Exploring psychodynamic issues—the barriers and limitations due to what happened in the past and what was repressed—reveals to the individual how many of her experiences, attitudes, and actions are influenced by unconscious conflicts, beliefs, and feelings. When one inquires into these issues, they will tend to reveal the related unconscious material. The person then might recall various events in her early experience, including traumas and abuses, wounds and rejections, intolerable conflicts and deprivations.
Sigmund Freud discovered that the individual manages to develop in spite of early intolerable difficulties by avoiding awareness of them through repression. This repressed material remains hidden in what he termed the unconscious, exerting a powerful force on conscious experience, actions, and dreams. One of the momentous discoveries of modern psychology, this made it possible to engage in therapeutic psychodynamic work, which is the retracing of conflictual and painful manifestations to their unconscious roots, and then releasing the early conditioning. The ancient wisdom traditions did not have this understanding; hence, their psychologies and methods could not and did not deal with these barriers to the individual’ liberation and realization.
Consider this example of someone working on difficulty with anger and aggression, experienced as a stance of passivity and weakness. Exploring this issue may reveal a fear of aggression, which then may remind the person of the anger she encountered in her early environment, perhaps with a parent. Making the fear conscious and remembering its source will help the person to access her own anger, since she is in reality no longer a child who must be passive in the face of the anger of a more powerful adult. Exploring the energy of this emotion can reveal its connection to strength. Anger turns out to be a distortion of essential strength; that is, the quality of strength becomes caught up in the emotion of anger, which is itself caught up in the self-image of being a child in relation to the parents. In this example, the person was afraid to own up to her strength because of fear of her parents' anger. So she repressed her strength, and its resultant distortion, anger. Working through this issue opens the quality of strength in the person.
Though the person begins to be open to her aggression and anger, and allows herself to feel strong, she may encounter new difficulties. Now she finds deeper barriers to experiencing the essential quality of strength, even though she can be somewhat open to anger and aggression. Continuing her exploration, she becomes aware of a sense of weakness, which actually feels like an identification with weakness that the person is unable to transcend.
Further inquiry reveals an image of being a weak person that has become part of the person's identity. Inquiring into this image, the person may find that, as a child, she disowned her strength not only because of fear of others' anger, but because if she had felt strong, she would have felt able to stand up to her mother, and even to be separate from her. This insight might reveal conflicts around separation from her mother. She may, for instance, discover that her mother could not tolerate the child separating from her, and wanted her to continue to be a dependent little girl. Because of guilt and compassion for her mother, plus fear of her wrath, the child resisted acting or even feeling separate. Therefore, in order to stay close to her mother, the child abandoned her separation drive. Now she continues to ward off this drive, which necessitates disowning and repressing her strength.
Thus, not only is the essential strength repressed, but as the child's internal self-images were being established, a part of her identity came to include an identification of being without strength, of being a weak child. This means early difficulties with mother limited her ability to gradually separate and thus establish independent images of herself.
However, in the inner journey, we do not stop here. As the person begins to resolve this issue, her identification with weakness will become conscious and thus can be dissolved, especially as the strength essence arises, giving her the capacity to be separate and autonomous. She no longer needs to internally remain a weak child relating to her mother for support. However, learning that real strength is presence, the person will begin to recognize her essence and over time experience herself as its presence.
This is a profound shift in her experience of herself, where now she knows herself as an immediacy of presence rather than as a mental structure built from historical impressions. Here the challenge of separation has moved to a much more significant level, one that is spiritual in nature. This shift will confront all her previous ways of knowing herself and her relationships, not just with her mother. Here we see the deepest barriers that our conditioning places on the potential for the person to know herself in her essential nature, as pure Being.
- adapted from The Inner Journey Home by A. H. Almaas