Advaita & Psychotherapy II

Johan van der Kooij described the differences and similarities between advaita and psychotherapy in Amigo7.
The quote from advaita teacher Jean Klein was very pithy:
' All forms of psychotherapy are concerned with bringing a fundamental neurosis into balance, namely the arising of the ego that experiences itself as a separated unit.'
Why should you want to improve that personality with psychotherapy if you know that you are not the neurosis, the personality?
Actually, how strong is your conviction if you say that you know that you are not the personality?
When I see the sun cone up in the morning I don't say: 'the earth has rotated in such a way that I can see the sun.' No, I just say: 'The sun is rising', because that's how it looks, even though it isn't so.
We condition ourselves by believing what we see, hear, feel, etc. and even more so by believing our own thoughts.
At the psychological level where fear and longing are often the driving forces of our decisions, the belief is virtually turned into an identity.
In everyday situations like work, relations, family we experience ourselves as a person with ideas, feelings and points of view; the inner world. And then, we defend this person with respect to the outer world. This way we put the entire identification into motion. If we have difficulties with psychological tensions that come out of that we can call on help from a therapist. In my experience there is big difference between seeking help from someone who works psychologically, or from someone who looks at the psyche from a holistic vision.
The classical psychological approach attempts to bring the psyche back in balance, whereas the modern holistic approach tries to look behind the psyche's mask to the true identity.
An example of holistic therapy is Fokke Slootsra's non-dual psychotherapy. He combines eastern advaita with western psychotherapy at his center ' The Wonder' in Drenthe. Johan van der Kooij spoke with him about the integration of psychotherapy and radical self-investigation.


Amigo: Why do you call what you do non-dual therapy? Non-duality is a condition that is not a condition, in reality therapy is always dualistic.

Fokke Sloostra: If you are completely available, then all kinds of things can happen in that availability to remind people of their original wholeness. I can imagine that you say that therapy and non-dualism are two different things. Therapy directs itself to the personal and non-duality to that goes to what is beyond that. I see the personal as a cover of the non-dual and it is my passion to be able to work with people on both levels. Therapy is not dualistic by definition. If you give therapy from the point of view that you have to repair people, then one can speak of dualism. We go searching for enlightenment, love, and confirmation out of our longings. Every person maintains a construction: we project things outside ourselves, as if you see yourself in a mirror and then you pursue the image in the mirror. If you see that everything that you run after is already there, and you discover that you are running after an illusion, then you fall into your true nature, in your true condition by yourself it is a question of seeing through, or cutting through. It is just as if you find a piece of the puzzle back. If you just remain with a deep fear, or a deep not-knowing, instead of escaping, then at a given moment you fall within. That can happen in a therapy situation, but also during a satsang. It is about letting yourself 'fall'. At such a moment you see through the construction and fall into yourself.

A: How does the hunger for liberation, for enlightenment arise?

F: Every child that comes into this world has a number of basic needs. If the needs are fulfilled emotionally, then the child will grow emotionally. If a number of needs are not satisfied, if there is no response from the surroundings, then an 'emptiness' happens. A split takes place in the psyche. Part of the child sits and waits for better times, another part develops a sort of strategy: how can I get what I'm still missing? Maybe by being nice, or instead by thwarting the parents, to still try to get what he has missed. The strategies continue into adult life. In work or in relationship we still seek fulfillment of what was once missing. At a certain moment we get that the fulfillment can't be found that way and the whole structure we created caves in. Often, the search for liberation and our selves begins at this point.

A: Do you see yourself as a therapist or a spiritual teacher?

'The ego defends itself against the psychological emptiness that we know. That is a place we don't want to go to, it is much too threatening. The ego is afraid to dissolve there'

Fokke Slootstra

F: I use psychotherapeutic methods. If it is important for someone to clean up things in their past, then I put methods to use - with the understanding also that I am free of them. The art is to not bind your self to a method, but to be free of that. Sometimes I work on the past, to out feelings and clear up traumas for ten days. If people can open up after the ten days and they suddenly see that who they are in essence, then we talk more about the source. Psychological work is finding yourself, allowing yourself to be there as you are with all your beautiful and less beautiful parts. You make peace with that, you accept: that's how it is, that's how I function. That doesn't mean to be jubilant about it, but that you come to a deep acceptance of Johan or Fokke as persons. That is the psychological work. The spiritual work is to rise beyond the person: it is beautiful that you accept yourself totally as a person, but you are not that!
That's where freedom comes in.
People come here with beautiful stories: 'There is no doer! There is no will! I am the witness!
Then I say: 'It is good in some cases to develop your will, and to make a stand for it.
I found it very attractive in Zen Buddhism to feel the teacher's strong love. I was seen. I was heard. But to remain 'stuck' there, can also be a trap.

A: Have your insights never led you to giving satsang?

F: No they haven't, because I find the psychological to be just as important as the spiritual. That is what I really stand for, for me it is not one or the other, it is both.
I try to give people tools in accordance with what I have experienced myself. We don't automatically get these tools in our culture. How do you communicate? How do you deal with your anger and sadness? How do you learn to treat your self lovingly? We need those tools as people.

A: Do you have to be enlightened to offer non-dual therapy?

F: It is about being able to stand free in relation to all the content or drama of the people who come to you. It took a long time before I got that far. Through the combination of psychotherapy and advaita there came a development in me by means of which I became more and more free of people, free of their dramas, for me that is the art of it. After an intense session there remains no residue behind in me.

A: Is it important to dissolve certain psychological bottlenecks in your structure during your spiritual learning time?

F: I don't think you can avoid that. Advaita, and Zen Buddhism for example come from a totally different cultural contexts. I don't think you can just introduce that vision very easily here in the west. Eastern people are different from western people.

A: Is availability a capacity that can grow in a person?

F: By being conscious of what is happening in the moment, and being alert every moment, the consciousness can become bigger.
After meditating for a month in the desert I came home and resumed my work. It seemed as if all the problems at work were waiting for me to come back. How do you integrate a month in the desert in your job? I didn't learn how to handle my anger in Buddhism, it is not directed towards handling emotions, thus there is no knowledge about that there. Everything in the world is accessible at this moment. That is fantastic, but use western knowledge also. Make use of psychology and psychotherapy.
Life knocks on our door and it is up to us to open it or keep it shut, that is our freedom.
Discomfort, illusions, crises in relations, burnout: are you ready to examine those or not? That requires enormous courage.

A: Do you have to assimilate old pain to arrive at self-realization?

F: I myself have experienced that I can arrive at that which I am in reality straight through all the psychological layers. Undoubtedly there are teachers who have not done any psychological work. Naturally, that is possible. But according to me, to live enlightened and lovingly, to integrate it into daily life, you can't avoid clearing up old pains. Otherwise the danger is great that we use spirituality or enlightenment to repudiate or disguise a number of personal things.


Postscript from Johan:

Does it make any sense to investigate and analyze the ego with all its tensions? Or is it better to see your fears and emotions for what they actually are, and see the mind as part of maya, the dream?
If you want to combine therapy with the path of radical self-investigation it is important to not lose sight of the fact that no grace can be asked for or received by the 'I'. However comforting or providing of insights therapies may be, they can never make the I whole or healthy. The I is like a spark that escaped from the fire and tries to lead an independent existence. Alas... or maybe happily not... the spark is doomed to go out. But before it has gone that far you can work on your old traumas that demand attention.
Something in you and me knows what freedom is. That deep intuitive knowing is an important anchor to bring you home to your essence. Everything is all right as long as you remember that there can be no ultimate freedom for the conditioned person.

For information about non-dual therapy (in Dutch): www.nondualetherapie.nl.

{Johan van der Kooij]