Spiritual Bypassing Agency and Right Relationship with Brooke Sprowl | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Spiritual Bypassing Agency and Right Relationship with Brooke Sprowl".
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Welcome everyone to another Voices with Raveki. I'm very excited to be here with Brooks Brawl. This will be our third time talking. This will be the second time on my channel. After I ask Brooke to introduce herself again, we're going to take up the topics of spiritual bypassing on one side and sort of, I don't know what to call it, spiritual neglect or on the other where people sort of refuse to face that sort of crooked guardian moment when they acknowledge that there is for lack of a better term and I hope we come up with a better term in the future, but that there is a spiritual dimension to their life that they need to properly address. So first of all, welcome back, Brooke. And could you reintroduce yourself again for everyone? And so it's always great to see you, John. I'm Brooks Brawl. I'm a clinical psychotherapist. I have about 15 years of experience working with somatic experiential and cognitive psychotherapies. And so the bulk of my career has really been and my personal journey has been really shadow integration. And so the spiritual has been a really lovely kind of addition to the ecology of practices. And I'm really exploring these dimensions in new ways and kind of delving into these topics in my personal life. So I'm really excited to kind of hammer some things out and explore them with you, John. Excellent. So yeah, you and I have both had a very maybe convoluted as the most neutral term relationship with spirituality. And we're both sort of trying to return to it in a more, I'm trying not to sound condescending to anybody, but a more mature and responsible and perhaps even thoughtful manner.
Understanding And Critiquing Spiritual Bypassing
Transcending and Including vs Transcending and Disowning (01:57)
And so I think maybe if we talk about the extremes, we could work towards an Aristotelian golden mean between them and what that might mean for overall well-being, something that you, of course, done quite a bit of work on within your framework. So let's start with people who are in some sense. Well, Aristotle's virtues are always between excess and deficit. So courage is between the excess of full-heartedness and the deficit of cowardice. So I'm proposing to you that spiritual bypassing is in some sense the excess. It's when people are in some sense spiritual in a way that's unhealthy, detrimental, that's in the not in the violent sense, but in the moral sense, vicious. Their lives become filled with certain kinds of vice, self-destructiveness and other destructiveness. So I propose we start there and I'd like to hear your initial thoughts on what you think's going on in spiritual bypassing and do you encounter it in your practice? And when you do, if you do, and when you do, how do you work with it? And what have you found to be successful and what have you found to not be so successful? So that's a large question, but it gives you a good launching point. Several things to explore in that. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about bypass is the opposite of what Ken Wilbur calls transcending and including. And so my experience with what I would think of as an authentic approach to spirituality is transcending and including, whereas what I witness in the spiritual community is transcending and disowning, transcending and excluding. So this kind of going to what people would call high vibration or all love and light. And on some level, we can have these glimpses of seeing that even darkness is a part of love in life. And it is a part of this incredible dynamic polarity and balance of the cosmos. There's a way to engage with that without denying evil or without denying the evil or the pain or the difficulty in our own lives. And I think that transcending and including requires a moving through the pain, not a denial and minimization of the pain. And so for me, that's central to the conversation that we're having. Okay, so there's two really good ideas there. One is this idea of a transcend and include versus transcend. And I think you said deny is was that the or do you or just or just either one works for me. Yeah. And so and then there was this other idea about part of what the denial I sense a link between the two part of the part of the point of the denial is to avoid dealing with pain, whether or not that's you know, pain in the in sort of a more psychosomatic sense or pain in a moral sense of guilt or a sense of responsibility or etc.
Transcend and What? (04:58)
So first of all, what do you mean, what do you mean by transcend? That's a really good question. You know, my experience is that there is a way of relating to pain that allows us to rise above it or relate to it in a way that is no longer kind of controlling us or dominating us or pulling the strings. Like the way that I think about it in my practice is it's not that we get rid of our difficulties. It's that our difficulties are no longer playing us like puppets. It's that they're no longer controlling our lives that we're actually back in the driver's seat. And it doesn't mean we don't have to be in relationship to our pain or our difficulty in important ways because we do. But transcending means that we're kind of in a more empowered position in relationship to the difficulties of our humanity. So I get at that what you're saying is where we become less reactive in some sense and we regain our agency.
Succinct Mismanagement (06:31)
But it seems to and I think that's a valid point. Oh, sorry. I don't want to talk too many interviews today. I think that's a valid point. I'm wondering though it seems to require the development of some capacity for discernment because you need to be able to discern what you just described, you know, agency and not being reactive with an attempt to control or suppress or manage your pain, which strike me as potentially pathological. But are you seeing what I'm saying that distinguishing between what you're talking about, a recovery of agency and sort of a management control, even perhaps puritanical approach to one's pain. How would you discern between them? That's at the heart of our conversation, right? It's a very subtle, like it's not obvious. The difference on its face, it's not obvious because it's a process difference. It's not an outcome. It's not a different difference. It's the way that you're relating to these things, not maybe the what or the content, if that's the right way to think about it. There might be a better frame for us. So for me, when I encounter these things, it's very intuitive. I can sense when somebody, you know, at least I think I can sense, when somebody is grappling with and reckoning with the dark parts of themselves and then finding a spiritual footing in that, as opposed to this kind of superficial veneer of spirituality that doesn't have any feet on the ground in my estimation. So let's, without trespassing on any of your secret sauce or any of your patients' lives, like I want to zoom in on that. I want to try and get a, so you're working with somebody and you can sense they have a superficial relationship. I'm also wondering about people who think they're agreeing with you about recovering agency and instead they're doing sort of an egocentric, I'm going to control my pain.
Example of spiritual bypassing: the weaponization of gratitude (08:49)
I'm not going to let it master me. And you know, kind of a machismo approach, which I think would also not get what you're talking about because to me, it sounds like you're saying they get to a place where they are able to learn about and from and with their pain rather than ignore it or try to completely silence it. And so what does that feel like in the therapy? I get your intuition and I'm trying to get you to put in words that you might not be regularly putting into words, but you know, I'm trying to, I'm trying to get the sense of what, where that clicks for you. So I should clarify something. My primary experience with bypass is not in my practice. I think the nature of the work that I do, people are not typically coming in with a bunch of bypass. They're typically coming in in pain, ready to look at the shadow, ready to kind of see, I see. And because they're coming to me and I'm guiding them in that process, you know, I'm guiding them toward more of that. I see where I witnessed that is more in the spiritual community. And there's, but what I do see in my practice more so is what I call the weaponization of gratitude, which is a version of bypass perhaps, which is this, you know, there's a, there's room for perspective in pain, right? Like there's room for I'm in pain and I'm grateful and, you know, look how blessed I am and look at all the gifts in my life. What I notice is people will weaponize their gratitude and go, I shouldn't be in pain. My pain is insignificant because look how blessed I am. And that for me is maybe an example of a process piece that is important that's maybe at the heart of what we're kind of trying to tease out here. It's not the same thing I was referring to earlier, but there's a, you know, for me, there's a yes and instead of an either or that happens, I think in a lot of different areas. I mean, I see this where it's like my parents did the best they could. It's like, yes, and you're also angry at your parents. It's not either you're angry or you're pretty good. And so, you know, a lot of the integration work is about reconciling things that we tend to the logical or strategic minds tends to think of as at odds or contradictory. It's actually about inviting the integration of those contradictions that aren't really contradictions. They're just part of the fullness of our humanity, which is incredibly complicated and full of all sorts of seeming contradictions. That reformulating was very, very helpful.
Techniques (like gratitude) for coping that can still be bypasses. (11:35)
So now let me try and bridge from what you're encountering in your practice to what you're encountering in the spiritual community. Do you think that one of the reasons people do spiritual bypass is to avoid that cognitive dissonance when they run into these contradictions like my parents were great and they loved me and they were good people and I'm really angry at them and they really pissed me off. I mean, that's that's that's that's at least initially a state of significant cognitive dissonance. And we know that in the end in cognitive dissonance, people will do all kinds of strategies to try and alleviate it as quickly as possible. Do you think one of the reasons why people engage in spiritual bypassing is that they come into these contradictions? I don't know. My sense is that that may be one factor. My intuition is that it's more about avoiding pain and what is unpleasant and the emotional experience perhaps which might be the the output of cognitive cognitive dissonance, right? Yeah. You may be emotional component, but that's my sense is that it's more about not wanting to get your feet, not wanting to get your hands dirty. You know, not like, that messy human stuff. I'm above it. I don't have to deal with that. It's all love and light. It feels like a way to not feel pain or discomfort, which, you know, I guess I think is inevitable, but I also noticed that and this is where I'd love to pick your brain a little bit. Maybe that could be a little bit later in the conversation, but as I engage with some of those spiritual practices like gratitude or visualizing, you know, one of the practices I've been using a lot is kind of visualizing the state that I want to create, whether in the having or the being mode both, the envisioning it and making it really vivid and some of the guidance I've gotten in that is, you know, imagine it as if it's already there and experiencing it and then you experience the benefits of it before that kind of external has manifested to use a dirty word and, and, you know, but then it does seem to in my experience facilitate the actual external, you know, outcome often that we are, you know, and there's a lot of reasons for that. There's a lot of kind of subconscious programming. I think that dictates the way we relate to ourselves and others, but I do notice it's like, oh, you can kind of access that state and it can be a really good thing to add to the shadow work, but I think there's also a way that we can use it to bypass the shadow work. And I think that's the way that people really tend to engage with spirituality is they just emphasize that side of the dialectic that is focused on, you know, the positive and cultivating these these wonderful states. And there's not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that I don't think that there's there's a real foundation. It's a house of cards if it's not rested on the true reckoning with the dark parts of life. I think, and I could be wrong about that. Like I'm open to being wrong.
Is the culture at large also doing spiritual bypassing? Have we commodified happiness? (14:43)
No experience personally and witnessing it. I think the two explanations are actually probably in concert with each other rather than being in competition with each other. So I so when people are doing, I mean, you basically saying that the heart of it is a kind of escapism, the idea that they can escape human finitude, they can escape human frustration, human failure. Is this I mean, there's the culture, bear some blame for this, because of the way spirituality has become sort of popularized and increasingly represented. And do you think that there's also a cultural critique as well as a psychological critique here? Is there something about how we have presented what spirituality is or at least in general or popular that is contributing to this in some way? It's a really interesting question. I don't see spirituality represented very much in the mainstream culture personally. And if it is, it's kind of still on the periphery. But what came up when you asked that question for me was the commodification that the culture from my perspective, at least American culture is very happiness. You're supposed to be happy all the time if you're not happy with you. And you can buy your happiness and your sort of sense of self-worth is about how productive you are or what you achieve or how you look and these sort of external elements of the self that are very egoic. And so to me, that does kind of dovetail with the bypass conversation because it's like spirituality is now another quick fix, another way to get out of this messy thing of being a human. Well, maybe you put your finger on there. I mean, so we've got one dimension of spirituality, which is some kind of transcendence that helps recover agency. I like this as a proposal, by the way. It's one I'm in agreement with, as you probably know, that that's what we should mean by spirituality, a transcendence that enhances agency. But I'm wondering if you're putting your finger on something else here that's really interesting, which is the idea that the goal, the purpose of spirituality is happiness. And happiness is understood as kind of an ongoing emotional experience. It's not like the Greek notion of happiness at all. It's this, I sort of be feeling good all the time. That's what happiness is. And then the point of spirituality is to feel good all the time. And that would be very much in line with what you're talking about, the sort of corporate capitalist commodification of every aspect of our existence within surveillance capitalism. It's no better under surveillance communism either. So I'm, but that whole point. And I'm wondering if, you know, if the knowledge I have of existing and spiritual traditions, you know, Neil Platonism, Buddhism, Taoism, happiness in that sense is not the goal. It has never been the goal, right? The goal is usually understood as wisdom, which is the enhancement of one's agency, so that one is appropriately and proportionally in right relationship with as much of reality as is possible for a human being. That's how I understand it.
Is the goal of spirituality actually joy (happiness)? (18:43)
And that means there are times because there are times when the way to be in right relationship with a situation is to be very sad. And like everybody else, I don't like sadness. I don't like, oh, I hope I'm sad sometime today. Right? But on the other hand, I hope I have enough perspective as you were making reference to earlier that I can realize, no, no, stop trying to not be sad. You should be sad right now.
Happiness does a poor job orienting us to a complex reality (19:20)
Or even you should be angry right now. And trying to see that that's part of the ancient notion of eudomonia, living a good life as opposed to having good feelings. The shift from living a good life to having good feelings seems to me to be something you put your finger on. And then our spirituality has at least the way it's picked up in a may be North American or Anglo American culture is the point of spirituality is to feel good. So I think that, so it sounds like we're doing what I was hoping for. We're sort of, you know, titrating towards the golden mean.
Hardening of the heart in atheistic realms (20:04)
So we've got this sense of transcendence that's an inclusion because it is transcendence that enhances agency. And then we have the idea that the point of spirituality is to bring that to its greatest possible fruition. So as much as possible, one is in right relationship to as much of reality, including oneself as as possible for a finite human being. And I think this is good. What would let's let's talk to the other side. You must meet people. Sorry, that's presumptuous. I think it strikes me as plausible, but I could be wrong, that you would meet people that suffer from the opposite, that they're in therapy, they're in pain, and they refuse to acknowledge the need for this this kind of transcendence, this kind of the pursuit of the virtue, virtuosity of fitting oneself to reality comprehensively, deeply and well. And they're avoiding that and they for the same kind of reasons, the commodification, they want, they don't want to go into all of that, woo spiritual stuff. They just want to be fit. Is that also something you encounter? As a therapist, I, you know, really ethically, I'm not ever imposing my, of course not, of course not. You know, what people should be doing. Of course, I'm inviting people into certain kinds of explorations and probably the people who are drawn to me maybe just tend to buy virtue of who I am, select me because they're a little bit more spiritual. And so, you know, it's not, it doesn't feel like a, I see that in my life, but again, I don't see it as much in my practice perhaps, or I'm just not even necessarily pulling that thread particularly. Well, that's fine. And I appreciate your honesty. So, you see it in your life then, let's take it up there. I mean, I see it in the culture at large, in a very powerful way. And so, I get it. I'm not asking you about what's happening in your clinical therapy, but from the viewpoint of your clinical therapeutic framework, I think it's a legitimate to ask you the question, do you see this happening, the opposite happening in the culture, this sort of hardening of the heart kind of thing. What's coming up as we talk about it is there's this, there's these two parts of the dominant culture, which is this kind of staunch nihilistic materialistic, you know, enthusiasm, or agnosticism. And then there's this infantile, you know, what's just overly dogmatic literalist, which is not what at all was intended by kind of like the writers of the Bible, that was not the. So, it's like this very strange perversion of, you know, a religion that I don't think has any bearing on what was actually intended by the authors of the Bible or Jesus or whatever. And it's presumptuous for me to talk about, you know, yeah, yeah, I get that. Yeah. But in my reading of it is that the way that Christianity is practiced in our culture has very little to do with the intention of it in the early days. And so, it's just kind of interesting to me, these two poles, because it feels like there's just, that is the dialectic. And there is this possibility of education for both sides to go like, you know, like when I think about my conservative Christian friends and family or upbringing, I go, you're really, you're getting, you're experiencing something very real. This, you know, as you say, this Christianity is affording a genuine experience with spirituality. But then it's in this, within this context that I think is very oppressive and, and actually very politicized in some really, yes, yes. And then we have this kind of nihilistic atheistic materialist side, which doesn't make any room for the ability to connect with that. And I mean, there are exceptions to that, like Sam Harris, for example, is a really good exception of someone who's very, you know, kind of proclaimed atheist while also being very, you know, proponent of self transcendence and a student of spirituality, which is really interesting, right? Because in my estimation of these experiences, it's very difficult to deny a spiritual realm when you encounter and touch these things. It's like, you're touching this other piece of reality that feels more real than the ordinary day to day. And so it's, I think it's the exception and not the rule for people to have these experiences and remain atheistic. But some of that may be just semantics of, you know, what do I mean? What do you mean by a god or spiritual reality? So I kind of, I don't know if I even remotely answered your question. I just realized that you did it. And it's a good, it's a good beginning.
Decadent romanticism and the downside of monogamous transcendence (25:26)
I think there's, I agree with you, and I grew up in that polarity, the atheist fundamentalist polarity. I think there's another pole. So it's more of a triangle. I think our culture also has a sort of decadent romanticism running through it that is very much in the ilk of this tendency towards spiritual bypassing. And I think the three play off against each other in a really, I mean, they are officially antagonistic to each other. But I think they are importantly complicit in sharing a lot of fundamental presuppositions about what spirituality is, etc. I saw weird interactions. So I grew up in the fundamentalist community, but I saw them also trying to do, well, it's all about feeling happy and feeling good. And therefore, Jesus loves me and therefore I should be happy and cheerful all day long. I should be smiling and up. And if I get depressed, then Satan's got to hook in me in some way. And the magazine smiles that barely were containing. And I'm saying this about people that I genuinely love and care about. This is not, I don't want it to be contemptuous because I just don't want it to be contemptuous. I'm just going to say that. But those magazine smiles barely covering just torrents of anxiety. And so I saw the two interacting actually. I saw the fundamentalism and the bypassing weirdly. I mean, now that I look at it from the outside weirdly, but they were they were enmeshed together in this really strange, and for me, and I suspect for many people, just an unlivable thing. You've got this, you've got this terror inducing framework that is also saying, if you are really authentic in this framework, you will be sort of feeling cheerful all day long. And so I would get this weird place where I would experience the terror and the anxiety and then feel secondary guilt because I shouldn't be feeling terrified or anxious. I should be feeling cheerful all the time. And then I must not be applying the rules severely enough. And then you get into this, this kind of thing happening. I know that's so well. I'm feeling it. My own experience in that culture and that framework. And it reminds me of this movie I watched in college called The Education of Shelby Knox. And it starts out the first line of the movie says, two things I learned growing up in Levick, Texas, God loves you when you're going to hell. It's a very awful thing and you should save it for someone you love. And yeah, there's so many things that you said. I mean, when you were talking about those magazine smiles, I really recognized that in others, but I also recognize that in myself. Yes. And the anxiety, it was like, I am genuinely often a very positive and kind of warm person. I was like, I'm not an authentic piece of it. But then there was also such a bypass. It was both. So that was another thing that's complicated about it. It wasn't completely in authentic. But there was certainly a ton of anxiety that it was masking. So when you describe that, I was thinking of others, but it was also thinking of myself.
Intimate relationships and the meaning crisis (29:12)
Yeah, there were so many different kind of points I wanted to address. At the beginning, the main thing that I actually really wanted to bring up at the beginning of what you shared was about this romantic piece, because I think that's such a deep and rich point of exploration. It's ironic because I just started rewatching the awakening from the meaning crisis. And first, just I happened to just listen to the one on romanticism. So I'll have to see the city there. But it's something that reminds me of Esther Perel's work a little bit. And that was what I was reflecting on a bit when I was listening to you and the awakening from the meaning crisis. And it's coming up in this exploration. So Esther Perel talks about how we relegate the what used to be the domain of an entire tribe, in terms of emotional support, connection, logistical support. And we kind of relegate all of our emotional needs to one person. Yeah. And that's a really important thing to me is that we need to empower our tribe used to me. And that actually what you said really added to that perspective that she doesn't share, which is, and we're also looking for our spiritual transcendence. Yes. And that's a really important sickness, I think, to address. And maybe it requires even another conversation depending on how much it is. Yeah, yeah. Because I think, and when I think about my Christian background and how the sick over emphasis on marriage and marriage as salvation and marriage is like the ultimate. If you follow these rules, you'll be happy. And you'll have this and marriage with somehow this, once you get married, you're going to have all of your wildest dreams. So Philip, because you're going to get to have sex. Oh my God. And that's going to make you complete as a human. Right. So there's just such a weird, like, when I look back on it, it's so distorted. The and way that things are framed that is very regressive, I think, is the word that I want to use, repressive and regressive. I saw that very, the the the sacramental marriage formula for romantic sexual bliss. Yes. And in my extended family, my immediate family, my extended family, none of the relationships delivered on that promise, none of them. Many of them were disastrous in really deep ways for people that I deeply love. And that was one of the things that also, so there was my own trauma, but there was also my anger about the sense of betrayal and being lied to around that. Yeah. But that's what I mean about that weird, complicit thing going on between the decadent romanticism and the fundamentalism. Yeah, I like your proposal of, yeah, that we talk about how we tried to make our romantic relationships, the bearer of culture, history, history and God, and they can't possibly bear that burden. And until you get the weird thing that when you ask people what contributes most to your meaning in life or happiness, if their parents, they'll say they're kids, but if they're not, they'll say their romantic relationship. And then if you ask them, what causes you the has caused you the most suffering in your life? They'll tell you, my romantic life has caused me the most suffering in my life.
Holding suffering & transcendence in romantic relationships (33:13)
And they don't feel the tension there at all, which, and I'm not criticizing these people, I'm trying to express compassion. That startles me, that you're holding these two things that are obviously deeply connected and related, and you're just not seeing the connection. When I do this with my students and get them to hold the two together in their mind, you can see the sort of the starful that it engenders in it, but like, oh, and go ahead. I don't see those things as at odds. From my perspective, I can say that those statements are true for me. And I guess because I see my relationships as, and the suffering in my relationships as a reflective tool, I call it the reflection principle, this idea that any problem I have outside of me is actually reflecting something in my internal state that needs to be addressed and kind of reformulated to have, as you might say, a better fit with reality. When I see the suffering in my romantic relationships, I see it as an invitation and a mirror into my own consciousness and what needs to be upgraded in some way or healed in some way to create more transcendent, a more empowered and transcendent relationship, not only with the relationships, but also with myself and with life writ large. So I guess I just kind of let me, I don't know if it's pushed back, but let me reply. I think you're exemplifying what I'm finding lacking. You are not treating your romantic relationship as the framing by which you interpret and understand reality and all things. You are treating it with a broader framework within which it is properly placed and proportioned. So I think you're actually exemplifying what I say I see lacking, which is people treat the romantic frame as the ultimate frame in terms of which everything is made sense of. Wonderful. Well, I feel very validated by your profile there. Well, it wasn't approval. I was trying to make clear of what I was criticizing. I'm trying to say that the issue isn't that there's both suffering and transcendence or exaltation or some kind of gratification in relationships. It's that if the ultimate meaning is placed in relationships, that can lead to devastating effects. And actually, what was coming up when you were sharing that is the statistics on suicide. I believe that breakups are one of the primary, if not the top, one of the top two or three causes of what leads to suicide. Yeah, and it's telling that our culture has focused on one, whatever form of social stigmatization, whether because you're trans or race, as the only cause of suicide that we're going to take responsibility for. I'm not denying that those are causes.
Dialogical Process And Agency In Relationships
News flash: romanticismyou don't find in reality (36:25)
I'm denying that those are the only causes that we have a responsibility for. Yeah, but I think that's part of the problem. There's kind of an inability to take proper responsibility for, to give any kind of cultural education for romantic relationships, other than romantic comedies, which are a devastatingly bad, I think, evil way of trying to give people education about romantic relationships. And so our culture, I think, is morally responsible for being negligent in a way that leads to fatality. And the fact that this won't even come up on our radar, I think is part of the very blindness I'm pointing towards. Yeah, it's so odd to me, because I don't like romantic comedies. And good for you. I find so odd about them is they skip overall the good stuff. Like the thing to me that's gratifying about watching a movie or engaging in romance is actually the details. And they literally have like a montage over all of the moments where of substance. And that is very strange to me. But yeah, the glorification of the idea that the relationship is the salvation, as opposed to the relationship can be an... It can deliver some element of awakening when engaged with property. Yes, yes. If commodified, if for lack of a better word, it's actually going to deliver the opposite. It's going to create hell. If it's engaged with as an opportunity to upgrade the self and be in conversation and learn and grow and expand and be challenged. And then there's actually a way in which our relationships can serve our awakening, which is actually what the book is about. But if on the other hand, we exalt these things to like some kind of an anesthesia or some kind of a drug that's going to allow us to not look at the things that are painful in our lives or to not do that deep reckoning of how can we upgrade, how can we reformulate ourselves then we're positioning ourselves for depression and defeat, I think. Right. I agree with that. I think that was very well said, eloquent, in fact. So I think what I've been trying to make an argument for, dialogically with you, is that our romantic lives are actually a place where we see very significant but unacknowledged spiritual bypassing happening. There's the spirituality, there is a proper spirituality. You just articulated it in our relationships and our relationships have an important role in there. But nevertheless, given what we have, this decade of romanticism, we have transformed it into a spiritual bypassing that's supposed to, in some sense, save us from the otherwise nihilistic worldview that we find ourselves in. Well said. Yeah. Unfortunately so, because there's a lot of suffering that there's a lot of machinery in place to keep all of that grammar that you and I are articulating in place because many people benefit from it financially and politically and in terms of social influence and status. I think, for example, Hollywood celebrity culture feeds off of all of this and promotes it in a tremendous fashion.
Introducing dialogical process (40:01)
I'm wondering, for you then, you said some very powerful things, but they were in service of this other argument, but I'd like to turn and afford you shining your spotlight directly on them. What, from your framework and the work you do and the observations you make, I'll always try to make it more broad that way now. What do you see, and you've already touched on it, so I'm actually, you now, to draw it out and draw it together. What do you see as the relationship between spirituality, of this sense of transcendence that enhances agency and affords the cultivation of wisdom as this broad and deep fitting to reality? What do you see the relationship between spirituality understood that way and our relationships? Not just our romantic relationships, perhaps also like friendships and parental relationships, etc. Yeah, I think I articulated it already. I see it all as a mirror, so I see, and it's broader than relationships, but for me, relationships have been a primary access point. The dialogical process is a helpful reference point, perhaps, because when you're in a relationship with someone else, you have a viewpoint and they have a viewpoint, and you're actually, when you're, I think, engaging with it properly, you're bringing into your awareness your own subjectivity and the limitations of your own viewpoints. Yes. You can actually really expand your perspective by allowing yourself to fully hear another person's needs, another person's sense of things, and that, for me, my relationships have been probably the single most informative tool for me to see my own psyche and the things that I am in my own blind spots. And so, but that requires, again, a certain orientation. If your orientation is, you know, my relationships are here to serve me and make my pain go away, that you're not, if you're not going to be able to access the potential for a transcendence or awakening within a relationship. So, I want to ask a question to see if there, if it unfolds a certain way. I mean, that proposal is a Socratic proposal, and I've been exploring it in the new series, After Socrates, that there is a way in which we, we transcend ourselves through other people so that we can know ourselves in no other way.
Socratic proposal (42:40)
And this is Socrates comparing himself to that his midwifing of others was also a most profound act of self-examination. I think you articulated it that well, but it seems to me that in order to prevent it from being egocentric, like you just warned, the opposite also has to be present, that you are affording the other to transcend through you so they can come to know themselves in a way that they could not possibly know, and that there's a sharing of that. Yeah, and what comes up for me in that is when both people don't share that project, that's when codependent dynamics occur. Say more about that, that's a great distinction, please. Sorry for interrupting, but that's really good. Could, yeah, say more about that, expand that out. So, if say, you know, say one person in a relationship is kind of committed to that way of engaging with a relationship, and the other person isn't, then the person who is relating in that way is inevitably going to over function. Right, right. And this is something I've encountered, and I think we touched on this in one of our preliminary calls around kind of this idea of client said to me that I had said this to him, and I was like, oh, wow, that's a good one. And I had remembered, I had said to him, you know, the price of a healthy relationship should not, or the cost or the cost of emission of a healthy relationship shouldn't be that you have to be enlightened, you know, in life. Yeah, yeah. And I think sometimes I've engaged, and this is actually a way that I bypass, I think at times is I've engaged with my relationships in this way to an extreme where I've over function to the point where it's like, I'm bearing full responsibility. I'm not really holding the other person accountable, or they're not bearing shared responsibility. And then I am bypassing in the sense because you're writing my own needs as a way to go like, oh, well, if I were truly enlightened, then this person was treating me wouldn't bother me. Right, right, right, right, right. Right boundaries, because you know, whatever. And it's something that I really struggled with, because there's a way like, have you read Eckhart Tillie's a power of now? No, I haven't. Yeah, he has a really interesting chapter on relationships. And I don't think I fully flushed this out. And so maybe we could explore it another time when I revisit it. But the orientation, it's like the way he thinks about relationships is, I wish I wish it was pressure in my mind. But it's almost as though the other person should have no bearing on your right, right. There's a grain of truth, like what he's saying really resonates on one level, but it's also a recipe for bypass, I think, you know, that there's a way to engage with it properly from his perspective. Anyway, that was that was a lot. I wasn't super organized in that, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. It was good. I don't agree that you weren't or that I don't agree that you were disorganized. I thought it was good. I thought it was, it wasn't necessarily inferentially tight, but it was insightful. There was momentum of insight, which is just as important. Because I really liked, I just want to make sure I'm getting this because you made this distinction. I think this distinction, I want to, I want to slow it down and explicate it and open it up because I think it could be of such value to so many people. You're making a distinction between sort of this reciprocal opening, mutual mirroring, mutual midwife thing, and codependency, whereas one person is taking all of this on. And there, and the two people are in that sense, bound, but it's because of the over functioning and the spiritual bypassing of one person. Did I get it right, first of all? It not enables the under functioning of the other person. Right. Right. Right. It conducive to that. More than enables it. It conducive it. Right. And so, and the, and right. So there's a way in which we are sort of given the way in which we've got this weird, nihilistic hardening of the heart. And then people have to flee from it into decadent romanticism that fills us with the proclivities to spiritual bypassing. We are setting people up for codependent relationships in a very significant way in our culture. Do you buy that argument? Because I'm just putting together the premises we excavated together. Yeah, it sounds right to me. I haven't, you know, I'm just kind of allowing it to percolate. But I mean, when I think about like, I might, one of my guilty pleasures is watching Grey's Anatomy. It's like one pop culture thing that I like. And I think that what I like about it in part is the codependent relation. I like observing how the codependent relationships are playing out, because it's so, well, one of the things that I've discovered in my work is that codependency, coercion, control, narcissism, and abuse are all sides of the same coin, which is really interesting.
Control and the technological environment. (47:46)
Yes. Because I think codependency is sort of a light word, but it's, there's inevitably abuse in codependent relationships. And there's inevitably some kind of narcissist borderline dependent in my experience. They aren't separable, but it's not obvious that they're connected to me. I haven't fully kind of articulated why they're inseparable, but it's my experience that I've never seen those dynamics not come together. And I think at the heart of it is control. And it kind of is interesting kind of to tie back to this bigger conversation around, you know, existential control for lack of a better, you know, an existential sense of empowerment or lack of empowerment, and how that gets kind of enacted in my relationship. And I do think there is a relationship with capitalist, what I call internalized capitalism, where we're enacting this sort of coercive relationship with life where we're trying to make reality, instead of saying, how can I reorient myself to be in better relationship with reality? We're trying to coercibly dominate reality in some way to fit to our will. And that is from my estimation, the definition of hell. You know, C.S. Lewis says, there's those to whom God's, you know, there's those who say to God, I will be done. And there's those to whom God says, I will be done. And when we, I think that the recipe for hell is this need to control our and dominate our environment in this way. And I do think the capitalistic culture is really the engine of that in so many ways, and then kind of bringing it back to where we were with the codependency, then that gets mapped on, like I said, to the microcosm of the relationship, where we're constantly trying to get the other person to fit our ideas of who they should be to make us happy and gratified. However, I can also use that to then this is where it gets really tricky. If I take that too far, I can then use that to bypass and go, well, then I shouldn't have any needs. Exactly. I don't have any boundaries because, you know, God forbid that I, you know, assert myself because that would be controlling someone else. So I'm actually really grappling with that right now. Well, that's good. That's what I was trying to get back at earlier when we were talking about. But this this the way we've discussed this in this term, because I was talking about that discernment. There's the bypassing, but I was also concerned about people confusing agency with control. And that's what I was trying to bring up with people who are trying to control their anger and confusing that with having proper agency in their pain or their anger or their sadness. And that so now I can reintroduce that reintroduce that point that was because it seems to me that that's exactly. And I think your point about it's not just capitalist, it's a technological in framing of our reality. Almost everything except our naked bodies in the atmosphere is seriously controlled, like seriously, we do not confront a world that has not been radically controlled. Heidegger talks about everything is put on standing reserved for us. And therefore we most of our reality lacks otherness for us, which of course is also conducive to narcissism, because right. So I think it's capitalism, technology, a surveillance state, which you get on both left and right now. I think all of these things are conducive to that. And then I guess, because we all running out of time, I want to bring it back to that point. It seems to me, and this is where I'm thinking of Pascal's spirit of finesse as opposed to spirit of geometry. There's something about, and this is where Taoism is really good, Valman talks in the way of the wanton, when he talks about Taoism, he talks about you can be a wanton and you can just give in to your impulses and that destroys your agency because they often work at different purposes, at different time length, like you'll rip yourself apart impulsivity. But you can and you can gain some ability to reflect. But he says you can also reflect too high and then you become Hamlet and everybody's dying and going insane around you and you're just endlessly reflecting. And then he sort of goes into Taoism and flow as where you try to get the flexibility of Hamlet, but the immersive contact of the wanton.
Dimensons of agency. (52:23)
And for me, there's a finesse around the issue of agency that has been implicit and now you've afforded me foregrounding it again, which is there is an element, there's a dimension of control to agency, but that's not what agency is and yet we have tried to reduce agency to control. And so trying to unpack what the other dimensions are that can preserve us from misunderstanding agency as control, I think is an important thing to try and do. Like what are the dimensions of agency? You have to have some control or you lose agency, you'll suffer learned helplessness or neurotic anxiety, like so that's not what that was and means by the way, which people think, oh, it just means just give up all control. That's not right. That's why you always have the somewhat tired trope of the man who gets beat up and he and he doesn't put up a fight, but then something really crucial is happening. The bad guys are going to attack a young kid and then he goes and beats the crap out of them because he's actually you know, a martial art master kind of thing. And so that that's an artistic trope for playing around with this point. And we don't have to start to start finishing that. We could just start it and pick it up and take it into this because part of what I'm hearing another dimension to agency, other control is the ability to enter into properly appropriate right relationship. Properly proportioned right relationship that that's also part of what agency is. And that's not about controlling the other but entering into right relationship with them.
Entering properly-appororiated relationship. (54:02)
Yeah, it begs the question for me, a question that I guess I've long asked is what is surrender? What is properly configured surrender? Because there's a kind of surrender that doesn't mean having no agency that actually means surrendering to what is surrendering to truth. I mean, I guess it takes me back to the serenity prayer, you know, God give you the ready to accept the things I can't change the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Really surrender is perhaps and maybe that's not the right word for it. But there's there's some right the right relationship with reality is actually knowing when agency is indicated and when and when it's not when we have to accept what is and that is not an easy task at all in any sort of domain of life. I mean, knowing when to surrender and when to to try to change something or is I think a very deep project, deep question. So I put it somewhat differently and let me see how this lands for you. I would say if you look at like because people like myself who do the cognitive science of agency, you even look at primitive agents like paramecium, you see you see there's these two things. They have to be autonomous in the sense of self governing self directing or they'll die. But they also have to navigate their environment well. They have to be able to be in right relationship to what is around them as well and adapt to it.
Theory Of Coherence Or Convergence
Coherence, or convergence, theory. (55:52)
And I think of agency as as having those two things in proper relationship to each other that you are you're like, for example, if a paramecium became completely autonomous, it would no longer have a semi permeable membrane and it would die. Right. And so agency, sorry, this is an oversimplification, but it's a way of making the point concrete so that we could perhaps get a graph or not. I think agency is about crafting a psychological psychosocial and even spiritual semi permeable membrane in the right way. And maybe we could pick that up in our next conversation. I'd like to keep going on this conversation with you around agency and spirituality and relationships because I think we're getting to some really juicy and good stuff. And I'm finding that you're you're an excellent, you're an excellent partner in this dialogue. So I appreciate it. Well, likewise, it's really an honor to hear that from you, John. And just because you won't do it because you're a modest person, but I think it I think it's appropriate for me to say, I would like people to who are listening to this and finding it valuable to pay attention to. I mean, obviously, this has to do with with your character and the set of skills and virtues, etc. But I think some of it is also due to the framework that you have built. I think it properly affords you this and I would recommend to people that you consider reflecting on the value of Brooks framework in terms of the value of how she's showing up in this conversation. Thank you. Yeah, you can find that on Brooksbrow.com. And there's a page called Coherence Theory at Oprah. I guess it was we covered it in our last conversation. It was called Invergence Theory at the time. I'm still figuring out the most telling language. But right now, that's what it's called. And thank you for that. I actually think the framework was second, I think that the framework came from the living it and then it was putting it into a way, you know, it was like codifying what I had learned and then iterating on it. And I'm still always looking at, you know, how I can tighten it and what can be added. But then it becomes a feedback loop because then you have this framework that you can kind of filter your experience through and kind of that dialogical process in a way. Excellent. Well said. Thank you very much. And I look forward to continuing this with you. Wonderful to see you. Thanks so much.