Inspirations from Anthroposophy
By William Bento , Edmund Knighton and Roberta Nelson
Edited by David Tresemer
Published by Steiner Books, March 2015
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Psychology continually awakens to new dimensions of mental health; this book explains that there are many more rungs on the ladder. At the center of every chapter is the recognition that every human being has the capacity for self-generation and self-healing.
Importantly, the authors recognize that the Counselor can be anyone who listens to another person describing their difficulties. In this regard, this book is important reading for everyone.
I am not a Counselor but have worked with people all my life in medical sales, recruitment and in my own business which is recruitment based. I have also studied and written about the work of Rudolf Steiner for over thirty years. I know the importance of understanding that we are not just physical beings but rather beings of soul and spirit who have a body. Until we approach all areas of human knowledge on this premise we will never understand who we are, much less be able to be of assistance to those experiencing difficulties.
This book is not a text book, it comes from presentations at seminars, transcribed, edited and amended. This may not suit some people but for me these presentations gave the book life. This is in keeping with the whole philosophy of Anthroposophy; to be human is a living activity, humanity continually evolves through different stages of conscious awareness.
The word Anthroposophy itself can be challenging for those not familiar with this philosophy, yet the way this word is described in this book gives a wonderful sense of freedom – “the possible and becoming human” as part of the whole creation. To see ourselves as a work in progress is most liberating and this book reveals that the stumbling blocks are just that. “We are all entangled in the pathos (suffering) of life to some extent or another. Too much pathos makes us dysfunctional; too little means we are not prodded to grow.”
The fact that human consciousness evolves forms the scaffolding on which the ideas in this book are supported, and the current mental health crisis can be explained in the light of this idea. Describing the evolution of consciousness to those who see the physical world as the only reality can be challenging because the present stage in this evolution involves crossing the threshold between the physical and spiritual worlds. When we ask ourselves what this might mean we immediately lose our footing and want to slide down the ladder and feel our feet firmly on the ground.
As this book explains, to understand what it means to be mentally healthy means to understand the true nature of our human being. When we are able to catch a glimpse of this true nature, we become aware of times when we cross a threshold in our consciousness expanding our consciousness beyond our everyday understanding. Crossing the threshold does not mean a change in location, nor does it mean an altered state of consciousness, it simply means that the current boundaries of our awareness are dissolving.
If we look intently at a growing plant we can imagine all the forces at work in its growth – some seen, some unseen. If we look at a seed and then imagine the plant it will eventually become we are no longer looking at the physical plant but at its potential. Seeing this potential means we have seen beyond the threshold of the physical dimension of the seed and crossed over to the spiritual manifestation of the plant, to its becoming. This process of becoming is an important but often ignored aspect of all life.
We also expand our awareness beyond the physical when we express love for people in another part of the world who are suffering. Love expressed beyond our own family and nation can assist people elsewhere in the world to overcome difficulties. This love, like the energy of a plant to achieve its potential, is unseen, spiritual in nature, and therefore lies beyond the physical world that we see and touch.
Why is it important to understand the existence of this threshold? As this book explains, it is at this threshold that we can find the reason for disturbances in our mental health. These disturbances are directly linked to how conscious we are of this threshold. It is very disturbing to cross this threshold unaware. How can we become aware of this threshold? Put simply, it is our ability to distinguish between these two states of consciousness, just as we can distinguish between the seed and its potential as a mature plant. At once we are conscious of the two different processes in our mind?
As we begin to experience this threshold something strange occurs in our soul. Normally, our soul consists of the activity of thinking, feeling and will/intention. These operate habitually as we have trained them since early childhood. Some of us are feeling people, some of us thinkers and some of us are impulsive. The goal is to achieve balance between these three. If we cross the threshold unaware we experience the involuntary separation of thinking, feeling and will. Then it is up to us to unite them consciously. If we don’t we become insane as Rudolf Steiner states clearly in his lecture series published as Esoteric Cosmology, Lecture 8. “Insanity is nothing but an involuntary separation of these faculties without the possibility of their re-union by dint of the inner will.”
As William Bento describes in chapter 3, the fundamentals of Anthroposophical Psychology stand firmly in the awareness of the inner activity of thinking, feeling and will, as well as in the knowledge of the fourfold human being; physical, etheric, astral and I. He explains how Addiction, Depression, Psychosis and Personality and Identity Disorders arise in these four areas.
The way in which William explains these dis-orders gives us a clear vision of how they can become ordered. “Personality disorders are distortions or exaggerations of our coping skills.” William further explains, “Often what is seen as pathology is simply a striving to meet a need without the understanding or capacity to do so.” The Anthroposophical counselor can walk with us to give us confidence in our own ability to meet our needs. As he clearly states, “It is not about technique it is about a path to transformation.”
In chapter 4, Roberta Nelson adds to this by explaining the Life-Span development we go through as we age. Even if we have navigated our lives by successfully meeting our own needs, we may struggle at the threshold of each of these 7 year cycles. Many people have particular issues when they reach the age of forty-nine for instance. Dr Nelson gives a clear outline of these stages while overlaying the idea of physical, soul and spiritual growth. In her work she endorses Roberto Assagioli who says: “The clinician’s goal is to awaken the latent wisdom dwelling within the client, rather than a platform for the therapist to espouse his or her knowledge.”
This book is a wonderful guide to the ways in which any Counselor can awaken the inner wisdom of the one they give counsel to. Without full knowledge of the make-up of the human being this is not possible.
In chapter 9 the important issue of Addiction is discussed. Addiction also disconnects feeling, thinking and will from each other and in so doing disengages the spirit, specifically, the ‘I’.
William Bento outlines three kinds of addiction; one which gives a sense of invincibility (will), one which gives a sense of relaxation (feeling), and the other which is escapist (thinking). He explains that the addict is searching for a deeper sense of self, yet their addiction undermines all sense of self.
If we recognize what is at the heart of addiction we can see that “addiction is a developmental opportunity.”
William makes the astounding point that when those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs go to a AA or DA meeting, the first thing they do is to introduce themselves by name and declare “I am an addict” which is a defeatist, self-deprecating thing to say. To truly recognize that we are beings of soul and spirit it is better to say, “I have an addiction but I am more than that.”
In chapter 10 Roberta Nelson and William Bento explore the real cause of post- traumatic stress disorders, PTSD as it has become known. Again they relate it back to function or dysfunction of the activities in our soul, of thinking, feeling and willing, which give us our sense of identity. “Since the traumatic event, the person with PTSD has had no biography. No biography means homelessness, not geographically, rather a homelessness of the soul. … the homes have been lost, and they are in the transition place, not able to leave the past behind, and not able to embrace a new present.” Importantly, the authors point out the ways in which some people have deficiencies before they experience trauma making them more susceptible to a reaction.
The book ends with some central points of self-care for Counselors, and, as we said in the beginning, that includes everyone. In chapter 13 William Bento speaks of an initiatory process he observed in his work and his life. “It is very important for us to know how pathology in our time actually indicates to us something of what humanity as a whole is undergoing as a kind of initiatory process into the future.” He warns unequivocally, “The consequence of the splitting of thinking from feeling from willing will lead to a kind of inhumanity.” William boldly states “Any psychology that doesn’t really understand the situation of the time we’re living in is bound to be ineffective. The situation is serious, for an immature or naïve psychology is more likely to harm then to help.”
I urge you to read this book for yourself, and to revisit it from time to time as your understanding matures. The authors are experts in their field. Their work has given them insight far beyond applying the theory of Psychology as it is taught and practiced today. I agree with them that, “We’re grieving the loss of our connection to each other as spiritual beings.” This separation from each other, as well as our separation from what is on the other side of the threshold, need not continue. The choice is ours.
Kristina Kaine is the author of I Connecting: The Soul’s Quest 2007 Goldenstone Press.
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