An Agnostic’s Encounter with God, Part 2

This post was originally an article on the Support4Change website. Because if its length, it has been broken up into 4 parts, and posted on Thursdays. Begin with Part 1.

This personal story describes the gradual movement from religious faith to agnosticism to spiritual awareness.

Preparing a Path for Spirit to Enter

Without benefit of church or faith, for many years I focused on raising my family. Along the way I ran into many problems that perfectionists like myself tend to create in their lives and went through lots of therapy, both individual therapy and a variety of growth groups, all of which helped me deal with my issues of control and low self-esteem.

However, it was especially when I studied Psychosynthesis, a holistic approach to human growth and development, that the seeds of a spiritual experience were planted. This school of psychology was developed in the middle of the last century by the Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assogioli. And since the term “psychosynthesis” refers to the “psyche” or self and to “synthesis” or integration, you might say it is a method for getting your act together or integrating the self. Here is how Eva Fugitt, teacher and author of He Hit Me Back First!, describes it:

Psychosynthesis is a creative approach to the harmonious integration of the whole personality — the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of one’s self. Utilizing the will, intuition, and creative imagination, Psychosynthesis aims to develop within each person an awareness of that deep center which brings these various parts into the unity of wholeness. This awareness is gradually brought into consciousness through a series of techniques, including imagery and visualization, designed to achieve harmony and synthesis within a person and between the person and her surroundings. Psychosynthesis, then, is a process of connecting with the Self — the core of our being — so that it can direct our life and relationships with joy and wisdom.

During three years studying Psychosynthesis I was able to gradually lay the foundation for a sense of spirit in my life in three important ways.

Higher Qualities

Assogioli places a great deal of significance on what he calls the “Higher Qualities” — love, patience, forgiveness, generosity, serenity, etc. Whether I thought of these as simply qualities of the “human” spirit or as “spiritual” qualities didn’t matter. Practicing them in my own life, and teaching clients how to use them when dealing with their problems, worked. Things got better with less effort when I kept a particular quality in mind.

Higher Self

Another way Psychosynthesis prepared me for a spiritual awakening was through the concept of a “Higher Self,” which can be conceptualized in several ways. For example, it can be viewed as an interface between rational, “provable” knowledge (arising from the left brain) and intuitive sources of knowing that lie beneath the surface (and seem to be located in the right brain). One method of calling upon this source of intuition is by imagining we have an “inner advisor,” although over the centuries this capacity of the mind has been called many names: holy spirit, inner guide, caring inner friend, personal shaman, wise figure, internal professor, guardian angel, spirit guide, inner physician, objective inner observer.

When I wanted to get in touch with this source of inner knowing, I would frequently imagine I was sitting on a stone bench in a garden where a dense fog had settled around me. (This image isn’t something I deliberate created. It simply arose out of some place from deep within my inner landscape.) I sensed that all I could do was wait for my unconscious to reveal some bit of information that would be helpful for my life at that moment. It didn’t help to be impatient. I learned to be receptive, a skill that was difficult at first to achieve because I wanted to do it “right” and intuitive insights don’t seem to arise when they are being forced.

Perhaps a believer in God might say about such insights that, “I can hear God telling my heart to do such-and-such.” But I liked using the word “intuition” to identify the source of inner wisdom, of understanding the synthesis or essence of a situation. And since intuition seems to come from the right brain, I realized they were ideas and images that were able to bypass the sometimes overly harsh critical judgment of my left brain.

More and more I counted on my intuition to develop my creativity and guide my writing. As Jonas Salk once said, “It is always with excitement that I wake up in the morning, wondering what my intuition will toss up to me like gifts from the sea. I work with it, I rely on it, it’s my partner.” I would point out, of course, that we need to use our rational processes to evaluate intuitive ideas. If our intuition tells us to sell everything and join a cult or leave the kids and move to an island in the South Pacific, we’d better step back and analyze what’s behind it all.

The “Higher Self” can also be seen as the connection between the experience of a self within its internal boundaries and a “Universal Consciousness” that exists outside oneself. Many years earlier, when I still believed in God, I imagined He was somewhere “out there,” outside of me, like an old guy sitting on a cloud watching the parade of human history and observing the mess we’d made of his world. The idea of a “God within” was a foreign concept. But if there is a God, I thought, there needs to be a mechanism within a person that allows that individual to get in touch with Him (or Her or It). The concept of a Higher Self seemed a good theory for how a supreme being could connect with people.

Subpersonalities

The third way Psychosynthesis opened the door to exploring the possibility of spirit was through techniques that helped me deal with parts of me that Assogioli calls “subpersonalities.” These are the false selves within all of us that fight for control, usually out of our awareness. For example, one day we might be in touch with an internal critic who would have us believe we are always WRONG and can never do anything right. The next day, or even later that same day, something

sets us off and the only emotion we can feel is anger, justifying our actions because we are RIGHT. And so it goes from day to day. We’re like the unknown poet who said:

Within my earthly temple there’s a crowd,
There’s one of us that’s humble, one that’s proud,
There’s one that’s broken-hearted for his sins,
And one who, unrepentant, sits and grins.
There’s one who loves his neighbor as himself,
And one who cares for naught but fame and self.
From much corroding care would I be free
If I could but determine which one is me.

In order to understand and manage my subpersonalities, I needed to first get in touch with the quiet center of my self (small s). Gradually I became more and more aware of that place within and frequently spent time in the morning for meditation. It was during these periods of quiet meditation that my soul finally opened to a genuine experience I recognized as spiritual.

Come back next Thursday for Part 3 of An Agnostic’s Encounter with God.

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