Joan Miró was a Spanish artist with a peculiar saying that he wanted to "murder painting." He didn't mean abolish it; he meant to throw away all of the conditioning of the past and look beyond to something deeper -- something that exists fully in the present. I'm committed to a similar approach in my own practice, which is why I regularly update my current approach to therapy once I've landed in a new place of understanding.
A Three-Sided Coin
The complexity of the human condition requires an approach to psychotherapy that includes the scientific, the philosophical, and the spiritual/religious. Without a mixture of all, we flatten ourselves rather than enliven our experience of life. If we only have the scientific approach, we might ignore the subjective experience of consciousness and try to use a medical approach or a one-size-fits-all method. I will say it plainly that a purely scientific approach to therapy is bad therapy. On the other hand, if we only have a philosophical stance, we might become unmoored and end up in a realm of intellectual concepts that become a new type of prison. We might leave the past, but rather than enter the deep mystery of the present, we might end up just constructing a new protective castle that is dead and going nowhere. Finally, if we only make contact with the spiritual/religious, we might become dogmatic moralizers and virtue signalers, or disconnected from our real bodies. So, we have to consider an approach that makes room for all of the above.
Fundamentally, we are organismic products of evolution. Evolution isn't progress; it's ongoing change. We exist as self-organizing creatures who bring forth a world based upon our unique nervous systems. We never really make contact with an objective world, only with the world we are conscious of as brought forth in our psyche. We are part of the environment. It shapes us and we shape it. Language is how multiple human organisms communicate. It not only allows us to coordinate with one another, but it's through our use of language that we construct our reality. These realities are all still grounded in human bodies. However, rather than a materialist reduction of human experience to cells and chemistry, enactive cognitive science cares deeply about the emergence of subjective consciousness out of material bodies. (How a spiritual consciousness arises from biological bodies is still unexplained, if it is even indeed explainable beyond just being emergent.) This approach also cares deeply about the individual within the context of culture, society, and the entire ecology of the planet.
“To deny the truth of our own experience in the scientific study of ourselves is not only unsatisfactory; it is to render the scientific study of ourselves without a subject matter. But to suppose that science cannot contribute to an understanding of our experience may be to abandon, within the modern context, the task of self-understanding. Experience and scientific understanding are like two legs without which we cannot walk.
We can phrase this very same idea in positive terms: it is only by having a sense of common ground between cognitive science and human experience that our understanding of cognition can be more complete and reach a satisfying level. We thus propose a constructive task: to enlarge the horizon of cognitive science to include the broader panorama of human, lived experience in a disciplined, transformative analysis.”
- Varela, Thompson, Rosch, "The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience"
The result, in this world view, is that real freedom comes not from the decisions of an ego-self’s “will” but from action without any Self whatsoever”
― Francisco J. Varela, "The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience"
Our own mortality and subsequent dread cannot be avoided in any depth psychotherapy. That we have brief lives embedded within perpetual uncertainty causes us to create endless creative adjustments to deny or ignore this state. While we don't want to live in a state of angst and terror, we do need to explore our mortality deeply if we're to get the most out of therapy. We know no universal truths or meanings, but we can find out what is meaningful for us.
Without a doubt psychic happenings constitute our only, immediate experience. All that I experience is psychic. Even physical pain is a psychic event that belongs to my experience. My sense impressions—for all that they force upon me a world of impenetrable objects occupying space—are psychic images, and these alone are my immediate experience, for they alone are the immediate objects of my consciousness. My own psyche even transforms and falsifies reality, and it does this to such a degree that I must resort to artificial means to determine what things are like apart from myself. Then I discover that a tone is a vibration of the air of such and such a frequency, or that a colour is a wave-length of light of such and such a length. We are in all truth so enclosed by psychic images that we cannot penetrate to the essence of things external to ourselves. All our knowledge is conditioned by the psyche which, because it alone is immediate, is superlatively real. Here there is a reality to which the psychologist can appeal—namely, psychic reality.
- Jung, C.G., "Modern Man in Search of a Soul"
Spirituality comes not from dogma or self-denial, but rather from relentlessly removing illusions and conditioning. This isn't an easy task and it never ends. Nevertheless, without becoming aware of our illusions, we can't see the true nature of reality and consciousness. Most people will not develop deep spirituality because to remove illusions requires psychological suffering when we dare to part with the security quilts that we've been knitting our entire lives, wrapped up in our notion of "I." This blanket drapes over each moment, obscuring what's really there. Grace unfolds as our illusions depart. This is the metamorphosis of the historical being into a timeless human being.
"In the present is eternity, and to understand that, mind must be free of the burden of the past; and to free the mind of the past there must be an intense questioning of the present, not the considering of how the “I” will continue in the future."
- J. Krishnamurti, "Total Freedom: The Essential Krishnamurti"