I learnt about Segal's book via Arraj's brief summary in one of his books, but I've only read this recently. I'm amazed but not with the spiritual content of the book, but with the fact how much it illumiates for me another think, the intersection between personality pathology and spiritual experience.
Of course, it's never enough to diagnose someone on the basis of their book. At least in the paradigm I'm working (the object relations, psychodynamic psychotherapy), an intuitive "feel" of the other person is crucial, much more than what they say or how they appear on the surface. So sometimes it takes months or years to actually get the patient. So my observations are just speculations.
Segal's spiritual experience seems to me something like Bernadette Roberts' no-self process. A spontaneous, maybe kundalini related, awakening process. The difference is that BR is within Christian spirituality and Segal is within the cultural revolution, late sixties, "boomerosis" (as Ken Wilber called it) kind of atmosphere. So I don't think that, essentially, her experience of the "witness", later "having no personal self" and then "the vastness perceiving itself through her body" are somehow inauthentic, fake, dissociative or pathological in themselves. But...
At the same time, I cannot help but notice few things as a psychologist/therapist. She has never formed any stable, deep interpersonal relationship. She used to break her relationships while giving the strangest reasons, especially, "it felt like the next thing to do". She had sex and short term relationships with a lot of men, sometimes strange ones and she got intimate pretty quickly with them (days or weeks mostly). She expressed no guilt feelings or moral concern in her book about her sexual, relational behavior (like going away with her little daughter from Paris, forcing the husband to follow them and then divorcing him). Usually, healthy people have some dilemmas and conflicts around such decisions. She seems to have engaged and disengaged in relationship out of the blue.
Moreover, she had no stable career, job, or interest. TM, English literature, Paris, French philosophy, Ph.D. in psychology, psychotherapy, then Buddhism. There is a sense in the book there there was no meaning to her life, no sense of purpose, goal etc. Of course, rationalized by the "no-self" experience.
Then, her astonishing perception of the psychotherapists. She's seen 12 shrinks and basically all of them proved stupid, unempathic, unprofessional, mostly because they didn't get her no-self experience and tried to "pathologize" her. of course, there are bad therapists in the world. But it is not a healthy reaction to see 12 people and believe they are all basically useless. But it's consistent with her patterns of forming sexual relationships.
Anxiety she's experienced for a decade and as wikipedia tells me, also soon after finishing her biography, she started to experience this anxiety again, went to more therapists, discovered she was abused as a child and started to think about a possible psychological explanation to some things in her life. Well, what about all those people she pictured in the book as stupid, unempathic crooks? Did she ever apologize for this, when she changed her mind?
I simply don't believe that no-self experience can cause such pervasive and long term anxiety. Neither BR, nor Phil St. Romain, nor any other spiritually awakened contemporary or historical figure testifies to that. Not even the dark night of the spirit of JOC is like that.
My speculative conclusions after reading the book are the following. The enlightened state is a basic state of awareness, the awareness of the existence of the soul, which can, therefore, manifest itself in anyone. Not only psychologically healthy people can get enlightened. But what is interesting is the interaction between the enlightenment or no-self and the personality. In the case of Phil, we can see how his life remained stable (the same, I guess with BR and others), relationships, morality, career etc. consistent and solid, as before, even though her felt that "Phil was gone". Why then Segal experienced this in a different way? Probably she did suffer with borderline personality disorder (as one of the "bad" therapists diagnosed) and possible with some kind of post-traumatic disorder as well. That is why her fragile and pathological personality structure couldn't cope with enlightenment experience of to integrate it with daily life. I also don't see many spiritual "fruits" in her account. She says that basically she remained just the same as she was. The experience didn't change her way of relating to people or her character. In an astonishing fragment she says that when some Zen guy told her that after enlightenment there should be some 'character work" she commented that he was ignorant, because if there is no self, there is no-one to work on character. Well...
So Segal's book emphasizes that enlightenment experience as such is not enought. We need religion, morality, social structure, to support us, not a postmodern emptiness. Sometimes we do need some therapy. So, although the book is mostly annoying, it's message is a very precious one. Even though it's not what Segal intended to be.
I don't know what to do with the theories about her brain tumor and its possible influence on the experience. But don't imagine the tumor developping for more than a decade. probably, another misfortune in her life.
Great reflection, Mt. I read her book years ago while visiting with Jim and Tyra Arraj and we discussed the book then. One point that you bring out is that of spiritual awakening/enlightenment is no compensation for moral, psychological and intellectual inadequacies. When I read Suzanne's book, I was struck, as you were, by her lack of development in these areas. Small wonder one would wish to undertake practices that eliminate or minimize a sense of self.
We had another discussion on this topic sometime back.
- see https://shalomplace.org/eve/for...944068938#2944068938
Some good exchanges, there, including contributions from you.
Yes, I forgot Derek had already brought this up several months ago. But I didn't have the copy of the book then. Well, if I was Susanne, I could say that my lack of memory is a result of a spiritually advanced state
I'm also reading BR's Path to No-Self for the first time. We probably discussed BR more than it's appropriate here, too much really, but I can't help underlining passages as the one in which she was confronted by a novice mistress who suggested that there was something quietist about her prayer (she also pointed to potential demonic influence, so it certainly wasn't a reasonable thing to say to a 18-year old girl). But a reaction of BR is fun: she wrote she's simply never spoken to this woman again about her interior life.
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