Dear Dr. Robert,
I read and followed your advice on dietary changes for physical, mental, and emotional steadiness. I began this change ten weeks ago, and recently I have noticed that I feel very much better than I did when I was eating in the old way. To put it in simplest terms, I am just happier, and I feel physically and emotionally lighter just as you said. Also, my thoughts are not so often depressive as they were before. So thank you for publishing this good advice.
Now I have another question. I noticed on your homepage that your site is dedicated, among other things, to "spiritual unfoldment." I would be very interested in learning more about that. Would you please explain what you mean by spiritual unfoldment, and please give some suggestions for spiritual unfoldment as you did for physical, mental, and emotional steadiness.
---T.H.G., Lahti, Finland
dr-robert: Thank you for your letter. What I mean by "spiritual unfoldment" is the possibility in the human being of finding a center which is more than just "myself," a center which seems to embody a level of wisdom, empathy, creativity, humor, and joy which is missing in the ordinary, everyday personality, a center, that is, which is not the outcome of thoughts, attitudes, and ideas, but which seems to exist prior to thought. Once this center is somehow intuited by the ordinary self, "unfoldment" refers to the ever-expanding experience of finding meaning and value in living more from that greater center and less from the demands of the everyday personality as it expresses itself in thoughts, fears, and desires. To put this in somewhat grander terms, that which is finite, time-bound, and subject to death, becomes aware in some way of the underlying ground of being which feels infinite, timeless, and everlasting.
I say that this center must be intuited by the ordinary self because intuition is a human faculty which functions beyond the region of conscious thought, and so may provide a kind of bridge between thought and the underlying ground of being. I like to use the word "unfoldment," because it suggests that this process involves the unfurling or unwinding of something that is already present but needs to be opened up in order that it may function to the fullest within the individual life of each person. If you have ever seen the leaf of a large fern uncoiling, this may provide a good visual metaphor.
Unfortunately, general advice on nutrition is easier to offer, and much easier to convey in words than is advice on fostering spiritual unfoldment. This is because advice on what kind of foods are most useful for maintaining a healthy body can be based on scientific research, and so can be factually demonstrated, while spirituality or spiritual unfoldment cannot even be examined factually, much less proven scientifically.
For example, we now know that substances in the cocoa bean provide a powerful antioxidant action which slows the oxidation and breakdown of HDL cholesterols, causing them to remain longer in the bloodstream. This is a fact which can be shown by means of exact measurement. Since HDL cholesterols are beneficial to the circulatory system, adding cocoa to the diet should benefit total bodily health, and recent studies demonstrate that this is true. Therefore, I would feel confident in suggesting that one might consider adding a tablespoon or so of unsweetened cocoa powder to the daily diet (I would stir this into yoghurt or add it to a fruit drink perhaps). And unless one is allergic to cocoa, this practice ought to be a good one for anyone.
But even assuming that one accepts that spiritual unfoldment is possible, that trying to encourage spirituality is desirable, and that advice on how to promote spiritual development can be conveyed at least to some extent in words, without knowing where you are in your own understanding and without hearing about your own specific attitudes towards the meaning that may be found in the human experience of living and dying, it is difficult for me to suggest what you might do next to "unfold" spiritually. This difficulty in generalizing about inner life is one of the chief reasons why individual, personalized psychotherapy is so valuable. In private, and in an atmosphere of safety, acceptance, trust, and understanding, these subtleties may be entertained so that their finer nuances become apparent without the necessity of resorting only to words on a page, or to a one-sided talk to a general audience.
Numerous gurus, guides, and spiritual teachers, to say nothing about the gang of self-help authors eager to sell books, offer advice on this matter, but many of the people who come to me for therapy have not found such advice to be particularly helpful. In fact, many have found such advice to be demeaning, misleading, or confusing, and have come to psychotherapy partly in order to try to sort out the confusion or heal the damage. This happens, I believe, because the advice of such gurus and spiritual teachers almost always refers either to some traditional religious practices which are to be followed more or less blindly regardless of individual temperament or individual need, or else refers to what that particular teacher believes has been helpful in his or her own approach to spirituality. But my experience tells me that each person must find his or her own way to "unfold," and that following a doctrinal religious system or the generalized advice of a guru is not likely to do the job for most people. As the brilliant sage, J. Krishnamurti put this, "Truth is a pathless land."
In my advice on dietary changes which you have been practicing, I said , "Everybody is different, and every body is different, so without a private consultation, I cannot give you person-specific advice . . . but I will offer some general principles that can help almost anyone." I will try to do the same here as regards your question about spiritual unfoldment, but only with the understanding that, unlike my generalized nutritional advice, this advice about how to approach spirituality will certainly not apply to everyone, and that without knowing you personally I am able to speak only in the most general way. In fact, my suggestions, being generalized, may not be the best thing for you (indeed, this is the point I have just made about the methods imparted, usually in an authoritative tone, by so many gurus, guides, self-help authors, and spiritual teachers), so please take what follows merely as suggestions to be tried out in the spirit of experiment, certainly not as gospel.
That said, one way which may help to create a basis for further spiritual unfoldment involves working with two practices at once. The first requires an ongoing, honest, non-judgmental observation of one's own life, behaviors, and personality patterns with a view towards feeling and noticing barriers to further psychological and emotional development (not, by the way, trying to remove the barriers, just feeling and noticing them). The second practice is to ask oneself as often as possible this one simple question: "Who am I?" In other words, I am recommending that you might like to try two practices which seem to be useful and helpful for many people: self-observation, and self-investigation.
By "self-observation" I mean watching oneself as if one were watching a friend for whom one feels a certain affection, but whom one also is able to see with a certain detachment and objectivity. For example: suppose that someone makes a remark that I find insulting, and I begin to feel angry. If I am practicing self-observation, instead of focusing my attention on the insulting remark and upon the motives of the person who made it, I will instead simply watch my anger as if observing a phenomenon which I want to understand better. In other words, it is not the insult that I wish to focus upon, nor do I wish to prove to myself that the insult does not apply to me, nor do I want to focus upon the personality and possible character flaws of the person who made the remark, but rather I want to watch my own habitual process of dealing with perceived insults by becoming engaged in anger and self-justification. This is why this practice is called self-observation. And I will apply this same attitude of non-judgmental self-observation to all of my behaviors, thoughts, and emotional states whenever possible. You might begin with this, for example: when speaking, notice your own tone of voice. Just notice it, without judging. Try this for an entire day, and see what happens.
By "self-investigation" I mean discarding the conventional and normal ideas that "myself" is my body, my name, my personal history, my membership in a family, my profession, my nationality, or whatever, and approaching the question afresh. Simply ask, "Who am I?" And do not accept any answers. Just keep asking.
Perhaps these two procedures seem simple-minded, and, from a certain point of view, I suppose they are, but like my nutritional advice, you can try them for a while, and see if you like the results.
questioner: Thank you for putting the letter from Liza and your answer on your website. That was an upsetting time for me, since the same person who did that to her tried it out on me too, and I was tempted because I wanted to advance spiritually, but fortunately did not act on it. I also was sexually abused as a child and have been feeling guilty for years about not forgiving [my abuser], so reading what you said about not forcing forgiveness was very welcome. I saw the truth in it right away.
I was sorry that your last talk was canceled, because I really wanted to hear about the two types of meditation which you said you would take up in the final talk.
I’ve asked other yoga teachers about the two types of meditation, but no one seems to know what that is about. Could you say more about it please.
---[name withheld by request]
[The writer is referring to a series of talks on the psychology of yoga and meditation given at a workshop for hatha (physical) yoga teachers. The last talk was canceled when the workshop ended early.]
dr-robert: Yes. In this space I cannot cover the entire content of the fourth talk, but I will say something about the two kinds of meditation. First, it is important to distinguish between meditation practice and a meditative state. Meditation practice is a directed, intentional activity with rules, procedures, and methods, while meditative states are naturally occurring mental-physical-emotional rhythms which arise spontaneously and disappear spontaneously like the wind in the trees. A meditative state may arise while one is “meditating” (the practice), but such a state may arise at any time at all, and really is not connected to “meditation” (practice). Conversely, one may practice meditation exercises for a long time without such an authentic meditative state ever arising.
Meditative states can be noticed subjectively as a change in point of view, and also may be measured objectively as changes in brain waves and in brain chemistry as well as other physical changes. In other words, they are very real states, which are felt inwardly, and also can be verified scientifically.
These naturally occurring meditative states seem often to be associated with a kind of relaxed and open awareness which is both wider-seeing than normal, and also nonjudgmental. This kind of state has been described as choiceless awareness, in which it is felt that things simply are as they are and cannot be any different. In other words, the usual attitude that one manages life by choosing between one thing and another disappears, and everything is seen as already perfect (not necessarily perfect in the sense of “good,” but rather as inevitable and connected to everything else). For many people, such moments are experienced as highly desirable, valuable, and liberating, or possibly even as sacred. For our purpose here, it is important to notice that these states arise spontaneously, and that intending them does not cause them to occur.
Thus, meditative states, which are normal states of mind, have little or nothing to do with meditation practice, which is not a normal state of mind, but a kind of medicine or treatment. To be clear about this, in the same way that you as a hatha yogi might decide to practice the hands to feet pose for twenty minutes in the morning in order to restore spinal elasticity and improve blood flow to the brain, a meditation practitioner might decide, in order to attain a deeper spiritual awareness, to gaze at the flame of a candle while attempting to empty the mind of all thoughts. And just as the hands to feet pose is not a natural posture, but a kind of medicine for the body, the meditation practitioner regards candle gazing as a kind of medicine for the mind.
Now one does not take medicine unless there is some level of disease, and so if I am not troubled by spinal inflexibility or impaired circulation, I may not need to practice hands to feet. Instead, I will simply go through my ordinary day, moving naturally, enjoying my flexibility and good circulation, quite probably without really noticing them. And the very same thing is true of the medicine called “meditation practice.” If, in my ordinary life, I am relaxed, and present, in other words if I am “at ease.” then there is no dis-ease, and I will not even think about practicing meditation. Instead, I just enjoy the sense of presence, allowing things to be as they are in this very moment, probably without even noticing that I am doing so.
It is only when one feels some dis-ease, fear of death for example, or a longing to be free of suffering, or the nagging of some spiritual ambition such as wanting to be reborn into a better life, that one will think of taking the medicine called “meditation.”
Now if medicine is needed, taking it is a good idea, but one ought to be careful first in deciding that medicine really is needed, and second, assuming it is needed, in choosing the right kind of medicine to take. The right medicine at the right time may help, but the wrong medicine may cause harm, perhaps a great deal of harm.
And this is where we arrive at the two types of meditation (practice). One type aims at stilling the mind, attempting, that is, to tame the wildness of the so-called “monkey mind” (always jumping from one thought to another). This is the type of practice typified by candle gazing, chanting, controlled or strenuous breathing exercises, repeating mantras, etc. The other type aims at cultivating the kind of choiceless awareness which characterizes naturally occurring meditative states. Normally in this second type of practice, the instruction is simply to watch without judgment whatever arises, both internally and externally. In other words, one does not try to calm the monkey-mind, but rather to notice its movements with bare attention (neither approval nor disapproval).
I imagine you can see that these are two very different kinds of medicine. The first kind involves a kind of self-hypnosis in which the focus of awareness is narrowed more and more until one becomes absorbed in the object of concentration (the flame, the mantra, the breath). The second type, when practiced with intelligence, favors a kind of awareness which is extremely unfocused. It is unfocused because it has no intent, no object, no goal, no ambition at all except to notice what is.
In my experience, the first type of practice encourages escapism, delusion, and trance states. Since self-induced hypnotic states can feel “special” and out of the ordinary, this kind of meditation may deceive the practitioner into imagining, without any basis, that he or she has attained something special, something “spiritual.” Then the ego is really off to the races, and all kinds of harm, such as the sad events you mentioned, may ensue. This is not to say that concentration exercises should never be practiced, but rather that they are a very strong kind of medicine, deceptively so, and should, in my opinion, be practiced only under constant, experienced supervision. This potential for delusion was always known, and the older sources on meditation practice stressed it, but when meditation hit the mainstream in the 1960s and became another item in the spiritual supermarket touted as a panacea for all ailments, the dangerous potential of such practices was swept under the carpet.
The second type of practice, which stresses calming down, and simply noticing whatever arises, is a gentler, less dangerous kind of medicine. This practice, which is called “insight meditation,” requires neither special sitting nor any special circumstances. It is a kind of open-eyed, accepting, broadened attention which may be practiced anywhere no matter what is happening. For example, while standing in line at the post office, or having dinner with friends, one simply notices ones current emotional state or physical posture without judging as to “good” or “bad.” To be clear, there is nothing esoteric at all about this medicine, and one is not seeking a meditative state or seeking anything else* one simply notices, in a completely ordinary way, as much as possible about what is in the present moment.
Nevertheless, even insight meditation is medicine, and when the dis-ease is cured, one ought to stop taking the medicine. If I imagine that there is some future “advanced” state of consciousness, and that I must keep practicing in order to arrive at it, then I will never stop taking the medicine. I will have become addicted. Like the horizon which recedes as fast as one approaches it, and so can never be reached, the “advanced” state can never be reached either. As soon as that becomes clear, no more medicine is needed.
*If one is practicing “meditation” in order to attain any goal at all besides simple insight--for example freedom from suffering, a better rebirth, saving the world, gaining merit, or finding God--then genuine insight becomes impossible. Ambition itself precludes nonjudgmental bare attention, since everything will be judged in comparison to the future ideal one desires to attain. If one is not ready to abandon ambition, it may be better to seek accomplishments not in meditation, but in the outer world where accomplishments are not so easily fantasized, where others may resist you, and where disillusionment quickly follows attainment of desires. Then, when the futility of living for the future becomes more apparent, one might take up meditation practice from a more useful perspective.
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The Krishnamurti Foundation of America
J. Krishnamurti's quiet philosophy of observation and insight paralleled Rose's thought.
Visit this site to get a feeling for the teachings of this remarkable Englishman. "This method of self-enquiry, sometimes called 'headlessness' or 'seeing who you really are' ('seeing' for short), has been pioneered by the English philosopher and workshop leader Douglas E. Harding, born in 1909. It is a contemporary approach which investigates the question Who am I? and suggests that you can see Who you really are here and now. It provides simple but deep awareness exercises that direct you to this Seeing within yourself."
Gene R. Thursby's Mysticism Resources Page
Information on traditional and modern spiritual practices, including a detailed section on Christian mysticism.
The Zoo Fence
An independent commentary on issues of interest and importance to seekers in search of the Truth about themselves. Also an open forum.
The Great Space Center,
American Sage of Advaita Vedanta
Sites about Franklin Merrell-Wolff,
Allspirit is a site of spiritual writings, poetry, quotations and song lyrics. "From Advaita to Zen, ancient to contemporary, there is something here for everybody. Check the poetry index for a list of poets, who include Rumi, Rabindranath Tagore, William Blake, Hafiz, Rainer Maria Rilke, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mary Oliver, Anna Akhmatova; along with many others."
This page on the Spiritual Teachers site is a good introduction to this Indian guru. The interview of Alexander Smit provides a fascinating look at how Nisargadatta worked.
"Welcome to the world of nonduality. There are over 1000 pages on this website, thousands of original articles/letters and unique links. Contributors to Nonduality Salon have changed the terrain of nonduality in the world. A powerful resource of quotes, links to teachers, essays, and online communities."
The Fourth Way Connection
An entry-point for finding material related to the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky teachings.
Wei Wu Wei
An archival site for the teachings of Wei Wu Wei (Terence Gray).
Capacitie was the word used by Thomas Traherne to describe essential being. This site is especially valuable for the section on the contemporary specialist in the field, John Wren-Lewis. There's another section on Douglas Harding, one on the dialogue meetings (inspired by David Bohm) in Sydney, NSW, and an online newsletter, "Now." Nisargadatta Page>
Depression in the Brain, an audio program available online, details some of the lastest research into the causes and effects of depression, and how depression might best be understood and treated."
Dr. Robert Saltzman's hompage Dedicated to physical, mental, and emotional healing, counseling and psychotherapy, philosophical awareness, self-knowledge, spiritual unfoldment, and the search for meaning in human life.
HealthyPlace.com provides a variety of self-administered psychological tests. Although these are not intended to replace an evaluation by a competent professional, they may be useful in investigating one's own emotional health.
Psych Web contains an excellent compendium of internet self-help resources, plus information for students and teachers of psychology.
natural psychotherapy Dr. Eric Riss advocates a holistic approach to problems in living rather than a reductionist, drug focused psychiatric model. Well worth a visit.
Excerpt from The Ultimate Medicine, a record of talks by Nisargadatta. A profound approach to spirituality and nonduality.
The Psychotherapy Resource Center a repository of information for those interested in mental health issues--both professionals and patients.
yogamovement.com an index to yoga information and resources.
ask dr-robert homepage an archive of previous questions about psychotherapy, counseling, mental, physical, and emotional health, self-understanding, and spirtual unfoldment. Answers from the psychological perspective by Dr. Robert Saltzman, Ph.D., Todos Santos, Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico.
Mental Help Net links to therapists and therapy information.
About Psychotherapy Clinical Psychologist Bennett Pologe, Ph.D writes: "My goal in creating this site was to explain psychotherapy in clear and accessible language -- to demystify the whole subject, without trivializing it."
The Infinite Mind presents archived audio programs about mind, brain, and psychology.