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GROUP RELATIONS: AN INTRODUCTION
SIGNALS OF TRANSCENDENCE IN LARGE GROUPS AS SYSTEMS
by W. Gordon Lawrence
Large groups are social systems of approximately 30 plus persons. Such groups offer unrivalled opportunities to study the dynamics of large institutions, particularly if the meaning of participation is expanded to include the capacity for reverie and to hearken to come to know the group in an hermeneutic-spiritual way. It is this "mental disposition" that allows for new dimensions of large group life to be brought into being. There are, however, larger preoccupations available for exploration. There is the imago of the cosmos that is held in the minds of participants; the potential experiences of transcendence and immanence. There is also the nature of the relatedness and separatedness between Self and Other. This paper focuses on the evidence for the experience of transcendence (signals or fragments of transcendence), which is possible if the individual is neither lost in the Self or the Other.
SELF AND OTHER
Large groups were introduced to the working conferences of the Group Relations Training Programme of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations as a result of the staff seeing that large meetings or plenary sessions in the conferences had their particular dynamics. These working conferences were developed first by Leicester University and the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in 1957. Under the leadership of the late A. K. Rice, the working conferences took the shape they essentially retain till now. The conferences began with small groups and application work with the participants (Rice, 1965). Subsequently the intergroup and large group events were invented. Later still the institutional event was added, the application groups were refined, the median group, the small study group (Gosling, 1981) and the praxis event created (Lawrence, 1985). The history of these working conferences has been described by Eric Miller (1990).
The stance of the consultant staffs of these conferences, which aim to explore relations and relatedness in and between groups, has always been educational. The focus is on the behavior of people in groups as they are experienced by the participants. Because these conferences were mounted by an institution, then the pioneering center for psychoanalytic thinking in relation to work and other institutions, the insights of psychoanalysis have always been integral to them. However, psychoanalysis is used as a way of understanding the conscious and unconscious processes that occur in groups of any size rather than as a project to understand the psychic life of individuals. In the context of working conferences, if the primary task of studying group behavior is changed to become a therapeutic one, it is understood that this is a replacement activity which is felt to be easier to engage with than the more intractable one of understanding the conscious and unconscious dynamics present in systems of people as they engage in purposeful activities.
Large groups are now a standard feature of any program offering group relations training. A large group is composed of all the participants in the conference together with two or more consultants. The large group has the purpose, or primary task, of providing opportunities for the participants to understand the behavior of the group as it happens in the here-and-now. It can be seen as an open-system. The inputs are the contributions from the minds of the people who participate, which are transformed into insight on how to continue the work of exploring emergent realities in other contexts. This capacity to think, or entertain thoughts, by a participant can be understood to be the introjection of a mental disposition that exists because the group has the potential to engender an act of collective reverie. (I use the word "disposition" because I feel that terms like "apparatus," "mechanism" or "equipment" are too concrete and constraining to describe an inner process of mind.) Here, I am postulating that what iB learned about the functioning of groups in states of cooperation, conflict, or anomie (nonunderstanding) is secondary to internalizing a methodology that I am describing in terms of a mental disposition What people may learn is just how to experience groups in a conference, whuch they may find difficult to apply in other contexts outside of the conference.
The particular dimension of large group behavior I am to explore is the relatedness and relationships between Self and Other. By relatedness I mean relationships in the mind; by Other I mean not only other people in the group but also society, the world, the cosmos, and the divine. The large group, because it is made up of all the membership of it together with two or more consultants, is a unique opportunity to study a system, albeit a temporary one, which has defined boundaries of task, time, and territory that differentiate it from the conference as a whole system and the environment which we now conceptualize ecosystemically. All are present as Selves. I offer a set of associations around this theme.
The pursuit of the understanding of the Self and the Other I see as being conducted in parallel. To focus on one to the exclusion of the other is to be lost. Gouranga Chattopadhyay's translation of two Sanskrit incantations from the Ishopanishad captures the dilemma.
The person who tries to understand what is within a particular boundary, neglects what is outside and gets lost in darkness. The person who forgets the boundary and pursues what is beyond it gets lost in even greater darkness. The person who understands both what is within the boundary and what is outside conquers death within the boundary and gets in touch with the indestructible which is the infinite.
Large groups are metaphors of the larger containing society, to be sure. Often it is possible to interpret what is taking place in the large group as being a mirroring of what is taking place in the larger society. This I want to push further by suggesting that there is an interdependence between the two, but that we must do justice to the part of society that we call the large group, which we happen to be experiencing in the here-and-now at a particular time. "The whole," as David Bohm puts it, "is not imposed but is in each part and each part is in the whole" (Wijers & Pijnappel, 1990, p. 31). To press this even further, I make the working hypothesis that in the large group the contained contains the container. The implicate order of the large group, if you will, contains the implicate order of society, etc.
MEANINGS OF PARTICIPATION
The methodology we use to understand the large group, or any other grouping, is participation. We partake of the experience that is the large group and we take part in it actively. For this we have a heuristic perspective that derives from the pioneering work of Wilfred Bion (1961), who offered us a way of using psychoanalysis as a tool of cultural enquiry. To this has been added opensystems thinking. This is a minimal statement. One difficulty with this is that there can be such a focus on purpose, or primary task, that so much potential for entertaining thoughts can be truncated.
The methodology is borne, in the first instance, by the consultants. They are there to offer working hypotheses on the group's functioning from the perspective of their role as they participate. It is the group that is the* focus, not the personality characteristics of the people present in the group. Ideally, the quality of the consultative interpretive voice will be such that participants, too, can find their voices to interpret for themselves, from their role perspectives, the experiences they are experiencing as these occur in the here-andnow.
More and more, I see the work of consultancy as being derived from a hermeneutic-spiritual coming-to-know. Hermeneutic refers to the interpreting of scripture as text, but I extend this to all situations where language is being used to describe the experience of participating. The large group articulates and evolves a text as the participants give words to their experiences of being in it. There are texts within texts: the unconscious text embedded in the conscious material, the condensed material that is present. As a dream is a narrativebecause that is the only way we can communicate the content of the dream to another personso it is also full of incoherence and lacunae, which is how we may have dreamt the dream in the first place. The large group, too, has its incoherence, which may contain more of the truth than the spoken and received text to which both participants and consultants may be working. Therefore, the idea of hermeneutic is worth holding on to, particularly if we construe the term as being the activity of hearkening. Martin Heidegger (1953) writes: "Hearkening . . . has the kind of Being of the hearing which understands" (p. 207).
The idea of "Being-with" the large group in the different roles of participant, member, or consultant potentially makes us available for psychic, political, and spiritual relatednesses with whatever is defined as Other; other participants, other consultants, the group, other groups we would like to be in, we have known, the other of the containing society, the universe, the cosmos. Psychic and political relatednesses are well-enough recognized. The term "spiritual" I want to use in this context as being evacuated of all conventional religious meaning, and to use it in the sense of linking, being connected to whatever is the Other beyond ordinary sense data. Since conferences began, participants are more aware of ecological issues, for example, which is a view of the world that is ultimately spiritual. "The connections between science and spirituality is through the ecological world view of science" (Wijers & Pijnappel, 1990, p. 67). To have talked about the spiritual, except in a conventional religious sense, 20 years ago in working conferences, would have been to enquire into aspects that, then, were not part of the accepted domain of discourse.
IMMANENT AND TRANSCENDENT
When people participate in the large group and come to know the text, as I am calling it, in a hermeneutic-spiritual way, they lead in to bringing into being the unspokenwhat is behind, below, beyond the text. This is parallel to the transcendent becoming immanent. Just as the analysand learns to know him- or herself through the lengthy process of remembering and self-discovery while submerged "in the immanence of sign)ficance that transcends him" (Kristeva, 1987, p. 61), so does the participant in a large group in some measure. The name given to that sign)ficance is the ur~conscious. As Julia Kristeva goes on to say, "The analysand knows the unconscious, orders it, calculates with it, yet he also loses himself in it, plays with it, takes pleasure from it, lives it." In the world of the large group, it is not the individual unconscious but the unconscious of the group that Bion named as the basic assumption groups.
In particular, consultants offer working hypotheses from their experiences of being-with the group in their roles to address the sign)ficance and signification of the psychic, political, and spiritual relatedness present in the context of the large group. They do this in order to bring into consciousness the purposes, and the conscious and unconscious quality of relationships being evoked, as participants voice their experiences of their participation, as they engage with the primary task of the large group as an event.
THINKING 1 AND THINKING 2
Another vertex can be taken on the links between the transcendent and the immanent. It is the minds, both conscious and unconscious, of participants, whether members or consultants, that is the existentially animating spirit of large groups. Minds create the text. Mind both produces thought and is available for thought. David Armstrong (1991) has identified what he calls Thinking 1 and Thinking 2. In the former, thought or thoughts come out of the process of thinking and owe their existence to a thinker. Such thoughts are capable of exegesis, just)fication, and falsification. Epistemologically, thinking is prior to thought.
In Thinking 2 thought and thoughts are epistemologically prior to thinking. Bion (1984) expresses this idea thus: "Thoughts exist without a thinker . . . The thoughts which have no thinker acquire or are acquired by a thinker" (p. 165). Such thoughts are voiced as a result of the practice of attention and awareness. They are, in my terms, an outcome of the hermeneutic-spiritual, psychic posture of availability for the experience of experience, to borrow Bion's phrase. Such thoughts just are, neither true nor false. They emerge from the notknown, which is experienced as a frustration, a mystery.
Armstrong (1991) outlines the sequence from the not-known:
When this not-known begins to take a shape that can be formulated, it is as if I were being introduced or "spoken to" myself, or as if we were being introduced or "spoken to" ourselves. This introduction or being spoken to oneself or ourselves is not to oneself or ourselves alone, but to oneself or ourselves in relatedness to something else: a person, a group; an organization, a society, a world or worlds. Which is to say, generically, that a thought in Thinking 2 is always located systemically. And this relates to the fact that the object of experience is always contextual and never "private." There is always an implicit presence of the other, internally and/or externally. (pp. 3-5)
The large group in a working conference is a public context with boundaries of task, time, and territory. It is the meeting-place of Self and Other. That meeting can be explicated in Thinking 1 terms. The large group is then pregnant with "memory and desire," to borrow the phrase of Bion. So much so that it is difficult to hold on to what is the unique sign)ficance of the experience of the "part," in Bohm's terms, because it is suffused with memories of the meaning of other large groups at another time, in another place, in another country.
To exist in the large group without "memory and desire" is to be prepared to "keep the soul terribly surprised," as Emily Dickinson put it. It is in such conditions that Self and Other can be explored in Thinking 2 terms.
THE IMAGO OF THE COSMOS
Working with the religious (nuns and priests) in large groups led me to understand that the relatedness they had with their God was manifested in their relationships not only with each other, but with the consultants as authority. This is well enough understood in terms of transference and countertransference.
What it has taken me much longer to grasp is that for the nonreligious what is also potentially present in the mind is their relatedness to the cosmos, and what I find myself more and more preoccupied with is the presence or absence of an imago of the cosmosso much so that I have the working hypothesis that it is the imago of the cosmos that structures relationships on the planet. To be sure, there will be variation because all humankind does not have a common picture in the mind of the cosmos. That imago may be a no-imago, the shadow, that is, chaos. This is consistent with Bion's idea that every thought has its origins in a no-thought.
To pin this down with examples: The organization of work enterprises has mirrored over time changing conceptions, and therefore imagos, of the cosmos. Crudely, nineteenth century organization with its hierarchy of owners, managers, and workers mirrored current versions of heaven and hell, and the notion that the elect would go to heaven, which is always located above.
Hell is no longer credible as we end the twentieth century, for we have lost the belief in damnation. For medieval Europeans, however, hell was real.
Hell was likened to a slaughter-house, a hospital, a torture chamber, and all these variations of Catholic infernality come together in the predominant morphology of the drain through which the flesh, contaminated by the infected spirit, falls. All the sad relics, the world's rubbish, its dirty and lurid refuse flowed into this drain-like hell. In fact, in medieval iconography God is synonymous with perfect cleanliness, with light and dazzling splendour, whereas Lucifer is coupled with darkness, dirt and obscurity. (Camporesi, 1990, p. 15)
The images that survive for us of the industrial enterprise, the coal mines, the slums of London and Liverpool, evoke associations with the drain, with the underworld, the terrain beyond the Styx. In the twentieth century human beings took on the responsibility for damnation. Hell has been continually created for political purposes, as in the Nazi concentration camps, the Gulag, and the Killing Fields, to drain away the hated undesirables.
William Assheton in a tract he published in 1703 was sure that heaven would not be a place of speculation where each admired the other's perfection, but a place where none were idle and would be incessantly employed "in mutual giving and receiving of commands from each other" and it would be a place where, because it was God's kingdom, it would have "laws and statutes and governors and subjects, and those of different ranks, orders, and degrees"; but there would be no jealousy between the ruling and the ruled! (McDannell & Lang, 1988, p. 206).
In all this, Assheton, it can be hypothesized, was in part anticipating the emergent British class structure, which subsequently was to be realized and solid)fied through the Industrial Revolution and, particularly, through the hierarchical forms of industrial organization. Did he have prescience of future conflictual industrial relations as he outlined his ordered heaven?
But the imagos, no-imagos, of the cosmos and relationships on Earth do not remain constant. Hierarchical forms of organization were gradually su~ planted by other models. Open-system organization (sociotechnical systems) anticipated, perhaps better to say participated in, the revolution in science that has been taking place throughout the twentieth century. Open-systems anticipated both "(a) an ontological assumption of oneness, wholeness, interconnectedness of everything and (b) an epistemological choice to 'include all the evidence' " (Herman, 1992, p. 49). Such ideas are beginning to become integrated into organizational thinking as we draw on the images of holography, for instance. Open-systems was always part of the early tradition of the Tavistock Institute workers as they tried to integrate both psychoanalytic thinking and open-systems thinking as they set about extending the domain of experience and knowledge of industrial and other enterprises. Here, however, one has to note that operationally open-systems thinking has tended in practice to degenerate into an instrumentalism because the explicit openness of systemic thinking can be experienced as being limitless and, therefore, potentially chaotic. Today, in making a contextual analysis of a business in its market environment as part of an ecosystem, the range of factors to be taken into account can be bewildering.
The simple point I am making is that the imago, or no-imago, of the cosmos is construed from both projection and an introjection. We make our organizational forms to reflect our imago, or no-imago, of the cosmos and come to internalize it. We make life on Earth in the imago and no-imago of the cosmos.
The large group is no exceptionit is, at once, the cosmos that is known, not-known, and the imago, no-imago, of it. This is partly what I mean when I say that the contained contains the container.
SEPARATION FROM THE OTHER
Working conferences in the Bion-Tavistock tradition have for the most part been conducted in Indo-European languages. Julia Kristeva (1987) asks if these languages "reflect a type of culture in which the individual suffers dramatically because of his separation from the cosmos and the other?" (p. 31).
I can answer this question in part. A few years ago I started a series of conferences in Dublin, in Ireland, for religious, called "Authority for Faith," through the Religious Formation Ministry Programme. It was when I took the same design to India, where the majority of the membership was Hindu and not Catholic, that I realized that, though talking in English, the Indian members, whether Hindu or Catholic, had access to a different vocabulary to describe the transcendent, the spiritual, the numinous. The Other was construed differently. There was no wish for fusion between God and Man, rather a striving to come to know the Other, the divine. There was, in the terms I am talking, a different imago of the cosmos and, therefore, different kinds of relationships within the conference as participants engaged with the primary task of events. What I cannot find at present are the psychosocial roots of this difference.
The opposite of cosmos is chaos; where all is Other and in flux; where everything is separate, not connected, and random. One needs to be alienated in order not to be contaminated. Notwithstanding the elegance and beauty of chaos theory, chaos is construed, in folk understanding, to be the formless void of primordial matter, which by its nature is confused and disordered, uncertain and unpredictable. Managers of businesses readily talk of the turbulent environment of being in markets that are akin to casinos. Sophisticated managers try to work with models that allow them to bring order into chaos and order out of chaos as, for example, they initiate a change program in their enterprise or rethink their marketing policies.
The imago of the cosmos as chaos is often present in the large group. One fear of the large group is that it could become a formless mob. Indeed, the large group has sometimes spilled into the mob as chairs are moved and the neat, escargot, spiral shape is disrupted. Human beings have always known the power of the mob. We regularly can witness the mob on our television screens. Images of mobs become fused. There seems to be no difference between the behavior of the mob in Toxteth in England, the mob in Iraq screaming at the Western oppressors, the mob in Rostock persecuting immigrants in their hostels, or the mob in Los Angeles. To drive on a Sunday afternoon through parts of Jerusalem, where the extremist Israelis are waiting with stones to throw at cars with West Bank numberplates, is to experience the fear of becoming a victim of the mob.
Arnold Zweig, writing in the early 1930s of the certain destruction of German Jewry at the time, describes the mob as only a novelist and a passionate participant could witness.
Individuals welded into a mass are moved hither and thither by the affects of the mass even as seaweed is swayed by the movements of the waves; the individual's stirrings and impulses being motivated by the hopes and the despairs which pulse through a soul which has become part of the mass-soul. Unceasingly this ferment goes on in our foundations; and what the psychoanalyst is able to disentangle, distinguish, and name in course of his analysis is, in the waking state, outside of the aelf-awareness of the average ego and the average groupeven as the movements that go on in the depths of the sea are hidden from those who only watch the surface of the waters from the shore or from the deck of a ship. Before these depth-processes can be brought to light and become violently effective there is needed the impulsion of purposive ideas, repellent or attractive, as the case may be. Above all, there is requisite a cooperation of impulses before the group-soul can be unchainedthe impulses of need, hunger, privation, or at least those of a mood without hope and closely akin to despair. (Zweig, 1937, p. 46)
The fear that the large group will take on mob-like characteristics is among the causes of survival behavior in large groups. The Other is felt to be so annihilating that the Self takes unconscious defensive action. The Self mentally collaborates with the other Salves present in the large group to form basic assumption groups. Such basic assumption configurations are "the immensely powerful psychotic phenomena that appear in groups that are apparently behaving sanely, if a little strangely, groups that are working more or less effectively and whose members are clinically normal or neurotic" (Menzies Lyth, 1981, p. 663).
The basic assumption (ba) groups that Bion identified were Dependency (baD), Fight/Flight (baF/F) and Pairing (baP). To these Pierre Turquet (1974) added Oneness (baO), and I have added Me-ness (baM). Bion's major hypothesis was that whenever a group meets there are really two groups: the conscious one pursuing the activities of a Work (w) group and the basic assumption ones. In the latter mental configuration the members act as if their purpose, or reason for existence, was to be dependent, to fight or take flight, or to support a pair of individuals.
The paradox is that each of these ba groups is mob-like in that the individuals are absorbed into the temporarily psychotic mass. The distinction between reality-orientated behavior of the work group and basic assumption behavior disappears in the wish for survival. Consequently the ability to make working hypotheses to test realities is expunged. The text being voiced is convincing and credible and delivered in Thinking 1 terms. Other thinking is swamped. The members cocreate forms of rational madness which, at the time, gives meaning to their existence.
The baO group is characterized by mental activity in which "members seek to join in a powerful union with an omnipotent force, unobtainably high, to surrender self for passive participation, and thereby feel existence, well-being and wholeness" (Turquet, 1974, p. 375). Turquet adds in the same paper that while in baO, "the group member is there to be lost in oceanic feelings of unity or, if the oneness is person)fied, to be part of a salvationist inclusion" (p. 360). In baO the Self fuses with the Other; the soul becomes part of the mass-soul.
By contrast, the baM group is one where the Selves hold on to the version of self which can be called "Me-ness" and holds all Others, however, defined, at bay. The members behave as if the group was invisible and unknowable and, therefore, cannot exist. Others are, in effect, made into nonpersons. The horror is of fusion. It is a delimited or truncated self that is mobilized. The use of the pronoun "me" is to signify that it is not the "I" of the self that is being called upon but the object of the "I," that is, the "me," the "me" of childhood, as in "Me wants teddy." Consequently, other Selves cannot be related to, indeed no Other, because the preoccupation is with the survival of the "me." Cosmos has to be made into chaos; the world split into good and bad objects so that the "me" is always good. If you will, the cosmos-in-the-mind becomes phobic. Salvation lies, it is believed, in the solipsistic world of the "me." Here, one could say that solipsism and fusion are two faces of the same coin, that baM = ba non-O. To elaborate further: If ba groups are unconscious social systems of defense against the apparent difficulty of being in a W group that tests realities through hypotheses, baM's specialness is that it is a defense against both the W group and the ba groups as known. The paradox is while the organizing assumption is that only the individual can come to know anything because the group is not to be trusted, the assumption causes the participants to unconsciously collude in co-creating and co-acting in the group I am calling baM.
To be sure, much of this can be described in terms of narcissism, but I believe that in large groups the behavior is of the "I" of the Selves present in it being "driven into Me-ness" in order to survive what they feel to be the overwhelming Other that will cause the "I"/Self to be a nonperson, a formless blob. To describe this another way: The culture of the group evokes the narcissistic elements, and annuls other elements, of the individual, which feeds into the group culture in an endless projection-introjection process to produce a climate of socially induced narcissism.
SURVIVAL AND IMMORTALITY
Pressing this further, behind the spoken text of a large group, which will have its story-lines of the basic assumption groups, the wish for survival is murderous. This is particularly evident in a culture of baM. The fantasy of murder of the Other is to protect against the fear that the Other will wipe out the individual Self. The hero is the survivor, triumphing over others, becoming ageless in phantasy as the younger generations are killed.
The moment of survival is the moment of power. Horror at the sight of death turns into satisfaction that it is someone else who is dead. The dead man lies on the ground while the survivor stands. It is as though there had been a fight and the one had struck down the other. In survival each man is the enemy of every other, and all grief is insignificant measured against this elemental triumph. Whether the survivor is confronted by one dead man or many, the essence of the situation is that he feels unique. He sees himself as standing there alone and exults in it; and when we speak of the power which this moment gives him, we should never forget that it derives from his sense of uniqueness and nothing else. (Canetti, 1973, p. 265)
Survival is part of the human desire for immortalitythe wish to draw the sting of death. It is not sufficient to want to exist for evermore but to exist when others no longer exist. Ideally, the survivor determines the editing of the content of history, to deliver to posterity an acceptable myth of how it really was.
This wish for survival makes for a large group that is suffused with basic assumption cultures. It is totalitarian, ruthless, and uncaring. Its members cannot join together in the work of explicating unfolding realities in the ways I have been trying to describe, join together in activity that would make the transcendent immanent. The ruthless group is a fearful groupfearful of experiencing the Other, fearful of coming-to-know, fearful of Thinking 2, fearful of the spiritual for it must dismiss even the possibility of the numinous. It is in such a group that the basest of feelings are rampant and just)fied, because the wish is for survival and immortality. Envy is the consuming passion, gratitude never acknowledged. Melanie Klein knew of these:
The key Kleinian insight is that greed, avaricious individualism, possessive individualism, and the like are not given; they are responses to fear (ultimately of our own aggression), a fear that stands in the way of caritas. It is this, I have argued all along, that makes Klein's view tragic. Our potential to love and to care for others is real; it is an expression of a desire whose power is exceeded only by its extreme susceptibility to fear. Here is humanity's tragic flaw, which we nonetheless frequently transcend in personal relations but rarely in the group. In these last four sentences lies the whole of Klein's theory in so far as its relevance to social and political theory is concerned. (Afford, 1989, p. 179)
The large group always has choices. It can pursue caritas, truth, or it can follow evil. Time and time again, human beings are caught in the "tragic flaw"; it is the perennial global social dynamic. What is contained in the large group, in terms of basic assumption culture for survival, contains the container.
The large group, however, can contain much else. It always does, if only because of the presence of the condensed material that adheres to the text. The difficulty is to have access to this material which is probably only available through the methodology that I am trying to describe.
SIGNALS OF THE TRANSCENDENT
Working in Ireland with a large group of nuns from the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was surprised by the announcement by one nun that "We should pray for the work of this group!" My anxieties rose. I had visions of a large group on its knees. I felt I was facing the Scylla of Flight or the Charybdis of Oneness, in addition to the basic assumption behavior that my colleagues had been interpreting.
It took me some time to catch on that she was using prayer in her sense of working at the primary task, paying attention, coming-to-know the life of the large group with its implicate realities. Attention involves an act of concentration and a submission to what is there that is not of oneself alone. It implies a withholding of ownership, wishes, desires in order to experience reality as the Other. It is "hearkening." Prayer I now take to be an invitation to the act of reverie that makes possible a different mental disposition, which, as yet in the history of the group, is not available to participants in the group. What the nun's leadership resulted in was a thoroughgoing exploration of realities.
This experience reinforced in me the belief that basic assumption groupswith their preoccupation with survival, which, at times, becomes a political movement engaging everyone psychicallycan be necessary phenomena. I would go as far as to say that they are transitional phenomena. There, to put it perhaps too strongly, has to be the experience of the temporary psychotic culture in order to find the Other. By this I mean that we never know what order is until we experience chaos; we never understand the meaning of sanity until we have touched madness; we know not hate till we have loved with all our being. To be sure, some large groups only emerge from the basic assumption configurations but fleetingly.
But some do, and in so doing move from the trivial to the tragically profound plane, shift from Thinking 1 to being available for Thinking 2. To illustrate this: A few years ago in Zagreb, during a conference of the Institute of Group Analysis, with two other colleagues I took a large group. During one of the sessions, a priest, who is also a therapist, described his experiences with a patient who had AIDS. This young woman, as she was in the process of dying, wanted to have her childhood teddy bear and her Bible. She could not have them because her parents had burned them. As I relate these simple facts I cannot portray the intensity of feeling in the room, revealed through the stillness. The priest wept quietly as he recounted the experience, but one knew intuitively that he was crying for more than the girl.
Another member, a woman, described her feelings about the death of her mother and how she missed her. This was quietly volunteered as a statement of fact. A third woman went on quietly to describe her feelings about learning, just in the days before she came to Zagreb, that her mother had cancer.
I recall my own feelings at the time vividly. I knew that if any consultant made an intervention that we would "blow" whatever thoughts were in the room, because I was intensely aware that these individuals, while talking from their unique experiences, were also making statements about humanity. The facts were biographically based, but the meaning was larger. There was not a hint of self-pity in the room.
No one offered interpretation; the experiences were allowed to rest. There was a sense of patience, but not despair, in the room and one felt that new thoughts were being thought of a Thinking 2 nature. There was an ambience of reverie and the presence of attentive hearkening. At the time, I felt that for me there was a danger that I would find a premature metaphor to order my disordered feelings. I felt metaphor would destroy the possibility of being with the incomprehensible.
The inadequacy of mental images became evident as a temporary sense of desolation came over me. Each in the room seemed to be contemplating the mystery of being humanhaving a life, dying with or without hope, and the conundrum of living in the twentieth century. What has humankind become after millions of years of evolution?
I did have associations to Turquet's Oneness, but the oceanic feeling was not there, for the tenor of the group was of being committed to work. The group knew that we were in a mental space none of us had experienced before. At the time, I felt that there was an element of sacredness in the spirit of the place, the room in which we were working. On reflection, I felt myself to have been at some personal interstice in history, in the sense that one was posed with the perennial questions: How come things come to be what they are and what future is there for us?
One interpretation of what happened in the 20 minutes I have briefly described seemed straightforward enough. It was about the "lost object." A valid enough interpretation, invoking death, grief, and mourning. End of story. But is it?
It was about the tragedy of being human to be sure. It was about alienation: the alienation of the girl from her parents because of AIDS. The alienation from her teddy bear, the classical transitional object of Winnicott, implied that there could be no more transitions in life for her. And the alienation from her childhood Bible, from the record of the story of the Judaeo-Christian tradition to link humankind with death in a hopeful way.
It was also, if I follow these associations, about all the alienation of Self from Other, the Other including a dissociation from the very idea of cosmos, of which the divine may be part of the whole.
The more I have reflected on the Zagreb experience, and checking it with others subsequently, the more I have settled for having had the experience of "signals of transcendence," following Peter Berger (1971), who wrote:
By signals of transcendence I mean phenomena that are to be found within the domain of our "natural" reality but that appear to point beyond that reality. In other words, I am not using transcendence here in a technical philosophical sense but, literally, as the transcending of the normal, everyday world that I earlier identified with the notion of the "supernatural." (p. 70)
David Hay (1982) confirms aspects of the Zagreb experience and fleshes out Berger's insight when he identifies and analyzes the evidence for transcendent experiences. In another context, he quotes one of the respondents who has volunteered their experiences for the data bank of the Alister Hardy Research Centre, which is devoted to understanding religious experience.
I was walking across a field, turning my head to admire the western sky and looking at a line of pine trees appearing as black velvet against a pink background, turning to duck-egg blue/green overhead, as the sun set. Then it happened. It was as if a switch marked "ego" was suddenly switched off. Consciousness expanded to include and be the previously observed. "I" was the sunset and there was no "I" experiencing "it." No more observer and observed. At the same time eternity was "born" there was no past, no future, just an eternal now... Then I returned completely to normal consciousness, finding myself still walking across the field, in time, with a memory (Hay, 1990, p. 15).
The fact that the large group experience occurred in Zagreb is not lost on me now, as I see what is taking place in the former Yugoslavia. There, all is being defined in terms of Self and Other. Whoever is Other is a valueless object. Aggression, fear, and ruthlessness are partners against the human capacity for caritas and truth. The survival of Self is preeminent. The Other is to be annihilated, and if that means murder, so be it.
This illustrates the value of appreciating the relatedness between Self and Other. To be alienated from the Other and only caught up with Self is to see the Other as a valueless object. The wish is not to be related, to have no association. It is but a short step to hubris. The Other can be treated as something to be used. But for this to be effective the Other has to be hated. In terms of people, the Other becomes a commodityas in the slave trade between Africa, Britain, and America. The Nazis refined this notion of the Other as commodity. The hated Other was both to be exploited in life as slave labor and for genetic experimentation, and in death value was added to the corpse by economic use being made of hair and body fats.
The Other includes the physical environment in which we live. Increasingly, people recognize that we are alienated from our ecosystemic environment. Perhaps too late, human beings are trying to rectify their destruction of the biosphere, the diversity of species and the earth's natural resources. These have always been regarded by human beings, certainly since industrialization, but long before, as existing for their use, there to have value added to them. Crude oil is valueless until it is cracked to produce gasoline and chemicals. Whatever spiritual connectedness human beings felt and experienced was influenced by the image they held in the mind of the environment and their relatedness to it (contained in the irnago, no-imago of the cosmos), which, in fact, as history proceeded from the times of the Enlightenment, became more characterized by dissociation.
I have been trying to say that the human species has the capacity, because of the mind, to be open to introject and project a mental disposition that allows us to be available for hitherto unavailable dimensions of our experienced experiences. To put this another way: It is the mental disposition we bring to bear, and continue to bring into being, through our hearkening, in order to arrive at a hermeneutic-spiritual knowing, that allows us to bring into being what I have been sign-posting. There is, however, no prescription, except the selfdiscovery of reverie. The Zagreb experience was not so much a turning-point in my thinking, as a punctuation. What the experience did was give me sanction to scrutinize and ruminate more on the sign)ficance of my own experiences in the Bion tradition of taking groups. It led to the kind of thoughts I have been trying to adumbrate in this paper. It has made me try to come-to-know what may be present spiritually in groups, as well as being alive to the psychic and political phenomena; to attempt to be available for Thinking 2; to value reverie and attentive hearkening; to be available for any connections between the transcendent and the immanent; to be neither lost in the Self nor the Other.
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The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM