connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
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 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 alternative-complementary 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 short-sighted 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 present period of human evolution, which involves the opportunity for enlightenment, our chance to know, understand, and live an authentic human life.
(Adapted from Harvey, Richard, Your Divine Opportunity: how to awaken to your true self in the modern era, Part II: Turning Toward the Divine Life, 29-31, Sacred Attention Publishing 2021. Full details and ordering at https://www.therapyandspirituality.com/books/)
This article was published on this site in December 2020