Open Psychology

    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:

    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 perception.
    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.

    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 problem.
    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 appear idiotic.
    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 revealing.
    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.

This frustration is evident throughout the description of the Balinese as she protests against their lack of feeling,

competitive spirit,


and intelligence.

    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:

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:

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:

In her 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.