CREATING GROWTH THROUGH SPIRITUAL PATHS:
EXPLORING THE UNCONSCIOUS IN THE CONTEXT OF SPIRITUALLY INTEGRATED PSYCHOTHERAPY
ST. STEPHEN’S COLLEGE
St. Stephen’s College, June 2018
In this paper I discuss how growth occurs, the nature of humanity, psychotherapy and how it differs from regular relationships and spiritually integrated psychotherapy. I focus on conscious growth through knowledge of the unconscious, drawing heavily on Allen’s work of art as a spiritual path (2005), myths, religious texts and Johnson’s writings of Jungian theory (1986). I discuss the reasons and evidence for a balance between the conscious and unconscious being necessary for a meaningful life and offer several examples from my own experience to illustrate these points. Using Pargament’s research (2007) as a foundation for spiritually integrated psychotherapy, I discuss my belief of change occurring in an environment of love and the role of a therapist to facilitate growth.
Humans are growth driven and the drive to grow consciousness is illustrated well by a fictional character, Trout, who states that the purpose of life is to, “be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe (Vonnegut, 1975, p. 52)”. We grow our consciousness for the purpose of finding meaning, or truth, (Reitinger, 2005) and the drive to create meaning is a force that is hardwired into us (Painter, 2007; Pargament, 2007; Wong, 2014). Once we locate the prized object of our quest we centre our lives around it (Pargament, 2007; Wong, 2014). Humans seek conscious growth, which we accomplish by traveling a spiritual path to greater knowledge of our unconscious, so we can find our inner truth, thereby finding our personal meaning. When we travel this path in an environment of love, transformation occurs.
I will begin by offering a background reference for people’s drive to grow in consciousness which will lead to a discussion of the true spiritual nature of human life. Next, I will explore the inner journey and various pathways to increase consciousness, offering concrete examples from my own experiences and explaining the relationship between creativity and growth. In the following section I will discuss how therapy can facilitate a path of growth and reasons to have a therapist and the distinctions of a therapeutic relationship. Lastly, I will speak about love, transformation and the stimulus for change to occur in people’s lives.
Our True Nature
Make the Darkness Light
For eons humans have been motivated by increase in consciousness. The Delphic Maxim, “know thyself”, and Socrates’ further expansion, “[t]he unexamined life is not worth living”, both date to Ancient Greece. Baha’u’llah, the Prophet of the Baha’i Faith, gives us the contemporary version of this quote, “true loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his own self” (1988, p. 156). In the Pandeism view the Creator split itself into an infinite number of pieces and life is about Creator finding itself and manifesting successive degrees of wholeness (“What is pandeism?”). The evolution of life, from simple to complex organisms and finally to life conscious of itself, supports this idea; and there is evidence of conscious growth being directed not only through time, but in-between species (Kohanov, 2001). Adding more references for the search for wholeness, in Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes explains that due to our unconscious memory of an original state of oneness, we spend our life seeking to re-create wholeness (SparkNotes Editors, n.d.). In Jungian theory we attempt to unite unconscious parts of ourselves through the study of our dreams (Johnson, 1986). The act of bringing unconscious aspects into consciousness is like shining a light of knowledge on what was previously unknown. This is illustrated in Genesis, when the Creator views a dark world and commands light to appear, and light appears. This story encapsulates my view of our purpose: to illumine the parts of creation which are in shadow.
The growth of consciousness lies in exploring the darkness (Allen, 2005). Further, I believe that the unconscious is the most powerful force within us and is the main driver of a person’s life. I find great truth in the well-known analogy of the iceberg, the top tenth of the iceberg is our what we are conscious of and the remainder floating under the water, is our unconscious. The unconscious, or inner world, is a reality which we all eventually face and ideally the conscious mind and the unconscious interact with each other in a flow of consciousness, informing our choices in life (Johnson, 1986). Put another way, we must live in both worlds, the inner and outer, to be truly human.
Spirituality and Creativity
I believe that humans are fundamentally creative and spiritual beings. I will first discuss spirituality and move to its relationship to creativity. Spirituality interweaves in the whole of life, mind, body and heart; it transforms us, challenges us and puts us in contact with the great mystery (Paintner, 2007). When we approach life spiritually, we commit to approaching everything from a place of inter-relatedness including, “oneself and other people, the physical environment, one’s heritage and traditions, one’s body, one’s ancestors and saints, Higher Power, or God” (Griffith and Griffith, 2003, p. 15). Relationships are central to a spiritual path, everything is connected to everything else and when we view life spiritually, we move in awareness of our connections. Given our interconnectedness, I believe we grow consciousness as a collective humanity and along ancestral lines, in an ever-unfolding pattern, linking generations to generations. The traumas and griefs which are unresolved from one generation affect subsequent ones, living in our cells and our unconscious energetic family systems (Wolynn, 2016). Consciousness wants to make itself known and the same patterns repeat until they are healed (Hendrix, 1990). I see myself as a living link between my ancestors and descendants. The growth I make in my life has a direct impact and influence on family members connected to me, across space and time, and I have experienced powerful motivation for personal growth and deep healing as a result of this awareness.
Our inter-relation is supported in science (Wolynn, 2106), as well as cultural and religious traditions. In the Indigenous teachings when we heal ourselves we heal seven generations back and seven generations forward, and The Bible has a similar perspective in that the sins of the fathers will pass on for three to four generations (Numbers 14:18); the Baha’i Faith teaches that our prayers and actions impact and heal the souls who have passed to the next world (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 1982). Through our spirituality we can expand our connection from a focus only on the self to an awareness of many others.
Next, I will discuss my second belief about our nature: that humans are creating beings, we have been created to create, it’s as natural as breathing (McNiff, 1998). Our capacity to create is what defines our humanity; anthropologists agree that human life began in the Blombos Caves in South Africa, where we see the first signs of intentional art-making (Gates, 2017). In contrast to animals, humans are the only life form which has consciousness of itself. Animals remain bound by instinct, but our capacity to create, made possible through imagination and reflection, is the main distinguishing feature of what it means to be human. No matter how evolved an animal may be, or how many words an ape can learn, it is not capable of unlocking the mysteries and secrets of the universe; it cannot send a rocket to the moon, harness the power of electricity, or split the heart of an atom (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 1982).
Our imagination is our greatest divine gift (McLean, 1994) which allows new discoveries to occur, is our biggest tool for self-knowledge and meaning making and is the central faculty of creativity (Painter, 2007). Thanks to our powers of imagination we create something new and bring it into being in this world. Imagination not only facilitates new inventions, it serves as our midwife in birthing better versions of ourselves. We can always imagine someone of greater spiritual perfection, someone more just, more patient, or more loving (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 1982). Harnessing our power of imagination for conscious growth, the expansion in these spiritual perfections is endless.
Creative expression can shine a light on the true nature of reality, or in other words, on their interconnectedness: the spiritual relationships. Creativity is a “truth telling [tool] for discovering what is out of alignment” (S. Sophia, personal communication, June 28, 2018). When we engage creatively we can discern the areas where we need to grow. Art therapist and artist, founder of the Open Studio Process, Pat Allen’s work focuses on the union of creativity, spirituality and healing (2005). Creating art in a consciously spiritual way allows space for awareness to develop and awareness is the first step to growth.
The Inner Journey
Creativity is not the only path to illumine the unconscious. Rumi, speaking about the spiritual path says: “[t]here are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground” (Barks & Rumi, 1997, p. 36). I view therapy as a spiritual path, and the type of therapy, or the therapist, is less important than the effect (Ardito & Rabellino, 2011). Many paths can take a person to their unconscious. This is well illustrated by Rumi’s story of the shepherd who was praying to God. The shepherd is going on in a manner of a devoted parent to a child. “I want to bring you [God] milk to kiss your little hands and feet when it's time for you to go to bed. I want to sweep your room and keep it neat” (Barks & Rumi, 1997, p. 165). Moses hears this and severely chastises the shepherd for his prayers being an insult to God. The shepherd is ashamed and stops his worship, his heart burdened. At that moment a revelation appears before Moses to correct him. God teaches Moses that the type of worship is not important, everyone has their own way of worshiping: “What is poison to one is honey to someone else” (Barks & Rumi, 1997, p. 166). In modern language, the angel, essentially explains to Moses that if a path leads us to grow in healthy ways and is life-affirming then it is good. By definition, a path leading to growth is a spiritual path.
Meditation, spiritually integrated psychotherapy, art as a spiritual path, Hakomi, yoga, prayer – these are all ways that we can come into greater alignment and awareness of ourselves and our life purpose. These therapies all create space for the spirit, which encompasses the wisdom of the heart, body, and mind. When we listen spiritually, we achieve greater wholeness, or alignment in ourselves. However, not everyone agrees that the inner journey must be taken seriously. There are some schools of psychology that think of people as primarily reactive to their environment and disconnected from unconscious influences (Pargament, 2007). I think that life is too complex to be distilled into one category, such as the nature or nurture debate, where humans are either motivated by their inner born destiny (Hillman, 1997 as cited in Kohanov, 2001), or trained through external influences. Behaviourism is an example of the latter, which concentrates on the present moment in therapy and denies the effect of the past, dreams, or inner motivations of the client; further, the behaviourist keeps oneself distant from the client (Markos & Kottler, 1995). Although Hillman and Allen argue that the therapy space must address the soul’s yearnings (1997 as cited in Kohanov, 2001, 2005), I think that sometimes it might be necessary to concentrate only on behaviour. The relationship between our behaviours, thoughts and feelings has been well documented (Williams, Teasdale, Segal & Kabat-Zin, 2007). And although I tend to agree with Hillman and believe that there is a vast realm of the unconscious which has its own reasons for our behaviours, I recognize that not every client has the capacity to dig deeply into it. For these clients, a behaviourist approach can be very useful, and it can improve their quality of life. Given that people usually seek therapy because of some discomfort in their lives (Pargament, 2007), a new behaviour could decrease the tension which at the same time could satisfy the unconscious drive for growth, unbeknownst to the client. Like with the shepherd, the path is less important than the effect. But, if we have the capacity and desire to travel the inner path, we must seek communion with the unconscious; the relationship between capacity for growth and unconscious awareness is directly proportional (Pattison, 1996). Any practice which serves to enhance one's perception of the unconscious is of great value for transformation to occur.
There are rites of passage on the journey to unconscious realms. We must strip away the husks of our egos, past patterns, desires, ancestral baggage and future visions. As Baha’u’llah explains, “whatever he [the seeker] hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught, that he may enter the realm of the spirit” (Bahá’u’lláh, 1986, p. 7). We must sacrifice our ego to grow. In the myth of the Ancient Sumerian goddess, Inanna, she journeys into the underworld to confront Death, but, to appear in Death’s court, she must be naked. At seven stages, her outer adornments are removed and finally “[n]aked and bowed low, Inanna enter[s] the throne room” (Kramer, n.d., p.5). She strips away her vanities and fancies and dies to this world, to be born in the world of the spirit. In The Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah details the path a soul takes in journeying towards Ultimate Reality, like in the myth of Innana, there are seven stages of spiritual growth (Bahá’u’lláh, 1986). These two stories indicate to me that the therapeutic journey takes time. The ego, our false idea of self, must be calmed by an environment of love and trust to allow the Creative Spirit to transform the true self and thus birth the next unfoldment of our life’s purpose. Carl Jung, arguably one of the most brilliant guides of our unconscious, speaks of four ways of accessing the unconscious: imagination, dreams, art making and ritual (Johnson, 1986). In the following section, I will explore art-making and creative engagement as pathways to growth.
Creativity heals us and defines our humanity. In pre-modern times the domains of healing, art and spirituality were interwoven elements of human life. Combined with Jung’s theories about the language of the unconscious being through images and symbols (Johnson, 1986), I believe that it is through connecting with, our natural birthright, the Creative Spirit, that we can reach our potential.
My journey has always been inward. When I made my first mandala, a few months ago, I realized I began at the centre and worked my way out. For me, to make sense of my external world, I need to locate first within myself. I often will turn to art-making to gain a deeper awareness of what is going on for me, like, Pat Allen (2005), I may make art to learn more about my family dynamics, increase an understanding of a dream, or to resolve a conflict within myself. The arts allow us access to deeper states of knowing not available through cognitive methods. Arts allows us to consider on an intuitive level, uniting the body, mind, intellect, spirit and emotions in a process which reveals deeper levels of who we are (Paintner, 2007). Art as a spiritual path offers us a possibility to cultivate our discernment and imagination in order to manifest reality (Allen, 2005). The painter and guide, Flora Bowley, pioneer of Brave Intuitive Painting, explains that if we really show up authentically to our canvas, the canvas will reveal our blocks to us (Huff, n.d). When we engage with the Creative Spirit in a meditative way, the art-making can answer the question of: what is in us that is waiting to be born (Allen, 2005)?
I will offer a concrete example of this learning from the Introduction to Spirituality and Psychotherapy course. On the second day of our course, I was feeling disconnected from the course work and the process unfolding; it seemed at that time, that because of external circumstances of a religious day and a funeral, I may have been required to withdraw from the course, due to missing too much class time. I was questioning whether to withdraw, or to approach the director and try to advocate for myself in remaining in the course. My own commitment to the material and path of study was crucial for me to understand what my next steps were to be. Following the Open Studio Process (Allen, 2005), I set my intention: to gain clarity into how I was feeling and arrive at a more integrated place. I quickly made a scribble drawing (Appendix A) and journaled a witness. I saw a figure balking at a doorway, but standing on a moving sidewalk of golden light, there were rainbow light rays drawing her forward, towards a place of growth. Within minutes I gained great insight and clarity regarding my inner condition and what my unconscious was trying to communicate to me. I realized that I was afraid, and resisting the new opportunities before me, but I needed to trust the process; my fear was only within me. It was clear based on my drawing that the external environment was one of love and support and I could soften into it towards healing, integration and growth. Based on my new insights, I felt more aligned and was able to make an integrated decision on how to respond to the course and my conflict around it. My spiritual approach to creativity illumined the unconscious and through an active reflection I created new understanding.
Can all metaphors for creativity be equally applied for an engaged life? Is not our life our greatest masterpiece? Creativity is dynamic, it is constantly changing with no regard for constraints of what should be. When we live creatively, we are in constant motion (McNiff, 1998) and because I see people as being inherently creative and spiritual beings, I add that a person fulfilling one’s destiny is always moving. To stop seeking growth, means to deny our spirit. Committing to a path of growth is seldom easy. To live creatively requires acceptance of the unknown, we must let the path appear with each step. We may not know where we are going, we need to open the way to experimentation and imagination (Bowley, 2012; McNiff, 1998) and we need to trust the process of growth. We need to have an adventurous approach to life, to try things out! At any moment, we only know the sum knowledge of all our experiences. If we try new things and new ways of being, we increase our knowledge and gain more mastery and insight. As we engage spiritually, in relation with the Creative Force, we learn new ways of being in the world. Through self-reflection, we develop a deeper awareness of ourselves, our actions and our goals, and come closer to achieving them. Like the artist in the studio, we need to be open to new ways of doing things. In the process-oriented approach to art-making, it is the path which leads to the finished piece that often holds more meaning and value than the finished piece itself (McNiff, 1998). As Lynn H. Hough wrote in 1920, “life’s a journey, not a destination” (O’Toole, 2012); the voyage is more important than the goal.
My approach to art, as to life, is process-oriented. The wisdom gained on the path holds greater value than the external milestones which have been accomplished. The wisdom we gain has benefit for all humanity, for as we mature, we gain insights into growth which we can share with others which adds meaning to our lives. Consciousness is a continuum and as a person grows in consciousness, a natural desire develops to serve and help the people who are at the lesser stages of development. We are wired to grow and to help others grow.
Reasons to have a therapist
Is it enough to open oneself to the Creative Source and seek inner wisdom? In Rumi’s great work, The Mathnavi, he repeatedly affirms in different ways that, “[i]f anybody goes on the Way without a Guide, every two days’ journey becomes one of a hundred years” (Kashifi, 2015, p. 203). Yes, we can travel the inward journey alone, but it helps to have a guide. In tantra philosophy, our joy and sorrow, obstacles and triumphs, virtues and vices all combine to weave together a tapestry (Isaacs, 2007). When we view the tapestry from up close it is easy to get lost, but with a detached perspective we can see that all the strands of our life make up the beauty of the piece. A well-trained therapist who has voyaged along the dark labyrinths of human experiences can serve as a guide for others, offering a larger view of one’s life-tapestry. Traditionally, in many cultures there have been oracles, shamans and artist-healer types who have traveled inner pathways and were known as mystic guides. The path of creativity has many twists and turns, which are sometimes subtle we can easily get lost (McNiff, 1998). Not only is a therapist essential, but it must be one who has training in spiritually integrated therapy; “[w]hen people come to therapy, they do not check their spirituality at the door” (Pargament, 2007, p. 176). Separating spirituality from therapy would be like trying to separate the tea from the sugar once you have stirred them.
Working with unconscious energy can be unpredictable. Creativity takes no responsibility for outcome, like the Hindu goddess Kali, or the Tower card in Tarot, creativity can destroy as much as it can create. The energy moved in a therapy session can be “daimonic, which is to say that it is uncannily powerful, and can be both destructive and creative” (Diamond, 2011). The excavation of the unconscious requires a container and the space of a therapist’s office can function as such. In spiritually integrated psychotherapy, the therapist can provide a supportive structure for the clients, otherwise, as the client increases awareness of his unconscious, allowing creativity to move through him, he is at risk of destabilizing his life.
Flow + Container = Balance
Dualism is one philosophical perspective that is common in religious, spiritual and cultural traditions. One extreme gives meaning to the other, for example, we understand heat through its absence, cold. The yin and yang dichotomy is commonly used to illustrate this point. In various traditions such as yoga, tantra and Jungian philosophy, the yin force represents the feminine: cool, dark and receptive energy, flowing and connecting; whereas, the yang is the masculine force: hot, light and active energy directing and providing structure. We need a balance between both sides. To illustrate this idea, I like to think of it like water flowing: if a river (yin) had no banks (yang) the river would spill everywhere, either dispersing uselessly into the soil, or, flooding the communities and vegetation all around it causing destruction, but, with banks to contain it, the river is a powerful source of life. Having balance between our inner and outer world, our emotions and reason, provides a life full of meaning.
Griffith and Griffith describe spirituality like a “formless, free, and flowing [wild river]” (2003, p. 10). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy can provide a container for the creative and unpredictable wild river of an engaged, adventurous, growth-oriented and spiritual life. The banks of the river contain the water, but what we need to remember is that it is the flow of the water itself that shapes the banks into the land. In our society, we have come to value external structure, linear thinking and organized strategic methods over intuitive, creative, heart-centered and artistic ways of knowing. We have attempted to subvert the river to flow along pre-determined lines devised by our conscious mind. What is needed is an exchange of energy between the inner world of the river and the outer form of the banks; spiritual approaches facilitate this exchange. In the psychotherapy space, we can pay attention to the nature of our inner world. Within the safety of the therapeutic space and held by the care of our guide/therapist, we can allow our creative energy to flow freely, allowing it to inform us, so we can shape more thoughtfully our external world.
There is a great deal of support for an ideal human state being one of possessing balance between their inner and outer conditions. In the past, receptive and internally focused oracles, artists and highly sensitive types engaged to offer insights to the active and externally focused world leaders (Allen, 2005; Aron, 1997). In Plato’s Republic, the philosopher king is one who has balanced the internal and external elements within himself, according to Plato, this is the most perfect type of person. In Jungian work, the aim is to access our inner opposite nature, the anima or animus energy, which appears in dreams as the opposite sex (Berry, 2000). Through art-making we arrive at more wholeness by engaging with unconscious gestations of our potential (Allen, 2005). It is through uniting parts of ourselves, that appear at conflict, that we can grow in our consciousness and arrive at a more complete self.
The Therapeutic Relationship
In any type of therapy, the therapeutic relationship is given high status as the biggest predictor for effective healing (Ardito & Rabellino, 2011). I will write about spiritually integrated psychotherapy. When we are primarily concerned with being in a state of relation to all that is, we are walking a spiritual path, hence in spiritually integrated psychotherapy, we are always conscious of the unfolding and fluid dynamics of the psychotherapy relationship; Griffith and Griffith call this state attunement (2003). Being attuned to the shifting dynamic of the present moment is crucial to creative living, art-making and transformation. When we engage in art making as a spiritual path we open ourselves up to be influenced by the needs and demands of the image (Allen, 2005). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy allows the relationship between the therapist and the client to be influenced by the evolution of the relationship itself; the psychotherapy relationship has its own path of unfolding and the relationship itself will make its needs known.
To be aware of the growing relationship and the client’s needs the therapist must be connected spiritually. Any spiritual endeavour demands a holistic approach (Sheldrake, 2012), therefore, it is vital that the therapist bring a fully integrated sense of self to the space. The counselling room is a sacred space and the work of the therapist is a sacred act of creation, she acts in service to the Creative Spirit when she guides the client down his path. Authenticity and truth in oneself inspires the same in another; the degree to which the therapist remains in touch with her truest self is proportional to the degree of self-awareness the client may experience (Pargament, 2007). When the therapist has experienced deep healing, this affects the client’s own healing journey. When I am in personal therapy, the capacity of the therapist to move deeply in the unconscious affects the therapy itself.
However, spiritual connection is only one aspect of the therapeutic space. A friend can be connected, spiritual, authentic, attuned; this does not make a friendship therapy. There are key elements which distinguish therapy from other supportive relationships. The main distinction is that a therapist is working from a foundation of theory and any suggestions for treatment are grounded in the therapist’s theoretical approach (N. Imgrund, personal communication, May 1, 2018). In addition, in a spiritually integrated psychotherapy framework, the therapist must be conscious of respecting the client’s beliefs; the beliefs of the client can be judged not by their own merit, but by their life-affirming aspects. Does the spirituality of the client help the client to grow in healthy ways? As with the story of the shepherd, it is less important how one worships, the act of worshiping bestows its own rewards. As therapists, we cannot judge, or impose, on another person’s beliefs. But, we can explore the belief to help the client reflect as to whether it is a helpful one, or whether it needs updating. To better serve the client, spiritually integrated therapy requires the therapist develop “a well-integrated, professional spiritual perspective” (Pargament, 2007, p. 192) and remain open to learning about the client’s spirituality. The role of the spiritually integrated psychotherapist, as opposed to a pastoral counsellor, is to help the client be guided by his own truth, versus the belief system of an established religion (Pargament, 2007). Through communicating a willingness to being taught by the client, the therapist receives an invitation to journey the unconscious and spiritual dimensions together (Pargament, 2007). The therapist serves as a guide, shining light on the path, while the choice of path lies firmly with the client. The therapist may be the expert on techniques, tools and theories, but the client is the expert on himself and the therapist allows herself to be led by the client through his own unconscious landscape.
One tool for knowing the unconscious is ritual (Johnson, 1986) and when we lose ritual our world is bland (Pargament, 2007). The therapy space is a ritual space; it is sacred. This is evident from the structure of the therapy space; it has certain actions that are always performed in a set order. The location, person, duration and sequence are the components of the therapy ritual ((N. Imgrund, personal communication, May 1, 2018). One reason the unconscious can be known through ritual is that ritual calms the ego. When the ego is lulled by the familiarity of a ritual, it lays down its defenses and trust can be built. Like the story of Innana, the client, over time, removes his barrier towards growth and returns to a child-like state. In a place of child-like vulnerability and openness, new growth can occur. There is one caveat to this, a ritual which is rote serves no purpose (Allen, 2005). The client must be invested in the therapy process and be open to its affect.
A supportive therapy offers a space for reflection and creates structure, these two elements are vital to a growth process. Our ego keeps parts of ourselves buried in the unconscious for good reasons; to release those raw parts to the outside world, may bring destruction of stable structures upon which we, or others, depend; a therapist can help provide structure. However, to ignore the unconscious and keep things buried may result in pathologies, or destruction as well; therapy offers space for active reflection. The unconscious wishes itself to be known and will ensure we come to face it (Johnson, 1986). The best thing we can do for ourselves is to actively seek to know our unconscious.
I have outlined above several distinctions of a spiritually integrated therapeutic relationship: attunement, spiritual connection, theory, ritual and structure. One more remains. In my view, the most important training aspect which supports conscious growth is the idea of transference: projecting our internal needs onto the external environment. If a person is unaware of his unconscious strivings, he can easily convince himself that someone else fulfills all his needs, even though it is not the reality. It takes a trained counsellor to know how to recognize transference and what to do with it. Because helping someone work through their deepest unconscious struggles is a charged process, it is easy to fall in love. Freud himself, in a letter to Jung, called psychotherapy, “in essence a cure through love” (Diamond, 2011 para. 1). And, as is evident from Jung’s love affairs with his female patients, there is a danger of intense romantic feelings developing through therapy. When strong emotions arise, and through a lens of service to the client, the therapist, due to her sensitivity and training, can professionally mange these emotions, either by reintroducing them to the therapeutic space, or keeping them for her own reflections. The reality of transference demands that therapists actively engage in their own therapy. This protects their clients from any counter-transference which may occur.
As I mentioned, love is the medium of therapy and the most basic building block of human love is the mother-child bond. The attachment which the infant has with the mother (and later the father and other care-givers) creates the architecture for the individual’s love relationships in later life (Neufeld, 2013). Through our upbringing, we are wired to try to heal any errors which were made in our attachments as infants and children (Hendrix, 1990) and new research (Wolynn, 2016) shows that our traumas remain for three generations impacting our personal, social and family relationships. We all carry wounding. The beauty of the therapy relationship, as opposed to regular loving human interaction, is that it can heal the wounds without adding new ones; because it is a professional healer relationship, it can function as a laboratory for new patterns of love to grow. A safe, supportive, reliable, platonic love of a therapist relationship can help a client open to love, tolerate its apprehensions and uncertainties and become more receptive to its healing influence (Diamond, 2011). The love of a therapy relationship can be reminiscent of a parental attachment; therapy can fill in any missing ingredients from the primary love bonds. Where there is love, there is connection, healing and growth. When we speak and offer ourselves from a place of love, this is by nature healing. I know from my own parenting life that it matters less what I say to my kids, than how I say it. My inner condition has the greatest impact. As Thelma Davis said, “[w]hen someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words”. Sometimes simply being with someone in an authentic and compassionate way can stimulate transformation.
From my personal experiences, I know that when we open ourselves up to love and begin to remove layers of ego and superego, to try to develop the darker mysteries of ourselves, we also run into the “core love wound [which] … typically contains a repressed reservoir of rage, grief, hurt and sadness from the past, all of which must be slowly allowed to surface, flow and be consciously felt” (Diamond, 2011, para. 8). Due to personal trauma from my childhood, I have PTSD around intimacy. In my marriage, I have had to open these painful parts of myself. Without the support of a therapist the intensity of the trauma would have destroyed myself, or my marriage. Not everyone’s pain will be as great as mine, but for many it is greater. The quantity does not matter as much as the quality. The pain that we hold will naturally vary in intensity from person to person, but the pattern is the same. Love’s stirring awakens lost parts of ourselves, as we develop in ourselves a greater capacity to love and receive love, we also recognize deeper pains which ask to be healed. This process brings us closer to the ultimate wholeness we seek. The famous Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh explains, any therapy which increases love and compassion creates lasting change in the individual and more peace in the world (2011). In other words, it is as Freud explained, love heals.
Exploring the unconscious in an environment of love enables transformation. Before any of that, however, a person must want to change. When life becomes unpleasant in some way, people are motivated to want to find a better way. The impetus to seek therapy begins with tension, and the person enters the archetypal journey of the hero into the unconscious: through external distress, the hero is compelled to embark on a voyage into the hidden internal territories, there she encounters monsters, vanquishes them, learns lessons and emerges changed, back to her ordinary life. (“The Hero with a Thousand Faces Summary”, n.d.). We need to excavate ourselves, and in the process meet the monsters, or love wounds, so we can know and understand the earth from which we are made. This earth, our physical matter, our genetics, our ancestry, is all part of our unconscious. We need to investigate our past, our parents’ lives, their historical environments, visit or learn about the places our ancestors lived; this is vital information for us to develop our own self further (Allen, 2005). A spiritual approach shines light on these connections.
Lasting change occurs when propelled through external motivation, we understand ourselves at a very deep level in an environment of love and feel supported to learn new ways of being. Spiritually integrated psychotherapy is one place where the space for the deep soul work necessary of traversing the unconscious is available. In the past, the spaces for action and reflection were woven into society. But, Johnson writes, “[a]ll the forms of interaction with the unconscious that nourished our ancestors – dream, vision, ritual and religious experience - are largely lost to us dismissed by the modern mind as primitive or superstitious” (Johnson, 1986, p. 10). The modern world, obsessed with bigger-better-faster-more, where the GDP is the most important number, does not offer many spaces for inner work. Finding the space for inner work is essential if we are to fulfill our destinies to grow and develop as conscious entities. Allen explains, if we are always busy in life, not stopping to consider our deeper yearnings then we will be on auto-pilot and we will never grow, or change (2005). We must learn the oneness dance, a weaving in and out, between the internal and the external. Bowley (2016) and Allen (2005) teach students to take on active and receptive states in their art-making and the dynamics of Zarathrusta, a fictional prophetic character, epitomize the search for meaning as he journeys repeatedly between his inner cave and the outside world of human affairs (Nietzsche & Kaufman, 1995). We come in touch with who we are on a deep and profound level through accessing our unconscious, after we have established self-knowledge we weave out to bring our expanded awareness to bear upon the external world through action.
My own unconscious reminded me of this recently; a dream I had a month ago showed me doing embroidery art; through reflection, I understood the unconscious was communicating to me to engage in a symbolic weaving process. At that point in my life I needed to be more internal, but also needed coaxing not to get lost in the internal reflection, to keep coming back to the external world of action in order to have balance.
The pathway between the inner and outer is the spiritual path: a spiritual path is concerned with what is whole; it takes us deeper to a more authentic relationship with ourselves, with the sacred and with the “boundless mysteries of the cosmos” (Sheldrake, 2012, p. 5). Hence, it must be a spiritual path which takes us on the dynamic journey from inner to outer and back again. When I spend too long away from my own spiritual path, of art-making, yoga, meditation, prayer and spiritually integrated therapy, I find that, like Allen, my life becomes dull and meaningless, “a dutiful martyrdom” (2005, p. 17); I feel like a robot. When I am active on my spiritual journey, weaving in and out, I feel engaged; the discovery of my own truths affects the way I act in the world and my life is filled with meaning.
This paper raises questions of the interconnectedness of our personal healing work. I believe that we are all connected, and the healing one person does is valuable for the entire universe. New scientific research (Wolynn) confirms the traditional beliefs of ancestral connections impacting our lives, and we are learning about ancient trauma of war affecting modern horses and the spiritual relationship between horses and people guiding healing for both species (Kohanov, 2001). Some people engage in dream groups believing that certain dreams carry healing for the whole world (Allen, 2005) and other groups gather together at the same time world-wide to create a healing energy that embraces the world (Global Sisterhood, 2018). I wonder what other connections have been documented exploring the interconnectedness of spiritual healing work.
Humans are motivated by growth of consciousness; we accomplish this through increasing our awareness of our unconscious and becoming aware of the spiritual interconnectedness of everything in an environment of love; this internal process of understanding our hidden self, orients us around a personal meaning which transforms our lives. There are many ways of developing a deeper appreciation for the mystery within each one us. I have outlined several pathways, such as: art, creative engagement, ritual and spiritually integrated psychotherapy. Fundamentally, all of these paths share one common theme: the spiritual. Spirituality, in its various forms, is the channel which allows us to travel the way between the conscious and unconscious mind.
This paper has given an exploration of the personal spiritual path and the place of psychotherapy in this dynamic; however, although the issue of spirituality allowing a connection to other beings and through space and time has been raised, it remains insufficiently addressed in this paper. Growth is not confined to one person at one time: “when I grow I am done and my growth impacts only me”. Rather, my growth impacts everything: myself, my immediate family, my friends, my community, other beings, the world, unseen realms and the cosmos; we are all connected in one tapestry, my movement affects the threads of others (Isaacs, 2007). Further, we are unlimited in our capacity for growth, as I mentioned, we can always grow more patient or loving. Growth extends eternally and as we delve into deeper layers of our unconscious we are learning more about the connections our own growth has on others.
My explorations of human nature, spiritually integrated psychotherapy and change elicit questions. How deep do these connections go? What can science tell us about the connections of personal growth on other people, sentient and non-sentient beings and the environment? What new ways of researching can be developed to highlight our spiritual reality? My inner knowing is fascinated by these connections and Abdu’l-Bahá, explained this beautifully: “every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance, nor any slackening whatever” (1982, p. 157). Abdu’l-Bahá provides a spiritual authority and the idea of interconnection is common to many people today. I think the new task before us is to use our reasoning capacity through science to attempt to prove the spiritual connections.
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