Spiritual Psychotherapy

The Process of Image Making

More than one spiritual path explains that this world is an illusion.  Even science now agrees.  But what do they mean?  And if this world is an illusion, what good does it do us to know that?

A Course in Miracles (ACIM) teaches us, “It is because the thoughts you think you think appear as images that you do not recognize them as nothing.  You think you think them, and so you think you see them.  This is how your ‘seeing’ was made.  This is the function you have given your body’s eyes.  It is not seeing.  It is image making.  It takes the place of seeing, replacing vision with illusions.” (ACIM Workbook Lesson 15)  ACIM posits that we are hallucinating this world by projecting our thoughts outward.  In Hinduism and some forms of Buddhism, this is called  “maya”–the dream of duality, or the ignorance of our true God-Self.  Einstein has assured us that solidity is a mirage. Quantum physics explains that the observer affects what is observed.

Let’s break this down: “… the thoughts you think you think” tell you that what you consider thinking is not really thinking.  What the ego (our sense of individual identity) does is replace God’s Thought with images–imaginary thoughts that appear as pictures.  You view these pictures and call them “eyesight.”  You believe in them, but that does not make them real.  The function the ego gives the body’s eyes is to hallucinate images which are not real to distract us from the Reality of God’s Vision.

But why would the ego want to distract us from God’s Vision?  Because the ego knows that if we re-discover this formless Peaceful Creative Light within ourselves, the personal self as we know it will unravel and “die.”  Within this “death” lies Eternal Life–but that’s not the way the ego sees it.  One scientist put it this way, “If you look at the universe with through a golf ball-sized lens, you will see a universe the size of a golf ball.”  The ego limits our experience, but denies that it does this.

Un-think your way through this.  Tell yourself, “I do not really think. What I think are my thoughts are images the ego made. These images are neither good nor bad, they simply are not real.  Would I rather think these puny little thoughts that lead to suffering and death, or would I rather gently peel these images from my eyes today, and truly see what God would have me see?”  Ask God, “What would You have me see?”  He will show you.  Then you can decide for yourself whether you prefer the image making eyesight of the ego, or God’s Vision.

© Amy Torres 2011

What You Can Do to Grow on Your Spiritual Journey

Many years ago, at an Al-Anon meeting, someone asked, “Are we human beings on a spiritual journey? Or are we spiritual beings on a human journey?” From A Course in Miracles perspective I would say we are spiritual beings on a human journey. Underneath the limitations of our humanity, there is a boundless Light from which we can live. We can use our human journey as a classroom to learn about our true spiritual nature. There are many practices which can help us grow on our spiritual journey and, depending on your nature and circumstances, one may be more useful than another.

Below I list five practices that can access our Inner Light. Read through them and see if one or more stand out for you. Then focus on the practice to which you are drawn. Set yourself up for success. If you think you are ready to take action, make a plan to do the practice regularly for a specific amount of time. If you feel concerned about your self-discipline, or lack thereof, be gentle with yourself. Read and re-read the practice. Write it down and put it in places where you will see it and read it throughout the day. That alone will strengthen your ability to follow through down the road.

1. Chant. A very simple and powerful way to kickstart your spiritual growth is to chant, or recite, a mantra. You can try “Om Namah Shivaya”-I have been cleansed, balanced and empowered by it, and have offered it to many clients who report great results. Roughly translated it means, “I bow to the Divinity within me” but more important is the potent vibration that Om Namah Shivaya provides. It is pronounced the way it looks. You can search YouTube to hear variations for yourself and choose the one you like best. If you would prefer to use English, try “I am that I am” highly recommended by Sri Ramana Maharshi.

2. Pray. It is said that prayer is speaking to God and meditation is listening to His Answer. Most of us use prayer to beg and barter for what we want, and in this way we miss the point of prayer. A Course in Miracles says that the only meaningful prayer is to request that we be able to recognize what we already are. We already are that boundless Light which is eternal, peaceful, unified Oneness. As we ask God to help us identify with that Light rather than our personal lives, we will have a new perspective on whatever is paining, angering or scaring us.

3. Meditate. Meditation is the second part of prayer. Now we sit and listen. The way to do this is to clear our minds just like opening a door for God to enter. If we sit with the door closed, and get caught up in our thoughts, God has no entry point. When thoughts come, we can give them to God and in this way keep directing our minds back to God. Swami Chidvilasananda says that God is in the space between the thoughts. Just one brief opening and you will have a mystical experience that is beyond words.

4. Move. Some of us are too restless to sit quietly in meditation. There is the option of moving meditation, where we use yoga, dance, or qi gong, for example, to quiet the mind and help us get out of our own way. As long as we control our experience, we are blocking God. When we are willing to let God guide us, then any practice will work for us. Setting an intention to step back and let God lead the way before we start our day will accomplish this.

5. Breathe. Most of us are shallow breathers and don’t know how it feels to fully inhale and exhale. We’re too busy talking and running around to stop and invite a complete breath to fill us, nourish us, open us to Spirit. Spiritual energy rides on the breath. The breath carries the healing energy, like a train tranporting cargo, and deposits this life energy within us. We can direct it to specific parts of the body if that seems useful, or simply inflate on the inhale all over, like a balloon, and deflate on the exhale to empty the lungs of all toxins and the body of overall tension. There are countless breath techniques, called pranayama in yoga, which you can look into.

These five potent practices are tried and true techniques found in many spiritual teachings throughout the world. The more you do them, the more you learn from your own inner experience. If you would like more tools to help you grow in your spiritual journey, please drop me a request-there are plenty more to share.

© 2011 Amy Torres

Who Is My Father?

 “Nothing alive is Fatherless, for life is creation. Therefore, your decision is always an answer to the question, “Who is my father?” And you will be faithful to the father you choose.” Even though fathers are participating in child-rearing more than ever, there is still a profound scarcity of nurturing, responsible fathers to be found in American society these days.

So many people yearn for a father-figure, a protective daddy to show them the ropes, to role model honor, to teach them courage, and kindness, to risk a little adventure. The above quote, from A Course in Miracles, offers us a solution. As always, the solution reminds us that though we seem to be in this world, we are not of it, and the answer lies in recognizing that fact.

A few weeks ago, while at the Heart Rhythm Meditation retreat I’ve attended for the past five years, we were working on the forward dimension of the heart. According to my teachers, Puran and Susanna Bair, energetically the heart has four dimensions. The forward dimension is also called “the driving heart” because it has the qualities of courage, leadership, generosity, and a sense of purpose.

But when the forward dimension is distorted, we can “confuse high-speed activity with progress” and “intensity with importance.” The forward dimension of the heart also contains the back of the heart–the tender spot between our shoulder blades. This is where we may feel burdened by our dysfunctional family history, or perhaps supported by our ancestors, or uplifted by Spirit breathing Its message into us from behind, like the wind at our back.

For this particular meditation, we were instructed to conjure up someone in our life with whom we wanted to deepen our relationship. As a longtime Course in Miracles student, I asked Jesus to be my partner. I desired to have a more tangible sense of Jesus, to increase my conviction and certainty about our relationship.

The Course tells us that what we choose to practice is what we strengthen in our mind. Choose ego, strengthen identification with the ego. Choose Jesus and the Holy Spirit, also called right mind or right perception, and strengthen the identification with God. “The strength of right perception is so great that it brings the mind into accord with His, because it serves His Voice, which is in all of you.” The “H” in “His” is uppercase to indicate the Holy Spirit, God’s invisible messenger, and Jesus is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. So even though Jesus is our brother, and we are equals, the uppercase “H” reminds us that the teaching he brings us is from God’s mind.

Within moments, Jesus came to me and sat facing me. I was seated in a chair, both feet flat on the floor, the palms of my hands on my thighs. I didn’t exactly see him, and couldn’t tell you what he looked like, but he was there, and he knew me so well. He gently pressed my shoulders back to stop me from leaning towards the future, and invited me to relax into the present moment. He had to do this several times, as my torso habitually shifted forward. Eventually I hovered in the new posture, knowing I was upright, but feeling like I might fall backwards. Then I felt Jesus behind me, and something in me let go and dropped back into His presence. I rested in Him. He was holding me up, yet it took no effort on His part. My breath came easier and something inside me seemed to expand. I began to hear the word, “Trust.”

After a while, it seemed as if the word “T… R … U … S … T” was tattooed between my shoulder blades. An exquisite sense of safety and relaxation permeated me. Time barely existed. I laughed to myself, thinking, “Maybe I should get a tattoo … but it would be in a place I couldn’t see!”

Suddenly , a happy memory of my father surfaced. I didn’t have a lot of those, and it was sweet to feel happy thinking of my dad. I was little, maybe six or seven-years-old, and we were playing “Trust me.” My dad instructed me to hold my body stiff as a board and fall backwards in one straight line, no cheating by sagging in the middle. It had to be total, possibly skull-busting, trust.

“Trust me?” my dad would ask, and I would reply by tipping backwards and plummeting. He would admire my courage in keeping my spine rigid and I glowed with success. We would do this several times, and each time my dad would let me get a bit closer to the ground before his sure, firm hands broke my fall. It was so exhilarating to freefall like that! In those moments, I trusted my father completely; we were a perfect team.

A Course in Miracles teaches me to extend that trust to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, who lead me Home to my Father in Heaven by undoing my belief in appearances. “Nothing alive is Fatherless, for life is creation. Therefore, your decision is always an answer to the question, “Who is my father?” And you will be faithful to the father you choose.” When my ego mind reads this, I feel guilty, sad and disloyal. Why do I have to choose between my dad and my Father in Heaven? How can I be faithful to one without hurting the other? And the ego rests its case that we must avoid this God at all costs. Clearly, God is not to be trusted.

But when I choose the Holy Spirit as my teacher, I recognize that the choice is not between my dad and God. I am reminded that my dad and me and everyone in the world is part of One Mind—that we are always together. We are God’s creation. We have fooled ourselves into thinking we are separate…And what appears to be a societal crisis is actually a psychic crisis—it is the split in our mind that needs to be healed. The truth is, when I choose God, we choose God. When I return unto my Father, we return unto our Father.

The Sonship is all of us: as we undo our identification with ego mind, with the idea that we are individual selves, we uncover our original connectedness. The light cannot be broken into pieces. We are One Light extending through each other in a glow of brotherly love that originates from Prime Creator, our Father.

It is actually an act of loyalty for me to choose our Father because in doing so I choose for every frightened mind, including my dad’s–no one is excluded. Just the opposite, when we answer the question, “Who is my father?” by choosing God, a holy Light shines away ego illusions, and all that is left is an unbroken Sonship unified in our Father’s infinite and eternal Love.

The Blind Man’s Dream

Years ago, seemingly out of the clear blue, a thought came into my head, how do blind people dream? Do they see? Or do they dream in all the other senses but sight? I thought I should interview people who were blind from birth and find out. It seemed important. It also seemed poetic, symbolic. I initially imagined the project as a novel. It remained a provocative title, nestled cozily on a shelf in my mind, unwritten. Until now.

Now it comes back to me, with an ironic twist. I recognize myself to be the blind man, dreaming. It is just like A Course in Miracles says,

“Dreams show you that you have the power to make a world as you would have it be, and that because you want it you see it. And while you see it you do not doubt that it is real. Yet here is a world, clearly within your mind, that seems to be outside. You do not respond to it as though you made it, nor do you realize that the emotions the dream produces must come from you. It is the figures in the dream and what they do that seem to make the dream. You do not realize that you are making them act out for you, for if you did the guilt would not be theirs, and the illusion of satisfaction would be gone.” (T-18.II.5:1-6)

At least we can become lucid dreamers, aware that we are dreaming even as we dream. We can develop a neutral, or even amused, attitude toward the ego’s dream. We can choose again, continually returning to the decision-making part of our minds, and deciding for the perception of right mind by surrendering to the Holy Spirit. When we do this, the blind man’s dream becomes a happy dream, and we are well on our way to remembering true vision.

Acknowledgment: A Powerful Aspect of Forgiveness

I have learned, after much hard experience, that if I want to de-escalate an angry person, an argument, a panic attack, a sense of being overwhelmed, depressed, embarrassed, anything and everything, the secret is acknowledgment. It is simple, but not easy.

At first, acknowledgment wasn’t easy for me because it seemed impossible to say the very thing that needed to be said. I was afraid of hurting the person’s feelings, and also afraid of the consequences of saying what I needed to say. What if I was attacked or rejected? Plus, I didn’t even know how to put into words what needed to be said. So, it goes like this: let’s say you’re claustrophoboic. As the elevator doors close, if you find yourself breaking into a sweat, feeling like you need to scream, your heart is pounding in your chest and your stomach is turning to mush … tell yourself: “Wow, when the elevator doors closed, I broke into a sweat, felt like screaming, my heart is pounding and my stomach is turning to mush.” There is a power in describing precisely and in detail what is happening inside of you to yourself. Then acknowledge your worst fear about what could happen, e.g., I could have a stroke or a heart attack and die! Notice that you are not dead yet. Ask yourself if you have ever had this feeling before. If so, chances are the feelings will move through you within a matter of minutes (anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes is typical). Even though this is a dramatic example of claustrophobia, we find ourselves becoming reactive (involuntary and bursting) or repressive (holding everything in and numbing ourselves) versus responsive (the voluntary ability to respond) in many situations.

Emotion is e-motion, or, energy in motion. When we freeze up in alarm (by tensing our muscles and holding our breath), we prevent the energy from moving through us. Identifying what is happening, even if you don’t know what to do, helps move your experience along. As you do this you educate yourself and can build a vocabulary of helpful self-talk to bring yourself off the ledge, so to speak. Some part of us answers the other part, so if we acknowledge the elephant in the living room, we usually release some fear and relax a bit. Physicists have proven that what we resist, persists. Acknowledgment is the antidote for fighting off fears. Whether the experience is personally happening within you, or you see someone else getting upset, acknowledgment basically works the same way.

Haven’t you noticed that telling a frazzled or angry person to “calm down” or “relax” only makes things worse? The secret is to acknowledge what they seem to be going through. Some people call it mirroring, some empathy. Although there are distinctions between these terms that we can get into, the idea is to name the feelings rather than fix the situation. This can mean stating the obvious. To paraphrase Denzel in Philadelphia, he told Tom Hanks, “Speak to me like I’m a five-year-old and spell it out for me.” So what you do is, say something like “That’s upsetting” or “It sucks when that happens” or “I’d probably feel the same way.” Use the person’s actual words when you can–they will feel understood. If a co-worker says, “I’m so frustrated!” after listening for a while, you can say “Sounds frustrating” and watch how well this works. If you say something that comes from you, such as, “That’s stressful” it may still work, but not as well because hearing our own words reflected back at us has a deep subconscious effect. Feeling understood must release positive hormones because a high percentage of time, acknowledgment works like a charm.

If acknowledgment further upsets the person you are dealing with then he or she is either inconsolable, feels deeply misunderstood in general, or, possibly, is a rage-aholic. Chronic inconsolability is a form of depression. Feeling misunderstood is a form of alienation and anxiety. Reactive rage is abusive. Past a certain point, stop trying to reason with these people. They want to dump their despair and anger onto you, so they can relieve themselves of it. Best thing to do in these cases, is take a time-out. Perhaps a permanent time-out (evaluate the relationship and assess whether, in general, it’s an energy-gain or an energy-drain). It can feel scary to let go of relationships, but at least acknowledge to yourself that you might benefit from spending less time with a particular person. Measured doses can go a long way towards your emotional health.

A Course in Miracles gives us a non-dualistic understanding of acknowledgment, “Your own acknowledgment you are one Self, united with your Father, is a call to all the world to be at one with you.” (W-95.15) In any given situation we always have the option of turning to the Holy Spirit, and allowing our right-mind to guide us. When we have the presence of mind to be lucid dreamers and acknowledge that we are outpicturing everything that seems to be happening in the world, we acknowledge the insanity of ego-mind. We can remember we are in this world, but not of it, and choose again. Each acknowledgment in this process dis-identifies us from the ego, and re-identifies us with God. At which point, nothing more need be said.