“Silence your body to listen to your thoughts. Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart. Silence your heart to listen to your spirit. Silent your spirit to listen to His Spirit.” –Mama Maggie Gobran
I work as a mental health professional, in private practice, with a wide variety of individuals, mostly presenting with mood disorders and relationship dysfunction. For almost fifteen years now, I have done my best to learn my craft, and skillfully employ the best of psychology for the healing and growth of my clients. Concurrently, I have found a place where I feel at home personally: in the spiritual discipline / spiritual formation stream of Christianity and in the practice of the discipline of solitude and silence. Ironic side note: I have four teenage boys, who live in the exact opposite of the silence and solitude stream…I’m not sure there is a name for that! Also, I’m sure God is laughing at me over this…
I work with a very unique and intentional group of caregivers. We seek “integration,” that is, the incorporation of principles of the Christian faith with the best of psychology. In one of our many creative-culture-forming-sessions, and in search of the perfect model of therapy (we will find it someday!!??), we once landed on the “bio-psycho-social-spiritual” model of care. This approach seeks to address every part of a person, in order to heal, rehabilitate, grow, excel. My colleagues and I seem to enjoy the pursuit and the fruitful discussion and practice that results.
And here is where I get excited! Cue the lightbulb over my head, sound the alarm, raise my eyebrows in surprise and delight! Because here is where my practice and my faith intersect:
Silence the body: well, there’s the bio. There’s the biochemistry, there are the natural functions of a well working body and brain that we rely on to keep us engaging in this world, with others, with ourselves. When a body isn’t functioning as God intended, it presents as all sorts of disorder: anxiety, depression, burnout, brokenness. On retreat, when I quiet my body, it usually means I have to feed it, to literally stop the grumbling. But my thoughts and my burden goes to my clients who have pain from past trauma, emotional pain from broken dreams, broken relationships, physical pain from medical conditions. How can I help them quiet the body? For some the best option is medicine, for others attunement, for others avoidance, and on and on.. I am thankful for the vast number of interventions available, currently I’m excited about Laurel Mellin’s “Emotional Brain Training.” There is no one size fits all approach, and our biology is complex and wonderful and terrible and awful. As the psalmist says “we are beautifully and wonderfully made.”
Silence the thoughts: here’s the psycho. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and all of its offspring (probably about 200 theories now) is an influential part of our cultural vernacular nowadays. Everyone reading this will probably recognize the basic components of this equation: An activating event puts into motion thoughts which influence emotion which influences behavior. Change your thoughts and you can change. Much time and effort is given in therapy to address dysfunctional thought life, and we are implored by the Apostle Paul to “take every thought captive.” Spiritual direction takes an interesting approach to suggest we silence those thoughts. Having clientele with pervasive unwanted thought activity, at times seems prudent to give no more attention to those thoughts, to extinguish rather than promote that schema circuit by spending a precious hour every week in tedious analysis of thoughts. Ironically, I have found that developing a strong sense of meta-cognition, or thinking about your thinking, gives a person control and agency to silence unwanted thoughts. A person is more likely able to silence thoughts after having spent considerable time listening to those same thoughts.
Silence your heart: admittedly this might be a stretch, but consider the association between your heart and your social connections. It seems our hearts are affected by those around us, we are heartbroken over relationships, and cultural conditions, we lose heart, we are asked to have a heart, and the cowardly lion went to oz in search of a heart. We were made in part to have good healthy connections and what’s in our hearts seem to hold clues about the health and nature of those connections. As I write, my heart is screaming to my seniors (yes the loud obnoxious ones, referenced in the first paragraph) “please, don’t go to college.” How does a therapist help a heart, help a person be in peace in relationships? There’s Gottman, and Chapman and Eggerich. There’s Dobson and Leman and Faber. We are surrounded by well meaning, well researched well intentioned advice givers. It is a therapist’s burden to use these materials and engage a client in a way that makes a difference and facilitates change and brings peace.
Silence your Spirit: and here is where psychology leaves us lacking. Integrationists have an advantage. We recognize humans are spiritual. That there is such a thing as spiritual wounding, spiritual warfare, and spiritual abuse. There are conditions and situations that damage our spirit, that diminish the efficacy and essence of who we are, and wage war through lies and deceit. A therapist may refer to a pastoral counselor, a spiritual director or a spiritual community group to facilitate recovery. Our expertise tends to lie more in the psycho and social spheres, and we reach out for groups, interventions and outside experiences that engage the spirit, while we employ interventions in session that engage the thoughts, emotions and relationships. I am thankful for those spiritual specialists, when my clients have worked through thoughts emotion and relationships, it seems the next questions they present with are questions of spirit, about faith and God, and I have a really good referral I can make.
Listen to His spirit: And after we have unpeeled all the layers of our humanity, after we have used the best of psychology to attend to our body, thoughts, heart and spirit in such a way that we can silence them, we can listen to God. We can listen to Him, we can hear Him, and we can tune in. And we can experience His Love and His Grace and His Presence in a mysterious way that is unforgettable and makes us more ourselves and more who our creator intended us to be.