What is Esoteric Psychology?

 “Ideas have the power to change our lives – but only if they are acted on such that the initial impulse which accompanies their arrival in our consciousness becomes the fuel that begins their germination.”

 

The word ‘esoteric psychology’ can appear to suggest an intellectual path, one in which we envisage lots of theory and a difficult mental journey to understand the spiritual via the intellectual mind.

In practice, nothing could be further from the truth. The Silent Eye School is not run by a team of psychologists – we are three people drawn from very mixed spiritual backgrounds who shared a few years together on the same path and then decided that we had enough commonality and passion about what we wanted to teach to get on with it – together.

In truth, the Silent Eye School is as much magical as it is mystical; as much about emotion as it is about the intellect. We weave together what we know works, and, importantly, what we know well enough to be able to teach.

We described the Silent Eye as being a School of Esoteric Psychology because we wanted to be able to take advantage of the insights into the ‘self’ gathered by nearly a hundred years of deep research.

Most of this was directed at the pursuit of the ‘stable self’ – meaning the stable personality. Historically, the application of psychology has not always been directed at well people. Why then, would we be be so interested in it as the teaching core of our approach?

From our perspective, the big advances in spiritual psychology came out of the famous ‘Human Potential’ movement, associated with such places as the Esalen Instititute in California. The movement has been glamourised beyond its historic value, but many developments of great importance came from its stable. The agenda for this was to bring together the threads of old and new to create a modern spirituality that combined many fields of human research, and to ensure these were not overly bound by tradition. But, within that goal, to respect all traditions from which the mix came, for example, much Buddhist thought came into the West via this route.

The elements of this movement involved meditation, so called ‘new age’ thinking, psychology, and many other threads. Obviously, the 1960s and 70s were also strongly associated with drugs. Our policy here has always been that the risk of damage to the human mind intent on genuine exploration via the inner journey is too great to justify the use of drugs. We do not advocate or take them, a modest degree of red wine, notwithstanding!

Claudio Naranjo was one of the leading lights of the Esalen community. He was strongly influenced by his studies with the Bolivian-born mystic, Oscar Ichazo, who ran the Arica institute in Chile and was the first person to widen the use of the enneagram beyond Gurdjieff’s model of cosmic process and intelligence.

Naranjo worked with Fritz Perls, who founded the new psychology of Gestalt Theory, and became one of Perl’s closest friends. Naranjo had also been a student of Gurdjieffian thought (as had Ichazo) and made much of its clear thinking central to the way he developed his psychology-based spiritual approach. Naranjo sums up this period in his autobiography with the words:

“I had the opportunity of becoming Carlos Castaneda’s closest friend, of becoming Fritz Perls’ apprentice, and of becoming part of the early Esalen community.”

Naranjo no longer teaches enneagram-based studies in English, in protest at the growing commercialisation of the field, which takes its focus away from the original ethic – which was to use the map of personality afforded by the enneagram to indicate the way to return to a spiritual home, rather than ‘polishing’ the personality as so often happens in recent approaches. But Naranjo’s early work created an impetus which gave rise to such teachers as Sandra Maitri and Almass. They are the present torch-bearers of Naranjo’s spiritual inheritance.

The logic of this approach is inescapable: It argues that even people who had been through spiritual ‘peak experiences’ find themselves returning to ordinary consciousness afterwards, as though the spiritual experience did not have enough power to overcome the sheer accumulated weight of ‘ordinary life’. The search for why took the pioneers of esoteric psychology into a deep study of the power of the personality (in psychology – the ego) the home of the everyday self.

That accumulated weight was the result of how our sense of self – resident as a construct in the mind – had to form in response to the world into which we are all born; from basic reactions to our Mother, through to the discovery that the environment we were born into, no matter how loving, would not sustain everything we felt belonged to ‘us’. This tree of responses became the mental and emotional structure, like a set of cloudy lenses, with which would see and feel the world.

 

 

The pioneers of esoteric psychology showed that this structure of the personality could be described by a shape, and, moreover, that this shape already existed in the world of sacred teachings. This shape or pattern was the Enneagram, whose nine points map exactly onto the nine types of personality that result from the different ways our early experiences skew our views of the same world.

Initially, the excitement of being a self propels us out into the world – as it is designed to do; but later in life, we begin to feel that conditioned dullness which is the result of the formulation of a lifetime’s reaction. As our reactions become habitual, we lose that sacred space between the observed and the observer that gives us entry into the true experience of Self.

The first step is to recognise that this is how our lives feel. If we can face up to that, then we can begin to do something about it.

The ego or personality (since the two are the same thing in this type of self-study) then has a choice. It can accept that the spiritual excitement of life is over, and sink into whatever comforts are available, or it can summon up what we call the “Turning Point”. This dramatic moment, which must be reinforced many times, brings us face to face with the reality of our lives, and we see how little we experience the wonder of where we are; how it robs us of of the sheer power and excitement of being alive. In addition, we become conscious of our potential to take much more powerful actions once we have seen how close our true self actually is.

None of this implies any unkindness on the the part of the world that raised us. The dramatic truth is that we are meant to be this way, although our birthright is to be greater. Mankind is unfinished, as the inner meaning of the Gospels (for example) shows. We are a greater seed dropped into a life. We have little control over the conditions of our birth – only over how we choose, once conscious, to react to it.

To gain the initial knowledge we need – in order to begin asking the right questions of the universe, a different seed – one of the right knowledge – has to fall into our lives. That seed must appear at the right moment for it to take root in ‘good soil’; but its message comes from outside life as we know it. No School can claim to be the inventor of that inner content, their role is to be worthy messengers.

 

The Silent Eye is in no way unique in putting forward this picture of our experience. We all learn from others that which strikes a chord in our depths and impels us to add our own language and experience to aid that greater purpose – the Work.

The great contribution that esoteric (spiritual) psychology has made to this journey is the discovery that elements of the personality, when mapped via the enneagram, as our mental and emotional viewpoints on the world, enable us to see, not only the shape of that which holds us back, but also the guided steps we should take to (gently) release ourselves from the habitual behaviour that holds us fast. In that way, we gain forward momentum and also open the gates for our emotions to become the agents of self-transformation.

All of this begins with a re-orientation; one that places us in a new relationship with the ‘now-point’ of our lives as it enters our field of perception. This ‘temple of the moment’ is fundamental in developing our ability to watch ourselves. Anyone who cannot watch themselves is unable to effect real change in their spiritual lives. In generating the ‘watcher’ within our consciousness, we begin the journey across the map of self which the enneagram provides.

Our workshops reinforce the basic teachings with living examples, played out via ritual drama in the safe and supportive space of a magical temple, and working with friends, new and old, who understand the rigours and the excitement of the journey.

The Silent Eye is eclectic. It has woven strong elements of the original Gurdjieffian teachings with the more modern use of the enneagram to unveil this personal journey within us. Magical techniques are constantly used to bring emotion to serve our real needs – not the needs of the personality.

What the School has done has mixed the threefold experience of the founders into the development of a unique approach to distance learning, accompanied by warm and nurturing supervision. In the Silent Eye School, the student, who becomes a Companion of the Way, is guided on a three year spiritual journey which takes place, in their own mind and emotions, as a living meditation, with extensions as exercises into our everyday lives.

This path is rigorous and demands much from the Companion. But the path is shared with others, and the way to the inner self has never been fluffy . . .

The first steps can change a life . . .

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