Stewardship by Ron Kurtz

I’m going to talk about the process as one of stewarding a healing process. But first, a longish quote by Martha Herbert on two contrasting worldviews or systems of belief.
Here’s Dr. Herbert:1

In what follows I will schematize some opposing worldviews that can shape science, and sketch their divergent implications. The first worldview I will call a control-oriented disconnected belief system. The second I will call a stewardship oriented connected belief system.
Underlying much of the scientific enterprise has been a set of beliefs: that we can control nature through science, that this is desirable and good, and that this control will end human suffering. This belief system also tends to include negative assumptions about nature. Nature is limited, dumb. Human engineering is superior to nature’s. In order to progress it is necessary to transcend nature.

Negative assumptions about nature include negative assumptions about our own nature, both our psychological nature, and the nature of our bodies. “Human nature” is nasty, selfish, greedy and lustful. Natural impulses are anti-social, and civilization requires that they be reined in and controlled. The body is distasteful, a source of pain, appetite, sex, sickness, suffering and death. The body’s pleasures are sinful and dangerous, and must be reined in and controlled; the body’s pains should be fixed and escaped.

A schematic of a spiritual belief system consistent with this control-oriented approach to nature is of a remote deity, not rooted in body or place, with transcendence or escape as a spiritual goal, and with discipline of body and mind imposed by external authority
An opposing belief system holds that we can play a role of nurturance and stewardship toward nature, but that control is an impossible, misguided goal. The goal of minimizing (not eliminating) suffering is approached in these terms through a balanced integration of technical, cultural, economic, community and spiritual approaches.

From this point of view nature is fascinating in its intricacy, and complexity. Eager curiosity is balanced with humility about the limits of what we know compared to what exists and may yet surprise us. Nature is respectfully queried for lessons arising from the complexity of matter, of planetary structure, and of the long evolution of organisms and ecosystems. Characterizing how interventions will ramify throughout a system is an intrinsic part of scientific inquiry and technical planning.

Human beings are seen as having inherent drives toward love, cooperation, curiosity, creativity and conviviality. Rage, impatience, self-centeredness and greed are seen as borne of fear, isolation, danger, humiliation and deprivation whose opposites, love, genuine connection, safety, respect and heartfelt generosity, can in principle minimize these defensive reactions.
The human body and mind are understood to have great potential for physical, mental and spiritual development. Every individual has the intrinsic capacity to cultivate these potentials to the extent that effort is applied, with high refinement and subtlety rewarding sustained commitment. Curiosity about the body, how it moves, how it senses, how it feels in the many senses of that word, is encouraged and incorporated into cumulative cultural practices. Sexuality, one of the body’s many capacities, is sacred but not taboo.

A schematic of a spiritual practice consistent with the stewardship approach would ground spiritual practice in human relationship, bodily experience and connectedness with nature and would create cooperative modes of interacting.

While these two opposing belief systems are ends of a spectrum, and while fascinating and even perverse combinations of elements of both perspectives can be found, the stark opposition of vantage points can help pose questions.2

Two belief systems. Two worldviews. One about control. One about stewardship. Both with related assumptions and elaborate implications for the way we live and work in this world. Implications about who we are and how we relate to one another and the environment. I’d like to talk about it in relation to the method.3

One of the great lessons of Taoist philosophy is this: Nature works best, without interference from anyone. “Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.” In science today, there’s a lot of talk about self-organizing systems. You could say, Spring comes and the grass self-organizes by itself. A little redundant and not very good as poetry, either. But, the message is clear: there are forces at work that do not need our control. The brain, it has been estimated, utilizes 2 billion bits of information per second, only two thousand of which are used by the conscious mind. Point: “The heart has reasons…” There’s a lot going on without our control. Some other, much greater intelligence is organizing all that. Imagine you had to control all the chemical reactions taking place in your body and all the nervous processing taking place in your brain. Not even possible to imagine. Just one example of nature working best without interference.
The healing processes, the way body and mind repair damage, also works best with a minimum of outside control. Nourishment and rest work well for the body. Much the same works for the mind. Let’s consider:

Pierre Janet,4 the great psychologist, believed that psychological illness was brought about this way: At a point in time when a person is emotionally vulnerable, an upsetting incident can overwhelm the mind. The person does not have the resources to integrate the event in a way that makes sense and can be incorporated into their knowledge of the world. The event is somehow contained and the integration process fails to happen, leaving the person with an encapsulated emotional event, buried in the unconscious. Although this buried event remains outside of consciousness and unintegrated, it created an irritation of a sort and effects the person’s mental states and behavior. Among the effects are the development of implicit beliefs, unconscious rules for behavior and habits that keep the unintegrated material from reaching consciousness.
There are two stages to the method of helping a person to integrate and heal: first, we must bring the unconscious event into consciousness; second, we must support the integration process. For the first part, which the person has habitually worked to prevent, we must have permission and cooperation. Of course there are ways to overwhelm the defenses and bring such events into consciousness, but these ways are almost dangerous; they can either re-create a traumatic episode or strengthen the habits that block the memory of the event.

A forceful approach automatically elicits resistance and a great expenditure of energy. Control is neither sensible nor efficient for healing. Think of a cut finger! Or growing roses. Yes we can support these processes, but controlling them is not even possible. Not to mention the pain attempting to control them causes. But the process can be stewarded. The evocation of the unconscious event, in this method, is done with the conscious knowledge and permission of the person. An “experiment” is set up which is designed to evoke the emotions, images, memories and/or thoughts about the event. Creating and implementing such experiments requires a great deal of skill. A well done experiment will almost always evoke material that will start a process that brings unconscious material into consciousness.
Very often emotions, painful and sometimes intense, will be evoked by an experiment. When that happens, we’re into the second stage of the process, stewardship. The emotional process is a spontaneous one that is the beginning of and an essential part of the healing process. This phase is about nourishment, containment, comforting and integration. The grass doesn’t actually grow by itself, it needs good soil, a little rain and sunshine.
I have done enough supervisions to see clearly which students are operating, at least in part, by a control, disconnected belief system. To relax out of that and follow the unfolding process and to feel connected to and compassionate for the client is one of the primary goals for the way I do supervision. It’s done by tracking what’s happening within the client and what wants to happen and then, supporting that.5

1 Martha Herbert, Incomplete Science, The Body, and Indwelling Spirit. The whole paper is available at:

2 There’s more about this quote in the short section entitled Martha w/ Comments.

3 The Hakomi Method of Mindfulness Based Assisted Self-Study

4 A good book to read is The Symptom Path to Enlightenment by Ernst Rossi.

5 See my short paper, Silence and Following

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