My intention is to write a series of blog articles drawing on my work in the interface of spiritual direction and psychology, and from my own experience in following a spiritual path and supporting others in theirs. My aim is to help with key issues often faced, but perhaps less often spoken about, in the spiritual life. My hope is that something here may help... may speak to you, and offer some insight and support wherever it is you find yourself.
The spiritual life is at heart one of transformation. What interests me in my life and work is the psychology of that transformative process. In the Christian tradition, Paul exhorts us to ‘be transformed by the renewing of our minds’ and to ‘put on the mind of Christ.’ We entirely understand that this graced process is wrought by the Holy Spirit within us. However, I’m not sure that it is a passive process; rather it involves our co-operation in some way to aid this transformation of our consciousness and very being. As Thomas Merton said, 'Our real journey in life is interior; it is a matter of growth, deepening, and ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts.' The question is what constitutes that co-operation, with this creative action, that is required on our part?
We understand that we are a ‘new creation’ and yet ‘the old one’ does seem, at times, to linger a bit! We can find ourselves unwantingly caught in past, sometimes destructive, ways of being and thinking; the old deep inner wounds still calling the shots. Feelings of anger, of sheer inadequacy and not being good enough, of jealously, greed, indifference, pride, and laziness can assail us. And it is all too easy in our spiritual communities to 'put on' not the true mind of Christ, but rather an acceptable spiritual veneer covering up those parts of ourselves we don't want to reveal or simply don't know what to do with. The danger can be that we push them away deep down inside ourselves rather than experience real transformation. It's a temporary coping strategy that many are forced to adopt in the absence of any deeper help or answer. But when the right trigger comes along to push our old buttons, those difficult parts of ourselves can painfully erupt out of our depths. Or even more worryingly, they go on influencing our day-to-day lives and behaviour subconsciously without us recognising their subtle voice.
So, how do we truly, as the Benedictines urge us, co-operate in experiencing 'conversatio morum' - 'conversion of life' - in the depths of who we are? What are some of the psychological processes we go through in this continuing pattern of 'death' and new life in our becoming all that we are truly created to be?
In my experience as working as a spiritual director, some particular areas people often struggle working with in our path of transformation, and that I particularly want to begin to address and start to unpack in my forthcoming articles, are:
I am also intending to write on issues such as spiritual pathology within our faith communities, and the subject of spiritual abuse. And also to look at why we can sometimes find ourselves struggling to pray, from a psychological understanding.
In all this important work, though, I would still like to emphasise that we are not simply an improvement project, but rather on a journey to uncover our truest self in God... Please see my earlier article 'Travelling...'
Image by creative commons license.