Integral Yoga and Psychoanalysis II: Suffering, Gratitude, and Joy
by Miranda Vannucci is a sequel to her 2006 work. In her introductory remarks the author has explained that she is not comparing the theoretical bases of the two disciplines but is rather exploring the points of contact between them. The author has milked her personal experience as an analyst and as a follower of the Integral Yoga to write this book.
The book briefly touches upon several insightful topics such as pain and grief, depression, guilt, gratitude, attachment, the symbolism of dreams, and the significance of flowers in the Integral Yoga. The author has used extensive quotes from the writings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and their disciples, citing passages from The Collected Works of the Mother, Letters on Yoga
, The Synthesis of Yoga
, and Mother's Agenda
, among others.
As one reads through the book one gets many insights on how present-day psychoanalysis, as a school of thought inspired by John Bowlby's perspective on psychodynamic philosophy, understands the difficulties of human nature. But the main drawback of the book is that in the author's endeavour to look for contacts between psychoanalysis and the Integral Yoga, the contacts sometimes look forced. The Integral Yoga is a whole universe of experience which inevitably includes all thoughts and ideas. Hence, there are bound to be points of contact between the Integral Yoga and psychoanalysis (as indeed with any other system), but it is the point of view which should be oriented correctly.
A given subject can be looked at either from the inside-out/top-down perspective or from a more superficial one. For example, in the chapter on depression, the author cites as a possible cause of depression the childhood experience of having an uninterested or uncaring mother. While she provides a quote from the Mother's writings on how one can come out of depression, there is no mention of how the Integral Yoga understands depression and its causes. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo have written extensively on depression and the attitude one should develop to overcome it, but these gems are absent from this chapter.
In another chapter titled "Attachment to Pain" the author has drawn parallels between the Integral Yoga's understanding of the vital's attachment to pain and how psychoanalysis views the perversion of a masochist or the reason why a couple continues to live in an aggressive and painful relationship. The author says that the vital's attachment to pain shows that there is a perverted part in us that needs pain and sticks to it.
By cursorily dismissing the vital as the perverted part that needs pain, the author has done away completely with what the vital part of human nature really is. While it is the ignorant, obscure vital living in darkness that seeks the duality of pleasure and pain, the Integral Yoga focuses on the transformation of this vital, and all other parts of the being, to their highest possibility.
Most schools of thought in Western psychology look towards the development of a healthy ego, one that helps in a full adaptation and adjustment to society so that one can function in a fully constructive manner, as the highest possibility in human beings. A person who is not fully adjusted and not contributing towards the growth of society economically is seen as a burden and a case for psychological therapy. Psychoanalysis also has the same aim, an optimally functioning ego-personality. The Integral Yoga, on the other hand, sees ego in its dual nature, both as a helper and as a bar. Ego has a place in human growth and progress, but it can also become an obstacle when the aim is spiritual growth.
The second major flaw of this book is that it continuously draws parallels between the rebellion, depression, guilt, and pain one experiences in day-to-day life, when the ego desires are unfulfilled, and the rebellion, depression, and pain the vital throws out when it is faced with the Light, which supersedes its darkness and its petty, obscure, and ignorant life. Both are reactions of the vital, yet the origin and cause differ. One is the pain caused by the ego-desire and its expectations; the other is part of the process of growth into something higher and vaster which exceeds the normal (mediocre) human ability. The author is trying to ride in two boats – psychology and yoga – and keeps moving back and forth, trying to look at human nature from both perspectives, differentiating the two from each other. This may work for a non-Indian audience or even for a purely academic one, but even that is doubtful as what is provided is only a partial view of the Integral Yoga and its scope. For the practitioners and students of the Integral Yoga this gulf/rift feels too sharp and even misleading at times. The Integral Yoga, as Sri Aurobindo has said, is nothing but practical psychology. But it is neither superficial nor is it a depth psychology as currently understood. It is a psychology which understands human nature in all its depths, heights, and connections.
This book, though it brings forth insights from Bowlby's understanding of psychodynamic thought, has largely failed to delve deeply into the Integral Yoga's understanding of human nature in general and suffering, gratitude, and joy in particular. A suggestion for improvement would be to deal with fewer topics in greater detail rather than superficially with many. Also, it is very steeply priced at Rs 600 for 129 pages.
Finally, on a positive note, the last four chapters of the book are a delight as they deal with psychic emotions, Ananda
, the subconscious and unconscious and the subliminal and superconscious in the Integral Yoga, and Ananda
and the body's transformation. These four chapters are the high points of the book as they open the possibility of a higher, dynamic, revolutionary, and evolutionary potential for psychology and psychotherapy.
Manasi is currently pursuing her PhD in psychology from the University of Delhi, her area of research being psychotherapy and Sri Aurobindo's Yoga. She came to Pondicherry in 2006 and has been here since then, working full-time in an Ashram department as a volunteer.