Vision Article II – Therapy as Spiritual Practice

Vision Magazine Article

by Sydney L. Murray

a conversation with Dr. Richard Jordan

There are many times in our lives where the assistance of an experienced therapist, analyst or psychologist can greatly facilitate our lives whether they be in a crisis, a period of stagnation or a deep depression. My experience with therapy and analysis has been one of great pain, deep awakenings and a recognition that my life lessons are ones of dealing with my sense of value of my life and my world. I believe that the time money and energy spent in therapy is a gift I give myself to heal, forgive, acquire deeper awareness and to know myself and love myself.

I asked Dr. Richard Jordan, author of Relationship School, A Path of Conscious Loving and a psychologist known for his spiritual approach, if therapy was spiritual practice. He answered, “Well every experience can be spiritual depending upon the attitude you bring to the experience. So, two people sitting in a room talking about big life questions can certainly be a spiritual experience for both of them. In fact, it looks to me like a pretty high spiritual experience when you have two or more people revealing ever-deeper levels of their authentic core selves, as is the case in effective therapy.”

“In terms of therapy approaches, the field of transpersonal psychology emerged two or three decades ago partly as an evolution of the humanistic movement and partly as a result of our Western culture beginning to have widespread experiences of interconnectedness through altered states. Also, you could look to Carl Jung as a spiritual psychologist, with much of his work having a spiritual basis, such as his views of the collective unconscious. I once read that he told a reporter when late in his life he was asked if he believed in God, he replied, ‘No, I don’t believe in God, I know.’ He had his own experience of the divine through his work, his pursuits of image, symbol and dreams.”

“More therapists are daring to talk about spirituality, and the term ‘spiritual psychology’ is being used. The root meaning of the word psyche is soul, so in it’s essence the phrase spiritual psychology is redundant and psychology may be viewed as a spiritual endeavor from the outset. When you work with someone long enough you come to those big questions which don’t seem answerable by the mind but are more suited for living our lives in wonder of …in the moment. ”

“For example, What’s the most loving way I can be in this situation? Unfortunately, our schools place too much emphasis on teaching us how to answer questions logically and efficiently, to produce the one correct answer. Very left-brain. This has its place, but what it has caused us to forget is the experience of wonder we knew as children. Most of us need to re-learn this.”

“Recently I was working with someone who was in a fearful state about what was coming up in her psyche. She was afraid that there was no bottom to it. I found myself describing it as fear squared: She was terrified of her fear, that her fear was something too big and too overwhelming and if she went into it she might never come out. We ended up doing some breath and body work, anticipating that her fear would come up, but what happened was she found herself in this blissful state where she was aware that she was emanating light and could feel this deep wellspring of loving. This gave her an experience to put in her ‘file’ of what the opposite of fear feels like. After this experience, she was still aware of her fear, but not terrified of it. What a gift from the wisdom of her body that neither of us expected! She got an image of her daughter as an infant and saw the look in her eyes, a look of blissful connection with the source. She was having that same feeling, awareness of connection with the source. And the lesson is, that’s where we always end up. There’s an infinite wellspring of loving that’s ever available and it’s always there waiting for us. And that’s always where we end up, even if it’s not until the moment that we die. The Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh talks about how we don’t have to die to go to heaven. Heaven is available to us in the moment, when we are fully awake.”

“How amazingly beautiful,” I commented, and thought that there are many different places we may start from in therapy, and where it leads us is sometimes a mystery.

Dr. Jordan commented that, “Some suggest that therapy replaces the tribal elder and community support that is missing from our culture. I agree, but would add that we now have the added benefit of about 100 years of recorded information about what works and doesn’t work in a therapeutic environment, and we have lots of science about how the mind and body work.. So we have three main sources of wisdom: elder wisdom, therapeutic experience, and science.”

“I believe the role of therapy is to assist people in moving toward deeper levels of truth and authenticity and to facilitate self-forgiveness. Our judgments of ourselves block us from surrendering to the ultimate truth that we are infinitely worthy of our own loving. Self-forgiveness clears the way. The role of therapy is not simply to make people happier, although this is a by-product. Truth, authenticity and compassion for oneself and others leads naturally to upliftment.”

Jordan continued, “I think it’s also the therapist’s job to fully honor the person’s whole experience which includes their relationship with the planet. What I’m advocating is a return to the pagan concept of relationship with the planet as a living entity deserving of our honor. For example, a person might have on the way to my office seen someone empty their ashtray on the highway and had a rage filled or sad response. This person’s experience should be recognized as an authentic response to a harmful act to the planet and explored as such in therapy, not treated as a mood problem or somehow related to some experience with their father when they were four years old.”

“There’s something else we can learn from nature. All things have a natural rhythm. You see it throughout nature: waves ebbing and flowing on the shore, oscillating atoms and molecules, the seasons of the planet, our own psyches as we reach out to connect and then sometimes go back into our inner world. We also do this in our relationships. One of the skills of a thriving relationship is to honor that flowing together and moving apart as a natural thing, rather than resisting it or making your partner wrong if they don’t want to be as close as we think they should be at a given time.”

“The way I would see my role as a therapist is as a partner in wondering about the big questions, so that I’m honoring the person’s own inner wisdom. Offering them some guiding questions and suggestions. Inviting them into their own non-judgmental awareness of their experience into the deepest level of telling the truth and being authentic and then taking responsibility for whatever shows up. At the soul level there is total compassion and equanimity. Right and wrong, good or bad fall away. This is the ultimate, divine altitude that we sometimes approach in deep states of meditation. And this state of compassion and empathy is where self-forgiveness and healing happen. As Rumi said, “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” My goal as a therapist is to place myself in Rumi’s field and invite the person to join me there.”

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To arrange for counseling, workshops, or speaking engagements, you may contact Dr. Jordan or by phone 619-349-3281.