Feeling Good: The Science of Well-Being: A Review by UPR Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Richard Geldard
Some time ago now I was presented with a copy of this book , written by C. Robert Cloninger, M.D. I put it aside because I was both writing and teaching and had little time for reading. Also, I had to admit, the title “Feeling Good” was initially off-putting, even when followed by its much sturdier subtitle. And I suppose, also, I was feeling pretty good at the time. Then, as the sacred texts have it, it came to pass that I met the author, who was without question a person deeply endowed with wisdom and the kind of knowledge that was and is important to me. Our interaction over time as he visited family in our area took me back to the book, and I began reading in earnest.
Dr. Cloninger is a psychiatrist and geneticist noted for his research on the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual foundation of both mental health and illness. He holds the Wallace Renard Professorship of Psychiatry, is professor of psychology and genetics, and serves as director of the Sansone Family Center for Well-Being at Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to these impressive responsibilities, he is a student of self-aware consciousness, a field of study close to many at UPR and related institutions.
The book is a revealing account of Dr. Cloninger’s research into the treatment of mental disorders and his discovery that the traditional world of medical and psychological knowledge and research was inadequate to his desire to help both disturbed individuals but also to inform those regarded as well adjusted. As a result, his studies and readings in philosophy and consciousness research revealed a clear sense that there existed three distinct stages of self-aware consciousness which are key to true and lasting well-being.
For example, as the author tells us in philosophy these three stages can be described by Hegel:
The first stage is “immediate sensuous consciousness,” which is the determination of the physical and intuitive senses in the here-and-now, as is typical of ordinary states of self-centered thinking in people after the age of 4 years. The second stage is “consciousness of the reflected object,” which is an abstraction from time and place, as is typical of meditation and some mature idealistic states of dualistic thinking. The third stage is “consciousness of the object as that which is within itself, as living being or spiritual essence,” which is characteristic of contemplation and non-dualistic thinking. Such spiritual consciousness includes time and place without being limited to what is immediately present.
For most adults who have explored questions of being and existence, stage two is a recognizable state, whereas stage three is normally achieved only through grace, disciplined spiritual work or initiatory experience. In this stage, insight into questions of who we are, what is the truth of being and how we achieve a genuine experience of wellbeing brings with it what Cloninger describes as illumination:
In illumination, the subconscious [psyche or soul] is seen to be the presence (i.e., living being) of the individual, which exists inseparably within the universal unity of being. Therefore, only those who have experienced illumination would describe the gate to the subconscious as the Gate of God. The gate of the subconscious is recognized as the gate of the presence of living being in the third stage of self-aware consciousness.
From this point in this remarkable text, Cloninger fills out the experience described above by using as a reference the American Transcendentalists, or the Emerson Circle in the 1830s through the 1850s in Massachusetts and especially Concord. He goes there in order to learn and then teach us how to measure the extent and quality of their personal experience and how that translates to an elevated well-being among a group, a few of whom had reached the third stage of self-aware consciousness.
The form of his investigation is unique in that he chooses what he calls a matrix of Conflicts in Human Thought (or Dualistic Consciousness). These planes, as he calls them, are as follows: Sexuality, Intention, Emotion, Intellect, and Spirit. What then takes place is an examination of these aspects or planes as a way to find clarity and to make advances in well-being.
In addition to form, the method of investigation is measurement, a numbering system from one through seven found within mind and body through meditation and sensory impression. One has to read the book in order to apply this method to the planes of consciousness experience.
This a book is for the serious student and seeker. It is encyclopedic in scope and yet also thoughtful and caring in expression and content. Personally, I will be keeping it close at hand as a reference as well as an encouragement.
Professor Richard G. Geldard
UPR Dean of Undergraduate Studies
Dramatic Literature and Classics, Stanford University. Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Yeshiva University, Doctoral Faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and Author of ten books on Early Greek philosophy and the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson (see www.rgbooks.com)