This essay was written as a discussion post for my graduate course in Multicultural Counseling (Jan 2019). 

As might be expected, spirituality and religion, within counseling, is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. This week, we are reviewing a case study involving ‘Katie’ and her experience of life through the lens of religious identity (Thomas & Schwarzbaum, 2006). This essay will examine her spiritual and religious influences and then pivot into a discussion about how to facilitate a counseling session that is inclusive of these influences. Interestingly enough, identity and context, which are essential aspects of the human experience (Hays, 2016), are at the very core of nonduality and Self-realization. They were also important to several transpersonal forerunners like Jung (Vienne, Corbett, & Whitney, 2017). This intersection of psychology, spirituality, and nonduality offers an integrative approach that can help resolve issues of identity in cases just like Katie’s.

Spiritual and Religious Influences

Like everyone who inherits their parent’s spiritual or religious preferences, Katie’s religious identity began as a set of conditioned beliefs (Sue & Sue, 2016). Informed by a strong cultural connection with Catholicism within the dynamics of the family unit, Katie had no real choice in the early stages of her spiritual journey. Eventually though, rote memorization of religious facts became unfulfilling and left her with deeper and more meaningful questions (Thomas & Schwarzbaum, 2006). After marrying her best friend, a gentlemen of Jewish faith, and having children within their interfaith relationship, her entire world was flipped upside down and brought her more deeply into the folds of her own religious persuasion. It also expanded her openness, acceptance, and capacity for spiritual diversification. Indeed, her exposure to another religious viewpoint enriched and enlivened her experience of life in new and unique ways. Altogether, these factors have strongly influenced Katie’s views of life, family, and self; giving them a context that is inclusive of both Christianity and Judaism while honoring, in her own way, that which is most meaningful to her. From the perspective of nonduality, exposure to alternative spiritual and religious views is highly encouraged as it increases openness and receptivity to the undercurrents that are present in every tradition. In fact I am giving a talk, this Sunday, on this very topic (Bemis, 2019).

Facilitating the Counseling Session

As a counselor, it is wise to be well read across a variety of faith traditions. My own work as a nondual spiritual teacher and inner presence coach is in direct alignment with the core foundations of all esoteric mystical transmissions; including Christian Gnosticism and Monasticism, Several sects of Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta in the Hindu tradition, Sufism within Islam, Kabbalah within Judaism, Taoism, Sikhism, many forms of Yoga, and several other lesser known contemplative wisdom traditions. This broad spectrum of knowledge is incredibly valuable when engaging with students and clients who are struggling with matters of identity and faith. Even more important, however, is true religious experience, or the direct apprehension of nonordinary states of consciousness (Lynn, 2017). It is my experience, and that of all nondual teachers and practitioners of nondual counseling, that direct experience is the most powerful agent of transformation imaginable (Lumiere, 2012). Therefore, if I were to facilitate a session with someone like Katie, I would work with her to examine the core aspects of both Christianity, the actual teachings of Christ, and Judaism, or the Kabbalah’s teachings that are in direct agreement with Christ (and vice versa). As I explained to a friend recently, there are only two ways that we can examine these similarities. Either every contemplative spiritual tradition is working from the same manuscript, or these commonalities spring from those who have come to their own direct, immediate, and intimate experience of themselves as that which is beyond all manner of identification. So in working with Katie, we would gently explore what brings Christianity and Judaism together so that she can transcend their apparent differences and arrive at their unitive core. This may not be a ‘traditional’ approach to counseling, but it is exactly how the nondual-orientation approaches all aspects of the human experience – leaving behind what separates and divides to arrive at that which is inseparable and indivisible. I offer this explanation of my own work as an example of how a counselor’s spiritual or religious philosophy might affect the process of counseling. Because of this, it’s always important to ensure that the client is setting the pace and direction of things, exploring spiritual and religious themes within a comfortable context, and being honored within their selected mode of identification.

Conclusion

Spirituality and religion, for many people, are where the very core of their identity springs from (Sue & Sue, 2016). Because of how personal the topic is, it is a delicate subject matter to broach with some clients. Yet, as counselors, this area is rich and fertile soil for inner exploration and the flowering of consciousness. Katie’s story is a common tale that demonstrates the perils and pitfalls of an expanded religious view, but also a story of opportunity and inspiration that come out of this very same expansion of views. In this essay, we have discussed Katie’s spiritual and religious background, described their overall influences, and examined one way that the counselors own views might influence the process of counseling. In the end, everything really is a mystery (Thomas & Schwarzbaum, 2006), but to say “because I said so” falls quite short of the mark. To explain that the conceptual view of reality belongs to the mind, that all concepts are completely made up, and that the deepest truth is impossible to express as a concept, is a much more direct way of engaging in the dialogue. It helps diffuse the mind and begin the radical shift toward the heart that is so common across all such teachings.

References

Bemis, B. (2019). An Introduction to Nonduality: The Sacred Heart of All Traditions. Retrieved from https://awakeningintolife.com/satsang-in-the-park-3/

Hays, P. A. (2016). Addressing cultural complexities in practice: Assessment, diagnosis, and therapy (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Lumiere, L (2012). The Ultimate Secure Base: Healing Insecure Attachment in the Nondual Field. Undivided: The Online Journal of Nonduality and Psychology, 1(3).

Lynn, S. J. (2017). Anomalous, exceptional, and non-ordinary experiences: Expanding the boundaries of psychological science. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 4(1), 1–3.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2016). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Thomas, A. J., & Schwarzbaum, S. (2006). Culture and identity: Life stories for counselors and therapists. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Vienne, B. (2017). Corbett, L. & Whitney, L. (2016). Jung and non-duality: some clinical and theoretical implications of the self as totality of the psyche. International Journal of Jungian Studies, 8, 1, 15-27. The Journal Of Analytical Psychology, 62(4), 622–624.

The sharing of a journal entry that we were required to write for school:

Hello dear journal.

I must say, this is just as difficult as anticipated, and yet effortless in the manner of its arising.  What can be said of it that does not somehow draw from the same delusion of selfhood that is the snare escaped?  I can but summarize the content of the mind as it encounters the world of appearances.  And so here we are.  I do indeed wonder what other minds will make of it – and am curious to see how it will be received in the clinical context of mind.

Let us begin with the resources from which we had to draw over the time period in question.  The readings for this week were largely dissatisfactory when held up in relation to the inner knowingness that rests silently within.  One might imagine a modern-day surgeon traveling back in time to a symposium on the usefulness of leaches as ‘cutting-edge’ medical science.  There is no mention of Being, no mention of the fullness, wholeness and perfection of what so simply *IS*.  There is no effort to describe the conditioned nature of the mind, or the unconditioned awareness that is the vehicle of transcendence.  There is no questioning of the central conceit called ‘I’ from which all other conceits, and all suffering, spring.  There is just the density of personhood and the seriousness of scientists busily asserting themselves and their knowledge.  Structures and models, notions and methods; all of which firmly reinforce the very same sickness they seek to dislodge.

There was but one bright light amidst the fields of confusion – a brief quote, from the Dali Lama, in part of an article about empathy and compassion.  In it he talked about compassion being drawn from one’s own inner resource.  But of course he is speaking from his own impersonal knowingness of what is behind ‘I’; that which is our very nature and essence; that which is prior to the world of form.  From this place, where we both rest, there is only this that we are.  In my own teachings I speak of compassion as ‘how the one who knows and sees holds the one who does not’.  But the beauty of what is known and seen is that it is already perfect, just as it is.  There is nothing to fix, correct, or change.  There is only being present in the eternal now, beyond time, and allowing ourselves to fall in love with the mystery of Being.  Minds cannot pierce this realm because it is beyond the mind.  It is prior to the mind.  The irony is that a mind is likely to experience these statements as antithetical to compassion, but only as a result of not seeing into the root of that which binds.  But if a mind does so then that too is perfect, and so one can but speak ones truth and let everything fall where it may.  This is what it means to surrender.

All of this work, all of these methods, all of this talk of empathy, it brings a tear to my heart because it is all an echo of the very same disease of misunderstanding; which is also perfect and met with love in the joyful mystery of Being.  Again, only the mind will see a paradox in such a thing, but there is none to be witnessed from the spaciousness beyond.  This is, of course, not a blanket dismissal of the approaches themselves, or a judgement ordered against them, it is simply an effort to articulate that there is another way; a way to cut through the residue of the mind and arrive at something far deeper than psychological healing.  Even a well-structured ‘I’ that appears normal and healthy is still an imaginary conception of a nonexistent self; a game being played within the Self, by the Self, as the Self.  One of our readings spoke of the ‘Indivisible Self’ as “a dimension of wellness that cannot be deconstructed”.  It then proceeded to layer each aspect of our notional identity, our attachments to name and form, onto this indivisible self.  Well of course the Self is indivisible!  The Self is all that there is!  Everything else is but the Self at play – no matter what the conditioned mind may have to say on the matter.  Distinction is illusory, division an impossibility; all there is is *THIS*; whole and complete, a contiguous, uninterrupted flow of Being, an outpouring of the Self in every direction.

But I am digressing from the matter at hand, which is the completion of an assignment.  Or am I?  We have been asked to explain the potential impacts of becoming a mental health counselor on our own personal and professional lives, and to offer one positive thing that we hope to get out of the experience.  I feel it only fair to have set the stage appropriately for such a discussion.  Otherwise my response would be a trite offering of words meant to satisfy the requirement; bearing no factual resemblance to the actual inner experience of this new educational endeavor.  My reasons for taking this path are quite different than most.  I am not so much interested in ‘helping’ as I am in learning new ways to dissect the stubbornly persistent illusion of separation that governs our experience of ourselves, one another, and society.  There is very little openness to an IT professional who had a profound spiritual awakening and came into direct contact with the fundamental nature of reality.  That I am saying exactly what the great mystics and sages have said for years is of limited relevance.  So focused on the speaker, we cannot hear what is being spoken.  And so I am here to give the speaker something that can be used to serve as an invitation – a degree in something called ‘mental health counseling’.

How will this choice impact me?  There is a supposition at the heart of this question that I will not revisit.  What I will say is that I’ve been working with a broad range of spiritual seekers for over three years now and am conversant with their themes, and with mine, as the work unfolds.  Beginning with the premise that I am utterly helpless, wholly and completely dependent upon the will of the universe and the intelligence of its abiding presence, there is really nothing to be said or done.  How it will or will not impact me, or those who come to me, is not a question that occupies my mind.  I sit and meditate.  I summon the bliss of Being to the forefront of my experience.  And I meet whatever arises with the open, loving, spaciousness of the deep inner knowingness that has consumed my world.  Wellness is important, of course, but that too takes care of itself.  Between 2 to 4 hours of meditation a day, maintaining a vegan diet since 2004, getting enough exercise each week, spending time in spiritual community and amongst friends, continually reaffirming the blessing of family, and loving myself wholly and completely, there is little concern for the absence of wellness.  Even in trying times as a spiritual teacher and guide, I simply relax into the presence of Being and allow it to do its own work – this is enough.  There is no more or less to it, and none of it has anything to do with ‘me’.  Love knows best.  I know nothing.  That is how it works from this place.

What is the one main positive thing that I hope to get out of this experience?  I hope to complete this program and walk away with a credential that is meaningful to the world at large.  Along the way I will encounter a myriad of trials and tribulations; moments of fear, uncertainty, and doubt; great joys and wonders.  To me they are the coming and going of harmonious motion, not to be fixated on or claimed in any way.  And yet their very presence will shape me, alter me, and reveal new facets of *THIS*.  If there is anything to be gained or gleaned from these experiences, I would say that it is all a positive movement, in a positive direction.  But the word ‘positive’ means only that it will all be in alignment with the will of this that we are.  It knows best what it requires of itself.  My only role is to ‘just be’.  The rest takes care of itself.

—Bradley Bemis is an Orlando-based spiritual teacher of non-duality and Self-realization, an inner presence coach and guide, and is currently working toward his Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He offers a combination of public discourses and private sessions for those who are interested in exploring the enlightened insights of nondual wisdom.  Learn more at awakeningintolife.com.