Well, today I finished a book I've been blogging about for a while, Seth Gillihan's Mindful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. As is the case with most books I read, I liked almost all of it, finding just a few parts annoying.
I'll mention the annoying parts first, to get them out of the way.
Gillihan doesn't mention religion or his own faith very often in the book. But given his subject, even a few times seemed too many to me. I was OK with him using "spirit" as a way to describe the deeper aspect of life.
Here he describes his take on spirit.
We don't have to add anything extra or overtly "spiritual" to find deep connection with another person. Spirit emerges in our relationships through our everyday words and actions when our attention is in the present.
We go beyond minds and bodies by fully present with our own body and mind. When we completely inhabit the shared here and now of this world, we find connection that transcends here and now, beyond space and time.
OK. I doubt that Gillihan means this literally, since being in the present doesn't really take us beyond space and time. I'll grant him that literary license, though, since it can seem like we're beyond space and time.
What bothered me much more was how he felt the need to say this on the final page of his book, which obviously won't resonate with the many readers who don't share his devotion to God.
The integrated approach of Think Act Be that emerged from the intersection of my trials and my training has been discovered by innumerable people across the millennia. Thomas Merton captured it beautifully in New Seeds of Contemplation:
"The 'spiritual life' is then the perfectly balanced life in which the body with its passions and instincts, the mind with its reasoning and its obedience to principle and the spirit with its passive illumination by the Light and Love of God form one complete [person] who is in God and with God and from God and for God."
I suppose Christian readers of his book will like that sentiment. I sure didn't, especially since it contradicts Gillihan's statement that spirit emerges when our attention is in the present -- no need for any illumination by God.
However, as I said, on the whole I enjoyed his book a lot. I especially liked his emphasis on not expecting to gain anything from mindfulness and meditation other than a better relationship with our experience of the life we already have.
Most of us seek security and belonging in a home outside ourselves. We look for it in relationships, in work, in acclaim or material things. In reality, the home we long for is always right here. It doesn't exist anywhere else.
"This is a country whose center is everywhere," wrote Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation. "You do not find it by traveling but by standing still."
But that doesn't stop us from searching for it everywhere except where it is, as if we were tearing the house apart trying to find the keys that we're holding in our hand. The answer must be out there somewhere, something more than just ourselves, because we're convinced we're not enough.
...So much of our suffering comes from struggling to find something more. More than myself. More than the person sitting across from me. More than this house, this table, this meal, this spoon. More than this moment.
I've also been reading a book by physicist Alan Lightman, The Transcendent Brain: Spirituality in the Age of Science. In a chapter about consciousness and the brain, he describes an experience that was thoroughly materialistic, yet spiritual in one of the ways Gillihan uses that term.
Near the end of my conversation with Professor Koch, I described an experience I had some years ago. I was out on the ocean alone in a small boat, late at night, coming back to my home on a small island. It was a clear night, and the sky bristled with stars. No sound could be heard, except for the soft drone of my engine.
Taking a chance, I turned off the engine. It got even quieter. Then I lay down in the boat and looked up.
After a few minutes my world dissolved into the star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared. Awareness of my self and my ego disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity. I felt an overwhelming connection to the stars, as if I were part of them.
And the vast expanse of time -- extending from the far distant past long before I was born and then into the far distant future long after I would die -- seemed compressed to a dot. I felt connected not only to the stars but to all of nature, and to the entire cosmos. I felt part of something much larger than myself.
After a time, I sat up and started the engine again. I had no idea how long I'd been lying there looking up. I asked Professor Koch whether he thought such an experience could arise from mere atoms and molecules.
"First, it is a true experience," he said. "I call these mystical experiences. You can get them in near death experiences, you can get them with a drug called 5-MeO-DMT, you can get them when you meditate. We know that our brain can produce love and hate. This is another experience that the brain can have. And experience shows that our brain can produce all the feelings of love and hate, of ecstasy, of feeling connected."
Absolutely. The brain does this with no God, with nothing supernatural. Just with 100 billion neurons interconnected with about 100 trillion synapses.