Let us look at ways in which the aspirant can sabotage or disrupt their progress to the Threshold of Transformation.
The aspirant may misinterpret what is happening, perhaps because they would rather see things that way or in order to have events conform to their hopes and wishes. For example, the aspirant feels and announces that she has “finished” with her parental or other childhood attachments. Unfortunately the inner world is not as defined or explicit as the outer world. When we paint a picture, cook a meal, or go for a walk, we may clearly know when we have completed the task. But the progress and attainments of inner work are subject to our projections, delusions, and fantasies. In misinterpreting, she is avoiding completion, holding on to her parents, and retaining a trace of childhood dependence, rather than truly releasing herself from any attachments. The probes for the therapist are: How are you still holding on? How does dependency reveal itself in your present life, for example, in your current relationship and in attachments to others, or in your fears based on past hurts or childhood dynamics? How do you feel you may be dependent on your therapist and the therapy process itself?
Internal bargaining involves some psychological negotiations or haggling in order to get round some obstacle or get away with something, in the hope that you may avoid the inevitable. While bargaining may serve some purpose in the outer world, in the inner world taking from one part of ourselves to benefit another is counterproductive and negative from the point of view of the psychological state of wholeness. Remembering that the inner state of wholeness is a relatively new condition of life for the aspirant-seeker, some new understanding must arise. The therapist needs to skillfully show the aspirant that “robbing Peter to pay Paul” is no longer an option. We cross the Threshold whole unto ourselves or not at all. Partialness is not an option. The therapist reinforces and helps the aspirant to cultivate and nurture trust, faith, and surrender at this time. The therapist asks the aspirant: Are you aware that you are bargaining? What do you think you can achieve through internal bargaining? In your life up to now you have been innerly conflicted, but the state of wholeness demands your unified self – what changes do you need to take in how you meet life and accommodate this new reality?
The reality of the aspirant’s situation must be faced squarely. Delusion has no place and is sharply damaging and even subversive now. This is a good time for an ultra-honest audit of the inner world. The therapist reinforces and draws attention to the need to follow the authentic heart, the central core of honesty in the aspirant. The therapist’s probes and themes and focuses include: What remains to process? Where are you truly… really? What are your current challenges? What are you avoiding? What are you resisting?
The insecurity of the present condition, teetering on the edge of the transformational threshold causes the aspirant to seek security in some established aspect of life – relationship, work or professional life, creative endeavors, even spiritual practice. Many a aspirant poised on the Threshold “backs up” and takes consolation from some aspect of their past life that suddenly appears compellingly positive, fruitful, and fulfilling. The aspirant announces: I have decided to devote myself to my partner and make my relationship work or I have accepted a new position job in my firm.
Compensation has a strange perhaps synchronous way of appearing in your aspirant’s life as eminently solid, practical, and sensible. The therapist conducting his aspirant across the Threshold at this point is keenly aware that events and opportunities are likely to emerge out of left field and undermine the inner processes that lead to transformation. In some ways as I write this I feel what it is I feel when I confront a aspirant about the sabotaging strategy of compensation… which is somewhat arrogant – after all who am I to tell someone that what is happening to them, what they are choosing, is somehow bogus while the legitimate route for their life lies straight in front of them… onward and over the Threshold. Nonetheless, I am convinced, because I have seen this so many times, that compensation even with the cooperation of outside forces in the word that appear to deliver the opportunities on cue is an avoidance of transformation.
The therapist probes and questions like this: What makes you work/relationship seem suddenly so worthy of your undivided attention? What are you afraid of? I have the feeling you are getting cold feet about your inner work and your therapy. Don’t you think it rather strange that these opportunities should present themselves at this very point in your inner work? Are you trying to avoid the transformative threshold?
One such is the appearance of a sudden crisis. The crisis necessitates the aspirant’s relocation, attending to a relative or friend, immersing herself in a new life path professionally, relationally, or creatively. Although a sudden crisis in the aspirant’s life is a form of the previous compensation strategy, I have included it separately because I have found it so common.
The therapist’s probes include: Why do you think this crisis has appeared in your life now? Is this crisis as serious as you think it is? Have you noticed how this present event coincides with an important critical time in your therapy? Is your response to this crisis a way of avoiding a breakthrough in your therapy?
As apparent as it is to anyone but the aspirant, the aspirant transfers this crucial opportunity onto someone close to them and perceives them as experiencing an initiatory event. The aspirant is compelled to help or facilitate the process and illogically this means they have to end therapy at this critical point in their own development. It is indeed remarkable how blind a previously aware and observant aspirant may be to the sequence of events that sabotage their inner work in this way. The therapist probes: What is it you see in the other person that reflects what is happening in your life? If you were [name of the friend] what would you need to do now? How does withdrawing from your personal therapy benefit anyone now? I feel you are transferring your current life situation onto your friend.
The aspirant is unexpectedly drawn to another therapist, training, or psychotherapy approach. Glowing reports of this new way, this new method have reached them via new friends or old ones and it places your therapy at a disadvantage. Modern versions of this are the Ayahuasca ceremony, charismatic spiritual teachers, a welter of therapy approaches that promise immediate or fast results, and the ubiquitous mainline “hit” of large-scale events based on principles from humanistic psychology and Zen Buddhism, complete with celebrity endorsements proclaiming the event to have been turning points in their highly successful careers. Whatever it is, it constitutes bailing out.
The therapist’s probes are: What makes you think the new approach will benefit you more than following through with your present therapy process? What other instances of the grass is greener did you experience before? What attracts you to [name of therapist or charismatic leader]? What has convinced you after this time of working with me that you can do your work faster?
Taking the Shortcut to Grandeur
The aspirant becomes convinced that they have crossed the threshold. But they haven’t. In my experience this may go hand in hand with a withdrawal from the therapy relationship, a little “disloyalty” by conferring with another or other practitioners, and becoming susceptible to outside lane influences i.e. forming an alliance with personal development methods that promise quick results. Either way your aspirant chooses to take the shortcut to grandeur.
The aspirant who sits before you and starkly announces their psychological enlightenment is a challenge. We are reminded of Yalom’s reluctance to be Loves Executioner and how therapy pursues reality beyond and through the destruction of romantic dreams. So neither may we want to be Transformation’s Executioner, but of course we sit in a seat marked Truth. What is therapy without the guiding principles of Truth, Reality, and authenticity?
The kind of aspirant who falls for this harmful shortcut is typically effusive, perhaps hysteric as a character strategy, certainly impressionable, and has a history of breaking loyalties, an inability to sustain or a deficit of the following through energy we discussed in module 3 of this course. Being aware of these tendencies can forewarn us as therapists that our aspirant approaching the threshold may succumb to the delusion of grandeur.
A further difficulty is that we as therapists are invited to collude. The alleged transformation is usually offered as a vindication and fulfillment of all they have experienced and the trials and tests they have passed through. You are invited to collude, with the corollary that if you don’t your skills and abilities as a therapist will be called into question.
The therapist’s probes are: What makes you think you have crossed the Threshold? How did this transformation take place? Where do you see yourself now? What enabled you to persist through the transition (when, for example, I haven’t seen you for six weeks)? What are your intentions about ongoing therapy (this is very important because the delusional, transformed aspirant characteristically does not want to be known since it would give the game away, so they stop therapy with you now if not altogether. If they do some growth work, it is with someone who knows them less well and is therefore unlikely to rumble their delusion).