James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

READ MORE »

Graduate Psychology Professor, Eric Cowan, returns to India.

Details/Captions about each photo can be found by clicking on the thumbnail version.

Eric Cowan on the balcony is in Dharamsala, India

Continuing to pursue his interest in East/West models of psychology, psychotherapy and consciousness studies, Dr. Eric Cowan returned to India on two separate occasions in the spring and summer. The purpose of the two trips was to further the initiatives that came out of his month-long visit in December. “I wanted to continue to engage in dialogue with Indian scholars and colleagues. Most of all, I wanted to learn from people rich in culture and wisdom about other methods for exploring inner life.”

Eric Cowan at the orphanage in Chennai.

During his spring journey, Dr Cowan traveled to the southern cities of Chennai and Pondicherry. His trip to Chennai had not been planned, but instead an opportunity arose from meeting an Indian nurse who was going to visit an orphanage in Chennai where she had been raised. Many of the children currently at the orphanage lost their parents in the tsunami that struck India. Dr. Cowan was recruited and invited to stay at the orphanage and work with the staff, teaching them how to respond to the post-traumatic stress reactions in the children. “A little effort goes such a long way to improve lives there,” he observed. Two weeks later the children welcomed Dr. Cowan on his second visit by entertaining him with an evening of singing and dancing performances. “The children insisted that I sing to them too. I sang some Irish ballads, which they loved. But I also had to do Indian dances with them. The children all laughed and laughed - it was quite a sight.” These fun-filled festivities made Dr. Cowan’s departure a couple days later even harder. He says,“the children crowded around and all clamored, ‘Don’t leave, uncle!” Leaving was a sentimental move for Dr. Cowan as well. He says, “You go into a situation like that thinking you are going to give something, but you come away with much more than you could offer,” he observes.

In Pondicherry, Dr. Cowan met with psychologists and scholars associated with the Sri Aurobindo Society, its ashram and university. They explored themes and values that inform in East/West psychology along with the cultural disparities that arise between different approaches to psychotherapy and the understanding of dimensions of consciousness. From this meeting Dr. Cowan was asked by the society to act as a consultant on an initiative involving the construction of a holistic health institute, which would include mental health services.

Eric Cowan in IndiaIn Auroville, a nearby international community that strives to be a model of unity in diversity, Dr. Cowan learned of another tsunami initiative. “In the U.S. I had heard on NPR [National Public Radio] of Uma’s and Manoj’s innovative efforts to respond to the crisis. They brought together fisher-women living along the devastated coast to fashion ‘tsunamika’ dolls out of scrap fabric as a way of bringing the women of the community.” Dr. Cowan says that these women then created a narrative to go along with the dolls to “story” the crisis and their response of coming together. From these efforts has come an internationally known Children’s book. “Uma had no idea she had been on NPR, but she and Manoj have since completed a European tour by invitation to promote the project,” says Dr. Cowan.

After completing his trip in the spring, Dr. Cowan returned to India in May for five weeks. In Delhi he again gave seminars to graduate psychology interns at Vimhan’s, a neurosurgery and mental health clinic. He also gave a talk on “Eastern and Western approaches to developing client’s self reflective awareness,” at Delhi university to the psychology faculty and students. Dr. Suneet Varma, a professor at Delhi University, returned the favor and later visited JMU to address Dr. Cowan’s newly created class in transpersonal psychology.

Eric Cowan standing with the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile. Fleeing the heat of the plains, Dr. Cowan journeyed, by train, to the Himalayas carrying only his backpack and tent. “I had planned to have no plan - to just wander, camp and maybe bang on the doors of a few Buddhist monasteries and cry ‘refuge.’ But in India,” he notes, “things never happen the way you don’t plan.” Upon arrival in Dharamsala, Dr. Cowan found himself swept up in a series of introductions arranged by a friend in Delhi, who was a member of the Tibetan Parliament of the government in exile. Among the many distinguished people he met include the Prime Minister,and the sister of the Dalai Lama, who runs the children’s refugee initiative. “In India if you have one friend you have many…the hospitality is so amazing and warm.” Dr. Cowan was also the only western observer of the debates between the current prime minister and his challenger. “The Dalai Lama has turned all power over to this Tibetan government in exile, so it was very exciting to see the democratic process working there.”

“Dharamsala,” Dr. Cowan notes, “is a special place. Each morning I would wake to the ‘gong’ of a temple bell being rung, a wonderful sound. My friends had gotten me a room with a little balcony overlooking the valley. The Dalai Lama’s house was just above and he was in residence. It was very cool.” Mornings were spent attending “Dharma” classes with the Buddhist monks. “The senior Lama speaks in Tibetan, of course, but there was a wonderful translator from Oxford for the few westerners in attendance. We talked about the possibility of me bringing my students back for a semester abroad, and they all said, ‘Yes, come stay as long as you like.’” For the time being, Dr. Cowan has instead brought India to his students.

Upon his return, Dr. Cowan translated his experiences into a class called “Transpersonal Explorations in East/West Psychology.” One student, Shannon Murphy, observed that “Our Transpersonal class was an opening into conversational freedom, connection making, and soul searching. It was a time to explore together the larger context of which psychology is a part, and to appreciate its place in a pattern of techniques for human transformation.”

Asked where his next adventure might lead him, Dr. Cowan says, “Who knows? In India things just seem to unfold in the right way, so the take home lesson for me is that I’m learning how to get out my own way. I’m open to whatever is next.”