Some Thoughts on Spirit and Psychology

Earlier this week I was giving a seminar called "Beyond Carl Rogers". Rogers was a humanistic psychotherapist who had been inspired in some way by exposure to Eastern ideas. Western psychotherapy all the way back to William James, has benefitted by such exposure and cross-fertilisation, whether it has seemed to be moving toward a more spiritual position (as with, perhaps, Rogers and, quite differently, Jung) or moving away from it (as, Freud). Moreno, the inventor of psychodrama, is a particularly interesting example. His psychodrama methods were to do with creating the conditions for spontaneity and creativity and he reasoned that, since God is the creator, whenever anything creative happens, THAT is God appearing in the room. The appearance of "an angel" paves the way for new life, new possibility. Clearly, the way that the spiritual dimension is envisaged or conceptualised varies. Spirit is not matter, but it does matter, since it is what moves us.

It is clear to me in reflecting on Rogers that one can interpret his theory as meaning that the best therapist is one endowed with certain qualities, but that, since these qualities are all inter-personal ones, one can also take it that Rogers' theory is really about how one person is inspired by another. Spirit is something that is transmitted, or that is contagious. One picks it up from another. Therapist and client affect each other. Interestingly, the more "non-directive" the therapist tries to be the more potent the influence may become. This has something to do with the fact that spirit operates when we get our "selves" or "egos" out of the way. The more genuine respect and gratitude there is the more open the space in which spirit can mysteriously operate.

The original therapeutae had the idea that in order to worship the god most purely one had to withdraw somehow from the senses. Spirit operates at a deeper level. If we take in these interpersonal dimensions of transmission, then the senses remain important, but what they convey is not merely surface data. A spiritual psychology has to be concerned with surface and with what is deep or hidden as well.

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  • Thank you, Attila.

  • As an association to the close relation between spirit and psychology: what do you think this is about?

    "The following seven traits seem most crucial to us:

    1. An experience of kinship with other beings on the planet – that is, a sense of compassion transcending the boundsof ego, time and place.

    2. An inner „awakening”, in which one encounters the realm of the transcendent, however fleeting or incomplete that sacred moment may be.

          3. A thorough understanding – and working through – of one’s own emotional imbalances.

              In this way, one will be less likely to project his/her problems onto those seeking advice.

          4. A firm „grounding” in one’s own body awareness, so that one is comfortable – neither

              anxious nor obsessed – about dealing with the sensual world.

          5. A comprehensive philosophical-intellectual training, enabling one to grasp a variety of

              ”reality--maps” of consciousness, not just the everyday reality of human existence.

          6. A well-developed sense of intuition, so that one knows when to discard rote principles and generalizations and 

              rely instead on personal hunches.

          7. An active participation in a community or network, so that one can engage in honest

               soul-searching with others as friendly critics and guides."

    Although no therapist can find it completely alien, these are the characteristics of a true rebbe.

  • Yes. I think that shamans are a kind of therapist and therapists are a kind of shaman. They are "border people" who live on the edge in several senses. They are on the edge of conventional society, being in a position to call norms into question. They are also on the edge between spiritual and mundane life, opening channels between the two. In this sense, the work is catalytic rather than instrumental. One trusts in good things happening, but does not know (much less control) what actually will happen.

  • Might the therapist be seen, then, as a shaman in some sense? You convey an image of the therapist opening up/holding open a possibility space for the client. This space can be multidimensional, many-levelled, many-layered...
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