Written by Gianfrancesco Sisto
The multidimensional aspects of a disturbing experience.
One week ago, at the end of a 4 days training online, something unexpected happened to me. My vision became blurred looking at the colleague on the other side of the screen I was talking to. Having finished the seminar, I laid down on the sofa and rested. Eventually, I reached a point when thinking was really hard. For 2 hours both English and French disappeared and I was “reset” to my mother tongue, Italian. At that very moment something else happened: to my surprise I felt like a “hostage” in deep meditation, a forced “letting go of control” with unexpected sense of peace even while the blood pressure (I discovered later at the emergency room of the local hospital) had shot up to 200 over 110 bpm.
I can give a logic explanation about what happened to me and modern medicine is helping me to look for the cause of hypertension. More amazing to me is the personal experience of that transient ischemia. How many people in such moments can be in touch with a “groundedness” where time-space expands and a sense of safety emerges while at the same time feeling death?
I am writing very personally because I want to speak of (at least) three dimensions that compose the real and their constant interplay: consensus reality – at times described as objective reality – which includes time, context, figures (as those of my blood pressure), etc.; the subjective reality of that experience, such as my feelings, the sense of peace and reassurance, the felt expansion of space-time…; and a deeper reality hard to put into language. Arnold Mindell, founder of Process Oriented Psychology, calls it the essence level, an undivided dimension that holds and connects everything.
Most of our time is lived at the consensus reality level, now and again we become aware of feelings, dreams, emotions, symbols, parts of us we do not identify with and we might come to know through that particular person who disturbs or attracts us. Like that state of less ordinary consciousness that happened to me one week ago when I was stopped and had to let go of control.
C. G. Jung had many merits, one of them was to define the collective unconscious and its emergence into the personal one through dreams, its symbols and archetypes. One of the limits of that approach was that it was mostly, if not exclusively, focused on night time dreams and their interpretation by the analytical psychologist.
Barbara Hannah, one of Jung’s first associates in her book Active imagination, writes: “Jung once told me that the unconscious was not dangerous. There was one real danger, he said, but that was a very serious one, panic! The fear that grips a person when something very unexpected confronts him, or when he begins to be afraid of losing his footing in the conscious world, can upset him so much that it is really no wonder that so few people embark on the task.”
As a priest and a psychotherapist in training I am familiar with people having to deal with disturbances of various sorts, from less ordinary states of consciousness (anger, rage, euphoria, phobia, dependencies) to extreme states (coma, for example) when the meta-communicator and the Identity that holds our inner world in touch with consensus reality disappear. Then we might feel we are sucked into a process that can be more or less scary (depending on its intensity and length) for us, the person having it, and/or for the relatives, friends and the larger society that tries to contain it, especially so when these are diagnosed or medicated extreme states.
Arnold Mindell, a trained Jungian psychoanalyst and a physicist, made central in his research the phenomenology of the soul. In other words, he wondered how that “invisible” unconscious, dreaming process, can be phenomenologically tracked in channels of information other than night time dreams. The research to that question led Mindell and his first group of students to develop what today is called Processwork.
In a letter addressed to C. G. Jung after his death, Arnold Mindell, writes: “You and Freud thought that the ‘royal road to the unconscious is through dreams’. For me, today, that road is a minor one. Don’t you agree that in fact there are many superhighways into the ‘unconscious’? I think of spontaneous body experience, unintentional body movements, relationship work, comatose states, and large group work. I know you agreed with these ideas after we discussed them together. You often appeared in dreams, and were thrilled with the new ideas.”.
I met Arnold Mindell for the first time in Portland in 2010. One evening he explained the importance of recycling. It is much more than a punctual act proving civility we can all put in place, it is the spirit of deep-democracy at work.
All the discarded parts of a system, be it personal (like this my second ischemic attack), societal (the bad guys, the killers, the persons experiencing extreme states) and global (such as the current depleting of natural resources, global warming, covid-19…) although they might be ignored they do not disappear, they remain around as a disturbance, constantly communicating in their best known language (dreams, body, groups, environment) until another part, someone, a citizen, the President of a Republic, a Religious leader, a larger group, gets interested and consciously embarks on welcoming that message, which is potentially beneficial to the whole system when no longer ignored.
Paraphrasing Albert Einstein, objective reality issues cannot be solved only with the mind that created them, they can find a solution in connection with a deeper level, the dreaming, the soul, the mind of the Process that only apparently is randomly creating events in our personal life and in the universe.
In my case I am putting attention to my process by following up with medical check-ups and also psychologically, by welcoming with awareness the attitude of the “timeless meditator” in me, something I have been resistant to because of the unknown territory it brings me.
This article shows how enriching it is to ‘recycle’ my recent experience and how interconnected that three-dimensional process is: it began in my body, at a specific time and location, it generated the dream-figure of the “timeless meditator” before it shifted into a “mysterious” experience hard to verbalise.
The same process now returns to the channel where it started, the screen of the computer, hoping that you too, the reader, might be interested in valuing the unknown, the disturbing, the various ways in which the unconscious knocks at the door of your awareness.
As Arnold Mindell, quoting Jung, wrote: “Cook the shit and turn it into gold”.