we have come to call attachment?  An accepted understanding is that it refers to how our minds anchor us to other people and objects in our lives, and the dynamics that keep us there.  We attach ourselves to others and to objects of the world out of fear that somehow we will lose them if we do not hold on.  We are also afraid that we will not have what this person or thing means to us when we want or need it.  People often think of love and attachment as being inseparable.  Attachment, however, often reduces our capacity to truly love.  In attachment, we are identified with the ego-self and its needs, wants, and preferences, whereas unselfish love comes from a deeper place within, reflecting a selfless state of being.

If grief is, indeed, the result whenever someone or something that we have become emotionally attached to dies or simply changes, then understanding the process of attachment seems essential if we are to live our lives free from pain and suffering.  If attachment becomes an unconscious habit of mind, grief will become chronic since everything in life changes.

In the same way that moving through the grieving process has a recognized pattern, there is also a process we go through when we become attached to people, places, objects, ideas, situations, and relationships.  What happens to us?  How do we become attached?  What is it within us that is afraid and wants to cling to this world, when we know in the depths of our being that the world will not give us lasting satisfaction?  We know we can’t take anything with us when we die!  People often speak with insight when they say things such as, “When I meditate, I feel so peaceful,” or, “When I follow the truth within myself, I feel more joyful and loving.”  Yet, we habitually gravitate to mundane things of the world in search of satisfaction.  Our senses tend to focus outward on what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.  We find ourselves being so dependent on the world and what it has to offer that we lose touch with the truth of who we are.

Most of us are not taught to go within to find that love that so many of us hunger for, so we look for it outside of ourselves.  When we see someone that we are attracted to and in whose presence we feel love, for instance, we want to nurture that love, but soon we fear that it will be lost.  As a result, we obsess about and, consciously or unconsciously, want to possess and control that person who we mistakenly believe is our connection to those loving feelings.  The love, joy, and feelings of expansion become fear, jealousy, and feelings of contraction.

Coming into this world as infants, we discover that in order to get our needs met, we must rely on the adults in our lives.  Mixed with our love for them, we become bound and want to please them.  Gradually we learn to individuate as we grow into adulthood, our ego helping us to separate from others.  It is when we become solely identified with this ego that the problems arise.

When we see a sunset we are often in awe, and, then, when the sky changes, we go on with our lives.  When we get a new job, buy a new car, or look forward to the future, however, we enjoy our experience at first but often become fearful of what will happen in the future.  Will my job provide enough money?  Will my car get scratched?  Will my child be successful?  Will I lose my beauty as I age?  Rather than just enjoying the experience, we become afraid of losing what we have or not getting what we want.  We even suffer when we get what we want, because all things decay or dissolve over time and we resist their natural change.  We forget that everyone and everything is on loan.  We forget to live in the now.

A central thread in the fabric of attachment is looking outside, rather than within, for who we are and what we need.  As long as we are looking outside of ourselves for gratification we feel incomplete.  Even though modern life offers many comforts, people are often not content.  Instead of simply enjoying the people and things of this world, we have a tendency to become identified and attached.  We cling to them, own them, and fear losing them.  We become tangled in our own expectations, beliefs, defense mechanisms, resentments, and preconceived notions.  All of these are, in one way or another, tied to attachment and keep us from living a full and meaningful life.

The roots of our attachments run deep.  The notion that we need things in the world in order to feel worthy and complete in ourselves is passed down from generation to generation.  Most of us observed this in our parents, internalized this pattern, and modeled it for our children.  When we change these patterns in our minds, however, we can break the chain and, thereby, benefit all of those who follow.

When we speak of attachment, we are referring to aversion as well as attraction.  Aversion is similar to attraction in that the object of our aversion occupies our minds.  When we dislike or fear someone or something, our minds get caught, and our time and energy is spent in anger, resentment, fear, worry, or avoidance in our attempt to push away or rid ourselves of the discomfort.

Swami Muktananda once said, “The wise man gets angry and is joyful the next moment.  The fool gets angry and takes it to his grave.”  The wise man experiences anger and then quickly returns to joyfulness once the wave of anger has passed.  His identity with the true Self is so strong that he quickly returns to his basic nature after being disturbed.  Yet, how many times do we “take things to our grave” and, if not for a lifetime, hold on to negative feelings for minutes, hours, days, months, or years?  It is as if our minds have fingers, grab the pain, and won’t let go.

There are degrees of attachment, all the way from the subtle clinging involved when we give a gift to someone because we want them to like us or to feel some sense of obligation, to becoming obsessed with or addicted to relationships, drugs, gambling, food, money, sex, or power.  All of these provide only temporary satisfaction.  Regardless of the form or degree, we lose ourselves in attachment.  Our egos may feel safe, at least for the time being, but a deeper part of us feels deadened.

All attachments involve fear, whether we fear losing that which we are attracted to, or facing that which we are averse to.  As a result, we attempt to control the environment, other people, situations, as well as our own thoughts and behaviors in order to minimize the loss or maximize our pleasure and sense of security.  Attachment tends to separate us, whereas simply enjoying what we have in the moment often provides a sense of connectedness and continuity.  There is a rhythm to life.  A heartbeat, the ocean waves, the rising and setting of the sun, are all a part of that melody.  When we are present in the moment and listen to the stillness of our being, we too feel this rhythm.

Whenever we talk about attachment, we are talking about our identification with someone or something.  Our desire to possess or our inclination to obsess comes from our fear.  Whenever we resist the change in someone or something that we hold dear, our reaction is often visceral.  This reaction has its roots in our fear of death.  Once again, reflecting on the fear of death deepens our understanding and acceptance.

In this regard, consider the following words of Christina Grof (1994):  “If we accept that someday our physical bodies will die, then at a certain point we realize we will not be able to hold on to our possessions, roles, or relationships forever. Someday we will leave this earth and all that we have identified with. Realizing all this can be devastating for someone who is attached to his or her identity as a parent, mate, landowner, socialite, or jobholder. Individuals who have put a great deal of time, effort, and money into their professional image, their athletic achievements, or their material possessions, often focus so intently on their goals that they lose sight of the fact that it is all temporary. The fear of death and our unwillingness to acknowledge and accept it is often a motivating factor in our attachments and addictions. If we are already uneasy because our life involves change, the fact that someday our lives will end is the utmost lesson in the transitory nature of existence (p. 154).”

Swami Rama (1996) tells us, “Over the course of a lifetime of needing, having, and clinging, the fear of death grows and hovers, creating a spiral of more need, greater fear, and inescapable pain. In this way life cannot be lived effectively and is merely squandered. Death is feared, denied, and pushed as far away from consciousness as possible instead of being accepted as a natural and inevitable part of human experience. Thus, no one is prepared for death. This fear of death is the reason for the insatiable need for more things, ever new relationships, material comforts, endless entertainment, and the excessive use of alcohol and drugs. All of these keep the reality of death in the distance. They are the tools of denial (p. 1).”

By opening to the depths of our grief, we are developing a greater awareness of non-attachment.  We are breaking up the patterns that keep us bound.  Just as working with grief in this way can be a stepping-stone for deeper spiritual realization, there is a way to work with one’s attachments that, ultimately, leads beyond.  Yet, we strongly identify with our ego-mind and abandon our true Self.  In this way, we all know the feeling of abandonment.  We all feel this loss, and when someone we love dies, it is a reminder of the greatest loss of all, the loss of our connection with the Spirit within.

When the mind is aware only of worldly existence, forgetting its spiritual ground, its choices are always colored by its reliance on outer conditions and things.  It is, therefore, often quite difficult to discriminate between the mind’s habitual clinging and what is really true behind the distortions created by our attachments to the pains and pleasures of this world.  Reality is more clearly perceived when the ego steps back and no longer insists on having its way.  It is also difficult for the mind that is attached to this world to trust that when we truly surrender to that universal connection that lies beyond the mind, our existence will not be threatened.  In one of his many public lectures, Ram Dass once said, “The spiritual journey is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute.  We are terrified of the fall until we realize that there is no ground.”  When we are willing to surrender, everything in life changes.  We see more clearly.  We love more deeply.  No longer worrying about survival or the outcomes of our actions, we relax into life.

The attached mind is inclined to go into the past or into the future.  When we are present with what is in the moment, as the past arises and we bring our awareness to it without judgment, the pain dissolves.  Likewise, by staying present in the moment, we are more likely to intuitively know how to plan for the future without being concerned about how things will turn out.

Non-attachment does not mean indifference.  When we are not attached, we love more purely than when we identify with a person or object as the source of our happiness.  We now have the freedom to follow what is true for us and to enjoy life as it unfolds.  This love is a more expansive, inclusive love.  The practice of non-attachment involves observing the mind’s habit of dwelling on the past or future, and letting go by relaxing the grip of the mind’s “fingers” from whatever it is currently grasping.  By consistently being in the present moment, the need to control dissolves.

In the process of letting go of the fear, and thus the need to control, we fill the space with love and thus become more in tune with the flow of life.  Spiritual practices such as contemplation, prayer, self-study, and meditation can facilitate a deeper awareness.

Six Doorways to the Spiritual Realm

When opening to our life experiences as spiritual opportunities, we quickly see how challenging this process can be. It is often very difficult to access and maintain the necessary meditative space around a given experience, especially if it’s an emotionally charged one, or to discriminate between spiritual experience per se and the colorings that come from our conscious and unconscious judgments and reactions.  This is not an easy task!

In an attempt to facilitate this discriminatory process, Huxley (1970) identified a significant number of elements or themes shared by the world’s great spiritual traditions regarding the nature of transcendent/spiritual experience.  Aldous Huxley was not interested in the differences between any particular religions (these are often painfully clear), but, rather, what all of these different traditions had in common.  He collectively referred to these shared elements as the perennial philosophy.

Toward this same end, in a personal conversation, Episcopal Bishop William Swing noted that discussions of dying and grieving, and how to be with one’s mortality, hold a very real promise for healing the differences that exist among various religious traditions because everyone dies!  His feeling was that deeper discussions of this kind that address core issues shared by everyone, regardless of their religion, age, nationality, or gender, will serve to break through the more arbitrary differences, relatively speaking, that people tend to identify with and hold onto so strongly.

In this same spirit, we have come to identify six interrelated, yet distinct, characteristics or qualities that each of us have experienced or demonstrated at one point or another in our daily lives.  In other words, although not necessarily commonplace, they are known to us directly in our everyday experience.  These are not offered as spiritual experiences in and of themselves, but, rather, as signposts or guidelines that point the way or serve as windows to the spiritual realm.

Confidence.  This first characteristic may come as a surprise to some when presented as a means of recognizing or accessing one’s sacred or spiritual nature.  Recall the last time that you felt truly confident about someone or something in your life.  You may remember a sense of literally “standing tall” and feeling an inner strength in this egoless state. In fact, one’s posture often changes when just thinking of being confident in this way.  The spine straightens; the shoulders go back; the head is held high; the chest opens.

There is no fear when one feels this deeper sense of confidence.  There is a sense of completeness or sovereignty, an aloneness that is not lonely because there is no “other” in one’s awareness.  It is an intrapersonal experience that does not involve another.  That is, we feel strong, not because we regard someone else as weak, but, rather, because we trust our experience.  You know what’s true for you!  You are neither defensive nor closed to others’ opinions.  You are, in fact, open to changing your view if someone presents new information that transforms your experience.  Yet, unless this transformation occurs, you continue to rest in the truth of your own experience, uninfluenced by the opinions, critical or otherwise, of others.  An example follows from my personal experience.

I recall seeing Mother Teresa in the early 1990s at a Catholic church in San Francisco.  She was there as part of a religious ceremony receiving a number of young women into her order of nuns, the Sisters of Charity.  When Mother Teresa walked past the aisle in which several of us were sitting, I felt a force emanating from her as if someone had literally put their hands on my chest and pushed me.  Her presence was that powerful.  I had the spontaneous experience that I was looking at someone who knew who she was, what her purpose in life was, and why she was there that day.  She remained unaffected by what anyone thought of her, and radiated confidence in her very being.  She wasn’t cold.  In fact, when she was with others, she was quite warm, engaging, and open.  Their opinions and judgments of her and her work, however, had absolutely no effect on her presence, her sense of self, or, perhaps most importantly, her awareness of what was true and right for her.

Fearlessness.  To live in this world without fear is an attractive idea to most everyone.  The truth is, however, that most of us are afraid in some way, to some degree, most of the time, and often live our days with a general sense of tension or anxiety.  When our minds are filled with fear, the more subtle realms of our intuitive and spiritual experiences are clouded over.  When we do think of living without fear, we often conjure up an image of a fearless warrior, a Samurai-like figure, who enters combat without any concern or apprehension.  This is not, however, what is meant by fearlessness in the present context.

Think of someone that you know, a friend or relative perhaps, who everyone phones whenever there is a crisis, someone who can always be counted on to offer calm, wise, balanced guidance while everyone else is reacting, often impulsively without sense or direction.  There is something special about this person.  They somehow remain unaffected by the panic of those around them. They don’t get caught in the melodrama while everyone else is in an emergency frame of mind.  They do not buy into the fear.  They are like candles that do not flicker in the wind.  Such persons call us out of our fears simply by being their fearless selves, and we like being called out of our fears because it feels real and true.  An authentic life is a life lived without fear.

You may believe that fear is acceptable, even helpful in certain situations.  Fear is not helpful!  It is a deep, habitual, and learned response to a perceived threat that can be mastered and laid to rest.  We were born without fear and can return, with intent and practice, to this natural way of being.  Nuernberger (1994) states, “No human being is born fearful.  Rather, what is often mistaken for fear is an inborn, primitive drive for self-preservation; when we distort this powerful drive, we create fear (p. 21).”

Imagine being confronted by an injured and angry grizzly bear while camping or walking in the woods.  It is clear that you are in serious danger and may not, in fact, survive this encounter.  The key question is, however, are you more likely to survive if you react with panic, confusion, and a general fight or flight response, or if your thoughts and actions grow out of a calm, clear, and nonreactive state of mind?  My own feeling is the latter.  It is a myth to believe that fear is necessary under such circumstances in order to survive.

Peacefulness.  We have never met anyone who has said that he or she did not wish to have peace of mind.  Yet, even though we all search for this inner quiet, we often speak and act in ways that evoke more uncertainty and reactivity in both ourselves and others.  We often raise the noise level, stir the waters, and disturb the peace.  It seems that the ego-self stays active in, as well as distracted by, the outside world in this way.  It avoids what it fears by keeping itself from turning inward and experiencing whatever it is that covers the true Self, the treasure within.  Here is one of my own experiences of peace and deep stillness.

Many years ago, I was attending a week-long program on meditation and spirituality at a rural retreat center.  About fifty of us were gathered in the dining hall one early evening for dinner and conversation.  As is typical in such a setting, the noise level in the hall rose and fell as everyone ate their dinner and conversed with one another.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, a spiritual teacher had entered the dining hall at one point and sat quietly meditating in one corner of the room.

Gradually, over the next five to ten minutes, a general sense of calm, peace, and quiet spontaneously came over everyone and everything.  At first I noticed that the volume level of the many voices was, for no apparent reason, going down and down until eventually no one was speaking.  Many of us, myself included, noticed an inner quiet emerging that finally led to many of those seated in the hall to close their eyes and fall into a spontaneous meditative state.

The feeling was irresistible.  I remember clearly that there had been a number of dogs barking and birds chirping outside the dining hall when this event first began.  By the end, the dogs and birds had fallen into silence as well. An absolute, indescribable peace, stillness, and tranquility permeated everyone and everything both inside and outside the room.

At this point, the spiritual teacher stood up and began to speak with us about the experience we were having.  He said that stillness is the natural state of the mind that reflects the ground of being and spiritual reality itself.  Here is the peace that lies beyond our conceptual understanding.

Joyfulness.  There is a deep joy that lies within us.  This joy is a grateful joy—grateful for the spiritual opportunities that life offers us, and grateful for another day to learn more about ourselves, others, and the realm of spirit.  This joy lies beyond the more obvious dimension of happy-sad.  It does not fit easily, if at all, with the principles of pleasure and pain.

For example, we often enter a potentially painful situation knowing that this is something we need to face, master, and, thereby, overcome.  Although the task or situation may be very difficult, we welcome the challenge, and will even seek out and face this painful situation again and again until we have mastered it, facing it with or without fear or hesitation, facing it until it ceases to be a “big deal.”  A deep satisfaction comes with this kind of mastery, and the joy of being alive deepens all the more.

Recently, the Dalai Lama was speaking on the nature of equanimity and the natural joy inherent in the mind.  After one of his talks, a young reporter approached him and asked the following question:  “Sir, the invaders have attempted to destroy your culture.  They have burned your temples, and slaughtered the monks that you had raised from boyhood to be priests in your temples.  How, sir, do you remain so joyful?”  After pausing for a moment, the Dalai Lama replied, “It is true that they have destroyed or taken these things. Shall I give them my mind too?”

How often do most of us give our minds away, time and again, each and every day?  It is inspiring to see that it is possible for a human being to never leave that inherent joy.  Is the Dalai Lama in denial?  No.  If you look at his life, you will see that he works day and night to reduce the ongoing violence and cruelty in his native Tibet.  It is another one of our cultural myths to believe that we need to be angry and vengeful in order to deal with violence and injustice.  Once again, we are reminded that the mind would always appear in its joyful and peaceful natural state if it were not for the doubts, fears, anger, and other disturbances that color it on a regular basis.

Love and Compassion.  An accepting, loving, and non-reactive way of being seems to reflect or open us to our deeper, more authentic selves.  Not easily described as either an emotion or disposition, compassion appears as a quality of one’s very presence.  An individual’s compassion is something others can “feel.”  It seems to radiate out and touch all those within its reach.  Without judgment, it calmly embraces whoever or whatever it meets.

Recall the last time that you loved so deeply that your thoughts, words, and actions just flowed from you.  You said or did something kind, not because you owed someone a favor, not because you felt guilty about something you had said or done in the past, not because you wanted someone to like you, but simply because love was there in the moment.  There was no sense of wanting something back from the other.  Your love was truly selfless.  You had no sense of ego or of being a separate self in those moments.  There were no thoughts about your own safety or happiness.  Rather than being someone who was “in love,” you were literally “being love.”  Love itself was manifest without cause or condition.

“Being in love with” is an experience that has a sense of individuality or ego-self as its foundation or base, being some “one” who has love for someone else.  From this level of awareness, “I love you” really means “I need you.”  This love has conditions.  It is an “I love you if.”  “I love you if you do A and B, but if I catch you doing C or D, watch out!”

This conditional love is, of course, not true love at all.  Rather, it represents a need or an emotional state that depends on whether or not one’s needs are fulfilled.  True love is compassionate and unconditional.  It is sovereign, self-defined, and self-contained.  It knows nothing of need.

Passion and Inspiration.  When our hearts are open and we allow ourselves to be quiet enough to listen to the more subtle dimensions of our being, we begin to feel directed or guided in our lives.  We feel a deeper calling.  We are intuitively drawn toward certain individuals, projects, and places, while being guided away from others.

This emerging focus in life is often accompanied by feelings of inspiration and enthusiasm that come together as a true passion for life, an unfolding authenticity regarding the opportunities that life provides, a passionate search for truth that uses the events of life to more deeply investigate the nature of our inner essence or soul.  The root meanings of the words inspiration (in-spiritus) and enthusiasm (en-theos) help us to understand their deeper meaning in the present context—to live life in the felt awareness of spirit and God.

I often ask others, “What do you love to do?”  The question itself often elicits a smile.  We like how we feel when reflecting on that which we love.  Answers to this question often include dancing, singing, swimming, writing poetry, meditating, climbing mountains, listening to music, ice skating, riding motorcycles, painting, and so on.  The issue here is not the specific activity or form but, rather, the feeling itself, the passion that lies within.

I then ask a follow-up question.  “How long has it been since you have engaged in what you love to do?”  At this point, the eyes turn downward and the person, often sadly, replies something like, “Well, it’s been twenty years.”  The smile is now gone as the person realizes how long it has been since they have allowed themselves to feel the passion and joy that comes with engaging whatever it is that they feel inspired to do.

At this point I will ask, “What is that about?  What has kept you from doing what you love for so long?”  The answers that often follow reveal the degree to which the ego-self avoids the formless and unpredictable passion that lies within each of us because of its fear that this passion will be all-consuming.  The ego-self resists dissolving.  It does not want to lose control.  It does not want to die.  Typical responses to our questioning include, “I don’t have enough time,” “I don’t have enough money,” “I haven’t had the energy,” “I don’t have my spouse’s support,” “I don’t feel well enough,” and so on.  These responses collectively comprise a “not enough syndrome,” a habitually expressed belief that there is simply not enough to support or sustain us, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

If we continue in this way, the habit deepens, and pretty soon we feel as though we ourselves are not enough.  We disempower ourselves in this way, and often end up in dysfunctional and exaggerated coping strategies, such as becoming co-dependent or being overtly “macho.”  These strategies represent our attempts to deal with life, to hold onto our imagined sense of control, and to keep from drowning in our own fear and self-created sense of vulnerability.  We seem to create an irresolvable situation for ourselves.  We are afraid to die because we haven’t lived.  We’re afraid to live fully because we don’t want to die.

An eloquent exposition on how to face and resolve such issues is offered by Treya Wilber (Wilber, 1991).  At the time that she wrote this description, Treya was in the late stages of cancer.  Her life situation afforded her a special opportunity to investigate the deeper dimensions of her experience.  She died a short time after writing these words:  “I was thinking about the Carmelites’ emphasis on passion and the Buddhists’ parallel emphasis on equanimity.  It suddenly occurred to me that our normal understanding of what passion means is loaded with the idea of clinging, of wanting something or someone, of fearing losing them, of possessiveness.  But what if you had passion without all that stuff, passion without attachment, passion clean and pure?  What would that be like?  What would that mean?  I thought of those moments in meditation when I’ve felt my heart open, a painfully wonderful sensation, a passionate feeling but without clinging to any content or person or thing.  And the two words suddenly coupled in my mind and made a whole.  Passionate equanimity—to be fully passionate about all aspects of life, about one’s relationship with spirit, to care to the depth of one’s being but with no trace of clinging or holding, that’s what the phrase has come to mean to me.  It feels full, rounded, complete, and challenging (pp. 338-339)."  Here is a clear and beautiful example of how one individual came to see the harmony in that which lies behind or within what initially appears to be separate, distinct, and conflictual—seeing the inherent unity in apparent differences.

What, then, would it be like to truly integrate these six qualities, or, asked in another way, what would it be like to live our lives as a confident, fearless, peaceful, joyful, loving, and inspired human being, every moment of every day with everyone we meet no matter what happens?  Quite a challenge, to say the least, but a worthy challenge of the highest kind.

Recognizing the Changeless:  An Exercise on Aging

In order to help others begin to recognize the nature of that which doesn’t change in their own experience, I offer an exercise that guides each person through their own personal aging process (from Valle & Mohs, 2004).  The aging process, when viewed as such, offers another opportunity to contact the changeless amidst the unrelenting changes in life.

More specifically, each person is asked, in their mind’s eye, to go back in time.  They are first asked to go back to when they were four years old.  They are asked to see themselves at the age of four, both physically—“What do you look like?”—and in terms of their feelings—“How do you feel?”  After a minute or so, they are asked to see themselves slowly aging until they reach the age of ten, seeing themselves at the age of ten, and answering the same questions as before.  “What do you look like?” and “How do you feel?”  This same process of visualization and questioning continues for the ages eighteen, thirty, forty-five, sixty, seventy-five, and ninety years of age.

Following this sequence, individuals are then guided back to their present age at which point they are asked two basic questions regarding the process that they have just completed.  The first question is, “As you experienced yourself aging from four years old through your teens and mid-life to being 90 years old, what changed during this time?”  Answers to this question usually come fairly quickly and often include, “my body,” “my moods,” “my opinions,” “my hopes,” “my likes and dislikes,” and “the pleasures and pains of life.”

Following a period of discussion, the second question is then asked.  “During this lifelong process of growing older, what doesn’t change?”  Unlike the first question, where answers come to mind quite easily, a noticeable silence usually follows this second question.  During this silence, I often reword the question.  “As you age from four years old through ten, eighteen, thirty, forty-five, sixty, seventy-five, and ninety years of age, what remains the same—untainted, unaltered, impermeable, and untouched by all the changes that occur in life?”  Eventually, someone will say something like, “Well, it’s always ‘me’ no matter what age I am or what has happened in my life. The sense of ‘I’ or ‘I am’ is always there.”

Encouraging the person to investigate their response more deeply, I then ask, “Yes, that seems true, but what lies behind or beneath the concept or thought of ‘me,’ ‘I,’ or ‘I am’?  What is the experience or felt sense behind this concept or thought?”  Again, there is usually silence as the person begins to see that this deeper, more subtle feeling is somehow one with the silence.  It lies within or merged with absolute stillness itself—a silent state of being —pure consciousness, pure awareness, without the slightest movement or disturbance.  The moment that a thought or question appears, such as, “What is this?” or “What does ‘I am’ really mean?” the silence is broken, the stillness is gone, and the person has stepped out of the foundational peace back into his or her reflecting, thinking, reactive mind.  A discussion again follows where hopefully each individual will experience, or at least taste (some for the very first time), the peace and quiet that lies deep within them, the silence that is always there, perhaps touching that thread that runs, unaffected and unchanged, through one’s entire life.

The Nature of Pain and Suffering

If our nature is to be confident, fearless, peaceful, joyful, loving, and inspired, then what is all this suffering?  A great yogi and spiritual teacher of India, Ramana Maharshi, while dying of cancer, was heard crying out in pain late one evening by one of his disciples.  His disciple was puzzled by this since his master had repeatedly demonstrated his healing powers and control over his own bodily functions throughout his life.  How could the master be suffering? When approached by his disciple, Ramana Maharshi said, “Yes, I am experiencing pain, but I am not suffering.”  It seems that he was so deeply connected with his eternal, unchanging nature that the pain of his cancer did not disturb this Self-identification.

What does it mean to experience intense pain, but not to suffer?  For most everyone, pain and suffering are inseparably one and the same.  Ancient and modern wisdom alike tell us that we suffer because we are attached to how we think life should be.  We are simply not content with the way life is, repeatedly basing our happiness on whether things turn out the way we want and/or need them to be.  This is a conditional happiness dependent on the unpredictable and ever-changing world, rather than an authentic happiness rooted in the pure joy and changeless reality that lies within.

The Hsin Hsin Ming of Sengtsan (1973), the Third Zen Patriarch, begins, “The Great Way is simple for those who have no preferences. Make the slightest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart (p. 1).”  These words do not just refer to our more mundane, day-to-day preferences:  Do you prefer the taste of chocolate to vanilla? or Do you like Toyotas more than Chevrolets?  Rather, they raise more profound questions.  Do you prefer life over death?  Do you prefer pleasure over pain?  In response to these questions, most of us have a voice inside that says, “You bet!”

What is being suggested here, however, is that, until that part of you that has a preference becomes quiet and nonreactive, it is not going to be easy.  When you have grief, can you turn towards it, feel it, express it, and not run the other way?  It feels counter-instinctive, at least at first, to turn and face the pain, but that is what the ancient wisdom suggests.

If you want to find that great treasure within, you cannot jump over these painful levels.  You must go through them, not because you like pain or that you are masochistic on some level, but because it is real.  If you feel like crying, then cry.  If someone else is uncomfortable with your tears, that discomfort reflects their resistance to feeling their own unacknowledged and unexpressed pain.  When someone is sobbing in grief, how often do we hear statements like, “You’ve got to get over it!” or “You’ve got to stop crying and get on with your life.”  What such people are really saying is, “I’m uncomfortable in your presence when you’re expressing your grief because I don’t want to feel my own.  Please stop.”

The implication here is that if you do hold these preferences for pleasure and life, then you will suffer since pain is part of life, and death is inevitable.  Have you ever noticed that when you are happy and “on top of the world,” you can’t imagine ever being depressed again, and when you are deeply depressed and all seems dark and hopeless, you can’t remember or even imagine what it was like to be happy and content?  At these times, heaven and earth are truly set infinitely apart.

Stephen Levine, in an early 1990 lecture he gave in San Francisco, raised another important issue regarding the mind and attachment.  He said that, “Everyone thinks that the issues related to our basic drives—hunger, thirst, sleep, sex, and survival—reflect our deepest attachments.”  Everyone sitting in the audience nodded in agreement at this point.  Stephen continued, “These attachments, however, are nothing compared to our deepest attachment of all, our attachment to pain!”

Now his audience was puzzled.  What could he possibly mean?  Pain is something to avoid, not something to hold on to.  Levine purposely offered a simple example to both illustrate his point, and to remind us that aversion, as well as attraction, can be a breeding ground for attachment.  “Imagine you have decided to hang a picture and you are in the process of using a hammer to pound a nail in the wall.  But then, in the process of nailing, you accidentally miss the nail and hit your thumb with the hammer.  What is usually your first response when things like this occur?  Many of us swear at this point (‘Damn!’) or begin a series of self-condemning thoughts (‘You idiot.  You clumsy jerk!  You can’t do the simplest thing without screwing up!’)  Isn’t it interesting that, at a time when your body needs love, kindness, and soothing thoughts the most, you send judgment, negativity, and greater pain.”  The mind’s inclination to react with painful thoughts, though seemingly counter-instinctive, runs very deep.  For most of us, this habit of mind that contracts around and holds onto pain in this way is very difficult to change.

From this perspective, the root cause of suffering lies in our own minds.  Hari Dass (1985) emphasized this point in a personal communication when he said, “Until you realize at the core of your being that you have created and are, therefore, responsible for every last content of your mind, true spiritual realization cannot even begin.”  What he is implying here is that if you continue to blame outside events in general, and others in particular, for your unhappiness ("He made me angry."  "She made me jealous."  "I am depressed because I lost my job.") then one cannot begin to comprehend the deeper spiritual truths that require an unwavering identification with the sovereign spiritual Self—with that which remains unchanged, unaffected by the opinions of others and the events of the world.

Swami Veda (1983) once commented in a lecture that blaming another person for your feelings is a spiritual insanity plea.  He is not saying that blaming another is pathological in the everyday world.  In fact, this habit is accepted, even encouraged, and seen as quite normal.  But, rather, if realizing your true, sovereign, spiritual nature or Self is really what you are after, then giving your power away to the words and actions of another is “crazy.”

This also holds true when you attribute the cause of your happiness to someone or something outside yourself.  “I can only be happy with you my love!,” “I’m so happy because it didn’t rain today.”  You are again forgetting your sacred nature, the pure, clear, unchanging Self that is beyond both pleasure and pain.  One who remembers is an impeccable warrior (Castaneda, 1968, 1971), one who thinks, speaks, and acts solely from his or her quiet, intuitive center and proceeds to carry out, with full concentration and energy, all that is deemed necessary in order to serve this vision without the slightest concern for the outcome of these efforts and actions.  Here is yet another example of the individual who lives in the world but is not of it.

Pain is a natural part of life.  To avoid pain by seeking comfort often entails control and manipulation.  Outcomes are of more than great importance when control and manipulation are center stage.  They are essential.  In stark contrast, living the sacred life is largely a matter of acceptance.  As Sharp (1996) has said, “One is a matter of holding on and aligning with our egoic wants and desires; the other is surrender, opening, and letting go (p. 119).”

Death opens the door to the treasure that lies within.  We cannot jump over the pains of life into the eternal peace and joy that characterize this treasure.  We can, however, live our lives with awareness, open to and integrate our life experiences, and, thereby, come to realize the other side.  Opening to dying and grieving are optimal ways to reach this end.  The grief that follows the death of a loved one shatters the mind’s habitual patterns.  Ego death takes us to the world beyond attachment.  Physical death takes us to the realm beyond form.

All praise be yours, my Lord, for Sister death, From whose embrace no mortal can escape ... Happy for those She finds doing your Will!  For the second death can do no harm to them.

            Francis of Assisi — A Prayer for Every Weather

Portions of this paper are taken from Valle, R. & Mohs, M. (2006).  Opening   

      to dying and grieving:  A sacred journey.  Saint Paul, MN:  Yes International  



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Aging with Awareness

Ron Valle, Ph.D. & Mary Mohs, M.A.

In M. Schlitz, T. Amorok, and M. Micozzi (Eds.) (2005), Consciousness and healing:  An anthology of integral approaches to mind-body medicine (pp. 193-199).  St. Louis, MO:  Elsevier.

When we resist aging, we resist life itself, since aging is inherent in living.  Suffering results when we push away what is real.  Many of us fear growing older; we resist reflecting on our later years, what we will look like, how we will feel, and, hence, we suffer.  Healing is the easing of this fear and its resultant suffering.  We heal by opening to the changes in life and allowing what is real to naturally evolve.  In this chapter, we will explore the anatomy of this process and how wisdom emerges as we bring awareness to the full breadth of our lives.

Aging, Grieving, and the Fear of Death

Aging through our later years can be a remarkable time for increasing self-understanding and deepening one’s spiritual awareness.  To see this opportunity, however, requires a special sensitivity to these possibilities and an atmosphere of mutual support and encouragement.  Rather than guiding us in this direction, our society has regrettably glorified the benefits of our youthful years while minimizing and degrading the elderly and the value of the aging process.  Focusing on youth while pushing away the constant change involved in aging reflects our culture’s denial of the ever-changing process that life is, as well as, ultimately, of death itself.  Until we accept all of life, we cannot truly live.  In light of this, it is essential to recognize the sacredness of every human being, regardless of age, as well as the unfolding wisdom inherent in the aging process itself.

We know in our hearts that living, dying, and grieving are inseparable, each dependent on the other two for its meaning and purpose.  In fact, although they are often treated as opposites, life and death are two aspects of a greater, single process with aging and grieving as the connecting glue.  Grieving is the painful response we have to the loss of someone or something we have become attached to, a response we experience quite often to one degree or another given that change and loss are in the very fabric of life itself.  As Levine (1982) has pointed out, the degree of grief that we will experience whenever change occurs in our lives is directly related to how much we resist this change here and now in the present moment.

When we begin to live mindful of aging and dying, however, grief is honored as a natural response to loss, and death becomes a mirror in which life is understood and prioritized in a new way.  Life, death, and grief are everywhere, whether it be the birth of a new idea, heartbreak at the death of a child, or a leaf falling from a tree.  In this way, we begin to accept and celebrate the constant flow of life’s transitions rather than fearing the next turn in the road.  Thus, to the extent that we can let go into the mystery of life, we find true peace and love in the aging process.

Ram Dass (2000) and Bianchi (1995) both see aging as a means of deepening our spiritual awareness, and that looking within ourselves is central in this process.  Ram Dass, reflecting on his own personal process of growing older and struggling to accept difficult changes in his own life, describes the emotional and spiritual benefits that come with embracing aging, changing, and dying.  By shifting our perspective on the nature of pain and loss, new ways of being with grief emerge.  Ram Dass expands on this process:

When we cease to resist our grief, we learn that, painful though it may be, grief is an integral part of elder wisdom, a force that humbles and deepens our hearts, connects us to the grief of the world, and enables us to be of help.  Grief need not paralyze the heart or become a garment for the ego....We must be able to step outside our egos, as Soul.  Otherwise we are likely to be swept away by one or the other of grief's common fallouts, either closing our hearts in fear of the magnitude of our own [and others'] feelings and shrinking our lives to a "safe" zone that leaves us feeling half-alive; or becoming professional mourners, caught in the past with its loss and regret, unable to let go or to enjoy the present (p. 50).

Consistent with Ram Dass' emphasis, Bianchi emphasizes that a spirituality of middle age and elderhood calls for a turning inward, for a deeper contemplative and meditative life.  Such an approach stands against the tide of our culture that expects the middle-aged, and even the elderly, to compete externally with much of the ardor of youth.

Within our culture, conventional ways of being with suffering and the dying process continue to reflect, on an institutional level, the deepest individual fear:  the fear of death.  Rather than being recognized as the natural companion of life, death is seen as an outside threat to that life, something to be controlled with our latest drugs and surgical techniques.  Or, when the dying process cannot be avoided or significantly delayed, it is often hidden away in nursing homes or the back rooms of special hospital floors.

This same fear of death, left unexamined and unfelt, spills over into our lives.  Our need to control others and the environment is our attempt to cope with this fear.  Our unwillingness to grow old is one of its manifestations.  Restrained by self-imposed limits, we keep ourselves from living in a creative, loving, and meaningful way.  We are afraid to live because we don't want to die.  We resist change because we don’t want to grieve.  Rather than celebrating the rich variety and beauty of human expression as it naturally emerges as one grows older and approaches the end of one’s life, our emotional and passionate responses are often greeted with disapproval and mistrust.  As we progress through our senior years, we are increasingly patronized and treated like children.  Gentle acceptance and appreciation are simply not the norm.

Understanding One’s Responses to Loss

A simple awareness of how most individuals typically respond to significant or impending losses in their lives can be very helpful, even healing, in being with a present or soon-to-be realized loss in one’s own life.  Whether you have just heard of a dear friend’s death, realized the natural decline of your health with age, or have just been told by your doctor that you have a terminal illness and only have a month to live, your reactions might very well be intense and very painful.  Understanding the natural process of grieving can lessen the fear that often comes when we are lost in overwhelming grief.  The following three stages or types of response reflect the process most of us go through when experiencing real or impending loss (see, e.g., Grassman, 1992; Mohs, 1995; Worden, 1982):

1.  Shock (can last from weeks to months)--- This often includes:

feeling stunned

physical, emotional, and intellectual numbness

denial (e.g., “No!  It can’t be true!”)

feeling confused and crazy

everything in life taking on an unreal quality

loss of self-identity

2.  Reaction and disorganization--- This often includes:

anger and protest (e.g., “The doctors don’t know what they’re talking about!”)

loss of appetite; overeating

self-criticism and guilt

preoccupation with thoughts regarding the loss;


yearning and searching (for the loved one lost)

avoiding (painful reminders)

having a sense of the loved one’s presence

nausea, weakness, shortness of breath, sleep disturbance

increased use of alcohol and other drugs

bargaining (“If I can live until my daughter’s wedding, I will die peacefully.”)

depression, withdrawal, apathy, and loneliness

aimlessness; restlessness

frequent crying and sighing

anxiety and inactivity

3.  Acceptance and “letting go”--- This often includes:

talking about the loss without intense emotion

reorganization -- less preoccupation with the loss

being more open to new ideas and behavior

trusting more in the process of life

finding meaning in life and death

realizing the grace in grieving

more interest in serving others

seeing relationships as more important than material possessions

a deepening of spiritual awareness

seeing grieving as a personally transforming experience

Although written words themselves cannot truly touch the deep pain of grief, knowing that there is a recognized process that most grieving individuals go through can serve as a ground for one's thoughts, feelings, and sanity itself when the intense waves of grief appear.

Opening to the Value of Aging

During the last phase of life, we have more time to reflect on the nature of life and death.  This is a time when we have a special opportunity to open to our inner process and bring greater clarity, meaning, and peace into our lives.  In our earlier years, we focused mainly on doing--- getting married, buying a house, raising a family, and building our career--- there wasn't much time for simply being or reflecting.  In our later years, we are preparing to leave this world.  Loss is everywhere.  Our friends are dying or moving, our house and possessions are being sold or given away, we no longer have our careers, our family is often too busy to spend time with us, and our health is deteriorating.  We become rigid and resistant to pain to the extent that we hold onto what we are losing.  As we let go and open more fully to life, there is a greater realization of what the present moment has to offer.  Our deepest wisdom and understanding thereby emerge.

Christine Longaker (1997), hospice director, author, and world lecturer, describes four dimensions or characteristics she has come to recognize in persons who are facing the end of their lives:

1) The elderly look for meaning in their lives.  This search for meaning includes exploring past experiences, recognizing the times they felt love for themselves and others, and finding understanding and forgiveness for that which they regret.

2) They reflect on past relationships and wish they could resolve those relationships that are remembered as discordant.  Communicating more effectively with their families can be of help in this process.  It is, therefore, important to explore where each person feels unfinished with his or her past since opening to past experiences often helps to resolve these conflicts, relaxing the mind and freeing one's energy. 

3) They also want to understand the physical and emotional pain that they are experiencing and to find some relief.  Such relief often comes by finding a purpose for this suffering.  One purpose that many spiritual traditions recognize is that the experience of suffering provides an opportunity to offer this suffering for the benefit of others.  Seeing one's pain in this transpersonal way (see, e.g., Valle & Mohs, 1998) transforms the solely personal meaning of the pain.  This selfless intention leaves its mark in the collective awareness shared by all human beings thereby reducing the fear and pain of countless individuals throughout the world.  Consider Sogyal Rinpoche's (1992) words:

Recently one of my students came to me and said:  "My friend is in pain, and dying of leukemia.  He is already frighteningly bitter; I'm terrified that he'll drown in bitterness.  He keeps asking me:  'What can I do with all this useless, horrible suffering?'"  My heart went out to her and her friend.  Perhaps nothing is as painful as believing that there is no use to the pain you are going through.  I told my student that there was a way that her friend could transform his death even now, and even in the great pain he was enduring:  to dedicate, with all his heart, the suffering of his dying, and his death itself, to the benefit and ultimate happiness of others.  I told her to tell him:  "Imagine all the others in the world who are in a pain like yours.  Fill your heart with compassion for them.  And pray to whomever you believe in and ask that your suffering should help alleviate theirs.  Again and again dedicate your pain to the alleviation of their pain.  And you will quickly discover in yourself a new source of strength, a compassion you'll hardly be able now to imagine, and a certainty, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that your suffering is not only not being wasted, but has now a marvelous meaning (p. 219)."

4) Finally, they reflect on death, what it is like and how to prepare for it.  Exploring their feelings and beliefs about death can help them discover the depths of their spirituality and can bring a sense of greater peace and joy.  Connecting with a respected spiritual leader or teacher and praying or meditating in a way that feels right to them can also be helpful.

Gradually as one goes within and opens to all four of these dimensions, one becomes more authentic (i.e., true to oneself) and less reactive to life.  In this way, we slowly become more accepting of the changes that accompany aging.

Growing Older Gracefully

What does the cliche "growing old gracefully" really mean?  My (Mary's) mother used to say that one needs to grow old gracefully in order to truly live and feel the joy of life.  This requires a true transformation in how we view life as well as, perhaps most importantly, how we hold on to what is pleasant and familiar.  Our youthful identity and vitality are, for example, especially difficult to surrender.  The aging process can be an opportunity for such a transformation.  In order for this transformation to occur, one must be willing to be present with what is happening in the moment including opening to one's own inner process.  This involves letting go of expectations and past beliefs or experiences that may mask or block what is true in the moment.  This letting go allows a deep and natural joy, a joy that lies beyond pleasure and pain, to emerge.

As we become older we have a tendency to resist change and to close out the world around us.  In order to open to life, we need to open our minds and hearts.  Whenever we get caught in the grip of our own or others' criticism, or when we ruminate about that which we cannot change, we can consciously and compassionately become more spacious by watching the mind and observing its negative patterns.  Rather than trying to analyze why we are feeling frightened, angry, jealous, or lonely, we can observe these feelings, as we sense them in our bodies, with compassion and allow them to simply be.

Working with one's self in this way can be a true spiritual practice.  By softening and opening to the painful feelings that we've always run away from in the past, we eventually see what is behind them.  We thereby open to the mystery, to the sacred dimensions of life.


The approach offered in this chapter is truly integral in that it shares a perspective offered by many of the world's great spiritual traditions, namely, that all apparently separate phenomena and processes in life emanate from the same underlying transcendent reality or source.  For example, consider the words of Swami Rama (1996) of the Himalayan Yoga Tradition:

Life's purpose is to know the distinction between what is outside and fleeting, and what is inside and eternal, and to discover through practice and experience the infinite value of one to the other.  Once this experience is realized, life takes on a joyful meaning and the fear of death evaporates (pp. 4-5).

Aging while retaining this level of awareness is a challenge in our culture.  It is understandable that many of us feel trapped in an aging body while the world around us constantly celebrates the pleasures of youth.  Aging with awareness requires being present in each moment and being willing to open to life and all of its complexities.  The process of playing one's part in life and then letting go of the effects of one's actions is emphasized in many of the world's scriptures (e.g., the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita).  Given that we have become attached to persons and things of the world, letting go is a process that involves grieving the losses in our lives.  By opening to this process, we develop gratitude, patience, compassion, confidence, fearlessness, authenticity, harmony, joy, inspiration, and peace of mind.

The value of aging involves the journey within.  Meditation, contemplation, prayer, journaling, reading inspirational works, dream-work, poetry, and keeping silence are all means that one can use to enter and explore one's inner space.  Ram Dass (2000) tells us that:  "Without acknowledging the soul level or cultivating a soul consciousness, we are like passengers trapped on a sinking ship (p. 128)."  If we can see the aging process as an unfolding opportunity to gain deeper wisdom by discriminating external phenomena from internal reality and by opening to the fullness of life, rather than resisting the pain and contracting into our ego-selves, much of our needless suffering will be eased.


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Longaker, C. (1997).  Facing death and finding hope:  A guide to the

       emotional and spiritual care of the dying.  New York, NY:  Doubleday.

Mohs, M. (1995).  The grief experience.  Brentwood, CA:  Awakening Press.

Ram Dass (2000).  Still here.  Embracing aging, changing, and dying.  New 

       York, NY:  Riverhead Books.

Rama, S. (1996).  Sacred journey; Living purposefully and dying gracefully

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Rinpoche, S. (1992).  The Tibetan book of living and dying.  San Francisco, CA:

       Harper San Francisco.

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       inquiry:  Philosophy, reflections, and recent research.  In W. Braud and R.

       Anderson (Eds.), Transpersonal Research Methods for the Social Sciences:

       Honoring Human Experience.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.

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       mental health practitioner.  New York, NY:  Springer.

An Integrated Therapy Approach for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Chronic Pain

Ron Valle, Ph.D.

Paper presented at the Traumatology Symposium, Argosy University, Sarasota, FL, May, 2011.

This presentation introduces the Integrated Therapy Program (ITP) as a treatment option for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Based on a holistic philosophy that emphasizes the well-being of the whole person, ITP offers a natural and systematic way to treat PTSD.  Through a variety of interrelated methods that include breath awareness training, autogenic relaxation, biofeedback (Nuernberger, 2007), dietary recommendations (Ballentine, 1978), hatha yoga (Arya, 1985; Ballentine, 1977), aerobic exercise (Clarke, 1988), psychotherapy (Ajaya, 1983), and meditation (Ballentine, 1986; Emmons & Emmons, 2000; O'Brien, 2007; Simpkins & Simpkins, 2009), this program helps individuals to both accept and then integrate the trauma they have experienced, foundational factors for regaining stability and self-mastery in their lives.  Following the presentation, symposium participants will have the opportunity to directly experience the guided relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing exercise that represents the foundational practice of ITP for use in both their personal and professional lives.

Holistic Approach

Often contrasted with the traditional allopathic approach to medical treatment and disease, holistic therapies offer a complementary approach to the use of prescription drugs and surgical intervention as a solution or "cure" for the underlying physiological and psychological factors that manifest as a wide variety of stress-related disorders.  Upon examination of a number of published sources that have appeared in the psychological literature beginning in the late 1970s (Ballentine, 1999; Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Pelletier, 1994; Rama, 1978; Saputo, 2009), two main characteristics stand out as central in defining these perspectives or systems as "holistic" in their approach:  (a) that in order to fully understand human suffering in general, and any one person's distress in particular, one must bring an equal and integrated awareness to the physical, psychological, and spiritual levels of being human, and (b) that the means to relieve this suffering, once the key patterns or conditions are brought to awareness, lie within each and every human being.  In this context, the "psychological" level includes both the cognitive and emotional processes of each individual, while the "spiritual" level refers to any experience that lies beyond one's psychological and sensory experience (e.g., intuitive knowing, the felt sense of another's presence).

In addition, the physical, psychological, and spiritual levels are regarded as implicitly interrelated, meaning that a change in any one level, spontaneously manifests as a change in the other two.  Rama (1978) takes this perspective one step further, seeing each of these apparent levels as themselves phenomenal manifestations of an underlying transcendent source or foundational level of being.  It is in this way, that regaining awareness of this core of consciousness will inevitably guide us back to true health.

Our present society claims to be very productive, creative, and resourceful, yet many diseases are appearing that did not exist only a century ago.  Although we are indeed alive, many of us simply exist, with few having truly cultivated the art of living.  Life today has become excessively artificial, as very few stop to consider that they may have gone to extremes by ignoring their natural resources and depending largely on artificial means.  Living in this way gradually decreases our natural resistances and, having become an obsession, leads us to greater and greater misery.  The result is that much of our lives are focused on attempting to alleviate this self-created suffering.

There is no remedy in any system of medicine for such a self-created condition, but with the benefit of nature's gifts outside and the center of consciousness within, one can live in health and harmony.  The direct contact with these forces, however, has been lost.  All human beings have the inner potential and skill to be healthy, but in today's world, because of the multitude of social and economic pressures, we have forgotten that all things happen deep within us before they appear on the mental, emotional, and physical levels.  One must understand one's inner skills and resources, and use them whenever possible in order to maximize and maintain one's health (Rama, 1978, pp. 3-4).

Defining Stress

Any particular definition of stress reflects the underlying world-view or philosophical foundation on which that definition rests.  The definition offered by Linden (2005), for example, remains typical being based on the causal model of contemporary medicine:  "Stress is a mediational process in which stressors trigger an attempt at adaptation or resolution that results in individual distress if the organism is unsuccessful in satisfying the demand (italics added) (p. 2)."  He goes on to rightly point out that most of what had been published regarding the measurement of stress (Cotton, 1990) is "…really the measurement of the stress response, that is, the result of the stress process (p. 3)."  The implicit and unexamined notion here is that outside environmental stimuli or stressors cause or, in some way, are directly responsible for stress responses originating from within.

Defining stress from a holistic perspective provides us with a distinctly different focus.  Although conventional and holistic approaches both acknowledge that stress manifests on physiological, behavioral, and cognitive/emotional levels, holistic approaches point to a deeper level of self-awareness from which the individual can realize that he or she, ultimately, has complete mastery regarding how to respond to any life event.  This deeper level is often recognized as being of a sacred or spiritual nature.  In this context, a number of authors (e.g., Harvey, 1988; Pelletier, 2003; Padgett, 2004; Gupta, 2008) have presented a holistic vision for understanding and treating stress and stress-related symptoms, with Nuernberger (2007) being one of the major voices.  He states:

Stress is uniquely different from what we normally think of as a disease.  It has no biological structure such as a germ or a virus.  Rather, it is the result of how our mind and body function and interact.  It is psychosomatic in the true sense of the word---psyche meaning "mind" and soma meaning "body."  It is the consequence of how we regulate, or more appropriately, how we do not regulate, the mental and physical functioning of our being.  Stress is the result of the way we have consciously or unconsciously chosen to live.  It is the "dis-ease" created by the abuse we give our minds and bodies, and it leads to an incredible variety of symptoms (p. 4).

Historically, Selye's (1976) identification of the "fight or flight" response and the General Adaptation Syndrome laid the ground for much of our present understanding of stress and stress-related disorders, including PTSD.  A critical point is his discussion of the role played by autonomic functioning.  The autonomic nervous system is comprised of two subsystems:  the sympathetic branch that is basically responsible for arousal and activation, and the parasympathetic branch that stimulates inhibition and encourages rest.  Selye equated stress and stress-related disorders (e.g., hypertension, migraine headaches) with an overstimulation of the sympathetic branch that often leads to chronic sympathetic arousal.  He also held that autonomic functioning is autonomous, that it is not amenable to conscious control and direction.  The role of awareness and volition is ignored, and stress, in this way, becomes an unavoidable consequence of life.

In contrast, the holistic approach, rather than equating stress with chronic sympathetic arousal, sees autonomic imbalance as the primary factor that characterizes any particular disorder that has been defined as "stress-related."  Chronic parasympathetic arousal (the "possum" response) represents the other end of the continuum from the "fight or flight" pattern, and it too often reveals itself as a neurological pattern underlying a number of conditions or disorders (e.g., depression, chronic fatigue).

Almost every internal organ is innervated by both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, these two systems functioning in a very close and cooperative manner.  In fact, through reciprocol innervation they contribute to the overall equilibrium or homeostasis of the organs that they supply.  "In healthy functioning these two systems balance each other, exchanging dominance as the need requires but maintaining an equilibrium as dominance shifts.  Understanding this natural balance of autonomic functioning is the key to a comprehensive and functional understanding of stress (Nuernberger, 2007, p. 61)."

Stress is an imbalance among one's physical, mental, and spiritual sides.  When one is emotionally distraught, or experiencing physical pain, there is a tendency to look outside for both the causes and solutions to these problems.  No one would deny that modern living presents many challenging situations.  Medical professionals must make daily life and death decisions, students are pressured by exams and social conformity, life at home has become very complex, and workers find themselves in demanding jobs.  In the end, however, the stress comes not from the external pressures, but from the way one chooses to respond to these pressures.  Searching outside, rather than within, for a resolution to these problems results in a sense of powerlessness and a dependence on external solutions.  Anxiety, tension, addictive inclinations, and even more potentially self-harming reactions are often the result.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is the only condition reported in the DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) in which the occurrence of a stressor is part of the diagnosis.  Unlike other anxiety disorders that are described by their symptoms, PTSD requires the occurrence of a catastrophic event or events that are categorized as either:  (a) from deliberate or malicious human intent (e.g., combat experience, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, criminal assault, witnessing violence), (b) unintended human events (e.g., fires, motor vehicle accidents, explosions), and (c) natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, earthquakes, animal attacks, sudden death).  Actually, PTSD can result from any severe stressor, and the symptoms are similar if the stressor is severe enough.  Symptoms do vary, however, in complexity, duration, and their difficulty in being treated (Schiraldi, 2009, pp. 5-7).

The professional literature on PTSD has expanded greatly in the past decade, regarding its nature (Friedman, Keane, & Resick, 2010; van der Kolk, McFarlane, & Weisaeth, 2006; Vasterling & Brewin, 2005), proposed treatment strategies (Briere & Scott, 2006; Courtois & Ford, 2009; Foa, Hembree, & Rothbaum, 2007; Foa, Keane, Friedman, & Cohen, 2008; Follette & Ruzek, 2007; Rothschild, 2011; Taylor, 2009; Thakur, 2010; Zayfert & Becker, 2008), and sensitive personal accounts that relate to both the nature and treatment of PTSD (e.g., Lawrence, 2009).  Treatment approaches applied to specific populations, types of stressors, and particular symptoms have also been emerging, some examples being PTSD associated with traumatized children (Gil, 2006), battered women (Kubany & Ralston, 2008), and trauma-related dissociation (Boon, Steele, & van der Hart, 2011).

Chronic Pain

The experience of ongoing pain is often an intimate part of stress-related disorders in general, and PTSD in particular.  Chronic pain, both physical and emotional, is one of the most frustrating medical and psychological problems as it transforms one's entire life, often involving extreme emotional reactivity, erratic sleep, and difficulty in both concentrating and performing routine tasks.  A main factor involved with the difficulty in treating acute and chronic pain is one's own reaction to that pain.  Whenever physical pain is experienced, there is a natural, automatic tendency to tense the muscles in and around that particular area.  When emotional pain is the central focus, these feelings trigger numerous physiological responses that often include muscular contraction and rigidity.  In addition, the pain becomes a stressor in and of itself.  This increases tension throughout the body making it more difficult for the affected areas to heal.  A vicious cycle of pain, stress, and tension is thus created.  ITP emphasizes bringing awareness to this process as a key to breaking this cycle, and, thereby, reducing suffering.

Integrated Therapy Approach

ITP was originally inspired by those who applied the holistic approach to specific treatment modalities for stress-related symptoms and the promotion of general health (e.g., O'Brien, 2008), and for the prevention and reversal of certain types of heart disease (Ornish, 1990).  As a complement to mainstream medical treatment and evaluation, ITP offers additional ways to treat the cycle of pain, stress, and tension that is often initiated by severe trauma.  Although changing the world is often difficult or impossible, one can change one's self by learning to become quiet in body and mind.  This is the essence of pain-, stress-, and trauma management as, from this more peaceful place, one learns to respond to painful life situations in more healthful ways.  Each of us has the ability to be the architect of our own destiny, to find within ourselves the solutions to our problems.  Although trauma-induced experience magnifies the challenge of realizing and actualizing this inner potential, the truth of this insight remains unchanged.

Consistent with the holistic approach, ITP emphasizes the well-being of the whole person, not just the treatment of specific symptoms, with each facet of the program promoting:  (a) autonomic balance (Nuernberger, 2007), (b) bringing awareness to previously unconscious, habituated patterns (e.g., of breathing, exercise, diet, emotional reactivity; e.g., Rama & Ajaya, 1976), and (c) self-empowerment and spiritual growth (e.g., Nuernberger, 1996).  Emphasis is placed on both original intervention with regard to post-traumatic experiences, as well as the prevention of reoccurring symptoms, as one learns to take care of oneself in natural ways.

It is within this framework that the health professional acts as a guide and advisor who suggests specific techniques that one can then use to help alleviate trauma- and tension-related distress.  This approach thereby encourages the client to accept primary responsibility for his or her own state of physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  Trauma and pain are part of life and living, but suffering is optional.  From the holistic perspective, coming to an acceptance of this reality is an integral part of healing, even to the point of eventual gratitude for the opportunity to deepen one's inner strength, confidence, and wisdom that have developed in the extremely difficult process of turning toward and facing the pain that resulted from this unwanted tragic event (Valle & Mohs, 2006).

Through a variety of functionally interrelated methods, ITP helps individuals realize the power they have to take charge of their lives.  Successful completion of the program depends on each person's willingness to practice the skills being taught.  The practice of these methods over a period of time allows one to experience the usefulness of these techniques, their beneficial effects becoming part of one's new life experience.

The counselor acts as a teacher, guide, and friend, but it is the client alone who decides to change his or her life.  Giving the client responsibility for treatment throughout the sessions facilitates both the transition to a non-treatment situation and the continuation of the new healthful habits that has been established.  These new habits are offered with a clinical sensitivity to the readiness and abilities of each individual client based on the nature and degree of severity of the traumatic experience, and their current state of personal stability.  It is within this context that the clinician introduces one or more of the facets of ITP:

Breath awareness - Breathing style serves as both a regulator and indicator of one's level of stress.  Clients are instructed in diaphragmatic breathing and other breath awareness techniques.

Autogenic relaxation - Clients are personally directed in systematic tense-relax and progressively self-guided relaxation exercises.

Biofeedback training - Regular sessions of skin temperature and/or EMG biofeedback practice complement the daily relaxation.  Clients are thereby given the opportunity to learn to control internal bodily states.

Diet and nutrition counseling - Clients are encouraged to eat a balanced, stimulant-free diet.  An individualized program is provided.

Hatha yoga - Individualized programs are offered from the classic hatha yoga system of stretching and strengthening postures.

Aerobic exercise - Consultation is provided for the development of a personalized program of regular aerobic exercise.

Psychotherapy - Mindful of the implicit interrelationship of body, mind, and spirit, therapists explore the psychological factors that contribute to emotional and physical pain.

Meditation - Clients are taught techniques for quieting the mind, improving the ability to concentrate, and enhancing the sense of self-empowerment and well-being.

In direct reference to ITP, Audrey Butko, M.D., a holistic physician, emphasizes the need for complementing the more traditional medical perspective with a holistic sensitivity and orientation:

In our Western world, we tend to view health as the absence of disease, as something that can be taken for granted or that we have "a right to."  We are seen as unfortunate victims of our illness who are often provided with medications or recommendations for surgical intervention.  When illness befalls us, we submit to the health care system and open ourselves to its "cure."

But health implies more than the mere absence of disease.  Being healthy is a dynamic state involving all levels of our existence---the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.  When we begin to delve into these complex layers, an inner awareness unfolds, and inevitable questions begin to arise, such as "What is life?" "Where am I going and why?" "What does it mean to die?"  These are all questions that most of us have pondered, questions that lead us on a search.  It is in this search that we find personal growth.

When we view life as a series of experiences, each representing an opportunity for growth, then illness and tragedy become events that open doors for exploration.  Instead of being just an unwanted intrusion, it becomes a valuable time to understand how we are functioning.  It is a time to examine our various levels and see what questions arise.

With this model of health, the physician does not see a patient for just ten minutes with the intent to "fix" or “cure," but rather, acts both as guide and teacher as well as a resource for helping the individual with the immediate discomfort of illness.  By encouraging the patient to take responsibility for his or her own condition, the physician can then work with individuals in their personal growth process.  Using medications in supportive combination with the various modalities of the Integrated Therapy Program, the physician helps others lead a more accepting and effective life (Mohs & Valle, 2011).

Diaphragmatic Breathing

In ITP, the breath is seen as the medium that connects mind and body.  The three being implicitly intertwined, a change in one immediately manifests as a change in the other two.  Becoming aware of and regulating the breath, therefore, is a key or doorway to bringing peace and health to mind and body.  Since upper chest, thoracic breathing contributes directly to autonomic imbalance by inducing the "fight or flight" response, deep, smooth, and even diaphragmatic breathing is the first practice offered in ITP.  By consciously reinstating this natural pattern that appears as our instinctual way to breathe at birth, this non-arousing breath can return once again as our unconscious habit both day and night (see Nuernberger, 2007, and Rama, Ballentine, & Hymes, 1979, for detailed discussions of the neurophysiology of breath and the benefits of breathing diaphragmatically).  Let us end the presentation here, as we turn our attention to the point-by-point relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing exercise used in ITP.


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The Science of Yoga and Western Psychology

Ron Valle, Ph.D.

Valle, R. (2001).  The science of yoga and Western psychology (Parts I- III).  Himalayan Path, 1(3), 25-30; 2(1), 28-36; 2(2), 32-40.

The following presentation is designed to dialogue key insights from the science of yoga with the behavioral‑experimental and existential‑ phenomenological approaches of Western psychology.  Special attention is given to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (circa 200 B.C. – 500 A.D.) and his presentation of the five kleshas or causes of human suffering.  Yoga in general, and Patanjali’s framework in particular, provide us with a novel and inspiring view of life and nature that implicitly calls us to reexamine our currently held world-views.  This dialogue:  (a) sheds light on frequently rather subtle, if not mystical, Eastern interpretations by examining them in a more contemporary language and cultural‑set, and (b) shows the parallel that exists between the process of spiritual evolution on the personal, individual level and this same process as reflected in the changing view of human nature in the field of psychology, as psychology’s world‑view has evolved from that of the behavioral‑ experimental approach, through the psychoanalytic and humanistic schools, to the transpersonal vision of human being.  As an evolving world-view, these psychological approaches represent four distinct schools of thought or "forces" in psychology.  As each approach is briefly described, note the increasingly expansive awareness of and openness to the phenomena necessary to understanding the nature of human being (Valle, 1998).

In strict behavioral‑experimental or first force psychology, the human individual is treated as a passive thing with no experiential depth, as a separate entity divorced from its surrounding environment, an entity that simply responds to stimuli impinging upon it from the external physical and social world.  Only that which is observable and whose dimensions can be agreed upon by more than one observer is allowed.  Human behavior is, therefore, the objective focus of the behaviorist, human experience being dismissed as subjective, immeasurable, and not the stuff of science.

In the second force or psychoanalytic scheme, the person is given more depth.  Not only is the role of conscious experience discussed but the realms of the personal unconscious (from the Freudian paradigm) and the collective unconscious (from Carl Jung’s contributions) are acknowledged as well.  The human being is seemingly more whole but is still treated as a passive entity, one that responds to stimuli from the "inside" (e.g., current emotions, past experiences, unconscious motives) rather than the pushes and pulls from without.  Whether one speaks of the punitive nature of one's toilet training or the subtle empowerment of the mother archetype, the implicit and radical separation of person and world goes on.

In third force or humanistic psychology, the full range of human potential is described and open to investigation.  More specifically, within the existential‑ phenomenological approach, the human individual and his or her surrounding environment or world are regarded as implicitly and inseparably intertwined, one has no meaning when treated independently of the other.  Although the world is still regarded as essentially different than the person in kind, the human being, retaining its experiential depth, is seen as an active agent that makes choices within pre‑existing external constraints.  From this tradition come concepts that call us to a new definition of human capacity:  co‑constitutionality, lived structure, the prereflective life-world, situated freedom, and the intentional nature of consciousness (Valle & Halling, 1989).

These first three perspectives evolved from essentially Western philosophical outlooks.  It is only when fourth force or transpersonal psychology is reached do the influences of Eastern philosophies become evident.  Transpersonal disciplines, which include yoga and the Indian philosophies, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism, Christian mysticism, Kabbalistic Judaism, and others, typically include several or all of the following premises:  (a) that a transcendent, transconceptual reality or Unity binds together all apparently separate phenomena whether these phenomena be physical, mental, or spiritual, (b) that the ego or individualized self is not the ground of human awareness but, rather, only one relative reflection‑manifestation of a greater trans‑ personal (as "beyond the personal") Self or One (i.e., pure consciousness without an object), (c) that each individual can directly experience this higher‑order reality which is related to the intuitive and spiritual dimensions of human life, (d) that this experience represents a qualitative shift in one's mode of experiencing and involves the expansion of one's mind and sense of self beyond ordinary conceptual thinking and ego awareness, and (e) that this experience is self‑validating (Valle & Mohs, 1998).  The separate ego-self, therefore, becomes only one of many relative realities within a holistic view of the universe where, in the present context, all phenomenal forms (physical, conceptual, emotional, and intuitive) are intimately infused with the essence of conscious, living spirit.  It is from within this psychological world‑view that the following presentation of yoga is made.

The Science of Yoga

The word "yoga" remains an often misunderstood concept in modern American society.  To many it is a vague label given to a polytheistic Eastern religion or religions, to some it stands for a series of increasingly complex breathing practices, and to still others it conjures up the image of a physical culture which demands of the student a seemingly unlimited capability to twist his or her body into ever more complicated and contorted postures.  Although spiritual development, the fundamental nature of the breath, and the intimate relationship of body and mind form important cornerstones of yoga, yoga itself cannot be accurately or exclusively identified with any one of these.  It is, rather, an intricately detailed science which expounds in both theoretical‑philosophical detail and in terms of practical methods, both physical and mental, how each and every one of us can know (must know) the true nature of our physical and social environment, our own psychological ego-self, and our essence or soul.  This is nothing other than a practical exposition of the nature and process of self‑realization.

Yoga literally means "yoke” or "union" and, more specifically, details how the separate, individual self (small “s”) may be yoked or conjoined with the one transcendent Self (capital “S”) of all, how the single drop may come to know itself as the ocean.  Swami Rama’s (1979) book entitled Lectures on Yoga:  Practical Lessons on Yoga provides a solid and insightful introduction to the breadth and depth of yoga science.

It is quite interesting, but not surprising, that whenever one turns to questions concerning the nature of the physical universe and the manifestation of conscious/living entities within that frame, including the deeper meaning of life, it is only a matter of time (sometimes days, sometimes decades) before one finally wades through all of the ancient and modern natural scientific explanations and arrives at the door of a grand philosophy‑method that seems at first more subjective‑spiritual than objective‑ experimental.  It is at this point that the discussion of yoga becomes relevant.  Since the term “spiritual" is usually tightly bound to words like "faith" and "beliefs" in most minds, it should be immediately noted that yoga is comprised of a set of ideas and methods whose proposed results and transformations are all open to personal experiential validation.  In fact, the student of yoga is encouraged to believe nothing on blind faith, but to only trust direct experience itself.

In addition to those who have run into a scientific dead‑end regarding the meaning of life and existence, one will find a second group of more formally religious men and women turning to the realm of yoga science.  It appears that this sort of individual who has begun to question life and to probe its deeper mysteries wants something more definite and vital than what he or she has found in traditional religious teachings.  Those who have lost faith in the counsel of orthodox religion and/or were unable to relate to the mystic teachings of their religion often turn to the philosophy and approach of yoga for the solutions to those dilemmas connected with their inner life.

The single assumption that best distinguishes Vedantic philosophy, the foundational philosophy on which yoga science is based, from modern experimental psychology involves the nature of mind and body.  Rather than embracing the presently accepted dualism which splits these phenomena into two distinct mental (res cogitans) and physical (res extensa) realms, the Vedantic tradition treats the mind‑body dynamic as comprising an inseparable whole where the mental and physical are regarded as illuminated reflections of an implicit, transcendent, spiritual unity that binds all that exists.

From the contents that comprise this particular philosophical stance, perhaps the single factor most disturbing to the natural scientific, experimental psychologist is the notion of transcendence.  Transcendence directly implies a transphysical, transconceptual level of reality--- an intuitively accessible realm that one cannot intellectually know (because one would then be involved in the lower conceptual mode), but can only be (a transemotional feeling or sensing).  To put it simply, one can be the universe (as the Self), but one cannot know that he or she (as the self) is being the universe, since the mere conceptualization of the situation creates the duality of "a knower" and "the known" thereby destroying the unitary state.

Wisdom is not communicable.  The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish ... One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.

       Hermann Hesse — Siddhartha

Although such talk of a unified reality that can never be known via the intellect might sound quite bizarre (and perhaps even a bit frightening), this holistic world‑view is not completely foreign to Western thinkers‑‑‑ witness Karl Pribram's holographic theory of brain, mind, and consciousness (Pribram, 1989) and the physicist David Bohm's unfolded‑enfolded holonomic cosmology (Weber, 1989).  The acknowledgment, development, and creative application of holism by scientists like Pribram and Bohm marked the beginning of a continuing shift in the modern natural scientific paradigm (Kuhn, 1962).

Something unknown is doing we don't know what.

       Sir Arthur Eddington

We are left with a vision, a vision that all apparent differences, whether they be the result of physical, mental, or intuitive phenomena, are just that‑‑‑ apparent.  At one level, very real, but beneath appearances there lies another level, where parts comprise the whole and the whole is contained in every part, a realm inaccessible to intellectual understanding, a unity that one can be but never know.  This is the vision of yoga and it is this process, the movement from the many (self‑identification) to the One (Self‑identification) that is described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

       William Shakespeare — Hamlet

The Yoga Sutras

In the classical historical sense, very little is known about Patanjali although, from the masterly fashion in which he has presented the science of yoga in his Yoga Sutras, it is clear that he was an advanced yogi who had personal knowledge and experience of all aspects of yoga including its practical techniques.  The Yoga Sutras is comprised of 196 single sentences or sutras which, when taken together as a whole, explicate the entire philosophy and technique of yoga.  For those unfamiliar with this particular literary form, the sutra is a single statement designed to present very complex and complicated ideas in their simplest and purest form.  The modern reader is reminded that this style of exposition was popular during a time when printing was unknown and students were required to memorize all treatises deemed relevant to the subject of their study; hence, the art of condensation was taken to its utmost limit. Keeping in mind that a central concern of yoga is to describe the relationship that exists between consciousness and matter, between awareness and its many‑faceted manifestations, physical or otherwise, a brief look at the structure of the Yoga Sutras is in order.

The Yoga Sutras is divided into four Parts:  Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada, Vibhuti Pada, and Kaivalya Pada.  Without going into great detail, these sections or parts can be described in a more general way in order to give one a feel for the implicit structural plan, creative genius, and spiritual revelation evident in this ancient text.

Samadhi Pada deals with the general nature of yoga, yogic techniques, and the essence and role of the spiritual Seer or Self.  It can loosely be thought of as a road map of the territory that exists on the journey from the individual self to the multi‑layered experience of Self or Oneness (samadhi); that is, it essentially answers the questions: "Where does this journey lead?" and "Just who is this that is making this journey anyway?"

Via the conditions mirrored by the five kleshas, Sadhana Pada explicates the purpose of human life, the suffering inherent in the life process, and the means to free oneself from this pain.  As it was written to prepare the student physically, mentally, and emotionally for the practice of higher yoga, one can see this section as addressing the questions:  "Why should I go on this journey?" and "How do I make progress on this journey?"

Vibhuti Pada is concerned primarily with a description of the siddhis or "powers" that the aspirant accrues as he or she follows the recommended yogic disciplines, and the cognitive/emotional/intuitive changes (changes in the structure and conditions of mind) that parallel the development of spiritual awareness.  Vibhuti Pada, therefore, attempts to answer the question: "What will happen to me on this journey?"

Kaivalya Pada, although dealing with the mind, mental perception, and desire, is primarily concerned with the attainment of enlightenment or kaivalya, the absolute and final sovereignty of Self.  It essentially answers the question:  "What will I find when I get to the end of this journey?"

Although a thorough treatment of all the issues covered in the Yoga Sutras is beyond the scope of the present discussion (e.g., Aranya, 1983; Arya, 1986; Bangali Baba, 1976), some key elements that characterize the entire work will be examined, namely, purusha and prakriti, the five kleshas, and meditation.

From the groundwork of the Vedantic tradition, several specific philosophical systems have arisen.  It is one of these particular systems, Sankhya philosophy, that forms the philosophical basis of the Yoga Sutras, a philosophy that discriminates between the formless or ethereal aspects of reality (purusha) and its structured or material manifestations (prakriti).  In addition, this fundamental purusha‑prakriti duality between pure consciousness and matter, between the transcendental and the substantial, is viewed as an implicit structural constituent of existence.  In the Sankhya school, therefore, conscious, living Spirit and inert, lifeless matter are necessary for understanding the existence and appearance of the phenomenal world.  Thus, it is from this philosophical stance or viewpoint that spiritual ignorance is the failure to recognize this core separateness; and, it is from this failure that human suffering arises.

It should be noted that this perspective stands in a recognizable contrast to the radical monism of Vedanta.  Although acknowledging the distinction between material nature and the spiritual Self (Atman), Vedanta sees even this distinction as reflecting a relative reality that must be transcended.  Only then will spirit and matter both be realized as emanations of the One (Brahman).

Compare the interpretations of Vedanta and Sankhya philosophy with our current outlook.  From within the cultural context in which we are embedded, most of us see the human being (however much implicitly or explicitly) as an essentially physical phenomenon.  The man and woman of the spatial, physical universe are regarded as the biological products of an arbitrary natural selection, physiological entities whose mind (awareness) is an emergent property of the neural structure we call brain.  On this stage, each individual is provided with a short span of time we call his or her life in which to experience the achievements and glories and/or failures and shames of that brief existence, this unending panorama of constant change continuing until death extinguishes the vital flame.  This is dreary vision to say the least, yet it remains, contrary to our inner feelings, the life‑view which most of us cling to so dearly.

On top of this, our inner feelings or intuitive sense that life is more than the chance occurrence of biological structure are confronted by the modern psychological explanation that these feelings are merely our ego defenses providing us with a false security or crutch to lean on.  Otherwise, we are told, each one of us would fall into depression and despair if we looked directly and unprotected at the cold facts of reality‑‑‑ that we are accidental products of a genetic probability, alive for a short, unpredictable time in a physical universe that runs in a way that is only understandable via the conceptualizations of time, space, and causation.

With the distinction between the modern Western and Vedanta- Sankhya approaches in mind, let us now consider the five kleshas of yoga science.  Taimni (1975), in discussing the original founders of Vedanta (the Rishis) and their purpose, states:

[they] were great Adepts who ... attacked the great problem of life, determined to find a solution of the riddle which time and space have created for the illusion‑bound man.  They observed the phenomena of life not only with the help of their senses and the mind, but in the full conviction that the solution lay beyond even the intellect; they dived deeper and deeper into their own consciousness, tearing aside veil after veil, until they discovered the ultimate cause of the Great Illusion and the misery and suffering which are its inevitable results (p. 136).

The Sanskrit word klesha literally means "pain, affliction, or misery" but has come to represent that which causes this pain.  The five kleshas, therefore, represent the five basic constituents or, better, the root cause of human suffering.  They are:  (a) avidya (the lack of awareness of the true nature of reality, or spiritual isnorance), (b) asmita (the primal sense of "I‑amness"), (c) raga (attraction to anything outside oneself), (d) dvesa (the repulsion from anything outside oneself), and (e) abhinivesa (the fear of death, or the strong desire for life to continue in its present form).

Two general features of the kleshas should be noted at this point. First, the five kleshas form a connected, hierarchical, causal series (in the order given above), and exist in a way not unlike the relation of roots, trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit of a tree.  For example, it is only by forgetting one’s true nature as Self or Atman (i.e., because of avidya) that there can now exist a “self” and “other-than-self” (asmita).  Only when there is an “other” can there be attraction (raga), and only when there is attraction can there be fear of loss or aversion (dvesa).  And, it is only when fear exists as an inclination of the mind can there be a specific fear, the fear of death (abhinivesa). 

Secondly, they may exist in one of four states:  (a) dormant, (b) weak, (c) suppressed, or (d) strongly active.  In the dormant condition, the klesha is present but in a latent form.  The proper conditions for its expression are lacking and its energy is potential rather than kinetic.  In its weak state, the klesha is present in a very feeble or tenuous condition.  It is essentially inactive but may become manifest or active, in a minimal way, if the proper stimulus is applied.  In the suppressed condition, one of two complementary or concurrent tendencies may remain hidden for some time, as when one's desire or attraction for another person is so strong that one's aversion to certain aspects of this other's personality is suppressed or temporarily inactive.  In the strongly active condition, the klesha is openly operative, its activity being readily apparent.  Each of the five kleshas share these general characteristics; let's look at them more closely.

Avidya, often translated as "spiritual ignorance", is the main source or cause of the other four kleshas.  Ignorance is used here not in its more ordinary usage as "lack of knowledge," but in its higher philosophical sense as "absence of awareness".  Awareness of what? you might ask.  In order to fully understand the meaning of avidya, an expansion of the earlier discussion of purusha and prakriti is necessary as it is these two concepts that constitute the crux of the matter.

According to yoga philosophy, pure consciousness or purusha becomes involved in or identified with matter or prakriti (which includes the physical body as well as the mind and its contents).  How, one may ask, can purusha and prakriti, which are (according to Sankhya philosophy) separate and utterly different in their essential nature, be brought together?  That is, how can purusha that is eternally free and self‑sufficient be made to assume the limitations that are necessarily involved in the association with matter?  It is by depriving it of the knowledge or, rather, the awareness of its eternal and self‑sufficient nature.  The manifestation of the phenomenal world is, therefore, the inevitable result as purusha begins to identify and becomes increasingly involved with matter.  Is this not the Fall from Grace‑‑­the "death" of the spirit into the physical body at birth?

This identification becomes more and more intense as pure consciousness or awareness descends further into matter until spiritual forgetfulness is complete.  Then, at some point, a spiritual “spark” or remembering occurs and an upward climb in the opposite direction, out of the misidentification, begins.  This reverse process of evolution, in which purusha gradually extricates itself from matter (a spiritual decathexis of sorts), results in an increasing realization of its true nature and ends in self‑realization (kaivalya).

The typical Western scholar usually asks a question at this point:  How does this loss of awareness occur?  It occurs, the yoga tradition insists, because purusha’s loss of awareness of its true nature that involves it in the evolutionary cycle is brought about by a quality inherent in the transcendent ultimate reality (Brahman), a quality called "maya" from which evolves the appearance and identification of things as we know them.  In order to grasp the notion of maya, consider the following example.  A sculptor approaches a block of marble and carves from it a bust of Beethoven.  The moment this one statue is carved and recognized (i.e., created), all the other seemingly infinite number of statues that could have been created are negated.  This forgetting of the infinite possible ways that the mind might hold or regard any experience, this veiling of the infinite is maya.  

How can I know this? continues the Western scholar.  The answer is not one that sits well with the Western mind:  you cannot know the truth that underlies manifestation; you can only be it since this truth, by its very nature, is incommunicable.  Another way to say this is that matters pertaining to realities beyond the scope of the intellect cannot be understood through the medium of the intellect alone.  In reference to maya, one must directly experience maya to truly know the experience for which the word itself is nothing more than a label.

We have come full circle and may now attempt to summarize the nature of this klesha.  The unmanifest spirit (purusha or Atman) in its purity is fully conscious of its true nature.  Progressive involution into matter deprives it of this Self‑awareness to an increasing degree, and it is the privation of this knowledge that is called avidya or spiritual ignorance.  Avidya is, therefore, mistaking the non‑eternal, impure, and non‑Atman for the eternal, pure, and Atman respectively.

The second klesha, asmita (fundamental "I‑amness"), refers to the identification or the blending together of purusha with the mind and, thereby, addresses the fall of pure awareness or consciousness into matter in a more specific way.  Since mind is the subtlest form of prakriti (this will be discussed further below), asmita may be considered as the mistaken identification of pure consciousness with the vehicle through which it is being expressed (i.e., the mind).  Pure being or "amness" represents the clear awareness of Self‑existence as itself and, therefore, the expression of pure consciousness or purusha.  But, as purusha becomes involved in matter (owing to the power of maya), knowledge of its true nature is lost and the pure amness of being becomes, "I am".  It is as if the pure light of spirit mistakes itself for its reflection in the mirror that is mind.

It is here that the concept of asmita applies, for the Sanskrit word "asmita" is derived from "asmi" that literally means "I am."  These two processes, the loss of awareness and identification with matter, occur simultaneously; the moment the veil of avidya falls on pure consciousness, its identification with its vehicles is the immediate result.

Raga (attraction) and dvesa (repulsion) are invariably spoken of together as they are, in a fundamental sense, true complements. They co‑constitute one another, as each one has no meaning without acknowledgement of the other.  As such, they together form the dual face of attachment, reflecting the different faces of our desire for and reactions to things of the world.  Raga refers specifically to the attraction we have to anything (person, object, emotion, idea) that provides us with pleasure, whether that pleasure be physical, mental, or emotional.  Dvesa, on the other hand, is the natural repulsion one feels toward anything that is perceived to be the source of pain or unhappiness.

As one might guess, raga and dvesa may also be understood in the context of purusha's identification with the mind‑body system or vehicle. Attractions and repulsions are the ground and breeders of desires, both positive and negative, and thus they keep us tied down to the mental and physical planes where consciousness operates under its greatest limitations.  These attractions and repulsions are characteristics of the mind and body (they are not qualities of pure consciousness), but because of purusha’s misidentification, we feel that we are being attracted or repelled.  This is the main problem, for if it were not for the attachments that come from our desires, the yogis tell us we would know, here and now, who we truly are, the one, eternal, unchanging, pure, unblemished Self.

A less theoretical, more practical aspect of this situation is that the attractions and repulsions that bind us to innumerable persons and things condition our lives to a remarkable extent.  Both consciously and unconsciously, we think, feel, and act in habitual accord with these countless biases (some overpowering, some less prominent) to such a degree that there is little freedom left for the individual to shape his or her own destiny.  More specifically, it is our desires that shape our thoughts and it is these directing thoughts that guide our behavior.  Mental forms, therefore, serve as a dynamic medium for the manifestation of one's desires in action.

While it is obvious to most how our negative attachments produce misery, the above discussion applies to our attractions as well.  Everything appears to exist in time and is, therefore, subject to constant change including all of the persons and things we are most fond of.  People leave or die and things are lost or decay; this fact, to the extent that we are attached/attracted to these persons or objects, causes us pain, for we fear the inevitable loss of that which we love.  To make a long story short, attached desire is always accompanied by the painful expectation of loss.

For those familiar with the central role that reward and punishment play within the behavioral‑experimental approach to psychology, the present discussion of attraction and repulsion is different to say the least.  It is safe to say that few behaviorial psychologists see either the relationships that exist among reinforcement, punishment, mind, and pure consciousness or the full extent to which our desires affect our perception of reality.

The fifth and last klesha is abhinivesa, the fear of death or the strong desire for life.  This will‑to‑live, that seems to be evident in every living creature, lies at the heart of our fear of death.  Even the most miserable individual whose life seems to consist of an unending series of pain and misfortune demonstrates the same powerful attachment to life as well as this attachment's other face, the fear of life's end.  What is less evident is that abhinivesa also refers to the attachment to life in its present form, whether one exists as a cat, human person, angel, or cosmic being whose body is comprised of the physical universe itself, this powerful attachment to continue as one is remains the same.

One might expect that this will‑to‑live would be somehow less in those who are knowledgeable about the realities of life.  Patanjali points out, however, that this is not so.  The philosopher who is well versed in all of the world's great philosophies and who intellectually understands all the deeper problems of life is often as much attached to life as is the more ordinary person who is ignorant of these things.  Mere intellectual knowledge is, in and of itself, inadequate for freeing the individual from his or her attachment to life.

Since it is a constant and universal force inherent in life which finds expression as this "desire to continue living as is", abhinivesa is seen, not as the result of some accidental evolutionary development, but as an essential, structural constituent of the life process.  This aspect of abhinivesa becomes more understandable if one considers the five kleshas as forming the causal series discussed earlier.  The intensity of our desire for life directly parallels the degree of attachment (raga and dvesa) we have for the persons and objects in our world.  In turn, these attractions and repulsions are apparent to the degree that we see ourselves existing as "I am" (asmita), asmita being the initial effect of ignorance or avidya.  In this way, abhinivesa is merely the fruit or final expression of the chain of cause and effect set in motion with the birth of avidya and the involution of consciousness into matter.

Mind and Meditation in Yoga

Given this fairly complex state of affairs, you might at this point be asking yourself:  what can be done about this situation and why should I do anything about it anyway?  In response, it seems that once we realize the incredible amount of unnecessary suffering that we create for ourselves because of our attachments, we are first open to and then begin to actively seek out a method or practice that will alleviate this suffering.  Returning to he purusha‑prakriti distinction can be of help here.

In more traditional Western thought, there is very little if any distinction made between the mind or mental activity (thoughts and emotions) and consciousness or awareness.  In fact, they are often used interchangeably in a very misleading manner.  Sankhya philosophy, however, makes this distinction very clearly and does so in a way that is quite foreign to those of us raised in a Western culture.  Mind is treated as part of prakriti (the material realm) and not as a derivative of Purusha (pure consciousness).  The manifestation of prakriti is seen to range over a wide spectrum from its gross physical appearance as objects and material things of the world to its most subtle, least tangible form as "stuff of the mind".  In the same way that the body derives its energy and life from purusha so does our mind; that is, our mental processes are active and alert only because of the purusha‑prakriti interaction, prakriti's natural state being unconscious, inert, and lifeless.

Consider a brown paper bag that contains an electric light bulb.  When the light is switched on, the whole bag glows.  If we liken the paper bag to the mind and the light bulb to purusha, Atman, or the Self within, the confusion begins to dissolve.  If one attributes the luminous quality or glow of the bag to the bag itself, one mistakenly equates mind with consciousness.  If, however, one realizes that the bag glows brightly only because of the light within, then the problem is solved.  Consciousness is purusha, mind is prakriti, and, therefore, mind is not consciousness.

It is an ancient Indian Doctrine that both Mind and Matter are modes of one and the same Substance, and as such related to and akin to one another thus rendering all knowledge possible.  Cognition is recognition.

       Sir John Woodroffe — The World as Power

Let us now return to the question, what can I do about ending my misery?  Patanjali frequently reminds us that the cause of suffering is the progressive involution of consciousness into matter and describes the steps or stages of this process as the five kleshas.  If mind is, indeed, the subtlest form of prakriti and, thereby, the aspect of prakriti that is nearest purusha, then the awareness of purusha's and prakriti’s separateness is most likely to begin at this point (i.e., with the mind).  In fact, in the second sutra, Patanjali defines yoga as the "control of the modifications of the mind" because it is only through the mastery of our thought processes that our true nature can be known.  Only a crystal that is flawless and clear can reflect the light passing through purely and without distortion.

The yogic notion of "mind" is not a simple, linear one but, rather, a complex process composed of four parts:  chitta, manas, ahamkara, and buddhi.  Since the mind is regarded as the subtlest manifestation of prakriti or the material realm, it can be thought of as a borderline area or bridge between the world of form (prakriti) and the formless spirit (purusha).  It is the mind that lies closest to one's spiritual awareness and it is through the mind that one can discover the true Self that waits within.

Chitta is the name given to the underlying "mind‑stuff" or substratum out of which the other three parts take form.  It is the storehouse of all mental impressions (samskaras), the unconscious repository or "memory bank" of the mind.  Chitta, although a material aspect of prakriti, has no specific form in and of itself.  Instead, it comprises a mind field, a field that is said to underly all manifested material phenomena.

Manas (the lower mind) is the forum in which all impressions make their appearance, whether these impressions be memories from chitta or new ones from the five senses.  Manas is, therefore, analogous to a television screen which monitors both past experiences and current events of the outside world.  It is here that all sensory input such as emotions from the past or new thoughts from the present is displayed.

Ahamkara represents the ego or doer which:  (a) mistakenly attributes Divine Will to be the will of the small self or individual personality, and (b) further constricts the "I am" of asmita into an "I am this" where the "this" may represent the mind itself, one or more intuitions, thoughts, and/or emotions, or the gross physical body.  It is like a point of congealment or condensation in the mind field where the multifarious array of sensory inputs become objects of identity.  It is ahamkara that transforms the unclaimed disturbances of chitta into the concepts, desires, judgments, motives, affect, and expectations we call our own (remember that thoughts and emotions are things; they are prakriti and not purusha).  It is ahamkara that turns this myriad and varied disorder into a unified and defined sense of "I".

Buddhi is the name given to the higher intellect or discriminating quality of the mind.  The discrimination involved is not just a choice among various thoughts or feelings of the lower mind, however, but also an intuitive discernment of the finest kind.  It is buddhi that sorts out the quiet and untarnished “voice” of purusha or the Self from the noise and distractions which characterize manas, including the effects caused by the surfacing of previously unconscious motives and residue (i.e., one's samskaras).  It is wise rather than simply knowledgeable.  Buddhi, then, represents the mind's intuitive window to the formless spirit beyond; it is the subtlest aspect of mind and, therefore, the aspect of prakriti closest to purusha.

The yogic model of mind and spirit brings to mind Michelangelo's famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel:  the hand of man, with finger extended, straining and reaching to touch the finger of the gentle, steady hand of God.  If one sees the hand of man as representing the lower mind, man's extended finger as the intuitive sense, and the finger of God as purusha, then the space in between that keeps them separate, and seemingly forever apart, represents faith (or, better, the lack of same).  For it is only via one's faith, built on intuitive discernment, that one's Self may merge back with the Divine.  Faith becomes the link between mind and spirit.

Since raga and dvesa permeate the whole fabric of our worldly life and prevent us from having peace of mind, do we have any option but to suffer?  The yoga tradition says "Yes".  Through the systematic, disciplined practice of meditation, a free and unconditioned mind is formed and, only then, can our true Self be realized.  Although the practice of all phases of meditation requires a lengthy discussion and comprises an intricately detailed study, the basic process itself can be simply described.

The yoga tradition emphasizes the importance of having both a calm, still body and an even, smooth breathing pattern as necessary prerequisites for successful progress in meditation (i.e., having body and breath be quiet, compatible vehicles rather than noisy, disruptive influences is essential).  To a large extent, a calm and healthy body is achieved through systematic relaxation, proper diet, and regular exercise (both aerobic exercise and the practice of hatha yoga postures) while the disciplined practice of diaphragmatic breathing and other breath awareness techniques leads to a quiet, regulated breath.  Whereas faith is the link between mind (intuition) and spirit (purusha), the breath is regarded as the link or carrier of the life energy (prana) between body and mind.

Mind and breath are not only related in this way, but represent an even more intimate tie with purusha.  Purusha is characterized by two essential constituents:  consciousness and vitality.  These two characteristics become manifest or reflect in prakriti via mind and prana respectively.  That is, it is through the apparent awareness of the mind that the conscious quality of spirit is revealed, and it is through the function of life energy in the physical body that purusha's vital essence is known.  In fact, the yogis describe five different "bodies" or sheaths (koshas) that cover and obscure the spiritual Self:  physical, pranic, mental, intuitive, and blissful (Rama, Ballentine, & Ajaya, 1976). As strange as it may sound to our Western ears, mind and life energy are dead and lifeless shells without the infusion of spirit (see Rama, 1989).  It is the stillness gained in meditation that allows one to recognize this truth.

If therefore thine eye be single, the whole body shall be full of light.

       Jesus Christ — St. Matthew:6

The actual meditative practice begins with concentration (dharana). Concentration as a process involves giving the mind one thing to focus on such as a word, syllable, or mantra that one repeats silently in one's mind, or a visual image such as a candle flame, picture, or yantra.  Although a subtle and difficult art to master, concentration is not, as many believe, a dull and tedious task.  In fact, the experience of successful concentration is quite pleasurable and satisfying.  Rather than leading one to dullness and shades of gray, doing anything with complete concentration enhances and enriches the experience.  Such a simple thing as taking a sip of orange juice, for example, can bring one to the heights of spiritual ecstasy if done with full concentration where every subtle aspect of the color, flavor, aroma, and texture of the juice is fully experienced.  Approaching life in this way, you will find that nothing is as it first seems to be.

Almost suspended we are laid asleep in body and become a living soul while with an eye made quiet by the deep power of joy we see into the life of things.

       William Wordsworth — Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

As one practices concentration in a systematic fashion, two things begin to occur with increasing frequency and intensity:  (a) the general content or noise of the mind is reduced as the mind becomes quieter during the practice, and (b) one learns to watch or witness all thought and emotion from a perspective or place of non‑attachment or dispassion (vairagya), slowly breaking the misidentification of spirit with the contents of the mind.  With continued practice, effort, and awareness, one eventually acquires the ability to bring one's mind to one‑pointedness or pure focus at will (Valle, 1989). This ability to focus the mind at will is a prerequisite for true meditation (dhyana), that is, meditation as the effortless flow of timeless awareness.

The experiences attained via this discipline are developmental in nature, they are well‑known and described in great detail by those who have walked this path, and they are self‑validating.  Through these meditative experiences, one comes to realize the nature of thought and emotion including their origin, manifestations, progress, and, perhaps most importantly, what is necessary to bring about their cessation.  Meditation can be seen, therefore, as the means to gain "control of the modifications of the mind" and becomes the path that can lead us out of suffering.

Be still and know that I am God.Psalm 46:10

Meditation as a means for transcending the conceptual realm is to be distinguished from the devotional practice known as prayer.  This distinction is an important one to make as meditation and prayer are often confused one for the other when, in the context of spiritual practice, they are more often than not inseparable.  Meditation reflects clarity, wisdom, the transcendent Self.  Prayer reflects motivation, love, the serving self.  Meditative states are the ends.  Devotional states are the means.  Meditation is moved by the force of prayer.  Prayer is guided by meditative experience.  Meditation without prayer leads to sleep and sloth.  Prayer without meditation is mere lip service.  Meditation and prayer are different faces of one path or inner process leading to the Divine.  In the end, they are more than just inseparable.  When their work is balanced and together they manifest as one melody, they become indistinguishable.

There is an eye of the soul which is more precious far than ten thousand bodily eyes for by it alone is truth seen.


Mind and Consciousness in Western Psychology

As is probably obvious by now, there is very little agreement or overlap between the Vedantic tradition and the psychological theorizing that characterizes much of Western thought including both the behavioral‑experimental and existential-phenomenological schools.  Why is this so?

The major point of difference surrounds the nature of mind.  Within the behavioral‑experimental realm, the mind and mental processes are, at best, viewed as "internal" intervening variables (by the self‑proclaimed cognitive psychologists) that stand between the impinging stimulus and the observable response.  Thoughts and emotions are reduced to the role of mediator, standing between the stimulating environment and the behaving organism.  It is human behavior that becomes the central focus because the experimental psychologist insists on understanding only that which complies with an objective, physical universe.  It is, therefore, only human behavior that is observable, measurable, and of a kind that it is possible for more than one observer to agree on its existence and characteristics.

In the view of the methodological behaviorist, mind is merely an epiphenomenon of the neurochemical brain where mental processes often serve as "noise" in the system that makes the task of accurately describing the stimulus‑response bases of behavior all the more difficult.  In either case, consciousness and mind are used completely interchangeably and treated either as intervening variables (in an objective, behavioral way) or as a nuisance that must be summarily dismissed if science is ever to make progress in this area.  This whole way of thinking represents a rather remarkable reductionism that must, by definition, reject the self‑validating insights gained in meditative experience as well.

The existential‑phenomenological approach takes a much‑needed step forward by addressing human consciousness as a psychological phenomenon that is not only quite worthy of scholarly investigation, but one that must be examined in order to truly understand the nature of human being.  In this regard, consider Valle and King (1978):

the existential‑phenomenologist ... points out that we are never merely conscious but are always conscious of something.  Saying that consciousness is always a "consciousness of" means that it always has an object (an object, that is, that is not consciousness itself).  This "object" may be of a concrete nature such as a chair, a tree, or another person, it could be any one of a number of dream images, or it could be an abstract idea or concept.  Consciousness is, therefore, said to be intentional in nature or to be characterized by intentionality.  That is, when speaking of consciousness one is either implicitly or explicitly referring to its intended object as well (p. 13).

This treatment of consciousness, though more sensitive than the behavioral‑ experimental rendition, still falls short of Patanjali's description.  To put it bluntly, the existential‑phenomenological psychologists confuse mind and consciousness.  What they refer to as consciousness is what Vedanta treats as parts and processes of mind. Recall the discussion of ahamkara presented earlier.  The comparison between the "amness" characteristic of purusha (pure consciousness) and the intentional "I am this" quality of prakriti (i.e. mind) is more than simply analogous to the insistence that "consciousness" is always a "consciousness of" as the existential‑ phenomenologists claim.  Their claim appears to be true of mind, a trait of the subtlest material form, but they have nothing to say (in this context) about the transcendent state of pure consciousness per se (i.e., consciousness without an object; Merrell‑Wolff, 1973).  At least, one might add, they address the existence of mind rather than dismissing both mind and consciousness as the experimentalists do.

With respect to both the particular comparisons just made as well as to the more general presentation of the Vedantic and Sankhya philosophies offered earlier, I refer the reader to the following passage from Taimni (1975):

The yogic idea that the phenomenal world definitely exists for the growth and perfection of the individual centres of consciousness is in refreshing contrast to the bleak and vain speculations of modern science on the origin and purpose of this manifested Universe.  The idea that this wonderfully and beautifully designed Universe in which we live has no purpose, is really an insult to human intelligence and yet is tacitly accepted by the large majority of modern scientists or the so‑called intellectuals.  If you ask the average scientist what he has to say about the purpose behind the Universe he will most probably show his impatience and reply that he does not know and does not care to know.  He has very conveniently put aside the question of "why" of the Universe so that he may be able to devote himself to the "how" without being pestered by any uncomfortable doubts with regard to the utility of what he is doing.  The most convenient way of avoiding your pursuers is to shut your eyes and forget about them (p. 179).

With this presentation coming to a close, it is my hope that your own unconscious inclinations and other patterns of mind have, to some extent, revealed themselves as you entertained the ideas presented and the comparisons made.  Using one’s life experience in each and all of its many forms to deepen self-understanding seems essential in discovering the spiritual treasure that lies within us all.


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Transpersonal Awareness in Phenomenological Inquiry

Philosophy, Reflections, and Recent Research

Ron Valle, Ph.D. & Mary Mohs, M.A.

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 More than once when I

Sat all alone, revolving in myself,

The mortal limit of the self was loosed,

And passed into the nameless, as a cloud

Melts into heaven.  I touch’d my limbs, the limbs

Were strange, not mine--‑and yet no shade of doubt

But utter clearness, and thro' loss of self

The gain of such large life as matched with ours

Were sun to spark--‑unshadowable in words,

Themselves but shadows of a shadow‑world.

        Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1991, p. 328)

Phenomenological psychology invites us, as researchers, not just to an awareness of another perspective with a previously unrecognized body of knowledge but to a radically different way of being‑in‑the‑world.  In addition, this different way of being leads naturally to a different mode or practice of inquiry (i.e., the methods of phenomenological research).  This chapter will compare phenomenological psychology to the more mainstream behavioral and psychoanalytic approaches (Valle, 1989), present the essence of the existential‑phenomenological perspective (Valle, King, & Halling, 1989), describe the nature of an emerging transpersonal-phenomenological psychology (Valle, 1995), and present an overview of the transpersonal dimensions or themes emerging from seven recently completed empirical phenomenological research projects.

Philosophy and Approaches in Psychology

Existentialism as the philosophy of being became intimately paired with phenomenology as the philosophy of experience because it is our experience alone that serves as a means or way to inquire about the nature of existence (i.e., what it means to be).  Existential-phenomenology as a specific branch or system of philosophy was, therefore, the natural result, with what we have come to know as phenomenological methods being the manifest, practical form of this inquiry.  Existential-phenomenology when applied to experiences of psychological interest became existential‑phenomenological psychology and has taken its place within the general context of humanistic or "third force" psychology; it is humanistic psychology that offers an openness to human experience as it presents itself in awareness.

From a historical perspective, the humanistic approach has been both a reaction to and a progression of the worldviews that constitute mainstream psychology, namely, behavioral‑experimental and psychoanalytic psychology.  It is in this way that the philosophical bases that underlie both existential‑ phenomenological and transpersonal ("fourth force") psychology have taken root and grown in this field.

In classic behaviorism, the human individual is regarded as a passive entity whose experience cannot be accurately verified or measured by natural scientific methods.  This entity, seen as implicitly separate from its surrounding environment, simply responds or reacts to stimuli that impinge on it from the external physical and social world.  Because only that which can be observed with the senses and quantified, and whose qualities and dimensions can be agreed to by more than one observer, is recognized as acceptable evidence, human behavior (including verbal behavior) became the focus of psychology.

In a partial response to this situation, the radical behaviorism of Skinner (e.g., 1974) claims to have collapsed this classic behavior‑ experience split by regarding thoughts and emotions as subject to the same laws that govern operant conditioning and the roles that stimuli, responses, and reinforcement schedules play within this paradigm. Thoughts and feelings are, simply, behaviors.

In the psychoanalytic perspective, an important difference with behavioral psychology stands out.  Experience is recognized not only as an important part of being human but as essential in understanding the adult personality.  It is within this context that both Freud's personal unconscious and Jung's collective unconscious take their places.  The human being is, thereby, more whole yet is still treated as a basically passive entity that responds to stimuli from within (e.g., childhood experiences, current emotions, and unconscious motives), rather than the pushes and pulls from without.  Whether the analyst speaks of one's unresolved oral stage issues or the subtle effects of the shadow archetype, the implicit separation of person and world remains unexamined, as does the underlying causal interpretation of all behavior and experience.  Both behavioral and analytic psychology are grounded in an uncritically accepted linear temporal perspective that seeks to explain human nature via the identification of prior causes and subsequent effects.

Existential-Phenomenological Psychology

Only in the existential‑phenomenological approach in psychology is the implicitly accepted causal way of being seen as only one of many ways human beings can experience themselves and the world.  More specifically, our being presents itself to awareness as a being‑in‑the‑world in which the human individual and his or her surrounding environment are regarded as inextricably intertwined.  The person and world are said to co‑constitute one another.  One has no meaning when regarded independently of the other.  Although the world is still regarded as essentially different from the person in kind, the human being, with his or her full experiential depth, is seen as an active agent who makes choices within a given external situation (i.e., human freedom always presents itself as a situated freedom).  Other concepts coming from existential‑ phenomenological psychology include the prereflective, lived structure, the life‑world, and intentionality.  All these represent aspects or facets of the deeper dimensions of human being and human capacity.

The prereflective level of awareness is central to understanding the nature of phenomenological research methodology.  Reflective, conceptual experience is regarded as literally a "reflection" of a preconceptual and, therefore, prelanguaged, foundational, bodily knowing that exists "as lived" before or prior to any cognitive manifestation of this purely felt-sense.  Consider, for example, the way a sonata exists or lives in the hands of a performing concert pianist.  If the pianist begins to think about which note to play next, the style and power of the performance is likely to noticeably suffer.

This prereflective knowing is present as the ground of any meaningful (meaning‑full) human experience and exists in this way, not as a random, chaotic inner stream of subtle senses or impressions but as a prereflective structure.  This embodied structure or essence exists as an aspect or a dimension of each individual's Lebenswelt or life‑world and emerges at the level of reflective awareness as meaning.  Meaning, then, is regarded by the phenomenological psychologist as the manifestation in conscious, reflective awareness of the underlying prereflective structure of the particular experience being addressed.  In this sense, the purpose of any empirical phenomenological research project is to articulate the underlying lived structure of any meaningful experience on the level of conceptual awareness.  In this way, understanding for its own sake is the purpose of phenomenological research.  The results of such an investigation usually take the form of basic constituents (essential elements) that collectively represent the structure or essence of the experience for that study.  They are the notes that compose the melody of the experience being investigated.

Possible topics for a phenomenological study include, therefore, any meaningful human experience that can be articulated in our everyday language such that a reasonable number of individuals would recognize and acknowledge the experience being described (e.g., "being anxious," "really feeling understood," "forgiving another," "learning," and "feeling ashamed").  These many experiences constitute, in a real sense, the fabric of our existence as experienced.  In this way, phenomenological psychology with its attendant research methods has been, to date, a primarily existential‑phenomenological psychology.  From this perspective, reflective awareness and prereflective awareness are essential elements or dimensions of human being as a being‑in‑the‑world. They co‑constitute one another.  One cannot be fully understood without reference to the other.  They are truly two sides of the same coin.

Transpersonal/Transcendent Awareness

Some experiences and certain types of awareness, however, do not seem to be captured or illuminated by phenomenological reflections on descriptions of our conceptually recognized experiences and/or our prereflective felt‑sense of things.  Often referred to as transpersonal, transcendent, sacred, or spiritual experience, these types of awareness are not really experience in the way we normally use the word, nor are they the same as our prereflective sensibilities. The existential‑ phenomenological notion of intentionality is helpful in understanding this distinction.

The words transpersonal, transcendent, sacred, and spiritual represent subtle distinctions among themselves.  For example, “transpersonal” currently refers to any experience that is transegoic, including the archetypal realities of Jung's collective unconscious as well as radical transcendent awareness.  Although notions such as the collective unconscious refer to states of mind that are deeper than or beyond our normal ego consciousness, “transcendent” refers to a completely sovereign or soul awareness without the slightest inclination to define itself as anything outside itself including contents of the mind, either conscious or unconscious, personal or collective (i.e., awareness that is not only transegoic but transmind).  This distinction between transpersonal and transcendent awareness may lead to the emergence of a fifth force or more purely spiritual psychology.

In existential‑phenomenological psychology, intentionality refers to the nature or essence of consciousness as it presents itself.  Consciousness is said to be intentional, meaning that consciousness always has an object, whether that intended object be a physical object, a person, or an idea or a feeling.  Consciousness is always a "consciousness of " something that is not consciousness itself.  This particular way of defining or describing intentionality directly implies the deep, implicit interrelatedness between the perceiver and that which is perceived that characterizes consciousness in this approach.  This inseparability enables us, through disciplined reflection, to illumine the meaning that was previously implicit and unlanguaged for us in the situation as it was lived.

Transcendent awareness, on the other hand, seems somehow "prior to" this reflective‑prereflective realm, presenting itself as more of a space or ground from which our more common experience and felt‑sense emerge.  This space or context does, however, present itself in awareness, and is, thereby, known to the one who is experiencing.  Moreover, implicit in this awareness is the direct and undeniable realization that this foundational space is not of the phenomenal realm of perceiver and the perceived.  Rather, it is a noumenal, unitive space within or from which both intentional consciousness and phenomenal experience manifest. From reflections on my own experience, I (Valle, 1989) offer the following six qualities or characteristics of transpersonal/transcendent awareness (often recognized in the practice of meditation):

1.  There is a deep stillness and peace that I sense as both existing as itself and, at the same time, as "behind" all thoughts, emotions, or felt-senses (bodily or otherwise) that might arise or crystallize in or from this stillness.  I experience this as an isness or amness rather than a state of whatness or "I am this or that."  This stillness is, by its nature, neither active nor in the body and is, in this way, prior to both the prereflective and reflective levels of awareness.

2.  There is an all‑pervading aura or feeling of love for and contentment with all that exists, a feeling that exists simultaneously in my mind and heart.  Although rarely focused as a specific desire for anyone or anything, it is, nevertheless, experienced as an intense, inner energy or inspired "pressure" that yearns, even "cries," for a creative and passionate expression.  I sense an open embracing of everyone and everything just as they are, that literally melts into a deep peace when I find myself able to simply "let it all be."  Peace of mind is, here, a heart-felt peace.

3.  Existing as or with the stillness and love is a greatly diminished, and on occasion absent, sense of "I."  The more common sense of "I am thinking or feeling this or that" becomes a fully present "I am" or simply, when in its more intense form, an "amness" (pure Being in the Heideggerian sense).  The sense of a "perceiver" and "that which is perceived" has dissolved; there is no longer any "one" to perceive as we normally experience this identity and relationship.

4.  My normal sense of space seems transformed.  There is no sense of "being there," of being extended in and occupying space, but, similar to the previously mentioned, simply Being.  Also, there is a loss of awareness of my body-sense as a thing or spatial container.  This ranges from an experience of distance from sensory input to a radical forgetfulness of the body's very existence.  It is here that my everyday, limited sense of body-space touches a sense of the infinite.

5.  Time is also quite different from my everyday sense of linear passing time.  Seemingly implicit in the sense of stillness described here is also a sense of time "hovering" or standing still, of being forgotten (i.e., no longer a quality of mind) much as the body is forgotten.  No thoughts dwelling on the past, no thoughts moving into the future‑-- hours of linear time are experienced as a moment, as the eternal Now.

6.  Bursts or flashes of insight are often part of this awareness, insights that have no perceived or known antecedents but that emerge as complete or full‑blown.  These insights or intuitive "seeings" have some of the qualities of more common experience (e.g., although "lighter," there is a felt weightiness or subtle "content" to them), but they initially have an "other‑than‑me" quality about them, as if the thoughts and words that emerge from the insights are being done to or, even, through me‑-- a sense that my mind and its contents are vehicles for the manifestation as experience of something greater and/or more powerful than myself.  In its most intense or purest form, the "other‑than‑me" quality dissolves as the "me" expands to a broader, more inclusive sense of self that holds within it all that was previously felt as "other‑than‑me."

Since the publication of these six qualities, we have come to recognize two additional dimensions or essential characteristics of transcendent awareness:  (a) a surrendering of one's sense of control with regard to the outcome of one's actions, and the dissolution of fear that seems to always follow this "letting go," and (b) the transformative power of transcendent experience, realized as a change in one's preferences, inclinations, emotional and behavioral habits, and understanding of life itself.  This self‑transformation is often personally painful because this power both challenges and changes the comfortable patterns of thoughts and feelings we have so carefully constructed through time, a transformation of who we believe we are.

These eight qualities or dimensions call us to a recontextualization of intentionality by acknowledging a field of awareness that appears to be inclusive of the intentional nature of mind but, at the same time, not of it.  In this regard, I (Valle, 1989, 1998b) offer the notion of a "transintentionality" to philosophically address this consciousness without an object (Merrel1‑Wolff, 1973).  As phenomenological psychologist and researcher, Steen Halling (personal communication, July 25, 1988) has rightfully pointed out, consciousness without an object is also consciousness without a subject.  Transintentional awareness, therefore, represents a way of being in which the separateness of a perceiver and that which is perceived has dissolved, a reality not of (or in some way beyond) time, space, and causation as we normally know them.

Here is a bridge between existential/humanistic and transpersonal/ transcendent approaches in psychology.  It is here that we are called to recognize the radical distinction between the reflective/prereflective realm and pure consciousness, between rational/emotive processes and transcendent/ spiritual awareness, between intentional knowing of the finite and being the infinite.  It is, therefore, mind, not consciousness per se, that is characterized by intentionality, and it is our recognition of the transintentional nature of Being that calls us to investigate those experiences that clearly reflect or present these transpersonal dimensions in the explicit context of phenomenological research methods.

Further Reflections and Recent Research on Transpersonal Experience

Following are our personal reflections on these dimensions as well as a description of recently completed phenomenological research in this area.  Our purpose and hope in offering these reflections and information is to deepen our understanding of transcendent experience through the application of phenomenological research methodology and to facilitate the emergence of a new approach:  transpersonal‑phenomenological psychology.

This presentation is based on the following thoughts regarding the meaning of transpersonal in this context.  On the basis of the themes that Huxley (1970) claimed to compose the perennial philosophy, I (Valle, 1989) presented five premises that characterize any philosophy or psychology as transpersonal:

1.  That a transcendent, transconceptual reality or Unity binds together (i.e., is immanent in) all apparently separate phenomena, whether these phenomena be physical, cognitive, emotional, intuitive, or spiritual

2.  That the individual or ego‑self is not the ground of human awareness but, rather, only one relative reflection‑manifestation of a greater transpersonal (as "beyond the personal") Self or One (i.e., pure consciousness without subject or object)

3.  That each individual can directly experience this transpersonal reality that is related to the spiritual dimensions of human life

4.  That this experience represents a qualitative shift in one's mode of experiencing and involves the expansion of one's self‑identity beyond ordinary conceptual thinking and ego‑self awareness (i.e., mind is not consciousness)

5.  That this experience is self‑validating

It has been written and taught for millennia in the spiritual circles of many cultures that sacred experience presents itself directly in one's awareness (i.e., without any mediating sensory or reflective processes) and, as such, is self‑validating.  The direct personal experience of God is, therefore, the "end" of all spiritual philosophy and practice.

Transcendent/sacred/divine experience has been recognized and often discussed, both directly and metaphorically, as either intense passion or the absolute stillness of mind (these thoughts and those that follow regarding passion and peace of mind are from Valle, 1995).  In day‑to‑day experience, a harmonious union of passion and stillness or peace of mind is rarely experienced.  Passion and stillness are regarded as somehow antagonistic to each other.  For example, when one is passionately involved with some project or person, the mind is quite active and intensely involved.  On the other hand, the calm, serene, and profoundly peaceful quality of mind that often accompanies deep meditation is fully disengaged from and, thereby, disinterested in things and events of the world.

What presents itself as quite paradoxical on one level offers a way to approach the direct personal experience of the transcendent, that is, to first recognize and then deepen any experience in which passion and peace of mind are simultaneously fully present in one's awareness.  If divine presence manifests in human awareness in these two ways, and sacred experience is what one truly seeks, it becomes important to approach and understand those experiences wherever these two dimensions exist in an integrated and harmonious way.  In this way, one comes to understand the underlying essence that these dimensions share rather than simply being satisfied with the seeming opposites they first appear to be.

The relationship between passion and peacefulness is addressed in many of the world's scriptures and other spiritual writings.  These two threads, for example, run through the Psalms (May & Metzger, 1977) of the Judeo‑Christian tradition.  At one point, we read, "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46, p. 691) and "For God alone my soul waits in silence" (Psalm 62, p. 701), and at another point, "For zeal for thy house has consumed me" (Psalm 69, p. 707) and "My soul is consumed with longing for thy ordinances" (Psalm 119, p. 749).  Stillness, silence, zeal, and longing all seem to play an essential part in this process.

In his teachings on attaining the direct experience of God through the principles and practices of Yoga, Paramahansa Yogananda (1956) affirms, "I am calmly active.  I am actively calm.  I am a Prince of Peace sitting on the throne of poise, directing the kingdom of activity” (p. 6).  And, more recently, Treya Wilber (Wilber, 1991) offers an eloquent exposition of this integration:

I was thinking about the Carmelites' emphasis on passion and the Buddhists' parallel emphasis on equanimity.  It suddenly occurred to me that our normal understanding of what passion means is loaded with the idea of clinging, of wanting something or someone, of fearing losing them, of possessiveness.  But what if you had passion without all that stuff, passion without attachment, passion clean and pure?  What would that be like, what would that mean?  I thought of those moments in meditation when I've felt my heart open, a painfully wonderful sensation, a passionate feeling but without clinging to any content or person or thing.  And the two words suddenly coupled in my mind and made a whole. Passionate equanimity‑‑- to be fully passionate about all aspects of life, about one's relationship with spirit, to care to the depth of one's being but with no trace of clinging or holding, that's what the phrase has come to mean to me.  It feels full, rounded, complete, and challenging. (pp. 338‑339)

It is here that existential‑phenomenological psychology with its attendant descriptive research methodologies comes into play.  For if, indeed, we each identify with the contents of our reflective awareness and speak to and/or share with one another from this perspective to better understand the depths and richness of our meaningful experience, then phenomenological philosophy and method offer us the perfect, perhaps only, mirror to approach transcendent experience.  Experiences that present themselves as passionate, as peaceful, or as an integrated awareness of these two become the focus for exploring in a direct, empirical, and human scientific way the nature of transcendent experience as we live it.  Here are the "flesh" and promise of a transpersonal‑ phenomenological psychology.

At this time, we are pleased that a more formal emergence of transpersonal‑ phenomenological psychology has already begun.  All reported, each in its own chapter (Valle, 1998a), seven recent research studies employing an empirical phenomenological approach have investigated experiences with transpersonal qualities or dimensions:  "Being Voluntarily Silent" (Ourania Elite), "Being With a Dying Person" (Tom West), "Feeling Grace in Being of Service to the Terminally Ill" (Paul Gowack & Valerie Valle), "Being With the Suffering of Orphaned Children" (Patricia Qualls), "Encountering a Divine Presence During a Near‑Death Experience" (Tim West); "Experiencing Unconditional Love From a Spiritual Teacher" (Craig Matsu‑Pissot), and "Being Carried Along by a Series or Flow of Unforeseen Circumstances or Events" (D. Hanson & Jon Klimo).

Although we refer the reader to each of these particular reports for a list of the specific constituents presented in each study, a reflective overview of these results reveals an emerging pattern of common elements or themes.  We offer these eleven themes as a beginning matrix or tapestry of transpersonal dimensions interwoven throughout the descriptions of these experiences, not as constituents per se resulting from a more formal protocol analysis.  As we looked over the results of these studies, these themes naturally emerged, falling, even, into a natural order.  Some are clearly distinct, whereas others appear as more implicitly interconnected.  These themes are:

 1.  An instrument, vehicle, or container for the experience

 2.  Intense emotional or passionate states, pleasant or painful

 3.  Being in the present moment, often with an acute awareness of one’s   

        authentic nature

 4.  Transcending space and time

 5.  Expansion of boundaries with a sense of connectedness or  

       oneness, often with the absence of fear

 6.  A stillness or peace, often accompanied by a sense of surrender

 7.  A sense of knowing, often as sudden insights and with a   

       heightened sense of spiritual understanding

 8.  Unconditional love

 9.   Feeling grateful, blessed, or graced

10.  Ineffability

 11.  Self‑transformation

Let us look at each of these themes in turn.

It seems that the transpersonal/transcendent aspects of any given experience manifest in, come through, or make themselves known via an identifiable form or vehicle.  This theme was evident in all seven research studies, the specific forms being silence, being with the dying, being with suffering, near‑death experience, being with one's spiritual teacher, and synchronicity.  Transpersonal experiences can come through many forms including meditation, rituals, dreams, sexual experience, celibacy, initiations, music, breath awareness, physical and emotional pain, psychedelic drugs, and the experience of beauty (Maslow's, 1968, description and discussion of peak experiences are relevant here as well as to a number of the themes discussed below).  We again use a musical analogy:  Just as the violin, piano, flute, or voice can be an instrument for the manifestation/expression of a melody, so, too, there are many ways in and through which consciousness reveals its nature.

The existential-phenomenologist may interpret this as further evidence for the intentional nature of consciousness, that this is simply the way in which consciousness presents itself to the perceiver.  There is also the view that consciousness is a constant stream of "energy" existing beyond the duality of subject‑object (i.e., consciousness without an object) that flows through all creation, being both all‑pervasive and unitive by its nature.  Aware of the paradox implied in this perspective, Capra (1983) states:

[The mystical view] regards consciousness as the primary reality and ground of all being.  In its purest form, non‑ material, formless, and void of all content; it is often described as "pure consciousness," ultimate reality, "suchness," and the like.  This manifestation of pure consciousness is associated with the Divine...The mystical view of consciousness is based on the experience of reality in non‑ordinary modes of awareness, which are traditionally achieved through meditation, but may occur spontaneously in the process of artistic creation and in various other contexts.  Modern psychologists have come to call non‑ordinary experiences of this kind "transpersonal." (p. 297)

The next theme, intense emotional or passionate states, overlaps with the first in that these states can be considered a vehicle.  Yet these states also stand alone, ranging on a continuum from being an instrument for transcendence to being a reflection of transcendence itself.  Representing emotion as an instrument, consider the words of one of Qualls' co-researchers:

I feel this deep, soul level kind of sadness.  It speaks of the softness and the beauty of the human soul that suffers.

One of Tom West's research participants claimed,

I was besieged by emotions that I'd never dealt with before.

And Hanson and Klimo report one response as,

It was an exhilarating feeling, very powerful.

Qualities that characterize the latter side of the spectrum include joy, elation, bliss, euphoria, peace, and contentment.  The following description from one of the protocols in Tim West's study addresses this:

I never knew that such peace, such bliss could exist...I felt the joy, the peace, the deeply loving, caring, glorious energy of that presence.

Elite quotes one of her participants as saying,

I started to feel extremely happy‑--happier than usual.  I'm usually a pretty happy person, but this state of not speaking made me feel very loving and very happy and quite contented with life and everything that was going on around me.

The third theme, being in the present moment, often with an acute awareness of one's authentic nature, appears explicitly in a number of the studies.  Gowack and V. Valle report that this experience is described in all 12 of their co-researchers' descriptions.  Responses from these co-researchers include,

Grace grounded me in the present and surrounded me as though always being part of my dominion, my environment.

Mentally, it is an experience of alertness at an elevated level.  I feel merged with the moment, feeling the complete rightness of now.  There is no sense of serving another, but only of being in this moment.

Elite describes her research participants as becoming involved with both the internal and external world in a deeper and more intense way and as seeing the present as playing a vital role in one's life.  She quotes one of her participants:

There was this incredibly predominant sense of a tremendous amount of energy saved, on a moment to moment basis, from not having to talk...I could be more directly in the experience and less in the words...I could observe my own feelings and my feelings interacting with people with a heightened Awareness.

With Treya Wilber's thoughts on passionate equanimity in mind, is this not what is needed to be fully passionate about all aspects of life without clinging, without one's mind "hanging on"?  If one is fully present, fully aware in each moment, there is no clinging, no attachment to what was or will be.  There is, simply, a constant letting go into the next moment, into whatever is next.

Elite weaves this element of being in the moment with our next theme, transcending time and space:

When one is in the here and now, the ever present, one finds oneself nowhere (now-here) because all time (past, present, and future) is contained in the now.  This is the point of timelessness…the timeless dimension of the Divine.

This theme is clearly illustrated in this description offered by one of Tim West's respondents:

I became Light...It was infinite, and I was conscious of this eternity, yet there was no reference, just pure conscious awareness of vast eternity, eternal space, going beyond your conception of speed, beyond your conception of space, being aware of so much yet no time passed.  And yet all time passed.

In the fifth theme, the researchers reported their participants as feeling connected in various ways to nature, people, or God.  In this sense of oneness, there appeared to be an absence of fear.  Gowack and V. Valle identified one of their constituents as the feeling of oneness or being connected to all human beings and to all there is.  This experience was an exceptionally spiritual one for those who felt connected with God, the universe, a Higher Power, or the inner Self.  Examples from their protocols include,

I just suddenly found myself connected into and acting from a very "deep" place.  I was aware of oneness.

I combed his hair, washed his face, swabbed his mouth, all with the touch I would imagine belonging to an angel.  I did not feel like I was important...but that I had transcended my usual self and was in touch with the sacredness of all things on this earth.

Stillness and peace are central to the next theme.  One of Hanson and Klimo's co-researchers simply shared,

I remember feeling very peaceful inside.

Gowack and V. Valle report one participant stating,

I have had so many gifts from being with the dying...I carry on caring for my friend, caring for myself.  I work in a kind of stillness.

Referring again to Treya Wilber, she speaks of equanimity as being a key ingredient to feeling passion without attachment.

This stillness is often accompanied by a sense of surrender.  Life experience tells us that surrender of this type (i.e., that implicit in peace of mind) evolves from letting go of, or surrendering, one's need to predict and control the events in one's life.  In their study of "being carried along by a series or flow of unforeseen circumstances or events," Hanson and Klimo emphasize the role of surrender:

Surrender is an important issue here as these subjects open to possibilities beyond the form of the desire that they are attached to.

One of their participants said,

It was like not being in control of what was happening, but it was all right.  I knew if I surrendered to it I could ride on the power of it.

Matsu‑Pissot offers the following statement from one of the protocols in his study:

[I am] getting where I'm not trying to control things as much.

The next three themes‑-- a sense of knowing, with a heightened sense of spiritual understanding; unconditional love; and feeling grateful, blessed, or graced‑-- present themselves as deeply interwoven, each one appearing most often in the context of the other two.  Tim West's thoughts regarding his findings reflect this integration:

This contact with the divine is characterized by such infinite power, loving acceptance, and complete immersion in feelings of well‑being or safety that the experiencer emerges with a knowledge of ultimate reality which is at odds with what he or she has experienced in day‑to‑day life.  The experience engenders intense feelings of gratitude, a sense of grace, and a sense of a private and personal communication with and acquisition of knowledge from a divine source.

This characterization is based on the words offered by his co-researchers, for example:

What I bring from this [experience] is a sense of total understanding.  There is this pure [unconditional] love that I want to radiate outward.

One of Tom West's research participants reflects this inter-relationship of themes as well:

He really afforded me the opportunity to see God in even broader ways than I've ever experienced God...I could let go and say good‑bye, and also say "thank you”, with a tremendous, deep abiding sense of gratitude.  That's just what gratitude is basically‑‑‑ it's the ability to be present to the love that's there.

Two co-researchers in Matsu‑Pissot's study address these themes:

[This is] the experience of a love that acknowledges the expression of the truth of myself.

I felt blessed, protected, and this feeling seemed very permanent...Those dear people who have given unconditional love to me still do so from the other side.

The tenth theme, ineffability, arose from the different researchers' statements regarding how difficult it was for their participants to describe their experience.  One of the co-researchers from Tim West's study describes this aspect:

Being asked about my feelings when I experienced a divine presence, I am immediately at a loss for words.  For my trouble with explaining what I felt is that I am truly soon as I bring it out into words, they're so limiting; it brings it down and it tries to package something that is boundless, endless, and eternal.

Elite, in summarizing her findings, says:

The spiritual writings of the ages repeatedly describe its [silence's] essence as masked by paradox and riddles.  Ironically, only silence itself can best describe the silent phenomenon.  It can be described as the Sacred Silence--- an ineffable experience indeed!

The last theme is in some ways the most powerful; it represents the personal mark these experiences left on the one who experienced them:  self‑transformation.  The breaking down and re‑forming of existing patterns of who we think we are is at the heart of spiritual development as a living process (e.g., Ram Dass, 1976; Watts, 1966).  We present this as the last theme because it seems to be present in, and the culmination of, all the processes represented by the other ten, both individually and collectively.  The selected words of the research participants from the different studies address this theme in different ways.  One of Elite's co-researchers said,

There was very much a sense of rebirth that came out of the birthing, that came out of the struggle of those days.

One of Tim West's participants stated,

I’m not as judgmental, and I'm less interested in hanging out with or listening to the people who are judgmental.

A co-researcher in Matsu‑Pissot's study said,

I'm able to deal with what happens on a better level; [I am] much more appreciative and [have] much less resistance.

And Qualls, as a researcher integrating and expressing her findings, concluded,

Suffering has the potential to transform the sufferer and/or care-giver, and offers an opportunity for the sufferer and/or caregiver to experience discovery and [personal] growth, and to give and/or receive compassion and love.

Concluding Thoughts and Questions

The findings of these seven phenomenological research studies, and the themes that they seem to share, have deepened our understanding of the nature of transpersonal/transcendent experience and appear quite consistent with what others have reported in this regard.  In addition to Maslow's (1968) related work on peak experiences and the qualities suggested earlier (Valle, 1989), Grof (1985), for example, has done extensive research on nonordinary states of awareness.  He identifies a number of characteristics common to these states including transcending space and time; the distinction between matter, energy, and conscious-ness; and the separation between the individual and the external world. Our impression of the descriptions that have emerged from self‑ investigations as well as the results reported from more formal analyses is that these nonordinary or altered states of awareness are often accompanied or followed by a deeper sense of spirituality and self‑transformation.

Although the results of phenomenological research do, indeed, deepen our understanding of our experience, these same findings raise both new and ancient questions regarding the paradoxical nature of human experience and existence itself:  Are we created or a manifestation of a greater essence?  Is duality real, or are we missing the oneness in and of all things?  Do cause and effect exist, or is everything happening in a spontaneous and simultaneous way?  Are there a perceiver and a perceived, or do we not recognize the one Being?  Does creative expression spring from passion or a deep inner stillness?  Do we truly accomplish good things in the world, or is it "grace"?  Is there an essence of life and reality or only what we perceive them to be?

Regardless of how we answer these questions or how each of us perceives life to be, there remains a mystery, the mystery of ultimate Reality.  This mystery may be something we can "solve" with our minds, or it may, in the classic phenomenological sense, be a basic constituent of the experience of ultimate Reality itself.  In any event, it seems to us that the very act of questioning emerges from a dualistic mind‑set or ground, that is, "to question" implies by its nature both the one who questions and that about which one is asking.  Whenever the mind attempts to understand the essence of the transcendent realm, it always ends in paradox.

Even with this paradox, and whatever its prereflective constituents may reveal themselves to be, there is undeniably a consciousness or awareness that simply is.  With this "in mind," we leave the reader with the following more philosophical reflection.  If one regards consciousness as intentional in nature, that is, that consciousness always has an object, then, in both reason and mystical experience, consciousness is the intended object as well.  Intentionality is a quality of the mind, not consciousness.  We are always, implicitly and unavoidably, connected with that which is beyond.


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Toward a Psychology of Silence

Ron Valle, Ph.D.

He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.

Elbert Hubbard

Silence has always been an implicit part of human experience and existence.  The literature on silence has, however, remained largely unintegrated, appearing here and there in a myriad of most often unrelated areas including sociolinguistics, semiotics, social psychology, anthropology, communication, psychotherapy, medicine, philosophy, phenomenology, theology, spirituality, and various visual, musical, and literary arts.  What follows is an exemplary overview of this literature and a description of the ways in which silence has been described, followed by a more specific examination of the relationship of silence to the mind, psychology, and psychotherapy.

Literature on Silence

For most authors who have explored silence in some fashion, silence represents the absence of speaking or of any contents in the mind (i.e., verbal and mental silence respectively).  These types of absence represent a relatively nonspecialized and nonsystematized understanding across many disciplines.  Offered as a comprehensive and exemplary list, the areas of interest that have addressed the place, role, or function of silence include:  thinking (Keane, 2013), knowledge (Aghamohammadi, 2017), communication (Bruneau & Ishii, 1988; Jaworski, 1995; Johannesen, 1974; Kennamer, 1990), communication skills (Jensen, 1973), language and speech (Hall, 1959; Hanly, 2013; Matarazzo, Hess, & Saslow, 1962; Noble, 2014; Steiner, 1985), linguistics (Grosjean, Grosjean, & Lane, 1979; Tannen & Saville-Troike, 1985; Vladutescu, 2014), rhetoric (Aiken, 2011; Scott, 1972), writing and speech (Baker, 1955), humor (Gross, 2007), education, learning, and teaching (Belanoff, 2001; Bosacki, 1988; Denomme-Welch & Rowsell, 2017; Hayes & Matusov, 2005), medical education (Lingard, 2013), student issues (Petress, 2001; Syvertsen, Flanagan, & Stout, 2009), social power (McLaren, 2016), social exclusion and ostracism (Belenky, Bond, & Weinstock, 1997; Ciarocco, Sommer, & Baumeister, 2001; Vealey, 1997; Williams, 2007), prejudice (Shelton, Richeson, Salvatore, & Hill, 2005), violence (Miller, 1986), organizations (Bagheri, Zarei & Aeen, 2012; Bowen & Blackmon, 2003; Greenberg & Edwards, 2009; Henriksen & Dayton, 2006; Morrison & Milliken, 2000; Shojaie, Matin, & Barani, 2011), work and employment issues (Clark, Chandler, & Barry, 1996; Dyne, Ang, & Botero, 2003; Morrison, See, & Pan, 2015; Pinder & Harlos, 2001; Tangirala & Ramanujam, 2008; Timming & Johnstone, 2015), marketing (Henderson, 2002), advertising (Tresidder, 1998), legal issues (Kurzon, 1995; McClosky & Egeth, 1983), lawyering (Krieger, (2001), women’s issues (Bagby, 1999; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Brown & Gilligan, 1993; Mahoney, 1996; Morgan & Coombes, 2001; Shertock, 1998), adoption (Zamostny, Wiley, O’Brien, Lee, & Baden, 2003), political science (Scheufle, 2008), political issues (Bar-On, 2002; Brummett, 1980), cultural issues (Basso, 1972; Fivush, 2010; Hasegawa & Gudykunst, 1998; Scheufle & Moy, 2000), research (Denomme-Welch & Rowsell, 2017), creativity (Dawson, 2003; McEntire, 2005; Sternberg, 2015), music (Cage, 2011; Mahrt, 2016; North & Hargreaves, 1999), musicology (Cimini, 2012), art (Ehrenhaus, 1988; Malraux, 1953), aesthetics (Kristensen, 2015), beauty (Berenson, 1968), theater (Amiri, 2016), literature (Laurence, 1991; Pierce, 1989), poetry (Dekel, 2008; Hu, 2013; Schwartzman, 1987), nature and the environment (Manes, 1992; Slattery, 2007), ethics of noise (Sim, 2007), acoustic ecology (Franklin, 1994), retreat settings (Housden, 1995), meditation research (Manocha, 2014), meditation in classrooms (Haskins, 2010; Rozman, 1975, 1976; Swaminathan, 2004), self-realization (Castenada, 1987), walking the labyrinth (Artress, 2005), neurological manifestations (Bejaj, 2012; Hernandez, Suero, Rubia, & Gonzalez-Mora, 2015), and medical/psychological conditions such as deafness (Lang, 1994), autism and deep depression (Mudhopadhyay & Wing, 2000), miscarriages (Rowlands & Lee, 2010), (Cuc, Koppel, & Hirst, 2007), memories of sexual abuse (Del Monte, 1998; Simonds, 1994), suicide issues (Scott & Lester, 1998; Weiner, 2005), fear and shame in gender identity (Kimmel, 1997), suffering and infant death (Lauterbach, 2003), being inarticulate (Booth & Booth, 1996), and selective mutism (Muris & Ollendick, 2015).  The fact that silence has been addressed as a significant element or process in so many different areas of human life and experience should alone signal that silence is a significant psychological phenomenon worthy of further, more systematic investigation in psychology.

The Nature of Silence

From these many different perspectives, a primary area of interest is the role of silence in language, linguistics, speech, rhetoric, and communication where silence is generally regarded as the absence of verbalization.  Of special note in these intimately related disciplines is the work of Saville-Troike (1985).  In her far-reaching attempt to classify silence of speech in order to reflect the universal characteristics and complexities of human communication systems, she speaks of “eloquent silence” and speech as two equally meaningful devices, proposing 20 categories that could be applied cross-culturally “within which silence serves variously as prime, substitute, and surrogate, as well as frame, cue, and background” (pp. 16-17).  From a less mechanistic, more inwardly oriented perspective, Thomas Merton (1979), Catholic theologian and Trappist monk, observes:

Silence has many dimensions.  It can be a regression and an escape, a loss of self, or it can be presence, awareness, unification, and self-discovery.  Negative silence blurs and confuses our identity, and we lapse into daydreams or diffuse anxieties.  Positive silence pulls us together and makes us realize who we are, who we might be, and the distance between these two. (p. 45)

Two sources are noteworthy for their comprehensive approaches.  Colum (2011) speaks of the “power of silence” in a broad range of areas including theories of silence, silence in the arts, film, television, and music, silence in therapy, and sacred silence.  In his review of past literary descriptions, Colum identifies three types of silence: (a) wise silence, (b) posed wisdom (of someone who attempts to appear wise and knowing), and (c) silence of ignorance.  Bindeman (2017) discusses the nature of silence and its place in philosophy, theology, creativity, spirituality, literature, music, and art.  Although his work will be elaborated upon in the next section, consider his initial thoughts and questions:

Silence is one of those mysterious intangibles that, the closer we look the more our understanding of them falls through our fingers like sand.  Is silence an absence or a presence?  An emptiness or a fullness?  A negative space or a positive space?  Something or nothing?  Metaphysical or substantial?  The prelude or the finale?  However attached we might be to disjunctive reasoning, the answer must be:  all of the above.  This is because silence transcends logic and acts independently of reason.  It can center us in the here and now and also take us far away.  We can even make it appear or disappear at will. (p. 1)

In an account based on his own personal experience in the context of monastic silence, Belisle (2003) reflects:

Being alone in silence can be a terrifying experience for one adverse to introspection or fearful of loneliness, but aloneness and quiet will be welcome solace and even pleasure for others…We all experience various kinds of solitude during a lifetime. (p. 15)

Denomme-Welch and Rowsell (2017) offer a presentation and discussion of a series of case vignettes involving the central place of silence in various self-reflective personal accounts.  They conclude:

Stepping back, what seems clear to us is that we cannot separate ourselves from silence—we are a part of silence.  People exist within silence, and its translucent quality allows individuals to use it to particular effect.  [Being] inside of silence gives us fluidity and mobility to shift moods and environments.  Silence is transitional and it invites change. (p. 23)

Oliveros (2016) utilizes the typology of silence proposed by Bruneau and Ishii (1988) that all silence-related phenomena fall into one of three categories:  (a) silence—a solitary, mystical, and unconscious/involuntary experience (e.g., aesthetic experiences and transformative poetic moments), (b) silences—social, secular, and conscious instances (e.g., taking turns in conversations or signs asking for silence in hospital waiting rooms), and (c) silencing—the rhetorical strategies of manifesting power by means of restricting someone else’s expression (e.g., victims of abuse who feel unable to confront the abuser).  From this, she speaks of silence-phenomena as unavoidable and inherently ambiguous in that they serve as a general “bordering notion,” especially with regard to language and meaningful verbal expression:

In their plurality of meanings, phenomena related to silence are often perceived as overwhelming because they transcend the communicative capacity of language making it a challenge for psychology to understand its involvement in our processes of making sense of experience and existence. (p. 1)

Oliveros (2016) notes that borders, regardless of their context, both separate two entities and, at the same time, give them a sense of continuity and connectedness.  This insight closely corresponds to the relational Gestalt notion of figure and ground, as well as to the phenomenological idea of co-constitutionality described in the next section. 

Picard (2002) also provides an extensive discussion of the nature of silence, silence as the origin of speech, and the relationship of silence to language and truth.  In this context, he elaborates on the part silence plays in understanding ego, knowledge, history, myth, images, time, love, poetry, illness, death, hope, and faith.  He regarded silence as much more than the absence of sound, describing it as “an autonomous phenomenon [which is] not simply what happens when we stop talking [but] an independent whole, subsisting in and through itself” (p. 15).  For Picard, silence appeared to have an essence which was spiritual rather than material such that in silence “…everything can begin again, everything can be recreated” (p. 22).

Turner (2013) speaks of the world of silence as ultimately a mysterious and unfathomable realm and points out that those who have recognized its value and power have included musicians, actors, meditators, monks, and desert dwellers.  Perhaps the most underused of all our resources, silence in its subtlest form is seen as the opening to spirit and as being stripped naked before Reality or God.  With these various approaches in mind, let us turn to more specific ways in which silence has been considered.

Philosophy and Silence

Specific philosophical inquiries regarding silence, especially from an ontological and/or phenomenological perspective, are somewhat rare.  In fact, Circosta (2005) reflected that in general “…systematic philosophical discussion has lagged behind artists’ efforts to relate the importance of the elusive phenomenon of silence” (p. 139).  Huxley (1970), Bindeman (2017), and Dauenhauer (1980) are notable exceptions.

Aldous Huxley (1970), in identifying and synthesizing themes that comprise what Leibniz called philosophia perennis (the perennial philosophy), devoted an entire chapter to silence.  In his work, Huxley (1970) shares the insights of two individuals that offer initiatory thoughts regarding discussions presented later.  He first quotes Huang Po, Zen Buddhist master of the 9th century: “When no-mind is sought after by a mind, that is making it a particular object of thought.  There is only testimony of silence; it goes beyond thinking” (p. 73).  Huxley then acknowledges the foundational classifications of silence set forth by Miguel de Molinos, a 17th century mystic devoted to quietism (a Christian contemplative approach involving abandonment of the will): (a) silence of the mouth, (b) silence of the mind, and (c) silence of the will.  Molinos felt that refraining from idle talk is difficult, quieting the chatter of thoughts, memories, and imagination is even more challenging, and “hardest of all is to still the voices of craving and aversion within the will” (p. 216).

Bindeman (2017) speaks of silence as a form of indirect discourse in that silence can open us to fundamental and otherwise inaccessible dimensions of human experience, reflecting or mirroring what is around us since it cannot address us directly.  He states:

Silence as indirect discourse can be experienced first of all as a disruption in the connection of self and world within a given linguistic framing of reality.  It can also be heard in a more static [healing] mode, as the part of mystical experience that refers to the personal realization of the conjoining of self and world.  Both experiences exist beyond words. (p. 3)

From this bi-dimensional perspective, Bindeman (2017) describes how the “temporal framing” of these experiences is also different:

Disruptive silence takes place within linear external time.  The agenda is practical, for when the limits of a particular discursive frame are bumped against repeatedly, then the defining characteristics of that frame are clarified.  Healing silence, on the other hand, takes place within internal time-consciousness, and is experienced in terms of heightened levels of emotional and spiritual intensity.  A person experiencing this dwells in the timeless now of the instant.  This is a breaking through beyond language, that is in contrast to, and dependent on, the breaking down of language by disruptive silence. (p. 3)

He then notes that these two forms of silence, disruptive and healing, work together as complementary parts of or stages within the creative process.

Daunhauer (1980) attended to silence in an erudite and systematic way and offered a major theoretical analysis of silence built upon his critique of and insights from a number of existential and/or phenomenological philosophers including Hegel, Sartre, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Kierkegaard.  Although his more purely ontological inquiry is beyond the scope of our present discussion, his phenomenological analysis of silence relates more directly to the implications for psychology.  Williams (1982) summarizes Dauenhauer’s findings in terms of his intentional-phenomenological analysis and the four essential features that he found.  Silence:

•  is a founded intentional performance which is required for the concrete clarification of the sense of intersubjectivity

•  does not intend any fully determinate object, but is rather motivated by finitude and awe; hence, it cannot be entirely autonomous, but is rather a response to the relative preeminence of the world

•  interrupts an “and so forth” of some particular stream of intentional performances intending determinate objects

•  is not the opposite or privation of discourse, but rather establishes oscillation and tension between the several layers of discourse, and between the domain of discourse and the domain of prepredicative experience (p. 229).

Daunhauer (1980) regards silence as a positive phenomenon that is existentially always conjoined with verbalization—from an existential-phenomenological perspective, silence and sound co-constitute one another.  Much like the well-known figure-ground drawing of the vase and two faces, one cannot exist without the other; they make each other up (Valle, King, & Halling, 1989).  With this view as a foundation, he offers a three-fold typology of silence.  The first type, intervening silence, represents the moments of silence that appear as necessary specific components of any utterance.  A second type, fore-and-after silence, encloses or holds within itself the sounding expression, fore-silence providing the ground from which the verbalization arises while after-silence signifies the closing or end.  The third type, deep silence, stands in contrast to the first two in that it pervades both intervening and for-and-after silence while, at the same time, is neither necessarily tied to any specific sounding nor does it exist apart from speaking itself (Teahan, 1983).  It should be noted that Daunhauer’s (1980) description of deep silence differs from the notions of absolute silence as a metaphysical or transcendent phenomenon discussed in following sections.  He speaks as a phenomenologist and thereby sees deep silence as not existing independently from the phenomenon of sound (i.e., verbalization and language itself).

Interestingly, Daunhauer’s four essential features and three types of silence do not directly address the notions of body-subject or corporeality as put forth by the phenomenological philosopher Merleau-Ponty (1962), even though Daunhauer references the insights of Merleau-Ponty in the evolution of his own work.  Briefly stated, corporeality regards the body not just as a physical object but, rather, as a lived-body with a prereflective, implicitly unspoken bodily knowing.  This prereflective embodied knowing and conscious, reflective cognitive knowing co-constitute one another, with the prereflective manifesting at the reflective level of awareness as meaning.  In contrast to cognitive knowing which can be verbalized, prereflective felt-knowing by its very nature is silent.  In fact, McBlane (2016) speaks of the corporeal silence inherent in Merleau-Ponty’s thoughts regarding the phenomenology of human perception.

In his last writings, Merleau-Ponty (1968) speaks of an inherent crossing or chiasm that exists in the human endeavor to perceive and understand the world as experienced.  He offers the example of one’s left hand physically touching one’s right hand in which one is both the toucher and the touched, reflecting the lived-body’s capacity to be both perceiving subject and object of perception in a constant oscillation.  Yet, there is a gap or chiasm between ourselves as perceiver and perceived, as toucher and the touched.  The mind can only be focused on one of these at a time regardless of how rapidly the oscillation between them occurs.  However difficult it may appear to experience, the space between is silence—the silence that exists between each and every thought.  One can Be in this space but one can never know that one is being in this space because knowing in this way requires a knower or perceiver and that which is known or perceived.  Once one identifies with this dualism, one is no longer in this silence.

In her presentation and interpretation of the physicist David Bohm’s notion of a holokinetic universe, Weber (1989) comments:

Perceiving things as they really are requires inactivating all lenses.  In Bohm’s terms, [this means] bypassing the ego or thinker who manipulates the world through them, and becoming, instead, the empty channel for the wholeness in which we lie immersed.  Nothing in that emptiness can be characterized because characterization is the translation of noumena into phenomena, of nonmanifest into manifest.  Therefore, all languages will fail to capture the essence of the whole…Only silence is commensurate with its nature and appropriate to its universe of discourse. (p. 133)

In line with this perspective, Kleinberg-Levin (2009) suggests the impossibility of discovering the origin of language in silence by using phenomenological methodology.  Examining the relationship between the languaging process and silence, he asks whether a conscious experience of a primordial silence, as a precursor to the acquisition of language, is even possible since whatever meaning there is to be discovered in silence can only be found in the very same language that disturbs it.  In a similar sense, the philosopher Jacques Derrida (Coward, 1990) reflected that language cannot perfectly mirror reality.

Kleinberg-Levin’s thoughts rest largely on Heidegger’s (1962) early ideas regarding the inseparability of the person and the world (i.e., person and world co-constitute one another) and his notion of Dasein (literally “there-being”) to describe the human experience of being.  From this perspective, there can be no language without silence and, conversely, in order to remain silent, Dasein must have something to say (Heidegger, 1962).  In the same vein, Merleau-Ponty (1968) observed: “Everything comes to pass as though [the philosopher] wished to put into words a certain silence he hearkens to within himself.  His entire ‘work’ is this absurd effort” (p. 125).

It should be noted that in a number of his later works Heidegger addresses the place of silence in exploring the nature of language and self-inquiry (Hanly, 2013; Heidegger, 2004; Keane, 2013).  An important question regarding our present discussion is Heidegger’s notion of “silent origins” which refers to a “transitional thinking grounded in the fundamental attunement of silence” (Keane, 2013, p. 28).  In the process of opening to this silent origin, Heidegger speaks of an initial “shuddering dismay” as one must leave what is familiar in one’s thinking, followed by “awe” as a necessary response to this abandoning of the familiar.  A last phase in this process then emerges that Heidegger refers to as “reticence” or “reservedness” (Keane, pp. 28-29).  This reticence is a responsive embracing or accepting of the abandonment and, as such, represents an initial step towards an individually styled new way of thinking.  Remaining true to the phenomenological project and way, Heidegger appears to be addressing what others describe as the transformational power of transcendent or spiritual experience, topics that will be returned to later in this discussion.

Phenomenology of Silence in Psychology 

Given the work of philosophers who have addressed the nature and role of silence, the experience of being silent and the effects that the practice of silence has on the nature and quality of inner experience and human behavior remains essentially unexamined in Western psychology.  The phenomenological research on the experience of silence by Marcandonatou (1998) is a significant exception.

Marcandonatou (1998), using a variation of classic existential-phenomenological methodology (Colaizzi, 1978a), investigated the experience of “being voluntarily silent for a period of four or more days.”  Her results revealed nine final comprehensive constituent themes:

•  Experiencing the essence of one’s being

•  Experiencing one’s inner life with a heightened sense of awareness

•  Experiencing more acutely through the senses

•  Experiencing auditory, visual, perceptual, and/or other sensory alterations

•  Feeling connected and/or unified with various aspects of existence

•  Feeling intensely a wide range of feelings and emotions

•  Feeling rejuvenated

•  Perceiving a change in the ontological meaning and/or significance of ideas 

    and the nature of personal reality

•  Perceiving the experience as ineffable

Referring to many specific meaning statements from the raw descriptive data that led to the formulation of these nine constituents, Marcandonatou (1998) feels that they collectively “invite us to look more closely at concepts such as a higher self, personal transformation, union, transcendence, mystical states, altered states, and love.  They all represent transpersonal dimensions of existence wherein the co-researchers [research participants] moved from their personal ego-self perspective toward aspects of experience that can be named transegoic” (p. 318).  In this context, the study by Barnes (2003) on phenomenological intentionality and ego-less states of awareness should be noted.  Regarding her results, Barnes concludes: “This means that bracketing [holding in awareness] all preconceptions, all theories including that of intentionality, opens the researcher to the essence of mystical meditation.  When this is done, the mystical state informs an expansion of intentionality to include the state of oneness” (p. 1).

In terms of the phenomenological approach in psychology and phenomenological research in psychology in particular, Colaizzi (1978b) would regard these research studies as somewhat rare instances of what he refers to as preparing research—an inquiring endeavor that prepares us to understand and accept that “we are here, in this our world, the world of our finitude, the world that we need to constantly remind our-Selves of because we have the constant habit of forgetting that we are, and that we are finite” (p. 91).  He goes on to critique traditional behavioral research: “All psychological research should elucidate Preparing Psychology, but psychological research has yet to learn this…as it has been and remains mute concerning preparing for authentic existence” (pp. 91-92).

Approaches to Silence and the Mind

A variety of authors have addressed silence in relation to different modes and dynamics of the mind.  A typology of the forms of silence begins this discussion.

Five forms of silence.  The thoughts of van Elferen and Raeymaekers (2015) are consistent with the findings and reflections of Daunhauer and Marcandonatou:

The deceptively simple question “What is silence?” does not yield simple answers.  Quiet and transcendence, darkness and death are connotations of an acoustical phenomenon that is very rare—if not impossible—in actual life; and if absolute silence would even be thinkable, where and how would it be? (pp. 262-263)

Given the wide range of “cultural occurrences” of silence, from numerous art forms that include literature, cinema, and music to spiritual practices such as meditation and contemplative prayer, silence can manifest as an acoustical, psychological, or transcendent phenomenon.  From this perspective, van Elferen and Raeymaekers (2015) distinguish five forms: (a) metaphorical silence, (b) silence by negation, (c) ontological or actual silence, (d) virtual silence, and (e) metaphysical or absolute silence.  Given that these forms collectively provide us with a valuable model or map for how to conceptualize silence, a description of each of them in turn follows.

Metaphorical silence.  Silence as a metaphor appears fairly routinely in both novels, especially Gothic novels, and films in which supernatural events are often preceded by an unearthly silence or ghostly quiet.  Silent figures are used as sinister and otherworldly beings in movie films (e.g., Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991), video games (e.g., Silent Hill, 1999-2012), and popular music (e.g., Striborg’s 2008 album Foreboding Silence).  In such cases, silence acts as an auditory metaphor for mystery and the unknown.

 In nonliterary contexts, metaphorical silence often denotes stasis.  Van Elferen and Raeymaekers (2015) describe this form:

This can be interpreted as tension, such as the uncomfortable silence between people, or the temporary absence of sound in musical composition.  In visual arts, silence can be seen in the stasis of figures.  Greek statuesque poses can be roughly divided in two very different categories:  the one representing a static silhouette deprived of movement and emotion and deprived of life but representing an ideal aesthetic.  Silence here represents stillness and everlasting beauty, contrasting the flux of life.  The other is a moving, feeling statue imbued with life.  The impossibility of the work of art to [make a] sound is one of its greatest emotional forces.  This silence gives us the chance, or even forces us, to fill in the void in the emotions depicted by the artist. (pp. 263-264)

In monastic settings, silence often represents balance.  In the Carthusian order, for example, the monks live with guidelines that emphasize the importance of keeping silent as a way to both experience Divine presence or God and to live a virtuous life (Gehl, 1987).  This virtuous silence is a metaphorical abstinence or form of balance that symbolizes the theological laws that one has committed to follow (MacLure, Holmes, Jones, & MacRae, 2007).

In meditative experience, silence can also represent absence.  In most meditation practices, the practitioner is encouraged to turn attention away from or even prevent the intrusion of sounds, thoughts, emotions, and speech in order to achieve an inner silence, stillness, and calm.  The nature of this silence that is experienced in meditation is addressed more fully later in this discussion.

Silence by negation.  Here metaphorical silence is differentiated from silence as an experienced phenomenon.  The questions “what is silence?” and “how can it be?” naturally arise when, speaking existentially, the complete absence of sound is not possible.  Even in a deeply quiet and seemingly soundless environment, the subtle sounds of our own breath and heartbeat are with us.  Cage (2011) states that “until I die, there will be sounds” (p. 51).  Interpreting Cage’s comment from a phenomenological perspective, van Elferen and Raeymaekers (2015) conclude that “…silence equals not just the absence of sounds, but quite simply the absence of life.  The fear of the absence of sound thus is a figuration of the fear of the greatest unknown: death” (p. 265).

Yet, there is a phenomenological reality of silence that is experienced at times in the everyday world of impinging sounds.  When reading a book in which one becomes fully absorbed, normal experiencing transforms.  The objective clock time of seconds, minutes, and hours dissolves in this absorption and the sounds of the world, slowly but surely, cease to be.  The ticking clock in the room, the sound of children playing outside, or the ringing of the phone in another room are no longer heard.  By continuously negating these relatively unobtrusive sounds, however unconscious this process may be, one experiences a silence by negation.

Ontological or actual silence.  The very being or ontology of silence is inextricably intertwined with the ontology of sound.  As presented earlier, silence and sound co-constitute one another.  Any sound is a material vibration that has a clear beginning, a limited time of existence, and an end.  Sound is born out of silence, and when it has ended, it is to silence that it returns.  Van Elferen and Raeymaekers (2015) describe this relationship:

Marking the fact that sound and silence are each other’s inevitable physical and acoustic limit, actual silence represents the binary ontological relation between the two…Actual silence is silence’s only true ontological form of existence.  The Being of sound defines the Being of silence. (p. 267)

 Virtual silence.  As with silence by negation, virtual silence is a phenomenological silence.  It involves the perceiver’s anticipation of an expected coming of sound, whether from reason or engendered by dream, hallucination, or technological wizardry.  It is the silence that is experienced before an acoustic event that one may very well be looking forward to.

Those who attend classical music performances often experience a virtual silence while the orchestral musicians are tuning up in preparation for the work to be performed.  There is actual sound and noise in the environment while a virtual silence coexists in the mind of the observer.  Or, consider the way in which the writers of music layer sounds that begin very softly, even almost inaudibly, and then build over time as the music grows in both volume and complexity.  A virtual silence emerges in the listener’s experience prior to the next layer that is added.  Van Elferen and Raeymaekers (2015) explain: …this added layer of sound shows the listener that there are still layers of silence to be penetrated.  These newly discovered layers of silence create virtual worlds wherein the listener can rest his/her presence of mind.  This is a virtually created actual silence that reassures the listener.  This virtual space is given depth by the layers of music not actually sounding yet.  A silent layer hitherto unknown is discovered and broken by the new musical [addition].  The depth of the virtual space is created by the imaginary breaking of the silent layers, which tell the listener that there are still spaces that can be filled with sound.  In this way, each breaking of silence is a reassurance to the listener of the plethora of silent layers that still exist, and await.  In this Imaginary [virtual] silence, a new ontology is suggested.  It is this suggestion of silence as horizon of sound-to-be…that plays upon the listener’s perception. (p. 269)

 Metaphysical or absolute silence.  This fifth form of silence is of a different realm in that it is beyond all sound and, therefore, beyond the four forms of silence that have just been presented.  This absolute silence has no relationship with sound because it has no relationship with the mind and, therefore, with sensory input of any kind.  It is of the numinous, spiritual, and sacred, the radical transpersonal or transcendent realm, the so-called domain of the Divine or higher Self.  Conceptualized as such, this absolute silence is the transcendent ground that the first four forms of silence are implicitly defined in relation to.

 To better understand this primordial distinction, the ontology of Martin Heidegger is relevant.  For Heidegger, because being is always related to the world in which being finds itself or is “thrown” into (i.e., being someone or something), being is existentially always a being-in-the-world (Heidegger, 1962, pp. 277-311).  Since this being-in-the-world is necessarily finite and inevitably ends in death or dissolution, then Being itself is defined by its temporality, that is, time is the horizon of Being (Heidegger, 1962, p. 488).  With this in mind, van Elferen and Raeymaekers (2015) reflect:

Absolute silence [is a] silence in and of itself that is not limited to being the horizon of sound.  In absolute silence, there never was nor can there be any sound.  If hearing is epistemology, then to think silence is to think Nothing, to engage with metaphysics, the philosophy of Being and Nothing.  This explains why all other forms of silence are so laden with metaphors and connotations of terror, the supernatural, or the transcendent.  Absolute silence represents the metaphysical realm of Nothing, which…imposes the realization that there is an unknowable outside of Being…Absolute silence is always present in a symbolic form, but forever out of reach; as we can never experience absolute silence but suspect (or dread) its omnipresent possibility, we capture it in metaphors of meditation, transcendence, uncanniness, or death.  In such cultural practices and artistic expressions, the Symbolic order [of the psychoanalyst Lacan] keeps the possibility of absolute silence at bay: caught in metaphors, the metaphysical Nothing of absolute silence is unable to penetrate the realm of phenomenology.  I cannot and never will listen to Nothing…Absolute silence [is] never perceivable but always looming.  It is a metaphysical silence that is impossible, imperceivable, and yet always present behind, within, and beyond all other forms of silence—the unechoing emptiness of infinity. (pp. 270-272)

 Functional approaches.  Several authors have emphasized the functionary role or purpose of silence.  Baker (1955) developed a psychological theory based on the idea that the very aim of speech, conscious or unconscious, is silence.  He distinguished between “negative silence” that results from a lack of identification between participants and “positive silence” that is pleasurable, often occurring between intimate partners.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, Masud and Khan (2017) suggest that silence serves a discharge function in the form of seeking a unique symbiotic fusion with the analyst.  Zeligs (1961) feels that we fall silent in order to defend ourselves against instinctual urges that we did not resolve in our psychosexual development.  He sees the function of silence as a type of displacement from the original erotogenic zones to the organs and functions of speech.  Other thoughts by Zeligs regarding silence and the process of psychoanalysis are discussed later in this presentation.

 Wilmer (2000), a Jungian analyst, speaks to its primary function by pointing out how silence, however unnoticed it may be, gives meaning to words, dreams, thought, action, and musical expressions (i.e., to manifestations that emerge, in one way or another, from the mind).  Kagge (2017), in a personal account, states that silence is a practical method for uncovering answers to the intriguing puzzle that is yourself, and that the key to this self-inquiry lies in the observation that this silence may be found inside the mind no matter where you are, if you simply pay attention.  Whether internal or external, he feels that the world’s secrets are hidden inside the experience of silence.

As a state or quality of mind.   Two approaches regard silence as essentially a state or quality of the mind itself.  In their own succinct yet different ways, each author speaks to the adaptability of mind. From a relational stance, Dresser (2017) views silence as a quality or value implicit in the mind that is not experienced through our cognitive/rational faculties or in an emotional way but, rather, awakened through the felt sense or presence of another person’s peaceful, quiet way of being.  This quality lies in the foundational fabric of mind itself.

From a Buddhist perspective, Sumedho (2007) regards silence as a state or condition of mind that leads into the mysteries of living in the Now, being fully aware or present in the moment.  This perspective is consistent with that of Tolle (1999, 2003) whose work is discussed later in this presentation.

Silence through sense withdrawal.  Consistent with Dresser (2017) and closely related to the form of silence by negation presented earlier (Van Elferen & Raeymaekers, 2015),

Travis (2004) sees silence as the experience that emerges from the quieting of the five senses and the resulting absence of sensory input.  This is an idea with ancient roots.  In the Yoga Sutras, an exposition on the philosophy and practice of yoga, Patanjali (approximately 200 B.C.-100 A.D.) describes ashtanga or eight-limbed Yoga as a practical system of deepening one’s spiritual awareness (Hariharananda Aranya, 1983; Veda Bharati, 2001).  The fifth limb of this system is pratyahara, literally meaning “gaining mastery over external influences” by the intentional withdrawing of attention from the senses and sensory input.  Veda Bharati (2004) answers the question “What is pratyahara?” in this way:

Ordinarily in the spiritual circles of all the religions and [spiritual] traditions, people speak of conquering the senses, of mastering them.  Pratyahara is that state when the mind has become naturally pacified and the senses that only reflect the conditions of the mind, the senses that are only symptomatic of these conditions, enter the mental condition of quietness.  Thereby they become just as still as the mind is.  That state of the integration of mind and senses into a common experience of stillness is called pratyahara. (p. 27)

The silence that results from the practice of pratyahara benefits the spiritual aspirant as: (a) a quieting of the mind’s contents and reactivity, and (b) a strengthening of one’s identification with the observer or witness of the mind and its contents (i.e., with the doorway leading to the higher Self or soul).  This latter point is compatible with van Elferen and Raeymaekers’ (2015) notion of metaphysical or absolute silence discussed earlier.

It should be noted that there is evidence of subtle sensory dynamics in human perception in addition to awareness of sensory input from the five main senses.  In Western psychological terms these subtler processes are most often spoken of as parapsychological phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP), telepathy, psychokinesis (PK), clairvoyance, and psychic healing.  The situation and state of research regarding psychic phenomena is aptly described by Jahn (1982):

…a variety of so-called psychic phenomena have attracted attention throughout recorded history.  Over recent years, a sizeable spectrum of evidence has been brought forth to suggest that at times human consciousness can acquire information inaccessible by any known physical mechanism (ESP), and can influence the behavior of physical systems or processes (PK), but even the most rigorous and sophisticated of these studies display a characteristic dilemma:  the experimental results are rarely replicable in the strict scientific sense, but the anomalous yields are well beyond chance expectations and a number of common features thread through the broad range of reported effects… Attempts at theoretical modeling have served to stimulate fundamental reexamination of the role of consciousness in the determination of physical reality. (p. 136)

Although beyond the scope of our present discussion, it would seem that a complete stillness of mind and the senses would necessarily have to include a withdrawing of attention to and identification with these processes as well as the five sources of gross sensory input.  The reader is referred to Klimo (2016) for a review and commentary on the research and theoretical approaches to these and other non-ordinary sensory/perceptual phenomena.

Silence in Psychotherapy 

Tindall and Robinson (1947) published a seminal account regarding the use of silence as a technique in counseling.  Viewing silence as the absence of verbal expression, their approach is exemplary of the way silence is usually regarded by those exploring silence in a therapeutic setting.  Results indicated that the silent pauses initiated by the counselor could be categorized into three headings: (a) pauses used for the purpose of organizing thought prior to speaking, (b) those intentionally designed to coerce the client to verbally contribute to the session, and (c) pauses used to terminate a phase in the counseling.  The primary effect of client-initiated pauses was clarification in the issue being addressed.

Although silence is usually seen as an accepted, and even expected, part of therapeutic conversation (Levitt, 2001a), Weisman (1955) pointed out that most psychotherapists view prolonged silence by the client as a sign of resistance, and only regard sessions that are rich in verbal and emotional expression as therapeutically valuable.  He states:

Although man lives in a society, his inner life is usually spent in solitude.  Only in a fragmentary way does he share his feelings and thoughts with those closest to him.  His anxiety, loneliness, and anguish are private matters.  Without language, or other symbolic forms of communication, his solitude is unbroken.  Deprived of such devices, man is confined to silence, the natural state of solitude. (p. 241)

Weisman goes on to encourage clinicians to give a client’s times of silence as much attention as the client’s words.

Martyres (1995) believes that when a client falls silent this silence is a language for emotional experience, and that “…silence is an important aspect of human interaction but is often experienced with discomfort and quickly filled with words” (p. 118).  Rather than suggesting a general interpretation, however, she advises the psychotherapist that “it is necessary to recognize what is being communicated by silence in each silence” (p. 119).

In a study investigating the general use of silence in a therapeutic situation, Sharpley (1997) varied the frequency of silent instances, the length of time of the silence, and the overall amount of silence in trainees’ interviews with a standardized client.  The results indicated that there were significantly more instances of silence and significantly greater overall amounts of silence in the sessions rated as having higher levels of client-perceived rapport.  Sharpley, Munro, and Elly (2005) explored the relationship between silence and rapport during client interviews.  Their findings indicated significantly higher amounts of silence during times rated as “very high” in rapport versus those rated as “low” in rapport, and that counselor-initiated and client-terminated silences were more likely to contribute to rapport than silences that were initiated and terminated by the counselor alone.  Findings from both of these studies were consistent with those reported by Cook (1964) and extend Cook’s findings by examining the effect of silence from the client’s viewpoint rather than only from the counselor’s evaluations.  The findings also support the work of Wepfer (1996) who found that silence was associated with a client’s experience of insight and with therapeutic success.

Van Meter, McMinn, Bissell, Kaur, and Pressley (2001), noting that practicing silence and solitude have long been part of the contemplative Christian tradition as a means of character transformation, asked if these disciplines affected the use of silence in psychotherapy for Christian clinicians.  Following training sessions in silence and solitude, subjects who were premeasured as introverts demonstrated a significant increase in the number and duration of silent periods during simulated psychotherapy sessions while the extraverts showed no significant differences in their therapeutic silence.  The authors concluded that there appears to be a relationship between spiritual disciplines such as practicing silence and personality characteristics in the psychotherapy setting.

Elson (2001) explored a number of different dimensions in using silence in the therapeutic process including attunement, evoking of response, as a defense, as resistance, and tolerance from a self-psychology perspective.  She has found that, while silence may represent a deliberate withholding by the client of shameful aspects, it can also provide the space for an empathic flow between the therapist and the client which can then be extended to other relationships in the client’s life.  Elson (2001) concludes:

In silence, in deciphering and then sharing its contents, client and therapist discover their common humanity and are strengthened…In the mutual discovery of the specific meaning of silent periods as they arise, therapist and client immerse themselves in the creative experience of restoring, renewing, or perhaps initiating strengths and capacities inherent in a cohesive self. (p. 357)

In line with Elson’s thoughts, MacGregor, Corley, & Donaldson (2010) found that each person hears and better integrates that which is said with softened prosody, that is, with a moderating of the tone, volume, rhythm, or pitch of verbal expression.  The authors emphasize that such prosody most often appears in close association with silences.

Based on a qualitative analysis of the self-reported experience of in-session pauses of seven therapy clients, Levitt (2001b) identified seven categories of silent pausing as heterogeneous phenomena: disengaged, emotional, interactional, reflexive, expressive, associational, and mnemonic.  In a follow-up study, Levitt (2002) conducted research interviews with psychotherapy clients across several different therapeutic approaches regarding times of silence that they found beneficial, dividing these silences into three categories: emotional, expressive, and reflective.  Emotional silence arises when there is a “sense of the unrealized depth” of the experience, a silence that serves as a guide for the client that offers space and time to better understand the experience.  In expressive silence, Levitt (2002) notes that words may both arise from and, at the same time, distance oneself from an emotional realization as the client comes to realize that attempts to describe the emotional experience necessitates leaving the experience itself.  Reflective pauses are times of increased awareness in which clients recognize the significance of their experience and then adjust their descriptions accordingly.  In other words, they step back in order to get their bearings (Colum, 2011).  Based on these results, Stringer, Levitt, Berman, & Mathews (2010) concluded that qualitative process research can be more precise in understanding the role or roles of silence in psychotherapy than can purely controlled empirical studies.

Ladany, Hill, Thompson, & O’Brien (2004) reported the results of a qualitative study on the perspective of psychotherapists who used silence in therapy.  The descriptive data revealed that these therapists typically perceived themselves as using silence to convey empathy, facilitate reflection, challenge the client to take responsibility, facilitate expression of the client’s feelings, and/or to take time for themselves to reflect on what to say next in the session.  In addition, the therapists indicated that a trusting therapeutic alliance was a prerequisite for using silence, they typically educated their clients about how they used silence in therapy, and they did not use silence with clients who were psychotic, highly anxious, or angry.

Hill, Thompson, & Ladany (2003), using a survey methodology, found that therapists used silence to encourage responsibility, convey empathy, and facilitate reflection, expression of feelings, and the flow of the session.  They also noted that, regarding theoretical orientation, psychoanalysts were more likely to use silence to facilitate reflection while humanistic psychologists primarily used silence to convey empathy, respect, and support.  These authors point out that silence initiated by the therapist can be a difficult skill to learn for newly practicing clinicians since some feel uncomfortable with silence (Gilliland & James, 1993), whereas others too often use silence as a way of managing their own anxiety regarding not knowing what to say or their fear of doing the wrong thing (Basch, 1980).

In reviewing the empirical literature on the effects of silence on therapy, Hill, Thompson, & Ladany (2003) conclude that, because the studies have been largely correlational, silence could have a wide variety of helpful impacts (Hill, Carter, & O’Farrell, 1983) or harmful impacts (Matarazzo & Wiens, 1977) on therapeutic outcomes depending on the timing of the silence and the client’s needs.  In this context, Lane, Koetting, & Bishop (2002) advise the clinician that “…if the [silent] intervention is not skillfully and sensitively employed by the practitioner, the client may feel the therapist’s quietness as distance, disinterest, and disengagement, leading to breaches in the trust and safety of the therapeutic alliance” (p. 1091).  Matarazzo, Wiens, Matarazzo, & Saslow (1968), who considered the frequencies and durations of silence and speech during psychotherapy sessions, encouraged investigators of the process of psychotherapy to include measures of these variables in their studies.

From the Jungian or depth psychology approach to psychotherapy, listening is crucial (Kittleson, 1996) and listening requires silence (McEntire, 2005).  From this same perspective, Hillman (1996) states:

We become mythologists of the soul through listening.  As therapists, we receive another through the ear, through the feminine part of ourselves, conceiving and gestating a new solution to the [client’s] problem only after we have been fully penetrated by it, felt its impact, and let it settle in silence. (p. 22)

Employing a hermeneutic methodology, McEntire (2005) presented a depth psychological exploration of silence in which she highlights repeatedly the transformative power of being silently present to archetypal symbols (Jung, von Franz, Henderson, Jacobi, & Jaffe, 1969; Murdoch, 2000), sacred mandalas (Cornell, 1994), and the visual arts (Leonard, 2000).

Denham-Vaughan and Edmond (2010) present a Gestalt therapy approach to silence.  From this perspective, silence has been most often associated with “obstructive moderations” to real contact between the therapist and client, which stands in stark contrast to many religious/spiritual and secular traditions that highly value silence, stillness, and emptiness.  They suggest that attending to silence constitutes a reversal of the normal figure-ground reversal where silence, which is normally the ground, becomes an “infinite other” figure that we turn to, thereby allowing the chatter of our thoughts and feelings that are central to self-identity to become ground.  Denham-Vaughan (2010) conclude: “Thus we venture beyond the normal boundary markers between self and other, opening ourselves to the reality of our profound interconnectedness with all that is—an experience which can be frightening or ecstatic” (p. 5).

Back, Bauer-Wu, Rushton, and Halifax (2009) address the intentional use of verbal silence by the psychotherapist during the therapy session with the client in the form of a three-fold typology.  They point out that silence often feels like it is dragging on when well-meaning clinicians think that they should be “using silence” as a therapeutic technique but do not have a clear intention.  A directive to stop talking, however, leads to an awkward silence, one unlikely to have therapeutic value.  The feeling of awkwardness is likely to be interpreted by the client as judgment, ambivalence, disapproval, or withholding.  It becomes an open space for negative projections to fill.

A second form is invitational silence when the clinician wishes to give the client a moment or longer to think about and feel what is happening, often following an empathic response, in order to convey the empathy and/or invite the client into the conversation in a different way.  Back, Bauer-Wu, Rushton, and Halifax (2009) point out that while invitational silences are most often therapeutically quite valuable, they also have a stage-setting or expectant quality (Winnicott, 1965) that may or may not ultimately serve the client.

In describing a third type of silence, Back, Bauer-Wu, Rushton, and Halifax (2009) proclaim:

There is another type of silence that has received little attention in medicine, although it is highly prized in contemplative traditions—compassionate silence.  Compassion is transmitted through a quality of mind and requires active intentional mental processes—it is the opposite of passive, receptive activity.  These compassionate silences arise spontaneously from the clinician who has developed the mental capacities of stable attention, emotional balance, along with prosocial mental qualities, such as naturally arising empathy and compassion. (p. 1114).

Compassionate silence is not a tool that is used with a specific set of indications and meanings.  It is a quality of mind that the clinician brings to the therapeutic encounter which manifests as a spontaneous consequence of the clinician’s presence (Geller & Greenberg, 2002).  In this context, Back, Bauer-Wu, Rushton, and Halifax (2009) delineate three mental qualities of the therapist that are essential for compassionate silence: (a) the ability to give attention for the express purpose of understanding the client’s experience, thereby signaling an active orientation in the role of healer to help reduce suffering; (b) the ability to maintain a stable focus by setting aside common distractions in the clinical setting such as the client changing the subject or interference from the clinician’s own feelings; and (c) clarity of perception, thereby perceiving the relevant clinical issues without distortion or bias.

For the therapist to have a compassionate presence when confronted with the client’s silence, however, Geller and Greenberg (2002) point out:

Therapists’ discomfort with uncertainty can lead them to respond in a way that is out of sync with the client.  Therapists face [this] challenge with clients [who fall silent].  Tolerating the discomfort of silence or of the unknown is integral to a good therapy process, as it is through uncertainty that one can allow for the emergence of material or responses that could be important and relevant for the client.  Silence can also allow the client to work internally with what has been offered through the therapist’s response or intervention, and the therapist’s discomfort with this and filling the silence could actually impede the client’s healing and learning processes.  To be able to trust in the unknown takes practice and requires the knowledge that tolerating discomfort can leave space for the emergence of poignant therapeutic material. (p. 148)

By combining contemplation and narrative therapy, Blanton (2007) examines the unique experiences that occur when one enters into silence and then explores the implications of these experiences for narrative therapy.  From this exploration, he points out that the contemplative-based approach differs from traditional narrative therapy in that it utilizes: (a) contemplative skills, (b) contemplative and narrative metaphors, (c) modified interventions, and (d) broader views of reality and self.  Blanton (2007) encourages the participant to “let go of language [so that] the rest will begin to happen on its own” (p. 214).  In line with Blanton’s approach, MacDonald (2005) also recommends contemplation, along with meditation and breathing practices when appropriate, for certain clients.  MacDonald points out that although the majority of current models of psychotherapy rely heavily on therapeutic conversation, the art of practicing silence can be an effective vehicle for healing and personal transformation.

Simonds (1994), rather than implementing silence per se in the psychotherapeutic process, integrated nonverbal modalities—visual imagery, kinesthetic imagery, and body movement—into verbal psychotherapy in treating adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse since these survivors had difficulty verbalizing their memories and their pain.  The use of nonverbal modalities is designed to assist them in transforming the silence of childhood into the language of the adult.  Within this framework, nonverbal modalities have been used to enrich the assessment process, help to contain flashbacks, create a safe environment, develop coping mechanisms, connect body and mind, and enhance creative problem-solving.  In addition, Simonds (1994) showed how to use art and movement strategies in memory retrieval, working with anger, and developing one’s sense of self.  Another non-verbal form of communication, embodied synchrony, was investigated by Ramseyer and Tschacher (2011) who observed that body movements between therapists and clients can increase cooperation in the therapeutic relationship and, thereby, can contribute to a better therapeutic outcome.

Silence and Psychoanalysis

A number of writers from the psychoanalytic tradition have addressed the nature of silence in analysis, with Freud (1953) himself laying the groundwork:

He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret.  If his lips are silent, he chatters with his finger-tips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.  And thus the task of making conscious the most hidden recesses of the mind is one which it is quite possible to accomplish.  (pp. 77-78)

From this foundational premise, Jacques Lacan (Colum, 2011) understood the enigmatic subtlety of silences and the need for the psychoanalyst to be actively unforthcoming.  Lacan asks:

What silence must the analyst now impose upon himself if he is to make out, rising above this bog, the raised finger of Leonardo’s “St. John the Baptist,” if interpretation is to find anew the forsaken horizon of being in which its allusive virtue must be deployed? (pp. 11-12)

Reik (1968), on the other hand, believed that the contradictory significance of silence is almost never misunderstood.  As an analyst, he claims that we always seem to know, in spite of the intrinsic double meaning in remaining silent, what the patient means by the silence, what he or she “wants to say.”

Gale & Sanchez (2005) lay out a general perspective that psychoanalysis has understood silence as a defense, a symptom, or as a natural punctuation in speaking, and feel that philosophy supplies a more adequate understanding of silence in clinical practice than the relative absence of a coherent account in the psychoanalytic literature.  They acknowledge that, far from being an impediment to psychotherapy, silence has a significant value which makes it an essential “ally” of speech in the analytic process.  Ferreira (2017) accentuates the importance of silence being considered as an integral part of the relationship between patient and psychoanalyst.

Consistent with the view of Masud and Khan (2017) presented earlier, Nacht (1964) also feels that the patient’s need for total union with the analyst can be fulfilled, however briefly, in a period of silence.  In addition, he believes that silence can provide a matrix in analysis in which the ego-self grows and develops whereas an inability to endure a time of silence expresses resistance.

Zeligs (1961) addressed the role of silence in transference and countertransference in the psychoanalytic process.  He sees silence as part of a functional alliance with verbalization and physical posturing as “shifting, alternating, and concomitant forms of communication” (p. 8) involving interrelated meanings, and as modes of discharging affect in verbal and nonverbal communicative behaviors.  Zeligs reminds the analyst that some of our most significant and life-transforming emotional experiences occurred during times of silent reflection.  The release of emotion in the grieving process or the feeling of unending ecstasy when one is in love both represent a silent, internalizing process “for silence enhances thought and fantasy formation and facilitates the introjective component in the process of identification with lost or wished-for objects” (p. 8).

His most important points relevant to the present discussion are that silence: (a) plays a subtle role in the development of the transference neurosis, (b) is a persistent influence on the maintenance of the therapeutic alliance, and (c) can reflect many different psychic states and qualities of feelings, both positive and negative, such as agreement or disagreement, pleasure or displeasure, fear, anger, or tranquility and contentment.  Zeligs (1961) concludes:

My purpose is to show how the use of silence during analysis, whether it be a pause or a prolonged interval, serves either to promote or to impede the analytic process.  Which of these occurs will depend on how the patient uses silence in the transference, and, likewise, on how silence is dealt with by the analyst. (p. 17)

From a classic psychoanalytic perspective, Sabbadini (2004) feels that a silence that displays anal connotations is characterized by an ambivalent if not openly aggressive