Case #165 - Finding a personal spirituality

Max was very emotional. For him, seeking God, spiritual connection, was very important. But despite his efforts, he found he was not gaining that sense, no real experience of something spiritual. His sense of God as infinite, omni present gave him a feeling of distance, rather than closeness. He felt hopeless, frustrated, sad. His sadness was palpable. Tears flowed as we talked.

I said, “be with your sadness.” I asked him where he felt it - “In the gut," he replied. As he stayed with this, the experience of guilt and anxiety emerged. Again, I asked where - in the chest. What was it connected to? He was concerned about somehow betraying old faith - Catholicism. He explained that he was now a Buddhist - he found that more satisfying philosophically. But previously, had a deep sense of connection with Christ, and a sense of experience of spiritual depth in that context.

His current spiritual practice was from a Buddhist teacher - Qi Gong and meditation. So, I said, "if we removed all shoulds in the situation…it seems that the way you connect with the divine is a devotional one. The Buddhist philosophy suits you the best, but you may need to choose on a spectrum of Buddhism, practices that are more down the more devotional end. Or else perhaps allow yourself to find a way to connect with both figures of Jesus and Buddha.”

I checked in with him, how he felt - "very good,” he replied. I invited him to do an experiment - close his eyes, remove all shoulds, and picture just finding the spirituality thats right for him. He pictured both Buddha and Jesus. It was perfect. He felt profoundly peaceful, centred, and this was right for him.

This was an example of applying Gestalt process to a spiritual issue. Rather than explore the content of the issue - philosophical questions of meaning or faith - I explored his feelings, his relational yearnings, in the context of spiritual experience. The clue was through his body, and the guilt gave us a sign that there were introjects, or ‘shoulds’ in the way. These are ideas that we swallow, that prevent us from finding a unique and personal fit. People often conform to social or in this case religious ideas about how things should be. Certainly, you can’t mix two religious figures.

In Gestalt, we want to find whats right for the person. In this case, Max needed a relational spirituality, rather than a dry abstract one. He needed to build on the ground he had, and find how to fit it into who he currently was. In this way, Gestalt supports each person to develop in their unique way, including spiritually.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther