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A noted psychiatrist provides a new understanding of spirituality and psychology.
I don't know Who -- or what -- put the question. I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone -- or Something -- and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.
We All have secrets in our hearts. I will tell you one of mine. All my life I have longed to say yes, to give myself completely, to some Ultimate Someone or Something. I kept this secret for many years because it did not fit the image I wanted to present -- that of an independent, self-sufficient man. The desire to surrender myself had been at least partially acceptable when I was a child, but as a man I tried to put away childish things. When I became a physician, and later a psychiatrist, it was still more difficult to admit -- even to myself -- that something in me was searching for an ultimate self-surrender.
Society, to say nothing of medical and psychiatric training, had taught me to say no rather than yes, to try to determine my own destiny rather than give myself, to seek mastery rather than surrender. For a long time, I tried to believe that I could learn enough and strengthen my will enough to take complete charge of my own life, but it never quite seemed to work.
I remember looking at some of my colleagues once, shortly after my psychiatric training, and feeling deeply disturbed. They appeared to know what they were doing in life. They acted as if they knew whatlife was all about and how it should be lived, whereas I, in spite of all my education, was filled with more questions and uncertainties than ever.
At one point I even entertained the absurd thought that I had perhaps missed some specific chapter in some psychiatric text, the chapter that really explained things. My colleagues appeared to have read it, but somehow I had missed the assignment. There was also the possibility that my inability to master life resulted from deep-seated psychological problems. My father had died when I was quite young. Maybe I was still seeking a Big Daddy in the sky to take care of me.
But there are definite advantages to growing older, and as the years went by it became obvious that though many of my colleagues were still trying to master their destinies and acting as if they were being successful at it, they really weren't doing much better than I. More importantly, I was blessed with being in a profession "where people came and shared their heart-secrets with me. I discovered that many persons struggle with the same tensions of saying no and saying yes, of mastery and mystery, of self-determination and self-surrender, Further, it became clear that psychology and psychiatry, though they can be immensely helpful, do not and cannot explain everything. There are limits to the psychological universe, and one must go beyond those limits to seek answers to the deepest questions of life.
Now I no longer see my desire for self-surrender as a problem. Instead, it seems to be the wellspring of my deepest hope. But there are still many questions. To whom or to what does one surrender? And how? What effect does true surrender have on personal freedom and individual will? Some surrenders are no good at all. In fact, many are terribly destructive. Even if it is God to whom I surrender, how can I trust that this God is true and good and will not abandon me? How can I trust that this God is not of my own making? And even if all else is well, how can I respond to my heart's call to surrender when the rest of me cries out, "No, you must run your own life"?
I do not pretend to have arrived at all the answers to these kinds of questions, but I think I have gained some perspective on them. They have to do with mind and soul, with psychology and religion, with will and spirit. Each human being is an indefinable and marvelously mysterious person, a soul reflecting endless facets and dimensions. Will and spirit are two of these dimensions. They are not "things" as much as processes or activities. In a very deep way, will and spirit are interdependent and, I assume, basically at one. But they often appear to be in conflict, even at war.
It seems to me that spirit has something to do with the energy of our lives, the life-force that keeps us active and dynamic. Will has more to do with personal intention and how we decide to use our energies. Spirit, for me, has a quality of connecting us with each other, with the world around us, and with the mysterious Source of all. In contrast, will has qualities of independence, of personal freedom, and of decision making.
Sometimes it seems that will moves easily with the natural flow of spirit, and at such times we feel grounded, centered, and responsive to the needs of the world as they are presented to us. This may happen in times of great crisis, when we forget about our personal agendas and strivings and work in true concert with ourselves and others. Or it may happen quietly, with a spontaneous sense of being fully, actively, responsively present to life. At such times, it is indeed as if something in us had said yes. Then, at least for a moment, we are whole.
There are other times when will seems to pull away from spirit, trying to chart its own course. This may happen when we feel selfconscious or when we are judging ourselves harshly. Or it may occur when we are afraid or desirous of something.Will and Spirit. Copyright © by Gerald G. May. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted November 27, 2008
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