The Monthly Aspectarian: Arnie, tell us, how did you originate what’s called process oriented psychology?
Arnold Mindell: Well, I was studying physics at MIT in the early 1960s and then went to Zurich, Switzerland to complete my studies. While I was in Zurich, I got interested in Jung and Jungian psychology and became a Jungian analyst and a training analyst. By the 1970s, I decided to expand on the ideas of Jung and developed a form of body work called Dreambody work. From there, I developed all sorts of other kinds of things, which include working with body signals and relationships and large group work, as well.
All of this turned out to mean that I was beginning something new, something I called “process oriented psychology.” After many years in Europe, Amy and I decided to come back to the United States and take up our work here, especially doing body work and working with chronic symptoms — and working also on connections within large groups, organizations of all kinds, and particularly with groups in ethics conflicts.
TMA: Now when you talk about Dreambody, do you mean the vehicle that we utilize when we dream?
AM: I define the concept of the Dreambody as body experiences which we have, which we feel. When we feel in great depth and experiment with our feelings and amplify those feelings, this phenomena about the experiences in our bodies are mirrored in our dreams. I call that the Dreambody. For example, if you have migraine headaches that you experience as poundings and you then go ahead and investigate the experience and the feeling of pounding, you might suddenly feel that there’s a lot of drums pounding and people are about ready to fight one another —
TMA: You mean in the dream state?
AM: No, in an ordinary state of consciousness. You just investigate the feelings of your body, a migraine, and you see drummers and feel the pounding of your head — and suddenly you remember, Oh my God, I dreamt the other night that there was a war going on. So this phenomena of body experiences mirroring what you have dreamt, this is what I call the Dreambody. It means that all body problems, all body symptoms are dreams trying to manifest through the body.
TMA: Then the dream would precede the physical occurrence?
AM: All your dreams manifest as body experiences which eventually turn into symptoms if you don’t work on them very much. The physical occurrence may not manifest right away as a symptom.
TMA: We recently took on a salesperson for advertising here for the magazine. Previously, I did all the ad sales, so what I’ve had to do is adjust to somebody else being responsible for what in effect is the lifeblood of the business. One afternoon several weeks into it, I fell asleep in my chair, and I had a dream where I’m driving my van — and my steering wheel turned into mush and I was unable to steer the van while I was driving. Would that relate to what you’re talking about? I mean, obviously I’m having to give up some control.
AM: I would say not just giving up control in your business, but giving up control altogether, inside. Not letting your mind direct you so much. But unless you tell me about a body experience I couldn’t relate right away to the body.
TMA: I see.
AM: That’s a good dream in relationship to your organization.
TMA: I had to laugh.
AM: If, for example, you had Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis, that would be a very typical kind of dream to have because there you’re losing control of certain aspects of your body and can’t steer it so well. Of course, you needn’t have those symptoms with that dream; I’m just relating the possibilities that are involved.
TMA: I have no illness, no physical manifestations.
AM: Wonderful. Just enjoy your good health.
TMA: What would be some other typical examples of how this works?
AM: Well, it worked just recently with a woman who has chronic bladder infections. With some of our help when she experienced these infections, she saw a flame burning inside of her. Suddenly, she was shocked to remember a recent dream she had in which there was a fire burning up her house. And that’s a woman who’s been very shy about making any “flames” at home. So we encouraged her to make a little bit more fire and heat things up at home. And her burning bladder, the chronic problem with her bladder, disappeared. That’s what you call the Dreambody.
I think, too, of working with an African-American woman who suddenly had an asthma attack while she was giving a speech about racism in one of our conferences. She got all choked up and her asthma stopped her from speaking. I asked her what it’s like to have asthma . . . and she said it’s like a horrendous cramp, something strangling her. So I put my wrist near her hands and said, Well, pretend my wrist were something you could strangle. She began to strangle my wrist, so to speak, and suddenly got in contact with all the fury and anger she has about what has happened to her in her lifetime in respect to racism. She began to scream and yell at people and awaken us to experiences that a lot of white people don’t want to hear about. It was an incredible moment. Afterward, she told me she had had a dream that she was killing the whites who were bringing their slave ships to Africa. So there’s a dream and a body experience about all her anger, about issues around that dream, and there’s a world experi ence where she was able to bring the energy and anger to some really good use in a given moment. And there you have the Dreambody.
Almost all the experiences we have in our body are related not just to our body and our dreams but to the social situation that we’re living in. Our dreams and our body symptoms are not just pathological. They want social change. Working on yourself today, for us process oriented psychologists, means knowing your body, it means knowing your dreams and it means being able to get in contact with those energies when they’re needed in social situations.
TMA: What are some of the typical complaints people come to you with?
AM: Well, process work now has many different angles to it. Some people come to us in private practice with terminal illnesses they want to work on, or with the normal problems they visit all therapists with. Other people come to us with organizational concerns, such as Esalen in California, or another organization which is a center in Massachusetts, or Indian nations that are in conflict, and ask us to work with their whole organization. We do a lot of work in Russia and in Eastern Europe, Slovakia. People come to us with all sorts of problems.
TMA: What kind of work did you do in the Esalen setting?
AM: Well, in 1986, Esalen was having severe conflicts, was about ready to go to pieces and their leaders invited us to come and be resident teachers during that time. While we were there, we encouraged them to do what we call a worldwork process where the whole group, the whole community, gets together. We try to encourage people to imagine the different forces that are prevailing, and get into these forces and use them. We did that, and there were horrendous conflicts in applying methods we have learned in tense situations. Their conflicts were resolved, at least temporarily, long enough for them to reconstruct themselves and continue on.
TMA: Boy, one becomes curious what the big problem there was, but that’s nobody’s business.
AM: Well, yeah. We really mustn’t speak about the intimate conflicts that that organization has, but they’re all just about the same. The world is threatened — in practically every conflict — by issues of rank, whether it’s a racial or ethnic conflict or an organizational conflict. Those on the bottom want to be listened to more; those on the top feel misunderstood, misrepresented, and the issues, sometimes, aren’t finally the important thing. It seems that just getting a community together to the point where they feel safe enough to start talking with one another — that’s the big thing.
TMA: How has process psychology worked with so-called “terminal” patients you’ve worked with?
AM: Doing process oriented psychology with terminal patients is an amazing thing. An aspect of process work deals with comatose states . . . one of the books I’ve written on that is called Coma: Key to Awakening. There we do Dreambody work with people who are in near death situations. As in everyday life, we encourage them to follow what they’re experiencing, even if they’re comatose or semi-comatose. People then have all sorts of awakenings and tell incredible stories.
It’s interesting . . . our goal was to follow nature, not to heal people. It’s very different than allopathic thinking, which looks at everything as pathological. We look at body problems as dreams trying to realize themselves. So, some people will get into these dream states that are locked up in their body problems and will recuperate. Other people will get into these states and their life will become so meaningful that their body problems are less significant. But not all body problems clear up; I’m not sure all body problems are even meant to clear up.
TMA: Sometimes healing doesn’t mean surviving.
AM: Yes, and to think that healing means surviving, or that healing means recuperation from symptoms, places sort of a Western program on anybody — that if you’re not getting better, then you’re a loser and a failure somehow, which is ridiculous.
TMA: How does your work relate to the Tao?
AM: Well, that’s very central in our work. The Taoist philosophy has to do with what’s happening at any given moment. That philosophy is behind all process concepts, so when it comes to individual work, we try to follow the body signals and the dreaming process — as it’s happening at any given moment. That’s the Tao.
When we’re with a large organization, we ask what the Tao is of the organization. Frequently we’re asked to come in when the Tao is conflict and crisis. We encourage people to let that Tao happen and not repress it. Especially in new age circles, people just hate conflict and try to repress it. The result is usually that it makes things so bad that the organizations are finally about ready to go to pieces by the time the groups want to address the conflicts.
Between saying you are a Taoist and actually following the Tao is usually quite a gap, a spiritual gap, I’d say. And — can conflict and trouble really be the Tao? If you can say yes to conflict, then you can enjoy getting into it and resolving it earlier.
TMA: It’s interesting in the new age or even the spiritual movement, that there’s such a tendency to hide from the shadow, to deny the shadow.
Even that word “shadow” is a racist term, for example, because then everything dark is unconscious. And the new age has more racism and creates more conflict than it can hardly imagine — through its very concepts and the words that it uses.
TMA: I don’t know. I think people need to get over some things. The whole “light” and “dark” . . . what should we call it?
AM: The problem is not what we call it. It’s the idea that the darkness is the problem always. That’s the difficulty.
TMA: Especially this tendency to try to deny and hide from what we call the dark sides of ourselves.
AM: It’s also important to know that it’s mainly white psychology that says we should hide from the dark sides of ourselves, and that we do hide from the dark sides of ourselves. That’s a very white psychotherapy that has developed that attitude.
TMA: Well again, what terms would be better?
AM: That we should hide from the unconscious parts of ourself. That we’re doing that all the time — that it’s dangerous.
Associating unconscious always with dark is a problem. If you have dark skin, you’re constantly listening to the thing that dark is unconscious, dark is unknown — whereas if you have dark skin, the opposite may be the case.
TMA: I’ve seen people react to the term “black magic” as if it’s a racist thing, and I’ve never thought of it as such.
AM: Well, most of us white people who think about life, we don’t have to think about racial things because in the United States we’re in the majority — or have been. Times are changing.
TMA: Still, not everything that’s unconscious in our psyche is necessarily what one would call dark or negative. There are things in the unconscious that are positive.
AM: Right. Many things. At least half is wonderful.
TMA: But it’s not the positive things that people are hiding from, it’s the things that are perceived as negative.
AM: That’s right. That is right. But to use the words “dark” and “shadow” all the time . . . it’s become so obvious that even while everybody uses those terms now, they don’t understand where those terms come from. They’ve come from people who have thought that Blacks and Africans are less conscious, that they’re savage. Those thoughts still prevail in the background. People who have a lot of effect in new age communities who are furious, angry and vengeful, these people are looked down upon as having less consciousness, being less aware, being less valuable.
TMA: What would you say is the essence of your work, Arnie, and what do people expect from an experience with you?
AM: The essence of our work is that people affirm experiences that they’re having inside of themselves . . . that they begin to understand and experience body experiences . . . as well as potentially important energies which, once you get in touch with them, are energies that are wanted and needed in the world. Even if we’re told that these energies and experiences in our bodies are pathological, they are always energies that would change groups and change organizations and make world changes.
TMA: I think a lot of people still think in terms of the body being bad.
AM: Right. Everybody thinks that the body is bad and the body is pathological . . . and that when you’re sick, it’s something to cure, instead of seeing that when you’re sick, that’s some energy trying to happen that could be very useful to you and to everybody else, not just to yourself and your own personal growth.
Arnold Mindell, Ph.D., together with his partner, Amy Mindell, Ph.D., has become internationally known for work with large groups who had been struggling with multicultural problems, terrorism and near riot situations in such places as Ireland, South Africa, Russia, Poland and the Mideast. He has recently been involved in town meetings in the U.S., some of which have been aired on Public TV, on the topics of human rights in issues of race, gender, religion and sexual preference. Mindell is the author of Rivers Way, Working on Yourself Alive, City Shadows and Coma, and is co-author with Amy of Riding the Horse Backwards: Process Oriented Psychology in Theory & Practice.