A Personal Letter from Frederic Lowen to his Parents
Dearest Mom and Dad,
Wow! What a year was 2020! I don’t know where to begin, except perhaps to wish you a good birthday, Dad. On December 23 you would have been 110! It sure makes me feel older!
Speaking of older, your student and colleague from the 1950s, Alice Ladas, is now helping your Foundation, The Alexander Lowen Foundation, with therapy services, in her nineties and online no less! In fact, I am proud of the age diversity within the Foundation. Along with Alice in her 90s, we are represented by 60-somethings (soon to be 70), 50s, 40s, and with the recent addition of your grand-daughter Sonia, 20-something. You would be proud of her! Of course too, many other individuals assist us from diverse ages. Except for teenage, which I would welcome for their not-yet acculturated vision, and their stake!
Actually, in my 70th year I am very well, and skiing better than ever. I am so very grateful that you gave me the gift of skiing 65 years ago! My love for sailing, boats, and the water comes from you too. I must say, and often do, I feel you raised me well, all things considered. Notwithstanding issues, problems, and hard feelings, I gain more and more appreciation for the blend of freedom and guidance you provided. I certainly had a more secure and loving childhood than many people I know. Thank you, dear Mom and Dad.
Over these years of learning and gaining experience in my therapy work with clients I see more and more how pervasive and destructive emotional disturbance in childhood really is. It becomes more apparent with every passing year. The 2016 US election was the most emotionally driven election I have experienced, until of course 2020. The latter was less surprising after four years of mindless emotionality creating ideological divides approaching levels not seen perhaps since the American Civil War. Unbelievably, the current divide is based entirely on ideas and ideologies. By Contrast, the pre-Civil War divides emerged from the hard economic realities created by slavery and human misery, the ultimate exploitation.
In 2020, I believe we are much less based, or grounded in reality than 160 years ago. While we know so much more, with more technological prowess in all areas of science and information access, we have created a world in which individuals and groups are encouraged and incentivized to create their own separate versions of reality, facts, and truth. You may have seen this coming, but I doubt you have seen anything like it. I find it unbelievable, although with Reich’s and your help, understandable. It is unbelievable because the United States is the wealthiest nation in history, with access to state-of-the-world knowledge and technology.
In contrast, prior mass delusions in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the first half of the last century, emerged from distinct national hardship. And those examples ended very poorly indeed for the deluded, with utter and horrific destruction. No one should doubt that the most severe human problems and challenges are fundamentally psychological.
I miss those delicious long discussions with you. I wish I could hear what you have to say. In a way I do believe I hear you, as I hear myself saying things sometimes that I didn’t know I knew. I figure it must be from you. I guess I mostly miss the opportunity to argue and question. There are so many important questions that seem to never be discussed, about this crazy and crazy-making culture that passes for normal. It was always interesting to have those discussions with you. Too, I increasingly realize how focused Reich and you were on human dysfunction, and as Reich demonstrated, how individual dysfunction and social dysfunction are mutually reflective and reinforcing. They are functionally identical.
Although mis-understood and mis-characterized, you and Reich have enormous contributions yet to be digested and integrated by mainstream and academic psychology and science. I find it truly exciting, especially with the increasing interest the world has shown in your work in just the past couple of years.
The increasing awareness that feelings are not ideas, that mind and body are too often disconnected, and that emotional disturbances and destructive fears are common and widespread, leads people to Bioenergetics. In Bioenergetics feelings and emotions receive equal or greater attention than thoughts, ideas, and cognitive processes. Many rightly perceive that the mind may not only be unhelpful, but destructive in one’s attempts to feel better. They correctly perceive and intuit that feelings, emotions, and the body are fundamentally different than intellectual and cognitive understanding and activity. Talking about feelings is not feeling the feelings. In Bioenergetics one feels the feelings as well as any, and better than most modalities of psychotherapy. It was state-of-the-art 50 years ago, and it is still state-of-the art.
The truly exciting aspects are many. First, the disconnect between thinking and feeling, the ‘mind-body split,’ appears to be fundamental to most, if not all, psychological disorder and dysfunction. Yet academic psychology does not even recognize the condition.
Secondly, the mind-body split is best described energetically. It eludes psychological and/or physiological description, just as does the construct/concept of the ‘ego.’ The ego similarly has no material basis in science, psychology, and physiology, yet no one disputes its existence and function. The energetic processes that cause, perpetuate, or heal the disconnect between thinking and feeling have been adequately described by Reich, and further by you. I find it interesting how rarely you speak of the mind-body split, yet all your writing characterizes it in great detail. For example, your discussion of self-possession in The Way to Vibrant Health, the manual of bioenergetic exercise and physical work, describes the healthy mind-body connection perfectly.
Thirdly, energy is obviously (to me) the link between mind and body; it is the elusive solution to the multi-millennial ‘mind-body problem:’ how are the activities of the non-material mind related to the material physiology of the body? Psychology, with its multi-varied approaches of psychodynamics, behaviorism, cognitive science, neurophysiology, and biology is like the elephant the five blind men try to describe. Understanding the energetic processes of ‘bio-energy’ brings the whole elephant into view, focus, and understanding.
Further yet, because energy, or bio-energy, is best evaluated subjectively (energy defies direct quantification or description), science will benefit hugely with a robust contribution from subjective experience and knowledge, based on understanding bio-energetic processes. Subjective experience is not arbitrary or unique. It is patterned and predictable in terms of the underlying energetic processes and functions. By the way, I use the term ‘bio-energy’ instead of ‘energy’ because my childhood friend Kenny you may remember, has become an even more skeptical techno-nerd in his mature years. As an electrical engineer retired from the computer industry, he gets upset when I conflate bio-energy with what he considers (real) ‘energy,’ which he insists is fundamentally different. He and I have not however always agreed. Like you, he likes to argue.
Science is limited in its ability to describe nature and reality fully. Science is primarily based on the observation and/or measurement of events and phenomena involving objects external to the researcher, which it does really well in ‘quantitative’ investigations. It is wildly more robust than ‘qualitative’ investigations that inform the researcher on the nature of subjective factors.
Integrating an understanding of energy as an element of feelings and emotions requires subjective introspection of ourselves, rather than observation of ‘other’ external objects. It will permit science to describe nature and reality more fully, not limited to only what can be measured.
Additionally, it will add ‘feeling’ and morality, a basis of right and wrong, to science, retrieving the value of science from the soul-less and relentless pursuit of profit. It is the means and path by which humans can learn natural sustainability, in contrast to failed attempts to control and dominate nature, as if to make nature obsolete.
After all, our most challenging, vexing, and fearsome problems we currently face correlate with the most advanced science in human history. Science has failed to guide us into a sustainable way for humans to live, despite our highly capable and evolved brain. Why? It is one of those hugely important questions that is rarely discussed, and never in public. And why is that? Yet another one of those many questions.
For me, these are the deepest and most important potential benefits of your life’s work. With your innovative insights, built on what you learned from Reich, the 200 year-old science of psychology is coming very close to understanding why humans have never been able to live sustainably, like virtually all other animals do. Why do humans endlessly create unsustainable empires, built on human misery, inequality, and exploitation, only to collapse in war, destruction, and oblivion? Why, in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, is the cost and stress of living so high? It is another one of those questions we should, but don’t talk about.
Thank you Mom and Dad, for asking the important questions, and helping me know the difference. You have done more to describe the mind-body split as the disconnect between thinking and feeling, than anyone I know. The world has a way to go to catch up to you. Fifty years ago we said your work was fifty years ahead of its time. We should have said Bioenergetics was 100 years ahead of its time.