An ontological approach

ANNE M. CLOVER  (BHJ. Vol. LXV, 2/1976)

         In our earlier discussions at this Symposium we referred to the “Science of the Individual”.  We shall continue with this theme as we take an ontological approach to these aspects of Self awareness.   The word “ontological” refers to being, a study of being.  I am hoping that in this part of our Symposium we may further explore the Types, Temperaments and Constitutions and see how a clarification of these arises out of and supports a growth of Self awareness.  And towards this aim I am hoping that we will co-ordinate some of our medical insights with concepts usually regarded as the province of philosophy or depth Psychotherapy.

         In order to clarify a sense of who, what or where we are, a first step is the polarization of awareness into the observer and observed, or the initiative and correspondent form of action.  We decide to do something and observe the effect.  This two-way interaction is basic to our sense of Self and Being.  And as life goes on and we experience the polarization in increasingly diverse and intricate ways, we have a tool through which we can learn more about ourselves.  The Type, Temperament and Constitution that we exhibit is not only a sign to friends, colleagues or other associates of processes operant within us; in the first place it is a sign to the individual concerned.  If we choose to do so we can realize more about ourselves by reflection on the characteristics that we show to others.  Putting it in colloquial terms we would say that it is a means of learning more about “what makes us tick”.  So that here, whilst we seek to clarify ideas concerning Types, Temperaments and Constitutions, we are also seeking to use these as mirror towards finding further insight into deeper aspects of the dynamism that is continually positing these expressions of ourself.  Or to put it another way, Ontology is not only concerned with the modes of consciousness apparent as Types, Temperaments and Constitutions.  It is also concerned with an awareness of the consciousness that observes and holds a wider understanding of the interaction between these expressions.

         The human being can be described as a zone of activity in which various levels of energy cooperate.  The old idea of a substantial Soma which might or might not be influenced by an insubstantial Psyche has been shown erroneous by the insights of both Physics and Psychotherapy.  We can say now, with science endorsing the words, that our experience as human beings is due to interacting energies.  And if we then move into the realms of philosophy we can say further that the awareness of such interaction is referred to as “consciousness”.  We can also deduce that all these levels of energy co-operate.  The old idea of a substantial Soma which might or might not be influenced by an insubstantial Psyche has been shown erroneous by the insights of both physics and psychothesrapy.  We can say now, with science endorsing the words, that out experience as human beings is due to interacting energies.   And if we then move into the realms of philosophy we can say further that the awareness of such interaction is  referred to as “consciousnsess”.   We can also deduce that all these levels of energy are present within us all the time, even though we may not always recognize them.  For many people their interests are such that for the time being they are content to let these processes take their course and to assess little or nothing about them.  But if we agree with Socrates that the “unexamined life is not worth living”, and we are seeking to find a deeper understanding of what is happening within us, we may use the discrimination of the Types, Temperaments and Constitutions to aid our search.


        The process of finding insight is a disclosure of resources already within us.  These deeper aspects of awareness are not somehow alienated or made absent if they are unheeded.  It is more like a veiling than an absenting.  So that the process of development or evolution is a progressive disclosure of the resources present though often veiled our recognition.  This idea is expressed in the writings of KIERKEGAARD in his many references to “inwardness”, or the inward nature of the search for greater Self understanding.  Prior to this the concept is emphasized recurrently in the Christian ethic.  Such inwardness is basic to our search for Self realization.  It does not, of course negate the corresponding attention to environmental factors.  We find in psychotherapeutic work that where there is a growth of inner understanding there is a concomitant development in relation to the apparently outer processes.  Which is not surprising when we recognize the necessary interfunction of the two aspects.  So although the ontological approach to an awareness of types,  temperaments and constitutions is primarily an inner search, it inevitably relates at the same time to environmental influences.

         At different stages in  our lives a stress is placed on particular aspects of our energies.  By reflection on this it is possible to become more aware of the diverse modes of activity operant within us continually.  Through a closer study of the various stages in the serial span we can attain insight into process that  apply in every moment.  This leads to a growth of consciousness.  Whilst the outer manifestation of the different types of activity  can be called an expression of energy, the inner discrimination that can accompany it is an increase of consciousness.  It is of course possible to go through life with an emphasis on expression or outward doing, and minimal attention to the inner clarification of understanding.  This is for personal orientation.  But where we choose to do so the serial events of our daily lives can be used towards finding greater insight into processes operant within us in every moment.  So that aspects of understanding clarified in a serial manner are gradually integrated into a more comprehensive awareness.

         The overt physical expression begins with birth.   Here the attention is directed to ensuring due care of the physical  well-being of both mother and child.  At this stage the stress is on the physical body energies.  Although in the present day there are increasing references to the importance of emotional as well as physical factors, it is still the physical state that usually receives the  greater attention.  It is obviously no use to stress the emotional at the expense of the physical.  There has to be a body in relation to which other levels of activity can be further assessed.  So in the first stae of overt life the emphasis is appropriately directed to the care of the physical aspect of being.  And we start our serial review by paying due heed to the physical constitution.  Once this is safely delivered, or better still while the safe delivery is occurring, we also respect the emotional needs of the beings concerned.

         Having stressed the basic physical level, or the consituition, the emphasis within our consciousness can be redirected  and applied to the next stage in the serial expression, which is an ability to show differential feelings.  Here we are placing a stress on the temperament, or the expression of likes and dislikes by a living organism relative to its present situation.  It is basic to living protoplasm to like stimuli that are assimilable and pleasant to it, and to prefer to avoid those experienced as unassimilable and unpleasant to its constitution.  Such basic protoplasmic reflexes contribute to the likes and dislikes shown by any individuated being.  But these are not only shown or operant at the original occurrence.  An imprint of the experience, especially if highly energized or frequently repeated, is retained in the protoplasm and able to influence its subsequent structure and function.  So that in the serial span a pattern of responses is exhibited by the particular organism and the effect of this retained to some degree.  This process is basic to psychological conditioning.  It means that the individuation of the physical constitution and that of the emotional temperament run concurrently.  Already the interfunction between the various aspects of our activity is apparent.

         At this stage we can also observe a progressive quickening in the energy levels discerned.  The emotive energies are more labile than those of the physical constitution, while the energies in the next aspect that we can observe are even finer and capable of yet faster change.  Here the stress is on the thought or naming processes.  In the serial analysis, having acquired the physical form and started to express some of its particular likes and dislikes, the child shows progressive evidence of learning to formulate and articulate names and other words relevant to the objects or events he meets.  As development proceeds, this aspect of consciousness becomes increasingly evident in serial calculation and data formation.  And through its processes the individuated egoic being progressively clarifies a type of language and ideology related to his particular experience.

         So that we now have a series of the gross physical level where the energies are compacting to such a degree that there is a substantial form, next the expression of liking and disliking indicating the particular feelings of his structure in relation to its environment, and after this the formulation of words and sentences revealing an ability to make an orderly assessment.  And these levels are discerned as progressively faster processes, or different modalities of energy that whilst receiving a serial stress are also elements of a pattern that continually integrates all of them.

         Here then we have the serial expression of a constitution, temperament and type.  But this is just a beginning, and the next level of consciousness that we can observe within our being is their interfunction in a pattern of immediate co-operation.  That is, we can begin to see how all these processes are integrated into a plan where they at once support each other.  We find a new level of understanding as we see how processes within our being, and similarly how those around us, fit into schemes of immediate as well as serial interfunction.  Hjere aghain we can observe the correspondence between inward and outwardly directed processes.  Attention to a pattern formed by the interaction of our personal physical, like-dislike and rational processes can afford a means of understanding more about the operation of these in other beings.  A degree of insight into the interfunction between differing levels of energy in forms around us implies that this ability can similarly be exercised in relation to understanding more of our personal inner dynamics.

         But let it be emphasized that in all this we are not only concerned with the labels that we might derive and apply in particular situations.  At least as important as the formulation of clear labels is a growing insight into the means of defining them.  In other words our concern is not only to be able to say “he is a carbonic” or “I am a phosphoric”, but to become increasingly aware of the processes operating to enable us to make that statement.  The growth of awareness is in the clarification of the process rather than in the application of a previously formulated label.

         Which brings us immediately to the philosophical concept of the “here and now”.  In an era of rapid change such as that of the present day we need less reminding that ideas valid on one day are frequently out of date by the next.  With the environment and our understanding of it changing so rapidly we are much more aware that repetition is an inadequate mode of understanding anything.  Which is another way of saying that understanding the Types, Temperaments and Constitutions of ourselves or others is not merely a matter of learning to apply pre-formulated labels and assuming that is the completion of the assessment.  It reminds us that the function of describing our being–energies in this way is not to enable rest in the terms that are formulated but to increase the realization of the levels  of Being consciousness that formulate and observe them.  In other words, we are clarifying a way of understanding rather than relying on a label that we hope will bear repetition.  Which brings us right back to the philosophy of Taoism and its emphasis on the “Way”.  A concept which finds further expression in the Christian doctrines.

         In summary we can therefore say that the ontological approach to the Types, Temperaments and Constitutions emphasizes that we are not merely defining terms that might bear repetition in times to come.  But we are concerned with a way of immediate Self clarification, and insight into levels of Being consciousness that posit and observe the terms applied.

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