European Association of Counselling Conference in Serbia – May 2015 Keynote Speaker – Christine Moran, Ireland
Good morning Serbia and to all my colleagues gathered here today.
My topic this morning is – “Counselling – A Spiritual Perspective for the individual, family and community”.
I hope this presentation is somehow a reminder, an invitation to you to reflect on your work and your-self as an instrument for change in your therapy room, family and community.
My term of reference for this morning’s presentation is for me a useful way of describing spirituality – it is everyone’s natural connection with the wonder and energy of life, and the instinct to explore and understand it.
In the Royal College of Psychiatry in England the largest interest group is in spirituality. They have a working document that clearly asserts that good practice includes the spirituality of patients and clients. This is reflected in education, social work and business today. There is agreement about the need for compassion in care and a holistic approach to physical, mental and emotional well-being. So spirituality is grounded in mainstream world culture.
I am suggesting what I extrapolate from all spiritual traditions is that they have in common three elements that support living a spiritual life. They are – Connect – Reflect – Serve.
Connect – the essence here is that people are experiencing the world and their lives. The Allister Hardy Research foundation which is the main academic body in England that undertakes research in spiritual experiences presents that 70% of people connect to themselves and the wonder and energy of life through nature.
Spending time soaking up the visceral experience of connection, by stroking your cat, spending time in your garden or walking in the woods are all gateways into spirituality. Allowing that there might be something benevolent humming in the background, opens to possibilities.
Reflect – in spiritual practice intuits something about being alive as a journey or a passing in time, something to do with moving towards being more grounded, centred, compassionate, awakening, becoming more open-hearted and open-minded. Contemplating on the more I learn, the less I know!
Serve – as part of this universe, we live a life as best we can, which includes a life of service, right-livelihood, integrity and support for self and others. My responsibility is to learn to stay in me while I am with you. This challenge remains for me as a therapist, parent or partner. I am learning to be a certain way that serves me and you better.
In my abstract for this conference, I wrote the following –
“The therapist who is working at the level of sacredness is humble in the presence of this unique being with a story, a life experience that is uniquely theirs.
The client needs a therapist who is human, caring, compassionate, self-aware and trained to be able to meet them in their distress without contaminating the space.
The acceptance, congruence and love required to facilitate this kind of climate emerges from a deep place of compassion, kindness and respect for another’s history, choices, pace and journey of self-discovery and recovery.
This level of understanding for human strength and limitation is a mirror of the therapist’s own self-acceptance and a reflection on their previous and continuous personal and professional development.
In our daily lives, are we losing a sense of the sacred?
By being mindful and aware we are given many opportunities to recall the sacred in the ordinary.
Being grateful, expressing – love, sorrow, fear, anger, encourages holy interactions.
Loving and making love to the world, our work, our people, and our lovers brings us in contact with a reverence and awe for a force beyond measure.
Through the ages the ancients have appreciated the interconnectedness of all creation.
As a society and as a community, have we, become disconnected and alienated from the earth, nature, each other and ourselves?
Because I am passionate about this topic, I need to be mindful of other views and perspectives and be open to further learning”
John O Donohue, Irish Mystic,
“Each of us brings something alive in the world that no one else can. There is a profound necessity at the heart of individuality.
When your life awakens and you begin to sense the destiny that brought you here, you endeavour to live a life that is generous and worthy of the blessing and invitation that is always calling you”.
All indigenous people, the tribe, the shaman, the medicine woman knew of the interconnection of all living creatures and their dependency for survival on the Earth. They understood the need to attend to all animate beings on the web of life. There was a knowing of the need to integrate a body, mind, spirit approach to well-being.
Spirituality has been described as that which “connects us to other people, nature, and the source of life. The experience of spirituality is greater than ourselves and helps us transcend and embrace life situations” (Faiver, Ingersoll, O’Brien, & McNally, 2001, p. 2).
Whatever one’s particular view of spirituality, it is a force that can help the individual make sense of the universe and find a purpose (or purposes) for living.
Spirituality is a lifelong choice. It is a process which can be conceptualised on a continuum. When healthy, it moves individuals towards a way of life that is inclusive, expanding, and socially aware.
Such individuals have deep insight, and a comprehensive and constructive sense of ethics and values. They think globally, but not to the detriment of their immediate situation.
I hope you enjoy the next few minutes and that it will fixate you to the present moment and that you lose yourself somewhat in the sound of music and voice.
The Flower Duet sung by the The Vard Sisters
- from the opera Lakmé by Leo Delibes –
In my country, Ireland, where there is a high rate of suicide, there is a fundraising and suicide awareness campaign taking place at present. Over 100 people are cycling throughout the island. At night they stay with locals, all they ask for is a bed and breakfast.
How clever and creative – 100 people in a small locality meeting and talking with families about mental health issues, despair, alienation, psychological pain – the human condition.
They are using the ancient tradition of storytelling. They are the Seanachaí, in Irish meaning storytellers, orally passing on the knowledge to the people; each one a strand in the web of life. They are connecting with their brothers and sisters in their humanity. This is happening in all countries. There is a hunger for real connection.
Is creativity, spirituality in action? I met with a supervisee last week who spoke about her client’s journey of self-discovery through creativity. Every week the client brought her dream journal to therapy, after their work of exploration in therapy, the client found meaning and understanding, then she went home and created a piece of art to integrate her learning. The client felt that her art was a channel and an expression of her deepest desires. 9 months later she has had a successful exhibition of her work as an artist in a local gallery.
What is spirituality – there are so many views – ideas – I don’t know the answer, is it God related, associated with a Deity, a Higher Power, a Universal Energy – I don’t know! Perhaps!
According to Socrates the saying – I don’t know is a sign of true intelligence.
I know in my heart spirituality is about love – but then what is love?
I don’t know how to analyse and explain love but I know love and so do you. We also both know the absence of love!
Aidan a student on a counselling training course recently shared the following poem he had written. The title was – In that moment I knew love.
His first verse told the story of seeing a programme on TV, about the great Victoria Falls in Africa and the majesty of it, and the Zambezi River, and how a local fisherman has supported his family on this river for many years, his passion for his beloved river, and his commitment to his profession as a fisherman and provider for his family. Aidan wrote – in that moment I knew love.
His second verse was about a bus tour he took to the Cliffs of Moher on the West coast of Ireland. We wrote about the tour guide, a local man who knew every blade of grass and flower, his knowledge passed down by his grandfather to his father and to him. The guide told the tourists about a time of poverty and immigration. How when the family member was leaving usually never to return again, one parent went to Galway the city close by to get the boat, probably to America. The other parent and grandparents went to the highest point on the cliffs and when the boat was passing, they would raise a white bed-sheet as a flag of remembrance and farewell to their son or daughter. Aidan wrote – in that moment I knew love.
His final verse was about this dog Chezney, and how when his cherished pet died of old age, he missed his presence, his welcome, his unconditional love, de described his loss, his sadness, the burial ritual and a tear rolled down his face as he spoke and he wrote – in that moment I knew love.
As a client I met a therapist some years ago. In my therapy – I felt seen, heard, acknowledged, valued, safe, believed in, supported and respected, fully met and held by a professional, by a person, a human being – and in that moment I knew love. From that meeting of hearts I met myself and knew my worth, my value, my true nature.
The spirituality of counselling is when we are in touch with our true nature as counsellor and can sit with another being in our humanity. Each time I ponder and reflect on spirituality in counselling I return to Carl Rogers, to Abraham Maslow, Roberto Assagioli, Carl Jung and others who tried to explore and to understand the human psyche as soul.
Like the humanistic theorists it is my intention to encounter another at the level of mystery. Facilitating change through respecting and loving the client, creating a climate of realness that allows for vulnerability and potentiality to bubble up. Through the therapist’s power of presence, tone of voice, heart-gaze or looking at the other through the eye of the heart, empathy, compassion, understanding and support conveyed – the client responds like a sunflower to the sun.
This opening, tender unfolding process is beautiful and potent with danger and vulnerability. Nurturing the seeds of wholeness is a responsibility. Encountering another at this level of being is a risk. I cannot be part of your inner landscape and process of change and not be changed myself by our journey together.
I ask us as counsellors do we have the courage and humility to be touched and affected by the stories, the struggles of our clients, our teachers? Can we afford not to?
Having courage and doing so we learn about our boundaries, the ego, our limitations, we learn about love of self and others. “Wisdom begins with wonder,” said Socrates and “Know Thyself”.
As therapists, we are challenged personally and professionally, during our rigorous training. We are required by our professional bodies to continue personal and professional development – to continue to grow and blossom as a person and as a guide for others. This is not simply for accreditation purposes – but an invitation to wholeness. An invitation to continue to listen to the urge within you, the same urge, and mystery, the destined spark that ignited your initial interest in counselling, healing and helping others get in touch with the seeds of wholeness within them.
By becoming a person, a counsellor, we have chosen to continue the profession, the tradition of the Shaman, the medicine woman and healer. Listening to the inner conflicts of demon and god, lifting spells, easing the mind, settling the body and soul-seeking is the work of therapy. There is a sacred space created for a synthesis, an integration of body, mind and spirit. There is an interconnection, balance and an alignment with a God, Life-force, and Goodness within.
The following quotes illustrate and support the intention of this presentation –
“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.” ― Carl R. Rogers
“The degree to which I can create relationships, which facilitate the growth of others as separate persons, is a measure of the growth I have achieved in myself.” ― Carl R. Rogers
“The sacred is in the ordinary…it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbours, friends, and family, in one’s own backyard…travel may be a flight from confronting the scared–this lesson can be easily lost. To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance, everything is miraculous.” ― Abraham Harold Maslow
“Self-actualizing people have a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection for human beings in general. They feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family.” – Abraham H. Maslow (Motivation and Personality, 1954)
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” – C. G. Jung
“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.”― C.G. Jung
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ― C.G. Jung
“From a still wider and more comprehensive point of view, universal life itself appears to us as a struggle between multiplicity and unity – a labour and an aspiration towards union. We seem to sense that – whether we conceive it as a divine Being or as a cosmic energy – the Spirit working upon and within all creation is shaping it into order, harmony, and beauty, uniting all beings (some willing but the majority as yet blind and rebellious) with each other through links of love, achieving – slowly and silently, but powerfully and irresistibly – the Supreme Synthesis.” – Roberto Assagioli, Psychosynthesis, 1976, p. 31.
“The factors that contributed to my growth were many – finding someone who understood me, exploring the unconscious, awakening my latent love . . . but one star is brightest among all: the self. I found the source of livingness inside me; something I didn’t even know existed.” – Piero Ferrucci, What We May Be, 1982, p. 16
“There is no certainty, only adventure.” – Roberto Assagioli
I leave you with a song called Listen – let your heart keep seeking – by The Vard Sisters
Thank you; it’s been my pleasure and my privilege.
Christine Moran, MIACP, MNAPCP, IACP Accredited Supervisor, Founder and Academic Director at ICPPD, Co-Founder of New Beginnings Counselling and Psychotherapy Services and author of Dear Precious Being