Spiritually Focused Counselling
How a spiritual journey begins is different for everyone, but it often involves intense suffering or loss that forces one to look for answers not provided in our social environment.
I am blessed to have had a stable and healthy childhood, but I recall that there was still always an underlying unease, anxiety and a level of un-satisfactoriness in me all the time. I recall as a teenager wondering to myself, “if everything is fine why am I still not happy? There must be more to happiness than having all of my needs met”.
This thought and question was the beginning of my spiritual journey – to find out if there is more than just the “stuff” of our world. I’m so grateful for starting that journey. It has led me to seek out and find the writings and spoken words of spiritual teachers and to follow their pointers to look inside myself for the “answers” which ultimately cannot be given in words.
As a counsellor, I bring my full presence to each session and client. At times there is also opportunity to share some pointers with clients that point them in the same direction – inward. I may invite this at times, but of course I respect each person’s comfort and personal goals.
If someone is open to spiritual teachings in a more direct way, I offer to make this part of our counselling process as well as to provide some books and resources that might be helpful.
Let me clarify what spiritual teachings refers to in a counselling setting. In fact, it’s not entirely different than what is done through mindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but it goes a subtle step further to inquire into the nature of one’s ability to observe thoughts, emotions, inner body, behavior and perceptions.
This extra step is essential to healing and wholeness as it goes to the heart of one's identity. It involves noticing the observing presence itself. So, although it’s just “a step” further, it’s quite a significant step.
Here’s how it might unfold. As you become aware of your experience (thoughts, emotions, physical reactions, behavior, perceptions), you begin to realize there is part of you that witnesses or observes those experiences.
A metaphor might be helpful here.
Imagine a bird on a branch. This is a busy bird, busy with living. It’s moving, it’s building its nest, it’s finding food, raising baby birds, protecting its family, etc. Take a moment to consider how this bird might experience life?
Imagine a second bird a few branches up. This bird is different. It’s mostly just watching, observing, resting. It only goes looking for its basic needs, otherwise it is just watching, resting, being. Take a moment to consider how this bird’s experience of life differs from that of the first bird?
Now imagine a few branches up from there. There is no bird at all. But this empty space is not exactly empty. From this third position, there is an awareness that sees/knows/witnesses both the birds. You could say it is the aware space in which the two birds live.
In this metaphor the busy bird is the human dimension. This is the part we are all most familiar with. We have goals, activities and lots to do. The second bird is our being. It is not about doing or activities or goals. It enjoys being. It is able to observe the doing bird, but it steps back and rests and enjoys life without needing always to “do”.
This “being” part is sometimes neglected and sometimes not even known to a person. If that is the case, becoming familiar with being can be deeply healing and relieving.
The third branch is not a bird, it’s a space of awareness. This represents our spiritual nature. It’s awareness or consciousness before form. We can know for ourselves that it’s there because as human beings we are able to know both our “doing” part and our “being” part.
In spiritually focused counselling there is a focus on bringing balance to recognizing both our human and being parts, and there is an invitation to look inward to notice what it is in us that knows all of it, the deeper “I”.
An essential part of this work is to look at what prevents one from recognizing being and what obscures our ability to witness various parts of our experience. This doesn’t mean necessarily looking at every experience that has shaped a person, though some understanding of this is helpful, but it’s more about recognizing the structure that keeps us unaware. The unconscious structure is sometimes referred to as ego.
The benefits of spiritually focused work, of which counselling may be a part, can include discovering a stable, inner felt sense of aliveness and peace at the core of one's self, letting go of negative mental/emotional patterns, a deeper sense of purpose and connection and increased capacity to experience joy, love and creativity.
If you are interested in the topic of spirituality, please search my blog for posts that highlight various wisdom traditions. If you are interested in spiritually focused counselling I invite you to contact me.