Therapy Meets Spirituality: A Psycho-Spiritual Discussion – Part 3: Seeing The World As It Is

Q: How does one begin to practice psycho-spiritually?

R: In the same way as one begins on any spiritual path, in the dual states of doubt and faith from where you question everything, and adopt the assumption that the world you see is not the world as it is, but merely the objective world of one’s inner life projected outwards as one’s own interpretation of the world. When you give up description, opinion and understanding, and realize that you don’t have to assume a position relative to other the insight dawns within you that you are not separate from anything else.

Q: But if you are not separate to anything else, how would you live?

R: In congruence and truth, out of the central heart of compassion for all living forms that arise in consciousness. You see the world is not as we see it; it really is quite different from our relative, materialistic, phenomenal way of seeing it.

Q: So when we see it like this are we happy?

R: Yes, but not in the way that you think of happiness from the relative standpoint, which is happiness balanced, or contrasted, with unhappiness, misery, depression and so on. This is a happiness which is not dependent on outward circumstances.

Q: So it’s not associated with satisfaction or fulfilment of desires?

R: Happiness is an attitude, a way of approaching the world and meeting events knowing that everything fundamentally is as it should be. Suffering is essentially of two varieties — conscious and unconscious. In unconscious suffering we don’t realize that our attachment to circumstances, positive or negative, is the fundamental cause of suffering. We perpetuate suffering by remaining attached to conditions, and these conditions will change — must change inevitably — because that is the nature of life; change is intrinsic to life and we are powerless to change that. But if we can embrace suffering and see that it is the means to our personal liberation, we take the ‘sting’ out of it and meet it happily. Whatever happens, we are fundamentally in touch with our true self and that true self exists within a fundamentally happy condition.

Q: Might this happiness be thought of as the goal of psycho-spiritual psychotherapy?

R: Maybe, but ultimately there should be no goal aside from to be as you are…

Q:…and then you’ll see the world as it is.

R: Yes, exactly! You will see the world as it is.

Spirituality and Personality: The Psycho-Spiritual Controversy

If you have been involved in either therapy or counselling, or spirituality and meditation, in recent years you have probably encountered two basic, polarized viewpoints concerning personality. Essentially it amounts to this: therapists are pro-personality (and its improvement through healing neurosis etc.) while spiritual teachers proclaim personality a big waste of time, since neurotic or not, you are more than your personality.

This is not particularly surprising, since therapy and counseling tend to be concerned with the individual, while spiritual practices are concerned with higher matters. But it does lead the novices and beginners into a quandary where they are faced with the decision of what to do about personality. On the one hand, therapy could be an expensive, futile effort to better the personality, whereas, on the other hand, spiritual practice may offer an excuse to leave personal problems behind, with the justification that you are moving on to more lofty concerns.

In the extensive time I have been engaged in therapy and spirituality I can say that I have discovered the answer to this controversy! And I don’t say it without reluctance and a certain caution, since my answer is liable to offend both camps — therapists and spiritual teachers. Perhaps my answer is less a rejection or abandonment of one viewpoint for another and more of a synthesis. This may be an answer of the best kind – the kind that doesn’t marginalize or dismiss anyone’s experience or viewpoint. For my answer, while radically new and innovative, does not fundamentally disagree with either point of view, but considers each appropriate to the complex, total unfolding process of our human nature and potential.

My answer to the dilemma is to propose a third band of human experience. I call this “the authentic self” and since I am not using any unusual words I need to define this term, because I do mean something specific. The authentic self, in the way I use the term, is the bridge between the personality and the spiritual self. It is arrived at usually, but not always, after a lengthy period of intensive, deep, applied and consistent inner work. This inner work consists of a journey of self-discovery in which one circumvents the self, becoming increasingly aware of the conscious and unconscious material that comprises one’s sense of self, or ego. This involves character, which is essentially defensive strategy or an intelligent, protective reaction to early conditioning, which becomes increasingly calcified and adapted throughout adolescence and adult life. Character is composed of the way in which we survive and protect ourselves from inner and outer stimuli and ultimately avoid really meeting life. It creates a self-imposed prison — limitations in which we feel falsely safe.

Self-discovery also involves cultivating our awareness of personality, or the way in which character (defenses and strategies) is experienced. Both inwardly and outwardly we erect a barrier to experience — life events and other people — which is a mask, fa├žade or persona which eclipses the real person, or our true nature.

We also raise emotional and behavioural patterns out of the murky stratum of the unconscious, out of unawareness, and see just how much our life is lived automatically, as an automaton without real human response, emotional feeling, resonance, empathy or even awareness.

The process of self-discovery involves witnessing, reliving and remembering, practicing awareness and releasing pent-up emotions, returning the bodymind, through self-regulating, self-healing and self-referral, to a natural state of balance, ease and relaxation, and opening to insight and experience. In the short-term the experience is enriching, enlivening and full of dramatic changes. In the long-term through achieving personal wholeness, soul nourishment and insights we reach a threshold, a bridge, a chasm – all variously transitional metaphors that signify a quantum leap, a fourth dimensional change that I have termed “the threshold of transformation”.

The significance of this threshold, and what distinguishes it from all the changes that have gone before, is that is effects are irreversible — it is a step from which there is no going back. Once taken, this step across the threshold will lead you to the condition of authenticity and intimacy with your own true nature.

This insight renders the controversy about personality redundant. But it does depend on our ability to clearly distinguish the psychological from the spiritual.

Therapy Meets Spirituality: A Psycho-Spiritual Discussion – Part 1: The Inner Journey

Recently I (R) met a clinical psychologist (Q) from England and the discussion we had was so stimulating I thought I would record it. Here it is in verbatim form.

Q: What are the outward signs of inner development, of spiritual development?

R: You will appear more as yourself, not in a flimsy, superficial sense, but more like you are in the truth of your inner nature. You will manifest your true character with less compromise, less need for personal attention and probably less self-importance.

Q: Why probably?

R: The outward signs of inner change don’t necessarily conform to our idea of what a spiritual or an inner-orientated person should look like. The inner path, or the spiritual path, is fundamentally the way of paradox, which in itself is a controversial statement. And also a statement that demands an explanation.

Q: And the explanation is?

R: That human awakening takes place through a process of contrary challenge; whatever you are comfortable with must be radically countered until the opposites of attachment and unattachment — to character, behavior, habits, familiarity, really anything you identify with as the separative I-Me-Mine — are shed, enabling you to reach the state of non-attachment. Everything will appear in relation to its opposite, to its counterpart. As you persist in the inner journey your world is seen as a mass of conflicting, contradictory urges and impulses for some time.

Q: Can you bring that down to earth for me, or express it in plain language?

R: You have to face everything which you have denied or repressed in yourself in both the inner and the outer worlds.

Q: But why would you even want to do that?

R: First, whether we know it or not, we all have a deep desire to realize our potential. That potential is real and to realize it we must become whole, which entails owning our repressed selves. Second, because reality is really rounded, rather than flat! Reality is rather like a sphere, so to be in it, you yourself must be rounded. The way most of us live is as partial human beings, by presenting and believing in ourselves as a certain identity we define ourselves through limitation and since everyone’s doing it, it doesn’t seem odd, until you wake up to the fact that your potential is way, way more than that.

Q: What is the relationship between human failings, imperfections and limitations and the divine, which by definition must be absolute, perfect and pure?

R: Your imperfect human condition is the vehicle, or the means, to your realization of your true self. Only by means of the unique faculty of self-reflection may a human being experience him- or herself as absolute and in their true nature. That’s the inner journey.