By Swati Chopra
Excerpts from an interview by Swati Chopra with Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy, practicing psychologist and author of The Psychology of Love
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RASHNAInterview with Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy taken by Swati Chopra of Life Positive
You apparently grew up imbibing Swami Muktananda’s philosophy.
My father, Kekoo Gandhy, used to take me along whenever he went to visit Swami Muktananda. We often stayed weekends at the Ganeshpuri ashram. Baba (Swami Muktananda) was more of a grandfather figure to me than a guru. When people came to him with their problems, he would ask them to meditate. Later, I would be able to recall his teachings whenever I needed them.
Is he still an influence in your life?
After a while, you internalize the guru. You don’t need to go to an ashram anymore. I meditate every day. When I need help, I call out to Baba in my inner active imagination.
You have worked in the West for 17 years. What was it like?
In the West, if you study psychology, which was what I did, you also need to do a lot of personal work. This is unlike India where you might have acquired a Ph.D but have not dealt with your own inner life. Being associated with the Jungian and transpersonal schools of psychology made me realize that a therapist needs personal spiritual discipline to help others. The mental level must fuse with the spiritual.
How did your association with transpersonal psychology come about?
I was a Jungian when the first transpersonal psychology conference happened in Mumbai in 1979. My teachers at the Jung Institute were invited and so were people like Swami Muktananda, the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa. What do these people have to do with psychology, was my first reaction. Fortunately, I got hold of a few brochures for the conference. Perceiving a Jungian connection, I decided to attend. At the conference, I came to the conclusion that psychology needs spirituality to succeed. Transpersonal psychology was ultimately using Indian wisdom that was already within me. I volunteered to organize the conference in Switzerland the following year. Over the years, I became the European coordinator for transpersonal psychology.
What exactly is transpersonal psychology?
In transpersonal psychology, you don’t study those who are dysfunctional but those who are optimally functional. You choose a person who is self-actualized and try to determine why he is so. Then you apply these insights to help those who are dysfunctional.
Tell me about an ‘optimally functional’ person you have studied.
Well, I think Mahatma Gandhi is one person who is perfect by Jungian standards. When confronted with pressing problems, Gandhi would go into prayer. This is exactly what Jung would recommend, for according to him, spontaneous decisions undermine the ego. So you need to calm down and move beyond archetypes towards the Self. Gandhi did just that. He waited for a higher wisdom.
How did you move into Indian myths?
Jungian psychology uses myths to understand character and archetypes. In the West, this means studying Greek myths. Although the archetypes remain the same, each culture weaves in its own ethics. When I moved to India in 1984, I found that I could not understand the symbolism of dreams here. After all, if you don’t understand a language, you can’t speak it. Hence my foray into the extraordinary world of Indian myths.
What makes Indian myths so extraordinary?
The coding interwoven in them is fascinating. There is no moralizing whatsoever, which gives great freedom of choice. Relating myths to people’s experiences gives them a way out of difficult situations where they might be feeling trapped. At this stage of my life, I identify with the Shiva-Shakti myth, which I have dealt with extensively in The Psychology of Love. It is transformational and would appeal to those who are in that phase of their lives.
How did The Psychology of Love actually come about?
I initially thought about writing a sort of a handbook explaining Jungian terms, like anima/animus for instance, to those coming in for therapy to enable them to interpret their dreams. The idea grew from there and I included my work with Indian myths too. To tell you the truth, I am not really a writer. At times, I feel language to be a straitjacket.
That is not the impression one gets from your first book.
That’s because of my clients who have allowed me to include their experiences.
You talk about true love arising from realizing the other in one’s own self. How does one achieve that practically?
Love is a process. Unless you are complete within yourself, you will seek the other as an alchemist to trigger something within yourself. Once you are complete, you will love the other person for who he/she is without being judgmental. You will be much more compassionate with those who are not there yet, who are still on the journey because you have been there yourself.
Why have you restricted yourself to marital counseling?
I haven’t! But yes, my work in India has been related to marital counseling because people don’t come to me for anything else. In India, people don’t go to therapists. They go to gurus, which is fine, as each culture is unique.
What has been your experience with past life therapy?
Before PLT, I had done Stanislav Grof’s Holotropic Breathing workshops. After a few minutes of hyperventilating, people would come up with incredible images. Although I was skeptical about grouping all images as past life ones, there were some for which there was no other explanation.
Just three days ago, I met an Englishwoman in Coorg. She was there to find out about an Englishman who had died about 150 years ago. So intense was her search that I was convinced that she was indeed that person in her previous birth. It was clearly unfinished business and so I offered to work with her. During regression, she saw amazing scenes from the 1857 mutiny where she had felt torn between her love for the Indians and loyalty towards her countrymen and had drowned in this.
How do you regress people to past lives?
I ask them to relax and then enable them to feel one with the world. That stage is that of the chitta (soul) from where the past lives are viewed. I always end with the wisdom gained from the experience.
You help people deal with their problems. Do you work with yourself too?
Yes I do. I think that therapists must continually work with themselves or they run the risk of falling into other people’s contamination.
Don’t let the title of the book (The Psychology of Love) fool you into thinking that it is a boring treatise on what is the most spontaneous of all human emotions. Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy not only details the gamut of the modern love experience, but also does so with sensitivity and compassion. Far from assuming a know-all, omniscient voice, the author is vulnerable at times, unabashedly intermeshing her own life and feelings with whatever stage of man-woman relationships she might be delineating. You feel as if drawn into a circle of friends, huddled together sharing confidences. This is accentuated when Rashna extracts from what we might only assume to be a personal diary. For instance, she says in the last chapter, Merging with the Soul, after a client realizes her ‘inner feminine': ‘I was deeply moved by these images and wisdom that came through in this session. I could not sleep that night. I lay awake thinking about the essence that had been captured in her poem.’
Although each premise begins in the personal experience, the territory charted is unbounded. The book stretches from the intensely personal to the infinite, from Rashna’s falling victim to Kama’s arrows to the merging of Shiva with Shakti, from love to eternity, and everything that lies in between. A delicate tapestry is woven, which ‘integrates myth with reality’ so that the personal gives way to the Western psychological (archetypes, anima/animus, for instance), which in turn finds unique expression in Indian myths. We are made to dip into the collective unconscious and emerge with something to better explain ourselves with. Problems may not get miraculously solved, they never do, but one does obtain a unique tool for self-analysis.
The use of myths to heal and treat relationships a la Jung is something of a pioneering attempt in India. Rashna, as a psychologist, has been doing just that, and has now written about it as well. The Psychology of Love is a first in an altogether different sense too, for it is the first of ‘Namita Gokhale editions’ launched by Roli Books. For the first time in Indian publishing histroy are books being commissioned, edited and presented by author Namita Gokhale, noted for works of fiction like Paro and The Book of Shadows.
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