Text Box: Psychotherapy and Spirituality

“All that is visible must grow beyond itself, extend into the realm of the invisible. Thereby it receives its true consecration and clarity and takes firm root in the cosmic order… The highest earthly values must be sacrificed to the Divine. But the truly Divine does not manifest itself apart from man.”

I Ching page 194

Visible and Invisible Reality

If you close your eyes you will notice there is a world not visible to others which only you can experience. As you think and feel and imagine and even dream, no-one else can be aware of this unless you tell them. This is your secret, private invisible world. 

When you then look at another person you can realise that they too have access to this invisible reality in themselves. Therefore most of what you see and hear is not the whole person. You don’t have access to their invisible world unless they tell you about it. This invisible world includes feelings and thoughts, love and wisdom.  Hence most of what is important in life and is all around us - is this invisible inner world. Equally important is the visible world. The inner experience of being you now comes into meeting with the rest of reality and for many this experience is THE experience of our “self” - this ongoing contact with the world we experience. 

So strong is the experience of this visible world that the invisible world can seem to fade or not exist or be called into question. If we want, we can make the argument that ONLY this visible world exists and nothing else.

In the last few hundred years we have developed a culture and state of mind which creates the illusion, a very strong illusion, that reality is what we sense with our five senses. Hence that we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch is real. For many this is now the only reality. While we still experience and talk about the other “invisible” reality of what we feel and think, when someone asks us if something is real we return to the world of the fives senses, and in particular the sense of sight - seeing is believing.

To live in this current illusionary world of the visible reality alone we have created a strange double speak language which attests to this visible illusion while still speaking of that which is invisible. Consider money. We act as if money is real and will exhibit such a range of emotions and behaviours in relation to money - yet the visible reality of money is that it is paper and metal which stands for or symbolises something invisible. Originally most money was at least worth something in its actual reality - eg made of a material which was precious such as gold, which again in essence is only of worth because we agree to it.

We will spend time and energy and undergo immense stress to have people give us money, yet in essence they give us a symbol of something we all agree has value - yet in true visible reality the value of the paper and metal is negligible. Now we have even moved beyond the paper and metal to electronic numbers and plastic cards. Imagine if we went one step further so that just to speak our secret number and say an amount and the other person “got paid”.  Taken to the extreme we would just speak to a person and they would value our words as money - her word is her bond.

Visible and Invisible Psychology

This reduction of reality to the visible world impacts how we view ourselves and what we term psychology - the study of the psyche.

Originally the term was used to describe the study of the soul at a time when the illusion of a visible world as the only world was not in existence. People believed that there were many aspects to reality, both visible and invisible. People also believed the Earth was flat - because their eyes told them it was. 

Our modern use of the term psychology is accepted as if   this is a new invention - a result of the physical sciences now being applied to the study of the person. Previous studies, particularly those which are non-scientific, are not seen as psychology in the true sense of the word and certainly not taught as such at universities.

However since the beginning of time people have developed systems of knowledge to make sense of who we are and the world we live in. The more ancient forms of psychology included the visible and invisible aspects of reality - without the current split or illusion which has developed today. An excellent example of this was the Buddha, who presented a psychology, philosophy and religion. 

The Buddha realised that if we seek that which is liable to birth, sickness, decay, death, sorrow and shame then we embark on the ignoble quest and are doomed to failure for that which we seek is transient. However if we seek that which is beyond these conditions then we have embarked on the noble quest and will gain enlightenment.

Most modern psychologies, by attending primarily to the visible world have attached to that which will fade and die - the visible. The more ancient psychologies began in the visible realm and then opened to that which was invisible and beyond external appearance. Such approaches are seen by modern psychologists only as religions or spiritual practices. Such ancient psychologies however were more holistic and discovered the source of the visible world in the invisible world. 

Beginning such a Quest

Many psychologists and psychotherapists are on a quest to understand the loss of the Holy in psychology and the regaining of this experience in their world today and their practice as psychotherapists. In essence, this is to make whole the visible and invisible realities that have been split. 

In this way therapy becomes part of a journey of exploration, with a guide, to discover a golden thread of the wider reality that makes us all essentially human. An experience of a wider reality, which in itself, as an experience, helps heal the unavoidable sufferings of being human.

Some psychotherapists, such as Carl Jung  and Roberto Assagioli, attempted to be doctors of the soul and apply scientific methods of medicine to the psycho-spiritual realities they experienced. Yet they each faced the challenge of the lesser (science) attempting to understand the All.

Our western development of psychology does not include the more ancient psycho-spiritual approaches of the Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and the Judeo-Christian mystical traditions. Each major religion has at its heart a mystical practice such as Sufism or the Kabbalah which are rich spiritual psychologies, a psychology in the fuller meaning of the term.

The devolution of Western psychology away from spirituality, reached its height in the works of those such as B.F. Skinner. Psychologists such as Skinner erased even the concept of mind and reduced people to the language of conditioned responses and observable behaviour. Such psychology produced books which argued that human beings were soulless and mindless, and beyond freedom or dignity – the title of Skinner’s famous book. Hence people became only what they could be observed  to be in the visible reality.

As a reaction to these psychologies of the visible world, the Third School of psychology arose in Humanistic Psychology, championed by Carl Rodgers and Abraham Maslow. They were not yet ready to talk of soul but readily reclaimed the notion of Self and of self actualisation. From these ranks came the Transpersonal  psychologists who reached beyond the personal to the very edges  explored by Jung, and returning now to the country of spirit enjoyed by Swedenborg, Underhill and James.

These developments are still on the fringes of mainstream psychology and psychotherapy and rarely taught at university. The original psychology of the study of the soul has become a health science to attend to the physical and mental illness of the mind and body. Most seek to understand the person from this world of the physical science and focus on the illness being human.

Yet there has remained more and more people who are also psychologists and psychotherapists who attend to their experience of the invisible world and bring this to their practice. There are many who seek that which is spiritual, of the spirit. 

While psychologists and psychotherapists keep studying in this field, there is hope for a wider, fuller experience of the study and healing of the psyche. In Australia the Psychological Society has Spiritual, Buddhist and Christian interest groups and more and more psychotherapists are attending to the nature and experience of spirit, reconnecting and discovering what Dialogical therapists, such as Richard Hycner, call the “Holy”. 

“There is a great need in contemporary society to rediscover the ‘holy’.  The holy does not refer to any specific religious belief, but rather to an opening-out to that which is beyond us. It is the repression of the holy, the out-of-touchness with the holy, that has helped create such a dangerous state of affairs in the world today.”

Between Person and Person:
Towards a Dialogical Psychotherapy
Richard Hycner, p.24

This is the Noble Quest of the Buddha. To discover (or re-discover) the Holy in psychotherapy and psychology.

“The heart enquired of the soul “What is the beginning of this business? What is it’s end, and what its fruit?”

The soul answered: “The beginning of it is the annihilation of self, its end faithfulness and its fruit immortality.”

Sufi Essays page 34