I have shared a good deal of my spiritual journey over the last 30+ years and books. But there is one dimension of my unfolding I am often asked about but have not previously shared in writing — my vocational journey.
Let me offer an overview of this aspect of my story because it is the backstory of Cascadia and the reason why both it and Live Wisdom are so important to me.
Physician of the Soul
The beginning of this story goes back to my choice of clinical psychology as the initial and longest lasting framework for my work life.
First year university I was in the natural science program at McMaster University with an intended major in Theoretical Physics. To satisfy a requirement for a liberal arts course I enrolled in a half-year course in Introductory Psychology. It was by far my least interesting course and there was really only one thing during the term that caught my attention. Responding to an off-hand cavalier dismissal of psychoanalysis by the professor I immediately went to the bookstore and bought a copy of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. Immediately I knew I had found my calling in depth psychology and set my path toward a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and post-doctoral training in psychoanalysis.
At this point I understood my calling at this point as a physician of the soul – this being the literal translation of the English word “psychologist.” I did not become a psychologist primarily to relieve suffering. I took the advice of C. G. Jung seriously — to never attempt to relieve suffering before you had helped the person seeking help to understand its meaning. My focus was never primarily on symptoms and their relief. It was on the meaning of the symptoms and their significance to the soul. I saw my clinical practice as the modern expression of the ancient tradition of cura animarum – the care and healing of souls.
To me it always seemed obvious that the deepest dimension of human existence was a place where psychological and spiritual aspects of life were so intermixed as to be virtually inseparable. I was equally interested in both and sought to offer psychotherapy that was attentive to both. This marked me as a definite outlier among my fellow psychologists and psychiatrists who saw no conceivable place in psychotherapy for spirituality or any other pre-modern hocus-pocus.
I described what I offered as spiritually sensitive psychotherapy. In contrast to faith-based approaches such as Christian counselling, I was not interested in bringing a specific religious perspective to the therapy process. Instead I sought to be attentive to things that were already present — to the spiritual significance of existing psychological dynamics and the psychological significance of existing spiritual dynamics. I sought to be attentive to both soul suffering and spirit longings.
Over time I developed specialized ways of working with psychospiritual dynamics. The most important of these was something I called Intensive Soul Care Retreats. I offered these to select individuals in 3 to 4 week blocks during which time I spent 4 – 6 hours each day with them in dialogue and they spent the rest of their time in solitude devoid of distractions. Most of these retreats were based in monasteries although a few were conducted in hotels with disconnected wifi, television and phones. As I say, they were intensive. But the results were quite astounding. Both those involved and others who knew them well often described these experiences as transformational. And because I worked closely with these people both before and after the retreats, I also shared their estimation of the magnitude of the inner and outer changes they experienced.
I cherish the work I was able to do over four decades of clinical practice. There is no question that serious psychopathology arrests or impairs development and helping people recover freedom to continue to become more whole is one of the most rewarding things I have ever been able to do. But increasingly I found myself interested in helping those who had already taken care of these foundational matters to take the next steps of unfolding and so began to decrease my clinical work and supplement it with something I called Transformational Coaching.
For some time I had been concerned that I was approaching the psychological and spiritual journeys in an overly internal and personal way. And as a consequence, I felt that too many of those who had been working with me remained primarily focused on their inner experience. I became increasingly convinced that spiritual development should not be seen as simply the cultivation of a personal relationship with God or psychological development with inner peace or freedom. If these journeys did not translate into transformed living they were not, in my mind, worthy of being called transformational. Consequently, I began to attend much more to the outer expressions of the journey and not just its inner dimensions.
Although I remained attentive to both spiritual and psychological dimensions of those with whom I worked, the focus of this coaching was the awakening of the heart and transformation of consciousness. Psychoanalytic psychology was no longer the primary lens through which I viewed the process. That lens became transpersonal psychology.
I have always been oriented toward the big picture and so I now turned to more formal work on mapping the trajectory of human unfolding. The framework that I developed for this (which is presented most fully in my book, Spirituality and the Awakening Self) gave me an extremely helpful lens for understanding the way spiritual and psychological development are interrelated in the higher levels of human unfolding. It helped me see wisdom as the capstone of both dimensions of development. And more importantly, It also helped me recognize that it was similarly meant to be the capstone and center of my own calling.
Wisdom Teacher and Mentor
While continuing this work of transformational coaching, over the course of 6 or 7 years I had been experimenting with the use of social media as a platform for teaching. I knew that wisdom couldn’t simply be taught but I was aware that insights that I was able to share provided helpful nudges toward awakening and transformation for those who were ready to receive them. I wanted to give away what I had to offer, and to give it to many more than those who might read my books or work with me individually. So social media seemed like a good platform to do this.
It became clear to me that the content of what I was teaching was wisdom – not simply psychological or spiritual insights. But it increasingly seemed clear that wisdom was optimally cultivated and lived within communities. If my calling was to be a wisdom teacher I needed to offer this within a community, not simply a consulting room or from a social media platform. I felt called to establish a community that would be built around the learning and living of wisdom, one that would support both the inner and outer dimensions of the journey this involved.
The result was the launch in 2016 of Cascadia — initially packaged as a wisdom “school” but quickly rebranded as a community and subsequently placed into the larger context of Live Wisdom that now complements and supplements it.
Wisdom in an Age of Craziness
I can’t imagine anything more important than what we are doing and experiencing together within Cascadia and Live Wisdom.
There is an urgent need for wisdom at this point in human history. Recently, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries signed what they called “A Warning to Humanity” that was published in the Oxford University Press journal, Bioscience (2017, Vol. 67, #12). It focused on the global crisis we are facing related to such things as freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and the implications of these things for the sustainability of life on earth.
How can we be so blind to the fact that we are destroying our planetary home? And why is it so hard to rein in things like senseless gun violence, the ever–increasing gap between the richest 1% of the world and the remaining 99%, or the rising tide of hatred, racism, and intolerance of those who differ from us.
Life as we are living it is simply not sustainable and nothing we are doing to address the problems is working.
That’s because no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. What we desperately need is to approach the problems we face with new hearts and minds – with what I would call Christ consciousness.
This is precisely what Live Wisdom and Cascadia are all about. And this is why I am thrilled to be part of both.