The Interplay Between Spirituality and Psychodynamics

Can I get any sort of spiritual ascension without dealing with my psychological baggage?

From personal experiences and from guiding and listening to many, many people over time, I’ve seen the interplay between the psychological and the spiritual, such that a lot of the reasons people get into spiritual work are really psychological reasons that have to do with avoidance, that have to do with a lot of denial.

And when they try to build a house on sand that way, there’s a corruption in the whole process that ultimately ends up leaving them on the spiritual journey in a way that has a cap on it.

They can only get so far, and then they feel that they can’t get any further. And at that point, a lot of them realize that they have to work on this psychological space to get themselves cleared out, to come at their work from another point of view spiritually.

And I’ve done that myself. I mean, I was in therapy, then I felt that therapy often can be a kind of a bottomless well, because you don’t necessarily solve all your problems, but you can solve some of the major obstacles or the harshest ones. Then you start to do spiritual practices, and they force to the surface other psychodynamics, which then can be skimmed therapeutically at a later time, and then with that skimming there is a way in which you can come at the spiritual journey from another place, so that there’s this kind of spiraling process between psychodynamics and spiritual work.

There’s an interesting question of how much psychological health is required for spiritual work.

And my best evidence is not a hell of a lot. If you look at the history of spiritual saints and people that have been evolved, their psychological makeup has been pretty off the wall, I mean, pretty bizarrely neurotic. So in an interesting way from a karmic point of view, the neurosis often drives the spirit to a certain point, and then it starts to get in the way, and it feels to me like there’s no simple rule of thumb that you would say the person has to have worked through certain psychodynamics before they should go into spirituality.

What is required is the person understand that there is truth in the spiritual journey so that when they realize that there is fraudulence in the way they are doing it, that they are doing it in a way that is hiding or just self-aggrandizing in a way that isn’t liberating, they can cop to it.

There’s a lot of inertia because of the values the spiritual scene has about psychotherapy, in the sense that it tends to reduce it. It’s reductionistic. And I was a part of that, by the way, for a long time, and I’ve come out of that now, and I’ve gone back into therapy and come out, and I’ve realized the value of going back and forth, and a lot of my friends who are spiritual teachers have done the same thing.

So, now when a person feels the need to clean out some stuff psychologically, who they go to is interesting, because ideally you would go to somebody who themselves have strong spiritual perspective as well as psychological skills. And my sense is that you would go to somebody, if you could, that would be sympathetic to the deeper kinds of things you’re working on, besides psychological stuff. However you can’t always have that. And so then you go to the psychotherapist more as you would to go to somebody that would help you with a certain plane of reality in which you don’t bring that other plane of reality to bare in the therapeutic situation, because running it through that person’s consciousness isn’t gonna help your spiritual work particularly, because that person doesn’t have that kind of consciousness.

– Ram Dass, from the 1989 Listening Heart Series

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