Brilliant green and sunlight morning here in the mountains, not a cloud anywhere in the great blue dome of sky. The housemate struggling with what has now been diagnosed as cardiomyopathy and I am worried sick about her, my frequent state these days. But on we go, and in the garden herbs rush up into leafy abundance and the dogs chase their tails on the grass and the sun keeps shining.
I keep coming back to this article by Christopher Harding on a 90-year-old Japanese nun called Jakucho, which means ‘silent, lonely listening’. It is a story about psychoanalysis and religion, where the careful and accurate reasoning mind meets faith and doubt. And how we help one another in a therapeutic or faith context. The power of kindness, the skills needed for empathy and self-awareness.
When people are suffering, when they have some kind of complex, or when they’re lonely, they need someone to notice them, simply to recognise them
Something too that Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk and political activist, spoke of as ‘false consciousness’ or ‘false mysticism’ — a corrective that therapy can offer to the sanctimonious or judgmental.
That brings us to what might be the most useful role for psychology in religion. It offers perspective that stands outside religion’s enticing, evocative conceptual networks: it can show us when our talk of humility, surrender and dismantling the ego are really masking, perhaps even facilitating, their polar opposites — despite our best intentions.
And of course, those in the sciences and practice of psychology need in turn their own correctives, some reminder of mystery in every day life, something to counter intellectual arrogance and easy certitude. The journey we’re on together is all about learning and unlearning each step of the way.