Psychological and spiritual work address different levels of human existence. If the domain of spiritual work is emptiness—unconditioned, universal, absolute truth—the domain of psychological work is form—our individual, conditioned ways of experiencing ourselves and the world—or relative truth. Spiritual practice, especially mysticism, points toward a timeless trans-human reality, while psychological work addresses the evolving human realm, with all its issues of personal meaning and interpersonal relationship. Realization is the movement from personality to being, the direct recognition of one’s ultimate nature, leading toward liberation from the conditioned self, while actualization refers to how we integrate that realization in all the situations of our life. When people have major spiritual openings, often during periods of intensive practice or retreat, they may imagine that everything has changed and that they will never be the same again. Indeed, spiritual work can open people up profoundly and help them live free of the compulsions of their conditioning for long stretches of time. But at some point after the retreat ends, when they encounter circumstances that trigger their emotional reactivity or their habitual tensions and defenses, they may find that their spiritual practice has hardly penetrated their conditioned personality, which remains mostly intact, generating the same tendencies it always has. How might Western psychological work serve a sacred purpose, by helping us to integrate our spiritual insights into our everyday lives? In its ability to shine light into the hidden nooks and crannies of our conditioning, psychological inquiry can serve as a powerful ally to spiritual practice. It can help break up the hard, rocky soil of our personality patterns so that this soil becomes permeable, allowing the seeds of spiritual realization to take root and blossom there more fully. If the great gift of the East is its focus on absolute true nature—impersonal and shared by all alike—the gift of the West is the impetus it provides to develop an individuated expression of true nature—which we can also call soul, or personal presence. When people use spiritual practice to try to compensate for feelings of alienation and low self-esteem, they corrupt the true nature of spiritual practice. Instead of loosening the manipulative ego that tries to control its experience, they strengthen it, and their spiritual practice remains unintegrated with the rest of their life. How then do we arrive at genuine compassion? Spiritual bypassing involves imposing on oneself higher truths that lie far beyond one’s immediate existential condition. Psychological inquiry starts here, with relative truth, with whatever we are experiencing right now. It involves opening to that experience and exploring its meaning, letting it unfold without judgment. For psychological and spiritual work to be mutually supportive allies in the liberation and embodiment of the human spirit, we need to re-envision both paths for our time, so that psychological work can serve spiritual development, while spiritual work can take into account psychological development. These two traditions would then come together as convergent streams, furthering humanity’s evolution toward realizing its true nature—as belonging to the universal mystery that surrounds and inhabits all things—and embodying this larger nature as human presence in the world, thus serving as a crucial link between heaven and earth…..John Welwood
the paradox of mind and no mind abound….how do we honor our deep history? our humanness? to be foolish is to be real and wonderfully in tune to the foolishness of our striving to be other than who we are….the illusory future hands us nothing but a hollow heart….may we soften all of our improving, our waiting, our alienation….may we see our spiritual bypassing as fear unanswered….may we trust our divine capacities…..
When I returned to my teacher Ajahn Chah after completing a long period of intensive training in other monasteries, I told him about the insights and special experiences I had encountered. He listened kindly and then responded, ‘It’s just something else to let go of, isn’t it?’ We need to remember that where we are going is here, that any practice is simply a means to open our heart to what is in front of us. Where we already are is the path and the goal….Jack Kornfield
To the one who knows how to look and feel,
every moment of this free wandering life
is an enchantment.