Part 2 – Sidra’s Earliest Influences and Experiences

Issue 27 August 2007



My earliest psychological influences date back to the early 1950’s at Barnard College. At that time I was a committed behaviorist and basically a “Skinner groupie.” My friends and I were fascinated by the early operant conditioning work as an explanation of human behavior and we would go to hear Skinner whenever he came to New York to speak. I was intrigued by the idea that a psychologist could break down behavior into its component parts and see how everything worked in a very sensible and predictable fashion. This was only one area of fascination with how things worked. Along these same lines, I had seriously considered becoming a physicist.

I still see this early Skinnerian influence in the way I look at the development of primary selves – at how they emerged, at least in part, as a result of operant conditioning. I was always looking for ways in which they were adaptive and how, as selves, they did their best to protect us and to earn us love. So, as an old-time Skinnerian, I deeply honor a primary self.

The other major influences that I brought with me from earlier times were the writers Hermann Hesse and Nikos Kazantzakis. As a woman of the 1950’s, I was uncomfortable with the psychological and psychiatric establishments as they related to women. At the time, I didn’t know what it was that didn’t feel right, but I felt it was important – and somehow safer – to keep my teachers more impersonal and at a distance.

Hesse and Kazantzakis were men whose lives were deeply committed to the evolution of consciousness and whose writings contained – for me – a glimpse of universal truths. All of their books explored the struggle between opposing forces within each one of us, what Hal and I now call “the tension of opposites”. Each had his own passionate polarities. Hesse worked primarily between the mind (the intellectual) and the feelings (the romantic) while Kazantzakis’ interest was the tension between the earthy and the spiritual.

Both men were influenced by Henri Bergson and based their world views on the existence of an “élan vital”, a creative or evolutionary impulse within each of us, a powerful force that moves us towards continual evolution and greater consciousness. For me, I recognize echoes of this in what we now call “the inner intelligence” or “the intelligence of the universe”.

Hesse’s Steppenwolf was the most impactful book I ever read. It was my introduction to the many selves and to the “Magic Theater” in which I began to view my own tumultuous inner cast of characters. Once I peeked into my own Magic Theater through the doors opened by this book, my view of life and of people was unalterably changed. I could no longer look at any of us as single entities. From that moment on, I was fascinated by the many selves that I could see in myself and in those around me. This following quote sums it all up:

“Harry consists of a hundred or a thousand selves, not of two. His life oscillates, as everyone’s does, not merely between two poles, such as the body and the spirit, the saint and the sinner, but between thousands and thousands. Every ego, so far from being a unity is in the highest degree a manifold world, a constellated heaven, a chaos of forms, of states and stages, of inheritances and potentialities.   As a body everyone is single, as a soul, never.”

From Steppenwolf   by Hermann Hesse

Interestingly, Hesse was deeply influenced by Jung and this, I feel, provided much of the crossover between Hal’s Jungian background and my own thinking. Kazantzakis, on the other hand, was a Cretan by birth and Greek to the core. His thoughts, much like those of the Jungians, were never far from the ancient gods and goddesses. He knew the importance of honoring all the gods and goddesses – and I always felt that as an underpinning in his writings. His greatest book, The Odyssey, A Modern Sequel, was like a Bible to me in my own intellectual and spiritual wanderings.

My own journey was an outer journey in these early years. I traveled extensively and was particularly interested in ancient cultures. I visited the sacred sites in Greece and honored the gods and goddesses by visiting their shrines. Hal visited Jung, I paid my respects at the grave of my teacher, Nikos Kazantzakis, in Crete.

And so it was that from these disparate backgrounds – these opposites as carried by each of us – that something new came to be born. Now let us look at the basic elements of our work and see how each evolved.

In the next Voice Dialogue Tips, Hal and Sidra explain the first element of their work: Voice Dialogue as a Methodology – The beginning of their joint adventure.