A Review of Patient-Centered Medicine: A Human Experience

A Review of Patient-Centered Medicine: A Human Experience

By David H. Rosen and Uyen Bao Hoang

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This is a new and updated edition of Medicine as a Human Experience originally published in 1984 by David H. Rosen and David E. Reiser with two guest chapters by George L. Engel (one of the founders of the biopsychosocial model still taught in medical schools). As a disclosure, one of the current authors, Uyen, is a friend of mine whom I know through living and working in New Zealand.

This new edition features a foreword by Andrew Weil, MD, who puts the book in context within the current frameworks of the biopsychosocialspiritual model of medicine and integrative medicine. Dr. Weil writes that not only does Patient-Centered Medicine “define the role of health professionals in the new model of medicine that is coming into being, it gives a great deal of practical advice about the attitudes and skills they should develop to care best for patients” (ix).  The current edition includes Norman Cousins’ (author of Anatomy of an Illness and The Healing Heart) original foreword entitled “Physician as Humanist,” which invokes the framework of humanism as a partner or counter-balance to the technological and interventionist aspects of medicine. Cousins stresses the interconnectedness of science and humanism, ending with the statement, “I pray that, even as you attach the highest value to your science, you will never forget that it works best when it serves your humanity” (xvii).

The book next includes a prologue, written by Dr. Uyen B. Hoang. Uyen tells of her own path as a healer, as a Vietnamese-born American, training in medicine, going through burnout in the contemporary practice of psychiatry in the United States, and then moving to New Zealand to practice, “in search of something greater, on a quest for expansion and truth” (xxv). With honesty and integrity, Uyen brings her own personal experiences of medical practice to the book which bridges the thirty-some years since the book was first written. Dr. Rosen also shares personal elements of his own work and journey to humanize the more theoretical aspects of the text.

The text elaborates the four essential principles of medicine as a human experience: acceptance, empathy, conceptualization, and competence, stating that these are required to prepare physicians to be “compassionate champions for health” (4). The grounding of the book is in the frameworks of humanism and the psychotherapeutic understanding of human relationships. George Engel’s two chapters give us the opportunity to read, in his own words, the ideas of the founder of the biopsychosocial model. Throughout the book, Drs. Rosen and Hoang focus on the idea that there is no separation between the humanistic and scientific approaches. Rather than a duality between the art and science of medicine, they offer the perspective that the therapeutic relationship is rooted in the human science of presence and connected observation.

What could be improved in this book for the next edition? I think the authors do a good job of retaining the focus of the original and updating it to the present times. I think a larger discussion of what is now called the biopsychosocialspiritual model that Dr. Weil mentions in his foreword could be helpful. Another area to consider is the work on compassion-based practices as an antidote to burnout. These elements are present in the book, but could be further developed. That said, this book easily joins the work of other healers such as Robin Youngson, Tony Fernando, Allan D. Peterkin, Andrew Weil, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, and the late Lee Lipsenthal who have been engaged in what I call the compassion revolution in medicine.

Patient-Centered Medicine: A Human Experience gives the reader a great overview of biopsychosocial, humanist and psychotherapeutic perspectives of human interconnection and inter-relatedness. It combines the enthusiasm of the younger psychiatrist with the wisdom of the older psychiatrist in order to guide students, doctors, nurses, and clinicians through training and into practice. Patient-Centered Medicine is also a source of renewal for practicing doctors and clinicians, reminding us all why we went into medicine and health care in the first place.  Drs. Rosen and Hoang close with the following sentences: “We must encourage introspection, healthy relationships, play, openness, and joyous, creative expression. We must spawn a generation of doctors who are not afraid to love” (142).

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David H. Rosen and Uyen Bao Hoang

 

 

Re-humanizing Medicine Review

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The American Medical Writers Association has published a review of Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine.

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You can find the full review at this link. Below are some excerpts from the review written by Debamita Chatterjee.

“Re-humanizing Medicine by David R. Kopacz is an incisive reflection on the existing medical practices of an increasingly corporatized world. At the same time, it seeks to teach the medical and health care community how to correct that dehumanized outlook by being more compassionate and holistic.”

“Considering the absurdly frenetic pace of modern medical practice, this book does an excellent job of nourishing the soul of practicing physicians first, thereby helping them to regain their humanity. This, in turn, may translate into a more humanized treatment of patients and, ultimately, establish a pathway to a whole new paradigm of medical practice.”

“This book helps us to understand, appreciate, and correct the wrongs of modern-day medicine by inspiring us to be more connected—to be more human.”

 

Reviewer: Debamita Chatterjee

Debamita is a graduate of the University of Rochester in biomedical sciences. She has written for the University of Rochester Medical Center and journals including eLife and The Scientist.

Spirituality Today Book of the Month: Walking the Medicine Wheel

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Spirituality Today has selected our book, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, as Book of the Month!

Spirituality Today is based in the UK and focuses on “Challenging Paradigms and Expanding Consciousness.”

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You can read the full review of the book at this link.

Excerpts from the Spirituality Today review.

In Walking the Medicine Wheel its authors offer an approach to repairing the shattered psyches of PTSD suffers through a number of different healing modalities. These are essentially anchored within and around the mandala of the Medicine Wheel of Native American Tradition – a map through which initiates can more closely understand and appreciate mankind’s relationship with those natural forces that permeate through the world of spirit and the psyche of man.

This framework is remarkably similar to many Western psycho-spiritual constructs and has a particular resonance with ideas expressed by Carl Jung in his philosophy of personal individuation. Here the concepts of the Four Directions within Native philosophy and the Four Functions in Jungian analysis merge and complement each other.

…within the pages of this book such sufferers may well discover a vitally important lifeline…the ideas presented here should demonstrate to everyone that opportunities for personal growth can emerge even from the darkest recesses of the sort of fractured mindset that trauma creates.

This book has been beautifully produced and has a real quality feel to it. The inclusion of the remarkable visionary artwork of Native American Joseph Rael has resulted in a publication that carries with it an energy that stimulates the soul of its reader along the way.

…a publication with a warm heart – one that beats loud and clear from within its pages and which I feel reaches out to those suffering in pain and torment as a result of the nightmares derived from their military service.

In short, Walking the Medicine Wheel is a remarkable and highly impressive collaboration between two insightful, spiritual-warriors ― two hardened veterans of front-line psycho-spiritual conflicts whose combined approach to the challenge of trauma has created a deeply moving and very humbling publication indeed.

Thanks Spirituality Today for the review!

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Link to our videos on Walking the Medicine Website.

 

Review of Marsha Snyder’s Positive Health: Flourishing Lives, Well-Being in Doctors

Positive Health

I first met Marsha Snyder, MD, MAPP, an American psychiatrist, at the Health of Health Professionals conference in Auckland, New Zealand, 2011. I have sat in on her presentations over the past three offerings of the Australasian Doctors’ Health Conference/Health of Health Professionals conference. Marsha sums up her years of work and personal experience in this book, Positive Health: Flourishing Lives, Well-Being in Doctors, published 2014 – the same year as my book, Re-humanizing Medicine. Marsha’s book adds to what I have been calling the counter-curriculum of self-care and compassion revolution in health care.

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Marsha describes a curriculum that builds on positive psychology, which she studied under Dr. Martin Seligman for her Master’s degree at University of Pennsylvania. She creates an expansive curriculum of positive health and builds upon evidence-based principles of resilience and positive psychology to transform “physician ill-being” into well-being and flourishing.

Marsha describes five themes for her book:

 
1) The “cause of ill-being in medical students extends beyond the students, into issues with faculty and administration.”

2) Many “physicians who are troubled or burned out relate some of their difficulties to ethical issues in the system.”

3) There is a need for “understanding, defining, and teaching of resilience skills to physicians.”

4) The “creation of well-being in doctors and the rest of society by incorporating the science of positive health.”

5) Medical “training and practice must move out from an outdated pathology-based model to a health-based/prevention-based model,” (page 2).

Marsha adds in various exercises, including mindfulness, and discussion questions to the curriculum and stresses the need for “spirited multi-disciplinary teams.” She includes a chapter on “Spirituality and Well-Being,” defining spirituality as “a search for the sacred,” (240) and she reviews the links between spirituality and health. I particularly like the chapter, “Posttraumatic and Post-Ecstatic Growth in Medicine.” I was familiar with posttraumatic growth which describes the potentially transformative response to trauma, but I had not heard of “post-ecstatic growth,” which describes how highly positive experiences can also lead to transformative growth of “different areas of the self, including meaning in life, self-esteem, or social bonds,” (233).

Positive Health: Flourishing Lives, Well-Being in Doctors is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the need for self-care and personal growth in doctors and health care workers. Marsha’s focus goes way beyond limiting the negative to expanding joy and flourishing in the lives of those working in health care.

We Need a New Holistic Paradigm – “Re-humanizing Medicine” Review

Please check out the Courage & Renewal Blog post, “We Need a New Holistic Paradigm – Re-humanizing Medicine Review,” by Sandra Carter, of the Center for Physician Leadership Coaching.

Here is a quote from the review:

“If ever a path was needed, the time is now! Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: ‘Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.’ In this case, a must read for physicians is Re-humanizing Medicine by David Kopacz, M.D., who shines a ray of light on a positive path forward.”

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Thanks Sandra for your kind words and thanks Courage & Renewal for your support!

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Review of Mira Bai, by Saritha Gnanananda

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(2010 Kindle e-book)

 

“Sri Krishna alone is my lover. I have gone mad with grief.”

“I will have no peace of mind unless Sri Krishna comes to me.”

These quotes open Gnanananda’s book on Mira Bai, described as having “dedicated her entire life to God and endured all the difficulties of life. Awake or asleep, all the time she thought only of Sri Krishna.” Princess, widow, mystic, poet, musician and Hindu Saint, Mira Bai (alternatively Mirabai or Meera Bai) lived in the 1500s (1498-1546) in Rajasthan (the Northwest of modern India). She is known as a “the most renowned woman poet-saint of India,” (Daniel Landinsky, Love Poems From God). Gnanananda describes Mira as “the very embodiment of Bhakti (or devotion to God).” Wikipedia describes Bhakti as “closely related to Islamic Sufism, which appeared around the same time: both advocated that a personal expression of devotion to God is the way to become at one with him.” Gnanananda expresses this bhakti devotion with loving care of the subject of Mira Bai.

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This Kindle e-book gives a biography of Mira’s life, starting with her birth in a noble family. As a small girl she saw a wedding procession and asked what the bridegroom was and then asked to have one to play with. Her grandfather gave her an idol of Krishna and said “Take good care of him.” Another story tells of her wanting the Krishna idol of a holy hermit. The hermit was visited by Krishna in a dream and was told to give his idol to the young girl. When she was older, Mira Bai was married to a man whose family disapproved of her constant devotion to Lord Krishna. At this point, Gnanananda admits,

“It may seem strange that one should regard God as the husband and behave accordingly. But it is not a new thing in the Bhakti cult. There are several types of Bhakti (devotion). They are classified according to the relation that exists between God and the devotee.”

Vatsalya Bhava: God as Parent

Dasya Bhava: God as Master

Sakhya Bhava: God as Intimate Friend

Madhurya Bhava: God as Husband

Gnanananda states that Madhurya Bhava is the highest form of devotion for it includes all other forms of relationship.

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This type of devotional love of God has roots in Christianity, as well, for instance in the writing of St. John of the Cross, author of Dark Night of the Soul  (who lived during a similar time, 1542-1591) and John of Ruysbroeck  (1293-1381) in his book, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage; or even the earlier Old Testament book, The Song of Songs in which bodily love and spiritual love are intertwined. A very nice book of poetry exploring the writing of poets from many religious traditions in regard to different forms of the divine love is Daniel Ladinsky’s Love Poems From God (2002). The Poet Seers website is also a nice place to visit for poems and short biographies of poets.

Mira was thought to be mad by her in-laws, and they attempted to sequester her, poison her, and tarnish her name. However, “she was known among the people as ‘a great saint,’” (Gnanananda). Her fame was such that the Moghul Emperor, Akbar the Great, (who was an integrator of religions) visited Mira in disguise and laid a diamond necklace at her feet. Although she refused the gift, Akbar (in disguise) said “I cannot take back what I have brought for Sri Krishna. Please do not refuse,” (Gnanananda). Thus, she was not able to turn away Akbar’s gift.

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However this gift made her in-laws even more angry with her and she survived several attempts to kill her. She sought refuge at a holy place, however the leading man at the site refused her entrance as she was a woman. She rejoined, saying, “I thought the only man in Brindavan is Sri Krishna. Now I see there is a rival.” Thus she outwitted the holy man as, “In the Bhakti cult the love of the wife for her husband is said to be the best form of devotion. According to this all are women in this world. God is the only Man,” (Gnanananda). This short book ends with a discussion of the disappearance of Mira, offering different possible ends of her life, for instance, that she was finally merged bodily with Sri Krishna, such was her devotion. This mirrors the story of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption bodily into heaven.

Mira Bai was a strong woman, poet, singer, mystic and Hindu saint. As a mystic, she argues for a direct communion with God and this was threatening to the male hierarchy, both religious and political. She is a champion for women’s (and all humans) rights to worship God directly and her devotional poems blend a physical sensuality and subversive, revolutionary, single-minded love of God which takes precedence over all other laws and hierarchies.

It is fitting to end with a couple of poems of Mira Bai, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

A Hundred Objects Close By

I know a cure for sadness:

Let your hands touch something that

makes your eyes smile.

I bet there are a hundred objects close by

that can do that.

Look at

beauty’s gift to us–

her power is so great she enlivens

the earth, the sky, our

soul.

 

A Great Yogi

In my travels I spent time with a great yogi.

Once he said to me,

“Become so still you hear the blood flowing

through your veins.”

One night as I sat in quiet,

I seemed on the verge of entering a world inside so vast

I know it is the source of

all of

us.

 

Mira Knows Why

The earth looked at Him and began to dance.

Mira knows why, for her soul too

is in love.

If you cannot picture God

in a way that always

strengthens

you,

You need to read

more of my

poems.

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A Review of At Ganapati’s Feet: Daily Life with the Elephant-Headed Deity, by Janyananda Saraswati (David Dillard Wright)

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David Dillard-Wright is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy at University of South Carolina, Aiken. He has a broad range of interests in the philosophy of the mind, bioethics, meditation (authored the book, 5-Minute Mindfulness and others), and in his latest book, he describes his experience and interest in Hindu ritual and meditation. At Ganapati’s Feet is a short, quick read at 99 pages. It starts off autobiographically, with Dr. Dillard-Wright’s story of seeing a friend’s statue of the Hindu god, Ganesha, and being drawn to the statue. He sought out his own statue and installed it on his writing desk as he worked on his dissertation (published as The Ark of the Possible: The Animal World in Merleau-Ponty) and began offering prayers as he worked to Ganesha. He eventually made a promise that if his dissertation were completed and published, he would write a book on Ganesha (Ganapati being one of Ganesha’s 108 names).

I, too, have a statue of Ganesha on my writing desk (a small return gift for loaning a friend a copy of Gandhi’s autobiography). Ganesha is a liminal deity, a threshold god, the first to be acknowledged on entering a Hindu temple Ganesha is often thought of as the remover of obstacles, and also a patron god of writers as well – having made a promise to complete a writing, and when he ran out of writing instruments, broke off his own tusk to use as a quill (which is why he is shown having one broken tusk). I had picked up a few elephant statues over the past few years and was very interested in the symbolism of removing and moving through obstacles. I came to think of my leadership style at times as an embodiment of this elephant energy when I hit an obstacle – not to overpower it by force, but to refuse to budge or be forced backward on any issue I considered crucial to gradually make advances on toward a clinical or administrative goal. This was kind of between putting something on the back-burner (essentially putting off until later) and having something on the forefront of one’s focus. I developed an ability to have continual awareness on an issue and whenever the smallest opening appeared, to take a step or two forward and then hold, until the next step was possible. This was a kind of medium to long-term planning, and in the meantime I would go about the daily issues and concerns.

One of the interesting facets of this short book is Dillard-Wright’s background of passing through the Christian seminary. His spiritual practice appears to have seamlessly incorporated Christian and Hindu belief and ritual. In fact, he writes that his Hindu practice has helped to bridge the Christian gap between the spiritual and the earthly, Ganapati, himself embodies the union of animal head and human body. His two wives, Riddhi (prosperity) and Siddhi (spiritual attainment) also bridge the common tension between material wealth and spiritual wealth. The book examines an integration of Hindu and Christian theology to arrive at an embrace of both the material and spiritual worlds. Even the split between human and divine is repaired as Dillard-Wright describes that the Hindu “gods represent the latent powers within ourselves; aspects of our true nature,” (10).

Rather than claiming to have found “enlightenment,” Dillard-Wright describes having “found tools to lighten the load,” through “seeing the negatives themselves as part of the journey toward liberation…to push oneself ever closer to the divine nature as it unfolds in this world. Eventually we come to regard ourselves not as separate beings, but as aspects of Ganesha’s nature. We come to be the removers of obstacles for others,” (14). He further writes that the “path forward for humanity, the only way that does not lead to destruction, lies in mutual service and submission,” (14-15). He thus finds in the heart of Hinduism the heart of Christianity. He presents Hinduism as being more accepting of other religions, as it is a polytheism. While most Christians do not consider the study of Hinduism part of the path to God, Dillard-Wright states that almost “every major Hindu saint has at some time read and appreciated the teachings of Jesus, and many authors have seen Jesus as a great yogi,” (16). This concept of religious tolerance, while a founding principle of the United States, is currently a topic of great concern – as intolerance, in general, appears to be growing in the Land of the Free.

After a discussion of harmonizing contrasts between Hinduism and Christianity, Dillard-Wright moves to an exegesis of the symbolism of Ganesha. His comments about the broken tusk, in particular, are of interest. While we often think of elephants as slow and ponderous, Ganesha represents the lighting flash of the creative mind, using his four hands to write four times as fast as someone using a single hand. His one remaining tusk represents “single-pointed devotion and oneness with his father,” (Siva) (31). Turning the broken tusk to his advantage, this “symbolism means that Ganesha takes defects and quickly makes them into tools, thereby overcoming them. The quickness with which he fights his adversaries and composes poetry he also pours into his devotee’s lives, making them quick and nimble as well,” (31).

The next section of the book explores mantras and spiritual aphorisms of Ganesha, such as “Regard everything as holy,” (63) and “When trouble comes, retreat into meditation,” (65). The remainder of the book focuses on the steps of a ritual practice of puja, detailing the prayers and sequence of devotions and movements in the ritual worship of Ganesha, including the recitation of Ganesha’s 108 names.

This is an interesting little book, about a big subject, Ganesha the elephant-headed deity. It details the adoption of daily Hindu practice by a man who describes himself as a Christian, and is also a professor of philosophy. His handling of the topic is open, honest, straight-forward and thoughtful. It is well worth the short time it takes to read and raises many interesting topics in integrative religion and spirituality.

Union of Inner and Outer Wilderness, Review of A Testament to the Wilderness: Ten Essays on an Address by C.A. Meier

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This book is a collection of essays in honor of psychologist, C.A. Meier, and it includes Meier’s 1983 address to the Third World Wilderness Congress in Inverness, Scotland, entitled, “Wilderness and the Search for the Soul of Modern Man.” It is a nice, diverse overview of different perspectives on inner wilderness of Jungian depth psychology and its relation to outer wilderness of nature. It includes an essay on a Taoist parable of how imposing order on chaos and nature can lead to its death (“The Arts of Mr. Hun Tun,” by Mokusen Miyuki); two wonderful essays by South African soldier and writer Laurens van der Post (“Wilderness: A Way of Truth,” and “Appointment with a Rhinoceros”); various essays examining personal nature narratives and explorations of indigenous peoples’ relationships with nature; and an interesting ending of a poetic mélange called, “Nature Aphoristic (with an excerpt from Goethe), by artist and publisher, Sam Francis.

The foreword of the book is by Robert Hinton, also a psychotherapist as well as the editor and publisher of Daimon Press in Zurich, which is the publisher of the book. Hinton sets the tone for the book, reminding us of “the potential meaning – of crisis, both within and without: it can be tragic; and at the same time, it provides us with the possibility of renewal,” (xii). He invites us, if we are “willing and able to be open to it…it is often just the un-known, the un-planned, the un-expected, the un-familiar which can best teach us,” (xii).

Meier’s essay is based on the correspondence of the inner unconscious and the outer natural world and that disturbance of one, or over-emphasis of one, causes disturbances of the other. “Man is estranged from his soul, therefore from his own inner nature, by being lost in the outer world. Excessive interference with outer nature creates of necessity disorder of the inner nature, for the two are intimately connected,” (2). He draws on the writings of the Neo-Platonists, citing Poseidonius’ statement on “sympatheia ton holon [sympathy of all things],” and Porpyrius’ comment that “the soul, when it encounters the visible, recognizes itself there as it carries everything within itself and the all of things is nothing else than soul,” (3-4). He, is critical of an over-valuation of the scientific perspective on life, stating that we “try to learn more and more about those objects [of nature] and begin to analyze and dissect them, thereby eventually killing them…In other words, as the natural sciences developed, respect for nature as a whole disappeared,” (6). Meier argues that we must attend carefully and thoughtfully to “wilderness without – wilderness within,” and that if we ignore our inner wilderness, we will project these disowned dangers into the outside world and work out our inner conflicts through our relationship with the environment.

Miyuki’s discussion of Chuang Tzu’s Mr. Hun Tun or Chaos critiques the concept of the “machine heart,” and calls for balancing the yang control function of machines with the yin harmony function of the feminine. “If we are not to destroy ourselves as a result of the inhuman operation of the technocratic machine, we must cultivate the feminine functioning of the ego so as to let the Tao, or Self, take its course,” (34).

Laurens van der Post, in his essay, “Wilderness – A Way of Truth,” recalls a conversation he had with Jung in which he said that “the truth needs scientific expression; it needs religious expression and artistic expression,” (45). He thus sets up the need for having different, complementary attitudes and perspectives on nature. Van der Post tells a marvelous tale from the South African Bushmen of “The Great White Bird of Truth.” This story recounts how the community’s best hunter one day caught a glimpse in a rippling pool of a beautiful white bird flying in the sky. “From that moment on, he wasn’t the same. He lost all interest in hunting…One day he said to his people, ‘I am sorry; I am going to find this bird whose reflection I saw. I have got to find it,’ and he said good-bye and vanished,” (53). He traveled throughout all of Africa until he was at the end of his strength, as he watched the beautiful African sunset, he thought, “I shall never see this white bird whose reflection is all I know.” And he prepared himself to lie down and die. Then at that moment, a voice inside him said, ‘Look!’ He looked up and, in the dying light of the African sunset, he saw a white feather floating down from the mountain top. He held out his hand and the feather came into it, and grasping the feather, he died,” (54). He interprets this story as the tale of a person who is spiritually aware, is open to perceiving even a reflection of the truth, and is content with just one feather of the truth. This harkens back to the second part of Jung’s comments on the truth needing scientific, religious and artistic expression, “even then…you only express part of it,” (45). Van der Post stresses the ongoing need of adaptation and re-orientation of each generation to the truth of inner and outer.

Van der Post’s second essay, “Appointment with a Rhinoceros,” is well worth the read. Briefly it is his telling of a transformative encounter with nature in his homeland of South Africa after having been away from home for 10 years, including 3 years in a Japanese concentration camp. He says that his loss of connection with his “natural self” and regaining it in a sudden communing with nature, is an “illustration of one of the many paths we can travel in order to rediscover this lost self,” (124-125). It is a really marvelous essay about the healing of war trauma through nature as well as re-establishing the harmony of inner and outer. I plan to discuss this in a book I am currently working on using Joseph Campbell’s framework of the Hero’s Journey in working with veterans.

The book ends with Sam Francis’ aphorisms about nature. I’ll end this review with a few choice quotes from him. “Every detail of life is a perpetual blessing. Artists work to show this to everyone. It is an unremembered act of kindness and love to do this,” (137). “As William Blake said, what can be imagined is true,” (139). “Space and time are relative to matter, not imagination,” (140).

This is a short (142 pages) book that is very readable and presents a nice selection of perspectives on the relationship between inner and outer wilderness. It extends Meier’s work as well as the work of Jung. It is of interest from a psychological as well as an ecological perspective, and has a lot of fascinating narratives of personal growth in it, as well.

Review of God Is A Trauma: Vicarious Religion and Soul-Making (1989), by Greg Mogenson

God is a Trauma

This is a review of an edition of this book that was later re-named and reprinted in 2005: A Most Accursed Religion: When a Trauma Becomes a God.

The thesis of this book is that trauma (as an experience that overwhelms the ego) and God (an experience that overwhelms the ego through unknowability) share something in common, and may perhaps even be different aspects of the same thing/process. Mogenson writes that his aim “is not to reduce theology’s God to a secularized category of psychopathology but rather to raise the secularized term ‘trauma’ to the immensity of the religious categories which, in the form of images, are among its guiding fictions,” (1). Further that just as “God has been described as transcendent and unknowable, a trauma is an event which transcends our capacity to experience it,” (1).

Drawing on Jung, Hillman, Nietzsche, Freud, the Christian mystics and the Christian Bible, Mogenson traces out a very interesting interplay between trauma and God. The book is flawed by, what comes across as, hostility toward religion, and with that spiritual and mystical experience. I would say this is the major reason that I found this book fascinating as well as frustrating and disappointing. There is a certain arrogance in Mogenson’s knowing of religion and a reductionism, not necessarily to materialism, but to imagism. By this I mean the strain of thought and argument from Jung through Hillman which seeks to distance itself from spiritual experience. Jung’s work is bifurcated, sometimes he claims to be a scientist and speak of the “God-image” rather than of God (Mogenson adopts this stance in the first paragraph of his book, saying he is not speaking of God, but of the “God-image”). Jung’s work, particularly now that The Red Book has been published, also clearly values spirituality and religion, and attempts not to reduce those universal aspects of human experience to psychology, but to use psychology to better understand God/spirituality/religion. Hillman (whose work I can’t claim to have studied as extensively as Jung’s) elevates soul over spirit, with soul being associated with energized human experience and the spirit associated more typically with transcending human experience. In a way, this is the old argument between immanence (soul) and transcendence (spirit). In Hillman’s work there is a, usually subtle, antagonism with spirit, partially because he views himself as correcting the imbalance of traditional religion.

Freud was a confirmed atheist. Nietzsche pronounced the “death of God,” however, Nietzsche was very alive and expansive in his writing. Freud used rationalism and modernism to dissect God. Nietzsche used reason and social criticism to diagnose a problem with Christianity. While Freud seemed to bemoan the fact of non-rationality in human beings, Nietzsche glorified irrationality in the form of “the will to power,” the flow of life, particularly Dionysian life, but also Apollonian life.

I apologize for this divergence from Mogenson’s work, but I think the flaws in the work are not specifically his, so much as a problematic current within contemporary human thought and experience, and particularly within scholarly and academic writing. I cannot claim to have “solved” this dilemma, however, I think it can be dealt with in a more subtle and complex way than Mogenson has done in this book.

Mogenson writes that the “soul-destroying consequence of worshipping a God who is identical with our inability to understand Him is that we tend to propitiate, as if they too were completely transcending, events which the soul might easily comprehend and absorb,” (46).  I think Mogenson overstates the point that life events are easily comprehended and absorbed. It is this aspect of Mogenson’s work that seems arrogant and polemical, rather than subtle and exploratory.

I do see that Mogenson revised this book and that revision is published under the title, A Most Accursed Religion: When a Trauma Becomes a God (2005).  This title does fit the topic of the current edition of the book being reviewed, the out of print, 1989 edition. I happened to be reading this book at the same time I was reading C.A. Meier’s Healing Dream and Ritual: Ancient Incubation and Modern Psychotherapy. What I missed in Mogenson’s book was Meier’s conception of Asclepius, the man who transformed over centuries from a man to a god. The healing, or “right attitude was made possible by the cult, which simply consisted in leaving the entire art of healing to the divine physician. He was the sickness and the remedy,” (3). The title of the revised edition of this book more clearly emphasizes that it is about the potential sickness of God and trauma. The edition of the book, entitled God is A Trauma, is an interesting, if at times one-sided, look at the relationship between Judeo-Christian religion and trauma, as well as the common human response of turning an overwhelming trauma into a “god,” that then terrorizes the individual. The one-sidedness comes from seeing god-making as a pathological process, rather than as an ambivalent process which could be positive or negative depending upon how it was handled.

 

 

The Spiritual Transformation of Humanity

A Review of Hans Thomas Hakl’s, Eranos: an alternative intellectual history of the twentieth century

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This is a marvelously fascinating book documenting the history of Eranos, a yearly, interdisciplinary meeting in Ascona, Switzerland that started in 1933 and continues on in different forms to the present day. Hakl’s book is balanced, while sympathetic to the underlying spirit of Eranos. It is very well-referenced, with almost one hundred pages of 8 point font notes. Eranos was the life work of Olga Fröbe, who brought together an interdisciplinary group of speakers for an exploration of the spirit in history, philosophy, psychology, science and mythology. These speakers included: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Henry Corbin, Mircea Eliade, D. T. Suzuki, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, Heinrich Zimmer, and innumerable others. Hakl’s work is detailed and exhaustive as well as broadly connected to larger societal themes. While the topic is very different, it is worth comparing it to Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, by Greil Marcus.

After an in-depth exploration of the people who participated in Eranos as well as the controversies surrounding the meetings and the individual lecturers’ lives and works, Hakl gives an interesting summary of subsequent organizations that sought to combine the scholarly and the spiritual, perhaps using Eranos as a prototype. Most notably, for an American audience, Hakl cites a discussion he had with Michael Murphy discussing the role that Eranos played as an inspiration for Esalen, in California, which has played such an important role in the human potential movement and fostering personal growth.

As well as a history of a specific place and organization and specific historical individuals, Hakl also explores broader tensions between science, spirituality, objectivity, subjectivity, modernism, esotericism, individual and the collective. Hakl discusses the tensions between the rational/scientific world view and the esoteric/spiritual world view. His argument is that Eranos was a third view point which sought to integrate both science and inner spiritual experience. Here are a couple quotes that Hakl cites regarding the goal of Eranos as seeking a “rationality that does not reduce or fragment what it sees, but which enriches, synthesizes, and evokes responses,” (Charles Scott, 258). Eranos’ aim was “indeed to bring about more than an understanding but rather a knowing through direct experience,” (Ira Progoff, 258-9). And lastly, Henry Corbin, “we in Eranos never had the intention of adapting ourselves to some given model, we never paid heed to any orthodoxy, and we were concerned with only one thing, namely to press on into the innermost part of ourselves, pursuing that truth until we reach its farthest limits, (261). In summary, “Eranos was thus not exclusively concerned with learned scholarship but equally (although not in the case of all participants) with the spiritual transformation of humanity,” (Hakl, 11).

I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in the “spiritual transformation of humanity,” as well in the history of this organization that brought together such influential thinkers as Carl Jung, James Hillman, Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade and Henry Corbin. The book offers glimpses into the lives of these different figures who lectured at Eranos, where they could try out new ideas and find a source for inspiration and companionship in a place whose goal was the synergistic integration of inner and outer knowing.