The Da Vinci Code and Modern Therapy

In asking the question "what is good therapy?" we must consider the times in which we live. What is required will then reveal itself. A hunger for the transcendent, for the integration of methods that cross the boundaries that separate, and relationship skills that foster intimacy, are all indicated. A shift from a patriarchal society to greater balance where the sacred feminine is restored to its rightful place is being called for and is already gently occurring. It is occurring in the realm of good therapy where the training a therapist undergoes must include an inner path of development as well as the acquiring of practical skills.

The novel "The Da Vinci Code" 1 has struck a deep chord with the general public. It has been on the top of the bestseller list for an extraordinarily long time? It came equal 9th in an Australian list of the ten best books of all time in a survey conducted by the ABC. It must be more than just a good thrilling novel. There are many good novels that have not had the same response. There must be something about the content and the timing to explain its success. This book fascinates us as it includes topics such as the search for the Holy Grail, the sacred feminine, and esoteric mystery schools that challenge the religious status quo of the Catholic Church. Perhaps the popularity of this book is indicating that we have a need for something to nourish our starving soul and spirit in a patriarchal and materialistic culture where orthodox religion no longer satisfies. We need an inner path to our sacred selves that enables us to develop our own wisdom and relationship to the divine, whatever that may be, as well as skills to traverse the bumpy road of relationships in a time of gender upheaval, isolation and an excessive individualism that alienates.

In paying attention to the inner path of the healer, as much as to the outer skills of "therapy", training in therapy can offer a modern day path of initiation, a modern Holy Grail that can reveal the sacred feminine and provide training for inner development to meet the challenge of our times. In my own practice I have found combining Counselling, Psychotherapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine an exciting, challenging path to tread towards a truly holistic approach to therapy. It is where the human being is seen as a microcosm of the macrocosm, and the body, the soul and the spirit have equal importance. This holistic approach requires a different way of thinking that integrates, crosses boundaries and learns from the cross-fertilization of different but complementary approaches.

Rudolf Steiner says that the story of Parzival (Parsifal) (as written by Wolfram von Eschenbach) in his search for the Holy Grail (and the Grail Castle) is a metaphor for the inner search for self-knowledge and its relationship to the world of today. It is a metaphor for a modern-day esoteric path, or path of inner development, for those who seek a new spirituality that reinstates the sacred feminine in its rightful place next to the sacred masculine.

Parsifal seeks the Grail Castle and Grail King. He needs to do this to bring the wasted lands back to fertility. In his search he stumbles upon the Grail Castle. He sees the Grail King lying ill on his bed. Beautiful women feed him wonderful food and wine. In his distraction he fails to ask the right question. He loses his opportunity and his place in the Grail Castle. He then has to spend the next seven years, searching for the Grail Castle again during which time he has many adventures that challenge him to develop within himself. When he at last finds the Grail Castle again, he is ready. This time he is able to ask the right question. "What ails thee?" He then wins the Castle and the lands come back to fertility.

This does seem a wonderful metaphor for our times where the lands are becoming wasted and we seem to fail to ask the right question. In therapy when we do not ask the right questions we do not find a 'fertile' way forward.

As the founder of Psychosynthesis Roberto Assagioli said "Let us realize the contribution we can make to the creation of a new civilization characterized by an harmonious integration and cooperation pervaded by the spirit of synthesis"4 Aren't these qualities of the sacred feminine? We are moving from reductionist, competitive, linear, rational thinking that quantifies, specializes and compartmentalizes to greater synthesis, co-operation, interdependence, and relational understanding that facilitates wisdom, patience and compassion. There have been those carrying this new impulse for some time now with little impact on the status quo. I see the popularity of the Da Vinci Code as evidence that slowly a change is occurring. The time is ripening as the change gains momentum. However, as these changes are emerging, a polarisation is also occurring. On the one hand there is a paradigm shift reflected in the rise of Holism in health and psychological practices and numerous other fields. On the other hand there is a rise in fundamentalism that sees a hardening of beliefs, boundaries and of control. This difference fuels the polarization. We are all feeling it.


In The Sydney Morning Herald June 2002 Hugh Mackay said: "Counsellors are beginning to look like the unsung hero's of a society struggling to come to terms with 'the Age of Discontinuity". He said, "…in the course of the year well over one million Australians seek some sort of psychotherapy." He goes on "One third of visits to general practitioners concern psycho-social issues, often cloaked in some discussion of physical ailment…"

Hugh Mackay speculates why there is such an upsurge in the number of people seeking counselling. He suggests it is not because there is a concomitant rise in mental illness but rather for the "the worried well," that is those suffering alienation, depression, and loneliness in a modern materialistic world where we seem to be losing the art of intimacy and a sense of belonging.

Whatever the answers Counsellors and Psychotherapists have made a study of the art of intimacy and it is meeting a need. Some emerging ways for working are more than 'models'. They are like a path to tread or a way of life.

One that has a deep influence on my work and life is the Process Orientated approach of Arnold Mindell. His work has grown out of Jungian Psychology, ancient Eastern Taoism and Western modern physics. His work on 'deep democracy' provides a rich and promising way forward in building a new sense of community, and developing the art of intimacy and relationship skills. A deep respect for the wisdom of processes as they unfold, both inner and outer, requires us to learn to trust the process and to understand the implicit message within. He says "I have as yet to meet a guru or wise, enlightened, educated, shamanistic, mediumistic person who is as intelligent as the process which unfolds in the channels of our own perception" ²

Ken Wilber in "Up From Eden" ³ argues that 'history is the unfolding of human consciousness'...

"This view has no more "hidden metaphysics" - no more "unprovable assumptions" than has the standard scientific theory of evolution since both rest on the same type of "unseeable" postulates. We can set history in a context that is at once scientific and spiritual, immanent and transcendent, empirical and meaningful. For this view tells us that history is indeed going somewhere-it is going, not toward a final judgement, but toward that ultimate wholeness….history in this sense is a slow and tortuous path to transcendence."

It seems that the times in which we are living have created a hunger and demand for something different. Perhaps it is this hunger that Dan Brown is feeding with "The Da Vinci Code" that has made his book so popular.

As Einstein said, "One of the most beautiful emotions we can experience is the mystical. It is the sower of all true art and science. To whom this emotion is a stranger …is as good as dead."³

How can a counselling practice facilitate a holistic approach and participate in the reinstatement of the sacred feminine? I would like to share one brief story from my clinical practice. It is hard to choose one, as there are so many examples I see daily that point to a way forward.

A young woman Lisa came to see me. She was 19, intelligent and articulate but had not managed to finish year 11 at school due to extreme anxiety and depression. She was unable to go far from home, unable to let her mother go away over night and barely able to keep a casual job as a waitress. She dreamed of getting her driving licence, and of studying journalism. This seemed a fantasy at the time.

Lisa had a history of sexual abuse from an uncle when she was 6-7 years old, as did her older sister. This had been disclosed and the uncle had been charged but not found guilty of the abuse. Lisa had received some victim's compensation that she used to get counselling. She had seen numerous counsellors. The current way she was trying to overcome her anxiety was to extend her activities using a cognitive behavioural approach.

Lisa's mother, Peg, came to see me for her own treatment. She was stressed by Lisa's behaviour and mental state. Her stress was exacerbated by the attitude of the Psychologist that Lisa was currently seeing. The Psychologist refused to engage with Peg at all. This is the accepted policy for therapists in their dealings with the families of clients especially where a mental illness is involved. After working with Peg for some time, using a combination of counselling, acupuncture and herbal medicine she asked me to see her daughter, at first for some herbal medicine. I began by assessing Lisa's condition on a physical and energetic level using the diagnostic skills of Chinese medicine. I prescribed some herbs and also Australian Bush Flower remedies. Of course we spoke about her situation, and I encouraged her to continue seeing the Psychologist. She began to improve.

After a few months she decided to discontinue the treatment with the Psychologist and sought counselling with me. At this stage I was no longer seeing Peg as she was much improved, but I knew enough of her history, behaviour and beliefs to recognise how these may be affecting Lisa. There was a family myth of "being cursed", and the disruption to the extended family caused by Pegs' support for her two daughters' abuse, and her willingness to pursue justice through the court still carried guilt feelings. By seeing both mother and daughter we were able to effectively address the "family myth". I was also able to encourage Lisa to see herself differently from the way her mother saw her and consequently to change her behaviour and feelings. Part of the therapy for Lisa was to live a life with regular hours of sleep and eating, and to keep her room relatively tidy. This is important in supporting the life body or etheric body or vital force of the body. If this energy is strong, then emotions, especially fear in this case, cannot have as tight a hold.

Lisa now travels a long way from home, is strong in her sense of self, has a full time job and is doing very well in her course in journalism. Peg phoned me the other day, a year after treatment was terminated, to say how well the whole family is doing. She and her husband now go on holidays and Lisa continues to be well in her self. This case is an example of the need to cross boundaries and to integrate treatment from different modalities.

In the Psychological field it also highlights the difficulty that can arise when over-compartmentalising of human experience occurs. Also, where only a cognitive behavioural approach is used, inner spiritual strivings are left unaddressed. When Lisa saw the whole process she was in as meaningful and taking her somewhere she needed to go, she was able to become a participant rather than a victim. It enabled her to make sense of what was happening and to see how she had grown and strengthened through the process of overcoming her anxiety. Stories like this one are not an uncommon.

In good therapy it is the level of self-awareness and the breadth of our vision and understanding that enables us "to ask the right question". For this to be achieved there must be an inner as well as an outer training of skills, opening us to ways of relating that create a greater intimacy and a sense of belonging. It requires us to synthesise and integrate isolated areas of specialization and that we find our own authority and morality within. We need to integrate models and cross boundaries that separate, isolate and disconnect parts of our humanness. We need to work with a synthesised whole picture of the human condition. We are in a time when the integration of East and West, ancient and modern can occur. It also requires that we find a way back to the transcendent.

Like the words of A.D. Hope:

To reap the ancient harvest, plant again
And gather in the visionary grain,
…to transform the same unchanging seed

we are at the dawn of an age where the integration of more traditional ways of seeing and being are able to coalesce with modern science to find a new way forward with a different wisdom, a wisdom transformed by the journey enriched by all we have learned. Is this is our search for the Holy Grail?

1 Brown Dan "The Da Vinci Code" Bantam Press 2003
² Mindell Arnold "Working on Yourself Alone" Arkana 1990
³ Wilbur Ken "Up From Eden" Shambhala 1983
³ Repeated from Wilber "Up from Eden " Shambhala 1983
4 "The Unfolding Self" Brown Molly 1983 The Book People

Posted on 02 March 2005 in - Philosophical Enquiry

Christina Nielsen

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