Having practiced psychotherapy as a clinical social worker for 40 years, I have felt torn between the life of my professional identity and the studies I have pursued outside my profession. I have lived two worlds which became increasingly difficult to resolve: the world of empirical psychotherapy in my daily work vs. the world of astrological psychology.
Of course the usual justifications existed and I could prepare my defense. But Astrological psychology was not able to be brought out in the sun to be scrutinized by my peers. It was too vulnerable and would only be measured for efficacy by standards that were not suited to it. So I had to be cautious and preserve its precious caldron of meanings, insights and faith engendering proclamations.
Today I have written this article to state my position and make it clear to myself what I believe and why. I feel less threatened by being labeled kooky, charlatan or mentally ill. So here is not my defense but the foundation of a new way of finding meaning in life in pursuit of being mentally healthy. I propose to make us all our own psychologists for it is possible for anyone inclined to look inside and try to understand the puzzle of their own psychic existence.
The Prevailing Waning Collective Consciousness:
The conscious psyche in the life of people is the focus of much attention especially as it relates to mental health of individuals in the constantly shifting and changing world of the 21 century. The Western development of therapeutic treatments to heal the imbalance of psychic troubles has been only in existence since the early 1800’s and only systematically studied since the 1900’s. The 20th Century had seen the emergence of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, which is a compendium of atheoretical behaviors, in which patients have presenting problems which they bring to consulting rooms of psychiatrists. With the advent of psychotropic medications in the 1960’s many people who were institutionalized were discharged because the medications they were given controlled their symptoms well enough for them to live somewhat independently. These two developments: a classification system of mental disorders and psychotropic medication have shaped the field of psychotherapy in the Western world but not for the best. Diagnostic categories pigeonhole people and medications try to make delusions and hallucinations extinguish when they can provide insights into life’s quandaries during the modern-day. We have settled for a mediocre standard of mental health rather than being focused on helping our people find meaning in their lives so they could be integrated, balanced human beings.
Western societies define pathologies of their people in relation to the degree of negative adaptation they exhibit in their societies. Maladaptive behaviors can be looked at as social anomalies depending on the evidence of a lack of functioning defined by negative survival skills. Generally positive survival skills are those that have high social value in capitalistic societies: ability to hold a job, to have a partner and be able to distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy. These judgments of good mental health are assumptions based on mores and values of the majority of society. Dominance of these value-based assumptions of what in society constitutes as the healthy occupational, relationship and reality testing is evident as the world becomes more homogenized through globalization. For centuries Western Societies have framed the cultural definition of mental health. United States and Western Europe’s ability to conquer , with English spoken as the key to business institutions, and to define the major cultural Weltanschauung or spirit of the times is well documented. But now that world view is breaking down, as recent dominance of Western societies is being challenged the world over.
When we survey the Western models of treatment of the pathological psyche, the academic and treatment focus is concentrated on building ego-strengths. Most psychotherapies are designed to build a healthy “executive function” of the ego through cognitive strategies (Ego Psychiatry, Anna Freud). The ego then is perceived as the center of the psyche with ultimate say in the every day functioning of life. And this is appropriate for ego development in early adulthood. But in America and the Western world ethos, ego building is the model for the whole life cycle. That assumption is fallacious, because, ego strengths are important to survival at the young and middle adulthood stages of the life cycle but actually maladaptive as one reaches mid- life and retirement age. I shall propose that this value system is an unsound model for the healthy psyche putting too much emphasis on youth without an alternative for the rest of life cycle when ego energies wane as in later life.
The value system of this Western psychological treatment approach supports the beliefs that individualism is the end-all and teleological purpose of man in society. Along with this view is supported the clichés that “time is money” and one has to develop his/her ego potential or else lose to competitors, “you have to use your will to take chances, you may not get another one“ and to be successful one has to possess the conscious attitude of the all important ‘youthful‘ approach to life. These views are based on social Darwinism. They represent one way to view today’s societies; but they are not pragmatic because they assume that people are pitted against people to compete for limited resources. In the reality of today’s job market, not everyone has access to the competitive market place to make a survivable living. To survive today we have to learn cooperation or else we shall limit our existence by war and end humanity as we know it on earth.
When the ego fails to serve our survival needs, when chaotic losses enter into our lives; the ego breaks down and all the support that structure has been given us, fails. Futile attempts to find reasons why bad events happen to us fill the case notes of many psychotherapies. The suffering of the ego may cause us to return the pain to the “reasoned” sources of our pain but that is only revenge. Profound self-examination is needed. Self esteem may be attempted by some by making supplication to God to give them Grace through prayer. Thus a mystical journey awaits some and a humility is needed in that case to give up our ego-self-righteousness. In this way, what can lead to real healing is spiritual not psychological. By reflecting on observing ourselves and learning to be receptive to intuitive guidance is an answer even when doing so may humiliate us and defy reason. (Caroline Myss, Defy Gravity, 2010).
Conscious spatial perceptions in the West are structured in terms of seeing land that is guarded or infringed upon (through Imperialism) by the ever watchful eye of the collective conscious ego. Protecting land boundaries and building walls between sovereign states is a common defensive stance to allow only those in who can contribute to the economy as immigrants. And by imperialists, intrusive forays into the borders of nation states to “democratize them” belies the underlying motive of exploiting their resources for selfish state-sponsored materialistic ends. Notice the American business practice of the cement curbing off of restaurants from competitors that makes it impossible in a strip of chain restaurants to drive /or walk from one parking lot to an adjacent competitor’s parking lot in order to compare menus or prices. Add to this the rights of property owners to defend themselves against perceived intruders by ’the gun’. It is now a right that if someone enters your property without just cause, you can shoot them. This has led to tragic results even fathers killing their own sons.
Today’s social fabric of education and upward mobility promises more than it can deliver. A meritocracy like the United States promises more than it can deliver. There is no American Dream within reach in 2019. Ego inflation is endemic to society; in that the higher one goes in the stratum of society in career advancement, the more one is able to violate the ego boundaries of others and dominate them, through the exercise of sex and power. For example, wealthy Politicians, Actors/Actresses, and Sports stars are known for multiple sexual liaisons and not conforming to the boundaries of monogamy which is the norm in common society. Witness the ‘me too movement’ which tries to balance the field of equality in the marketplace.
Overemphasis on the development of the individual conscious ego is valued over development of society with the assumption that all are given equal opportunity to survive and fulfill themselves materially. Supporting this egocentric mind warp is the myth that there is a ‘top- down’, trickle down economic benefit to the lower classes from the sterling enterprise of wealthiest among us. Thus, we should be grateful that the wealthy create jobs for the rest of us. History has shown us, this does not work for the middle class as wages have been stagnant since the 1980’s for working class Americans.
As stewards of this popular political illusion, the wealthy tells us that people who are poor are lazy, and they just want a hand out. It is only they with their positive motivation and enterprising spirit as capitalists who are virtuous ones. These views are “democratized” in a preferentially pluralistic society where only the wealthy can get access to lobbies that promote legislation that support and sustain their status quo and world view. The political result, for example, is to cut medical access to the poor and to cut budgets for education for the young rather than tax the wealthy. Head start programs for children and subsidies to Universities are cut before raising taxes.
The computer has for decades replaced human workers on the job through automation and artificial intelligence. And more than that, statistics have become the language to justify, measure goals and award pay for good work performance. Algorithms are employed by physicians to treat presenting medical problems with the mixed outcomes. Now people in the work force are evaluated on how much they conform to performance measures, thresholds of achievement and productivity standards. Because this is often the only measure of work performance, it has dehumanized the process of workplace trust among people and created a lack of social responsibility in others. This one-sided way of measuring human achievement creates an imbalance in the individual and society leading to more alienation and mental illness in the workplace and society as a whole. This is due to the way the ego has dominated consciousness in the western world and it has become inflated. As societies have become inflated, narcissistic and devaluing of humanistic values and institutions becomes common normative social behavior.
The dominant values that this collective consciousness represents are now reaching a nadir as new developments occur in perceptions of mental health. The emergence of these new forms of consciousness has been revolutionized by the Internet, which equalizes the playing field for all people as long as they have access to information.
- The New Consciousness:
We are heading to a paradigm shift, some call it a new Age of Aquarius where deterministic values are becoming subservient to a more holistic approach that takes into account measurable, objective realities plus humanistic considerations. As humanistic values seem to threaten the hold on materialistic and measurable approaches to truth, the anxiety increases among the stewards of the old order. W.I. Thompson describes the phenomenon known as “the sunset effect“ that occurs at the end of a millennium, when the tenacity to hold onto waning values becomes more desperate as we move closer to the future with new values emerging. Within the collective consciousness of the culture, there is a powerful tendency to see life through a rear view mirror and hold onto old worn-out values in the face of threatening changing times. “Make America Great Again” becomes a byword of a passing generation. Myths that reflect the Weltanschauung and mesmerize our people into glorifying the times gone by are “The Fountain of Youth”, “The Spirit of Capitalism” , The “Magic Bullet” , “God and Country” and “The Cowboy” to name a few. In this environment, nativist movements and nationalism replace a cooperative world view.
The propaganda proposed by the proponents of reactionary politicians are using our fear of change to prevent us from realizing a “reality we are living in (which) remains largely unconscious, but (which) we acknowledge by grabbing back onto the sentimental things of the past” (William Irwin Thompson, New Story , “It Has Already Begun- The Planetary Age is an unacknowledged daily reality“, 1986).
But there is a counter movement. Consciousness is becoming less bound by fear of poverty and pride in material wealth and more focused on courage to be. (Hawkins, David Transcending the Levels of Consciousness p. 167) What this present reality means to the individual is that he/she can let him/herself be led by his personal dreams to prepare for critical periods in his life. But this is really a new process because it is possible only by a loss of old, ego identifications. This is such a new awareness, to be able to stop our striving and look at subtle images, revealed by our personal visions. But it is also much more. It is also gaining a perspective that involves personal timing of events in our lives as revealed by Astrology, namely the Huber method of Psychological Astrology (The Cosmic Egg Timer, Hopewell, Llwellyn).
Dreams have been relegated to a small corner of the psychological reality for individuals in our study of the psyche. But dreams are important to development as they contain vital personal information and insights that can guide our inner and external goals. When dreams are interpreted in conjunction with the Huber method’s timing of nodal and radix age point aspects and Cross Points in the horoscope , they can help increase personal power addressing psychosocial crises. Age point aspects in the horoscope mark critical shifts in the developmental understanding of ego attachments and when aligned with dreams of that time. They can yield important psychological insights about when to act and when to retreat in the external world.
To hold back, to withdraw and retreat by reframing losses in external affairs is the mix that is needed to negotiate the world of today. However, few Westerners can achieve the emotional detachment to persevere with the losses of occupational identity, role identity in the family or bodily identity through illnesses that threaten ego integrity as narrowly defined by the West. Dreams that occur at these critical times that indicate a reversal and change from dominant ego identities to submissive ego identities resulting in different tactics of engagement with the external realities are facing us. They are blessings and curses but they can be clues to upcoming losses and gains. Getting rid of the illusion of the ego as the seat of consciousness is most difficult without a road map. But being able to understand one’s dreams, put them in the context of critical periods astrologically and finally relinquish the ego attachment that allowed one to believe in the ego dominance in the first place, can be a source of fulfillment and renewal.
Most Westerners face a crisis or depression when facing such losses in occupation, relationships or their hold on reality. And the more they attempt to hold onto the ego identity that is threatened and forge ahead in another direction blaming external factors for an internal process, the more mentally unbalanced they become. We westerners are psychically one-sided with amalgamation of the ego identity to the persona or dominant function of our psychological type (Jung, Psychological Type ). We do not have the broad-based foundation of wholeness with which to withstand losses when our dominant ego function is thwarted. This is because we know little of our personal inner processes and how our own unconscious can interpret for us through dream imagery how to time and apply ourselves to real life events. Plus, we do not know alternative rituals to help us cope with the losses so that we still feel psychologically secure. So this is the challenge that this work will try to accomplish: helping people at critical times with the relinquishment of the force of the ego illusion as a dominant focus in the person. Thus, we can find the true meaning of what is mentally healthy and balanced.
Flexibility in psychic attitudes is called for but not the ego’s total annihilation. This shift is true on individual as well as collective levels. W. I. Thompson illustrates that the world in the present is a world of an integrated planetary consciousness in which all the old forms of industrial might: defense, territorial imperialism, and the work ethic break down. In his article in New Story, he notes the new era:
“In the emerging planetary world, what counts can’t be counted and so you don’t have a world of objects that are separated in space – wealth and mansions here and dioxin dumps over there. You have a world of interpenetration of presences; you have a world in which consciousness is immanent in matter in that matter isn’t separate from consciousness. You have a world of play, of performance, of a willingness to lower your lifestyle if that will increase the joy, and the spontaneity, and the innovation and the risk-taking, and the imaginative fun of being.” (William Irwin Thompson, New Story , “It Has Already Begun- The Planetary Age is an unacknowledged daily reality“, 1986)
On a macro- level, paralleled to the individual loss of ego identity, one can assume that with these dramatic shifts of Collective power in governments, the change to being a second or third-rate nation, not being dominant as a world power will be felt as having devastating effects on the unsuspecting nation states and individuals within their boundaries. “Look at what we have lost” becomes a nostalgic rallying conversation among those who cannot embrace a new vision of humanity.
How shall we endure such a shift of consciousness on so many levels without losing our psychological security our self-esteem? With the advent of self-psychology mostly propagated by Carl G. Jung and the Jungian, comes the small, but vigorous movement to re-define the nature of the psyche rather than focus on the narrow conscious mind of the behaviorist and on ego strengths alone. Coming from it roots in Hinduism, the Self is seen as the center of the Psyche, not the ego. And it is mostly unconscious.
“The recognition of this civilizational unconscious, this hidden cultural reality, is the end of a process that began intellectually in the early 20th century. Freud began with the instinctive unconscious. Jung followed him and reflected the instinctive life into consciousness as it was created in the collective unconscious and reflected in patterns of imagery that would occur in science or poetry or dreams or the rest of it. It wasn’t instinct. It was instinct reflected in imagery creating consciousness“ (Thompson, William, see above reference).
Taken from my book Dreams and Astrological Psychology by John D. Grove