Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tribes, Part 1

I was playing video poker in Las Vegas, sitting next to some stranger. I could see he was a knowledgeable player (a rarity in casinos), so I struck up a casual conversation. We chatted about gambling strategies, since that was the only obvious thing we had in common. Then, out of the blue, he asked me, "Are you a member of the Tribe?"

My mind stopped. It was a total "What the fuck?!" moment. I had never heard that expression before, and didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about. What shadowy society was he referring to?

Turns out he wanted to know if I was Jewish. In fact, that is how I was raised. My family didn't hold any particular religious beliefs, attend synagogue, or follow any of those tricky rules like keeping kosher. And yet I was taught that it's vital for me to maintain something called a "Jewish identity."

Surely everyone faces this issue in some way. Either you were encouraged to feel a part of an ethnic group, or religion, or sub-culture, or political affiliation, or extended family or clan, etc. Whatever I say here about my tribe, please translate it to whatever tribe you come from, so we can all relate.

There were soccer games I missed when I was a teenager, because my mother wouldn't allow me to play on a Jewish holiday. Then as now, rationality dominated my thinking, so I tried to negotiate. I'd tell her that I'd fast or feast or pray or whatever you're supposed to do on that particular holiday... I'd just do it the day after the game. What difference could it make?

No go. These memories persist, because I was so struck at how Mom could hold values with such fervor, and yet have nothing to support them in the way of reasoned explanation. I chalked it up to something that I'd probably understand when I became an adult, and I'm still waiting.

In my 20s, I spent 5 years living in ashrams with famed guru Swami Muktananda. There I experienced a different tribal identity. We constantly reinforced in each other the idea that we were a special group. A chosen people, if you will. We had access to a higher truth, or spiritual experience or some such, that set us apart from the common masses.

This dynamic resulted in us believing, on thin evidence, some outlandish things (e.g., the perfected, God-like status of the Guru, his magical energy and miraculous powers etc). It didn't matter that each of us individually didn't have the direct experience to support our beliefs. It didn't matter that the beliefs were rationally problematic. Since everyone else saluted these same beliefs, repeatedly spoke about them, and were applauded for doing so... surely they must be true.

I wonder if the power lay in our attraction to being part of the tribe, moreso than the content of what we said or did or believed. Indeed, many of my fellow travellers eventually left Muktananda's group, but straight-away joined up with another tribe. Maybe a different guru, maybe a group sharing some psychological or political belief-system. Some rejected spirituality entirely, then became members of an "anti-cult" tribe.

Here's why tribal dynamics strike me as so profound. The great question of life is "What am I?" It's my practice to watch my thinking, observe the different ideas about what "I" am, and let each one pass by without clinging to it. But if one does hold some idea of who they are, won't this inevitably lead to some sort of tribal identity? If I hold a thought of who "I" am, then that itself defines the group that's most "like me," as opposed to the outsiders who are less "like me."

A tribal identity must be the counterpart to some idea of self, and Buddha's great insight was that "self" is nothing but a mass of insubstantial thinking. Maybe identification with a group can be a stepping-stone towards breaking free of ideas of self. We start with the smallest sense of self: attachment to the body. The first step is to expand this identification to include your family. Then it gets still larger, becoming loyalty to your community, then to your country. If the circle keeps expanding, maybe it'll eventually embrace all beings, and the us/them separation will disappear.

I dunno. In any case, if the circle that defines your tribe stops expanding, and you get stuck at, say, intense patriotism, the troubles that arise from tribe vs tribe are well known.

I'm certainly not saying that tribal identity is a bad thing, but rather that its benefits and curses are both extreme. Consider some of the great ills of society: sick people with no one to help them, poor people who can't afford a home, old people left to struggle alone. If you look at close-knit tribes like the Mormons, the Amish, or ultra-orthodox Jews, these problems are in some cases completely solved. The community always, without fail, helps any member who needs it.

Yet the price is high. The very reason that the community sticks together is their shared behavior and beliefs. What if you're a non-conformist, or a free thinker? Then tribal life is hell. In any such tribe, it's like everyone is spying on each other, making sure that no one strays too far from the norms that define the group.

I went camping with a friend, along with his llamas (the animals, not those Tibetan guys). We hiked to the middle of nowhere, with the llamas carrying our gear. We set up camp at night, and tied up the llamas to a tree. I asked him what would happen if one of the llamas got loose, and he said that it wouldn't run away. Their herding instinct was so strong that one wouldn't go anywhere without the other. Ahh, herding instinct. I suddenly understood human beings much better.

If you look at the progression of evolution... ants, birds, sheep, llamas, chimps, us... it seems that each step moves away from group cohesion, towards more diversity, individuality, independence. Likewise the direction of our growth as humans, from kids entirely dependent on the family tribe, then the peer group tribe, then maybe sometimes to standing on our own feet. Likewise the direction of human history, away from tribes and kingdoms controlled by autocratic rulers, towards more individual liberty.

In religion: maybe traditions like Judaism and Catholicism, which emphasize group unity based on birth, rules, or beliefs, are on the wrong side of evolution. Are people moving away from monolithic groups, towards more individually-motivated spirituality? In politics: perhaps it's not an accident that Communism, with its ideal of "the People" moving in lock-step towards a single goal, has now entered the dustbin of history.

When I'm with a friend or family member, there's nothing more important to me than how I relate to him or her. It's all about how I feel about each of them as individuals, rather than shared membership in a tribe. But isn't much of the world driven by group loyalties? It makes me curious, since I don't quite "get" tribalism. There are, for instance, people who declare a strong Jewish identity, to the point where they passionately express the opinion that anyone who was born Jewish should feel that same way. This attitude isn't universal in the tribe, but it's not uncommon, and it can be extreme.

It's not that tribalism is a personal problem these days; friends and family don't give me grief about being too Buddhist or not enough Jewish. But it's been a bit of an issue in the past. And certainly among people I know, there's been big suffering generated when they didn't embrace the level of Jewish identity that their relatives desired. Is there any way to mitigate this type of suffering?

Kindly translate all this to your own situation, and let me know if you relate. Next time, I'll have more to say about the nitty-gritty of how I navigate inter-tribal interactions.

22 comments:

hard at work in the lab said...

That's an interesting take on the idea of radiating "identity"... you practice Zen and I am not familiar with the terms or techniques or even really the there-is-no-teaching teaching. In Theraveda we formally cultivate the desire for "true happiness", usually starting with one's self then individuals from various categories, then begin to "radiate" "metta" ("loving-kindness") to everything. I was talking with my teacher about this yesterday. Predominantly, the practice is to develop a positive intention, and to improve concentration since it tends to lead to absorbtion in the concentration states (i.e., it feels really good). So we'd classify it as being part of ethical training, and part of concentration... It does seem to attenuate ego ("*I* am trying to concentrate!"), at least to some degree, but it doesn't so much lead to insight into the ultimate nature of self (i.e., not here, not there, not anywhere)...

i for one have had a lot of trouble finding a "tribal identity" in the relative sense. that's probably an "evolutionary" necessity for social animals similar to people--groups need people to advocate unpopular choices, just in case. And ultimately this class of "Outsider" (in Colin Wilson's term) is probably the pool from which "culture heroes" are drawn. That said, as our culture in the West gets increasingly modified by the vicissitudes of technology, and spends more and more time just re-working old images into new images (same chords, different order theory), this role may diminish... We've gone from "you can have it in whatever color you want so long as it's black" to "you can have it in whatever color but it still sucks". I don't know. This is just tangentially related.

yomamma said...

i think self is an insubstantial collection of thoughts if it is a false self or a self structured by ego. many spiritual traditions make this distinction(I think). in the work of A.H. Almaas ,(Diamond Heart Approach) he has posited a personal real self that he calls the pearl beyond price. can you be having the relationships you speak of without a self?

Stuart said...

hard at work in the lab said...
i for one have had a lot of trouble finding a "tribal identity" in the relative sense. that's probably an "evolutionary" necessity for social animals similar to people--groups need people to advocate unpopular choices, just in case. And ultimately this class of "Outsider" (in Colin Wilson's term) is probably the pool from which "culture heroes" are drawn.

Thanks, hard-at-work. This comment in particular reminds me of a perspective I learned from Tim Leary, which I ought to expand on in the next blog.

Briefly: the gene pool of our species pumps out a variety of organisms with a range of characteristics. Most of these individuals are drawn to group identity, and they do the necessary work of cultivating existing civilization. But the gene pool must also produce some individuals who have trouble finding a "tribal identity," since they're also needed, to do the work of experimentation and exploration.

Those of us in the USA who become Buddhists (for example) have a bit of that in us: the experimenter, explorer, "Outsider." Particularly middle-aged guys like me, who gravitated to Yoga and Buddhism when it was considered more weird and radical.

(Curiously... in places like Korea, where the existing culture is Buddhist, it may be the young Christians who are the explorers and Outsiders.)

There seems to be some shifting, from say the 50s when conventional tribal identity predominated, to the 60s, where there were so many non-conformists that the only real non-conformists were the conformists. Whatever: the point is that our species seems to need a small percentage of people who explore outside the tribal assumptions, and I don't see anything changing that dynamic.

yomamma said...
he has posited a personal real self that he calls the pearl beyond price. can you be having the relationships you speak of without a self?

Great to hear from you again, yomamma.

When I look for this "real self," all that appears is "don't know." It's not that I'm asserting that no such self exists. Rather, I quesion the need to or possibility of capturing this "real self" with thinking or understanding. So I'm happy to leave it at "don't know."

Say I'm with a friend, and he's got some problem, and I'm trying to do what friends do, I want to give him help and encouragement. I'm asking myself, "How can I be a good friend?" I don't see the need to bring ideas about my real self into this relationship.

I don't know about Almaas' "Diamond Heart Approach." Off-hand, I don't see how an idea of real self (however philosophically interesting) is useful to the practical day-to-day matter of relating to friends and family and workmates and other beings. As always, I'm open to hearing more if there's something I'm missing.

Stuart
http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/

gniz said...

Tribal identities and the like could also be ascribed to "memes", as in Dawkin's take on ideas trying to replicate and survive etc?

yomamma said...

dude ,i can't believe you live in berkamoly and you ain't heard of AH Almass, sometimes people refer to him as Hamid.I think if you google you get his site and it is stuff you would appreciate. This is something i am just starting explore so I can't run it down, but from what i understand this has to do with maturation ,individuation and being able to contact other beings in an open un- neurotic way. all good things to pack for the trip. tribes mutant and otherwise probably would not be possible without this aspect of being. I'm looking to fill in some spots that i find unaddressed by more traditional Buddhism and Vedanta, which i feel sometimes is the, if it don't exist maybe it will go away school, and maybe that's where people get into trouble.

Stuart said...

gniz said...
Tribal identities and the like could also be ascribed to "memes", as in Dawkin's take on ideas trying to replicate and survive etc?

Hi, gniz. I've enjoyed Dawkins on the TV and short articles, but haven't read his books yet. I hear that "The Selfish Gene" is the best text of popularized science ever; I'll have to read it in the new year.

Is it too much of a stretch to view Dawkins' "memes" as a way of seeing the basic "stuff" of existence as information (rather than matter or energy)? There are some scientists (I'm thinking Kurzweil) who talk about information this way, and it starts to sound to me like Buddhism: "The entire universe is created by Mind alone."

It makes sense that a meme of the sort, "Find people who look like you and bond with them" could be at the core of tribalism. Though it could be weakened as technology makes us less and less dependent on the herd.

Stuart said...

yomamma said...
dude ,i can't believe you live in berkamoly and you ain't heard of AH Almass

Well, I have no experience and little information about Almaas... but I did come across his name a few months ago while reading "What Really Matters." Author Tony Schwatz called Almaas' approach as "as broad, clear-headed, and practical as any I've come across."

I haven't personally done much of this psychological-style work. A number of people I care about have been in therapy, though. And my Zen master has a day job as a therapist. He says that some people can use therapy to "get back to zero" as a starting point for inquiry.

yomamma said...

Stuart said.....He says that some people can use therapy to "get back to zero" as a starting point for inquiry.

What does this mean? I think there must be many starting points for inquiry. how do you know you are at zero? what is the experience of zero, and why does it matter? Just inquiring.


my understanding of Almass' work is that it's more than just a psychological style , he is walking a walk. He's a master of what he does and it is important integrative work. He is knowledgeable of many spiritual traditions, but I think Sufism is his main tradition. so he is a teacher in his own right and may have a lot in common with your teacher or anyone's teacher. don't you think your teachers day gig informs his zen master gig? you might be getting two for the price of one there.

Stuart said...

yomamma wrote...
I think there must be many starting points for inquiry. how do you know you are at zero? what is the experience of zero, and why does it matter? Just inquiring.

As we speak, here's my understanding of what ZM Bon Soeng said about "returning to zero":

A fundamental point of our practice is taking up the question, "What am I?" Wherever you're at right now is always a perfectly good starting point for this inquiry.

I think the "returning to zero" comment was acknowledging that for some of us at some times, we're so buried in depression, or anxiety, etc, that we don't find it possible to put down that type of thinking, even for a few secondes, to take up "What am I?" And that no matter how much Zen-style teaching about inquiry you offer at those times, the person suffering from dperession or anxiety etc just won't be able to get to the "starting point" of looking at the question.

So psychological-type therapy (I believe he's saying) may in these case perform the function of helping to mitagate the difficult mind-states to the point when it's possible to start looking at "What am I?" And maybe once you can start, once you can examine this "I" even for a minute or two, then the process itself will help the inquiry become stronger. But somehow, by any means necessary, you gotta get to a place where you can start.

my understanding of Almass' work is that it's more than just a psychological style, he is walking a walk.

I'm speaking very very loosely when I say anything about Almaas, since as I mentioned, I only read a very little bit about him in the book "What Really Matters?"

From this very superficial reading, it seemed to use more of a psychological framework than I'm used to. I believe that Almaas works with the Enneagram (which I've also learned just a tiny bit about), which seems to focus on personality types. I stipulate that Almaas and Enneagram work must be much much more than my brief readings have exposed me to.

Anonymous said...

Be careful with Almaas. He is described as a psychologist, uses a lot of powerful stuff from psychology, but unless he has done so recently, I am not aware that he has studied to become a mental health professional or been licensed to do so.

If this is the case, and I advise checking it before you get further involved, he's outside the network of feedback and continuing education that licensed professionals answer to. They are required by law to stay up to date on continuing education.

Plus, Almaas makes a big deal out of 'brilliance' and
essence', whereas Buddhadharma does not recognize anything with inherant-separate existence.

And the Buddha did not need to use the enneagram, either.

The way the enneagram is presented, its often made a focus point for craving. It wasnt subjected to any sort of peer review, either, just propagated through Esalen type groups that were big in Berkeley in the 1970s.

Anonymous said...

"i for one have had a lot of trouble finding a "tribal identity" in the relative sense. that's probably an "evolutionary" necessity for social animals similar to people--groups need people to advocate unpopular choices, just in case. And ultimately this class of "Outsider" (in Colin Wilson's term) is probably the pool from which "culture heroes" are drawn. That said, as our culture in the West gets increasingly modified by the vicissitudes of technology, and spends more and more time just re-working old images into new images (same chords, different order theory), this role may diminish... We've gone from "you can have it in whatever color you want so long as it's black" to "you can have it in whatever color but it still sucks". I don't know. This is just tangentially related."

6:13 PM

I don't know who you are, but I wish I could buy you a beer or something for this comment. It can seem like there is not much originality happening anywhere. As you said 'it sucks' but that is only if you stay in your head or in urban environments too much. Chop da, wood carry da water, life starts to look fresh again.

Anonymous said...

I knew nothing about Zen but in the midst of a crazed, emotional, hate filled demonstration, noticed just one single participant who was steady and calm and her equanimity did not seem the result of luck, of just happening to be in a good mood that day, but made possible by something stable, not based on a random flux of good emotion she'd awakened with that morning.

I knew her as a Zen practitioner, but nothing else.

Years later, when I got involved with Zen, I realized she'd been doing the ordinary Zen walking meditation ('kinhin') that is done in the zendo (meditation hall) between sessions of zazen.

This person wore no clothes or insignia to indicate her affiliations. I'd noticed first her calmness and only later recognized her from having met her elsewhere. There is a non verbal 'vibe' that practitioners do put out when they've had enough practice time---and if you are looking for a way out of the chaos, you'll notice it.

Regarding innovation, years back, a woman who had bipolar affective disorder told me she was convinced that revolutions, vanguard artistic movements and possibly some economic booms are sparked by persons with bipolar.
She said she'd met quite a few bipolar CEOs and because she was as energetic and thirsty for challenge as they were, she could keep up with them.

She added that in her case, to stay stable, she'd had to make peace with learning self care, safeguarding sleep and taking medication but still adored challenges.

She said that for her, she noticed that as long as a project was a challenge, she loved it, but as soon as she'd acquired mastery and it became routine, she got bored and began to neglect it. So she had learned to hire assistants for herself who enjoyed routine, and she'd delegate these matters to them, freeing her up to go be a spark plug for new and challeging projects.

If you are someone like this, a huge battle is getting the right support and advocacy from your family when you're a child.

My dentist is full of energy, adores people, loves to multi task and has for years been a full time faculty member at the university dental school.

Seeing how he adored and thrived on multi-tasking (which gives me chest pains) I asked Dr X if by any chance he had ADD.

He paused, looked very interested, smiled and said, 'I was almost put on Ritalin when I was a kid. I have always been rambunctious.'

He was lucky and managed to survive early schooling until he could get into an environment that matched his talents--multi-tasking where that is needed, then hyper-focusing (as in doing crown replacements and dental restorations) where that is needed.

Being an innovator is tough. You need to be just enough part of the larger tribe that you can communicate your discoveries, teach, and at the same time, find friends.

My father was talented but he didnt have the relationship skills needed to build bridges and pissed too many people off.

Stuart said...

anony wrote...
Being an innovator is tough. You need to be just enough part of the larger tribe that you can communicate your discoveries, teach, and at the same time, find friends.

Thanks, anony, I think this nicely points to how I'm looking at the "tribe" issue at the moment, what I'm trying to explore here.

That is: maybe the best thing we have to offer the world is our authentic, unique perspective. That'd argue for maximum honesty when dealing with others, rather than pretending to be some way in order to fit into the tribe.

On the other hand, haven't we all had the experience that sometimes being completely honest with someone just turns them away, and we need to tone down our honesty somehow for the sake of harmonizing with others? After all, if we want to help our friends and family and all beings, it's necessary that they'll at least listen to us.

So it'd appear to be a balancing act between expressing my honest perspective, and expressing it in a way that allows for harmony and communication with others. I'm looking into examples of how I try to strike this balance in my life.

yomamma said...

this essence thing is an aspect of being he says (Almass) not separate from being, or other beings. any way of fuctioning better as a sentient being I welcome, not that zen and other types of Buddhism are not good ways , they are probably some of the best , but i think you will find many people needing to look to psychology or other schools for insight and help. In fact i think it's been seen that there was a lack of balance in many of the teacher /guru/ devotee/ student movements that came out of the sixties, something we feel repercussions and consequences of now, both good and bad. if you didn't experience this or were not unduly affected by it perhaps it's because you are successful at tribal activities ,which ever sort you try.
Don't worry about me and Almass I'm too lazy and cheap to get into it on that level , in fact I was recommended to a book of his by a therapist that I ended up waking out on. so i don't think there's much chance of me being over theapuetized or indoctrinated. I hear what you are saying about going outside the loop as far as psychologists go. that is certainly a red flag and don't think i haven't thought of it. I'm just checking out what he says because psychology and curiosity is part of my tribal behavior. cowabunga!

Is it just my imagination? , aren't the people of the book well represented in east/west spirituality? any theories?

Stuart said...

Yomamma wrote...
Is it just my imagination? , aren't the people of the book well represented in east/west spirituality? any theories?

Yes, I can't quote any statistical studies, but in my travels through the spiritual subculture, I've always found over-representation of the Jewish tribe. So I couldn't help but ponder why.

The only thing I've come up with is that in the culture of my upbringing, getting knowledge was always given the highest importance. In most Jewish families I know, succeeding in scholastics, getting post-graduate degrees, becoming a professor, stuff like that... is given great importance and status.

So all that I can figure is that my upbringing served to help me want to seek wisdom, to solve the biggest puzzles, to look into the biggest mysteries of life, who am I, why am I here, what's all this about?

At the same time, the religious or orthodox Jewish path, which involves believing in books, in authorities, in traditions... didn't seem enough to really pierce the mysteries. It gave me a continuing big respect for rationality, but that's led me to also respect that there's a truth that can't be captured by thinking.

So I ended up looking anywhere for understanding and experience. Perhaps it's a legitimate path to follow the rational mind (and the great teachings of books and teachers and tradition) until it leads to the awareness of its own limitations. And ultimately we're led to looking for truth in the last place we'd expect it: right in the living, before-thinking experience of this very moment.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Almaas, make sure he himself is licensed to practice psychotherapy, given how much he makes use of powerful concepts from object relations psychology and the works of Heinz Kohut. He should be getting out of the house, getting continuing education,not just associating with people who agree with him.

Here is an article on what happened when therapists in another enneagram based group violated professional ethics by getting clients to become involved with someone they considered their teacher--but who was NOT a licensed therapist:

http://www.rickross.com/reference/general/general82.html
The strange thing is many licensed therapists follow him, but that does not mean Almaas himself is a reliable resource for psychological help.

The enneagram was propagated in the following circumstances. The article may provide useful historic perspective. It is interesting that a comparison was made to shaktipat.

http://www.sandramaitri.com/books_articles_r2.html

yomamma said...

yes he uses psychology as a body of knowledge to draw from and some of the stuff on the enneagram that I've read from his camp is some of the best I've read about that stuff. When it comes to spiritual teachers there's not a license to get, it's buyer beware and know thy self. I think he's filling a gap in the landscape, Many people who work one on one with people, i.e. shrinks and bodyworkers get into him. people who need skill dealing very directly and intimately with others. this is something that trad vedanta and buddhism doesn't address that well in my opinion, it's mostly about working on yourself or you and guru or teacher. You can be a guru or buddhist teacher and not be that into people. not know much about them. It's also something lacking in traditional psychology training.because of it's clinical stance. plus so many people end up trying to work out psychological issues with gurus anyway why not get one who is able to deal with it? Also he's an integrationist like Wilber, all this stuff is kind of ponderous and thick at this point , but it may contribute something in the long run.

Re Jewish ubiquity , it makes sense that people that weren't given access to more traditional jobs would excel at the ones that took some brains and that developing rational thinking was a major advantage there. but they already had a developed culture of word and scripture, to go from. words were not originally just purveyors of thought and practical info , in the beginning was the word.

Anonymous said...

Trouble with these 'thick' integrationist projects is the risk that people feeling stuck and bored in basic Zen practice, might, rather than exploring boredom itself, get seduced into an endless labryinth of gagetry, with ever new upgrades, ever new things to buy, whether its Almaas or Wilber.

If I need psychotherapy to address stuff not being resolved in practice, I'd rather get it from someone who is professional, trained, licensed, passed the exams, did the mandated thousand hours of supervised training, pays insurance, and does continuing education as mandated by the laws of the state that issued his or her license.

Oberon said...

.....holding my hand up to yours.....i see we are the same.

yomamma said...

I read the rick Ross Article and all the people in it went to licensed psychotherapists , who got them involved with a cultist huckster , so so much for that, and even tho they have been censored two are still practicing .so buyer beware.
Does every one who participates on this blog presume that zen practice is the only valid practice? I'm saying this Almass stuff is a practice for some people, a way of life. i grew up around zen practioners and from what I've seen you can run into problems anywhere.
that being said i would probaly rather go to the zendo than join the almass- athon.
the diamond hearters do tons of workshops and groups and psychotherapy type sessions, they have a large body of work to study that a genius would have trouble getting through. this certainly isn;'t for me. but i have a colleague and friend that i have been associated with for almost 20 years and she can't get enough of it. she has an incredible capacity for work and study, so maybe it's part a a self improvement gene syndrome.i guess it's a lot of work learning to" be" i also have a friend who's wife is a Ridwan teacher,I've gone to a group...the list goes on bla bla none of these people are exploited, unwilling to deal with boredom,and or unquestioning dupes.some of them have buddhist teachers as well .

getting back to this innovator idea that someone brought up , how do you innovate without starting new forms? , Is Almass too far off the beaten path? I don't know , don't know him personally but as you can see I've, rubbed up against many people involved in this stuff and I've never heard a bad word about him.

Stuart said...

yomamma wrote...
Does every one who participates on this blog presume that zen practice is the only valid practice?

Re what's been said about Almaas in this comments section... I don't think anyone is criticizing Almaas for not being "Zen." I think some are criticizing him for not being a licensed therapist.

My personal view: it's legitimate information to know that Almaas isn't licensed, and certainly no one should claim to be licensed who isn't. But it means very little to me. That is, I see nothing wrong with seeking help in the psychological arena from people outside the world of conventional psychology.

Personally, if I'm depressed or something, and I find that formal sitting practice doesn't help it, I may well seek relief by talking about it with friends. None of my friends are licensed therapist. I believe that it's entirely possible that the help I get from talking with friends is just as good as anything I'd get from someone who'd been through formal psychology training from an acredited university.

Re "Zen" as "the only valid practice": for me, any practice is interesting if it originates from examining one's own experience. The formal practice style of the Korean Zen tradition is one way to question and examine experience, a way that I find wonderful and elegant. I'm certain that there are a zillion other styles that are just fine.

I also wouldn't say it's "invalid" when someone practices NOT by examining their own experience, but instead by having belief and faith in some authority (like a guru, a scripture, a dogma, a tribe). It's just that if someone is following an authority or belief, rather than sincerely questioning and examining their own experience, I no longer find it so interesting.

yomamma said...

So FYI Almass does not say anywhere on his website or in his books that he is a licensed therapist, that is an assumption that i guess is made. they use various traditions as points and methods of inquiry.