Practical Psychology and the Qabalah
By Dr. Karl R. Nitzke
It would seem that at one time or another, everyone could make use of a psychologist, even if it is just as a friend to talk with about issues they're facing in their lives. Realizing this, I studied psychology and eventually achieved a doctorate in the subject. But if you think all psychology and psychologists are the same, you're quite wrong.
There are biopsychologists, child psychologists, clinical psychologists, and cognitive psychologists. There are community psychologists, counseling psychologists, developmental psychologists, educational psychologists, engineering psychologists, and experimental psychologists. You will also find health or medical psychologists, industrial/organizational psychologists, personnel psychologists, psycholinguists, psychometric (quantitative) psychologists, psychotherapists, and school psychologists. There are social psychologists and even many social workers have studied the field. Each of these, and many more, have different duties and responsibilities.
Even these people don't agree on the theories behind their practices. Most people have heard of Jungian and Freudian psychology, but there is also Gestalt, Reichian, Neo-Reichian, behaviorism, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, parts counseling, and numerous other techniques and philosophies. And the amazing thing is...they all work.
Well, that's not exactly correct. Different psychologists have better or less success with various systems. For example, a therapist who is an excellent behaviorist in her practice as a developmental psychologist may have no success if she tries to use Freudian analytical techniques. Similarly, a patient may have great success with a psychologist who uses Neo-Reichian techniques, but no success with Jungian methods.
After ten years of my own private practice, I began to wonder if there was something that I could do which could help everyone. Freud had said that his analytical system was designed to take a long time and cost a lot of money. I wasn't interested in that. I just wanted to help people get through problems both major and minor as quickly and as elegantly as possible. I learned several systems, but as I discovered, what would work with one person might not work with another. I spent a year trying to determine if there was a way to predict what system would be the best for a patient. At the end of the time, I analyzed my data and discovered that I was, in fact, just guessing.
The basic problem
In my analysis, competing aspects of the mind cause most psychological problems that do not have a somatic cause, such as a brain injury. Some people refer to this as the conscious/subconscious dichotomy. Others refer to it as competing "parts." But the bottom line is that psychological problems often occur when a part of a person believes X and another part believes Y even though X and Y contradict each other.
Let me give an example. Let's say you are a male and expect your wife to behave in a certain way (and let's say it's keeping the home clean to a certain degree) but she does not meet your expectation. Now, on one level, you want the house to be a certain way and you are not getting it. By the same token, you don't want to tell your wife what to do. You expect X but you won't do Y (tell your wife what to do) in order to get X. The split here is between what you want and giving your wife freedom to not do what you want. Unfortunately, most people don't deal honestly with these competing attitudes. Instead, they manifest it in different ways, from having a negative attitude about the marriage to internalizing the competing feelings resulting in anything from asthma or eczema to panic attacks or even life-threatening circulatory problems. The goal of the therapist is to help a patient find inner harmony so that the dichotomy ceases to exist.
For children the problem is similar but not exactly the same. When a child is young it gets all of its needs met by parents, siblings, or other adults (or should get the needs met by them). The only thing the child needs to do is obey. As the child grows, it naturally seeks to become independent. This means not obeying (setting up one's own values and responsibilities) and fending for itself (rather than having its needs met). But the child usually wants both: freedom and having its needs met. In most cases, it can't have both. The child must find a balance between the two desires. If successful, the child matures into a responsible adult. This process (in Jungian terms, "individuation") usually is achieved to a greater or lesser degree by most people. But when a child can't resolve the desire for freedom from adults and having others meet its needs, problems can develop.
In the cases of both children and adults, psychological problems (often leading to physical as well as mental problems) occur if a part of the patient wants one thing and another part desires something in opposition to that. Here's another easy example. Joan has been eyeing John for a long time. Even though they have never dated, she has found him to be "dreamy" and has many expectations of what a date with him would be like. Finally, he asks her out. On the date, he tries to initiate a sexual encounter with her. She refuses, and later comes to hate him and not want to have anything to do with any men. She becomes very unhappy and gains a great deal of weight.
What happened here? First, she had an expectation of what a date with John would be like. He is completely unlike that, disappointing her. The first problem, then, was that her expectation and the reality were not congruent. Next, although she was very attracted to him and (as I discovered during counseling) she wanted to have sex with him, her personal values would not let her do so. The second problem, then, was that he brought up her inner desires, which were in conflict with her moral values. Finally, although she was quite heterosexual, and she wanted to find a male partner, she had so idealized John and he had so failed to meet her expectations that she generalized the experience to all men, even though she could not possibly have a reasonable cause for this. By overeating, she created a defensive shield of weight so she would not have to confront her conflicting desires of wanting to have sex and a relationship with a man and her personal values which forbade a sexual relationship.
It took several months of working with Joan to help her see the causes of her problems and integrate them all into her personality. A year after she began therapy combined with nutritional counseling, she was happy with her life, at a healthy weight, and had started dating again.
I wondered, "is there a way for me to help a patient integrate the various warring personality aspects and end their psychological problems?" No single way seemed to work and I had no idea how to predict what might work. I was at a loss.
A trip to The Bodhi Tree
Although I live and work in Sacramento, the capital of California, I often visit Los Angeles, especially to attend conferences. Not long ago, while I was there, I stopped in the famous Bodhi Tree Bookstore on Melrose avenue in West Hollywood. This is one of the biggest metaphysical bookstores in the world. I like it because it has a surprisingly deep section on psychology. Often, the major chains specialize in "pop psychology" books. Although the Bodhi Tree has those, it also has some of the important books by major theoreticians and offers some "cutting edge" books, too.
As I was perusing some of the psychology books, I came across an improperly shelved book. Either somebody at the store had made a mistake (doubtful) or a shopper had picked it up elsewhere in the store and left it here. The name of the book was A Garden of Pomegranates by Israel Regardie.
Years ago, I had read this book. At the time, I was deeply involved with Jungian psychology, and there was a particularly spiritual bent to many of Jung's concepts and ideas. This book was about the spiritual system of mystical Judaism, known as the Qabalah. As I recall, the author was an expert in Reichian psychology. I really didn't remember all that much about it, but I did remember one thing: the book I had read was less than half the size of the book I was holding. The earlier one was less than 200 pages. This one was over 500 pages.
Curious, I started looking through the book. There was a great deal that was new in this third edition of the book. First, it had an incredible amount of notes and comments added to the original text by Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabatha Cicero. They are not only "Senior Adepts" of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, where Regardie learned much of his wisdom, but Chic was also Regardie's "personal student, friend, and confidant." Besides their notes and comments, the Ciceros also added what is virtually an entirely new book to this volume, "Skrying on the Tree of Life."
I didn't know what that meant, so I started to look through the new section. Near the beginning of it, there is something called "A Middle Pillar Exercise on the Parts of the Soul." The authors write, "The exercise provided here is a variation on the Middle Pillar technique specifically designed to awaken all parts of the human soul..." (p. 175) Could this really be about the integration of the parts of the psyche? Was this what I had been looking for? I decided to buy the book and find out.
My personal experiments
The technique didn't seem difficult at all. Here are the first steps:
1) "Close your eyes. After a few minutes of relaxation, imagine yourself growing infinitely tall — your body expands out into space. Your head extends beyond the clouds until at length you are surrounded by the stars, and you stand on the earth, a small orb just beneath your feet." (p. 175)
2) "Visualize a sphere of white light just above your head. Vibrate the name 'Yechidah' (yeh-chee-dah)." (p. 175) The Ciceros note (p. 218) that the "ch" should sound like that in the word loch, the Scottish word for "lake." I didn't know what the idea of "vibrating" meant in this context, so I looked on the web. It would seem to mean saying the word in a way that has great force so that your body vibrates to the word with the word being the only thing in your mind. This, it would seem, tends to be quite forceful, but not necessarily loud in volume. Eventually, you should be able to limit the vibrations to certain areas of your body.
3) As you vibrate the name, the sphere of light that you are visualizing above your head should "glow brilliantly as you intone the name. This is your true Divine Self and the root essence of your spirit. It is that which is most pure and most perfect — the part of yourself that is nearest to God or Ain Soph. As you intone the name, visualize a large bright star in the center of your Kether sphere. Keep vibrating the word 'Yechidah' until it is the only thought in your mind." (p. 175). The Kether sphere, the book's glossary reveals, is the highest sphere on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Obviously, it is the sphere that has just been visualized.
4) "Then imagine a shaft of light descending from your Kether center to your Chokmah center at the left temple of your forehead. Form a sphere of white light there. Vibrate the name 'Chiah' (Chee-ah). This is your life-force and your divine will. It is the principle of action within you that puts the will of the divine into motion. It is symbolized by the masculine soul-image of the animus. As you intone the name, visualize a bright, flickering candle flame in the center of your Chokmah sphere. Intone the name 'Chiah' until it is your only thought." (p. 175-176)
5) "Bring a shaft of light horizontally across from your Chokmah center to your Binah center at the right temple of your forehead. Form a sphere of light there. Vibrate the name 'Neshamah' (Neh-shah-mah). This is your intuitive soul and the source of human perception and spiritual understanding that lets you comprehend the higher will of the divine. It is symbolized by the feminine soul-image of the anima. The Neshamah in Binah helps you to define those parts of yourselves that are unique and limited and those parts that are archetypal and limitless. The Neshamah helps you to make sense of your own self-realization. As you intone the name, visualize a silver chalice of pure water in the center of your Binah sphere. Intone the name 'Neshamah' several times until it fills your consciousness." (p. 176)
The book continues with this pattern, going through the connection between the mortal and transcendental parts of the soul, the conscious mind and reasoning powers, the lower self with its primal instincts, fundamental drives, and animal vitality (including the darker sides of ourself, what Jung called the "shadow"), and the "low level of subconscious psychic activity that is closely tied to your physical body." (p. 177-178)
The instructions show you how to send light through the various areas of the "soul" (I think I would use the term "psyche"), bringing up memories and past experiences, sharing information, mediating disagreements between different parts of the psyche/soul, discovering meanings of personal symbolism, etc. "This entire process helps to clear the channels of communication within your soul and improve the relationships between these portions of your psyche." (p. 179-180) This is exactly what I wanted to happen. This is exactly what was needed to help people get through their problems.
There is more to the technique, but it can clearly be learned in an hour or two and easily and safely practiced. I worked on it twice daily. I found it an energizing experience and rather enjoyable. After a month of practice, I went back over my personal journal. I was astounded. My handwriting had changed! It had been jagged and the base line had been very uneven. Now the letters were smooth, rounded, and well formed, and they had a relatively horizontal baseline. My words seemed to be more about things that brought me joy rather than my problems. As I sat back, smoking my pipe, I realized that I was feeling happier, too.
The next day I talked to two of my patients who were always interested in new things. I asked them (Separately, of course. Their appointments were hours apart.) if they were willing to try something experimental. Both agreed, and I showed them how to do this exercise. I also gave them a handout with full details of the technique. They agreed to do the exercise at least once a day.
The results were phenomenal. Within a month, both were realizing what the sources of their problems were (instead of the superficial or "presenting problems" which initially brought them to me). We were able to talk about the roots of the problems and I was able to give them ways to integrate the oppositions that had caused the problems. After months of have no forward motion in their therapy, they were both completely free of the presenting problems and the causes of the problems within four months.
This clearly is just the beginning of my research into the use of this technique to help people with their problems. I don't know if this will be appropriate for the majority of patients looking for help. Maybe it is all nothing more than a coincidence that the technique helped three people—myself and two of my patients.
But even if it is a coincidence, I should point out that it was a meaningful coincidence, what Jung called a "synchronicity." In fact, it wasn't just one synchronicity, it was several. I just happened to be in L.A. and just happened to visit the Bodhi Tree Bookstore. The book just happened to be misshelved and I just happened to see it before anyone else either bought it or it was put back in its proper place. I just happened to be familiar with an earlier version of the book and just happened to be intrigued at its new format. And I just happened to find the page with a technique describing exactly what I was looking for. Of course, it was just a coincidence that practicing the technique helped me and two of my patients. All of these things had to come together for this use of the Qabalah with practical psychology. Chance? Synchronicity? Kismet? I don't know. But I do know that it helped every person it has touched through me.
My research will continue.
Editor's Note: Dr. Karl R. Nitzke is the nom de plume of a psychotherapist in Sacramento, California.
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