When I was getting my masters in counseling psychology, we had to study all the great personality theorists: Sigumud Freud, Carl Jung, Fritz Perls, Karen Horney, and Albert Ellis just to name a few. But the one theorist I have gravitated toward and still utilize to this day is Carl Rogers.
Rogers was in psychology during an interesting time. It was all “behavioral” psychology of B.F. Skinner et al. Every thing had to be “observed” and proven very much like it is in a scientific study. That works well for some things. Namely stopping an identifiable problem like smoking cigarettes or gambling too much. However, I have found it doesn’t work well for human beings in their natural state. We are very nuanced and complex creatures.
Rogers was pretty much outcasted from the psychology community at the time because his theory was simply to “listen and reflect” (with a few conditions). His feelings had to match his actions with his client (congruence), he had to have unconditional positive regard for his client, and he had to have tremendous empathy. That trilogy of factors create the conditions for self actualization according to Rogers.
As you can see in this video of a therapy session back in the 1960s. A nervous client is uncomfortable at first. After only a few minutes, she is completely calm. Note how Rogers beautifully and deeply listens and reflects her feelings. He wonderfully demonstrates the effectiveness of his theory here.
Another thing about this session is that the client (Gloria) desperately wants Rogers to give her a hard sure fire “answer.” He just reflects back to her that she needs to accept herself in her natural state. That ultimately is the “answer” although unsatisfactory to the client who isn’t ready to hear that truth yet.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the teachings or Ramana Maharshi who had a very similar technique. Maharshi barely said anything to his devotees. I would simply gaze at them and somehow their dilemmas of self concept would evaporate. His gaze was full of empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence between his inner feelings and outward appearance.
Both are examples of transmitting shakti. Shakti is not definable in words, but it can be described. There is a electrical quality about it, but a soft electrical quality unlike the property of true electricity. It is subtler and more refined. Some translate it as “magic” but that has a gimmicky and subtly “Western” bent to the definition that brings up thoughts of “good and bad.” Shakti is said to have a primarily “feminine” component, but is only at full potency when it corresponds with the “masculine” component. One beautiful definition of hathayoga from Srivatsa Ramaswami, one of Krishnamacharya’s students, is the merging with the Shiva (masculine) with the Shakti (feminine). To fully understand the concept, don’t look at the definition, but look at the result.
One of Maharshi’s students, Poonjaji (Papaji), is seen here transmitting shakti to a disciple in a brief transaction. If you look through Papaji’s videos, you see this many times. He is talking directly to the disciple and appears to be uttering nonsense, then suddenly the disciple makes a dramatic shift in emotion and breaks down with a combination of laughter and tears. There is always a tremendous sense of relief on their faces. Scholar David Godman has a brief piece about his teachings here.
This realization has tremendous healing and self actualizing power. I often refer back to Bill W. (Co-author of Alcoholics Anonymous) who describes an experience of powerful shakti that not only cured his alcoholism, but showed the blueprint to help all others in stopping drinking. He had the realization when he was locked up in a hospital after a major drinking spell:
My depression deepened unbearably and finally it seemed to me as though I were at the bottom of the pit …. All at once I found myself crying out, “If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!”
Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up into an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness. All about me and through me there was a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, “So this is the God the preachers!” A great peace stole over me and I thought, “No matter how wrong things seem to be, they are still all right. Things are all right with God and His world.”
Bill W. never drank again…