connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
These are my suggestions for a spiritual inner work practice.
First, set apart a space, a room or at least a part of a room for your inner work. As you enter it, you should feel that this is the place where you engage with yourself deeply. Do not do anything else here: no other activities at all and in time it will become a sacred area that reflects honor and a sense of belonging into your inner world.
Second, in this sacred work space you have created gather the materials you need for inner work. Paper, notebooks, a drawing pad, pencils and pens, wax coloring crayons, musical instruments, sacred objects and meditation aids such as a cushion, bell, incense, an altar, a sound system if you like to listen to inspirational music, meditation audio or inspired talks. The space should be furnished comfortably, free from interruptions and roomy enough to allow sitting, standing, moving and dancing.
Third, you need a variety of different methods. Among them, active imagination (dialoging between different inner parts of you), drawing, writing, keeping a notebook for recording insights, making associations, noting dreams and synchronous events, and as an aid to memory, jotting down life statements (unconscious life guidance derived from early life experience) and awareness of your emotional-behavioral patterns through body work and breathing. Some formal meditation practice is desirable, as is a sense of discipline. Notebook keeping is particularly good for those times of dejection and despair when faith in ourselves wanes and we begin to discredit inner work which is often unquantifiable. Taking a look at your notebook at this time will reinforce your will and, by reminding you of all the work you have done, assuage the doubter in you.
Fourth, fix a daily time for your inner exploration. This is important because it gives your ego something to kick against, which in turn gives you material to work on, plus it ensures that you are consistent and taking your inner work seriously. There is no substitute for a dedicated daily practice, the rewards of inner work are so precious and the transformation they augur for your life so wonderful that a few minutes to an hour a day is time well spent.
Fifth, at times working with others is crucial. You may choose to work with a friend or a group. We all have blind spots that are easily brought to light through interaction with others. A group of like-minded souls challenges, supports and strengthens you in your practice. Be sure that this is what your friend or group provides; it should not primarily be a forum for intellectual discussion, for “acting out” emotions (as distinct from releasing and integrating emotions) and it is not a negative environment for argument or reinforcing ego positions. You may choose a leaderless group or take turns in taking the leader position. You can ask outside facilitators to visit your group as guest leaders. There are many books of exercises, games and group processes. In my book, The Flight of Consciousness, there is an extensive exercise section which would keep you going by yourself, with a friend or in a group for several months.
Sixth, at some point you will need help and direction from a competent, skilled and experienced guide, therapist or spiritual teacher (the title is less important than the healing quality of the relationship). Often such a person simply appears when you’re least expecting it and, if you can, accept it and remember that life really is helping you to grow psychologically and spiritually. The spiritual guide helps you to cross thresholds you cannot possibly cross on your own and provides a transforming relationship which bridges your inner and outer realities.
Finally, no precedent has been set for how your inner work will unfold and therefore you are your own best teacher and expert on yourself. By all means look to wise elders and gifted teachers for encouragement, guidance and advice, but remember that ultimately you are your own guide, you know yourself better than anybody else and your inner journey is your own. So…do it your way!
Bring to your inner work practice an attitude of respect, honor and reverence. You are a sacred life form, a shard of the divine. No one like you has ever been or ever will be again; you are both appearance and profound depth. Your inner work practice is devoted to eroding the ego until all that is left is the divine radiating, shining and splendid, through all arising forms. Your life journey is a sacred task, a unique opportunity and a blessing. So, when you begin a period of inner spiritual work, start with a ritual which reflects the sanctity of this. Chanting, ritualized movement, conscious breathing, lighting a candle or incense, bowing are all appropriate ritualistic activities through which you can express your recognition and gratitude at having the sacred opportunity of a human life in which to grow and awaken. Let your heart lead your soul, let your soul lead your spirit and trust that all will be revealed to you.
This article was published in Spiritual Guidance, March 2012, on servingyourjourney.com.