Category Archives: Moving Towards Joy

Spiritual Atheists

Image result for bioluminescence planktonThe title of this blog might seem contradictory, but in fact this is exactly what I discovered when working with my clients. My findings have recently been published in Pastoral Psychology. In this scientific peer-reviewed article, I describe how psychosynthesis counseling helped to awaken spirituality in three out of eleven clients who identified themselves as atheists. This article in its entirety is published on Open Access and is available for free. I urge you to share it with pastoral care workers that you may know.

Fundamental to psychosynthesis psychology is the idea that we all have spiritual drives as much as we have combative and sexual ones. To determine how well my clients are in touch with the spiritual part of themselves, I always ask during the initial interview “Do you have any religious or spiritual practice?” Most often, my clients say that they have no religious affiliation or belief in God and describe themselves as atheist. The following testimony is a typical response:

“I would call myself an atheist. As a scientist, I know that there is no proof showing that God exists. But I also know that there is no proof showing that He does not exist.”

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Wise Love and Original Sin

child-and-parents

Most of us come from a long line of motherless mothers. Women who were never mothered themselves, never learned from their own mothers how to nurture the imagination or creativity in their souls, were, basically, never encouraged to become the persons they were meant to be.

Psychically unprotected, emotionally harassed, and sometimes beaten into being good girls, many women today are still only accepted on condition that they behave well. And these scarred, scared women bare babies. They do their best to clothe and feed and care for their babies’ physical needs, but are often unable to cope with or understand the deeper spiritual longings of their children, their need to feel protected and initiated by a wise and soulful Mother.

This is what I consider to be “original sin.” The unresolved pain, emotional trauma, and childhood neglect that a person receives from his or her parents, which they receive from theirs, ad infinitum. Most of us as children, receive, sometimes violently, sometimes emotionally, most often unintentionally, the unhealed hurts that our parents received as children.

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Walking the Labyrinth of Your Soul

labyrinthgeneral

A labyrinth has often been used as a metaphor for a soul’s spiritual journey. Unlike a maze, labyrinths are usually circular in shape and have one, and only one, continuous meandering path that eventually leads to the center. This single path threads itself over the maximum amount of ground, without treading the same trail twice. There are no dead-ends, no intersections.

Labyrinths can be found in almost every religious tradition around the world. The design is mysterious and mythic, its origins unknown, yet primordial. It is an archetypical design, appearing across continents and cultures. The Hopi medicine wheel, Tibetan sand paintings, Troy dances, and the Tree of Life, found in the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbala, are all examples of labyrinths.  Even DNA, which encodes the genetic inheritance that defines our unique identity, could be viewed as a labyrinth, the double-helix strands spiraling around each other.

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Dark Days before Christmas

Light in the darknessIn northern Europe the days are growing shorter. Except for the oak trees with their withered sienna-brown leaves, most of the trees are bare against a bleak landscape and gray skies laden with cold, damp winds. The Dutch have a saying for this time of year: De donkere dagen voor Kerstmis. The dark days before Christmas. Indeed, every day is shorter and the nights seem to stretch out like a long, endless dream.

We are in the season of Advent, which mark the days before Christmas. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus meaning arrival. We freely use the word advent to simply mean “to come into being.”  This is the time of year that we await the arrival of light when the Earth will once again begin to tilt towards our sun. The days can then slowly “come into being,” promising their full splendor of sunshine and warmth at the summer solstice. For Christians, this is the time during which they await the birth of Jesus, when the Divine comes into being.

Darkness Inside

For most of us, these days are more than just physically dark. We can also become lost and overwhelmed in all the expectations of the season. The shopping, planning, cooking, baking, wrapping, cards, music, school plays, church concerts. The running and stress, travel and traffic, not to mention all the money worries.

Typically, we are expected to spend time with our families, with the idea that everyone should be happily singing songs around a piano or opening perfect presents or eating gourmet meals. But our reality may actually lead us to feeling only more lonely and unsatisfied. Under pressure by the media and our own unreal expectations, many of us become depressed this time of year and some of us may even feel suicidal.

Assagioli's notes on polarities.

Assagioli’s notes on polarities.

Darker still are the constant reminders, between the tinsel and flashing lights, of the pain and suffering in the world. Not to mention, of course, our own pain and suffering. How can we possibly feel Joy? The entire season can feel like a sham. Bah Humbug! Where is the Higher Self in all this tragic mess?

Balancing Darkness with Light

Simon and Garfunkel once recorded a song called 7:00 News/Silent Night,” in which the familiar carol is quietly and beautiful sung. At first dimly, then more clearly and loudly, we simultaneously hear the voice of a newscaster dispassionately announcing the kind of violent and terrible news we are all too familiar with. Even though, at the end, the voice of the announcer seems to overwhelm the song, the tender voices unceasingly sing – they are not even faintly shaken.

One could experience this song as another symbol of despair – the submergence once again of peace and joy in the harsh violence of our day. But when listened to in its wholeness, the song expresses the reality that light does shine in the darkness. If we tune into the song of peace, we will be able to hear its still small voice singing clearly under the din of the crowd.

Light and dark. Joy and hatred. These are two of the many polarities that exist in the world. Our job is to learn to live with their tension in order to transform and synthesize their energies into a higher reality. Assagioli says that this process is analogous to a chemical combination when two elements are absorbed into a higher unity endowed with qualities different from what each individual element has.

Transforming Opposites into a Synthesis

The idea is to balance these opposites, hold their creative tension, and give space for a completely new and higher entity to be born. You do this by first being with the violent darkness but not identify with it. Then be with the joyful light and not identify with it either. Finally, we need to be with all that is and hold an objective understanding of the tensions between them in order to creatively seek wholeness.

Assagioli insisted that the mid-way point between two opposites is not static inside us, but rather in “a state of continuous oscillation.” We can actually experience this oscillation between Darkness and Light when we listen to the song “7:00 News/Silent Night.”

Once we can hold onto this mid-way point, then psychosynthesis can occur. It is a wise person who can play with opposites and watch with awe as they awaken and manifest into a complete formed higher quality.

So during these dark days before Christmas, practice hanging on and letting go. Hang onto the dark, and then let it go. Then hang onto the light, and let it go. Try to stand in the mid-way point by expressing Human Affection during this season. Then wait quietly and patiently for the advent of Spiritual Love that is quietly, calming, and ceaselessly singing in the world’s chaos.

Searching for True Love

School children walk behind three-dimensFrom a psychosynthesis point-of-view, our life’s journey is to reestablish the I-Self connection, in other words, to seek, reconnect, and synthesize the consciousness and will of the “I” with the consciousness and will of the Self. Personally, I have found this journey forever bringing me closer to True Love —  Love for myself, others, and God.

A beautiful example of one client’s journey towards this I-Self connection is illustrated by a drawing she made during a session when I asked her to reflect on her search for true love. What is remarkable about this drawing is how well it illustrates Assagioli’s egg diagram of the human personality. One could almost superimpose Assagioli’s diagram onto the client’s drawing!

True Love

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God’s Smiling Wisdom

Patriarch Circle

His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch

Recently I ran right into God’s sense of humor. As always, it quietly snuck up on me. Even as I write this, I am shaking my head and smiling at how clever and creative God can be at broadening my inadequate perspective on the world.

It all started with an idea I had for the Sunday School at the local Syrian Orthodox Church where I have been helping out for the last two years. The entire functioning of the Sunday School is chaotic. Five dedicated women have been trying to offer guidance to the children who descend on them every Sunday morning. Sometimes there are only one or two women to supervise, guide and handle more than 30 children of all ages (4-12) who show up at irregular intervals during the two-hour mass.

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What You Put in Your Glass

Ramadan Lanterns. Photo by B. Simpson

Ramadan Lanterns. Photo by B. Simpson

Ramadan this year started on June 18th. In 2001, my husband and I were living in Giza, right in front of the pyramids. A few months after 9/11, Ramadan began and we were blessed with a special experience.

The days before Ramadan in Cairo are filled with anticipation. Paper and tinsel streamers appear across inner courtyards and wide roads. Lanterns and miniature mosques made of everything from crepe paper to recycled tin are hung and lit at night. Everyone waits for the sliver of moon to appear and to hear the official news announcing the start of the 30-day fast.

“Ten days eating. Ten days cake. Ten days new clothes. This is what they say about Ramadan,” Mr. Ashraf told us the night he drove my husband and I to his home for Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daylong fast.

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