There were two reasons for psychology faculty member Benina Gould to attend the Dalai Lama’s Mind-Life Conference early this month. The personal reason is that she’s a practicing Buddhist.
The professional reason was that the conference’s theme, “Emerging World Citizens,” dovetails almost perfectly with Gould’s own research on how to educate people to become global citizens.
Gould is one of the few researchers examining how Muslim youth perceive their own choices, and has recently conducted surveys of the internet use of Muslim youth, and how it impacts their attitudes and perceptions, in Indonesia, Pakistan, and the United States.
Too often, Gould says, we try to shape children to the outcomes we want (whether “ a successful career” or “not to support terrorists”) without consulting them as part of the process – so she says she was thrilled to find a strong community consensus at the Mind-Life Conference to do just that.
“There’s a feeling, even in America, that young people really have not done well with all the competition and the testing, that suicide rates have gone up, that there’s all kinds of problems with prescription drugs and that alcoholism has increased dramatically,” Gould says. “So I was very pleased to see contemplative education being looked to as an alternative, training teachers about doing mind-body work with young people, and taking a much more holistic approach.”
Those hoping to improve outcomes for kids have their work cut out for them, though, as two themes at the conference made clear.
This month Don Moss, Chair of Saybrook University’s Graduate College of Mind-Body Medicine, was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA).
The editor of Biofeedback Magazine and a globally recognized expert in mind-body techniques, Moss operates two Michigan-based clinics providing psychological services and mind-body therapies, and lectures and trains on mind-body healing around the world. He now joins an elite group of healthcare professionals who are charged to maintain and uphold the standards and values of the oldest and most renowned certifying body for the clinical practice of biofeedback – and the only biofeedback institute recognized worldwide.
“One of the major challenges for integrative health is that consumers face very uneven quality in the alternative therapies available in their communities,” Moss said. “Biofeedback is no exception. Many individuals give up on seeking help for their headache, anxiety or other problem, because a professional has provided ineffective biofeedback services, sometimes just a relaxation tape and an opportunity to use a biofeedback instrument without any therapeutic education and guidance. BCIA certification provides a gold standard for consumers, assuring them that their biofeedback therapist has a core of knowledge and skills sufficient for quality care.”
“Higher education is changing radically,” says Bob Schmitt, Saybrook’s new interim president. “There are people who say that in 20 years, you won’t recognize higher education, that’s how much it will change. I think Saybrook, with its humanistic values and experience with distance learning, has a compelling role to play in this new environment as a stimulator and a leader. I think, if we take up this challenge, it has a greater role to play.”
The former president of the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology (ITP), a hospice chaplin, and a counselor, Schmitt says his biggest goal is a “smooth transition” from Lorne Buchman’s presidency to the next permanent president. He and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees are in the process of determining his specific goals and priorities for his time here - which he estimates at anywhere from three to nine months. Schmitt added that his top priority these first few weeks is getting to know people and the present needs of the school. He emphasized that he wants to be accessible and encourages members of the Saybrook community to contact him.
Schmitt spoke with the Saybrook Forum on his first day at Saybrook. An edited transcript of that interview is below.
Saybrook Forum (Forum): You sat on the board of the APA’s Division for Humanistic Psychology for a number of years. What was your impression of Saybrook back then?
Bob Schmitt (Schmitt): “I was intrigued by it and liked it. I thought that ITP and Saybrook were sister schools. I’d hoped that we would collaborate in as many ways as possible. At one point I was part of a discussion about a merger between the two schools. What I was especially intrigued about with Saybrook, then and now, is how well it handles distance education. I think that distance education is the real wave of the future. Not that everybody’s going to do it, but it’s going to impact all forms of education, and Saybrook’s ahead of the curve in terms of understanding how to make it work.”
Are we falling into a trap of believing that our work, and indeed, our lives, should always be fascinating and all-consuming? Are we somehow lacking if we’re bored at times or buried under routine tasks or failing to challenge ourselves at every turn?
So asks New York Times writer Alina Tugend, in a recent article asking what it means to “be passionate” about your job, and whether it’s a faire tale of the modern work world: nice to imagine, but not really possible.
Keima Sheriff can speak to that. An Organizational Systems student at Saybrook, she founded the Institute for Balance Restoration (IBR), a consulting company that builds stronger organizations by building stronger, and more passionate, individuals. Keima also just got an experience in practicing what she preaches, when she became interim CEO of a Pennsylvania non-profit.
Cookman Alternative Learning Community is a small, alternative school that helps kids the educational system has given up on get an education and graduate into a better future. It was also no exception to the freeze on government payments when the state of Pennsylvania couldn’t agree on a budget.
Suddenly left with an organization whose employees she couldn’t pay, Keima called a staff meeting in July.
“I gathered the staff together and said ‘my gut is telling me that even if the state comes up with a budget by October, we won’t have money by December to start paying you,’” she recalls. “‘But we have these kids, and we know that if we send them anywhere else they will not graduate on time. So, guys, what do you want to do?”
The Cookman employees decided that they would all get other jobs, and then donate their labor as full time volunteers until the state passed a budget that could pay them to come back again.
Why? Because they cared for the kids, and they loved what they did.
“So my staff have gotten other jobs and then, based on their availability, we’ve cobbled together a schedule that they can use to run the organization,” Keima says. “I have a teacher who comes in after five, one who has to leave at 3, one who can only come in three days a week … and they love their work so much that they’re doing this, for these kids.”
Most of us have had an experience so surprising, so moving, so profound, that it changed our lives in an instant.
Perhaps falling in love for the first time, or seeing a child born, or looking up at the night sky and really understanding how immense it all is. This feeling, we’ve told ourselves, is the real essence of life.
Then we’ve gotten on with our lives, and all but forgotten about it.
How is this possible? How is it that we let these moments go so easily, instead of putting them at the center of our lives?
“That’s the $64 million question,” says Saybrook psychology faculty member Kirk Schneider. Memory is always fleeting, the present is always distracting, but he thinks there are other factors at work. “Our society, industrialization in general, puts a premium on control, efficiency, and expedience, and these are helpful in meeting people’s needs. But at the extreme … and I think we’ve moved into the extreme… it becomes debilitating to a fuller experience of life. I think our quick fix model of living has alienated us from awe, even made us fearful of it.”
That becomes “a vicious cycle,” he says. “Experiencing awe requires profound reflection, pausing, searching, and sensing, all the things we’re not given time to do, which means that even when we experience awe, it’s harder to stay with.”
Schneider’s recent book, Awakening to Awe: Personal Stories of Profound Transformation, is a guide to help recapture the ability to experience, and stay with, awe.
October 9 will be Saybrook President Lorne Buchman’s last day on the job – although he will remain on Saybrook’s Board of Trustees for at least a year.
In an interview with the Saybrook Forum, President Buchman – better known across Saybrook as “Lorne” – said that he has been personally inspired by much of the work Saybrook faculty have conducted during his tenure as president. He leaves with a richer education in humanistic thought that has inspired him to believe more deeply in the potential of people around him, and to try and lead accordingly.
The man who first envisioned Saybrook as a university, Lorne has overseen a remarkable period of growth in Saybrook’s history. “We went back to the roots of our mission and expanded from there,” he said. “New life has been given to an educational tradition that started at Saybrook 40 years ago, and maybe the most remarkable thing of all is to realize how pertinent and vital are the values of that tradition within the contemporary discourse.”
Still, he emphasized, in the end it is all about the basics: the relationship between students and teachers, and enabling great education. “I think that the measure of our work together will be the extent to which our students feel a sense of gratitude toward the education they received at Saybrook.”
An edited version of the Saybrook Forum’s interview with Lorne Buchman is provided in its entirety below.
Saybrook Forum (SF): One of the things I hear most from alumni and students is how their experience at Saybrook was a transformative one. How much it changed them. Does that go all the way up to the top? Was Saybrook a transformative experience for you as well?
Lorne Buchman (Lorne): “Absolutely. Very much so. I think what’s happened to me is that I have, over time, internalized the values of Saybrook and its mission in a very deep way. That has affected my way of thinking about higher education and its possibilities, it has affected the way I want to encourage and lead community, it has brought me to a place where I understand the significance of a values-driven education in a way that I hadn’t before.
“I had certainly been compelled by my previous experience in education for creative people, for artists, for scholars in theatre and literature – I understood deeply the openings that can be created for people in a rigorous, creative, and intellectually rich education. But there is something profound in the unique values of Saybrook that have gone to the core and have impacted how I lead Saybrook and how I hope to live my own personal life.”
SF: Which values most come to mind?
Lorne: “It begins with a fundamental belief in the creative potential of each individual and with a belief that each individual has the capacity to go deep within to know themselves: and that the combination can produce astonishing results for positive change.”
Eugene Taylor doesn’t hesitate to be provocative. “(T)hree of the most dreaded plagues in the history of scientific psychology,” he writes in the very first sentence of his new book, “have been conceptions of personality, models of the unconscious, and systems of psychotherapy.”
Throughout psychology’s history, Taylor’s new volume reminds us, there has been a movement to classify psychology as a natural science, and this movement has insisted that psychology is no more and no less than what can be “verified” in the experimental laboratory.
As a result, this movement has tried to replace “personality,” which can’t be experimentally proven, with measurable “attributes”; it’s tried to replace the unconscious, which is stubbornly unsystematizable, with conditioning; and it’s tried to replace psychotherapy, which happens with individual people in unrepeatable conditions, with drugs. The result is not “psychology” as most people think of it, but it’s the “official” psychology of the history books.
“Since psychology wants to pretend that it’s a science, the history of psychology has turned into the history of experimental psychology,” Taylor says. “The proponents of experimental psychology were comparing themselves to Newtonian physics in the 19th century. They’ve stayed with that epistemology through this day, which is why I say the experimentalists have kept us in diapers.”
However, “What was not examined by the experimentalists is often more interesting than what is.” Taylor has published in his new book to set the record straight.
The Mystery of Personality: A History of Psychodynamic Theories, shows that there are, in fact, three “histories of psychology”: the history of the experimental “scientific” psychology, (which has tried to crowd out the others); the history of psychology as therapy – “applied” psychology, in which therapists advanced the understanding of how to help patients; and the history of psychodynamic theory: the history of questions like “what is a person?” “What is the personality?” “What does it mean to be psychologically healthy?”
There’s a game we’ve all played: if you could have dinner with any historical figure, living or dead, who would it be?
What if you could peek into their minds? What if you could stare at their self-awareness, and experience their unconscious the way they did?
We will soon have that glimpse into the mind of one of the great explorers of the psyche: Carl Jung, whose personal diary of his struggle with the unconscious, his “Red Book,” will be published next month by the Philemon Foundation, a non-profit group of scholars and analysts dedicated to making available some 50 volumes of Jung’s unpublished works.
Of all of them, the Red Book is deemed the most important.
“Jung was one of the great spiritual and psychological pilgrims of our time, and his ultimate project, at which he felt a failure, was to convince people of the reality of the psyche, and the reality of a spiritual energy which moves through all of us,” says James Hollis, who heads Saybrook’s Jungian Studies program and is the Vice-President of the Philemon Foundation. “Essentially, The Red Book is Jung's personal journal and voyage of discovery during a turbulent mid-life passage. He was overrun with psychic material, even while maintaining familial and professional life. He chose to engage that material, rather than repress it, or succumb to it, and thereby developed the practice of "active imagination," intra-psychic dialogue, and a deepened engagement with the archetypal field of human experience.”
Saybrook psychology faculty member Eugene Taylor, who is also on the board of the Philemon Foundation, says that the Red Book “is not merely a book about Jung’s thoughts, but the very blueprint for all his thinking and the foundation of his psychology over the lifetime that ensued. It is bound to change Jungian scholarship in profound ways for all time.”
What will we see when we look over the efforts of Carl Jung to understand his own mind? So far all that’s been released to the public are photos of some of the gorgeous otherworldly illustrations Jung included on many pages. The only man who knows the text is the Philemon Foundation’s general editor Sonu Shamdasani, a Distinguished Consulting Faculty Member at Saybrook University and the man who’s translating the Red Book into English, along with providing over 1,000 footnotes.
Those who want to attend this year’s annual conference of the Existential Humanistic Institute, which Saybrook is co-sponsoring, have a perfect opportunity to help out and be helped in turn.
The organizers of the conference, which will be held November 19-21st at the First Universalist Unitarian Church and Center in San Francisco, are looking for volunteers to help the event run smoothly.
The theme of the 2009 EHI conference is “From Crisis to Creativity: Necessary Losses, Unexpected Gains.” The keynote speaker will BE Dr. Robert Stolorow, a world renowned intersubjective
psychoanalyst, and author/coauthor of numerous books including "Working Intersubjectively," "Contexts of Being," "Faces in a Cloud," and his most recent "Trauma and Existence.”
According to organizer Mary Madrigal, a Saybrook psychology alumna, volunteers will be assigned to specific workshops and rooms, and will be seated at the door with a small table. The volunteers will have to monitor attendance, and will assist the workshop instructor with any needs they have, like switching the lights, moving desks, and so on.
Other than that, volunteers are free to listen in and participate in the workshops – and their tickets to the event will be complimentary, in thanks for their service.
“The EHI Conference is shaping up to be an exciting, fun, and educational event that is bringing humanistic existentialists together to examine the dance between loss and gain, between the comfort of the old and the anxiety of the new,” Madrigal said. “This conference will attempt to further our understanding of this dance and the richness and diversity of its movements.”
For more information, or to volunteer, email Mary Madrigal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marie DiCowden describes her days right now as “crazy.”
A faculty member in Saybrook’s Graduate College of Mind-Body Medicine, DiCowden also serves as Vice-President for Public Policy of the National Academies of Practice, a national coalition of medical practitioners interested in improving the healthcare system. She’s also the Executive Director of the Biscayne Institutes of Health and Living, a community-based healthcare center in Florida.
That expertise puts her on the forefront of the fight to reform America’s healthcare system … and she says it’s difficult.
“I am back and forth between Florida and D.C. right now,” she says. “I just got home yesterday and I’m leaving again. We will get reform … but honestly it is anybody's guess what will happen to keep insurance companies accountable. Quite possibly nothing, unless we hold the senators and congresspeople accountable.”
DiCowden isn’t the only one who thinks that the lobbying power of the insurance industry is keeping reform away from health care.
Craig Holman is the Legislative Representative for Public Citizen, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization in Washington D.C., and a leading expert on government ethics. He helps run an internship program for Saybrook students to work with his organization. He says that insurance industry lobbying has been a “critical factor” in hobbling the healthcare reform Americans voted for in November.