connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
We are asleep and to be asleep means to be unconscious. This is the sleep from which we must be roused, the unconscious state from which we must rise. Our family relationships, love relationships, and friendships are all based on survival until we have raised our consciousness and awoken at last! The relationships we have are divine reflections of the one essential real relationship. So you see your father is not your father, your sister is not your sister. They are reflections of the one divine relationship, but the cart is before the horse. You must suffer the loss of all you hold dear to enter into the precious state of enlightenment, the inner source condition of real relationship. There is only one and all others are merely kaleidoscopic projections of that One Love.
There is an ephemeral quality to the idea of awakening. And it is right that there should be this airiness, this intangibility about it. Because to awaken is at once the realization of our natural state and it is a process of self-enquiry, revelation, and healing. In spite of the time the process takes, awakening itself happens in a single moment. Although we strive to attain it, it is already given, hence the ephemeral nature of awakening. The mind cannot make sense of it, because it doesn’t make any sense. In spite of this, humankind seems to remain obsessed with the idea. From the Book of the Dead in ancient Egypt to the Kingdom of God in Middle Eastern thought, to the shift and ascension of the contemporary times, some immanent event, some enlightening place or time remains permanently lodged in the collective psyche of humanity.
To awaken is to appear in a greater reality, a more vivid milieu of fulfillment than the present familiar one. It is to encounter the satisfaction of our deepest desires, to be raised into 29 an elevated condition of light and love and peace. Awakening implies some kind of renewal or stirring, perhaps new knowledge arising, a revivification. We wake up or awaken in the morning when we arise from sleep and dreaming. When we re-enter the waking life, we rouse from sleep and spring into being and re-enter the world through awakening.
But we also awaken to love, awaken to knowledge, or to beauty. Sometimes we awaken to innocence or to horror. Learning new information has the feeling of removing the veils from our eyes, as we awaken from ignorance and move into what we may perceive to be a deeper level of reality. Notice however that this deeper level of reality may in fact be merely a shifting prejudiced view of reality, as when a trusting woman realizes that her husband has been unfaithful to her and she decides to respond to this awakening to reality by distrusting all men from now on.
Sometimes we might awaken to ourselves, or more likely an aspect of ourselves, by realizing that we need to change our diet, move house, change our job or career, end a relationship, or break a particular habit, all because we have awoken to some new insight. We awaken to caravanning, blues music, monogamy or polyamory; we even awaken to ourselves if for example, we were dominated by another or suppressed by ourselves. These instances of waking up to aspects of ourselves contrast with full awakening.
All these types of awakenings take place within one single level of human consciousness. The spiritual awakening, however, takes place in the total organism and beyond, not merely in one level of consciousness. It is an illumination of the whole body and the identification of the whole body with all that is rationally identified as “other.”
The Psycho-Spiritual Approach
At the beginning of this chapter, we talked about how human beings are especially blessed by the opportunity of self-realization and fulfillment of human potential. However, the perpetual question which is crucial to this matter is of course the question of How? How do you realize your true self, once it has been buried through early life conditioning? Buried so deep, that you forgot where you have buried it, and most probably you have even forgotten that there was something you have buried? A part of the answer lies in the intrinsic nature of human beings, as mentioned earlier, we are both human and divine. So I recommend that we approach this question of how from a psycho-spiritual point of view.
Once I was asked: “You are a psychotherapist and a teacher of spirituality. Is there not a conflict here, since psychotherapy reinforces the ego to make the patient healthier and more able to cope with life and the spiritual teacher seeks to erode the aspirant’s ego and leave it behind? How can these two aims be compatible?”
I say they are entirely compatible. Psychotherapy is a patriarchal profession and has been rightly criticized for its adherence to the rules of suppression and conformism. For far too long it has been a leading proponent of the ethos of production and efficiency; how to as quickly as possible get the patient back into the work place, “happy and fulfilled” as a contributing member of society, indoctrinated into the cult of ignorance.
But my version of psychotherapy is not flowing from this lineage. My approach harks back to an ancient lineage and ultimately to the timeless endeavor to awaken through sacred attention. Once the fundamental attachments to ego-processes have been released, you may move through disciplined practice, application, and sincerity in sacred life toward the transcendent and divine practices of an authentic spiritual life in the world, as the manifestation of the divine.
My work is a specialized approach to spirituality in the modern era, which is peculiarly intense. There is no conflict in healing the personality, the character, of defensiveness and aggression, which is merely based on fear and desire. No conflict in then 30 rising into the heart and practicing compassion and authenticity as the flowering of an individual life. No conflict in reaching through disciplined practice into the realms of genuine spiritual and transcendent experience and attaining to the divine essence of the true Self. All this awaits every man and every woman – the course is mandatory; it is inherent in receiving the gift of life. This obligation is not relinquished, even in death. There is only one way out and that is the way of reality through shedding illusion.
By drawing therapy and spirituality together, I am like the doctor who has realized that you cannot treat the left arm and ignore the right! I am like the holistic practitioner who, when you tell them about a problem you have with your knees, speaks about your heart and your feelings, your familial duties and the pressures in your life. By bringing it together we can make a deeper diagnosis and heal more profoundly. Everything is related to everything else; we are all interconnected, divinely and humanly. So, no, there is no conflict between the therapist and the spiritual teacher; they are continuous with each other and, in essence, the same.
Not only is there no conflict, but there is also the inevitable link between them. As I stated in the introduction to the present book, psychological exploration provides the foundation for the genuine spiritual endeavor. I fortuitously stumbled, blindly and serendipitously, into the gentle battlefield of dharma or truth teaching that was known as the Human Potential Movement in the early ‘70s. It was as startling as it was challenging and welcome. In a relatively short time my falseness was overthrown, my inner longings revealed to me, my sham life of emotional repression set ablaze, and my every posture, negative expression, withdrawal, and egocentric argument dismissed.
I stepped out into the spiritual fire like it was a homecoming. But I soon realized that without the extensive grounding of personal healing, I would never have survived the initiation. So it was with some certainty and conviction that when people come to me seeking transpersonal therapy, I direct them first into the psychological exploration of their inner self.
It seems to be in the nature of human beings to specialize. However, in the alternativecomplementary medicine approaches of recent years we have seen a direct challenge to specialization in establishment medicine – everyone, from acupuncturists to herbalists arguing that you cannot treat a particular ailment or living body part disconnected and out of context with the whole. Holism has been the overriding dictum of the progressed New Age for at least sixty years and it encourages us to take a broad look at the human body, mind, and emotions while being simultaneously aware of the energy and spirituality of the human being.
The holistic view has expanded our understanding enormously and it is the responsibility of some of us to use these new insights about humanity and existence to extend still further into new territory and greater horizons. Instead of picking over the bones and minutely examining the details of concentrated areas of human expertise and becoming complacent, resting in a place of self-satisfaction and ennui, we can rouse ourselves to venture even further into the deep unknown and look into the endless mystery of existence. Any specialization within healing and teaching of human development needs to be less shortsighted and instead deeply aware of the apparently endless capacity that human beings possess for deepening in courage, love, wisdom, and compassion. No longer is it about making us better; it is about making us more.
Before we move on to discuss the stages of awakening there is one point we have to be clear about. Spirituality is characterized by spontaneity, surrender, and unpredictability. It is severely disorganized, chaotic even, and beyond conventional rationality, contradictory, and inconsistent. It is entirely unrelated to the outer realities of petty selfhood, like anger, fear, anxiety, defensiveness, possessiveness, and jealousy. But the way to spiritual life is not unpredictable. It’s not arbitrary either, not a matter of opinion or personal preference. It can be reached by adhering to certain principles through particular stages and processes in the 31 present period of human evolution, which involves the opportunity for enlightenment, our chance to know, understand, and live an authentic human life.
This article is an excerpt from Richard Harvey’s book Your Divine Opportunity.
This article was published on this site in January 2024.