What awareness and liberation are we talking about? Zen, community psychology, and psychedelics

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This presentation is designed to share a point of view and curiosity, see if it resonates with anyone in the audience. Rather than starting from the assumption that it is sound and relevant we will see if the topic “makes itself” as such. The presentation is experimental in that it does not require to teach a content to be learnt, or present empirical data, rather the audience is both the content and the container, the data and the observer. Given the relevance of awareness and liberation for community psychology theory, research, and practice, in this presentation I offer a scenic tour of such concepts from (apparently) very different angles, in a transdisciplinary way. I will use (my understanding and experience of) Zen approach to shake the ground of such terms in an anecdotal way, and see where community psychology stands, to end by considering how new developments in the psychedelics research could expand on our understanding of awareness and liberation.
Zen is a way to experience being self-centred and grounded. Far from the selfish individualistic turn, which is rather the product of an egoic mind, connection to the Self is the only condition for truly connecting to others and “seeing” the reality for what it is. Such wisdom does not require “knowledge”, as it (ontologically) lies on the deep awareness that there is not really anything to know or nowhere to go (Watts, 1957).
So, what awareness and liberation are we talking about? According to Alan Watts (1957), Eugen Herrigel (1948), and Jon Kabat-Zinn (2013), the problem is exactly the increasing hiatus between the authentic experience of awareness and liberation, and the consolidated habit of talking about it. Notably, community psychology works for transformative social change towards liberation from oppression of the marginalised. This is usually done through awareness raising or conscientisation, which ultimately enable the oppressed to liberate themselves. However, how can we authentically do it, if we do not suspect we are the ones who are not liberated and aware in the first place? How can we serve the communities we claim to empower? This concern is not new, since Martin-Baro’ (1984) already raised the red flag saying that psychology needs to liberate itself to start with. Meaning that psychologists have a role to play in their own liberation first. Is this done at all? How? This presentation shares how a Zen perspective can support community psychology with sticking to its own values, and what is the potential of the new wave of the psychedelics movement in facilitating this.
Psychedelics are reacquiring fame as the ‘new’ sensation on the scene of living a good life, however – like all tools- they can be used in many ways. This presentation will encompass how certain in-depth exploration experiences enabled by psychedelics hold a strong potential to open up perception, and see awareness and liberation from a different perspective. This should be of interest for community psychologists, given that such experiences are likely to become available and more easily accessible in the USA in the next couple of years, and in Europe in the next decade.

Alan Watts – The Way of Zen (La via dello zen); Psychotherapy East and West (Psicoterapie orientali e occidentali), Il tao. La via dell’acqua che scorre; la gaia cosmologia.
Erich Fromm - Zen Buddhism & Psychoanalysis (Psicanalisi e buddismo zen)
Eugen Herrigel - Zen in the Art of Archery (Lo zen e il tiro con l’arco)
Ignacio Martin-Baro’ - Writings for a Liberation Psychology
Jon Kabat-Zinn – Full catastrophe living (Vivere momento per momento)
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sept 2022
Event9th International Conference of Community Psychology - Naples, Italy
Duration: 21 Sept 202224 Sept 2022


Conference9th International Conference of Community Psychology
Abbreviated titleICCP
Internet address


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