cultivation of the essential and the examination
of the difference between the Principle of
Nature (T'ien-li, Principle of Heaven)
and human selfish desires are things that must
not be interrupted for a single moment in the
course of our daily activities and movement and
rest. If one understands this point clearly, he
will naturally not get to the point where he
will drift into the popular ways of success and
profit and expedient schemes. . . When one does
not even know where to anchor his body and mind,
he talks about. . . the task of putting the
world in order as if it were a trick. Is that
-- Chu Hsi
One outgrowth of the human problem-solving
capacity is our ability to establish experiential
independence, thinking and feeling more or less
what we like. The problems inherent in this
separation from the real setting are as old as the
snake in the Garden of Eden and might be termed
the functional basis of the Doctrine of Original
Sin. No other species produces this degree of
contextual freedom, and while our problem-solving
abilities are estimable (when we first started
lurking about, we did not much look like a
world-conquering species or one that would burst
the ecological system of checks and balances),
this capacity itself can be seen as our nemesis:
We are often just too smart for our own good. The
quotation from Chu Hsi above reflects mankind's
recognition of this obvious fact; as we will see
(and his Neo-Confucianist orientation
illustrates), open psychologies are attempts to
curb the abuses potential to our intelligence.
Open psychology is a mode of living based on the accurate reception of reality. There are a number of constants present in the multitude of such practices over the ages. Open psychologies are based on a broad vision of being which can involve God or Nature or some equivalent notion, and their central concern is knowing and serving this greater sense. Open psychologies focus on increasing respect for and attention to reality, and in order to contain escapist tendencies they generally involve some practice or discipline that can range from prayer to meditation to various forms of self-abnegation. They are also consistently concerned with imparting a healthy lifestyle. The Taoist Chuangtse described one such exercise in self-denial as follows:
may I ask," said Yen Huei, "in what consists the
fasting of the heart?"
"Concentrate your will. Hear not with your ears, but with your mind; not with your mind, but with your spirit. Let your hearing stop with the ears, and let your mind stop with its images. Let your spirit, however, be like a blank, passively responsive to externals. In such open receptivity only can Tao abide. And that open receptivity is the fasting of the heart."
The passage loses much in this acontextual
translation; as will become clear during the
discussion of Sumarah (for example, see Darno
Ong's presentation of the practice in Chapter 7),
the references to hearing with the mind rather
than the ears and the like relate to a different
mode of depicting sensorial experience and
The apparently esoteric character of this passage raises a question: Is open psychology limited to those groups that have some sophisticated practice of this kind? In fact, human history shows quite the contrary -- open psychology is the stuff of survival because its essential concern is responsible, reality-based behavior; the very presence of a determined adult role model in any group is evidence of some form of open psychology.
In any case, the main issue in open psychology is not what you talk about, but the excesses you learn not to commit. Right now maturity is a rather cloudy topic in Western society, to the point where this may be one of those rare societies without an actively practiced definition of the adult role. However, in most cultures, adulthood is traditionally defined as a time to "set aside childish ways" and accept mature responsibilities, i.e., assume a more rigorous relationship with reality.
And this itself is the basis of open psychology; there are arguably some articulated forms (e.g., Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc.), but the main point remains the steady watch on reality. Although complicated theory may be helpful in this task at times, a frequent warning you receive in Java is that this analytical baggage can also be a hindrance, a distraction that keeps one from acquiring experience (similarly, it might be argued that religions often fall into this same trap when they cease being essentially practices for appreciating reality and become absorbed in the study of their own doctrines and beliefs).
However, for capturing the kernel of open psychology, Plato's scolding tongue goes to the quick in terms that are rather easier for the Western mentality to grasp, probably because his age was marked by a societal struggle against assuming real responsibilities much like our own.
Is it the best form of salutation to wish you "joy" as I have, or would it be better if I were to follow my usual custom and bid you "Do well"? That is the salutation I use when I write to my friends. You of course descended to flattery and addressed even the god at Delphi in these very terms -- such is the report of those who were in attendance at the time -- and wrote, they say, "Joy to you. Keep ever the pleasant life of a tyrant." I, though, would not even bid a human being, much less a god, to enjoy himself. Any such injunction to a god would run counter to nature, for the divine dwells afar from the sphere of pleasure and pain. I would avoid such a greeting to a human being, moreover, because in most cases pleasure and pain work harm and produce in the soul dullness and forgetfulness and folly and lawlessness. So much in regard to the salutation. When you read this, take it any way you like.
Because of the difficulty in understanding open psychology out of context, Sumarah's carefully articulated expression will be used to illustrate the nature of these practices. But first let us consider some issues that distinguish the two basic approaches to experience.
Open versus Ego
The essential reason for defining a new category
of "open psychologies" is to contrast them with
more mainstream psychologies in the West, that
tend to focus on ego management and experience
control. Within Western psychology there are
schools like existential and psycho-dynamic
psychology and psychotherapy which sometimes go in
this same direction, but psychology's main
thrust tends to be managing crises rather than
correcting the pathogenic behavior that spawns
them. We are inclined to treat the hangover again
and again rather than confronting the drinking
The idea underpinning open psychology is that life is necessarily something of a disturbance at times: events tend to knock you about. The difference between open and ego psychologies hinges on where you try to return to after such disturbances. In open psychology the effort is to go back to open receptivity, that is, a position defined by what is present, while in ego psychology the strategy is to return to some sort of established ego state based on defense mechanisms, i.e., a comfortable position. One necessary outgrowth of the first strategy is that the more sensitive you become, the less control you have over your experiential tone; however, a corresponding drawback to the second strategy is that the more effort you put into keeping yourself happy, the less sensitive you can be to the real situation (which can make reality-based behavior impossible).
The gulf between the open and ego perspectives is illustrated by the difficulty those using one have in understanding people from the other camp. Some good examples of this problem are apparent in three anthropologists' writings about Java and Bali.
The first example comes from Clifford Geertz and
concerns the nature of open psychology. Geertz's
apparent intellectual angst led to a rather
intolerant appreciation of Javanese psychology. It
helps to recall that this fieldwork was done in
the 1950s, back when Western science still deemed
itself omnipotent. In The Religion of Java,
Geertz describes the basic character of Javanese
psychology and gives an overall impression of its
central position in Javanese culture. However,
Geertz's attempt to translate the ideas and terms
of Javanese psychology without founding them in
their own theoretical context unhappily made them
Predictably, the ideas Geertz had the most trouble with were the kernel concepts in this form of open psychology, precisely those that do not exist in Western psychology. For example, he defines tentrem ing manah as "peace (quiet, tranquility) in the heart (the seat of emotions)," that results from a practice designed to "minimize the passions altogether so far as possible, to mute them in order to perceive the true feelings which lie behind them." Geertz then attributes a psychopathological character to this, while depicting its repressive nature as "flattening of affect."
In fact, tentrem ing manah is an expression related to what Chuangtse was talking about above as "open reception" (rasa murni in Javanese); tentrem ing manah is the solid, reality-graced experiential frame that arises out of open reception -- the peace that comes from being here. Any form of open psychology necessarily includes something along these lines, because this is what happens when you open up; for example, in the Christian tradition, this is close to "the reception of the Holy Ghost". We will be discussing rasa murni at some length below.
A second example concerning the individual and
society is from Gregory Bateson who struggled to
explain what he found on Java's island neighbor
and kindred culture in "Bali: The Value System of
a Steady State," and admitted to being perplexed
by Balinese social reality. Bateson realized that
the theories and analytic tools he brought with
him did not work very well, and concluded that the
problem rested in the appreciation of what a human
being is in a social setting. He went on to
examine how Western ideas about interaction,
exemplified by von Neumann's games theory, fail to
account for Balinese behavior.
Two basic game-theory assumptions that did not fit in Bali were ego-centricity in social action and the maximization of partial goals (money, position, etc.) as the purpose of members of a society. That is, the model assumes personal gain to motivate most social interaction, but "It is immediately clear to any visitor of Bali that the driving force for any cultural activity is not [emphasis his] either acquisitiveness or crude physiological need."
For Bateson, Balinese character was a result of their childrearing techniques, wherein "a continuing plateau of intensity is substituted for climaxes as the child becomes more fully adjusted to Balinese life." He then contrasts what he terms the "steady state" of Balinese life and the climactic emphasis of Western society by depicting attitudes about money and property, music, reward for service, and the level of community identification (even imputing a lack of orgasm in Balinese sexual relations).
"There are very few Balinese who have the idea of steadily maximizing their wealth or property; those few are partly disliked and partly regarded as oddities." In open psychology as witnessed in Java and Bali, a person's primary "investment" goes into community and reality itself; they pay a frightful amount of attention to one another. This mutual attention is the fiber of community maintenance.
Balinese child-rearing techniques are connected with this, but not primarily in terms of the unconscious attitudes they impart. They are part of the training to be open and receptive that the community itself is based on. The emphasis is not on maximizing your own condition and the devil take the rest (the zero-sum game that Bateson is assuming), but on receiving reality accurately and participating in a kind of cooperative plural game, wherein the profit being maximized is the state of the community itself.
Similarly, by its very nature, climax is catharsis, but such paroxysms often amount to oblivious ways of releasing pent up energies not invested in the real context; since mature communities devote more energy to the real context, there is relatively less need for these escape valve climaxes. Sometimes climaxes are appropriate (as in sex), but the use of such gushes of feeling in Western movies and music and literature stands out as strange: they often have nothing whatsoever to do with the real context. The participating viewer or listener or reader leaves here and floats off into imaginings; this is fundamentally at odds with open psychology, which sees such energies better spent in paying attention to what is actually happening.
Finally, for considering the individual, Margaret
Mead and Gregory Bateson's Balinese Character:
A Photographic Analysis provides a wealth of
examples; the virtually undigested form of these
vignettes, as well as the positivist period (1942)
Mead was writing in, makes them particularly
Mead and the Balinese pass like trains in the fog, each following its own carefully laid out track, but neither able to make out the other. Mead was a powerful personality; she clearly overwhelmed the Balinese.
During our first months in Bali, before I had learned to understand the Balinese preference for theatrical emotions, I was at a loss to explain why my rapport developed so slowly with the people of Bajoeng Gede. Mothers whose babies I had medicated, although they returned for more medicine, remained so unwon that the babies screamed in terror in their arms whenever they saw me. The few days it takes to win over the women and children of a New Guinea tribe lengthened into months, and still the mothers smiled false anxious smiles, the babies screamed, and the dogs barked. Then I had the opportunity to study the behavior of other Europeans who had come to Bali as they might go to the theater, and saw how much more easily the Balinese responded to their exaggerated interest than they did to my affection for individual babies. Readjusting my cues, I gave up the communication of real emotion, upon which I had depended in all my other field trips and learned to exaggerate and caricature my friendly attitudes until the Balinese could safely regard them as theatrical rather than real. Mothers who had not loosened one tense muscle when I expressed my real feeling for their babies, relaxed with relief when I cooed and gurgled in tones which no longer had any relation to my real attitudes, their arms relaxed, the babies stopped screaming, the dogs barked less.
This frustration is evident throughout the description of the Balinese as she protests against their lack of feeling,
It is a character curiously cut off from interpersonal relations, existing in a state of dreamy-relaxed disassociation, with occasional intervals of non-personal concentration -- in trance, in gambling, and in the practice of the arts.
No appeal has ever been made to him (the Balinese) to achieve in order to validate his humanity for that is taken as given. . . Life is without climax and not the ultimate goal but the first impact of experience, the initial ping of startle, is the only stimulus that has real power to arouse one's interest.
The Balinese distinguish clearly between fear and the expression of fear, and it becomes commonplace to hear people say fiercely to cowering or crying children, "Da takoet" ("Do not act afraid"), and this is the only reassurance which is ever attempted. Nobody would ever say, "Da djerih" ("Don't be afraid"). No one even attempts to furnish enough reassurance so that the child's internal fear may be dispelled.
The Balinese learn almost nothing from verbal instructions and most Balinese adults are incapable of following out the three consecutive orders which we regard as the sign of a normal three-year-old intelligence. The only way in which it is possible to give complex verbal instructions is to pause after each detail and let the listener repeat the detail, feeling his way into the instruction. Thus all orders tend to have a pattern like this. "You know the box?" "What box?" "The black one in the east corner of the kitchen." "In the east corner?" "Yes, the black one. Go and get it." "I should go and get the black box in the east corner of the kitchen?" "Yes." Only by such laborious assimilation of words into word gestures made by oneself, do the words come to have any meaning for action.
Mead's frustration reflected her inability to
share or even understand how the Balinese felt:
she could not "win over" the Balinese. Although
she was a member of the dominant culture, she
could not get them to accept or even willingly
associate with her. She was always an outsider in
Bali (in fact, virtually nobody not born into an
open community can ever really fit into its
exquisite patterns of interaction); her intense
drive and her precious feelings were about as
attractive as leprosy to the Balinese.
As was mentioned above, one of the drawbacks of open psychology is a lack of control over experiential tone, and this is especially true when there is some unusually strong and unfamiliar stimuli. Being open, the Balinese had no choice but to try to be with Mead, and she herself could clearly see what relating to her did to them by comparing it with their behavior without her around:
There is rarely any discernable relationship between the conversation of a group of Balinese and the activity which they are performing. . . One might listen at a spy hole for an hour to a busy group, hearing every word spoken, and still be no wiser in the end as to whether they were making offerings, or painting pictures, or cooking a meal. The occasional "Give me that!" is interspersed with bits of comic opera, skits and caricatures, songs and punning and repartee. As Americans doodle on a piece of paper while attending to the words of a lecture, so the Balinese doodles in words, while his body flawlessly and quickly attends to the job at hand.
Evidently they were not so retarded in this
context. The affective tone in an open community
is generally too subtle for a Westerner to
participate in: there is almost nothing there.
There is very little of our usual self-promotion
through bragging or bellyaching, which in one
guise or another seem to monopolize most of our
everyday conversations. The functional purpose of
this envy me/pity me dichotomy should become
clearer in Chapter 6's discussion of the rasa
continuum. However, in open psychology, a great
deal of emphasis is placed on not presenting
yourself in such a crude, self-centered light.
One of the causes Mead identified for her incommunicado status (and native obtuseness) was the Balinese mode of instruction:
The flexible body of the dancing pupil is twisted and turned in the teacher's hands; teacher and pupil go through the proper gestures, and then suddenly the teacher springs aside, leaving the pupil to continue the pattern to which he has surrendered himself, sometimes with the teacher continuing it so that the pupil can watch him as he dances.
We will be seeing the same principle in Java's tut wuri handayani (leading from behind) childrearing posture. In this way tone and skill are imparted together; a pupil is learning both about the activity and about community interaction at the same time. Open community is based on this experiential union, and as Mead recognized, this form of tutelage underlies all interaction:
Learning to walk, learning the first appropriate gestures of playing musical instruments, learning to eat, and to dance are all accomplished with the teacher behind the pupil, conveying directly by pressure, and almost with a minimum of words, the gesture to be performed. Under such a system of learning, one can only learn if one is completely relaxed and if will and consciousness as we understand these terms are almost in abeyance.
petulant fashion, Mead succeeds in touching on
virtually all of the main characteristics of a
mature open community, and also manages to
communicate how profoundly different their open
and her ego psychology are. In fact, she and
Bateson attributed a schizoid element to Balinese
personality, which further witnesses both to the
stunning receptivity underpinning this community
and to the estrangement Bateson and Mead suffered
(neither of them spoke fluent Balinese) during
this field trip. We will see many of these
cultural elements, albeit in a rather different
light, in Java.