Here is the gist of what we explored together in this week’s tea session: Hello and welcome to this circle. Pull up a chair or a log! Let’s open to this sense of gathering. It’s a very particular feeling isn’t it? A feeling of coming together, as if we are only really complete when we are aware of the whole tribe. Perhaps this feeling evolved way back, when we really did wait to ensure that everybody was gathered round the fire, so we could send out a search party for anyone who was missing. But today I think it also reflects that shift in collective consciousness which can be noted with the shorthand of ‘the movement from me to we’ – that shift which urges us to go beyond the confines of the ego, to sense our essential oneness.
So just doing this – simply gathering – feels good. But then we can add other things into the experience. We can share from the heart, we can exchange ideas and discoveries, we can entertain each other through song and story, we can dance, we can do ritual together, we can drink and feast, we can meditate and pray. What an extraordinarily fertile opportunity gathering together in a circle offers!
A part of the good feeling that comes from this process of gathering together is a sense that we are coming home. In a similar way, when people find the right spiritual path for them, they often say that they feel as if they have come home. Let’s explore this feeling of homecoming some more.
The reason why it is such a rich image or idea, is because it speaks to that sense we have inside us that we have each made a journey from our divine source out into the world of matter, of manifestation. And every so often we experience a yearning to return to the source. A mystic would express this as a yearning for Deity, to be reunited with Her/Him again.
And that feeling is reflected at an embodied level in our desire to return to the safety and comfort of the womb. Freud called this the oceanic feeling. Some psychoanalysts believe that the yearning of the mystic to return to Deity is simply a misinterpretation of our innate desire to return to that oceanic feeling that existed before we had to deal with all the difficulties that ensue once we are born into this world. Not all analysts do, though, and an interesting survey of the challenges made by psychoanalysts to reductionist views of spirituality and religion within psychoanalysis can be found in the note below.
Our soul yearns to return home, our body yearns to return home, and obviously our heart and mind wants the experience of feeling at home too.
But we are here now – in the big bad world – and part of the function of both psychotherapy and spirituality or religion is to offer us a route back home. What we need is a way to feel at home right now in our bodies, hearts and minds, and then – I would suggest – we can access more easily that sense of being at home in the deepest way we can – at the soul level.
I’m sure there are many ways in which to approach this, but here’s a suggestion: to feel at home in the mind let’s seek to develop discrimination, to feel at home in the heart, honesty, and to feel at home in the body, acceptance. Let’s take the body first. When we are feeling completely at home in our bodies, in our skin, we feel relaxed and comfortable. And a really good way to get to this feeling is through the process of acceptance. Let’s try this now: move your awareness through your head just accepting whatever feeling or sensation you are having, not trying to change anything, just literally accepting whatever is occurring in your awareness. Become aware of the scalp, and any sensation you might feel, the forehead, the temples, the eyes, all the muscles around the eyes, the back of head, the cheeks, the nose, the mouth and all the muscles around mouth, the chin and jaw, your whole head – just accept all the feelings and sensations you are having in the whole of your head. Now open your eyes. Did you notice how simply accepting what you were experiencing resulted in you relaxing, in somehow feeling better? Notice I didn’t ask you to relax at all. All you were doing was accepting, and yet the result was almost certainly a feeling of relaxation and well-being. Now if we can apply that to our whole body, the interior of our body, every aspect of our body, over time that will promote a real and increased sense of well-being, with consequent effects on our health.
I think we can even apply this to illness, because acceptance, acknowledgement, awareness, is not the same thing as agreement or approval. In other words, if I have flu or a headache, simply accepting the sensations I am experiencing is not the same thing as approving of them. I’m not approving of the illness that I’m having, I’m simply accepting the experience I’m having. This frees up any energy I’m putting in to resisting the situation – allowing this energy instead go to towards my healing.
Let’s move our attention now to the level of the heart, and focus instead on the quality of honesty that I suggested was vital for a sense of being at home in the heart. Here too we need to engage the ability to accept, because to be honest I have to accept what I’m feeling. As soon as I deny a feeling, repress or ignore it, I am alienating, separating off, a part of my feeling-self, and am unable to be authentic – fully myself. I’m thereby being dishonest.
It sounds easy to be honest with feelings, but in practice it can be very difficult. From an early age we may have developed strategies to protect ourselves, to seek approval, to get our needs met, and so often the journey of fully opening to the heart in complete honesty is a long one, and often a painful and difficult one. Psychotherapy can help in this journey, and so too can the spiritual life, but it is in this task that the role and value of psychotherapy becomes most apparent in the spiritual journey. It is very easy for spiritual practices to inadvertently become tools for the repression or denial of feelings.
Imagine feeling fully accepting of your body and whatever sensations are running through it – fully comfortable and at home in your skin. Imagine that in addition, you feel fully at home in your heart – you aren’t hiding anything from yourself or from anyone else. Now you just need to feel at home in your mind! How can you do this? Here’s one idea: practice discrimination in at least two ways. The first by discriminating in what you ingest intellectually: feed on good ideas and beauty. The second by discriminating amongst your own thoughts. Writing is a wonderful discipline for this – as soon as you write your thoughts down, you start to notice the gaps in logic, the inconsistencies, and you can start to hone and refine your thoughts and how you express them. You need the qualities of honesty and acceptance here too: accepting your thoughts, but then refining them, and trying to express them as honestly as possible, asking yourself: “Do I really honestly believe that, mean that?” And you develop the habit of pruning your thoughts, paring them down, or conversely unpacking them so that they become clearer and clearer to you – and hopefully to others too.
To summarise: the three qualities of acceptance, honesty and discrimination can help us feel more at home in our bodies, hearts and minds. A good place to start is by accepting our body sensations, being honest in our hearts and discriminating in our minds. With these qualities at work, we feel clearer, lighter, but also more grounded, whereas denying body feelings, or emotions, or being undiscriminating in our thinking tends to promote a sense of alienation, disconnection, ungroundedness.
Once we feel at home in body, heart and mind, our ability to feel more at home with others, with the world, and within our Soul is increased.
Simmonds, Janette. (2006). The Oceanic Feeling and a Sea Change: Historical Challenges to Reductionist Attitudes to Religion and Spirit From Within Psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Psychology. 23. 128-142. 10.1037/0736-97220.127.116.11. Three waves of challenges may be perceived from within psychoanalysis to its reductionist attitude to religion and spirit. These historical challenges from within psychoanalysis are an important context for reading the many papers now being published on spirituality and psychotherapy, and increasingly, spirituality and psychoanalysis. The 1st wave began with some of Freud’s contemporaries, among them his friend, the psychoanalyst and pastor Oscar Pfister; the Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland, and the poet T. S. Eliot. Challenges continued after Freud’s death: In Britain from psychoanalysts such as Rickman and Guntrip, and in America initially by the European immigrants, Erikson and Fromm. British independent psychoanalysts initiated what may be considered to be the 3rd wave, whose momentum is now swelling to a sea change. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)