Buddha in the Depressive Position: On the Healing Paradigm

Birgit Heuer
London, England
British Association of Psychotherapists, Jungian Section


This paper is about healing and about how we might heal. Healing, in my view, is an act of deep imagination and desire, the sort of imagination that might ask of us all we have got. I shall argue that this form of imagination is linked to prayer, to faith and to quantum theory. Psychotherapy has been called the “impossible” profession. The task of psychotherapy appears impossible, if conceptualised in a linear, bi-polar way. This may be because we can then conceptualise change but not healing. Our profession might become more possible if aligned to deep imagination, faith and quantum theory. I am aware that in using the word healing, I am using a term that is not often part of clinical discourse. I am also aware that this is big, emotive and what might be called post post-modern language. I have chosen the word healing because I feel that it is able to speak directly to our hearts. When big emotive words such as healing, deep imagination or faith are brought together with the latest findings in quantum research, an added dimension is generated and they become scientific terms. As I explore this, I shall at once complicate and simplify. I shall simplify in that I scale down complex ideas, and I shall complicate in that I bring in the theory of higher dimensions, which is the domain of quantum theory. As many other disciplines move into the quantum age, I believe analysis has much to gain from joining them.

The Eastern Buddhist approach to healing has always been through enlightenment. While Western approaches, i.e., psychotherapy, have focused on the ego and it’s vicissitudes, the Buddhist way has been one of radical healing through letting go of all ego-attachments. In calling this paper “Buddha in the depressive position”, I am suggesting bringing together these two approaches, so that they become fruitful for each other. “Buddha in the depressive position” means giving up the idea of non-attachment, while holding on to the idea of radical healing. The depressive position then becomes a paradoxical place, where there is as much ego-attachment as there is not. Psychotherapy at its best knows how to fashion the ego into a muscular, self-aware, flexible thing of beauty. Buddhism knows how to heal our deepest compulsions, which are predicated upon a belief in the inevitability of suffering. When these divergent paradigms come together, the gates of clinical concepts of change open up towards the clinical possibilities of healing.

In this paper, I shall argue for the importance of analysis entering the quantum age. This brings with it a reworking of clinical theory to include post post-modern ideas like deep imagination, faith, prayer and healing. In addition, I will bring Buddhist ideas on radical healing to bear on psychotherapy’s approach to strengthening the ego. In what I hope will be a form of creative play with these elements, I shall then arrive at the Healing Paradigm, a term that I have coined, which is at the heart of this paper. In the quantum age, mystery and theory seem to go together quite easily. Understanding and theorising the mystery of how we heal has been a lifelong passion of mine, and I am grateful to be given this opportunity to express it.

The Emergence of Big Concepts and the Quantum Age

The key term of this paper is healing and I use it to denote a form of clinical change that emerges in the context of quantum research and is located in the interface of the physical world and the quantum Field. Collectively, we could be said to be moving into the quantum age. Our idea of what constitutes reality might be changing completely as we take in the implications of quantum research. We are thus in the process of making real – in the Winnicottian sense – a quantum world as the Newtonian paradigm is superseded by a quantum one. The quantum world is conceived of as timeless, spaceless and non-linear and is thus difficult to describe from a time-based, linear angle. Yet its phenomena are observable in the physical world. Quantum materiality is predicated upon a conscious, intentioned and desiring observer, that is, an actively participating observer. (McTaggart 2001, p. 13) The more the quantum world is studied, the more it seems to underlay and interpenetrate the physical world we know. One way to visualize it is to imagine a shining, gossamer-like, non-substantial substance that co-incided with the physical world. The quantum Field is conceived as a world of potentiality. It uses a process called superradiance which rests on resonance and creates an extremely high degree of order through communicating information holistically and instantaneously.

Now for some of the findings of quantum research. These have been arrived at by carefully crafted double-blind experiments, using accepted frames of statistic relevance. In quantum experiments, people have significantly influenced the odds on a chance generating computer (Jahn et al. 1997), healed cells in experimental cultures (Braud and Schlitz 1997), and helped others get well through prayer (Harris et al. 1999) and other modes of healing (Miller 1982). The most helpful attitude has been found to be a clear but gentle healing intention, rather than an attitude that is forcefully, fearfully or compulsively focused on outcome. All kinds of psychic phenomena such as precognition, remote viewing, even time travel (Radin 1997) have been validated by quantum research. Quantum experiments have led to a model of consciousness not limited to the body. Humans have the capacity to influence each other via consciousness on many levels and this influence increases in proportion to how much it is needed. The strongest effects occurred when the receiver really needed it and was receptive to receiving it (Braud and Schlitz 1989). Some people seemed more able to influence others via consciousness and some conditions are more receptive to influence. The more ordered, streamlined consciousness was found to have an effect on the less ordered one. (Grinberg-Zylberbaum and Ramos 1978)

From a three-dimensional point of view, these are miraculous findings and they would ordinarily belong in the realm of religion, faith and mysticism. They are also linked to the big concepts I have called post post-modern in my introduction. In the post-post-modern quantum age, the former domain of faith becomes the subject matter of scientific enquiry. Phenomena that would ordinarily be regarded as miracles are now demonstrable by science. Faith becomes quantum- rational and converges with science. The world of this science, though, is a radically different world, in which the formerly impossible becomes the accepted norm. It is a world we are collectively in the process of making real, as we on the one hand imagine it via faith and on the other hand culturally assimilate the findings of quantum research.

Buddha in the Depressive Position

In contrast to other spiritual or religious approaches, Buddhism believes in the possibility of healing in the here and now. The paradigm of suffering loosens in Buddhism and non-suffering becomes conceivable enough to be desirable. In this sense, Buddhism believes that core pathology can be healed. The way it proposes for this lies in giving up all ego-attachments. As attachments weaken, so does the attachment to suffering. Ego in the Buddhist context is different from the psychological ego, though, and perhaps coincides more with Jung’s self. From a psychological point of view, the difficulty with Buddhism lies in the necessity to detach from ego/self to achieve the healing. The problem is that pathology might be repressed and faulty early attachment defensively idealised rather than healed. I am, of course, thinking of the Western psyche practising Buddhism. This problematic “healing” has to rely on constant mental discipline to attain a state of no-self, rather than the healing obtaining from an organic process. This caveat aside, Buddhism does conceive of a healed state which is called enlightenment. The ego is emptied out, compassion floods in, a state of no-self is realised. Modern Buddhism sees enlightenment less as an end product and more as a state of mind that is constantly moved in and out of much like the post-Kleinian depressive position. My title “Buddha in the depressive position” refers to this view. Enlightenment as a fluid state of mind also makes sense in a quantum context. It becomes a quantum experience, as materiality turns into energy and non-locality ensues as all boundaries cease. Once this state of mind is accessible an on/off link is established with the quantum field.

My title also refers to the implications of giving up the Buddhist attachment to non-attachment, while holding on to the idea of radical healing. “Buddha in the depressive position” then implies that the capacity to experience beyond all limitations is brought to bear on the “unhealed” or core pathology so that a slow, almost imperceptible process of exchange and integration ensues. This might enable a process of unlearning suffering and all inner systems that help to uphold it, through moving deeply into attachments, rather than giving up the part that suffers. This is a subtle but vital difference. The slow, meandering pace of change in the impact of enlightened states on pathology brings about an ego that through its own suffering becomes increasingly adverse to suffering. The love of the aesthetic experience increases, as the love of suffering decreases. It is interesting in this respect that the so-called God-spot in the brain which produces religious experience, when stimulated, is located close to where primitive states are experienced, so that when one is constellated the other is touched on too. (Zohar and Marshall 2000) It seems that even our brains may be fostering an exchange between enlightened states and pathological ones.

The Healing Paradigm

I have used the idea of healing throughout this paper and now a closer look is needed as to how this idea could be meaningful for analysis. To this end I shall explore three aspects of what I am going to call the Healing Paradigm. The first aspect is to do with the question whether there is something that can be called a healed state. The second aspect centres around the question of a particular healing attitude, while the third aspect enquires what a clinical paradigm that is oriented towards healing might look like.

To get to grips with the idea of a healed state, quantum theory is needed. In the timeless, spaceless world of probability waves of the quantum Field, each of us, and of course each of our patients, can be said to be already perfectly healed in potentiality. This is congruent with Jung’s idea of the Self as well as with the mystical idea of being “made perfect in God” and with the Buddhist enlightenment. In contrast to the three-dimensional physical world, which always tends towards chaos, the Field is holistic and tends towards an unimaginable degree of coherence and order. The healed state in this sense is a mystical, enlightened quantum-state. The question is how this state relates to the physical world, and this is also the question of the healing process.

Quantum research has demonstrated the remarkable healing effect human beings can have on each other. We are literally extremely capable of both healing each other, and helping the other person to heal themselves. Quantum studies have mostly been concerned with physical healing and well-being, but we can extrapolate from this for emotional healing, if we assume that the physical and the emotional are interlinked. Research tells us that all humans are capable of this healing effect, but some are more gifted for it than others. The healing method used is not of significance statistically. But the effect is much enhanced where archetypal/spiritual imagery is part of the healer’s therapeutic vocabulary. Beyond this it is also clear that faith in the healing process and knowledge of relevant quantum research is helpful. (It could be argued that faith is intuitive quantum knowledge.) We know from the practice of faith-healing that faith alone can heal and this makes perfect sense in a quantum world, as the creative observer calls forth the material effect. Prayer is equally a form of orienting the creative observer towards a response from the field. Here, science and spirituality converge again. Scientific quantum knowledge coincides with spiritual and mystical knowledge of the reality of grace. Quantum research tells us that a clear healing intention or aim is most effective, yet an attitude of compelling the outcome is ineffective. Thus the healing attitude needs to be twofold, aiming clearly towards healing, yet yielding with regard to outcome. It is a paradoxical attitude that simultaneously combines aiming with yielding and psychotherapeutic knowledge of the miracle of healing with the reality of suffering.

All this raises the question of how our three-dimensional clinical paradigm could be revised in the light of quantum research. From an epistemological point of view each science uses a paradigm that underpins it, providing the logical a priori of the science. When we sit with a patient, we always analyse in relation to a clinical paradigm which consists of the underlying beliefs about the human condition, about what constitutes health and pathology, about the possibilities of change, which underpin our psychotherapeutic approach. I have argued previously (Heuer 2001), that a three-dimensional clinical paradigm is already a huge achievement, as it is hermeneutic rather than purely scientific, making possible an approach to the psyche that is reductive, synthetic and relational. It is a very sophisticated instrument that has been a hundred years in the making. Yet it can be argued that its strength lies more with the dynamics of suffering than the dynamics of healing. The cultural a priori of this are a belief in the biblical Fall and the consequent dynamics of suffering as conditio humana as well as an underlying belief in the ultimate power of destructiveness and evil. In clinical theory the idea of the ultimate power of evil translates into ideas such as the clinical intractability of Glasser’s core complex (Glasser 1986) or similar forms of pathology in different clinical frames of reference. The image of the Fall translates into an intrinsic limitation in clinical concepts of change and into the idea of learning mainly through conflict and suffering. Clinical language often has war-like connotations. We speak about the patient’s resistance, the analyst’s penetration of the patient’s defence via interpretation, the patient’s projection or introjection. Each term implies opposition and conflict and thus – in secularised form – can be traced back to the image of the Fall. Whilst this clinical approach certainly makes sense in the “get real” world, it becomes superseded in a quantum universe. For the resulting clinical paradigm I would like to suggest the term the Healing Paradigm.

The Healing Paradigm is concerned with clinical attitudes and beliefs that might be useful to promote healing in the light of quantum research. The underlying cultural assumption is that we might be collectively in the process of making real (in the Winnicottian sense) the quantum dimension by bringing it together with the three-dimensional “real world”. The Healing Paradigm relies on quantum logic which is paradoxical, non-linear and inclusive. The Healing Paradigm is predicated upon the convergence of faith and quantum research. Quantum research points towards not only the possibility but almost the inevitability of healing. Thus the central belief in the Healing Paradigm is in an inbuilt healing principle, meaning that we can, we do and we will heal, that we cannot but heal. The Healing Paradigm knows of the importance of Jung’s Self being constellated both in the therapist and in the patient, as the Self is where we most clearly interlink with the quantum field. The quantum Self is a perfectly healed state, hovering and shimmering in the potentiality waves of the Field.

The Healing Paradigm thinks of healing as a twofold process. Both can be called miraculous in the sense of quantum effects becoming conceivable and perceivable in the world of cause and effect. The first aspect of the Healing Paradigm is to do with slow, almost imperceptible changes and effects that can be easily overlooked. Something in our patient’s psyche as well as the interplay with the therapist’s psyche constantly creates health from the quantum field, the principle of supreme order. This is, of course, a version of Jung’s transcendent function. All the small, everyday changes in our patients are linked to this and the effect is likely to increase via the creative observer, if we first of all perceive them and then manage to feed them back. There is almost nothing too small to count in this way. (Of course we might then come up against the fear of things being too good, both in our patients, ourselves or in the clinical paradigm we have been taught.) The Healing Paradigm also knows about what mysticism calls the experience of grace in the form of dramatic processes of healing, that might be desired and imagined, hoped or prayed for and then received. The Healing paradigm holds that the intensity of feeling, the intensity of desiring and imagining plays a key part in this, combined with an equal ability to let go. When the hoped for is received, this feels like an act of grace. Receiving grace in a dramatic way opens up the psyche to dramatic changes also, which again need the slowness of time to be assimilated. The Healing Paradigm conceptualises and explicitly expects both imperceptibly slow and constant as well as highly dramatic healing effects. It is also concerned with the capacity to feel intensely, to desire, to imagine and to receive. The Healing Paradigm is inclusive of core pathology and imagines a healing process in which we learn to become adverse to suffering. The dynamics of hate are less compellingly believed in, so that hate can eventually just be left to be what it is, which overlaps with the Buddhist emptying. Paradoxically, as love and hate become more clearly differentiated, a war-like state between them heals by there being less and less of an opposition. As deep desire and imagination awaken, they constellate the Field and draw its healing capacity.

There are profound implications for clinical practice in the Healing Paradigm. As therapists it enables us positively to expect that the patient who comes to see us will heal. We may have to revise our analytic stance to become “creative observers”, that is intensely to desire and imagine our patients to heal in a detached non-compelling way. Since the more ordered/cohesive consciousness has a healing effect on the less ordered one, the quality of our state of being while in a session, is also important. Meditative, prayerlike or prayerful states constellate a quantum effect in the therapist and are thus considered most helpful. In these states, which coincide with a predominance of alpha, perhaps even theta brainwaives in the therapist, it is still possible – with practice – to relate. In contrast, a predominance of very focused thinking in the therapist leads to mostly beta brainwaves which might minimise the quantum-healing effect.

Another important aspect of the Healing paradigm is the principle of activating the Self, or activating the “inner doctor” as many indigenous cultures put it. In a quantum context the inner doctor or the Self can be understood as the part of the patient that is already realized in the Field and safeguards a constant connection with it, as enlightened states do for the buddhist. The order-creating propensity of the Field implies a healing impetus, a pre-determination to heal in probability. The ego then appears as the Self’s three-dimensional representative and it gets shaped and changed by this, as does the Self. The Self gains three-dimensional reality, whereas the ego gains eternity. Quantum research suggests that the healing effect is strongest when the healing intention is directed towards ourselves, as the “inner doctor’s” capacity to heal is second to none. The Healing Paradigm knows this and places it centrally. It is also aware that, following quantum theory, this capacity needs to be called forth and made real. Thus the fully realised, perfect Self of the Field needs to be integrated with the self of the three-dimensional world, or the Self needs to be “found” in the real world. The difference in conceptualising the Self from a quantum point of view may seem minor, after all most clinical approaches imply an ability to get better, often based on a concept of healthy infantile development. The decisive point here, though, is the degree of limitation of the possibilities of change in the clinical theory. A clinical paradigm that is culturally embedded in the image of the Fall is likely to show a much greater degree of limitation of possible change. The clinical impact of the Healing Paradigm becomes clearer if we imagine sitting with a patient who, according to our clinical theory, can only heal from within and without, through their Selves and our Selves being constellated and activated. The Healing Paradigm as clinical theory assumes a patient who can only but heal, and this becomes even more poignant if we apply it to ourselves too and assume that we also can only heal. Although the Healing Paradigm conceptualizes an objective – in the Jungian sense – healing process, paradoxically it also assumes that there is no compulsion involved in it. Choice and free will are preserved and assumed to give shape and pattern to the process.


In this paper, I have explored the Healing Paradigm as a clinical theory that is located at the interface of the physical world and the quantum Field. Extrapolating from quantum research, I have shown how science and mysticism converge clinically as well as collectively and culturally. In addition I have used the Buddhist idea of enlightenment in a clinical context, leading to a concept of healing by becoming profoundly adverse to suffering. I have explained the central tenet of the Healing Paradigm as the clinical principle according to which – based on quantum theory – we cannot but heal. Quantum based clinical change suggests an aware, non-masochistic acceptance of core pathology together with a radical belief in the possibilities of healing the “unhealed”. I would like to end with the words of Johannes Nohl, a German psychoanalyst who said in 1911: “Psychoanalysis, after all, has to end in prayer.” (Nohl 1911, p. 84)


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