Recently I gave a workshop with the above title to the Annual Conference of Humanistic Psychology, which represents a division of the American Psychological Association. The theme of the conference was “Community in Difference: Cultivating a Home for Love and Justice in an Indifferent World”. This seemed like a great invitation to present Neohumanistic views of how to create more “love and justice” in a world that often reflects indifference to humans and non-human entities alike.
My original motive for submitting this workshop proposal was to seize the opportunity to expand the humanistic psychology focus, which traditionally has been on humans and largely psychotherapy of humans.
In preparing this workshop and doing a study of recent contributions to the humanistic psychology tradition I found many approaches that were very compatible with Shrii P. R. Sarkar’s Neohumanism. This led to a comparative study of Neohumanism and the current status of Humanistic Psychology resulting in what could be an expansion of both schools of thought. I offer this brief comparative study with the hope of generating a more inclusive and expanded views of both Neohumanism and Humanistic Psychology and their application to education, psychology and social justice issues. One resultant of this comparative study could be a better understanding of the contributions of Neohumanism and Humanistic Psychology to what Sarkar calls “group” and “service” psychologies.
In the 2011 July-September issue of the Humanistic Psychologist journal Bruce Levi stated that “When human subjectivity once more becomes central to a psychological understanding of a person’s behavior, then psychology, as a science, will achieve a self-reflective maturity and rediscover its soul.” This quote comes very close to Sarkar’s encouragement of a subjective approach to an objective adjustment that is guided by our inner most self or atman (soul). When further exploring the contributors to post- modern humanistic psychology there are a myriad of approaches that resonate with Neohumanist philosophy that include multiculturalism, liberation theology and psychology, eco-psychology, evolutionary psychology, deep ecology and transpersonal psychology.
Pioneers of Humanistic Psychology
One of the earlier pioneers of humanistic psychology was Erich Fromm. Fromm coined the word “biophilia”, love of the natural world, later used extensively by evolutionist E. O. Wilson who wrote a book by the title “Biophilia” in 1984. Wilson in this book asserts that humans have “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”, suggesting that there is an innate bond between human beings and other living systems. This concept of biophilia overlaps with the definition of Neohuamanism that expands the love of humans to the love of all the living world of plants and animals. Neohumanism however goes a step further in embracing a love of the inanimate beings as well.
Eric Fromm in his Humanist Credo in The Heart of Man: It’s Genius for Good and Evil wrote, “I believe that the man choosing progress can find a new unity through the development of all his human forces, which are produced in three orientations. These can be presented separately or together: biophilia, love for humanity and nature, and independence and freedom.” This credo reflects the concept of liberation of the intellect from dogma espoused in Shrii P. R. Sarkar’s Neohumanism Liberation of the Intellect written in 1982.
Fromm included “unity”, a sense of oneness between one person and the natural and human world in his eight basic needs of relatedness, transcendence, rootedness, sense of identity, frame of orientation, excitation and stimulation, unity, and effectiveness.
Maslow described his approach to developing the hierarchy of human needs as Humanistic Psychology that focused on the positive and healthy side of human nature as opposed to the pathological. In his book, Towards a Psychology of Being, in 1968 he stated, “It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half.” In his hierarchy of needs he believed that the basic physiological needs should be met first followed by the needs for security and safety, then love and belonging, then self esteem, cognitive, aesthetic and finally self realization.
Maslow and the humanistic psychologists believed that every person has a strong desire to realize their full potential and to reach a level of self-actualization. Maslow’s concept of a self- actualized person included honesty, benevolence, sense of wholeness and unity, perfectionistic striving and experiencing many peak experiences but no concept of “self realization” in the spiritual sense of liberation or salvation in becoming one with pure consciousness. Maslow later in his life concluded that self-actualization was not an automatic consequence of satisfying other human needs.
The main point of this new movement, that reached its peak in 1960s, was to emphasize the positive potential of human beings. An essential component of self-actualization was for an individual to find cooperative and meaningful relationships with the larger human family. This positive psychology and cooperative stance suggest a universal set of values that supports Sarkar’s cautions about a group psychology that threatens the underlying unity of all of society which includes the animate and inanimate as do many of the post modern contributions to humanistic psychology.
Humanism’s Bright New Multicultural Fabric
Among these new contributions to humanistic psychology that resonates strongly with Neohumanism is Multiculturalism, which includes the holistic concept of mind, body and spirit unity for many multicultural individuals. Comas-Diaz in a recent article in Psychotherapy (2012) stated that, “people of color tend to express their relationship with spirit in a highly personal and humanistic way….. that helps ethnic minorities to struggle against oppression by focusing on cultural resilience, consciousness, and liberation.
Multiculturalism pursues meaning through the development of a relational identity in a cultural context. Contextualism involves the tendency to describe self and other using more contextual reference and perspective. People from different cultures are advised to listen to the each other’s cultural perspective and narratives rather than imposing their own ethnocentric perspectives on others. People from two different cultures can then compare their narratives with each other and think in terms of a power differential analysis that examines awareness of “oppression” and “privilege”. This is an approach, which reveals and can prevent the pseudo-culture that Sarkar speaks of in Neohumanism where one culture imposes its values on another often at the expense of the recipient. Liberation theologist and psychologist are activist in the multicultural context that opposes this oppression of a people or culture.
Liberation, according to Paulo Freire, the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is a collective endeavor to liberate yourself by liberating others. Multicultural activist and therapist approach liberation through spiritual social justice actions congruent with liberation theology, pedagogy and psychology. Martin-Baró, a priest and psychologist, who popularized the concept of liberation psychology drew heavily on the work of Freire, the above mentioned Brazilian educator, who recognized a certain “psychology of oppression” in which the downtrodden become fatalistic, believing they are powerless to alter their circumstances, thus becoming resigned to their situation. Thus liberation psychology concerns liberating the oppressed from authoritarian rulers and corporate control. Martin-Baro supported rebellion against institutions, including the church, governments, and industries that exploited people and maintained status quo. Very much like Shrii P.R. Sarkar he opposed these institutions that turned one group against another in guarding their self-interest of amassing wealth and power. In the middle of the night on November 16, 1989, Martin-Baró, together with five colleagues, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter, were forced out to a courtyard on the campus of Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, where they were murdered by the US-trained troops of the Salvadoran government’s elite Atlacatl Battalion.
As Martin-Baro fought for social justice through liberation psychology there have been other contributors to the fields of eco-psychology and environmental psychology that have fought for environmental justice. One of the earlier activists for the environmental movement who created the concepts of Deep Ecology is Arnie Nasse. He was greatly influenced by Erich Fromm’s concept of “biophilia” and Gandhi’s “essential oneness of all life”. Deep Ecology views nature as part of our self-identity. The central tenet of deep ecology is that the human species is part of the earth, not separate from it, and as such human existence is dependent on the diverse organisms within the natural world each playing a role in the natural economy of the biosphere. Human life is made possible due to the harmonious balance of interdependent relationships between these non-human organisms. The core of Arne Nasse’s activist message is, ‘The requisite care (for the natural world) flows naturally if the self is widened and deepened so that protection of free nature is felt and conceived of as protection of our very selves.”
Ecopsychology shares this notion with deep ecology that our identity or our mind is shaped by a lager social environment that includes the natural environment of evolutionary adaptiveness in which we evolved. Ecopsychology proposes that a closer connection with nature enhances an individual’s emotional well-being and sense of harmony and balance in the world. The term Ecopsychology was coined by Theodore Roszak in his 1992 book, The Voice of the Earth. Other related fields of psychology include evolutionary psychology, environmental psychology, green psychology, psycho-ecology, ecosophy and a board range of therapies including eco-therapy, green therapy, and global therapy.
Environmental and evolutionary psychology are broad interdisciplinary fields that look at the relationship between the humans their environment. Among all their levels of analysis both fields have studied the impact of nature on our health and well being from an immediate and long-term evolutionary perspective. From a review of over fifty empirical studies by researchers it has been concluded that a “nature deficit” may have an undesirable impact on the human physical, emotional and psychic well-being. This problem is partly due to the visual and physical absence of plants and can be reversed by adding a green belt such as parks or more windows and indoor plants to enhance interior environments.
The bond between animals and humans is another important relational context of mutual support for animals and humans alike. Neohumanisms strongly supports that plants and animals are not here simply for our utilization but they also have an existential life. The positive human bond with plants and animals requires that we seek mutually supportive natural environments for all species. In other words we all adapt better in an environment that approximates some of the elements of our “ancient” environment of evolutionary adaptiveness. We are presumably adapted to live in a green environment that today is threatened by extreme urbanization and environmental degradation. Neohumanism not only reminds us of our spiritual unity and love of the entire animate and inanimate world but also our responsibility shared with humanistic and ecologically oriented psychologists as stewards of planet and people.
Service versus Group Psychology
Humanistic psychology with the pluralistic integration of multiculturalism, ecopsychology and transpersonal psychology has become a holistic psychology that along with Neohumanism honors a “subjective approach to and objective adjustment” similar to that espoused by Shrii P. R. Sarkar. This subjective approach involves a meditative or contemplative approach to self-realization and the objective approach of service to society that includes people, plants, animals and the inanimate world. Shrii P. R. Sarkar defines this “service psychology” as being based on the concept that society is one and indivisible. Furthermore Neohumanism supports a spirit of service that involves serving a Transcendental Supra-Mental Entity. Both Neohumanism and Transpersonal Psychology support this concept of a Transcendental Entity that is the goal of self-realization.
Neohumanism, like Transpersonal Psychology also takes the approach of “synthesis” that supports unity in diversity in society, a universal ideology that unites many diverse parts of society into a unified whole. In contrast an “analytical” approach emphasizes differences, which fragments society leading to the manifestations of a “group psychology”. Thus a service psychology takes a synthetic approach in contrast to an analytical group psychology, which leads to divisiveness and conflict in society.
Humanistic psychology today is a pluralistic and holistic psychology that has much in common with Neohumanism. Humanistic psychology began with a focus on psychotherapy with skepticism of the role of spirituality. Today Humanistic psychology embraces multiculturalism that enriches the discipline with the psychology of liberation and spiritual unity; eco-psychology that expands humanism with a positive environmental perspective and transpersonal psychology that returns the soul to the scientific and personal growth journey of Humanistic psychology.
Neohumanism and Humanistic psychology can now exchange a richness that feeds a common passion for personal and social liberation.
Workshop Exercises with Participants
1. Yama (social balance) and Niyama (personal balance) were presented as the foundation of the Ethics of Love and Devotion in Neohumanism. Aparigraha’s concept of a “Simpler Life Style” was the first exercise: Simplicity Visualization:
What is the one thing you would like to commit to simplifying in your life that would have a positive impact on you and others? Have participants go through number of images in their life involving a need for simplification. Select one and see yourself in the present tense going through the needed actions to simplify your life surrounding this chosen task. (2-3 minutes) Some participants may choose to share.
2. The next exercise was related to Tapah or Service: Service Meditation:
Participants were given the following guided meditation based on Andrew Harvey’s visualization to inspire “sacred activism”.
See yourself seated in your room before dawn meditating; focus on your heart and ask yourself the question: What in the world breaks your heart the most? Keep focusing on the feelings growing in your heart as you come to the focus on what in the world breaks your heart the most. As you focus on this question feel a flame growing in your heart and see yourself getting up from your meditation seeing the room lit by this flame in your heart. Open the door to the room and see yourself walking down a long hall lit by the flame in your heart. You come to a door at the end of the hall that you open and descend a staircase lit by the flame in your heart. At the bottom of the stairs is an opening to a cave. As you enter the cave lit by the flame in your heart your see a letter on the floor of the cave addressed to you in your own hand writing. Pick it up and open it. It is a letter from your heart; read it and meditate on the meaning for you of this message from your heart. After absorbing the full meaning of this message from your heart, open your eyes and return to the room.
Encourage sharing in pairs or in the larger group depending on the number in the group.
3. Exploration of Social Sentiments:
In pairs share your earliest perceptions of your family’s attitudes towards other racial and ethnic groups; your earlier life experiences with a person from another racial or ethnic background.
In the larger group Share Conclusions concerning your self-awareness of socio-sentiments (groupism) related to these cross-cultural experiences.
4. Awakened Conscience: Supporting the General Welfare Through Journaling
Free write: People I know from other cultural groups characterize people of my cultural background as …..
Free write: The socio-sentiments and stereotypes that other groups impose on people of my culture have the effect of …….
Free write: To remedy these effects Neohumanism’s approach (devotion, study, rationality, the general welfare, social equality, unity) to these socio- sentiments (group) and geo-sentiments (place) suggest ….
5. Group Dialogue: Appreciative Inquiry
-The best cross cultural experience I have had in a community, classroom or therapy
-Things valued most deeply
-How I would apply concepts of Neohumanism to further develop this positive cross-cultural experience in the community, classroom or therapy
6. Visualization of bonds with animals, plants and environments –
Select an image of being with this entity in the present tense and explore the following concepts:
-My strongest bond and best experience with another entity or being other than human is with…….
-The characteristics and mutual benefits of this relationship are……..
-The central meaning and value of this relationship for me is…..
7. End with meditation on Baba Nam Kevalam-
Love is All There Is; The Beloved’s Name Only.