by Claude Steiner PhD
I have long wondered about the nexus between transactional analysis, a theory and practice fundamentally based on human interaction on one hand and meditation, the foundation of which is the lone, individual, experience, on the other.
In early 2000 after a very difficult 1999 I had occasion to attend a 10 day silent meditation retreat from which I emerged with some insights that I can truly say changed me and my life, at the root. A great deal happened which I will not go into here but I derived one particular insight which I here develop into an essay about the Adult ego state and, for lack of a better way to put it, its corruption.
One of the puzzles of meditation for me has always been that its proponents seek a state they call egolessnessness. I don’t wish to quibble with a fundamental concept or capriciously modify a respected tradition of meditation. However, one important discovery I made for myself is that the meditation instead of producing a state of egolessness seemed to produce something that I could only describe of ego-fullness.
The method of meditation that I pursue is Vipassana. Vipassana means “seeing things as they are” and indeed it was my experience that as I progressed in my meditation practice the state that I achieved was one of perceptual clarity not only about myself but also about the world that I inhabited.
I was able to see things as they were by setting aside what in Vipassana is called attachments, aversions and ignorance. In the light of transactional
analysis concepts, attachments and aversions are contaminations of the Adult by the Child’s emotional responses. Attachments are positive emotional responses affecting the Adult and aversions are negative emotional responses affecting the Adult, while I interpret ignorance as Parental prejudices (Critical or Nurturing ) affecting the Adult.
The Adult in its pure state has strong boundaries and is uncontaminated by either by the Parent or the Child. Emotionally it is essentially neutral. At a seminar meeting where the question was “Does the Adult have emotions?” it was Berne’s opinion that it did not, in the usual sense of the word. He allowed for what he described as a very subtle, pleasant feeling which accompanies an elegant insight as experienced when solving a complex mathematical equation and which he likened to a diffuse blue light. This described perfectly the experience that I had toward the end of my ten day meditation practice which I characterize as ego-fullness; a pure Adult filling my consciousness; pleasant but free of strong emotions and prejudicial thoughts to interfere with my perception of things “as they are.”
Only after I discussed this experience with two expert mediators at the Halifax conference, Paul Anderson and Carter XXXXXX did I realize that the traditional egolessness referred to the meditation tradition in which the person gives up its material attachments is the same as the one I had experienced as ego-full. Simply stated, in TA terms, I would sat that it is the pure Adult, fully cathected.
Being able to see things as they are without the emotional attachments and aversions of our Child and without the prejudices of our Parent (be they that I/You are OK or not) gives us the power to make decisions on the basis of the closest approximation to reality that we can attain given our experience at the moment. Of course, different people will see different things and all of our experiences of a lifetime, everything we gave learned and how long and well we have lived inform the Adult, regarding things as they are. Our Adult information may be as naïve as a three year old’s or as wise as an oft reincarnated avatar; it still is the best basis for decisions when decision time comes. When we make our early life script decisions we make them based on the way we see things and if and when we redecide years later, we again base our decision on what we see things to be, hopefully in a more enlightened state.
My experience with this pure Adult is that it is keenest in the midst of a long sequence of disciplined meditations but also that once cathected it is far easier to recathect in situations that require egofulllessness. I emerged from the ten day silent meditation retreat with a view of my world which was serene, yet eager to take on life in all its complications and armed with a tool for understanding —a purified Adult ego state— that facilitated dramatic forward movement for myself and my loved ones.
Lest I give the impression that this state of egofullessnes was easy to achieve let me say that only the discipline of 4:30AM awakenings followed by eight hours of strong, determined daily sitting punctuated by an hour and a half daily discourse from the teacher was able to break me away from the attachments, aversions and ignorance clouding my Adult’s vision. I spent the hours between meditations pacing and repacing the small circular path in the California Sierra wilderness like a caged animal; silent, eyes averted, thinking only of how to escape what seemed hard time in prison. I spent sleepless nights feverishly reviewing every aspect of my life from every possible perspective. And when equanimity finally came it went unnoticed and only recognized when I returned to the real world and experienced its effects on my daily life.
I fear that this brief essay will be seen by some who are disciples of the meditative experience as a philistines plucking of one ripe peach from a large ancient beautiful tree and showing it off as if it represented the full spiritual experience. Far be it from that, I see it simply as a first small step in building a cognitive bridge from the discipline of my devotion–transactional analysis–to another equally respectable discipline, meditation.