One meaning of what it is to be a spiritual person is the desire to connect with and be guided by spirit, the highest level of a multi-layered reality, even if most of the time this connection may be with intermediate levels. The term which resonates the most with me is the Sufis’ Spirit of Guidance, since this includes all levels of the connection with what is beyond.
The essential point is that what we experience as our ego-consciousness is not our only self, and not even our true self. Some of the terms used to describe the deeper, usually hidden, self are:
- the Self (Carl Jung) (sometimes written lower case, the self)
- the Higher Self (Psychosynthesis)
- the Subliminal Self (Frederic Myers)
- the soul (a term used by various spiritual/religious traditions)
- the Daemon (originally a term used by the ancient Greeks, for example Plato, Socrates, and Epictetus).
These concepts are not necessarily understood in the same way, but refer to something similar; they all suggest a deeper level of our individual consciousness. (There is an alternative explanation, however, since sometimes an experience suggests a consciousness apparently other from oneself, what appears to be a ‘spirit guide’, or other helpful being.)
We are souls (individual pure consciousnesses) on a spiritual journey in the material world, where the ego is, so to speak, the representative of the deeper self. There is a plan for each incarnation, to help us grow and develop appropriately on this journey. Connecting with this plan gives our lives their ultimate purpose and meaning. This is known by the deeper self, but the ego-self can, and usually does, lose its way on its life-journey. If this plan was conceived before our birth, as some traditions believe, then this suggests that consciousness forgets during the process of incarnation. As Wordsworth said, in Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, “our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting”. The ancient Greeks believed, using a striking metaphor, that reincarnating souls drink from the river of oblivion, Lethe; this would explain why they have no recollection of their past lives, nor of this plan for the current incarnation.
Thus we have fallen asleep, and need to awaken. The ego needs to reconnect with, and be guided by, this source of higher knowledge and wisdom. It can then seek to manifest the will of the deeper self in the world. This is an alternative approach to spirituality, different from meditation and other practices. In Hinduism it is called Karma Yoga, described variously as the path of selfless action, following one’s destiny, or the surrender of the ego to the divine, thus becoming its tool.
How then do we reconnect with this higher consciousness? The following methods are meaningful to me: dream interpretation, synchronistic events, divination (including Tarot readings, and I Ching consultations), powerful intuitions, and so-called Freudian slips.
1) Dreams are the most obvious and most available source of guidance. Many authors have written on this subject. Perhaps the most important is Carl Jung, who placed dream interpretation at the centre of his therapeutic system. He said “we have forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions” (Man and His Symbols).
A book I especially like is Arthur Bernard’s God Has No Edges, Dreams Have No Boundaries. His experience is that no matter what you (your ego-consciousness) may think, your “dreams say think again”. That is a clear expression of the idea I expressed above, that the conscious ego has lost its way, and needs guidance from a higher source of wisdom.
Dream interpretation is not just an aspect of Western psychology. It can also fit in with:
a) Hinduism. See, for example, Realities of the Dreaming Mind by Swami Sivananda Radha, a western woman initiated into the Hindu tradition. She has created a “Dream Yoga”, and talks about the “Guru within”.
b) Sufism. I once was privileged to attend the daily meetings hosted by the Sufi teacher, Irina Tweedie. Each one began with a session of dream sharing and interpretation.
c) Ancient tribal traditions. See, for example, Patricia Garfield’s chapter on Native Americans in Creative Dreaming. She says that all tribes assign special importance to dreams.
The problem, of course, is that in modern times many people have lost the ability to think symbolically, and are not encouraged by our education system to think in this way. Dreams, therefore, may seem incomprehensible. This is highly regrettable, and steps should be taken to remedy this unfortunate development.
2) Synchronistic events (meaningful coincidences). The term synchronicity was coined by Carl Jung. These events appear to have a tendency towards growth, healing, positive change. The best known example is the case of a female client of his and a scarab beetle. The woman was blocked psychologically because of her excessively materialistic worldview, until this beetle started to tap at Jung’s window, just as she was telling him a dream of hers about a scarab beetle (which is an ancient symbol of rebirth). This impressed her so much that her worldview was shattered, and she was able to make progress in therapy.
As in that example, such occurrences sometimes have extraordinary psychological/spiritual power. The Jungian writer Marie-Louise von Franz talks about shaking experiences. Robert Aziz, another Jungian writer, talks about “the force of a full-scale conversion experience” (C. G. Jung’s Psychology of Religion and Synchronicity). They can seem so strongly meaningful that they led Robert Perry to call his book on the subject Signs: a New Approach to Coincidence, Synchronicity, Guidance, Life Purpose, and God’s Plan.
3) Divination. I have given Tarot readings. I am usually assured by the questioner that what I have said has been relevant and meaningful, and yet he or she has chosen the cards when they were face down. Magical and mysterious though this may seem, the hidden self must know which cards are which, and guide the person to choose the appropriate ones. That has been my own experience when being given a reading by others; a certain card suddenly seems to stand out from the others, seemingly asking to be chosen.
An I Ching coin consultation is broadly similar to a Tarot reading. The interesting difference is that, with the Tarot, the querent does actually choose the cards, which allows the possibility of some involvement of the hidden self. With the I Ching, however, when the coins are thrown, the person has apparently no control over how they land, so it seems that one would have to ascribe this to ‘chance’. Yet, as Jung assures us, meaningful answers are the rule! (Can one’s own hidden self control how coins land?)
Some physicists assure us that everything can be explained by a combination of the four fundamental forces of the universe. The I Ching consultation suggests otherwise. A reasonable assumption would be that if one took into account the starting positions of the coins in the hand, and knew the exact force used when throwing them into the air, and so on, then one could predict how they would land. This is probably true. That the way they land leads to meaningful readings from an oracle book suggests that an additional factor is at work, that a mysterious intelligence of some kind is another type of ‘force’ to be taken into account. In this context, Jung notes, in his foreword to the Richard Wilhelm translation, that the traditional Chinese view is that “spiritual agencies” are at work, “acting in a mysterious way”. He also notes that the book “purports to be animated”. Whether true or not, that is certainly how it seems. The latest, growing trend among contemporary physicists and philosophers is to consider consciousness/mind as more fundamental than matter. Here is some evidence that they might be right!
4) Strong intuitions. Many people feel that they are guided in life by an inner voice. Sometimes this experience can become even more intense, when the ego-consciousness is gripped by what seems to be an overwhelmingly powerful idea, something irresistible. You know that it will not let go until you have performed what it demands, and when you have done this, the outcome is positive.
An outstanding example of this phenomenon is Rosalind Heywood, writer on parapsychology, who talks about receiving ‘orders’. A powerful example occurred one afternoon when she was told by this inner voice to meet the 3 o’clock train at Wimbledon station. In order to do this, she had to borrow a neighbour’s car, which shows how important it was to her to obey such instructions. By following this ‘order’ she managed to save the life of her husband, who had suffered a heart attack.
5) Freudian slips. Sigmund Freud’s book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life introduced the world to this idea. His most powerful example, so extraordinary that it is almost impossible to believe, tells of a woman who, seeing a man in the street, fails to remember that she had recently married him. He reports that the marriage came “to a most unhappy end”.
What does the phenomenon of the Freudian slip mean? In general terms, we can say that the ego tends to lie, be prone to self-deception, yet something inside wants the truth to be recognised. There is thus a hidden intelligence which somehow forces the ego to make a mistake in speech or action, revealing what it is trying to conceal. Again I assume that this other consciousness is the Higher or Subliminal Self. Freud’s example seems to be a clear message from this hidden self, which wants the woman to recognise the terrible mistake she has made.
I have an outstanding example of a Freudian slip from my own experience. Some time ago I attended a group-therapy weekend. Some exercises were conducted in pairs, and I was involved in one of these with a man, I would estimate, in his late twenties. During a pause in the exercise, to avoid an embarrassing silence, I engaged him in conversation, and my opening gambit was “How long have you been in therapy?”. His reply was “since I was 11”. This was a strange answer – it seemed a young age to start – so I asked him, “what happened then?” He replied, “I was sent away to boarding school”. I was excited by this; it seemed like an obvious example of a Freudian slip — his deeper self was making him aware how his problems had started, a wonderful gift which would aid him in his therapy. However, when I started trying to suggest this to him, his expression visibly changed, and he went into a state of anxiety and denial, and tried to explain that it meant nothing, was just a “slip of the tongue”. His ego-self clearly wasn’t ready to hear the message.
This leads me to wonder whether one of the major problems we face in modern society is that the majority of humans are not in touch with the hidden self, and do not want to hear its message.