Last week, in writing about Spiritual Bypass, I stated, when we numb out negative thoughts and feelings, even if our conscious intent is to be faithful to God by doing so, we numb out all feeling and thwart genuine growth. The unavoidable psychological reality is that when our unconscious fears lead us to block instead of welcome our genuine thoughts and feelings, we inevitable block our growth as well. Our practices of prayer can thus, either hinder our growth if we slide unconsciously into Spiritual Bypass or they can offer us much needed space, psychological safety and comfort to process unconscious material within us that needs attention.
If you’ve finding yourself bored when you pray or unable to stay focused for very long that can be a clue that change is needed. Something is amiss and your unconscious mind is brewing for change. If you find yourself distressed and angry with God and unable to communicate freely with God that too is a clue that change is needed. If you feel distant from God when you once felt close, there may be feelings that you’ve been afraid to feel lurking in your unconscious mind and creating this sense of distance.
What should we do when we suspect we’ve fallen into an unhelpful practice or set of beliefs? Make space for the negative and wait. Contemplative prayer is a centuries old tradition within Christianity (see https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/ for detailed information). Although these practices began long before we had psychological language for them, they open us up to deeper, unconscious thoughts and feelings that can influence our experiences with others including our experiences with God. Buddhist thought has impacted much of the psychological literature over the last decade with a special emphasis on mindfulness.
These practices have existed within Christian tradition as well. It’s unfortunate that many contemporary Christians have been taught to fear such practices. Since the brain is dramatically and positively influenced by these focusing and soothing routines in prayer, it seems wise and good to become attuned to them and to ways to open ourselves to a deeper experience with God through them. Our brains were made by God and for God. Our awareness continually needs to be reoriented to the reality of our whole experience, conscious and unconscious, if we hope to remain open to grow and remedy our strong tendency to slide into Spiritual Bypass. We’ll keep considering these paths to a deeper psychological and spiritual freedom in the coming weeks.