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Essays listed in chronological order starting with most recent. For archives, please see previous volumes below.
  • Writer's pictureRudy Bauer

Existential Phenomenological Psychotherapy – “Obscurations,” Part 1

Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D., Writer, Michelle Mae, Transcriber, Erin Johannesen, M.A., M.D., Editor

Everything is method to enter awareness.  It doesn’t matter whether your eyes are opened or closed, whether you are sitting or lying, there is no one posture – no one thing.  If there is only one posture, you are really stuck, if you can only be in awareness in that posture.  Once we feel a little stability or base inside, we can extend through the body.  First you extend all the way down and all the way up, awakening awareness and awakening the energy.  We definitely want to go down into the root centers in your body, and then all the way up…

Being in openness doesn’t mean at all that you like everything that goes on, but rather that you are not meeting the situation with either like or dislike.  They [likes and dislikes] are there; they will come up, but you are meeting them with awareness.  Sometimes we lead with our mind, sometimes with an affect, sometimes with a sensation, and sometimes with memory.   Sometimes we lean into experience with fantasy, but leaning into it with awareness, with openness, everything else follows… They always describe how there isn’t much difference between meditation and non-meditation.  You don’t want to make it too big a difference.  You want to kind of glide from a highly focused inside experience to opening to what is coming next, the unfolding of your life.  You don’t want to have a big division between meditation and non-meditation because then you are only experiencing the qualities of meditation in meditation, sitting in a little room.  There will be a gap between what you bring forth and meeting your life.  Even today as you open your eyes and go into the talk, you are staying in awareness.  This [being here today] is like awareness camp; you stay in it [you stay in awareness] the whole day.  Sometimes you have to pull back and rest a little bit, but you come right back into it.  It really is like working a muscle, an often unused muscle; you are feeling the power of being open to our own awareness.  This becoming open to openness, which is a summary from yesterday, is really a moment-to-moment experience, from which arises bliss.  Some of you felt that as you became open to openness.  The joy arises naturally in openness.  This really allows us to have a feeling of completion.  If we are always closed, the ‘unfoldment’ of the natural awareness and of where it can lead us doesn’t quite work.  If we are perpetually ambivalent – where to sit, where to be, – the power of the unfoldment of awareness won’t take place.  That thrust that moves us forward will be waiting for the right moment to open.  Going for it is it.  In terms of being open to openness, there will be a sense of movement, and even synchronicity becomes activated in one’s life.  If we are trapped in the ambivalence of the mind, it is very hard for synchronicity to come into being.  You whine and you cry… When we are open to openness, things seem to move pretty quickly.  Things are fast rather than forever… Of course fear and terror foreclose openness. Courage and openness are really pretty close; staying open in the experience, utilizing whatever you can to stay open in the experience [takes courage].  Openness dissolves fear.  Crisis requires us to be open, or the great awareness that dissolves everything is lost.  Death, once we cut through the fear, helps us sustain openness.  Openness is a primordial givenness, like we are given hands, feet and head, but openness, as you feel that, which is your own awareness, is the givenness.  That is why when people touch openness, great senses of gratitude arise.  Then we think it’s some great teacher giving it to us.  So with openness, when we really feel that [openness], automatically gratitude arises, which some felt yesterday, an enormous sense of gratitude for the innate sense of givenness; the most basic gift is the givenness.  Sometime, if you can, remember the openness before the first memory; see if you can go further back.  There is a natural bliss, an ecstasy, a natural exaltation to remain open, and there is a natural bliss through openness just as you are. 

One of the great dilemmas is that the sense of openness is dependent on a condition, especially when it depends on the super ego condition – “Once I am good, pure…”   whatever those conditions are.  The conditions for openness will never be open.  Openness undoes conditions.  If you have conditions on openness, the conditions will never be met, or after they are met, they have nothing whatsoever to do with openness.  Goodness and openness are not related. Morality – right and wrong, good and evil, better and best – is not related to openness.  As we impose those super ego conditions on being open, there will be a measure of misery, of your misery or of your client’s misery.  In and of itself, there is naturally no condition for openness, no condition for awareness to be what it is.  That imposition of a condition on awareness – and the condition is often due to the super ego or to certain narcissistic conditions, – will block awareness, and you’ll keep waiting for another day.  Being open to openness, becoming aware of our own awareness, when you really cultivate it, it radicalizes a person.  They [individuals] become freer.  It’s quite different from the knotting of oneself through closure.  You can see people in little knots.  Once we can open to the openness, which is intrinsically opening or clearing – which one person said very nicely that she had this sense of beingness arising through the openness – once that [opening] becomes more pervasive, it starts to influence the mind, and we can become open through feelings.  Our affects, rather than being active discharges, are resonating.  We feel resonance through the affect or through thoughts, through sensation, and we feel resonance through the imagination.  At first the resonance will come through the body, which some of you felt, then resonance starts coming through thought itself, feelings, and sensations.  Being trapped is a function of a lack of depth of openness to openness.  I’m trapped in this relationship; trapped here or there in the cage of the mind.  It’s a lack of depth of openness.  [While] prejudice contains openness, [it lacks depth of openness]. 

As we open to the openness within ourselves, we begin to open to the beingness of our own being within us.  Opening to our own beingness within us, opens us to the beingness of being in others.  Awareness and beingness are exactly the same.  Awareness is not outside of beingness.  Beingness is awareness.  That’s why you can’t quite see being itself; you see being in all the beings.  Great people like D.W. Winnicott and others realized that without the sense of beingness, we will be a bit neurotic, holding on to everything, slowly feeling it slip away, and going insane.  The sense of beingness of one’s own being is true support.  To become aware of one’s own openness, one’s own awareness, is to experience the beingness of being.  When you feel the field arising, that is the beingness of being.  It can be felt.  The field is totally powerful.  It is always open, but to perceive the beingness of being is another question. What is the beingness of being?   Emptiness, space, light, and luminosity.  You don’t have to be a mystic person to experience that.  Some people found all this light arising yesterday, only because we are holding awareness; nothing more than the fact that we are holding awareness.  There is a great Dzogchen master, Dudjom Rinpoche, who has a great poem of aspiration.  In it he starts off with a prayer to the Dakini, “Oh Dakini, please bless me, your son, I love you so much… and I appreciate everything of the givenness.” Then suddenly he realized, “Wait a minute, this stainless awareness is me!” Immediately the Dakini disappears, and her palace disappears.  It’s called the “Song of Supreme Exaltation”.  Then he goes on to his teacher, “Wait a minute, this primordial awareness is me!” Then his guru disappears.  He goes through every one of the beliefs, and they dissolve.  All the archetypes are dimensions of our own awareness.  That doesn’t weaken the power of the archetypical, if you know it’s your own self.  But, in this room all the power that you might be feeling is not a function of the pictures.  It is a function of [our] awareness together.  It’s not a function of any power that I have or that I’m the leader.  It’s a function of holding awareness itself and entering into it [into awareness] that something can happen, rather than nothing much.  Then there is more energy and light, and ownership of responsibility of how the boat is going to go. 

Ultimately, as we touched on yesterday, that love is the openness of openness.  So wherever there is true love, you are going to feel openness.  You will sense it when you see two people who love each other.  There is openness, and all love arises out of the primordial openness.  It takes you beyond likes and dislikes and all of that.  True love is the simplest way of entering into oneness.  You don’t have to use all the techniques, suspending your thoughts; it’s automatic.  Love itself is primordial openness.  When people meet and fall in love, they are open to the openness in each other.  Bliss arises.  Then after a little while, because of offenses, openness begins to close.  Then one lies about it and says it was just a fantasy to begin with, that it was just new, and with this closing arises the rationalization of lost love, of lost openness and eternal boringness.  When we have that true affection though, openness is there. 

We are going to start exploring the obscurations of love.  You could call it the obscurations of openness or awareness, but really people don’t come to work in therapy for obscurations of openness or awareness; they come often because of obscurations of love.  In exploring the obscurations of love, it does come down to openness and awareness. 

The first obscuration we are going to explore today, since we are trying to have both process and structural issues, is narcissism.  We all have either too much or too little of that one.  You kind of [want to] have just enough, the right amount, kind of like the three bears, not too little, not too much, but just right.  We’ll start with the myth of Narcissus.  It’s a great story.  It begins with Narcissus, and the poet, [Ovid,] describes him as being with his friends and brothers and sisters.  They loved each other, and there was equal vision, equality consciousness.  It was in Greece, very beautiful and sunny.  They play, they hang out, and they love each other.  Then one day, Narcissus wanders away from the group and comes upon a natural pool of water.  He looks in and sees his own face mirrored.  He thinks, “I’m so beautiful, so fantastic, and so great!” And there he is frozen [in place] with his own face, his own absorption, self-absorption.  Everything disappears.  Like reality TV nowadays, it has two endings.  You can choose your ending.  One ending is he starves to death; I like that one the best.  The other, he falls in the pool and drowns.  So they are kind of the same ending.  One is faster!  That myth carries a lot to it, doesn’t it?  The story is there.  We all participate in this, more or less.  Pure awareness, no one is pure awareness… I’ve never met just pure awareness… We all live in a house, in this ego structure, in a personality.  You will never ‘not have’ one. 

So, this wonderful field of innermost awareness, this openness, is informed and takes a form within the matrix of personality.  This personality influences our capacity to experience this innermost awareness and will influence our capacity to utilize this innermost awareness field.  When there is no experiential connection to the awareness field, to its openness, and to its equalness, then this inner self, if you want to call it that, then this narcissism that is the pictorial, imaginal identification and the corresponding projections – “I have it and you don’t” – become a substitute for the lack of a base.  Narcissism is built on a lack of base, or on the forgetfulness of base.  There is no base other than the imaginal, the image.  This [foundationless self] is fragile and highly contained and at moments is highly solipsistic… (the microphone cuts out and the end of the sentence is inaudible).  Pictures in the mind, or fictions, and by fictions I don’t mean untrue; they can be true – there is a great book called ‘The Drama of the Gifted Child’ on this topic – so fictions, or literary constructions, become both our [fabricated] support and our substitution for the support of innate awareness.  This innate awareness field, as we’ve so often discussed, is a sense of beingness.  It’s amazingly true that in feelings and in sensing [we] become aware of this unfabrication.  It’s just there, it’s not made up, it’s not created, you can’t achieve it; it’s just there.  There are no conditions for it.  That is true support. 

As we pursue narcissism, there are all sorts of conditions [necessary] for it to be sustained.  It’s like a fragile economy, or a fragile building.  It may look good, but underneath – no base.  In narcissism, one needs mirroring.  It is really never enough.  Without the constant and consistent mirroring, without being constantly and consistently admired – sometimes it’s admiration or being desired, same phenomena – narcissists feels a primordial lack of basic self.  Such mirroring helps to sustain Narcissus, but ultimately he will vacillate between that [that transient sustaining] and emptiness – void.  The natural development of process, the natural unfolding of the story of mirroring, becomes an excessive and never ending striving for recognition, either by desire, or by admiration, or through ambition.  This [foundationless way of being in the world and within oneself] is not easy.  There is not much rest in this endeavor.  One can either be a highly successful narcissist or a very unsuccessful one.  In both, narcissists substitute their recognition [of another’s desire for them] or of [another’s] admiration for them for true love.  Everything else disappears, except my face… Of course with that [with that substitution as the] beginning play, other permutations and distortions can also then fractionate.  It starts [gaining momentum and] rolling, going further with more permutations. 

The desire for recognition can essentially begin its final gasp as domination and submission.  Narcissists end the final play of it [of their baseless self] in the master/slave relationship.  Because recognition is not able to be sustained with ambition, “It’s not enough – I’m president now, and it’s still not enough,” nor able to be sustained with desire –“I have 13 girlfriends, and it’s still not enough,” – the thrust of it [the thrust of the desire for recognition], the power of it, starts going beyond that point, that story, and becomes domination, whether it is subtle domination or not, it becomes the master/slave relationship.  Hegel describes this [domination].  The first five chapters of Hegel’s [book], “Phenomenology of the Self,” are on consciousness, inter-subjectivity, and all that kind of stuff; the second five chapters are on the master/slave relationship.  So domination is the final gasp of recognition [of the narcissist’s own lack of a base].  It’s torture, actually.  Let’s focus in for a moment…

When people come [into psychotherapy] because of that obscuration of love, what becomes apparent will be the sense of a lack of a base.  What becomes foremost is a fabrication, a construction of recognition to substitute for that lack.  That lack is highly motivating, highly driving.  One will start to construct an image.  If one is successful at it, has the talent to do it, the looks to do it, and intelligence and cleverness, then one will be, for a while, a successful narcissist, gaining both admiration and desire [from others].  Regardless of whether some narcissists are good only in one [good only in eliciting either admiration or desire], or [whether] some are good in both, all narcissists are forever needing constant mirroring.  When there is a failure in mirroring for that person, then a collapse will take place, and a falling into emptiness and into a corresponding rage.  Since the game [the pretense of base that is the narcissist’s game of fabrication], needs to be played, it is played now with the narcissist’s unholdable recognition of having no base, and fractional permutations can start to take place.  The game gets a little nastier, a little uglier, and dramatic; nonetheless, for some [for some narcissists], the game is still successful up to a point.  That [point] is in domination and submission and is often played out in couples. 

Narcissistic preoccupation occurs when there is no base; one is narcissistically and self-referentially pre-occupied.  When we hear this [this self-preoccupation], we can easily go into our super ego and make this [this problem of narcissism] a moral issue.  You can feel it in your own self.  As soon as we make it that moral issue, we are beginning to lose our therapeutic capacity.  I’m not saying one should tolerate abuse, but you have to know where and how you meet it [meet narcissism].  If you meet it from a moral point of view, you will not have therapeutic power.  You have to let go of that for a few minutes, and it’s not easy…since we are all good here.  So in working with that dilemma, when a person brings that dilemma in [ in to psychotherapy], the first thing we might look at is [for us] to become open to the not quite formed openness in that person.  It’s there [that openness is there in the narcissist] as much as it’s in you and in me, but what will close that [that openness] in you and me is our own wonderful conscience, our own super ego – “bad dog” – in other words.  As we feel “bad dog” to that  [condemnatory]degree, the power of the connection and the power of intervention will slip away.  That person [who is suffering with narcissism] should go see somebody else.  So there’s a way one has to notice how we close to that person.  By the word ‘closing,’ I’m not talking about your taking bull [from this person] or your accepting this person’s abuse as a sign of empathy on your part.  What I mean by ‘closing’ is that the capacity of confrontation, of your confronting that which has to be confronted, will be impotent, because it’s coming from the super ego [your super ego].  It all depends on where you come from.  If one can stay open and place the super ego in the background, then the twofold talk [can happen] – actually wonderful Otto Kernberg describes this nicely – on one level, using this language, you are not attempting to mirror the narcissistic dimension, but rather you are attempting to mirror the innate awareness and trying to feel resonance to that which is un-experienced, unformed experientially in that person.  It’s not easy.  Secondly [on another level], with directness, one will help that person deconstruct the fabricated, imaginal self.  That too is not easy.  That’s why narcissism, as the books say, is a very difficult dimension to work on.  And of course, to work on that, our own narcissism has to be somewhat like the three bears; it has to be just right and in the middle.  If our narcissism is too mushy, too weak for how we experience ourselves in the world, for how we come forth and how we feel about [our] recognition in this world, it will be hard for us be of assistance to that person.  And if you cannot find some of that [narcissism] in yourself, the possibility in yourself at least, then you will not know that it takes one to know one.  So your own super ego [and its ongoing assessment of ] the ‘evilness’ of the [narcissist’s] situation has to be placed a little bit on the side, or you will not have access to primordial awareness in this moment. 

Now, the task [our task] is to mirror, not to put a ‘good boy’ or a ‘good girl’ on this person, not going to the talent [or performance of that person], but [instead going to] our feeling the capacity of this person to sense that openness, that awareness, that self in them, nesciently [knowingly, knowing it beyond thinking it and feeling it], because that [that supportive mirroring of capacity] did not take place in that person’s development.  That attunement at that level, where you feel it, where you feel the resonance in the field from yourself [where you feel the resonance of yourself with this other] – is method.   Even when this person is not necessarily in the field, they can be in it in their own way because of the attunement that you bring for them.  Your bringing of attunement in a way that they can feel, experience, and recognize is method.

The second method – and both of these [both mirroring and this second method] have a little tension between them to say the least – is confronting and assisting that person to deconstruct their narcissistic fabrication of being a person.  There is a tension in this [particular therapeutic work].  You are doing two things at the same time.  Like most of these things, it depends on our own self.  The self is the instrument; the self is the direct perception of the potential where you feel that possibility.  And you, through directness and explicitness of the story, confront and help that person deconstruct an illusion.  If the person can feel you having that true affection, that will be a possible [resonant and connecting] cord that they cannot run away from.

As a person – and now I’ll give another dilemma in narcissism, depending on how wrapped up in it we are – as one begins to experience the arising of self or the opening of self, the arising of the sense of the field, in and of itself, can bring forth grandiosity.  This should not be a surprise, right?   “King of the world, God-like”…that is why part of the story is that spiritual communities have bad endings.  A person starts feeling the field, begins to lose equal vision, and becomes God-like, Theo-centric.  Actually the Dalai Lama recently said that he would be the last of the Dalai Lamas because the Theo-centric model, Theo-centricity doesn’t work in this century.  That is an amazing statement.  That [the 14th Dali Lama] is a real leader, a real yogi.  So as the field arises, as awareness arises in a person, they begin to feel the field – Jung speaks about this a lot, – and inflation can come with it.  “What a big boy am I!”  The very arising of healing is wrought with difficulties at this moment.  One begins perhaps to deconstruct; “I am no longer a great attorney; I’m now spiritual man!” Inflation begins to arise and some of it has to be kind of ‘deflated’.   If you go at it [if you go full bore], however, with the super ego –“let’s squish this monkey” – that’s the end of story.  So in a certain way, you have to enjoy the play of Narcissus.  You must have enough experience in you to experience how human this [this self-inflation] is and how pleasurable it is, and what a ride it is, and so pervasive.  With that attitude, you can again begin to help that person not construct his new self around the inflation of being in the field. 

Grandiosity destroys both subjectivity and compassion because compassion is subjectivity; it is awareness; it is seeing awareness in a face, or seeing and feeling awareness come through a body.  Compassion and seeing subjectivity are exactly the same thing.  Grandiosity, or inflation, distorts the field of awareness.  It can result from experiencing the field itself. You begin to feel better, and that is really good, but the same dynamics of how you got there are operative there right now.  Experiences of specialness, greatness, superiority easily arise in our personalities, when we begin to feel the field, when it becomes manifest, given our narcissistic preconditions…

(A question is asked, inaudible…)

If you are a successful one [a successful narcissist], it is superiority, [but] if you are failing at it, it can be inferiority, and it can shift [the narcissist can shift from feeling superior to feeling inferior]…

(Another question is asked). 

The basis is emptiness, but not the emptiness of the plenum of the field [not the fullness or completeness of the field].  The basis is lack, since there was no base… a person is growing up; he’s smart and the first boy in the family – [in this example] you have a particular culture that the first-born really means a lot and that girls don’t mean that much.  He’s smart and also very handsome.  This fulfills the fantasy of the mother and father.  At the level of being handsome and being smart, “At last we are free from the lack [from our lack],” [exclaim the parents.] The attunement is not on the level of the inner self; it’s on the level of narcissism.  Actually, the second person [the second child] in the family may find themselves not having the same narcissistic support, but they may actually have a true self arising because the attunement will be more towards them as a nice, ordinary boy or girl.  That person will have fewer illusions; this individual may have to struggle a little, having had this god-king brother, but will be a person.  The humanness, subjectivity, will be sensed.  In grandiosity, all you see is an audience.  There is no subjectivity, no other face. 

Grandiose fantasies, secret fantasy – “One day…”  Grandiose fantasies can distract and distort the experience of intrinsic awareness.  It takes us out of equal vision, equal love.  The grandiose fantasy becomes the source, overwhelming and obscuring potential space of the innate awareness.  How can innate awareness compete with such phantasmagoria?  The very power of the field, the very expansiveness of the field can activate grandiosity and inflation.  You really want to know this in yourself.  If you don’t feel the possibility in yourself, you will miss it in the other, or if you only see it in the other and you can’t feel it in yourself, you will not be able to have a conversation with that other.  It’s too not-me.  Grandiosity destroys the vehicle of the person; it destroys subjectivity; it destroys the vehicle in a group and in institutions where the field is honored, where awareness is honored and worked.  It destroys the subjectivity of the self, especially as it’s finally manifested in domination and submission.  A lot of criminal activity arises out of this story – the grasping for domination and submission to have some recognition from one’s fellows.  The subjectivity of the self begins to be destroyed; even the nescience of it can be totally worn away by inflation, either in one’s own self or in the other. 

Grandiosity and subjectivity don’t co-exist.  In a moment, either in your self or in the other, where grandiosity is really out there, it is hard to be in a subject.  As a therapist, to hold your own subjectivity is challenging.  You can easily slip into being inferior.  When one loses one’s self and gives oneself to grandiosity and has the wherewithal to do it, – even if it’s just secret grandiosity, in a little room by themselves – eventually the field of awareness that they cultivated collapses, like a dying star, into a black hole.

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