connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
Below are transcripts of all the video talks on therapy and spirituality available on this site.
Therapy and spirituality combine in my work in a psycho-spiritual approach. Fundamentally people's problems or issues with life are spiritual. I wouldn't want to force-feed that idea to anybody, but fundamentally I think we know that we appear out of a spiritual background, or you could say there's something deeper than the world of appearances.
So therefore if you are seeking a deep solution or resolution to your problems, spirituality, by whatever name, is the kind of depth that you need to go to. So in psycho-spiritual psychotherapy, this is what we address—the deep mystery of being human.
We have psychoanalysis and the analytic psychologies. We have cognitive-behavioral therapy, Skinner and these sorts of people who worked with conditioned reflexes. These approaches are still practiced, still prevalent. But they are not the only ones.
Around the sixties and seventies, we have the advent of humanistic psychology, which was a revolution in psychotherapy and psychology, because it said that, rather than adopt the ‘expert approach' whereby you go to see the therapist who tells you what's wrong with you, or the psychiatrist who says you have this problem, so take that, you yourself have responsibility for well-being in your life—and not only for well-being, but for expanding and fulfilling the potential of being a human being.
This idea started in the sixties, after decades of philosophical background of course, and came to light in what was called the Human Potential Movement in America, in England and Europe in the seventies. The transpersonal aspect of psychotherapy, in other words saying not only does your fulfilment lie in the fulfilment of your personality as a human being, but to fulfil your potential all the way, you must go even further.
The key thought about this is in the work of Abraham Maslow, who was writing in the thirties and forties. He talked of “peak experiences” What he was saying was that once you have food, shelter, someone to love, self-regard, all these basic things and you feel you are part of some culture, some tribe that you belong to, and the animalistic tendencies are fulfilled, there are more expansive potentials for the human being—and don't stop because, right at the top of what he called “the hierarchy of needs”, was the need to have a transcendent experience of life.
In effect if you think about it, if you reject that you reject an enormous amount of art; you reject all of the religious, spiritual impulses of thousands of years. So he was simply putting into words something which had been…it's both in your grandmother going to the church on Sunday and singing hymns, as it is in the yogi of three thousand years ago wearing a loin-cloth—these things just bind humanity together in some way. And he spoke of it for the West.
Psycho-spiritual psychotherapy developed out of this kind of thinking. Therefore, when I encounter someone who comes to see me for therapy, I will always have in mind that this is an opportunity for their spiritual fulfillment, because as a human being one is naturally inclined towards this, whether it is conscious or not.
I think there are many reasons why people come to therapy. For example, relationship difficulties or emotional difficulties. Relationships are a catalyst for people's inner life coming to the fore and being stimulated. I think anger, pain, sadness, fear in whatever form are also powerful catalysts that turn people to look inside. And of course, spiritual longing, that is to say a yearning, a desire for something deeper than merely the world of appearances.
In days gone by people turned to priests for guidance. Today, therapists have become the new—not priests exactly—but people who you turn to when you seek guidance for the inner journey. And the inner journey will lead you to your spiritual nature, your true nature.
Therapy isn't appropriate for everybody—there's no question about that—and it may be appropriate for somebody at a certain stage of life and not later. In other words it's a matter of personality: it's something you want to do and perhaps it's a matter of the unconscious, which is to say it may be the most unlikely people who sometimes turn up in therapy and wonder what on earth they are doing there. But some change is going to happen in their life as a result of looking into unconscious material.
In a way what you are asking me is what brings people to therapy and there are two broad possibilities. One I call crisis; the other I call disappointment. Disappointment is, shall we say, mild—some displeasure, some discomfort, something going wrong with life, but nothing too drastic. But enough that you would want to go and speak about your problems to somebody. In crisis however you have no choice. You have to talk to someone about it; you are going to have to take medication, or you are going to have to see it through in some way with a guide you can trust who represents hope without drugs. And I am of the firm conviction that that is possible, it does happen, it can happen for you, again it is not appropriate for everybody.
If you choose medication, facing something as devastating as mental breakdown, how can anyone judge? They work well, these drugs work well. But if you are prepared to face the damage—face the origins of the damage—with persistence you come through.
We are speaking about how the therapy relationship works in regard to healing and it's mysterious, it's invisible, but it is very clear to me how it happens. Mostly we have a baggage of emotions, experiences, thoughts and feelings, which we carry around with us, which inhabits our unconscious world, our dream world and motivates us unknowingly and gives us a heaviness and an expression of certain feelings which we may not understand.
When someone comes to therapy to share these private thoughts and emotions from their inner world, I think what essentially happens is that in the sharing we are listened to by the therapist and the therapist must be empty enough to receive. In a way you could call it listening, but really it's something deeper than that, because you can only be receptive if there is an a certain emptiness or space inside you that is able to receive the thoughts and feelings of another.
This is how the therapeutic relationship works effectively. One brings one's private thoughts and feelings to share with another. Those thought and feelings are received in emptiness and receptivity and listening. Also uncritically with non-judgment and the result of this is that healing takes place, when the thoughts, the feelings and the experiences that have been held blocked, denied or frozen are lifted up so to speak, offered up and let go of.
This is the healing. It is the reducing of the heaviness or the baggage for the person who has come to therapy. It is experienced as new life, as more space, more availability for experience in the client's inner world. You feel freer, liberated over time and there is more of a capacity for positive feelings, enjoyment, satisfaction and a real relationship to life in the present moment.
Several influences have to be in place for inner work to come to fruition in the outside world. They are, first, that one needs people who are supportive, who are engaged in their own inner journey in one form or another; second, a guide is necessary, somebody to work with, a therapist, a counselor, a spiritual mentor.
You break certain habits—emotional-behavioral habits—through the process of personal therapy which leads you, in my terminology, to a state of authenticity which means that at last you are able to relate effectively and genuinely to the outside world, whereas before you were rather confused between inner and outer, personal and relational and these kinds of dichotomies.
The state of authenticity, what I call the authentic self, is what you reach when you shed the limitations and confines of personality. That is when the work flowers into the outside world and there is no mistaking the difference. The last people to notice this difference are undoubtedly the ones who are closest to us, unless we are fortunate enough to be amongst people who are also growing, also doing inner work—meditation, therapy, mindful inner practices of some kind.
I don't think that therapy is so much about bringing people out of their loneliness, as helping them to be easy with being alone. Because loneliness is a certain experience of something that's happened. You can feel lonely in a crowd; you can feel lonely on your own or with one other person who you feel close to.
But alone, that is a condition that we will accept or reject for our whole life, because it is inherent in being a human being. You are alone with your thoughts, however close you are to somebody. Your feelings, your thoughts, your experience of life is never ultimately expressible and can never actually be received by somebody else totally, not as you experience it.
So I would say that you are ultimately alone. Therapy may well address issues of loneliness, but you cannot take away aloneness.
If you look carefully at even this unenlightened culture—this almost totally unenlightened culture—there is an intuition and an instinct for the rites of passage, for the periods of development, for what's required in a life of initiation, because that's what's happening.
You are not just born and then you die and in between you may get married and you may get fat, you may get old, you may get ill and so forth. What's actually happening is that you are moving through periods of illumination and periods of maturation.
Each of those periods of time require something of you psychologically and biologically and if we don't talk about these matters, we have nowhere to share, nowhere for example—and this is the great poverty of modern culture—where old people could talk to younger people and say you are entering into this, this is coming up, this is what life requires of you now, this is what you are being asked to do. We have lost all that wisdom.
In psycho-spiritual psychotherapy we can reveal all of that. It's there because people bring it and you listen and they feel, even if unconsciously, what is asked of a 49-year old, of somebody on the sixties threshold. These are all stages of transition, which largely go unrecognized.
One of the very common experiences for people in therapy groups, who first come to groups and for the first several groups is that early family relationships are projected into the group. In other words they see someone like their sister or their mother or their first girlfriend or something like this. When they recognize that transference, it is very hard for them, they are transferring the dynamic of relationship onto someone they have never met before.
When you see that in a group there is an opportunity, it is a gift, because you can't possibly ever return to the time when you were 9 and you had a certain relationship to your mother and your father. You'll never be able to return to that time. But in group work, in the dynamics between you and another person, when the transference of the dynamics of the relationship is there, you have an opportunity to do that.
Interestingly, this experience is probably reciprocal, which is to say that the person you are seeing something in that is of benefit to you, the feelings that you have towards that person and enable you to unwind and resolve these hidden felings, because we have a tacit agreement in a workshop or group that we are here to heal. We are here to talk about issues that we can't talk about elsewhere.
Change is an important concept in personal and spiritual growth and it's a concept that is perhaps widely misunderstood. People come to inner work speaking of change, speaking of making things different, usually thinking in terms of the division of good and bad, desirable or undesirable. The difficulty is that as part of nature we are always changing, human beings are always changing. You are not the same as you were five minutes ago, last week, or several months ago. You have changed in terms of your overall composition, what you are feeling, thinking or doing and how your physical body is.
So therefore change is one of those things that we reach by getting out of our own way; it's one of those things we reach by trusting life, surrendering to life, being less fixed about how we are. Change is like a river that is constantly changing, it's always evolving and if we as human beings can just get out of our own way then we simply transform; we change from moment to moment.
Now the freedom of an individual lies in how we meet the flow of change, how we approach it and how we relate to it. For many people of course, the issue is fear. It is hard to trust the world; it is hard to trust life and not live in fear.
The idea of the spiritual path is attractive to many people. Commonly people who come to psycho-spiritual psychotherapy wanting to pursue the spiritual path need to look at their personal psychology first, because you cannot, so to speak, enter in at the seventh floor; you can't start there. You cannot, simply because you want to, have an experience of spirituality, just because you wish to. What is most likely to come up then is something very practical, some issues unresolved from early life.
As to the question whether therapy, or inner work, could become the solution to the problems of the 21st century, I think, like many others, that it's vital that people turn inwards to seek the solution to ecological, political and international problems, and problems on the global scale.
To seek the solution within, it seems to me, is the responsible route. And the reason is that man, men and women, human beings are creating their world. We create the world and as part of nature we bring to bear certain biases and violence into the outside world, but if we can embrace it inside and heal it within then I think there is hope for the outside world.
So I would say, along with other philosophers, writers, therapists and others working in the world community, the necessity of inner work is crucial.
Real change in the world, change that we would like to bring about, change that needs to come about—by which I mean being confluent with natural forces, not simply ourselves, humankind, inflicting its preferences, desires and needs on the world—will come from inner change and can only come from inner change.
I think this is self-evident in the sense that we can look very dramatically at what we inflict on the planet and what's wrong with the ecology of the planet as being, to some degree at least, our ill judgment. I think that we can see clearly that we imagine in our inner word certain things, invent the things, and create conditions from within. And we can see these appearing in the outside world. We have influence.
What we can do, if we want to take deep responsibility for ourselves as human beings, is to do therapy and we might want to call it something else in time, so that it stands for something which is not related to pathology, that isn't to with illness, that isn't to do with disease, being damaged and not coping with life.
But rather we could guide young people and explain the relationship between the inner world and the outer world and show how we are conversant with both as parents and as mentors. (This is not without precedent in primitive cultures to have a mentor who sees you through rites of passage, through adolescence and confusing times and orients you not only to the outside world, but also to the inner world and then brings you through rituals of maturity and insight with guidance and wisdom which reflect natural abilities in yourself.)
If that were to happen, the world would change. The world would change in the only way it can change and that is by inner change.