I find the metaphor of the journey helpful when talking about spirituality in therapy, as it doesn’t limit itself to looking only at therapy or healing but can potentially encompass all of life. The ‘journey’ is less concerned with pathology and more with moving through life with purpose, meaning and direction. It affirms our necessary times of healing and growth in wholeness but invites us to a bigger adventure; the possibility of transformation of our consciousness.
The spiritual journey invites us to move from places and spaces of constraint and being boxed in, to places of expansiveness, spaciousness and graciousness. Individually and sometimes communally we journey from small, dark, limited, constricted tight places to wide open expanses that allow us to breathe more freely. We move from slavery to our various compulsions and addictions, of being ‘tied in knots’ over various issues, to states of greater interior and exterior freedom. This liberation is possible on many levels including: mental, emotional, physical, relational, community, political and spiritual.
A stance that I like to take as therapist is to explore with my clients reflective questions such as: what’s growthful and expansive, what’s meaningful and purposeful, what brings aliveness to you? What’s evolutionary, generative and regenerative for you? What is leading you or moving you in your valued direction? What helps you come home to your deepest, most authentic and truest self?
As a therapist I am a fellow companion on the journey of coming home to our true selves. This journey asks for genuine honesty, humility, humour and a degree of playfulness. We begin to see in a more participative and appreciative way, with softer eyes, a gaze of beholding and being held by life.
We are invited to live with hope, to see from a more panoramic and spacious perspective. To see beyond our ‘stuckness’ into an enlargening of mind and heart. We don’t avoid the difficult or messy aspects of the journey, knowing that the way forward is through the difficulties. Often the age old pattern of life, death and new life is involved. The path takes us from order to disorder to reorder.
We are accompanied on this journey by our innate wisdom, sometimes called, ‘the still small voice’ which guides, leads, pinches, intimates, whispers, nudges and reminds us to journey on through what at times can be bewildering and confusing pathways of life.
Trail Markers for the Journey
I’d like to introduce a few trail markers, ‘tips for the road’, if you like, that can be helpful in walking this path. I acknowledge spiritual writers Ken Wilbur and Richard Rohr as inspiration for illuminating some of these trail markers. Future blogs will expand on each of these Trail Markers.
Trail Marker 1: Waking Up
By temperament most of us tend to be ‘doers’ and problem solvers. The more neglected and more needed aspect of the journey is contemplation rather than endless activity, being rather than doing, and even more so, the integration of action with contemplation. Otherwise the doing can become compulsive rather than reflective: activity for its own sake. We don’t ‘wake up’ by mere agreement, or ascent to a spiritual philosophy or set of beliefs. While knowledge is helpful as it provides a map or framework, we generally need a regular spiritual practice to bring about deep change whereby we open ourselves to the possibility of growth and transformation. First, we need to change our own selves, not others, and not even the the world. In a future blog I will talk about some of the contemplative practices that may suit you.
Trail Marker 2: Connecting Up
A community of fellow travellers is helpful to support and facilitate us as we change so we can be faithful to following our chosen path and more effective in our engagement in the world. A supportive community companions us in our and their ordinariness, fellow pilgrims seeking the way forward. Community is not here to solve our problems so much as to reveal our problems to us. This can produce a humility and patience with ourselves and others as well as times of stretching and growing. We shouldn’t search for the perfect community, I guarantee that you’ll never find it. Sometimes it’s the job of the community to pierce or wound us to bring out our goodness. Community can provide support, connection and affirmation as well as a testing ground or even a refining fire.
Trail Marker 3: Freeing up
Many of our unfinished inner and outer patterns will be played out in community. We need to learn to compassionately observe these patterns and to recognise our habitual, conditioned responses which are often deeply ingrained unconscious habits. Until we unveil and take ownership of our own inner thoughts and reactions, outer behavioral changes will not last long. Freeing up often involves slowly recognising the voice of our harsh inner critic with its self shaming and unrelenting standards of perfection. As we release it’s tight grip on us we can begin to relate differently to ourselves, others and the world at large.
Trail Marker 4: Cleaning Up
When we begin a regular contemplative practice we will often feel an unnerving sense of emptiness, powerlessness and poverty that we don’t know what to do with. It’s not what we expected from the spiritual life! Anxiety, restlessness, loneliness, boredom, negativity, irritation and reactivity are normal. Know that our usual coping devices, such as constant busyness, are being stripped away from us by our practice. In time we become less defensive and more vulnerable which is scary and unfamiliar to the ego. Harsh inner and outer judgements are often a way of ‘being in control’ in the face of powerlessness and humiliation. In order to really change or transform our consciousness we need significant contact with our unconscious, including our shadow. Contemplative practice is capable of opening and touching our unconscious where much of our hurts and motives lie hidden.
Trail Marker 5: Growing Up
A spirituality of imperfection invites us to be patient and non-violent with ourselves and others. Our community of imperfect, and sometimes irritating fellow travellers, is the perfect place to learn to be patient with our own imperfection. We need to trust in the work of transformation knowing that growth is generally slow and organic and often barely perceptible. We gradually learn to be with ourselves and others in a more easy and natural way. We become more comfortable in our own skin, and more at ease connecting with others. We begin to show up more authentically and honestly with ourselves and others. Our interaction with others becomes less about performance and more about presence.
Trail Marker 6: Showing Up
As we practice these principles we slowly become a new and different person living more from our deepest, truest self instead of our immature ego-self. Our new awareness begins to transform us from within. We find we can enter into action with greater inner freedom and purer motivation which can lead to greater fruitfulness and contentment.
As we are transformed, we learn how to help others to transform. We learn to become men and women of compassion entering the market place not to draw attention to ourselves but to quietly ‘give our gold away’: freely infusing our love into the atmosphere.
Questions for reflection:
1. What supports me in my desire for transformation?
2. What hinders my openess to transformation?