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Sitting Owl’s Book Review

‘The Healing Spirit 
– Explorations in Religion and Psychotherapy’
By: Paul R. Fleischman Compiled

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By: Joanne Shenandoah

I would like to begin this review with the comments from the back cover.

"Religion kindles much of the world’s healing, soothing, care-taking forces; yet ironically it also spawns cruel, violent, destructive hatred. Through a series of vividly detailed case studies, The Healing Spirit explores this paradox along with the interrelationship of mankind’s universal psychological needs and the major themes of the religious path. Paul Fleischman blends psychiatric insight, a profound respect for the world of spirit, and a rich sweep of cultural allusion into a fresh, masterful unity."

The author begins his introduction saying that: “Religion can be approached and understood as one aspect of personality”. This is indeed my own understanding, and I believe that when we can understand the big picture of life’s religious (Latin religio meaning linking back to the source),  and psychological nature and then develop a social order based on it, we can all live harmoniously with the universe. However this big picture must also be experienced in the everyday life, which the author then acknowledges by quoting Mircea Eliade, the great historian of comparative religion that I have previously mentioned, thus: “Religion is an experience of the existence in totality… and the exemplary solution of every existential crisis.”

The author finishes his introduction thus:

“I will describe religion as a circle with ten segments forming a whole and containing: witnessed significance, lawful order, affirming acceptance, a calling, membership, release, a worldview, human love, sacrifice, and meaningful death.”

WITNESSED SIGNIFICANCE is what I spoke about in my article ‘Initiations and Vision Quests'. It is the need to be seen, known, responded to, confirmed, appreciated, cared for, mirrored, recognised, and identified; and this need is universal and mythologically based.

LAWFUL ORDER is our need to know that the unknowable universe is not our prison, but is a wonderment that has got rules to the unfolding game of life. Lawful order is symbolised as a law-giving, protective father, who gives us security, but also demands that we manifest the rules in our own actions. Universally this is the Father-in-Heaven, God the father, Wakan-Tanka the father and Creator.

AFFIRMING ACCEPTANCE is the need to feel integral and unified within oneself and the need to feel responsible, an active agent of choice, and a point of origins. “Yet there is a need to feel pardoned, having done enough, tried enough, succeeded enough, and when finished, to feel done and complete… This need is usually referred to as “wholeness,” but to highlight its dynamic, tensile quality, I call it ‘affirming acceptance’.” This is the area that religion plays the major role. The Western religions are heavy with sin and atonement, telling us we have been bad, and weak, that with them is Another who can save us and set free the past. “Repent, be reborn whole and new.”

In Buddhism and some schools of Hinduism 'affirming acceptance' is achieved by the withdrawal of one’s personal wants and desires.

CALLING has two steps to it; firstly the calling to your life’s task (Dharma) or duty as an inner command from God, and secondly the acceptance of the call, even if it is socially unpopular. The duty aspect is right for a culture from the East, where you are born into your Dhama, but I prefer to see the calling to be to your Bliss; the realisation of your BLISS (Your True Being) comes only when you can live any passing moment of your life without being influenced by any FEARS, DESIRES, or SOCIAL DUTIES to live any particular way! Psychologically, this brings in the concept of identity. The author here sheds light on the dilemma of divine uniqueness of the individual verses the sense of divine duty (Dharma) as a separation from uniqueness, the self that is identical in everyone. A person’s career may be their calling, but generally career prominence has nothing to do with calling. Every man’s foremost task is the actualisation of his unique, unprecedented and never-returning potentialities.

In shamanism, calling comes as the schizophrenic crack up that Joseph Campbell speaks of, where consciousness totally falls inward, to God within. The author speaks of Jung’s own calling, Gandhi’s merging of calling and Dharma. He wanders through the ‘Rig Veda’, the Bhagavad Gita, Plato, and Tolstoy’s ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’, and Thoreau’s essay ‘On Civil Disobedience’; quoting from it thus: “If a plant cannot live according to it’s nature, it dies; and so a man.”

MEMBERSHIP is more than ‘witnessed significance’ or ‘lawful order’, it governs what language we speak and what we think. “Our habits, values, thoughts, possessions, our health, food, air, and music are strung out on lattices of webs reaching from person to person, and for that matter, from person to soil, plant and animal.”

Religion is one of the fundamental memberships, which expands the self-group to reach back to first man and first woman, and also into the future. Religious membership is about seeing the infinite in the finite and the finite in the infinite, the rejoining of the pairs of opposites to realise the Creator existing in all of creation, of which you are a member. 

Without a sense of membership a sense of calling can deteriorate into self-aggrandisement, “in which history becomes compressed into immediacy, and community shrivels into self, until time and membership disappear behind a charismatic, melodramatic “me and now”.” The negative side to membership comes when the group sees itself as the only form of truth and divinity, and all others as 'the enemy', to be converted or destroyed. Although this situation can bring healing to those within the group, it also brings destruction to those outside the group.

RELEASE is closely related to ‘Religious Love’ and ‘Meaningful Death. Release is the freedom to let the world be what it is. “The prerequisite to attaining release is the faith to let some control slip away.” 

The release to let “Thy will be done” can be seen as a negative when everything is released and one has no will of their own, no self-esteem. The yearning for release through dependency is a very common human problem, that is, the obtaining of release at the cost of autonomy. “Surrender to a Guru, to obtain a sense of release, is probably one of the most wide spread religious practices in the world.” While this achieves a sense of release and surrender, it is not the ultimate release and surrender to the will of God as is the soul’s seeking and the message of most true Gurus. In the world of Guru worship a disciple may, along with release, find ‘Witnessed Significance', ‘Lawful Order’, ‘Affirming Acceptance’, ‘Calling’, ‘Membership’, ‘Worldview’, ‘Human Love’, ‘Sacrifice’, and even a ‘Meaningful Death’. 

Also, “Drugs, alcohol, and sex, with their capacity for oblivion, are to release as sugar is to food: they temporarily ease the pains but add no substantial muscle.” The aim of release is to detach from desire, ambition, worry, guilt, and one’s sense of individuality, and to experience peace and unity with God the creator and all of creation.

WORLDVIEW is basically the expanded need of ‘Lawful Order’ to an ordered cosmos, not chaos. “We recognise our own animation and vitality reflected in limbs of running creatures and the ceaselessness of leaves and waves.” 

Worldview is also the realm of myths and symbols, which serve as templates of reality for others to organise their own worldview. “Dreams are often the route to an expanded worldview… they bring together all that has been experienced, as well as landscapes, characters, and moods that are fresh creations.” 

But the need for worldview can deteriorate into urgent believing. “The psychedelic era and its offshoot, the spiritual supermarket, were realms in which worldviews were tried on like new clothes, and discarded.” A personal worldview comes when one can stand outside oneself, like the shamans, ecstatic dismemberment, which opens one to the wonder of the world. “The most important by-product of a mature worldview is wonder.”

When one becomes more aware of the bigger picture of life, and accepts their original parents, the All-mother and All-father, one discovers a worldview that is both painful and ecstatically wonderful.

HUMAN LOVE is the most critical factor of all the ten divisions. It is the need for communal, parental, and true person to person love. In the current society of individualism, an isolating and socially fragmenting force, this love is sought too concretely and through sexual intimacy. “Among the hurt and pained in need of help, who may suffer from broken marriages, fluctuating or fallen self-esteem, obsessive constrictions, panicky attachments to parents, bewildering isolation, uncontrolled rages, and haunting depression, the common denominator is an inability to transcend themselves with care and delight, to reach over and touch another heart.”

In a case study, a patient who had suffered many divorces had; “worshipped his wives, done all he could for them, and given them all he could of himself… His marriages were like a calling…[and his] private religions.” The worship of the Goddess creates problems because as she embodies and represents the primal forces of fertility, creation, and manifestation, she also represents death and annihilation. If there were no life, there would be no death and visa versa. “A psychotherapist today will find failed sexual romanticism being used as a splint over broken bones of human love. The spontaneous re-emergence of Goddess worship may be one aspect of this phenomenon.”

“Human love is life taking care of life.’

“Love is the activity of transcending the isolation of self.”

“Love belongs to the between. It is not dramatic, loud, or congratulatory, but is quiet and invisible.”

Fear must be faced and put in its place, “to avoid fear is to avoid living” – from sacrifice comes bliss (see 'Suffering and Compassion...'), but love bears all tings.

SACRIFICE; along with human love are the important subjects that I have been working on for some time, under the heading ‘Sacrifice and bliss’ and ‘Suffering and Compassion’ (see 'Suffering and Compassion...').

“Because everyone will grow old, decay, and die, suffering is existential… Suffering is the right arm of love…Sacrifice is the extension of devotion and dedication. It is the ability to choose what is less than comfortable in order to fulfil a deeper demand.”

“Where one observer may see a courageous, principled action taken at great personal cost, a critic may observe it as attention-seeking, foolhardy notoriety.”

Sacrifice is epitomised in the life of a parent, and is the acceptance and affirmation of life as it is, even with pain and suffering.

MEANINGFUL DEATH is about living life to the fullest potential and being prepared to transcend it. Quoting Stephen Levine, a student of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (see ‘The Wheel of Life’ in Vol.1 no.2): “Our fear of death is directly equatable to our fear of life… whatever prepares you for death enhances life… focusing on death is a way of becoming fully alive.” Death is the symbol of loss, transformation and transcendence. Every second dies with the birth of a new second. “Release and love… always awaken proximity to death.” Robert J. Lifton has said: “Every significant step in human existence involves some inner sense of death.” Awareness of death leads one to search for the eternal, undying spirit of God living within each and every manifestation of life.


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