Sunday, January 8, 2012

Psychotherapy as Spiritual Practice, Purgation, Self, etc.

Okay, so I've been a little slack with postings on Answer to Job, I apologize.  So many other interesting readings have been also getting my attention lately, so this post is about one of them.

I have been reading over the past few months a book, by psychoanalyst and professor of religion and spirituality at Pacifica Graduate Institute Lionel Corbett, called "The Sacred Cauldron: Psychotherapy as a Spiritual Practice".  This morning, I came across the section below, where Corbett is talking about the psychological aspects of spiritual growth.  When he mentions the Self, he is referring to what Jungians refer to as the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego. The Self is both the whole and the center.  It is through the Self, I believe, that we interpenetrate with, and find, God.  Some Jungians believe that Self=God (or the God archetype), or in other words, Self is all there is.  Others, like me, believe that Self is where we make contact with that which is totally Other, or God.  So, when he speaks below of the call of Self, I would offer that this call is the call of God through the organizing totally of our psyche, which is the Self.

This passage below really resonates with me, as I have been trying to find words for the journey I've been experiencing over that past 5 years or so.  I would say that I'm still in the period of purgation that he describes below.  Here is the passage, from pages 118-119:

Spiritual development may begin as a person gradually develops a spiritual longing; we realize there is something more within us, something more that we need besides our usual lives, a deeper source of meaning even when life seems to be proceeding well on the surface...We cannot produce this longing; it comes upon us autonomously.  Sometimes such an awakening seems to happen for no apparent reason, or it may be triggered by a numinous experience that makes us aware of spiritual reality...These experiences may be seen as a call from the transpersonal Self...[to answer the call] We have to give up our existing image of ourselves and face some hard truths. A sacrifice of time, money, and energy may be necessary.  It may be difficult to accept that the hegemony of the ego is over.  It may be difficult to let go if one suffers from fragmentation anxiety or if status and success have been used to buttress a fragile sense of self.  It is difficult to be responsive to the promptings of the Self if one is preoccupied with survival.

If one accepts the call, one has to develop a relationship with it.  There follows what was traditionally referred to (
in mystic writers) as "purgation", meaning the necessity to face the shadow or problematic personality traits such as self-importance, possessiveness, greed, fear, and envy...Painful feelings are not obstacles to spiritual development but signposts that indicate...the doorways into the soul's deeper places.  After the awakening, the period of purgation is often experienced as a period of darkness; at times one does not have the strength to go on. This stage may last for years, during which the person may be in therapy.  At these periods, one reevaluates one's values and beliefs and may either recommit to a religious tradition or leave it entirely.

I would also offer, one can recommit to a religious tradition, but with a different lens and perspective on the richness and symbolic nature of their religious tradition, which is where my leanings are right now.


Tim said...

"It is difficult to be responsive to the promptings of the Self if one is preoccupied with survival."

Survival has it's grip on all of us. To let go is frightening, the unknown and all the insecurities and unsolved questions. It's to enter the Dark night of The Soul.

YoRichie said...

I find myself wondering how the ancients, i.e, Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, the Prophets, Paul, the Apostles, Assisi, etc..., seemed to be so connected to God (or the Other??) without Jung and Psychoanalysis on how to seek the One who has sought us out?

RoboPA said...

That's a good question YoRichie. I don't think Corbett is saying that people can not connect to God/Spirit/Divine without Jung or psychotherapy. What he is saying is that those things, as well as cultural mythology and other disciplines, are helping to add more symbols, metaphors, and language for the journey in to the depths that some are called into. For some people, the container of their faith expression remains fixed, and they live and die within that container, and that is perfectly fine. They may have sensed a call to move outside of that, and that call may be seen as doubt or something else. The price may seem too high to pursue, or there may be fear of letting go of some metaphors and images, so they consciously or unconsciously remain in their container and supress the call. Others take the call, and begin to move outside of their container. The insights into the human psyche, the unconscious, mythology, the metaphors of Ego/Self, etc that these thinkers provide give additional insights into that movement.

As far as the ancients go, a few things. I would never presume to know what type of connection anyone has/did have to God. Also, I think we sometimes elevate these folks to super-human status, as if they had some deeper, struggle-free, unmediated connection to God. They were us; same struggles, same issues. I could also suggest that maybe the ancients were more mystic/mythological in their worldview than we are, us having been influenced by the Enlightenment and it's quest for facts as the only source of truth. Modern day mystics like John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, etc had experiences with the unconscious and Dark Nights that, while they did not have language that matches our current language, had experiences that we can learn from. To think that the ancients had the last and final word on how to connect to God, how the human psyche functions, etc is also to say that we should still think the earth is flat and rests on pillars, the sky is a dome that holds back waters, and that the length of hair determines the ability to conceive a child (a la Paul in Corinth). Of course we can learn from those ancients, as well as other ancient writings, but they don't have the final word, or else we limit God's spirit and it's ability to lead us to growth and change and increased levels of consciousness.

RoboPA said...

Another way to look at it. I would offer that the sacrificial system, the purity and dietary laws, etc that the ancient Hebrews borrowed from surrounding cultures were also symbols, metaphors, and practices that they used to connect to their sense of the Divine. Meaning, we adopt and use what is at our disposal and that meets our current level of understanding to connect to that which can only be met through the symbolic. There is a Buddhist saying that says "The finger is not the moon", meaning the things that point to the divine can not be mistaken as the divine. Although, even that saying is symbolic and subject to the weaknesses inherent in all "God talk".