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On the patriarchal family

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We in the west (myself included) tend to think of the patriarchal family structure of the east as restrictive and confining, so it was interesting for me to come across a passage in a book I’m currently reading that sheds a new light on that structure.  (The book is not new but I consider it still relevant.  It was one of my many garage sale finds.)

It has been observed that modern psychiatry could have assumed its current place only after the breakdown of the patriarchal family structure that dates back to the beginnings of recorded history.  But the modern psychiatrist faces a tremendously difficult task as a surrogate parent even beyond the problems that have been so thoroughly described under the psychoanalytic concept of transference.  For there may be something that echoes of a "cosmic dimension," hidden behind the difficulties and therapeutic opportunities of the classical psychoanalytical transference situation.  We have already given this hidden "something" a name: the desire for self-transformation.  In the ancient patriarchal family structure (as I am told it still exists, for example, among the Brahmin families of India) the problems of living a normal, fulfilled life are never separated from the sense of a higher dimension of human existence.  What we might recognize as therapeutic counseling is given by family members or friends, but in such a way that a troubled individual will never confuse the two possible directions that his life can take.  He is helped to see that the obstacles to happiness are not necessarily the obstacles to "spiritual realization," as it is called in such traditions.  A great many of what we take to be intolerable restrictions – such as predetermined marriage partners or vocations – are connected to this spiritual factor in the make-up of the traditional patterns of family life.

-Jacob Needleman, from Awakening the Heart, edited by John Welwood

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