In January of this year, I made a shift in the focus of my work. Having worked as a psychotherapist since 1984, I made the decision to use the next years of my life to help others on their spiritual journey through spiritual self-inquiry. My talks and essays are part of my effort to reach out to those who are called upon to take on such a journey.
How is spiritual self-inquiry different from psychotherapy? Both encourage the growth of the spirit through self-discovery, but the foundation self-inquiry is the search for truth, regardless of the disruptions such a search may introduce into your life. Self-inquiry reveals the untruth of your assumptions. Both psychotherapy and spiritual self-inquiry require honesty and fortitude. Without honesty, no discovery can be made. Fortitude is needed because it can be painful to face the truth. Very often, in the case of psychotherapy, the person stops when they reach contentment. Perhaps you learn to adjust and compromise. In the case of spiritual self-inquiry, you don't compromise. You court disaster, disaster for your ego. You seek the attainment of freedom, a freedom that transcends the concerns of your ego.
While psychotherapy and spiritual self-inquiry overlap, the goal of psychotherapy is psychic health. I define health as the ability to honestly face the challenges and negativity that arise in life and grow. The hunger for spiritual freedom cultivates more than your growth. It may also undo you as who you take yourself to be. A simple distinction between the two disciplines may seem to be the depth and intensity of your pursuit. However, on the spiritual path, you and your pursuit may be turned completely upside down.
The ultimate goal of spiritual self-inquiry is “letting go.” Spiritual self-inquiry is designed to help you wake up. A Hindu might say that what you wake up from is illusion. As a Westerner, I suggest that you can wake up from assumptions that shape, and are the substance of your life. Waking up from these assumptions, you arrive at mysticism.
In my practice, I offer several forms of guided spiritual self-inquiry. One form is private talk; one-on-one conversation that fosters spiritual development. The initial meetings may seem indistinguishable from psychotherapy appointments. As you continue, the difference becomes clearer.
I often work in small groups. My inspiration comes primarily from three traditions. The first is the Quaker meeting. In the Quaker meeting members gather in silence. When one is moved to speak, he or she shares a thought or perception. The remarks are received respectfully in meditative silence by the group. The second inspiration is Zen Buddhist meditation. Together in silence, group members allow their thoughts to rise up to be noticed calmly. Individuals take note of themes and patterns that can be explored.
The third inspiration is the Socratic dialogue. Socrates used a method of inquiry to help unfold the meaning of such terms as truth, or beauty, or love. His method was dialectical. In my group, I engage with individuals to help them explore their own images and unarticulated philosophies using a similar dialectical approach. The main difference is that instead of asking, for example, “What is love?” we inquire directly into group members' own visions and understandings.
I use spiritual self-inquiry when working with people in relationships. Relationship itself can be a mindfulness practice. In relationships, we search for fulfillment. The complaints that we have about our relationships can be traced back to our images of fulfillment. In other words, if you dream of a Prince Charming, you will be disappointed when your mate does not measure up. Is the flaw in your mate or in the measure you are using?
I teach forms of communication that allow you to articulate your desires and bring them forth for examination. Spiritual self-inquiry helps you use your relationships to discover who you are and what you are seeking. This is a different orientation than the orientation of using your relationship for the satisfaction of your dream. By emphasizing what you are coming to see rather than the satisfaction of your dream, your relationship may become much more satisfying. Whether or not this shift of emphasis becomes the foundation of a deeper satisfaction is a matter of temperament, predilection and karma. If you and your partner have this aspiration, you and this partner can work together.
I'd like to mention one last technique that I enjoy using in my work with people. It involves the craft of creative writing. My undergraduate degree is in Creative Writing and Literature. I love to incorporate creative writing into self-discovery. It helps to articulate the joy and beauty of spiritual self-inquiry. Working with small groups, I encourage members to draw on their insights and perceptions to write poetry or short prose. By exploring the results with the purpose of both improving the writing and deepening self-inquiry, the writing practice becomes a support for self-discovery.