Dr. Charles T. Tart on August 25th, 2011

Because I have written several books on mindfulness, not just classical sitting meditation but the Gurdjieffian application of mindfulness to real life, (-Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential;- Living the Mindful Life; and –Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People), I often get communications from people wanting to go further than an introduction, they want my advice on what spiritual path is best for them.  I’m very satisfied, on the one hand, to have gotten them seriously interested, but very frustrated, on the other hand, both because I’m a scientist and scholar, not a Spiritual Teacher who knows the truth and because I (and pretty much everybody else) have little knowledge of what are the good resources out there versus the more cultish and dead end groups.

While I hope that the field of Transpersonal Psychology will advance so much that in a few decades I’ll be able to give great advice to these folks, Transpersonal Psychology is still a tiny, under-supported field and progress is way too slow…..

This is to share an example of the kinds of questions I get and my responses.  I have disguised the identity of this questioner to protect her or his privacy and paraphrased the communication for brevity.

Hello Dr. Tart.

My name is ********* .  I really enjoyed Waking Up and am on my second round with it.  In between I read Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous as it was recommended in Waking Up for people interested in pursuing further Gurdjieff’s ideas.

As a Zen practitioner and having had interest in psychology since I was young, you have my attention!  I feel I have well above average perceptive abilities, that is to say, aware of my thoughts, beliefs, distortions, reactions and such. I can see it all very clearly.

The reason I am writing is that, as mentioned in Waking Up, I perhaps have some emotional issues (listed) that I am not sure whether they need to be addressed before seriously going further on this path.

I have been living in Japan for 5 years and although I really enjoy living here (despite the earthquakes), I feel there might not be enough resources for someone like me who wants to find a group and/or therapist to aid in my waking up. There is one Fourth Way (Gurdjieff) group in Tokyo but it’s in Japanese (not so much a problem, but I wouldn’t want to miss the subtleties as well as specific cultural issues might not apply to me).

I guess there are 2 things I wanted to ask and get your opinion on.

(1) Do you think there are/know of any resources someone in my position overseas could find in terms of a Fourth Way group, or is it best to go back to the States for that?

(2) Being that I have a good degree of self-awareness and self observation, are the emotional issues I have enough to warrant NOT going further down the road of serious work with Gurdjieffian methods?  I know it might be hard to access that not knowing me, but…I guess that disclaimer in the book just gave me pause. [I had noted in Waking Up that serious emotional issues could easily derail what one thinks of as a spiritual search into neurotic activity]  I really feel like between 2 stools as these emotional issues keep pulling me back into patterns that are hard to break on my own.

Well, I am sorry for writing so much as I am sure you are a busy guy. Thanks for your work and insights.. I am really enjoying discovering this work.

Here’s how I responded.

———–

Dear ********,

It has taken me a while to answer you, as I cannot give you the answers I would really like to give.

> First, let me say I really enjoyed Waking Up and am on my second round with it.<

You might find my other two books on mindfulness useful.  Same basic subject, different ways of expressing myself.  One is Living the Mindful Life, the other is Mind Science.  It often takes me several different presentations of things, in different styles, to learn them. The latter book may be hard to find though….And remember, my books are introductions, far, far from the final word…..

> There is one Fourth Way group in Tokyo but its in Japanese (not so much a problem, but I wouldn’t want to miss the subtleties as well as specific cultural issues might not apply to me).<

That’s a realistic concern.  You might learn some things and entirely miss others if the Japanese are as subtle as they are usually depicted.

Getting to the heart of the matter,

>(1) Do you think there are/know of any resources someone in my position overseas could find in terms of a fourth way group, or is it best to go back to the States for that? <

I have no idea about G groups in Japan.  I have written a friend about it who is in the G Foundation, but he’s traveling now and I’m not sure he’s going to be able to offer any useful advice for your situation.

>(2) Being that I have a good degree of self-awareness and self observation, are the emotional issues I have enough to warrant NOT going further down the road of serious work with Gurdjieffian methods?<

In my ideal world, which I fear has little connection yet with the actual one, although I hope it does someday, any spiritual development group would have both psychological and spiritual work, with enough sensitivity and competence on the teachers of each to know when you need more of the other.  A meditation teacher, e.g., who knows when to say “Don’t sit so much, take that up with your therapist,” and a psychotherapist who knows when to say “I think that issue is reduced enough that you can go on with the relevant spiritual work, see that teacher for more instruction,” or, even more importantly, “I think you are using this spiritual practice as a way of avoiding this basic psychological issue.”  (spiritual bypass)

There are many G groups, so there might be some that have more psychological savvy, but maybe there aren’t…..So I can’t recommend any in particular.  On the other hand, you say you have emotional issues, but so does everybody.  Are they strong enough to seriously hinder your ordinary living?  If not, you can probably profit to at least some degree from G work – although some of the G groups are, of course, cultish.  I rather wish we had the spiritual equivalent of Consumers’ Reports magazine, “Group M has a cheerful tone but most people leave after a few months, undamaged but with little growth.  Group N is unpleasant in tone, but those who stick it out claim significant growth, although about 5% are psychologically damaged by the work……”

Sorry I can’t be more helpful.  I am glad when I can get people interested in spiritual growth, and frustrated that after giving them a start I can no longer be of much help……

Charles T. Tart

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2 Responses to “Mindfulness: Satisfaction and Frustration”

  1. gregg.angel says:

    I am open to many things. That is why I choose the psychological world, counseling and research in particular. Rigidity doesn’t fit me as well as the possibility of evolutionary change, large or small. The chance to help individuals cross between the bridge of science and spirituality is one of my quests in this field and so far I find myself contemplating more than activating. As I find the patience within myself, I continue to grow. One belief of mine, albeit maybe naïve, is that for spirituality and science to coexist an individual must find it concurrently. An immeasurable phenomenon takes places when one takes the journey of introspection to its fullest potential. Science, maybe neuropsychology, says that parts of the brain activate for this feeling of euphoria to exist. Science, maybe psychoanalysis, says that parts of the psyche must be freed for this feeling of virtue to exist. What we may in the end discover is that the two must work as a holistic unit in order for it to bring the personal virtue, freedom, and delight that is associated with inner calmness, peace.
    It is possible that science is wary of human evolution in terms of spirituality because it seems always one step behind the change. American society maybe wary of spirituality because we seem to continue the bastardization associated with turning something whole into parts consumed by capitalism. I hope I am not sounding too critical and harsh to this point. But, this seems to be the productive/counterproductive aspect of living in a global world. If it weren’t for the collective unconsciousness of this society then many things may not have been possible, and maybe many things would have come easier. The bridge, in which I am interested in help widen, will always come at the individual’s idea of free will. The spiritualist may deny it because they feel more comfortable on their island. The scientist may be more interested in it because they can either “validate” or rebuke the ideologies of inner sanctuary. These are the days in which duality exist and run rampant in the unconscious for most, and the conscious for few. And, it is my belief that our parts will return to the whole of understanding; rather it is in this conscious physical world, or the world of the unconscious. Until then, I work side by side with you, standing on the bridge waiting for others to join.

  2. gregg.angel says:

    I meant the previous post for the Aug 29 posting.

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