Dr. James Ulness, professor emeritus in psychology at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., knows we are all experiencing unforeseen and unparalleled levels of agitation and fear at this time, during this incredible period of change in which cultural norms and established systems are being dismantled and reformed to meet the needs of a more awakened society.
That is why he is presenting a four-hour workshop on “Facing Our Future” at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11, in The Church of St. Francis at 3201 Pleasant Ave. S., Minneapolis, sponsored by the Minneapolis Theosophical Society as part of its Ancient Wisdom / Ancient Mysteries series of lectures and workshops.
“We have no way of dodging what is coming,” Ulness said. “I hope that people will find the inner courage to face consciously the waves of change that are streaming towards us from the future. People sense this and are turning to counselors and psychotherapists to relieve their mounting anxiety or give them some understanding of what is happening.
“Old soulless psychology will be of little help. I have seen, I’m happy to say, a new and better psychology develop since I was in graduate school. Let’s call it spiritual psychology. You might say it is ‘just what the doctor ordered’ for an ailing humanity.”
Dr. Ulness has integrated the best of mainstream psychology with Eastern and Western spirituality, the humanistic psychology of Maslow and Rogers, the depth psychology of Carl Jung, the transpersonal psychology of Michael Washburn and Ken Wilber, Deci’s psychology of self-determination, and the methodology of Assogioli’s psychosynthesis, with the insight of Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science.
He spoke with The Edge about his perceptions of our current age and his upcoming workshop.
Dr. Ulness, you call traditional psychology practiced by counselors and psychotherapists “soulless.” Why?
Dr. James Ulness: When Jungians and psychosynthesists speak of “psychology with a soul,” they are using the term “soul” in the centuries-old manner in which our inner being is related to the spiritual realm. Many people in the general public still think of it that way. But that usage became anathema in the field of psychology, which was trying to establish itself as a science. Science in the Western world had aligned itself with materialism, which has no place for “soul” or “spirit” in its descriptions, definitions and explanations.
If you were to look through all the textbooks used in graduate level psychology courses, you are not likely to find anything approaching the notion of “soul.” When Jung spoke of “modern man is search of soul,” he was thinking in terms of the clients he worked with.
I should make it clear that not all counselors, or psychotherapists, practice their profession in full accordance with the training they received in graduate school. It is true that academic psychology deals with thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, attitudes, etc., but they avoid the word “soul” and, at most, use “mental” instead, although they prefer to fall back on neurological and chemical concepts. It is, however, possible to have a psychology based on spiritual science rather than on material science.
What developments in psychology give you hope that the spiritual component of who we are is being addressed?
JU: Jungian Psychology and Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis have been around for 100 years. And Humanistic Psychology and Transpersonal Psychology have been around since the late 1960s and ’70s. These are all still beacons of hope for me, but they are a very small part of the field of psychology.
More recently, what is being called Positive Psychology is hopeful. However, students at most of our great universities could pass all the way from undergraduate level up through masters and doctoral levels without perhaps even hearing about these kinds of psychology. Counseling programs are a bit more open, but not enough to please me.
After graduating and going off into practice, teachers, counselors and psychotherapists are much freer to learn about and develop a high level humanistic approach or even a spiritual approach than they were able to in graduate school. Much can be found on the Internet and in books that is not just pop-psychology. This all gives me hope.
What can someone look for, or ask about, when seeking a counselor or therapist who will best serve them?
JU: If you break a leg in an accident and are taken to a nearby hospital, it hardly matters what the medical doctor’s personal philosophy of life happens to be, as long as he or she is competent at setting a bone. But, if the problem bothering you is existential, then it makes all the difference in the world what the therapist’s world view is. So, wise selection of a psychotherapist is very important.
Many people now select who they are going to go to by asking their friends about their experiences with this or that counselor or therapist, much the way we have come to do when looking for a dentist or medical doctor. And during their first appointment, they can ask questions that people didn’t used to ask a generation or two ago. In this way, they can sound out by the answers given to these questions where the counselor or therapist is on their own spiritual journey. Depending on your problem, you won’t be helped much by a therapist or counselor who has not developed further than you are.
Many people today are searching for their purpose. Why is that?
JU: There is much more freedom in the shaping of our destiny now than just a few generations ago. This freedom shifts responsibility onto their own shoulders as to what they are going to do with their lives. Even in their late teens and 20s, most people are discovering that a life without meaning and purpose is not satisfying. So, they start asking “What should I be doing with my life? What is my life purpose?”
What is causing the seeming increase in fear and anxiety that we feel at this time?
JU: So many people can sense that we are in for great waves of change on many levels, which will greatly change the status quo. And, since many have adjusted to the status quo, the likely changes make their ego feel threatened and insecure, because it will mean making big changes in one’s lifestyle — especially since there seems to be so little we can do about it. I will speak about this at deeper levels at the workshop.
Some believe that everything happens for a reason, though others are adamantly opposed to that. What is your perspective on this?
JU: It is true that everything happens for a reason, mostly karmic, but also because of our free choices and decisions. To people who have not yet begun to unite with their Higher Self, many things will be attributed to “chance.” Those whose lives are guided by their Higher Self know that nothing is due to chance.
You say that waves of change are streaming toward us from the future. Has that always been the case, that change is directed from the future, and is it ultimately being directed by ourselves, from a higher spiritual level?
JU: Whether a person feels that they are moving into the future or that the future is coming toward them, they are experiencing an increasing level of anxiety. However, those who feel they are moving into the future feel that they have more control over the choices and decisions they make. In ordinary times, this would be sufficient, but these are not ordinary times. I will speak at the workshop about why this is so.
Our understanding of how karma works makes a big difference in the way we live. We have shaped our present lives through past karma, and we shape our future destiny by the karma we are creating now.
What is the spiritual world calling us to do in this Age?
JU: It is calling us to become consciously aware of our spiritual essence and working with it in developing our Higher Self. We are being asked to overcome anti-social behavior in relation to others, and take a genuine interest in them as persons. We need to overcome all traces of selfishness.
On a larger scale, we are being called to accept and appreciate cultural diversity and become more cosmopolitan by overcoming parochialism, nationalism, racism and religious differences.
What changes can we expect to see in the so-called spiritual community?
JU: Spiritual communities will be self-governed as much as possible by the people and for the people. They will allow and encourage freedom of ideas as much as possible, as well as forms of spirituality. Economically, they will learn to anticipate the needs of each other and do what they can to meet those needs, and out of this an “associative economics” will develop. We will see healthy individuals working together for a common good.
It has been suggested that insight from angels and guides will come to an end as individuals are better able to tap into universal insight themselves? Do you see that happening?
JU: Yes, in the far distant future, but not now. When we have developed further and transformed ourselves into complete alignment with our Spiritual blueprint, then our Angel will not have to bear it for us and is free to go on to other activities. Anyone who thinks that they are anywhere near this level of development already is suffering from severe self-deception.
What suggestions do you have at this time for those who are seeking to reclaim a greater connection to their true self and make a difference in the world?
JU: Two things are necessary: we must learn to still our outer mind and emotions and become very calm and serene inside; and then follow the promptings of the inner Voice, which can be more easily heard when the clatter and worries are stilled. This Voice, which comes from what might be called the Great Indweller, will prompt us not only to greater inner development but also to service in the world.