The following article is based on a presentation made during the
Second International Conference on Integral Psychology,
held at Pondicherry (India), 4-7 January 2001.
The text has been published in:
Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.
psychotherapy as existential Vedanta
Lecture on Sri Aurobindo's Work)
I would first of all like to thank the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for organizing this wonderful conference. I would also like to thank the Infinity Foundation for sponsoring my presentation. This is an extraordinarily important topic, and I am grateful to be participating.
It seems that we are all coming at this topic from different angles. Some come to integral psychology from the perspective of preserving the original teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, some are looking at parallels to what psychology has discovered, others are adapting these teachings to psychology or psychology to these teachings. All of these perspectives are important, all of them are valid, and all have their place in an integral approach.
My direction is to see integral yoga and integral philosophy as an integrating framework for psychology. I believe it has the potential to fundamentally shift psychology into a new paradigm, providing a new context and meaning to psychology and a new way for psychology to organize itself. There are profound implications in applying this to psychotherapy for both theory and practice, though with the time we have we can only deal with this in a general way and just scratch the tip of the surface of some of the issues this raises. As a clinical psychologist who has been studying, practising, and teaching depth psychotherapy for over 25 years now, my special interest in this area is in psychotherapy, in how human beings actually change—how they heal, develop, grow. What is the process of psycho-spiritual change and transformation? What are its possibilities?
In some ways I think of Sri Aurobindo as the greatest psychologist the world has ever known, for he penetrated the mystery of human consciousness more deeply than any other person I am aware of. In so doing he has laid out some exciting discoveries for psychology that only now are we in a position to appreciate. When we bring psychology and depth psychotherapy into these teachings, we have integral psychology and integral psychotherapy. Integral psychotherapy works with every level of our being—physical, vital, mental, spiritual, but I want to focus this presentation on the vital and physical dimensions.
In giving a spiritual meaning and purpose to psychotherapy, an integral approach has a different goal than traditional psychotherapy, not just the integration of the surface self but the discovery of the central being, the atman and psychic being, and the transformation of our outer nature. To do this we need to bring a sense of calm and peace and harmony to the surface self, and this is where psychotherapy comes in. One observation that Sri Aurobindo made in several places is that the vital ego is the biggest obstacle to sadhana and transformation. He also observed that generally people live in the vital ego, that even artists and intellectuals who lived in their minds were also subject to the vital ego in their ordinary movements. Now as it turns out this is precisely what psychology has come to. In fact we can see psychology as a kind of rigorous research into the vital self. Most depth psychological approaches to the self now see that affects and affect regulation are the central processes that organize the self. Contemporary psychoanalysis speaks of the affective core of the self as the center of psychological life.
One of the most important discoveries that depth psychology has made about the vital self is the universality of emotional wounding. To take a human incarnation on this earth is to be emotionally hurt and scarred growing up. We are all wounded. And the human psyche protects itself by developing defences against this emotional pain. In our family of origin there are failures to attune to the emotional state of the infant and young child, there are accidents, there are traumas, there is inevitable emotional pain growing up. The parents, due to their emotional wounding, can only respond empathically to some of the child's emotions and self and tune out the rest. Many different feelings of the child are emotionally threatening to the parents. To cope with this and to maintain the vital bond with the mother and/or father, the child holds down this pain, represses certain impulses, disavows certain feelings, and after a period of time this all becomes automatic and unconscious. The child internalizes the parental prohibitions and develops a coping strategy that pleases the family system, but in so doing adopts a false self that is estranged from the authentic self that lies buried within. Large portions of the self become unconscious, large areas of feeling and impulse become unconscious, and we dissociate from the body when we repress feelings, so areas of our physical being also fade out of consciousness. All this is fairly well known by now and probably not news to you.
When psychology first came up with diagnostic categories, it used to be that there was psychotic, neurotic, and normal. However, as psychology learned more about the ubiquity of wounding, now we have psychotic, borderline, and normal neurotic. Neurosis is the norm. A few per cent of the population is psychotic or borderline, and 90-95% of the population is neurotic. There is also a stage that psychoanalysis calls “mature” beyond neurosis, but this does not generally occur without a good deal of inner psychological work through psychotherapy.
Though neurosis is often seen in a negative way, it is actually a very positive thing, a significant developmental achievement. In psychosis there is a lack of reality testing, inner psychological states and outer reality intermingle. With a borderline personality organization, there is much better reality testing, but there is a failure in identity formation, a failure to synthesize good self and bad self into a unitary whole, as well as a failure in object formation, a failure to synthesize good object and bad object into a single whole. So although the person may be able to function well in a career, in their personal relationships they are forever swinging between loving and hating, feeling great or terrible, abandonment or engulfment, hope and despair.
Now with neurosis we get to a much better way of functioning in the world. In neurosis we have a fairly stable sense of self that has good and bad aspects to it, and we have object constancy where we are able to see that other people have both good and bad parts to them but they are one whole person. We don't divide them into good one day and bad the next. This is a big step emotionally in our relationships. We also have the capacity to operate from the reality principle, which is to be able to delay gratification in the present for the sake of greater reward in the future, to discipline ourselves, to set our sights on a goal and work to achieve it. Neurosis allows us to operate at quite a high level of functioning.
However, as you are all aware, neurosis also has some major drawbacks. Neurosis is a contracted state of defensive functioning. In neurosis we lose awareness of many of our feelings and impulses, large portions of the self become unconscious, there are deficits in the structure of the self, we lose awareness of significant parts of our physical existence, we become tied to repetitive patterns in our relationships, and the self's natural growth process is blocked.
There are also cultural variations on this process. Psychoanalytically informed cross-cultural research has shown that although neurosis is the norm in all cultures throughout the world, there are differences between East and West in the neurotic configurations of self and other. There are large individual differences, but in general neurosis in the West is tied to a self that feels isolated from others with a pervasive sense of insufficiency and defect, whereas neurotic configurations in Eastern cultures seem more related to enmeshment in the family, a lack of individuation and differentiation that results from fusion of self with the family and culture. The sense of self is different, not better or worse, but the basic neurotic pattern remains the same. That is, the power of unconscious processes, of defences like disavowal and repression, of deficits in the structural integrity of the self and the defensive structures that result from neurotic attempts at repair, of large areas of feeling, impulses, and self that remain outside of consciousness remain the same.
Depth psychotherapy is the first methodical investigation into all of this in human history and the only process that is designed to work through and heal these wounds and contractions of the self. Nothing else can do it. Other things can help the self grow here or there, but nothing can replace a full psychotherapeutic working through. Spiritual practice is not designed for this and cannot do it. Ignoring it does not make it go away. There is nothing else aside from depth psychotherapy that has been invented that can work through and heal the early wounds, bring the healthy self back into the growth process, resume the developmental process that has gotten derailed through the neurotic coping strategy, and promote the growth of the authentic self to its greater potentials. As therapy has expanded it has become clear that it is too good just to be limited to sick people. It is with normal, healthy neurotics like thee and me where it has its greatest potential. I recognize that as yet there is not a context in India for this. It took many decades of psychological culture in the U. S. for this growth context to develop. In Japan it is just starting.
The first impression by the spiritual community, that psychotherapy works against spiritual growth because it makes the ego stronger whereas spiritual practice is designed to reduce and eliminate the ego, has by now been shown to be untrue. Actually the opposite is the case. A weak self, a self that is neurotic, contracted, undeveloped is tied into very rigid defences and has very little room to move. Sri Aurobindo always stressed the importance of being open flexible, plastic, fluid in our spiritual practice and openness to the Divine. But if large portions of the self are off limits, tied in to rigid defences, fragmentation-prone, operating from different unconscious motivations, spiritual practice will progress very slowly, for we will be moving in many directions at once without even realizing it. A fragmented self can hardly move at all, for it is so focused on restoring its own cohesion, pulling itself together, managing its self-image and concerned about how other people see it and caught up in interpersonal issues that its main activities are restricted to the surface. Neurosis makes for far greater rigidity and contraction and for a spiritual practice that becomes routinized, mechanized, repetitious, for it is always unconsciously defending against the new.
The mature self that emerges from psychotherapeutic work is stronger, yet this strength allows for greater flexibility, fluidity, the capacity to let go of control and to surrender to the deeper self (and ultimately perhaps to the Divine, for surrender to the deeper, authentic self may serve as a kind of practice for surrender to the Divine.) The vital self needs to be in awareness, open, integrated, cohesive, unified. This surface integration makes for much more energy, a more unified will and aspiration, a more coherent surface vehicle for the psychic being to transform.
There are clear hazards if we ignore this. In my experience, spiritual practice becomes blocked or slowed down for most people without significant psychological work. Certainly not everyone needs it. There are the rare spiritual geniuses like Sri Aurobindo and the Mother whose highly developed psychic being allowed them to cut through the ego and connect directly to the spiritual depths. But for most everyone else in this modern era, some psychological awareness appears to be helpful and important. We ignore the power of psychotherapy at our own peril. For then it becomes difficult to avoid spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is using spiritual ideas and practices to avoid our own neurotic conflicts and feelings, and the result is usually simply a new version of our old neurosis rather than real spiritual growth.
Spiritual practice can become a new form of repression when we take spiritual ideals and try to enforce them on our self. The super-ego or inner judge very easily takes our spiritual aspirations and twists them into new and improved spiritual shoulds (or introjects) that are just as psychologically destructive as the original shoulds (introjects) were that we got from our family of origin. Some form of spiritual bypassing is no doubt inevitable in our aspiration for a higher life, for our defences and neurosis will wrap themselves around anything we encounter, including our spiritual practice. There are many people who are drawn to spirituality with the hope they can just transcend their psychological issues and use spiritual practice as a way to avoid their psychological work. But what happens of course is that we all take our psychological baggage with us. It's hard to get around our psychology. We go beyond by going through.
Neurosis is avoidance, an escape from reality, a defence against what is. All of us have this split within us, one part that seeks reality, truth, while the other part is an escapist, trying to avoid reality with our defences and unconscious blocking. Until we resolve this split within ourselves psychologically, we will carry it into everything we do. Since spiritual work will not dismantle our psychological defences, unless we have some way of working psychologically with this it can easily undermine our practice.
The longer I have been in this psycho-spiritual field, the more I am convinced that psychotherapy and spiritual practice are aiming toward a similar goal, that is, both are trying to open the heart. In a way, psychotherapy can be seen as a kind of bhakti yoga, though its methods are very different from the traditional bhakti methods. For even though both psychotherapy and spiritual practice are trying to open the heart, they go about it very differently.
Spiritual practice tries to open the heart directly. Through love, devotion, adoration, bhakti, surrender, the aspirant focuses upon positive, loving feelings in a call to the Divine for union. Negative feelings are rejected, not identified with, and the stress is on the heart's aspiration, the soul's movement of bhakti for the Divine.
Psychotherapy, on the other hand, tries to open the heart by going into how the heart is closed. Psychotherapy brings awareness of our blocks, our contractions, and defences against feeling. Even though a person doesn't usually feel blocked because it all happens unconsciously, the neurotic organization of personality means that there are many feelings, many dimensions of the heart that are out of awareness. There is a dissociation to feeling and the body that inevitably accompanies neurotic defences. What psychotherapy does is to heal this dissociation and to bring the heart's feelings into awareness. It does this in two ways.
First it works to bring attention to the defences against feeling. Repression and disavowal are two of the major defences we use to protect ourselves from deeper feelings and affects that cause us anxiety, shame, or guilt. Our defences work so well that before we even realize a feeling is arising, we push it down. Freud's discovery of signal anxiety explains how our defences work automatically and unconsciously to move our consciousness away from a threatening feeling onto something else. In depth psychotherapy we have a chance to become aware of and work through our major defensive strategies and then to bring awareness to the feelings underneath them.
The second way psychotherapy works is to increase love and positive feelings by going into hate and negative feelings. One thing psychology has discovered is that you can't go higher than you can go low. That is, you can't feel intensely good without also having the capacity to feel intensely bad. The capacity to feel is more or less open or more or less closed for most all feelings. We let in a certain degree of intensity of feeling, whether this is positive or negative. When we are wounded and form our neurotic contractions against the pain of those feelings, we shut off the flow of all feeling, the positive as well as the negative. So to expand our feeling capacity, we need to open up our ability to tolerate high intensities of feeling. And to do that we need to first be willing to feel what we have been blocking out our whole life, which generally is negative feelings, such as hurt, shame, pain, anger, guilt, anxiety, fear, deficiency, sadness and depression, low self-esteem, and so on. To feel these feelings originally threatened a vital bond with our parents, and to preserve that bond we stayed away from those feelings, to the point where we no longer even know we feel them. Psychotherapy is the process of reclaiming these feelings, which cannot be done in isolation. These wounds were originally inflicted in relationship, and generally need a relationship to be resolved. The therapeutic relationship is designed to do just this.
So we increase the positive feelings by delving into the negative feelings. When we do this, we expand the person's ability to love. But what do we mean by this and how do we do it? As it turns out psychology has learned a great deal about love over the past century. Now I realize that I am talking about what Sri Aurobindo would refer to as vital love, but even if love is ultimately a spiritual energy with a divine source, we experience it through our psychological nature. How does our psychological nature change it, and how can we transform the surface psychological nature so that it can reflect more purely this divine energy, so it doesn't distort it by stepping it down, squeezing it, shaping it into its own narrow terms? What are the optimal psychological conditions for loving? Unless we open up our surface nature, our psychological contractions will severely limit and deform love, be unable to hold it in its pure, genuine, real essence. And if we can't love another person, can we really love the Divine?
Psychotherapy has discovered some important things about the ability to love. Perhaps the most important is that love has a strong narcissistic dimension to it. Freud originally thought that love changed from narcissistic love in the infant to object love in the adult. It was a U-tube for Freud, where we started out only loving ourselves and as we matured our narcissistic love evolved into object love. We either had one or the other, the more narcissistic love we had the less object love we had, and the more object love we had the less narcissistic love we had. But recent developments in narcissism over the past 30 years or so have reversed this. It is not a U-tube but rather both kinds of love are important and interrelated. The capacity for self-love is essential in order to truly love others. Rather than being the antithesis of object love, self-love is as important as object love. Indeed, our ability to love all of our full self is necessary for us to be able to prize and love the whole self of the other. This means no splitting, no dividing the other into good and bad parts, and having the capacity to hold positive feelings for the other person together with negative feelings.
We first learn about love in our family of origin, yet this also limits us, for loving means a good deal of freedom from our early object relations matrix, not seeing the other person in terms of our internalized images based upon our early family experiences or looking for love in fixed ways, the repetition compulsion. Love is an authentic expression of the healthy self, from the genuine being of the self to the genuine being of the other. In this there is the capacity to be vulnerable, open and exposed at a deep level, no longer hiding behind the walls around the heart but fully sharing ourselves in a way that is truly intimate. Now all this places narcissism at the center of psychological and spiritual growth.
The term narcissism in depth psychotherapy is not used pejoratively. It simply refers to the self, to the growth and development of the self, and narcissistic wounding simply means wounds to the self. The particular kind of narcissistic wounding we each experience shapes the direction our self grows in and the kind of defensive structures we use to cope with this wounding. When the self experiences different kinds of narcissistic wounding, that wounding is both an area of unresolved emotional hurt and a deficit in the structure of the self. As we grow up with these deficits in our self structure, we look to others to fill in these deficits. We especially look to those we love to take over those functions of the self we are missing in our own self structure. So love retains this narcissistic dimension, where we feel love for the person but actually we are in love with the self functions they perform for us. We hardly even see the other person as a separate person, for in effect they become an extension of our self.
A very similar thing happens in spiritual practice. We look to the Divine or to our spiritual teachers for what we didn't get as children growing up. The way we look for love is inextricably tied in to how we looked for love in our family or origin, and love is seen in the terms of how it fills in the missing functions of the self. Two of the most important poles of the self are the mirroring pole and the idealizing pole. We need our parents to mirror us as children, to love and affirm and support our unique, growing self. Note that it's not what our parents say that's important, it's the feeling and energy they say it with. We need at least one parent to look at us as a child with a gleam in their eye that says, “You are the fairest of them all.” If we don't get enough of this, we have problems with self-esteem, with feeling enough ambition and energy, with needing reassurance and love, and we have an inordinate fear of failure, shame, and a preoccupation with how others see us, so we are constantly concerned with managing our self-image in the world, which is what occupies a great many people today.
The other important pole of the self is the idealizing pole. We need one or both parents to be wise, calm, soothing, powerful guides for our developing self. If we don't have enough of this we have difficulties with affect regulation, with such things as self-soothing and self-calming, and we have a hunger for people we can look up to and idealize. Having people we can look up to is important throughout our life-span, but when we have deficits in this area, our needs have this early, infantile loading that is out of proportion to the needs of a healthy, mature adult.
We look to people to get our narcissistic needs met, and in a very similar way we look to spiritual practice to meet our narcissistic needs. When we open to the Divine, does our bhakti and surrender have a narcissistic quality to it? Are we looking for affirmation, for confirmation of our specialness, to be filled with a love we never fully got from our own mother or father? The two founders of integral yoga, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, can be wonderful projection screens for our own psychological material. Our early needs to idealize could hardly find better targets to fasten onto than Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Even the name, the Mother, is so evocative of our earliest and most archaic needs that naturally our unconscious feelings are going to be stirred. How much of our idealization of these two is fuelled by our early narcissistic needs for figures of perfection, wisdom, and calmness? Or how much of our criticalness for one or both of them parallels our criticism and disappointment with our own parents?
When Sri Aurobindo warned about the problem with bringing in vital demand and impatience to our sadhana, he was using ordinary language to express the quality of narcissistic entitlement most everyone feels at some level from not having these early needs met adequately. What is behind our own narcissistic entitlement and how does it feed our vital self's impatience, demand, revolt, despair, and all the other emotional upheavals our sadhana is subject to? When our early needs distort our perception and motivation, ours can become a form of spiritual bypassing, where our egoic needs wrap themselves around our spiritual aspirations and use them for their own purposes. At that point are we doing spiritual practice or simply acting out our own psychology? These are important questions to ask. If we can't ask questions like these, we are in trouble.
When spiritual experiences do come, when we open to a greater consciousness within or experience a descent from above, here again our narcissistic strivings easily come into play. Our sense of our own specialness, our yogic potential, our advanced spiritual evolution is nothing but our own archaic grandiosity being stirred by these exalted experiences. Letters on Yoga contains many examples of Sri Aurobindo pointing out the grandiosity and ego inflation that spiritual experiences generated in disciples, and he writes of losing several to this vital weakness. Indeed, spiritual experiences can be so thrilling, so uplifting and blissful that whatever unconscious narcissism is present is likely to become activated in the sadhak. This is why Sri Aurobindo always stressed purification and the establishment of peace first, so that the person, “does not swell in exultation”, or to put this in psychological language, does not inflate with narcissistic grandiosity.
Until we are beyond the self, the self organizes our perception, our motivation, our action in the world. Because these psychological patterns are unconscious we are not aware of them. What psychotherapy does is, “to make the unconscious conscious,” as Freud once said. And as Sri Aurobindo has said, yoga is the process of becoming conscious on every plane of our being. Both psychotherapy and spiritual practice direct us to turn within. But when we turn within we do not immediately see the psychic being or atman. What we see is the self, the ego, and our psychology is the first plane of our inner being we must make conscious in order to penetrate beyond. Since the power of our unconscious defences is so strong, without some kind of therapeutic working through our neurotic and narcissistic distortions become our biggest impediments to our psychological as well as spiritual growth.
Integral yoga seeks to open and purify the nature so it can express the deeper spirit within. Psychotherapy can be seen as a form of purification, one kind of vital discipline that can be of great help in opening and widening the vital self. It is a type of vital discipline that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did not have access to, because it is only in the past 20 or 30 years that psychotherapy has come of age as a mature and effective discipline. It is not as thoroughgoing as spiritual purification, but it does make the vital level of our being more clear, more harmonious, more peaceful, more fluid and able to navigate the inner spaces that spiritual experience opens into. Nor can psychotherapy replace spiritual practice or substitute for it, otherwise clients who have completed a great deal of therapy would be candidates for sainthood and this is clearly not the case. But if the self is leaky with holes or deficits in its structure, not cohesive or coherent, what peace or love or power we receive from within will likely flow right through and spill out. Psychotherapy can work to bring the heart back on-line and to make our full vital energy more available for sadhana rather than keeping it off-line and retarding our inner opening.
An integral approach to psychotherapy must take into account Sri Aurobindo's focus on the body in transformation and his observation that the vital is rooted in the physical. This has enormous implications for psychotherapy, and it is very much in line with the humanistic and existential schools of psychology, such as gestalt therapy, bioenergetics and other Reichian influenced somatic therapies, as well as existential approaches. What Wilhelm Reich discovered about the psyche is that our feeling life is embedded in the body. It is not just that the body is the foundation for our emotions, but our psychological defences are expressed in the body in terms of our chronically contracted musculature or body armour. When we originally defended ourselves against our early wounding in our family of origin, we contracted our muscles and stifled our breathing, in order to diminish the pain of our feelings.
When we want to stop feeling, we stop breathing. Feeling is an energetically alive process that requires oxygen to support it. Without the energy of oxygen to support the power of feelings, decrease. As children, we squelched our aliveness in order to protect ourselves from hurt since this was the only strategy open to us at the time. And this process generally continues throughout our lives, unless we do some sort of psychological work. What the humanistic and existential therapies have learned is that the process of working through our blocks to feeling involves developing an awareness of how feeling lives in our body and the ways we cut it off through holding it down and contracting against it while we simultaneously stifle our breathing.
Most all of the humanistic and existential therapies involve bodily awareness practices that include breathing awareness. A few of these involve deep breathing or fast breathing as a way to increase the intensity of feelings. Parenthetically this is why pranayama, yogic breathing practice, uses an opposite strategy that involves very slow, measured breathing. Pranayama brings a calm to the vital and body by gradually teaching the body to use oxygen more efficiently through slow, steady, long breaths. Having had a daily pranayama practice for many years I realize pranayama is very complex and that there are a wide variety of breathing rhythms, but this is generally what pranayama brings about, calm and peace to the vital and physical system, whereas the breathwork therapies involve hyperventilating as a way to flood the system with energy and excitement and feeling.
Besides breath awareness, the humanistic and existential therapies involved a good deal of bodily awareness, for they have recognized just how much our feeling life is grounded in the body. One of the most encompassing approaches to this whole issue is focusing, which is a practice that brings attention to how the feeling sense emerges from the center of the body, generally the torso. The felt sense is the physical-vital interface where emotion emerges in its own right from the organism.
If you take just a minute to tune into the felt sense right now in your body, you can get a sense of what this is. Take a few moments to let your awareness drop down into the center of your body, perhaps taking a few breaths with your belly to help you tune in down there. Now think of someone who you really dislike or hate. Now check in with your body and experience what that feels like. Now think of someone who you really love and feel good about. Again check in with your body to experience what that feels like. Can you sense the difference? That is the felt sense, and one way of looking at therapy is that it is the progressive unfolding of the felt sense as it emerges from deeper and deeper levels of the unconscious, for the felt sense is the border between the conscious and the unconscious, between what is explicit and what is implicit and ready to emerge.
It has never been understood in the humanistic and existential therapies why feelings are generally situated in the torso, but if we look to the knowledge of tantra I believe it sheds some light on this. As Sri Aurobindo has written, the chakras that are concerned with the vital level are chakras 2, 3, and 4. The first chakra is primarily concerned with the physical body, and the upper chakras of 5, 6, and 7 are mind and spiritual mind levels. So from the base of the spine to the throat is the area of the subtle body that is occupied with the vital level of our being. As the physical body resonates with this energetic flow from the subtle body, we find that this is exactly the area of the body where we find the felt sense. Sometimes we express a feeling elsewhere, for example tears of sadness in the eyes, but the actual feeling of sadness itself tends to be experienced in the center of the body, often as a heaviness and sorrow in the chest area. One thing spiritual practice tries to do is get us out of our heads with our nonstop thinking. One good way to get out of your head is to get into your body. So knowing that feelings occur between the base of the spine and the throat helps us to focus in on them, to identify and feel them more fully, and to see what else they are connected to or what else is implicit within them.
By bringing the body into psychotherapy we not only begin to heal the dissociation between feeling and the body, we also bring the here and now into therapy, for the body lives in the present. When we come into the body with all of its sensory aliveness, we come more fully into what the existentialists call the “lived moment”. It is in this movement of tuning into our actual lived experience that we begin to wake up from the trance of ordinary consciousness.
Spiritual practice is an inner discipline to awaken us from our semi-conscious state, and psychotherapy is also an inner discipline to awaken us, although what we awaken to differs in these two practices. Spiritual practice seeks to awaken us to our spiritual nature, the atman or psychic being, whereas psychotherapy tries to awaken us to our deeper, more authentic self. But the self, even our authentic self, hides the atman and psychic being. As we focus on the self through sustained, psychotherapeutic attention and work through our characterological defences, we wake up from the unconsciousness we have created by our neurotic avoidances. By exploring our lived experience, we come more fully into our physical existence, our vital existence, our mental existence, which can be a great help with our spiritual practice.
Since the affective core of the self is the primary organizing principle of the psyche, we need to make this part of our being as clear, as energetic, as powerful, as steady and calm as possible. After all, if our body is hurt, we try to heal it. If a bone is broken we repair it. So the structural defects in the self need to be healed and repaired, for the ego is our vehicle in the world until the psychic comes in front or the Self descends from above. It is better to have a well functioning vehicle than a broken down one. This means opening the heart to all of the pain and hurt and wounds and defences that distort or cloud or obscure our vital nature. In integral psychotherapy we also work to bring awareness to the bodily roots of our vital nature as we bring the heart back on-line.
Integral psychotherapy then becomes an exploration of is-ness, which when we have a spiritual aspiration, allows us to penetrate more deeply within in our journey to awaken to the psychic being and atman. It is a movement that begins with the existential surface of our empirical self and ends with the essential spiritual experience of our central being. In this way integral psychotherapy can be thought of as existential vedanta, a psycho-spiritual practice that involves exploring our lived experience so that our physical, vital, and mental self is the most coherent, vibrant, fit vehicle for our inner being, more purified and therefore more capable of a whole-hearted surrender, more calm and therefore able to hold the peace from above and within, more integrated and unified and so more capable of a greater single-minded aspiration for the Mother, for the Divine.