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TOS: Does it go without saying that theosophical teachings have been a great deal of help in your work of counselling people from all walks of life? Would you say they have been useful largely as a background, or that they have been directly applicable in dialogue with your clients?
Linda Jo Pym: Theosophical principles and the theosophical worldview offer me the framework for all my work and interactions. I have been very fortunate in this life to have known well such people as Dora Kunz, Harry Van Gelder and John and Dorothy Abbenhouse, all of whom I knew as living examples of theosophical service. They taught me many ways of utilising the theosophical view of the sevenfold nature of human consciousness in my interactions with and understanding of others. And they all demonstrated the power of the ‘One Life’ in helping us connect to nature and those around us. As I have come to a deeper understanding of these principles in my own life, I have been able to use them more in my work with others.
TOS: Do you ever directly share theosophical teachings such as the unity of life, reincarnation and karma with people in distress, in the hope that they will give meaning to their lives?
LJP: I seldom talk about those teachings as such unless people raise them out of their own background and interest, but with each person I try to listen for experiences, principles and values expressed in their language that are comparable, and then I try to help them consciously expand and welcome such experiences in their daily lives. Now that I am working with individuals in private counselling, I try to help each person find a quiet space in the centre of their own being and urge them to consider the possibility that the quieter they are the more they can get in touch with a deep inner strength and sense of peace which will help them grow and direct their own lives. This has to come out of experiences they have had, so mostly I listen until I hear what they use now or have experienced in the past that allows them to find that place, and encourage them to trust that deep inner core and the perspectives that arise out of it. For many people it is a novel idea that wisdom can arise from within and that this can offer them hope and direction in their lives.
The concept of the unity of all life is for me very powerful in connecting with them on the deepest level possible so that I can better understand them. It allows me to join with them and to share my respect and appreciation for their lives and their struggles in ways that purely verbal techniques cannot touch. In many ways this is identical with the healing and compassionate attitude that Dora Kunz, Dolores Krieger, Harry van Gelder and other theosophical writers have exemplified in their healing work. I feel it is an attitude also very much present in Buddhism, Islam and all the great spiritual traditions. Clients often speak of feeling that attitude in their work with me, and I want them to know that just as they and I can communicate through these deeper feelings, this is also possible for them in their interactions and communication with others.
In the US particularly, we learn to take outside views and outside approval or disapproval, or monetary or political power, as the measure of our successes and failures. We often see our value only as reflected in the outer world. Theosophy offers a powerfully different model – seeking, as is stated in Light on the Path, for that power that makes us seem as nothing in the eyes of the world. For many people with whom I work, learning to become aware of and express their own deepest values is a very empowering experience. The inner peace that can come from listening for, determining and acting from their own value system can reduce anxiety and depression. They discover that they have values separate from what others think of them. So enhancing their unique ways of accessing their inner selves is a repetitive theme in my work, even though the subject matters we are talking about may be very mundane.
TOS: Do you ever lead clients in a form of guided visualisation or meditation to help them contact that quiet place within or that deeper self?
LJP: With certain exceptions I do not, although it has become a common technique among counsellors who accept spiritual values. Many clients have already learned about this and have incorporated it into their lives. Others consider it hocus pocus. I do urge experimenting with certain specific techniques (which we practise in my office to see if they ‘fit’, before they try them on their own). One is the visualisation of cobalt blue, or the idea of bringing in that colour with each breath. This is explained as a colour for pain relief and as a calming colour. Alternatively, the same thing is done by visualising the ‘sun behind the sun’ and the vitality available through it. This increases energy for many people. A third experiment we try in my office and I invite people to practise at home is exchanging breaths with the trees outside my window (in a manner analogous to the physical exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide). For those who respond positively to this, the suggestion is that they make a friend of a local tree or shrub with which energy and affection can be regularly exchanged. In my view, this is a literal exchange but also offers a change of perspective and focus, to break the cycle of anxious, repetitive thought patterns. Finally, based on the therapeutic touch model of healing developed by Dora Kunz and Dolores Krieger, I often share some exercises in the ‘exchange of energy’ that allow people to realise they are energetic beings as well as chemical beings. This often helps them to view themselves and their surroundings and their interactions with family, friends and work colleagues in a different manner.
TOS: What energy? What exchange of energy?
LJP: Using theosophical vocabulary, this would be etheric or pranic energy, or chi.
TOS: How does being aware of the etheric double affect our relationships with others? Are you talking about clairvoyance?
LJP: Not at all about clairvoyance, although it is amazing how many people have had clairvoyant or psychic experiences and never spoken to others about them before. The energy exchanges I’m helping them to see are between two people in interaction where strong emotions interrupt the patterns of an emotionally healthy nature. When people learn to sense the flowing or back-and-forth, energetic nature of their exchanges with others, they can learn to sense the change in these patterns as their thoughts and feelings change. We work a lot with re-introducing ‘flow’ into energy that has become ‘stuck’. While quite abstract concepts, even the simple exercise of feeling energy exchange between one’s own two hands or flowing up and down one’s arms in response to mental intent, or in interaction with others, introduces people to these powerful change techniques in concrete ways. With some people, for whom this seems more easy and natural, we work also on exchanges between us directed by mental intent. And people can also see implications of quiet time or time spent in nature as they experience this centring process as an entry into a different mode of being in the world.
The idea of all this is to help people see how their emotions and thoughts influence the energetic exchange with their own body – psychosomatics – and with others. They can come to see how negative patterns have developed in themselves and this gives more opportunities for change. From the theosophical perspective, it is like working with the personal aspect of our being and then later on, if people are interested, allowing them to see that they can open to intuitive or spiritual levels and that these dimensions of their being have even more power. I have developed a conviction through the years that whilst the deeper aspects of our being may give us the strength to change, we need to use the tools of the personal self in order to effect change.
TOS: What are the tools of the personal self?
LJP: In my view these are all the psychological theories and techniques that have been developed in the last 50 or 60 years to help people understand themselves and to change. The ones that have endured are the ones that are effective. The theosophical worldview is my filter in deciding which ones seem useful to explore with my clients.
TOS: For example?
LJP: Probably the most obvious example is the phenomenon of projection: the tendency to imagine in others what is really part of one’s own psyche. Helping others to become aware of this tendency is part of my work.
TOS: How does one distinguish between the projection of our own negative emotions onto others – our imaginary fear of rejection for example – and objectively inappropriate behaviour in others which has nothing to do with our own past traumas?
LJP: Excellent question and one that is complicated by a third possibility to consider: another person may truly have done us harm or be acting inappropriately but our own projection or past experiences may also be distorting the issue. This is often the case with domestic violence when a husband who is beating his wife is clearly acting inappropriately and the wife is aware of it but is anchored in psychological habit patterns that prevent her from acting upon available options for changing or leaving the situation. The same may be true in less dramatic situations where the issue is a problem with a co-worker or tensions within a TS group. It is very easy to see the other person’s limits and flaws, harder to see how our own conditioned perspectives are feeding into the process.
A projection operates very much like the Buddhist meditation wall when in Zen Buddhism one sits facing a blank wall and over time finds all one’s inner experiences projected onto it in vivid colour. The images have no inherent reality – they are our inner demons created in our mind and limiting our actions and our perceptions of options. Clients feel ‘free’ (non-attached, perhaps) when they open to the larger possibilities of their lives.
TOS: What is another way in which a psychological theory or technique can help us?
LJP: Another traditional psychological perspective deals with our tendency to repeat over and over again certain emotional patterns developed usually in childhood or as a result of deep trauma. Using spiritual terminology, this could be related to the skandhas or the recurrent themes of many lives. We need of course to learn to become aware of them and to cease identifying with them. With this, I try to help people recognise the familiarity of the feelings that arise in many situations and to see the origins in early family interactions or traumas. Once awareness is there, people can learn to break the identification by reminding themselves in the situation that they are not necessarily reacting to the present but to the past. They learn that the intensity and immediacy of their reactions and the limited number of options they see available to themselves are clues to such patterning.
Meditation in different forms may help people to become aware of these patterns and the use of seed thoughts, repeating a theosophical passage over and over again, can be of use to people to see that they can change the emotional pattern they are in.
TOS: So how does one learn to be in the moment?
LJP: If we are racing around, we are not going to be in the moment. If the focus is all exterior, we aren’t going to be in the moment. If we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we need to take a deep breath or two or ten, look inward and ask ourselves with compassion, “What’s going on here inside me? Why am I so upset? What has been touched?”
Theosophy suggests the need for loving compassion and for spiritual values as the principal expression in our lives. While many of the foremost psychological thinkers of our times acknowledge a deeper inner perspective, in daily practice much of psychological therapy is content with removing intense and inappropriate reactions in our relationships. In both the traditional psychological and the theosophical points of view, the human tendency to be judgmental and critical of ourselves and others and to think in terms of success and failure have crept in. I see the challenge of mixing the two, of learning to see things as they are without judgment, accepting that you are angry, upset or discouraged without further complicating the matter by blaming yourself for being there. This is stated in traditional psychology, yet, in my experience, people do blame themselves when they have seen a pattern for years and been unable to change it. Even in the process of seeing old patterns and working to let them change, we spend much time in accepting that patterns are just that and grew over time and with many repetitions. Changing them requires awareness, choice and repetition of the new patterns, and a sense of humour when one does not succeed and finds oneself once again acting out a ‘hollow’ but strong old behaviour. If you accept the theosophical view that emotions are by nature changeable, then you can sit with a negative emotion, exploring it and seeing how it operates in yourself without judging it. It’s like learning to use a telephone, seeing how it operates. Then you can ask yourself, “If I don’t wish to continue in this space, what do I know from my theosophical background that will help me to become different?” It’s actually not very helpful to give oneself an order, “I must not be angry or discouraged”. We can remember the line from At the Feet of the Master that says, “What man has done, man can do”, and try to awaken curiosity about what might work, what I might take from my deeper understandings of things and apply. It’s not so difficult to move from being horrendously angry at a person a certain time to stepping back and feeling that abstract impersonal compassion that is beautifully characterised in TS literature and portraits of the Masters. What is difficult is to let go that anger without beating oneself, to let it flow out, to let it disappear.
TOS: Are there any other basic theosophical principles you use in your work with people to encourage them in the belief that change is possible, even in bleak situations?
LJP: Yes, first is the idea that ‘the only constant is change’. Life in its free and untrammelled nature is in constant motion. Many people have heard of the flow of Chi, or the Taoist idea of the ever moving river – or of the Hindu Trinity – creation, preservation and destruction. So, when life is in its difficult moments, when we are suffering for the change and loss of what was or what we had hoped for, many people can relate to the idea of tuning into the deeper nature of the universal flow of change. They can also learn to recognise that repetition of old patterns, that time after time returning to the same emotional place, is like obstructing the universal flow and is an indication that one's life is out of balance.
The second basic principle is that ‘healing’ is inherent in the nature of life. I use the analogy of the inborn tendency of the body to heal itself of a cut or a disease, and relay my conviction that emotional healing (change, growth and wholeness) is just as inherent. And that the goal is to align oneself with that healing flow.
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