Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Art of Happiness 22

The Ability to adopt different Perspectives

Self with two students who edited the school Year Book with me, 2004 
As a teacher, I have often pondered on the subject of what makes a good, bad, indifferent or poor teacher.  I take knowledge of one's subject area as a given - after all, teachers have passed their exams and got their professional credentials as well by the time they start teaching.  Last evening, once again I discussed this topic with my good friend Thomas Gleeson.  We agreed that what made the good teacher was his/her ability to connect with their pupils, to intuit whether they were lost or not, to empathise with their confusion or sense of being lost. 

Now I have done many CPD courses over the years, and I have benefited from them all.  In fact, I have retrained as a Resource and Special Education Needs teacher after some thirty years in the mainstream classroom.  Now this course required a year's re-training and some nine supervisions of classroom teaching.  This experience was renewing and affirming of one's professionalism and of the skills garnered over years of hard-won experience as well as equipping me with new ideas and deeper understanding.  I tell this personal story here to illustrate the ability to adopt different perspectives.  In other words, I am arguing here that what makes a good teacher is precisely that, the ability to adopt different perspectives.  It is impossible to teach if one cannot empathise with one's class, especially if they are weaker academically, and also if one is not open to learning new skills as a teacher.  Then Thomas and I, in our discussion which I alluded to in my opening paragraph, agreed that what also made a good teacher was actually learning to "like" your students or pupils.  They will pick up very quickly whether you like your subject and indeed whether you like them or not.  This is all part of a good teacher's ability to connect with his/her students.  Now connecting with students is not something shallow like trying "to be popular."  Far from it. Pupils learn quickly to dislike a teacher who deliberately sets out to be popular.  What they need is an authentically good teacher, not a seeker of shallow popularity.

Let me return to the words of the Dalai Lama here:

Within Buddhist practice, this ability to adopt different perspectives is utilized in a number of meditations in which you mentally isolate different aspects of yourself, then engage in dialogue between them.  For instance,. there is a meditation practice designed to enhance altruism, whereby you engage in a dialogue between your own self-centered attitude, a self that is the embodiment of self-contriteness, and yourself as a spiritual practitioner.  There is a kind of dialogical relationship.  So similarly here, although negative traits such as hatred and anger are part of your mind, you can engage in an endeavour in which you take your anger and hatred as an object to do combat with.  (The Art of Happiness p.197-8)
Here, there is a considerable overlap with the theory of subpersonalities as outlined in the theory and practice of the type of psychotherapy called psychosynthesis.  Working with subpersonalities is a central theme in psychosynthesis therapy and very often it gives the client some very good skills to handle the many different and oppositional forces inside the personality and coordinate them into a well integrated personality. But working with subpersonalities presupposes that the therapist simultaneously makes an effort to strengthen the client's centre – his awareness of a centre of pure self-consciousness and will. It is from this centre that all the subpersonalities can be identified, included, transformed and synthesised. To have a clear experience of this inner observer and witness - this entity and the subject in man - is very often connected with a profound feeling of freedom. Because there can be no free choices between the many competing forces and needs without an inner director that manage the inner battleground.

Over the history of psychotherapy, many forms of therapy have worked with subpersonalities, not just psychosynthesis. Early methods were Jungian analysis, Psychosynthesis, Transactional Analysis, and Gestalt therapy. These were followed by some forms of hypnotherapy and the inner child work of John Bradshaw and others. More recently forms of therapy have arisen that are largely based on working with subpersonalities—Voice Dialogue,  Ego-state therapy, and John Rowan’s work.  However, Roberto Assagioli  (1888 - 1974) is most associated with the theory and practice of integrating subpersonalities. He was a leading Italian psychiatrist and pioneer in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology. In fact it was he who founded the psychological movement known as psychosynthesis, which is still being developed today by therapists, and psychologists, who practice his technique. His work emphasized the possibility of progressive integration of the personality around its own essential Self through the use of the will.

Continuing with the Dalai Lama's comments, one could say that the following is consonant with what Assagioli and the above named therapists were and are about:

So, although in reality, there is only one single individual continuum, you can adopt two different perspectives.  What takes place when you are criticizing yourself.  The "self" that is criticizing is done from a perspective of yourself as a totality, your entire being, and the "self" that is being criticized is a self from a perspective of a particular experience or a particular event.  So you can see the possibility of having this "self-to-self relationship." (ibid., p. 198)
A Personal Conclusion

Let us ask ourselves the question: "What are our subpersonalities?"  My list, I believe would look something like this: "My Teacher Persona," "My Adult Persona," "My Ego Persona," "My Innocent Child Persona," "My Entertainer Persona," "My Mr.Know-All Persona," "My Self-Pitying Persona or Poor Me Syndrome," "My Depressed Self or Persona", "My Happy-Go-Lucky Self," "My Angry Self or Persona," and "My Selfish Self or Persona" and so on and so forth.  Each reader of this short post can make out his or her own personal list of subpersonalities which we can call "masks" if we wish.  Then, using the Dalai Lama's technique, we can set up a visualization or inner dialogue between one of these and the central, core or integrated Self or "self as totality" as the Buddhist Teacher calls it above.  All in all such a series of meditations can only lead to fuller and fuller self-integration or individuation.

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