The idea of practical spirituality emerged out of an alchemical mix of William James and Carl Jung, and their respective psychic perspectives on the soul. As a clinical psychologist in private practice for the past 30 years specializing in depth psychology and psychology and spirituality, I have treated scores of individuals in the midst of making their way across the dark and troubled waters of the unconscious mind. Serving as therapist and guide, a Hermetic dynamic at work within the treatment relationship, we frequently witness the emergence of a natural and immensely practical spirituality that nourishes the soul. It is of course, a vital relationship with the Self that supplants old, outer, religiosity.
In developing this relationship, William James (2006, p. 24) hit upon a revolutionary idea: God as intimate soul. Transformative numinous experience is nourished as we cultivate intimacies with soul. Sensitive listening to emotions, dreams, synchronous life events, and nuances within daily relationships actuates connection with intimate soul. As a colleague told me yesterday over a cup of afternoon tea, “I really need my daily times for reading, meditation, thinking, and good talking time with my partner. They take me into myself. There I find what the ancients called god.” God is intimate soul.
In my psychotherapeutic specialty in the depth treatment of religiously abused patients I have found that damaging the god image traumatizes the soul. Ardent Buddhist devotees have been seduced by ostensibly sincere roshis. Stories of Catholic children quietly ushered into a priest’s dimly lit quarters and sexually exploited run rampant in the media. Yogis cultivated followers and then plundered emotionally and physically those who seriously sought their wisdom and guidance. In instances such as these, the god image within the self is traumatized, often to the point of fracture and collapse. When the inner sanctum of soul holds trauma, intimacy with it, with god, becomes overwhelming and frightening.
The dark, destructive, side of religion intrudes on the natural psychic disposition toward intimacy with soul. Patients suffer the cruelty of religious impositions based on psychic manipulation. Archetypal energies turn destructive as survivors defensively cope with symptoms of anxiety, depression, suicidality, and psychosis. In the words of one ardent spiritual seeker and survivor of religious abuse, “When the priest got to me, it was God who got to me and nearly did me in.”
Many old religions depict an outer god inflicting judgment and wrath on the vulnerable soul. Inevitably, this construct is internalized and generates a psychic terrain replete with demons of guilt and fear, the dark side of archetypal numinosity unleashed. Oppressive and damaging demonic assaults charged with religious meaning hit the psyche at full speed for the sufferer of religious abuse. Onslaughts of self-loathing and shame cripple the psyche. As one psychoanalyst colleague remarked, “When our god is a tyrant we need another god.”
From the perspective of American depth psychology, vis- à-vis William James, a transformative spirituality cultivates intimacy with an inner sense of the sacred, numinous aspects of psyche. James (2006, p.25) noted, “The inner life of things must be substantially akin anyhow to the tenderer parts of man’s nature.” One of my most tender dreams ushered me to an inner sanctum, an angelic presence speaking, “Freud touched the face of God.” Upon awakening deeply moved, I felt touched by the sacred, intimate soul. As the result, I discovered that I, as Freud encouraged, was better attuned to painful feelings and memories of patients. Together, we more sensitively plumbed unconscious depths to healing, perhaps, touching the face of God.
Michael Eigen (1998 p. 71, 72) stated that “the soul keeps opening . . . no end to opening. . . . It explodes downward (into knowledge, understanding, feeling . . . ).” Such a depth psychology encourages a downward nourishing of intimacy with soul. I remember a dream in which I could ascend to the heavens and there encounter God. A group of men and I were in the desert, a great expanse of earth before us and the blue sky overhead. Just as I looked heavenward and prepared to jettison upward, an old holy man, a desert prophet, appeared and pointed downward. Where the holy man pointed was a fathomlessly dark and deep hole at least five or six feet in circumference that led to the center of the earth. He and his followers, the men who were with me in the dream, made the descent into the abyss, something at once mystifying and terrifying. I followed despite feeling overwhelmed by wonder and trepidation.
The desert holy man as symbol of the wise-old numinous self led the way into realms of mystery and transformation, intimate soul. Terror felt by my dreaming ego was a normal response of the conscious mind to the unknown, to intimate soul. I made my way to the opening in the earth, smelled the rich, loamy soil. As I entered this moist and earthy realm, the past space of the old and dry earth and distant sky faded into a vague and far off memory.
William James (2006, p. 136) referred to this depth of being, as “a great reservoir in which the memories of earth’s inhabitants are pooled and preserved, and from which, when the threshold lowers or the valve opens, information ordinarily shut out leaks into the mind.” Intimate soul draws us into a grounded and deepening relationship to self and life. Patricia Berry (2008, p.12) in depicting a vital aspect of psychic evolution and movement wrote,
Earth became a divinity . . . she was no longer ‘nothing-but’ a physical ground, a neutral ground without quality; because she was experienced as a divinity, she was experienced psychically so that her matter mattered to and in the psyche.
“In the midst of crisis,” one person confided, “I was terrified yet I knew I had to enter into a cave in the earth. There a dark goddess appeared. I was abandoned by my birth mother. The dark goddess deep within the earth helped me to heal. She has been there for me ever since.”
The human psyche nourishes itself on intimate truths. We see through a dark light as the scriptural author refers to seeing through a glass darkly. The psyche births mystery, causing deific presences of intimate soul to appear leading to transformation. James(2006, p. 138) referred to entering into this downward knowledge as a calling for “possibilities that take our breath away, of another kind of happiness and power, based on giving up our own will” to god as intimate soul.
Berry, P. (2008). Echo’s Subtle Body. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.
Eigen, M. (1998). The Psychoanalytic Mystic. London and New York: Free Association Books.
James, W. (2006). A Pluralistic Universe. BiblioBazaar.
Paul DeBlassie III, PhD, is a psychologist and writer living in his native New Mexico. A member of the Depth Psychology Alliance, the Transpersonal Psychology Association, and the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, he has for over thirty years treated survivors of the dark side of religion. His most recent book, The Unholy (Sunstone Press), a paranormal thriller, explores realms of dreams, visions, and natural magic.