I am presenting at the Meaning of Life Book Festival at Seattle University on Saturday February 27, 2016. The title of my presentation is “Openness, Discernment, and Self Realization: A Psychological-Spiritual Path to Sustainable Meaning.” The focus of my talk will be on how a lack of meaning (often experienced as some form of longing: boredom, anxiety, emptiness, loss, insecurity, inadequacy, lack, etc.) leads us all to use various coping strategies—some of which are more problematic than others. I believe that an inability to recognize and manage longing often is the culprit behind ineffective and unhealthy behaviors: affairs, compulsions/addictions, etc. I will also discuss a more sustainable path—one that incorporates our Real Self and includes the shadow needs/parts of our personality. Please visit the Meaning of Life Book Festival website for details about the event, which will include more than 50 speakers from a variety of fields. I hope to see you there.
The last post was about creativity. Speaking of, the Rolling Stones have been driven by creative energies (sometimes very dark energies) for over 50 years. They have been inspirational for me my whole life. I have listened to the Stones during every significant transition in my life: moves, decisions, sporting events, job interviews, etc etc. I continue to be deeply inspired by them.
Mick reminds us that anything is possible as he runs around the stage at 71 years old. And keith reminds us to be grateful for every minute of life – he shouldn’t even be alive but somehow he is. My daughter told me a joke: What do Keith Richards and the Affordable Care Act have in common? It’s amazing they are both still here, but we are really glad they are!
For many people creativity is a life force that flows through them, maybe it has their whole life. For others, creativity was something in their childhood, to be abandoned by “adult” pursuits, such as career and family. The latter was the case for me. It has been in midlife that I have rediscovered creative energies as being vital to my life. A few years ago I had the opportunity to be in a number of community theater plays, mostly with my kids. It was truly some of the funnest experiences of my life. I got to be a pirate in Peter Pan, the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, President Roosevelt and Bert Healy in Annie, General Genghis Khan Schmitz in Suessical the Musical, and Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Creativity is one very important way that spirituality can be experienced and expressed. I now realize that it is essential to my health and happiness.
Over the past few years, I have provided many presentations on spirituality and psychotherapy. One thing that has stood out from the discussions during and after presentations is the intensely personal nature of spirituality. Most people are grateful for an integrative view of psychological healing and appreciate the inclusive view of spirituality. The feedback is that the book fosters goodwill and commonality versus divisiveness and judgment. Not surprisingly, however, some have difficulty with some words, while experience comfort and acceptance of others. Words define our realities! So, it makes sense that one person recoils when the word “God” is used, while another wants more, for example. Use the “wrong” words to describe spirituality, and people are reactive and turned-off. Use the “right” words and people are tuned-in. Of course, what is right for some may be wrong for others.
My belief is that we are mostly all talking about the same thing when we connect with the essence of spiritual experience. So, use whatever words work for you as long as you can also stay open to others’ ideas and experiences.
An important part of my vision and motivation for the book was the connection between the Real Self and spirituality. To broaden and clarify my own ideas about spirituality for the book, over a two year period I asked countless numbers of people three questions:
• What is your personal definition of spirituality?
• How have you experienced spirituality in your life?
• How do you access or practice your spirituality?
What I found is that spirituality is uniquely defined and experienced, yet common themes emerge. The interviews led to the development of themes that make up chapter three.
People of faith often answer questions about their spirituality with certainty and with language that is true to their faith structures. Many people believe that their way of knowing spirituality is the only “right” way. For some, spirituality is based on a relationship with an active and intentional force or entity that is external to them. For others, the experience of spirituality is internal. Others experience an external sense of spirituality that is not intentional (e.g., nature). Still others view spirituality as synonymous with religion and religious doctrine, while many others separate spirituality from organized religion.
My personal definition of spirituality includes anything that helps us get outside our small mind (ego-based personal story) and helps us connect to something larger than ourself, e.g., “big mind.” Many people have said, “I get glimpes.” “Glimpses of what, ” I aways ask. What do you “see?” Feel free to post comments with your answers to the above three questions.
In writing the book, it was my intention to discuss spirituality in ways that encourage readers to generate and work within their own views and personal definitions of spirituality. However, I felt compelled to provide a name for spirituality that would provide a short-hand throughout the book. It was a difficult task. Words do not capture the totality of experience with or understanding of spirituality. Any words I use run the risk of alienating others. After much thought and reflection, I chose the phrase Spiritual Energy to represent what I mean by spirituality. I like the phrase because it implies an active force that can be defined through various faith structures and can be personally known and embraced. I believe we all can tap into Spiritual Energy in the many forms of its manifestation, or our own particularly favored one. What words do you use?
The “Real Self” is a term first used by Karen Horney, a post-Freudian psychoanalyst. She is also considered a Humanist, because of her belief in our innate, inner wisdom. In her book, Neurosis and Human Growth, she defines the Real Self as “…that central inner force, common to all human beings and yet unique in each, which is the deep source of growth.” Basically, our Real Self is who we would be if we grew up and lived under relatively optimal circumstances, which would allow our natural self to emerge. I often refer to the Real self as the natural self, because it comes into our consciousness when we are acting from a natural and spontaneous sense in the world. Most of us move away from our Real Self when we experience “basic anxiety, ” which is created by threats to our physical, emotional or psychological safety. We defend against basic anxiety through the use of compensatory strategies, like being aloof with others, being self-effacing, and/or being aggressive with others. When we move away from our Real Self, we move away from our natural being and inner wisdom about what is life-affirming for us. In future blog posts, I will expand on these ideas, and begin to integrate spirituality into the discussion.