I have recently handed in ms. of my latest book to Lutterworth Press. It is called “Living Deeply”. It is linked to a set of film clips that will shortly be available on YouTube for free download. This book absorbs the text of the film clips, but expands it considerably. The book is about how to live, and draws on both psychology and spirituality in an integrated way.
We had lengthy discussions about the title for this material. A previous version was called the “beta course”, but that is fairly uninformative and has already been used by others. For a while we thought of calling it ‘metanoia’, but we decided that was too obscure. We then got as far as thinking we wanted a two word title with ‘living’ as one of the words but what should be other work be? Eventually we went for ‘deeply’.
Notice that psychology and spirituality tend to use different spatial metaphors. Psychology often talks about going deep, especially with ‘depth psychology’. Psychology wants to get to the bottom of things. Religion, in contrast, talks about raising up, or lifting up. At the heart of the Mass, the priest says, ‘lift up your hearts’, and the people reply ‘we lift them to the Lord’.
These seem to be in conflict. Religion is trying to go up, and psychology is trying to go down. How can anyone do both? Actually, I don’t think there is ultimately any conflict here.
If you go infinitely high and infinitely deep, you seem to end up in the same place, albeit by different routes. Either way, you end up at the ultimate spiritual reality that we call ‘God’. It is similar to the way mathematicians say that parallel lines meet at infinity; or (another metaphor), ‘all roads lead to Rome’.
There are pitfalls on the journey inwards, and it is easy to make mistakes. For example, someone’s journey inwards can really be going rather well. But then they can start to feel pleased at how it is going, and their pride spoils everything. It is easy to get so caught up in the journey inwards that you become blind to such traps.
There are different hazards in a journey inwards that is entirely framed in terms of religion and ignores the psychological, and one that is entirely framed in terms of psychology and ignores the spiritual. Keeping the perspectives of both psychology and spirituality in play reduces the risk of being oblivious to such pitfalls. Having two perspectives gives you a double chance of realising when you are going off track.
Psychology without spirituality can become bogged down, and lose direction and purpose; it can become so introspective that it becomes disconnected from anything around it. In contrast, psychology, left to itself, can drown in introspection and egocentricity. Raising your sights and taking a God’s eye view of things for a moment can help you take your bearings, and recover contact with what is beyond yourself.
There are very different hazards in spirituality without psychology, like the dangers of building on shallow or weak foundations. The resulting building is unstable, and unable to withstand adverse conditions. It is easily blown about by fads and fancies, and is particularly vulnerable to self-deception.
Without psychology we can easily imagine (or pretend) that we are more spiritual than we actually are. The spiritual path, left to itself, is often tempted to take a short-cut that doesn’t quite work, and is really just papering over cracks. It is like covering up unhappiness with what some psychologists call ‘manic defence’.
My response to the dilemma of which language to use is to say that we need both. We need psychology to help us to go deep, and we need religion and spirituality to help us to lift our hearts and see the big picture. I believe there is no incompatibility, and that both psychology and religion are better when they have the humility to recognize that they benefit from the other.