By Vincent McNamara
Miceal O Regan was born in Cork on November 1938. He attended Christian College and joined the Dominican Order from school. After Ordination he studied at UCC – English and Psychology – and was assigned to Trinidad. In 1975 he came to London where he studied psychology at London University and did clin ical work at London hospitals. At this time he came in contact with Psychosynthesis. It was a movement founded by Roberto Assagioli, an Italian Jew and psychiatrist, who was a friend of Freud and Jung.
Miceal was taken, I suspect, by the fact that Assagioli, while not jettisoning his sci entific background in medicine or his Freudian studies had pioneered a way of con struing the person from the perspective of well-being and spiritual potential, rather than from the perspective of pathology alone. Assagioli’s influences had been as much religious, philosophical and cultural as they had been psychoanalytic. He was pointing to a deeper unifying dynamic within the person; what he called ‘spiritual synthesis’. It appealed to Miceals spirit.
Because Miceal understood Psychosynthesis to be a way, a meditative practice for developing a feeling awareness for the complexity of who we are in relation to self and others – not a technique – as he would insist – he had a vision of a centre that would facilitate such practice. And so, Eckhart House was born – as he saw it – a sacred and healing place. He hoped that it would, in its way, be an agent for change in our confused and fragmented society.
He called Eckhart House an Institute of Psychosynthesis and Transpersonal Theory. When asked to delineate its vision he would refer to it as a place to explore the mid dle ground between the insights of modern psychology and the insights of the great spiritual traditions. These traditions occupied him ever more in recent years. He had talked about a new course in Transpersonal Theory that might be attractive to ther apists from different schools.
The Psychosynthesis movement is not uniform: different institutes have their partic ular note. A number of things strike one about the courses, the therapy and the group work that emerged in Eckhart House. There was no escape into higher flights of fancy from the patient and painful struggle with the psychodynamic base of the person. On the other hand there could be no repression of the sublime, no denial of the spiritual dimension. There was the explicit acknowledgement of the context of faith, which Miceal understood as the capacity of the human spirit to recognise and respond positively to the Graciousness of the Divine within ourselves, in the people we meet and in our environment. That, for him, was no ideology it was sim ply seeing humankind and seeing it whole.
He knew the psychoanalytic canon thoroughly. His reading in the great traditions and in the perennial philosophy was legendary. He had vast knowledge of and respect for the spiritual riches of the East. He explored ever more assiduously the upper reaches of his own religious tradition – one of the books he was last seen with was on early Egyptian spirituality. That was assimilated and rinsed through (to use a favourite metaphor of his) with his own personal reflection and process. It produced a rare blend of wisdom which made him, albeit somewhat unwillingly a unique guide.
You could trust his wide and benign wisdom. You could trust his strength and free dom to tell you the truth. You could trust that the truth would be clothed in com passion. He had an unmissable sympathy for the confusion to which humankind is heir. And, if you were lucky enough to be around him a bit, you knew something of his disarming candour about himself and his own odyssey. That was an encouragement. You felt he had been there: ‘Homo sum and ‘nihil humanum alienum puto ’. In hospital a few years ago, his consultant asked him – what kind of people come to Eckhart House for therapy? – ‘People like myself who are frightened of hospitals’ – he replied mischievously – but honestly .
Presence to self, a meditative life, ran through everything like a silver thread. But again, meditation was a broad constituency and he was not the one to impose rigidity. He was as likely to tell you were already meditating as to tell you to adopt some programme. Narrowness of any kind was not in his nature.
You could sense in him always as teacher and guide a fear of quick fixes, simplistic solutions, techniques, mere strategies. He knew that Assagioli had said that the great est danger of Psychosynthesis was that it might promise too much, and that Durkheim had said that it wasn’t just the tension in your shoulders that you needed to let go. There had to be slow graft of engagement with oneself, with disidentifica tion, acceptance, suffering. You could not grab spiritual growth. The best you could hope for was to create some kind of condition of possibility for the gentle rain that falls from Heaven’. At the end of that – he would say – ‘little is much’.
One of his fears for his course participants was attachment – even to meditation, and above all, to perfection. He knew, better than most, about the deviousness of the Ego. He had his own little store of koans that were as enlightening as any seminar. You had to ponder the wisdom of the paradoxes. Many will remember them when they have forgotten much else. He might tell you, at times, that the whole thing was a cod or to go away and forget all about it, you would be foolish to think he wasn’t giving you something to ponder.
He could be frustrating when you were – wrongly and prematurely – looking for answers. But he knew about teaching. About how useless much of it is. About the difference between information and transformative knowledge. About the difference between facts and story. About soul-knowing. About the necessity of telling the story over and over again. About waiting and allowing. ‘Keep peace, and you will be safe; in stillness and in staying quiet, there lies your strength’. (Is. 30:15)
He carried burdens for many people – from all sorts of places. Many in other insti tutes and institutions found in him genuine interest and generous support. He was like that… It didn’t matter who was doing good – who was loosening the bonds, who was pouring in the oil and wine – provided it was being done. He had that kind of nobility of spirit. While he carried many burdens he had a lightness of touch: Eckhart House was not inevitable and eternal; psychotherapy was not the whole of life. He loved company, he loved parties, loved to give and receive gifts. Just now it is bittersweet to recall that, when all around him were decrying the hassle of Christmas, he ever looked forward to the colour and excitement of it.
He had a dream. Eckhart House for him was not merely an institute of study or of psychotherapy. He envisaged it as a community that had a life and spirit of its own and that would be an influence for change in society. The spirit derived uniquely from him, though that is the last thing he would want to claim. He worried about dependency. He refused to be the Guru. When he was obliged, through pressure of work, to withdraw from many of his courses, he did it with ease – something that charismatic founders do not always manage. He trusted those he had gathered around him. He had, prophetically, prepared them.
He often talked about the importance, for one’s health and wholeness, of remem bering. It is impossible now not to remember. In that there is sorrow. But in the curious paradox of life, which he often mused on, that too is the source of life and strength.