connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
Richard Harvey answers your questions about therapy, spirituality and spiritual growth. These have been grouped for ease of reading.
If you have a question you would like to ask Richard, please fill in the form in the right column. He will normally email you an answer to your question within a fortnight and post it on this page, if appropriate.
Religions for thousands of years offered moral codes that were more or less interchangeable and deviated little according to the faith that was followed. For the majority this was and is all that religion or spirituality is really about. But there is much more to spirituality than societal morality. In the past, esoteric content was the exclusive domain of those that set themselves apart from society.
You say there is much more to spirituality... but could you be more precise, what is that more? Is it what you define as "esoteric”? What do you mean by "esoteric”? How is that more than societal morality?
Popular religion or spirituality, as most people come to know it, is essentially a personal, and to some degree collective, matter. The overriding concerns are about personal life, the physical body, and social structures. Esoteric spirituality, or religion, is, in contrast, a transpersonal matter. Transpersonal means “beyond the personal,” so esoteric spirituality is the spirituality that aims at union with the Divine or True Reality: Oneness, in which the personal is sacrificed to Truth. In esoteric spirituality there is an ongoing unfolding, a process of deepening devotion to Reality that results in the realization of the Self, which is impersonal, while popular religion rests on concepts, moral guidance, dogma, and the organization of quasi-spiritual beliefs and myths. In esoteric spirituality, belief and faith are merely concepts to discard; in popular religion and spirituality, belief and faith are the foundations of spiritual life.
Popular religion offers salvation through the mental concept of belief in a father-centric deity idea and is centrally concerned with morality and social order. The esoteric spiritual approach is inward-seeking, transcending popular beliefs and assumptions in favour of direct experience of Reality. Esoteric spirituality differentiates arising forms and the world of appearances from what is ultimately true. While popular spirituality or religion offers immediate benefits, assurances, and consolation, esoteric spirituality requires earnest preparation into the practices that comprise the esoteric path.
Having no desire for life is a sign that you have reached the end of the present stage of life you are in. You want more. The thirst for life within a certain set of limitations no longer satisfies you. You need to move on. In a material world the lack of desire is a cause for fear, because fear and desire always go together. They belong together. They are twin delusions! But from an immaterial, or spiritual, perspective, this lack of desire is welcomed—celebrated!—because it is the end, the final burning of some illusion you have been immersed in, believing in, convinced of. The fire will lead to a new beginning, a more elevated life, a higher vibration of life and wonder, love and new possibilities. Eventually you live life in celebration without desire, without fear, without effort or purpose. You live simply as yourself, as unity, as consciousness, beyond desire or birth and death. You live in pure wonder.
Thank you for your question.
You may have been stuck, but I am not sure that it is in the Dark Night of the Soul. Traditional or even contemporary ways to enlightenment do not “deliver” anything—on the contrary, they take away. This is because we are, as I am sure you have already heard, already present in the pristine state. So the way is pruning, letting go, relinquishing… everything, even perhaps your present state of disillusionment. Have you been doing to get? I sympathize in the sense that traditional ways are, in my understanding, essentially insufficient to deal adequately with the present sophisticated ego-processes. We are more individualistic, overall more distracted in ourselves than when traditional spiritual ways were taught. Teachers’ contradicting each other is less a flaw in the teachers themselves and rather more a function of the modern era, in which we suffer from an overabundance of teaching. In any case the way is ultimately unique, i.e. your path is yours alone. So all “ways” must ultimately be let go of…
Ascension symptoms are really a way of repackaging feeling and experience. I do not pay much attention to this, neither do I to the shift and, in brief, the reason I don’t is because the soul has become confused with the spirit. They are different; the soul is our roots and ground: the spirit is our transcendence, our Divinity. Feeling and experience belong to the soul. Liberation and realization are matters for the spirit. Desires will last as long as ego does, so they will be with you, even in ever subtler forms, for a good long while. At age forty-nine you are in a time of great power. Your choice at this point in your life will affect the rest of your earthly time profoundly. If I were you, I would persist with a spiritual teacher you respect to steer you. Personally I don’t feel there is anything of more importance except than Reality or God, Love and Wisdom. But I am not you and if you choose the earthly route, whether by chakras or kundalini, may your crisis deliver you into Joy and lasting Freedom.
Your beliefs are the creations of your mind. They are thoughts and thoughts are your protection against experience, against feeling the world and against ignorance.
As beliefs protect you, so they convince you that they are real, in themselves. Out of your sophistication and adaptability you create a further thought which dominates all the others. That thought is the ego, an individual separate self that divides reality into fragments. These fragments are in conflict, not because they are truly separated, but because your mind has divided them and now they are against themselves and each other.
As a result all “relationships” become essentially defensive and aggressive, because they arise from the unreal but convincing thought and belief system that created the thought 1” or ego in the first place!
Letting go of thoughts and beliefs is simple and easy, but you need commitment, love and positivity. You need to love what I will share with you that will replace it. This is a longing, a yearning for the spiritual, for God, for the Divine. It is like your love for a lover multiplied a thousand times over, and much more intense and consistent. When you look deeply inside, you may find that you have always had it. It appears in your life as devotion, as compassion, as love, peace, truth…it has many faces.
When you are immersed in this love you are involved in a real relationship and in a spiritual practice that is much more powerful than deep core beliefs, thoughts, ego-processes, letting go or not letting go. You are involved in life and now life has got hold of you.
God and you are One.
The idea of a creator God is an extension of the parent-child relationship. Religion tends to be founded on the child’s view of life which is borne of dependency. The creator God who cares for his creation is an extension of the desire for the child-like state of being looked after and protected, cared for and loved.
Religion is mostly—almost exclusively— personal psychology deferred, projected or transferred into a transpersonal, “spiritual” context. God didn’t make you. Biologically, your parents made you, physically, your parents created you, psychologically, you made you in your efforts to survive, emotionally, you made you trying to find a way through your awful experiences of early life—what’s left for God to do? God doesn’t do anything. God is the name for the Absolute. God is not even created because everything that’s created will meet its destruction someday. God is different. God is the name we give the Eternal.
So the truth is, not that God made you, but that you are of God, made of God if you will. You are God in the same way as the drop is the ocean and the ocean is the drop. When you look on the “creation” with the truly spiritual eye all things disappear or merge or become one. It does not change; you change your way of looking. When you look clearly there is no separation, no difference, no forms at all, because God and you are One.
Unhealthy self-absorption is what I call “stirring the soup.” It is mixing round some material from the inner world with only superficial awareness and no insight. In this case the self-absorbed person expends a great deal of energy but gets nowhere and sometimes considers what they’re doing inner work or psychological, even spiritual, practice. It is none of these things. It is unhealthy because it merely exacerbates the limited condition of personal contraction and feeds the ego processes of self-aggrandizement, dependency, self-judgment, self-pity, moroseness, feeding resentment and personal limiting character traits.
Healthy self-absorption, on the other hand, leads to healing and wholeness. It begins with awareness, then acceptance and change. The unloading of personality and conditioning, the release and sometimes catharsis of emotional states long-held in the body, the discovery of the character and personality in its wholeness, as a complex arrangement of defenses against the world and resistance to life through layers of forgiveness and woundedness, and finally the integration that leads to wholeness and eventually personal transformation are stages in the process. All this is achieved through healthy, guided, intelligent (in the holistic sense) and wise absorption. It is immensely complex, but this reflects how sophisticated the ego-processes have become in the modern era. There has never been a time in human history when psychological defense patterns were so intricate and challenging to dismantle.
The serious spiritual aspirant should be aware of this and also that traditional religious and spiritual teachings do not necessarily offer much wisdom or methodology to meet the present crisis of egocentricity. What is needed is an evolved, highly-developed, psycho-spiritual approach, because personal wholeness is necessary for you make a spiritual serious commitment. If you try to advance spiritually without first having dealt with your personality and character conditioning you will be like a sprinter at the starting block with her feet in chains, or worse you will meet the deeper challenges of the spiritual path from your ego self, in which case you are sure to be defeated. There are many dangers associated with bringing a character deficit, the desire body and your personal fears into the spiritual realms, among them; increased delusion, futility leading to deep depression, becoming lost in fantasy, profound unhappiness, in some cases suicide, wisdom without compassion, spiritual materialism and spiritual self-aggrandizement.
A distinction must be made between spiritual inner focus and psychological inner focus. Psychological inner focus is the healthy attention to self with the motivation to transcend the self small by releasing attachment to your personality. It doesn’t mean that you no longer appear as an individual; it means that you are no longer attached to your personality and character traits and appearances. This empowers and enables to you to enter the more serious spiritual practice of inner self-absorption toward your spiritual, transcendental and divine person—the divine within. This is an altogether different focus. This is real, whereas the personality work was seeing through what was false, shedding the illusion. Know which is which, always distinguish truth from falsehood, then self-absorption will never be detrimental.
Thank you for your question.
[To read further on some of the topics I mention here, see my interview on the stages of awakening]
This question touches on the relationship between the inner and outer worlds, as well as the relationship between self and other. So it is very important, because in the contemporary world there is much confusion and little wisdom about both.
There are many worlds, many. Inner and outer are simply an either/or simplification. There are myriad worlds and you participate in them all the time. You are present in them, usually without knowing. When you begin an awareness practice, for example, the first thing you are aware of is that you are not here—you are not even present in the so-called “real world.” As you progress through deepening experiences you discover that you inhabit other worlds you didn’t know existed. Then your awareness expands as you live in these realms consciously and more fully.
Action is one of the ways in which we can connect the inner and outer worlds. When consciousness informs our actions, our actions take on a different quality. Action performed in awareness has an authentic quality and affect, in contrast to action performed unconsciously or automatically. So an act is not merely an act. Doing is not just doing. The important question is what quality of awareness precedes and accompanies the action.
This actually is common sense and self-evident. Let someone stroke you, someone who cares for you and loves you sincerely. Compare this experience with being stroked by someone who wants something from you, who only cares about themselves or is really needy. The touch is entirely different. The inner and outer worlds have connected and what makes the difference is the inner state.
When you act from personal motives you make a personal impact. When you act out of divine love you make a divine love impact. Therefore the most crucial aspect of relating to the outer world is your inner orientation. Awareness practice reflects your inner nature, your divine nature. It reveals your connection to source and to the divine.
When you are immersed in the divine inside yourself you are very quiet, contemplative and far less disposed toward action. Contentment, peace and joyfulness are live, crackling currents within you. When you are stable in these experiences and grounded in the divine, your actions are qualitatively transformed. They have immense positive effect. They bring love and divinity into the world. Alternatively when you act automatically, or out of personal motivation or selfishness, you affect the world negatively, or neutrally, which tends to support pre-existing negativity.
So, relaxing before taking action, contemplating and meditation are not the opposite of action. They are the prerequisite for wise action, for manifesting love in the world. We are here, as human beings, to do just that: to bring love, wisdom, bliss and joy into the world, to relate to the world as consciousness relating to consciousness, love relating to love, god relating to god. There is nothing else to do and nothing else worth doing. Everything you do: your relationships, your work, your daily life should be transparent to the appearance of love in the world through you. Hence, the importance of inner emptiness, of inner surrender, of your ability to relate to the divine as yourself, without any separation whatsoever. This is the function, the nature and the reality of the human life. This is what you should aspire to and when you do the world will change and what appears to need changing to you now in the world will appear slight, less than you thought, if you pay attention to the inner world first.
Thank you for your question.
Consciously or unconsciously, substance abuse is linked to the same motivating forces that urge people toward spirituality and the fulfillment of divine longing. Altered states of consciousness have been a feature of drug cultures, as well as spiritual cults, for thousands of years. Without any wise teaching and guidance people may well turn to intoxicating experiences for a transcendent or intensely pleasurable experience. So my principle suggestion would be to approach the substance abuse problem at its source, from its foundation, which is spiritual. With many people it would not be appropriate or advisable to confront them directly (divine longing is unconscious in many, perhaps most). So, counselors or carers often more skillfully assist the recovery process by asking the right questions, not providing the answers. Ultimately the importance of spirituality in the recovery of substance abuse patients is that something as powerful, if not more powerful, is required to displace the undesired and, in the case of substance abuse, foolhardy and often fatal addiction.
The other important point in this summary is that substance abuse patients tend to be centered in the oral stage of development (see my article Psychotherapy Practice—The Role Of Character Defense and Strategy (2011) published on Ezine, which can be downloaded on this site, see articles). This means that to help release them from addiction their recovery should involve some attention, insight and understanding into their early life experience. Particularly focusing on issues around independence, abandonment and nourishment is likely to lead to feelings of being unacceptable and unexpressed rage. The dynamics created by this constellation of emotions and behavioral patterns typically underpins the drug or alcohol dependent mentality.
Your question cuts to the heart of the matter of spirituality. Spiritual seekers face a paradox. Even with these two words put together—spiritual and seeker—we have a paradox already. The paradox lies in the obvious as ever: how can you truly seek something you already are? how can you look for something you already have?
Every child knows that if they are standing in a puddle and they want to see the reflection of the sky, if they stand still long enough, the mud will settle, the water will clear and in time there will be an amazing reflection of the sky on the earth. In the Taoist master Chuang Tzu’s famous story, the man who is afraid of his own shadow runs, until he falls down exhausted and dies. The wisdom inherent in the story is that, if he had simply sat in the shade, he could have overcome his fear and realized that there was no shadow and nothing to be afraid of.
Part of my work at present is to refine an acceptance exercise that will help to bring people to a place of deep inner stillness. I have already shared with many my consciousness exercise, which is a withdrawal into the still inner place of profound being. In time, through practicing this exercise you realize that you yourself are nothing but a reflection of the Absolute, of Consciousness, of God.
All seeking is egocentric! There is no practice, no spiritual exercise, no religious, spiritual teaching, motivation and intention that is not egocentric! That is why religion, spirituality, the New Age, and the endless cults and movements of “other-worldliness” have all failed, failed utterly. There is only one way to awaken, only one way to become enlightened and free of this round of endless suffering, misery and striving.
Although that way has been reported for a long time, for 5000 years at least, very few have followed it or put it into practice and even less have experienced any form of attainment. In the last 50 years ego-processes have escalated in power and seduced and hypnotized collective humanity, until hardly anyone is even awake. Worse, some or perhaps many who are asleep have appeared vividly in the dream of unreality and now pose as spiritual teachers to liberate us, to teach us spirituality and to awaken us in the realm of dreams, illusion and the unreal. You cannot and should not want to do it, because waking up in an unreal world is worse than being asleep. You must first inhabit the world and the world you are really in is the real world. You must awaken to the real world, but human beings have now become so deeply lost, so hidden behind such sophisticated ego defenses, that this can only be done in stages of psycho-spiritual development.
First, you must awaken to the ego forces that you live, breathe, sleep, and eat with. Then you must allow the personality and your character to align themselves and offer them in service to your authenticity, your true nature. You must become yourself and, when you do, you will practice authenticity. You will be genuine. You will feel and think and experience vividly, really intensely. You will live a heart-centered life and you will know the reality of compassion and, finally, selflessness. Now this level of human experience can be very hard to leave behind, but there is much more to becoming human. Even though what I am speaking of here in this second stage is far beyond the potential of most people in their present lifetime, it only scratches the surface of the total capacity of the human being’s potential to become, to Self-realize.
You should know that there are many kinds of enlightenment. These awakenings or enlightenment experiences are well documented and experienced, although the highest is more talked about than attained. The heart must awaken, the will must be surrendered, the eye of spiritual vision must be illuminated. Each of these stages is a transformation of energy, psycho-biology and soul and spiritual forces. As an adept, these stages of awakening are yours to experience, as you say, through grace. But where does that grace come from? It is from God, from the Divine, from Consciousness itself. And what are you? A temporary adaptation of the Divine, arising as a present form in consciousness. You were, are, and will always be God. So, there is no necessary practice, other than the one I mentioned above. And that has three possible expressions: the way of service, the way of divine identity with the Self and the way of seeing the divine in the other.
One is the way of worshipping the other – all other things, people, events, life circumstances and the universe as God. One is the way of service or devotion and the other is the way of perfect identification with the Divine.
There is no fear or desire, no striving, no effortful wandering to find the Divine. The Divine is within. Love is within…and bliss and wisdom and peace and compassion and truth. Simply be, but use this life, this heavenly realm in which you now find yourself. You must pick a milieu, or really accept it, because it is given to you. It is given to you, recognize it. Now let the choice be the Divine’s within you and worship as befits you. Don’t seek – it is here, it is here. Stay still inside yourself and when you are in the right place outside too the water will clear, the mud will settle, the shadow will disappear in the shade you shelter under and you will find yourself very profoundly present in divine distraction.
Finally, your attraction to the truth is not a co-dependency. The longing for the real, for the authentic, for responsiveness and genuiness is a profound spiritual desire: its name is divine longing. When you experience it, you must go where it leads; heed the call. But you must do it with abandon.
In the final analysis, you will leave this life. Your personality, the life you have accrued, the people, money and achievements and memories which you leave behind will be dust. Ultimately what seems so crucial to us in this world is futile, pointless, without any importance at all. The question then is what will you do with this life?…or what will you allow the divine to do with you? This is the spiritual question. Spiritual awakening is not about forcing, as you rightly say, neither is it about learning in the usual sense. The people on 40-year or life-long pilgrimages that you mention are, and would see that they are, doomed to fail, if they only looked long and clearly and honestly into their hearts. The spiritual way that works is the way of non-seeking. Spiritual attainment does not occur in time; there is no spiritual experience, no accruing of authentic, deepening, spiritual experience. You reside in eternity. You have always been there and when you are sincerely practicing, when you are genuinely on a spiritual path, you are manifesting divine consciousness here in the eternal moment. Light, light, light—there is nothing but light and it manifests in these temporal realms as awareness, as reflections of Consciousness.
Thank you for your question. I am rusty on ACIM, but I just did a little research and I am basing my knowledge of “extension” on this quote from ACIM: “YOU have made by projection, but God has created by extension,” as well as your reference to “heart-based.”
These words in my “article” were sent to a client who has completed many of the stages of personal work. She is at the wall, so to speak, of her individual egoic limitations and, because of her personal effectiveness and attachment to the outer world, she has a lot to lose should she choose to cross the threshold of transformation into personal authenticity. Since the ego processes are not relinquished, even in these first stages of growth which compromise the personality work, everything she sees remains originated in the ego itself, so I use the psychological term “projection” advisedly. I mean to say that her foreshadowing of the divine event may only be intuited through transference or projection, since, not only is it at this point in her development “other,” but it is also distant.
For her to have direct involvement in heart-based, God-created extension, if I understand it rightly, she would have to be on the other side of the wall and she would have had to have shed the egoic limitations of her personality, character and defensive false nature, so that she was aligned with the true heart of compassion, her own authenticity (itself a prelude to the spiritual, transcendent and divine realms and stages in my Three Stage Model of Human Awakening).
So, in answer to your question, to use the word “extension” here would be incorrect.
Today people have become obsessed with action, achievement and gain at the expense of being and connection to their true nature. So when I say be where you are, I don’t mean stay still like a tree! I mean stay still long enough to know yourself, to deepen into your innate sense of being and feel what it is like to be a human being in this body, in this place, at this time, which is pure contentment when you deepen into it. Now when you enter the world of action and you have with you this magnificent feeling of inner centeredness and innate stability, you are authentic and happy, you don’t act from a deficit, from an inner sense of lack, you are already rich and content. Then all your actions fructify the world around you; they adorn the world. It is absolutely not about being a victim; it is absolutely about accomplishing your life goal, which is to be who you really are—a feeling, emotional, motivated, authentic and divine being.
The meaning of the cross is an echo of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. There, as you will recall, God opposes the human couple possessing knowledge via the tree. In fact the tree and knowledge become associated with the origins of the devil through the snake symbol—to warn us off seeking self-knowledge! But by the time we get to the events on Calvary in the Christian Gospels, man is ready in his spiritual evolution to assume that knowledge. And he does in the figure of Christ. But the motif of attaining spiritual knowledge, divine wisdom, in the human form is by no means unique to Christianity.
Both Mithras and Buddha had already had their encounters with a tree (or wooden cross) and attained spiritual knowledge and freedom. So the way to understand the crucifixion is much broader than as an historical event. It is a part of a greater spiritual map in which we are shown the way to self-knowledge and Self-realization. This is why people gravitate towards it, because it stands for a deep truth and an inner longing. Because it addresses the heart's desire for fulfillment, the urge to become and it is the way to the birthright of the human being. The cross represents the negation of the individual self and the surrender to the divine.
Of course the place you live in matters, but it matters in different ways according to your level of awareness and consciousness. In the most common level of consciousness, which is dominated by the personality, you learn about yourself wherever you are. So, whereas it may be more pleasant to be in a beautiful, unspoiled, natural environment, for example, you will learn equally from being in a busy, industrial, less pleasant environment. This is what you should do with this kind of life situation, knowing that as you surrender into the flow of change, you can only be where you need to be to learn.
In the middle level of consciousness where you are is less important than how you embrace opportunities to relate, love and show compassion. Since your focus then is on authenticity and transformation the “where“ becomes less important than “how”. Finally, in the third level of consciousness where spiritual practice, transcendence and the realization of the divine really start in earnest, our tendency is to gravitate toward more beautiful, peaceful, natural environments, even though in a sense it is less desired and less crucial—it merely mirrors the inner state.
The practice of meditation, when it is done sincerely, will result in you stabilizing in your real nature, but along the way there are many stages to move through, without attachment. In fact, the essential practice of meditation is noticing attachments and letting go of them, constantly. Your real nature and the answer to your question are ultimately beyond experience. Hence all arising phenomena—thoughts, sensations, emotions, experiences, visions, colors, images—should be recognized and acknowledged, as you have done, and then released, or let go. There is no other way in sincere and genuine spiritual practical...Do not get stuck in fascination and fantasy, in making associations and deriving conclusions. Let it all go.
Your psychological condition will create these “spiritual” experiences; they are not in themselves anything other than aspects of your present conditioned existence. This is why personal inner work is so important at this stage, and indeed more important. Because all your “spiritual” experiences will be filtered through the constrictions of personality, until you have worked through and released yourself from them. In the meantime the advice contained in all authentic spiritual teaching must be the same: allow meditative “experiences” to come and go, don’t hold on to them, don’t hold on to anything, live as you are naturally, utterly free, live as your true self.
We should understand that we cannot treat spirituality like pop music, movies, or fast food. Attraction is everything in these areas of mass consumerism, but the field of spirituality is different.
We live in an age of image making, spinning words, and dulling the spiritual taste buds, until we have no sense of the real thing when we see it. The pop image of spiritual spokespeople, spiritual teachers, and gurus today has become overridingly important, because they are packaging and selling spirituality.
But real spirituality will not be sold, packaged, sanitized, or cheapened. No trick of the ego will entice it, no manipulation will change it, and no seduction will woo it. The tragedy is that the pretender, the cheapened version, like cut price goods in gaudy shops, has caught on—almost everyone seems to be obsessed with it, buying it, believing in it, and propagating it. It has become a movement!
But cheap spirituality won’t last. We must reach down deeply into our hearts and minds to the inner source of wisdom and truth and ask, “What is real?” The pale imitation reveals itself through this enquiry as what it is: nonsense. In time the pop teachings of the perennial philosophy, which perpetuate self-aggrandizement and personal gain, will be abandoned.
I have this much faith in the authentic nature of human beings and in our souls, our purity, and out innate wisdom—and in the longing, which underlies your honest enquiry, to discover what is real.
Gurus and spiritual teachers of the past are essentially of two kinds. First, there are the ones who have related their experience, and that’s what it is, their experience, for our entertainment and instruction. These accounts comfort, help and guide; we may even become attached to the authors, either through the written word or from accounts of their lives.
But the second kind is the more important to us. Here, the lives, biographies and/or writings and teachings are written from the point of view of the Absolute. They are therefore not personal. The lives of such beings challenge us and confront us with our humanness. They provide more than an account of personal experience; they embody divinity and are synonymous with the reality of transcendence itself. We may still feel in some kind of relationship to these authors, gurus and teachers, but their personality is merely the envelope, the outer ritual around the inner substance.
My criticism of many contemporary spiritual teachers is that they don’t adequately address the complexities of the human psyche—specifically the Western psyche. And what I mean by that is that we are embroiled in our small petty self, which is the product of ego, to the degree that, as many spiritual seekers know very well, the spiritual search is continually compromised by self-importance, acquisition and self-concern. That concern is based on emotional-behavioral patterns which are mostly unconscious; we may not even be aware of them, let alone know how to deal with them, or release ourselves from them.
When people are trying to raise consciousness, practice awareness and be better people, selfless and loving and so on, the lure of spiritual teachings can be so strong that it may be used to avoid the fundamental work of addressing the issues of our personality directly and healing our historical, emotional hurt, which is the work of personal therapy, as a necessary prelude to the spiritual journey.
This really depends on what discipline you are following, or what book you’re reading. I like Rudolf Steiner’s account whereby soul forces connect us to the world through the senses; it is how we experience things, how we connect inner and outer. Joseph Campbell also said something helpful when he indicated that primitive peoples looked downwards to the otherworldly and when we became more sophisticated (let’s not say civilized, but it coincides with urbanization) we looked up; downwards is the direction of the soul forces and upwards the direction of the spirit.
On the other hand, in translations of the Upanishads for instance the soul seems to be synonymous with the spirit. Taking it a step further, we have the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, or no-self, whereby neither soul nor spirit is ultimately real. Now, all of this is in the realms of theory, and other people’s accounts of the inner world. What is ultimately important to you is that these terms are meaningful, because they indicate something real, without that they’re not really of any use.
So, I would say to you what a Zen master once said to me when I asked him what the point of life was. He said, “I know what the point is for me, you have to find out what the point is for you.” Don’t get bogged down in description and theory; find out what the soul and the spirit are for you.
I believe the soul participates in many levels—individual, group, universal—and in the highest of these levels the soul is one with universal consciousness, as everything is. At death the soul returns to the undifferentiated sphere of consciousness out of which our individual awareness is a reflection. I like the illustration of the droplet and the ocean: parted momentarily from the vast body of water the droplet perceives itself as separate until it falls and merges with the sea.
Awakening is a process, rather than a single event. It is highly complex and many facets of the overall process must be in place at any one time. See my article on on the three stages of awakening for a summary of psycho-spiritual awakening for the modern seeker. Unless you have a therapist-guide and unless you are fully engaged and committed really very little can happen. Therefore you will not feel anything changing, because nothing is changing. Finally, feeling sad is one of the precursors and motivators for taking the journey and, as such, it should be honored and understood. The opportunity is here waiting for you to respond intelligently.
Thank you for your question and observations. I will take into account what you have said, because it is important to me that what I write is understood and I wish to be clear. So your comments will inform any future rewrite of my article – thank you.
The Three Stages of Awakening is a model derived from 35 years of psycho-spiritual work with individuals, couples, groups and communities. I have written a book about this (see Human Awakening), so the article is a brief summary.
Taking your second example first, I consider psychotherapy essentially the specialist method towards developing and achieving awareness, personal authenticity and self-transcendence. Self-introspection in itself doesn’t concern me because it is a neutral term, which may be open to different interpretations. My experience and research leads me to conclude that at no other time throughout history—Eastern religions and Western philosophies included—has there been such a convergence of traditions and modern thought as the one that has led us to the refined and potent tools and methodologies of psycho-spiritual psychotherapy. Therefore I am happy to make the informed assumption that the first step in awareness for the modern seeker should be therapy with a skilled and capable therapist (which is in itself a further discussion of course).
Please understand that I do not say that therapy is the exclusive way, simply that it is the most advanced and specialist way. People will continue to grow and develop awareness by other means of course. But others will delude themselves, as people have always done. More than anything I would point out that we are living in an era of individualism where spirituality is blocked by the separate individual sense and this has become so entwined with spiritual endeavor that it has to be addressed as an issue in itself, something that even mystical spirituality is unable to speak of deeply enough. In psycho-spiritual psychotherapy we have a specific meeting of the personal and the transpersonal. My contribution has been to describe in detail exactly how the two processes are connected.
Your first example—the ever-unfolding idea of spiritual development—relates to the personality of the seeker, of the relationship of the individual character to the divine. While this is inevitably an ever-unfolding process, since it can never be completed, it has been used as an avoidance of the real issue, which is how to not ever really make the leap into Self-realization, which is itself outside of space, time and personality. Therefore the ever-unfolding process model of spiritual development is like the ever-unfolding process of character exploration which justifies never-ending personal therapy and neither is tenable in my view.
Parkinson's sufferers characteristically have a deep desire to control. From a psycho-spiritual perspective we are dealing with—psychologically, expressions of deep depression and anxiety borne of the need to control and—spiritually, the inability to trust, surrender, and have faith that Life will take care of us.
The Parkinson's sufferer, like all sufferers of degenerative conditions, may be experiencing shock and/or denial. We may have to deal also with full-blown panic attacks and stress arising from their attempts to adapt to a decrease in habitual capability, and feelings of embarrassment and humiliation about their lack of control.
The therapist may use interventions and skilful means to deal with anxiety and depression, while working more deeply where appropriate and addressing the spiritual issue, if possible, that underlie the psycho/physical condition. Look into the unfinished business and residue in personal relationships and work toward healing resentment, anger, negativity, frustration, and friction—any and all of which may be contributing factors to suppression of feelings and deep depression.
Group therapy with other Parkinson's sufferers is effective for support, learning coping skills, and the deep healing that comes from sharing.
Finally, as in all effective and meaningful psychotherapy, the accepting, compassionate, and intimate relationship between the client and the therapist underpins the success of therapy with people with Parkinson's disease.
True love is what is left when all emotional attachments are let go of. But if all attachments are let go, then what is there? How can that be true love? Is true love a feeling if there are no attachments (implying that it's not a feeling)? If all emotional attachments are let go, then only faith can show what true love is as there are no emotional attachments to guide us.
This must be true. In a relationship, when two people decide to separate, there can be a time where both people are honest and there is more love in the outgoing relationship than in the original relationship. As more and more attachments are let go of, both people are free to explore themselves as individuals. Each partner can almost truly love the other by giving them total freedom and relinquishing most attachments. If almost true love is the almost relinquishing of almost all attachments, then True love is therefore the absence of any emotional attachments.
If there is true love between two people, even if they have separated, how is that manifested if it isn’t a feeling (which is an emotional attachment)? Does faith show us the nature of that relationship if emotions won’t?
How do two people who have the ability to shed their attachments know they can enter a loving relationship if there are no attachments? Does that also mean there are no lustful emotions signifying that there may be some kind of compatibility, since lustful emotions must be borne of attachment? Or are relationships of this kind made from strong emotions that can be let go by people skilful in the art of shedding their emotional attachments?
Then, more generally, do our feelings only come from attachments? What happens after we have shed all attachments—if there is no feeling? Is there only faith to guide us to something greater?
Although we have become used to attachments and love going together, in reality attachments and love are contradictory. This is because love in its pure form is free, spontaneous, and alive. Whereas attachments are stuck, anachronistic, and dead. Love thrives on mystery and newness and spontaneity. It can never be predictable. It is always fresh, vibrant, and vital. Attachments are bindings in the negative sense. They tie us down. They do not allow us to thrive or grow or feel.
Our relationships are either full of automatic conditioning or freedom and feeling. It is like water and oil they do not mix. Therefore work your way through your early conditioning via your feelings about love, betrayal, dependency, jealousy, possessiveness, anger, punishment, and nourishment. When, and only when, you have completed this journey of acceptance and release of long-held emotional states that have dominated your life for so long can you be truly free to love.
After shedding attachments emotions still exist! In fact you reach a level of real emotion which makes your previous experience of your feeling life look dull in comparison. Authentic emotions are not conditioned or governed or restricted by projections and transference of your unfinished emotional business. The feeling is if being very present and in the stream of life. When two people are together in this stream, than love can really thrive.
Human beings are not merely sexually repressed—they are completely and utterly repressed. Chronic repression is the result of holding back impulses and feelings or blocking emotions. Why do we do that? The first sex is the sex act which brought about your conception. The next one was your passage through the womb. The next was your latching onto the breast and so on. What action, what relationship do you think of as not being sex? When you think of anything at all as not sex you have fallen into repression. Everything is sex because sex was the beginning and it will also be the end. Sex is in the breath, in nature, in the world about you, because sex is energy. The question really is: why do we repress our energy? You cannot be only sexually repressed. If you are sexually repressed, you are repressed—emotionally, mentally, physically, energetically, and spiritually.
The condition of humanity today is that we are repressed—held back, restrained, and contracted instinctively. Nearly all our desires are repressed. All is shameful and guilt-ridden from the conditioning of religion, politics, societal mores, the dynamics of power and domination, One of the great and utterly obvious secrets about the human condition is that freedom and happiness are intensely inner, no forces of persuasion from commercialism, corporate business, advertising, moralizing, and emotional blackmail will truly convince us otherwise. This state of almost voluntary ignorance in collective humanity will not change until there is a spiritual revolution. Sexual inhibition is not the problem, neither is repression. They are both symptoms. The problem is bigger—much bigger—and it is the overall condition of humanity.
Sex acts, which are related to love and relationships, evoke desire, dependency, physical pleasure, and comfortable pleasurable feelings, sensations of nesting and regressive associations. Sex incites infantile terms of endearment and preverbal speech. The moans and cries of people making love are reminiscent of baby sounds. The experience of orgasm can be a floating expansive feeling of freedom, rather like floating in the womb in amniotic fluid.
Sex takes us back to our childhood and in particular to the early infantile experiences which we have repressed from that time.
We are obsessed with sex because we are compelled to relive and return to heal the experiences of our early lives. Everyone needs to do this, whether they want to, whether they realize this or not. Those of us who never do this live life as automatons—reliving, re-feeling, repeating experiences over and over again unconsciously. Those who choose to address the issues, to do the inner work of self-discovery that is required to transcend the early life conditions learn to approach sex with wisdom, intelligence, and wonder.
The opposite of repression is indulgence. The present state of society is that it is sexually indulgent—and sexually obsessed. Commercially every product is sold on the back of sexual desire, either overtly, covertly, or subliminally. The other weapon to wrack up sales is fear. Fear and desire… and these two really dovetail into each other, don’t they? We are sold on the images of impossible beauty and virility, excitement and fantasy, greed and indulgence, so that women feel insecure about their attractiveness and compare themselves unrealistically, while men are portrayed as buffoons or impossibly strong, powerful, or wealthy. Attractiveness is predicated on influence, economics, surgically enhanced bodies, or associated with sports, danger, romance, drama and excitement.
Sex, however, under these conditions has become merely a thought. And thinking as we are told by the sexologists and psychologists is the most erotic aspect of sexuality. This is an extension of the absurd Cartesian edict, “I think, therefore I am,” which has given rise to the insane circumstances in which humanity presently finds itself. Unable to trust feelings, experience emotions or bodily energies, humanity is in a state of immaturity, confusion, and bewilderment.
Confusion originates in the mind. How many times have I asked someone who comes to my therapy practice, “How do you feel?” and they answer, “I feel confused.” But this is impossible: confusion is not a feeling, it is a result of mental conflict, so it originates in the mind. We are all increasingly overburdened with thinking. We have thought our lives and even in the present moment there are only two points of reference: regret and nostalgia toward the past and anticipation and apprehensiveness toward the future.
Sandwiched between these twin pressures life itself has become repressed. The overriding need is to be accepted, acceptable, and fit in. You might even call it noticeably unnoticeable, it has become that ridiculous. We live in a consensus culture where even disagreeing, “thinking for yourself,” and challenging cultural assumptions and expectations has been subsumed into the homogenous torrent of uniformity.
Pull back from your personal, intense, enchanted focus for a minute: doesn’t everyone look like lemmings to you? Have any of them considered the message of conditioning, conformism, and conventionalism, and their bed mates, rebellion, confrontation, and conflict. Smiling, posing, conventionally obedient and compliant, people are stuffed into a mould and pressed out through educational, political, societal shaping forces in order to be identifiable, to be labelled, to be recognized and validated.
The predominant sense by far in the present culture is sight; the visible is paramount. Not what you are in your being, what is hidden or deeply, inwardly, held and cherished, but what can be seen, constitutes validation. We are sexually and in all other ways totally repressed. The appearance of sexuality, looking not feeling sexual, relieving our sexual energy flow through sex acts, not tolerating and intensifying the sexual flow of energy inside out bodies and tolerating its energetic intensity, but dancing, speaking, moving, and evoking “sexuality” in all its myriad outward and visible expressions through dress, make-up, provocation, posturing, and surgical enhancement creates the desired condition—the illusion of sex: the merely sexual spectacle.
But this indulgence and sexual obsession is based on thought—pornography, idealization, fantasy, air-brushed photo-shopped poses, and botoxed lips—the image of excitement, not the feeling of excitement. It denotes an exhausted, despairing disillusionment with humanity, a rejection of ourselves. Why can we not accept our imperfections? Because we want to be perfect—with perfect looks, perfect sex, perfect lives, perfect partners, perfect lifestyle, perfect satisfaction.
Over 100 years in the West the pendulum has swung from rigid repression to splurging indulgence. But when you look through the veil, when you wake up from the spell, is there really any difference? Victorian repression was sex-negating, religiously oppressive, moralistically inhibiting, a crushing gridlock of silence over the instinctual energetic drives of sex and unsubdued physicality. But this 21st century indulgence is equally sex-negating, since the mental indulgence in the physical, energetic reality of sex sensations, relations, and interactions is merely fantastical, simply a dream.
But a dream implies that we may awaken. We may wake up from the dream and realize that it is unreal. Thus, as I have written elsewhere, the modern era’s obsession with self in which our ego-processes have become overwhelmingly powerful serves as the way out. The way out to sanity, to truth, to beauty, and to the truly precious is to God, the God of Truth and Love and ultimate human freedom, not the God of religion and imposition, demanding perfection, instructing us in how to inhibit ourselves in our natural tendencies to create inner conflict and mental turmoil and imagined moral impasses, but the God of spirituality, of life and celebration, of sexuality and relationship, love and intimacy, closeness and distancing, togetherness and aloneness, inviting us to dance and respond to life in gratitude and compassionate engagement.
This can not and never will come about through the mind. The mind is a prophylactic, a protection against the vicissitudes of life. The pains and the pleasures of this world cannot be felt or experienced while mind stretches an impenetrable, protective, mental covering over the human soul.
This must and can only come about through the heart. The reason why we are sexually repressed is that our hearts are closed. Through cruelty, inhumanity, callousness, cruelty, acts of unspeakable abhorrence over thousands of years now (simply read the history books), by church, politics, and state, we are collectively closed down, unable to respond to the present day conditions, unable to react to safety or the lack of oppression in the outer world (see the yearly survey Freedom in the World). So instead of opening to the new conditions of freedom and self-determination, we have internalized the oppression and it has surfaced as repression, an inward oppression that we do now to ourselves in a bid to be like everyone else.
The realigning of the sacred, the reinstatement of the spiritual, the clear demarcation of rites of passage, thresholds of development, and psycho-biological stations in a human life, through the wise and intelligent transmission of wise, sacred, and practical, psychological and collective societal teachings can open the doors to our pride in our bodies, minds, and hearts and create a new humanness and a new world of compassion and wisdom. For the sexually repressed person is an unintelligent person, an incomplete being, merely a partial human. For humanity to regain its potential and capacity, certain remedial tasks await: heal the mind; heal the heart; heal the creative, pelvic, will and sexual center; learn to stand on the ground, to walk with connection; to feel with awareness, heart, and compassion; to think in ways that are intelligent and constructive, that challenge judgment and hypocrisy, prejudice and bigotry, cruelty and ignorance, in all its many apparent or concealed forms.
Why are we sexually repressed? We are afraid. What are we afraid of? The tremendous potential and capacity of what it really means to be human.
Thank you for this question.
(See also this article on Pornography and Masturbation on this site.)
Everything in the world outside you has its opposite—birth and death, love and hate, day and night. So all fears are twofold. All twofold fears are rooted in threat and danger, real or imagined. Fear also often reveals the way, the way ahead, the path to your authentic unfolding. Deepening into this and other fears then can be invaluable. In a way it may be overcoming but it is better thought of as revealing, revealing something we need to know for our growth and fulfillment
This revelation is found in going beyond the opposites in the outside world. It is known through inhabiting the heart. Sit in a chair with your back straight, take a few breaths to feel relaxed and alert. Then place your hand gently and mindfully on your heart. You will feel the energy in your fourth chakra, the energy of heart-consciousness, compassion, love and acceptance. Now, either wordlessly or otherwise bring your fear(s) to your heart. Give your troubles and inner conflict to the heart and trust and wait for clarity to appear.
Finally, true freedom is within. It may be that having children will lead you to liberation.
The issue of dependency which crystallizes in adolescence and is played out in sexual, emotional relationships is a central reality in our early childhood. We are completely dependent on our environment and particularly on our care-givers. These relationships are magical, enchanted ones of giving and receiving. Look at the eyes and the demeanor of an adult being served food or drink sitting at a table. The tone of voice is often regressive, the manner often obsequious or apologetic. If you look closely you will observe the person’s whole attitude to the dependent state. We have been left with a great deal of residue by our parents’ resentment which has accrued on top of their resentment toward their own parents and by association about being here and being alive. Being alive means being dependent. Our sense of lack originates here in this part of our biography—the oral stage. So it is here we must revisit, reprocess and finally release, so that in our adult life we can engage in relationships of intimacy, love and sharing, and spirituality, rather than merely re-hashing expectations, assumptions and unresolved issues around emotional and physical feeding.
Dependency and love are mutually exclusive. In our society today one of the signs of madness is that we think we can want, need and be dependent on someone we love, that we can fill our lack, our inner sense of deficiency, with someone else who themself feels inwardly deficient. You cannot do it because it cannot be done. No one—wives, husbands, lovers, children—can fill your inner emptiness; neither money, status, material belongings or distractions of any kind. In fact it is these distractions—including seeking what you need in the other—that compound the problem!
The despair we witness in the disenchantment of the couple who have fallen out of love shows us this. Their hopelessness, however, is a key. They have tried and failed because filling yourself with someone else will never work. Incredibly we see people return again and again and again to the same futile act, trying to make it work by expunging their inner lack with another person. This kind of relationship merely provides company, a presence of sorts to distract us from our aloneness, some entertainment, some need- and desire-fulfilling activity which draws attention away from the fact that inwardly we are absent and void.
The answer to the problem of inner lack is awareness. Become aware and, as you deepen inside yourself, you discover untold riches, riches of the spirit and of the soul. You are both able to engage more spiritually with the world and immerse yourself in the spiritual world inside. You have options! You learn from your awareness that love is not need or attachment. The need and attachment you experience which creates this sense of inner lack is merely the imprint of past memories that “haunt” you. Deposited in your memory bank, they constantly erode your true sense of self, your self nature and truth, and your ability to participate presently and authentically in life.
Awareness allows you to see things as they are and slowly you align yourself with your true nature. Then the job is entirely different. You have to gently and compassionately participate in life itself, as it streams through your consciousness, as you and consciousness are one. You are lifted heavenward even as you are firmly standing on the ground in this life, lacking nothing. Perhaps a day will come when you meet someone who also participates in life, rather than lack. When you meet they appears as yourself and you can walk the path of love together. It is a higher path with a great responsibility: to become one with the whole of existence. But you needn’t wait. In fact you must not wait. To find yourself, start today, begin now! Breathe and wait be gentle with yourself, do not hurry, you have all the time in the world. Fall outside of time and meet existence in eternity, then you find that you are everything. Lack was merely your way of avoiding the truth and the truth sets you free.
The situation in which we find ourselves in our primary relationship is always growthful and mandatory, necessary, vital, unavoidable from the point of view of the inner journey. This means that you must take responsibility for it. Responsibility carries not only the meaning of commitment, but also of the ability to respond. Being able to relate depends on our ability to respond. When you are apparently “caught” in the kind of repetitive frustration that you describe in your relationship, you are being reactive, or controlled. Reaction is mechanical. It means acting according to preconceived ideas and past experiences. A human being should be free, liberated, spiritual, loving, compassionate and living in awe of life, constantly deepening all the time without any let up. Life is a free fall through boundaries of limitation into the light of true consciousness and real freedom.
Everyone has a longing for this, whether they know it or not, and everyone seeks this in their own way, whether they are aware of it or not. However there is only one way which works! That was is the way of awareness, of sacredness, of great intelligence and wisdom. This way is reflected in many methods, philosophies and teachings. Although I am critical of modern-day spirituality and also of traditional religion, spirituality and mysticism, the seed of truth can be found somewhere in each of them. I am trying to refine a method and an approach for the modern era in which the peculiarly powerful, anti-life forces that are prevalent today can be recognized and ousted, and the sacred life can be lived.
Relationships, work, money, domestic arrangements, how you live, where you live, how you spend your time are extraordinarily important in the spiritual endeavor. When you look back through history, even then in the ashrams, convents, monasteries, yoga schools and spiritual communities of all types you can see that the foundation for practice is usually the handling of time, of activities and services, economy of time, feeling and thought to not only free up more time for the spiritual, but to incorporate the spiritual in everything you do.
When your mind is plagued by discord and conflict, an inner dialogue starts, a dialogue of justification and retribution, hoping for the other to see your point of view, hoping for the situation to be anything other than it is. Hoping, fearing and dissatisfaction are all nourishment for the ego-I, for monkey mind. You can keep it going with a tiny drip of resentment for an inordinate length of time! Whether it is discord in your relationship or money or work or some other topic, you become distracted in the mundane, in the worldly, in the profane and you have no attention left for what’s sacred. Then it is only a matter of time. You will come to the end of your life and realize that you haven’t attained the peace, serenity and enlightened state you craved because you wasted time on unimportant matters!
If you are to succeed in the great task of Self-realization you must contemplate and act on what you need to stop doing. This is much more important than what you need to do or change or get better at or begin. You can see that people who are striving toward spiritual goals concentrate on exactly this and it is the wrong kind of focus. They should be focusing on dropping what they are doing, not trying to do more. This is why I say that therapy and spirituality are a process of loss. The road to the consciousness state is one of letting go and letting go some more.
Sometimes this dynamic is present whether we like it or not. Yesterday I spoke to someone whose whole life has been turned upside down by events more powerful than he in his petty ego-self could possibly have instigated. What became apparent as we talked was that the ego was still pushing toward the superficial, the consolation prize, the material gains, even though he know very clearly in his heart that he had let go of all of that once this wave of the Absolute had hit him and overturned his life. This wave of the Absolute is a gift of life. You cannot force it or make it happen. In fact when it does happen the force is so strong that you wish it wasn’t happening in many ways and at the same time you are in wonder and, most importantly, not even really thinking about something that is way too mysterious for thought! In the absence of this wave you have to do it for yourself. This is why spiritual practice is necessary, why persisting regardless of the circumstances, your preferences, your thoughts and impulses, you simply go on, and go on. The sacred life is not always entertaining, not always contentment, not always peaceful or harmonious, but it is a process of loss and this process of loss is intensified in your primary relationship.
So, what is the role of primary or love relationships in the spiritual or sacred life?
Relationships are mostly a regression to the state of longed for dependency, comfort and passive love that characterize an idealized state or fantasy of early childhood. Because there is so much left-over emotion and developmental inner material from the early childhood, the experience of later childhood and particularly adolescence is entirely bounded by these compromised conditions. The later stages of life, from the twenties on, are usually spent in a repetition of the emotional dynamics of this childhood state. So, the adult model of love relationships is anything but adult and it centers on dependence. Dependence and our experience of it lead to all the other easily recognizable and familiar negative themes of the contemporary relationship; betrayal, rejection, disloyalty, abandonment and separation.
But love relationships between people whose lives have a spiritual, sacred purpose and focus are another matter. They are not there to make you happy. To comfort you, to give you pleasure, to make you fell good, fulfilled, satisfied or contented. They may do all or any of these things, but their principle role in your life is to help you grow together in love, to help each other to grow spiritually and manifest the divine in the world. If you feel you can do this together, then stay the course, persist and overcome the present challenges and tests. If you feel you cannot, then end the relationship.
The big problem with so-called mental illnesses like the ones you mention is that in our western society the prevailing notion of sanity and mental wellbeing is that you are active, functional and conforming to social norms. Whether these norms are themselves in any way sane is not open to question. So long as you can get up in the morning, work hard and contribute materially to the society as a whole and don’t cause any trouble, you are approved.
If that were the sum total of a human being – functionality, conforming and materialistic values—everything would be alright! But deep in the soul of the human being is a vision, a striving, an aspiration for something else. The biggest danger in the present world culture is that this vision will become obsolete, obliterated, forgotten.
We have become obsessed with the outer world as if that were the only one there is. Art, poetry, dance, music—have you noticed?—are becoming increasingly diminished as respectable and respected ways of life for the modern human being. Science, architecture, ecology, finances, law, technology—these occupations are without doubt the most lauded in the modern era. Art? Hardly anyone has time for art anymore, let alone true art, because true art bridges the worlds; it preserves the vision of what human beings truly aspire to.
When a person brings a serious mental condition to therapy, the immediate question must be are they descending or ascending. If they are descending, then the question must be is their soul salvageable, can this person’s essence be saved. In extreme cases, when it cannot, then yes of course care is needed and hopefully can be provided. If the soul can be saved, then the question is can you aid the person to return to the world of normal functioning and social participation and in this case that may be the most positive outcome.
But when the person suffering is ascending, the choice is altogether different. They experience the symptoms of madness or insanity because they are moving outside the system, challenging the social norms and the contracted idea of life which most others by far accept. This ascent through madness marks an initiation, an inward ceremony of rising and expansion into the human heart, into authenticity and the spiritual realms. The stakes are high therefore, on the minus side, much of the gentle gradualness of human growth and development is denied them. But, on the plus side, the choice is absolute; the person suffering chooses to embrace their life circumstances in this very positive way or they choose to carry on suffering until they move back into further mental turmoil and are either unable to decide for themselves any more or take steps to repress the experience through psychiatric intervention and perhaps medication.
My psycho-spiritual methodology responds to the deep need of a human being in a soulful, spiritual and intensely human crisis to be understood, to be guided through and to transcend the madness of intensive, powerful, ego processes that have brought about an escalation in so-called pathological mental states in the modern era.
When as practitioners we can first discern, according to the guidelines I have given above, whether a person suffering from adverse mental states is a viable candidate for psychotherapy, we can wisely and skillfully allow the symptoms, the content and the inner dynamics of their suffering to unwind. Over time we allow their release and we discover within the person the way toward balance, insight and wisdom. We sigh with relief that we have trusted the inner processes and the inner wisdom and that the person did not choose the way of medical intervention and suppression. We can see clearly that this “madness” was essential for the release of societal and collective insanity that goes unquestioned by the normal adapting human being.
We do not set out to cure a person suffering in this way. Rather we set out to accept, embrace and deeply understand what is arising. So long as the person suffering is experiencing ascending madness we can trust the process—and must be able to trust the process—of healing, insight and understanding, absolutely. It is a profound wakeup call, an inner revolution in consciousness, a call to die to the old self of memory and personal constriction and to be born into freedom, individual purpose, inner wisdom and peace.
The price of such great transformation is high, always. But when that price has been paid, it appears to be nothing, merely the attachment to the fiction and the trivia of character and personality that welds you to the ego-processes of self-importance and self-delusion. From the point of view of reality, we live today in a mad world. This is why it is so vital that we learn how to live spiritually here, how we learn to translate our enlightenment into worldly terms, as well as reside in its inner source. More and more as people learn to do this, spiritual enlightenment will infect the world, reality and truth will be transmitted increasingly consciously into the world and the world will transform, as we ourselves transform.
We are filled up with so much unfinished business – resentment, attachments, what-ifs and if-only’s, personalities, relationships, opinions, judgments and so on. In this stage of lessening we raise our awareness to the point where we find the courage to let go, to release, to stand in the world with spirit shining through and heart present. This is how we manifest compassion, simple kindness and understanding. But there is a final challenge in the peeling off of the layers and it is to resist the, usually unconscious, reaction to fill in the inner space we have created. It doesn’t matter whether we fill this in with the kinds of attachments we released in the first place or whether we replace those with more spiritually exalted ideas, fixed opinions or new relationships…it is still an expression of fear, fear that we are not worthy without these “extras” to conceal our lack.
In reality we lack nothing and through lessening we attain the dynamic courage to truly relate. Relating requires an inner emptiness. Inner emptiness is potential, openness, receptivity, invitation. Most people are too full to truly relate. Their inner concerns, self-interest and emotional, material and mental concerns distract them almost totally. They are scared to participate, to be present and available to life and experience. But through lessening we create the space—and then hold the space, resisting the urge to close it or refill it—through which we can be available to relationships with other people, events and circumstances and ultimately the divine.
Wisdom is not owned; it is not a possession and it is not to be confused with knowledge. Knowledge is information. It is accrued and attained. It is brought into you from outside. It is a witnessing of the outside world in its relative aspects and it enables you to be valued by society. The professions that we value in society are those which rest on the idea of knowledge that we have retained and which we can recall and pass on in whatever field of endeavor we are involved in. Spiritual knowledge is the same. But a scholar of spirituality or religion is not necessarily a spiritual practitioner or even a spiritual person. They may be a professor or an expert on religious traditions or practices and observances. But that doesn’t make them wise necessarily. But they do have knowledge and that knowledge therefore is in their possession and may be passed on as information.
So, when you say your wisdom to me, you must be speaking of knowledge. Wisdom is something different.
Wisdom is a flow, a stream, a great well. It is an aspect of being-ness all of its own We are able to dip into it. When we are spiritually-inclined, if we wish to put a finger in or paddle or swim in it we may. The great spiritual figures of the past—like Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Gautama Buddha, Hui Neng, Ramakrishna, Nityananda and others – swum in wisdom. They were saturated in wisdom. When a spiritual teacher does that, just to see them or to hear of them imparts a sense of their presence and you are affected. It is called satsang. The function of the spiritual teacher is not to impart some individual, personal wisdom, but to demonstrate wisdom that is impersonal and quite apart from the individual self which is false. True wisdom is absolutely real.
Contact with a genuine spiritual teacher activates your own wisdom response and connection, so that you realize that you yourself are wise.
You have asked a wonderful question. First you ask about insanity. There are different kinds of insanity. There is the kind of insanity in which a person’s inner core, their essence, has been damaged. This kind of insanity requires that special care is given, because they cannot care for themselves.
Then there is the kind of insanity you refer to as “human madness.” This is the kind in which the people individually are prone to egoic forces which dominate their lives and keep them in a state of fear and unhappiness. This is suffering and it is based on the early belief that we have to survive life rather than flourish, develop and grow. It is based on fear exclusively and it is rooted in self-interest, personal gain and varying degrees of perceived terror. When relationships, inner life, the soul, life purpose, elevated aspirations and higher energies are all brought down to the level of a survival strategy, the fear-bound world which you refer to appears.
Then there is another kind of insanity and it is the kind that a person experiences when he refuses any longer to “toe the part line,” to conform, to believe, behave and adapt as others do to life in its fearful aspects. The person who rises to the challenge of real change becomes instantly a renegade, because he dares to rebel. This is not the kind of outer rebellion we see in the world, which is basically reactive and therefore still essentially conformist. This is inner subversive, radical rebellion and it the very essence and the touchstone of spirituality.
Spirituality is subversive, upsetting and anti-conformist, because real spirituality is a celebration of the individual, but not the individual as he or she is usually perceived, through the ego and as the ego—but the individual in reality. The real individuality of a person is magnificent, spontaneous and free. That is why the renegade process, the inner rebellion is needed. It is like removing the chains, the cobwebs, the fears and the imaginary persecution of being thrown out of heaven, of being disowned, invalidated and abandoned. The spiritually motivated person looks through all these fears, these non-existent threats, and refuses to bow to them any longer. He or she makes the commitment to their inner nature to be true to themselves and to follow this truth wherever it leads.
These are three kinds of insanity and through the first two, you are right, you could not perceive a person of wisdom. But the third kind of insanity is essential if you are going to discern wisdom from stupidity. This third kind of insanity is sanity, although it doesn’t look like that to the conformists of the world. When you are sane or insane (depending on how you look at it) in this way you are only concerned about one thing: freedom. You realize that since you are innately free, free within yourself, others are too and if you and others are innately free, free as a birthright, then the world too is free. Within that freedom only natural things may arise, no distortions of perception, retribution or action arise at all. You are free and the expression of freedom in your life communicates to others. It can spread like wildfire. You cannot possibly overestimate the positive effects of one single soul who becomes intent upon their liberation. The results are astounding!
So when you talk about the possible demise of humanity and the paradise that remains after, you are making a fundamental mistake. You and your life, your experience, your being, your body, your aspirations and your dreams, thoughts, and imagination are all perfectly natural. They are all part of paradise. They are expressions of heaven. When you know this, you will see that you are nature itself here in form. Through nature, as nature, not just within nature, the divine has its home, its expression, its life force reflected in form.
This world is heaven, Nirvana, paradise. The conduits, agents, mediators of nature with the divine are people, human beings awakening and enjoying life. The wound that you have carried since childhood has caused you to separate yourself from nature and from the world. But you, Nature and the world are the same. You are consciousness and all that arises (including you) is consciousness in form and all that does not arise is also consciousness in the formless. It is all the same and you are as much it as I am!
When you see that it is all the same consciousness and when you feel it as all the same consciousness, the response of satchitananda spontaneously erupts within you as compassion to the world and its creatures and entities and all its multiple aspects. The love that you demonstrate to the world authentically creates a reciprocal cycle of offering and return. Before you know it the world appears to transform. But what has really happened is quite different; you have aligned yourself with nature, with your truth and with your true nature and so you are now able to see the world at last. You can see the world as it is and it is all consciousness, all you, all other, and all divine.
The world in chaos is really the divine world. In the divine world people of wisdom gravitate toward the wise, the joyful, the peaceful, the contented and realized ecstatic state of real presence and consciousness. You are also one of the wise ones, because you intuit wisdom even in your doubt, even in your questioning. To transform the world you must love, love everything, love what is hard to love, love what is easy to love, and eventually you will see the real world, the world of enlightenment. It is here, now it is present. It has no flaws. The perfect world awaits you and all you have to do to be in it is be perfectly natural.
The idea behind sub-personality theory is that our personalities are a composite of several (approx. 10) sub-personalities and, according to how they are arranged in our inner world, we relate, evaluate and make decisions. They are the separate parts or breakdown of our personality and character. Knowing your sub-personality set is therefore crucial for knowing who you are.
You begin by identifying and naming each one, for example, the child, the creative one, the rebel, sad and angry etc. Find the right names, the ones that resonate most strongly, feel the history of each one along with their individual qualities, attached emotions, associated activities and particularly where and how they appear in your life. For example, when you have to make an important decision about, say, relationship, where you live, work, spiritual calling, money etc. how exactly does the inner process work? What voices are predominant? How do they make themselves heard, i.e. stridently, confidently, courageously, aggressively? Who inside you is suppressed or doesn't get a word in (because of lack of courage, hesitancy, confusion etc.)?
You must become familiar with the relationships between the different parts of yourself; it is an important aspect of becoming intimate with yourself through your inner world. Some of these relationships will be positive, some negative (just like in the outer world), some a little of both of course! Sometimes two parts of you may support, intensify or collude with each other. You are looking at how emotional-behavioral patterns (your conditioned state) are perpetuated and justified.
Over time, as you work with sub-personalities you can make informed decisions that lead to change. The deep insights should take a couple of months to flower, then a little more time to deepen even more and then it should become a way of life for your awareness of personality, character and defenses (in yourself and others). In other words, when you know yourself, you are able to experience the other clearly.
While you are in your ego processes you cannot get rid of past events. The normal mind, the mind of day and night, good and bad, judgment and ingratitude feeds on past events and the residue of emotion, thoughts and unrest it receives from them. The ego will never be free of the past. The past and the ego are synonymous.
So the question behind your question is really how to shed the ego, because the ego processes prevent your enjoying the moment and eventually ego will possess your entire life and you will have missed it! Any simple Gestalt exercise or meditation practice can help you to inhabit and enjoy the moment. But to really engage in a life of presence you have to take it very seriously. You have to begin a complex process of practice, discovery and insight that results in deep understanding, not merely intellectual understanding, and which liberates you to enjoy life at the depth in which a human being finds true satisfaction and fulfillment.
My recommendation is to begin radical work on your personality now until you find yourself approaching the threshold of authenticity and compassion. From there you will experience no turning back, past events will take up their rightful place and you can practice being, presence and awareness.
This is a sticky question, but I think we basically agree that counseling is associated with symptomatic material with a possibly short-term commitment, while psychotherapy deals with root causes and longer commitment. Having said this, any individual counselor may be working on very deep levels, which certain psychotherapists may shy away from. However, when we talk about depth psychotherapy—open-ended sustained exploration of the psyche over a period of years—we are definitely drawing a distinction.
With a great deal of respect for what they reveal. Emotions are key in anyone’s therapy. Generally we allow the emotions to surface, accept them and let them change, intensify and signify events and trauma in your life and then through this process allow them to flow or release. We have to let them go, not get too attached to them, or to what they reveal or what they hide.
Emotions are not an end in themselves, however compulsive they may be. Essentially, because most of us are stuck in some past dynamics and limited and controlled by the influence of past experience, our emotional center is inauthentic, which is a way of saying that we are creating projections of past events, because we have trained ourselves to perceive them in everything and everybody.
So for example, a woman whose father was aggressive finds herself repeatedly attracted to angry men, in spite of the trouble they cause her; or a person whose self-esteem took a battering in early life seems unable to empower themselves to progress in their career.
The interesting thing about people who complete their personal therapy is that they locate their emotions in a whole new center of spontaneity and depth, where their emotions become present and vivid, rather than the product of conditioning and habitual responses.
Depression is becoming more prevalent as people look inward in search of a sense of meaning when they feel that there is no depth and significance in their outer life. Depression manifests as low moods, misery, despair, hopelessness, futility, lack of meaning, low energy, tiredness, lack of interest, lack of pleasure.
It may be triggered by stress from losing a job, the end of a relationship, illness, side effects of medication or recreational drug-taking, feelings of guilt or inadequacy. If you are in a job that seems pointless to you, if your relationship is not growing, if you are a young person training for a career that you don’t consider important, or if you reach middle years and look back without a sense of pride or relevance or effectiveness about what you’ve done in your life, you may feel depressed. And these feelings can lead you to despair, dejection and profound disillusionment.
How you respond to depression is crucial, because it can be a key to deep personal exploration. Feelings that have been held down in the psyche often emerge initially in negative form. Depression is a call to descend into the inner realms and uncover long-held fears, needs and anger that may have been resisted for a long time.
When you have persisted in personal therapy to the point where you know yourself more or less inside out and there are no surprises left you have undergone what I have called theJourney Around the Self”. At this point, because you may have become so invested in the search for yourself, the temptation is to go round again, to take a further ride.
This is a big mistake and yet the personal growth industry and therapists in individual and group practices are somewhat invested in this for obvious reasons. If you are fortunate enough to have wise counsel, someone who can discern what needs to be done rather than what you want to do, then the way is now open for personal transformation.
Transformation, in the way I use the term, is distinct from change. Changes take place throughout personal therapy; some major, some minor, some have lasting effect, some give fleeting pleasure. But transformation depends on you reaching the point of personal wholeness and then going further. There is very little ego reward in this, so people are inclined to go round again with another therapist, or using another discipline or method, or quit therapy and inner work altogether. But if they persist and take a further step they encounter the very edges of themselves where their authenticity lies.
So, the transformation, which is utterly permanent and qualitatively different from any previous change in personality work, is the emergence of the authentic self. This authenticity enables us to relate genuinely, and in a heart-felt way to others and the world, because our personal issues are now resolved and we have love and attention to spare.
Contractions in particular areas of the body relate to the overall system of physical energy. So I deal with them with an awareness of the bigger picture or total flow that the specific blockings are inhibiting. Particular emotions or constellations of emotions are specifically associated with these areas you mention. I would rather not say what they are, or may be, because it is important and essential that clients discover these as far as possible for themselves.
Methods to unblock physical contractions of emotional expression and experience include body awareness, catharsis, allowing, bodywork in the form of “hands on”, resistance, empathetic feeling (feeling together with the therapist), visualization (what the block or contraction looks like, what texture, shape or color it is), breathing to gently clear the block and in time allow a full flow of feeling awareness, exploration of historical as well as contemporary causes or associations with the armoring or protection from full feeling experience.
I encourage you to speak to someone you trust, a practitioner who is perhaps further along the road than you or who at least you respect. It is surely a rule of therapy and healing that our own inner issues are stimulated and intensified to compel us to do for ourselves the very thing we encourage in others—to heal and become clear. The issues you write of are in some cases advanced ones for healers—feeling alone, acting for others but not ourselves, vanishing certainties, not belonging. In my experience it is a call to the healer in you to serve humankind more deeply and more purely by taking care of yourself first! Find someone you can confide in, love yourself enough to devote time to this process of inner clearing and you will become a more wonderful practitioner than you are even today! And yes I and all of us who heal have most definitely experienced times like these.
Thanks Richard, your words comfort me. I tried to confide in friends, therapists, psychologists, but they almost laughed, saying, but how do you do your job when you don’t know the solutions? Actually they looked at the problem only from a psychological point of view, not from the spiritual point of view. That's why I confided in you. Is it that why we have to take these steps through suffering? Thank you.
Suffering is key, yes. But more important is our attitude to suffering, or what role it takes in our lives. Suffering is blessing, because it shows us where we are stuck, where we are hanging on and so it provides us with the means to let go. For the mature healer suffering is to be met with willingness, honor and gratitude—and this is what she must teach others.
Right, the suffering is the key! I am afraid of suffering, the trauma I experienced as suffering through the disease of my parents and friends. Perhaps this is why suffering appears often in my life, now about myself, physically and spiritually. Suffering is static, impotence. So far I have kept it at bay by helping others not to suffer, perhaps like you said, it's time to deal with it, make it a point of strength and give more attention to myself. I think that awareness is the first step toward healing. I am so grateful to you, thank you.
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Your strength, dedication and powerful focus to human life and development is a Divine gift to humanity. I am touched, moved and inspired by your motivating, life-transforming writing and work. A deep bow of appreciation from my heart and soul to you and your life changing work, which brings happiness, self-growth and peace. You are a humble, honest, harmonious guide bringing divine blessings to the world. I extend all respect, honor and a billion blessings to your Great work!
God bless you! Guruji Aruneshvar, Spiritual Master of the Param Shiva Adi Nath Sect, Blue Light Foundation for Shiva, Mumbai, India.