Dear Dr. Robert,
I have been following your advice on diet. I began this change ten weeks ago, and recently I noticed that I feel very much better than I did when I was eating in the old way. I am just happier, and I feel physically and emotionally lighter just as you said. My thoughts are not so often depressive as they were before. So thanks for the good advice.
Now I have another question. I noticed on your homepage that your site is dedicated, among other things, to "spiritual unfoldment." I would be very interested in learning more about that. Would you please explain what you mean by spiritual unfoldment, and please give some suggestions for spiritual unfoldment as you did for diet.
---T.H.G., Lahti, Finland
Dear T.H.G., Thank you for your letter. What I mean by "spiritual unfoldment" is the possibility of finding a center which is more than just "myself," a center which seems to embody a level of wisdom, empathy, creativity, humor, and joy which is missing in the ordinary, everyday personality, a center, that is, which is not the outcome of thoughts, attitudes, and ideas, but which seems to exist prior to thought.
Once this center is somehow intuited by the ordinary self, "unfoldment" refers to the ever-expanding experience of finding meaning and value in living more from that greater center and less from the demands of the everyday personality as it expresses itself in thoughts, fears, and desires. To put this in somewhat grander terms, that which is finite, time-bound, and subject to death, becomes aware in some way of the underlying ground of being which feels infinite, timeless, and everlasting.
I say that this center must be intuited by the ordinary self because intuition is a faculty that functions beyond the regions of conscious thought, and so may provide a kind of bridge between thought and the underlying ground of being. I like to use the word "unfoldment," because it suggests that this process involves the unfurling or unwinding of something that is already present but needs to be opened up in order that it may function to the fullest. If you have ever seen the leaf of a large fern uncoiling, this may provide a good visual metaphor.
Unfortunately, general advice on nutrition is easier to offer--and much easier to convey in words--than advice on fostering spiritual unfoldment. This is because dietary advice can be based on scientific research, and so can be demonstrated factually to the human intellect, while spirituality or spiritual unfoldment cannot even be understood intellectually, much less proven scientifically.
For example, we now know that substances in the cocoa bean provide a powerful antioxidant action which slows the oxidation and breakdown of HDL cholesterols, causing them to remain longer in the bloodstream. This is a fact which can be shown by means of exact measurement. Since HDL cholesterols are beneficial to the circulatory system, adding cocoa to the diet should benefit total bodily health, and recent studies demonstrate that this is true. Therefore, I would feel confident in suggesting that one might consider adding a tablespoon or so of unsweetened cocoa powder to the daily diet, and unless someone is allergic to cocoa, this practice ought to work well for anyone.
But even assuming that one accepts that spiritual unfoldment is possible, that trying to encourage it is desirable, and that advice on how to promote it can be conveyed, at least to some extent, in words, without knowing where you are in your own understanding and without hearing about your own specific attitudes towards the human experience of living and dying, it is difficult for me to suggest what you in particular might do next to "unfold" spiritually. This difficulty in generalizing about inner life is one of the chief reasons why individual, personalized psychotherapy is so valuable. In private, and in an atmosphere of safety, acceptance, trust, and understanding, these subtleties may be entertained so that their finer nuances become apparent without the necessity of resorting only to words on a page, or to a one-sided talk to a general audience.
Numerous gurus, guides, and spiritual teachers, to say nothing about the gang of self-help authors eager to sell books, offer advice on this matter, but many of the people who come to me for therapy have not found such advice to be particularly helpful. In fact, some have found such advice to be demeaning, misleading, or confusing, and have come to psychotherapy partly in order to try to sort out the confusion or heal the damage.
This happens, I believe, because the advice of such gurus and spiritual teachers almost always refers either to some traditional religious practices which are to be followed more or less blindly regardless of individual temperament or individual need, or else depends on what that particular teacher believes has been helpful in his or her own approach to spirituality. But my experience tells me that each person must find his or her own way to "unfold," and that following a doctrinal religious system or the generalized advice of a guru is not likely to do the job for most people. As the brilliant sage, J. Krishnamurti put this, "Truth is a pathless land."
In my advice on dietary changes, I said, "Everybody is different, and every body is different, so without a private consultation, I cannot give you person-specific advice . . . but I will offer some general principles that can help almost anyone." I will try to do the same here as regards your question about spiritual unfoldment, but only with the understanding that, unlike my generalized nutritional advice, this advice about how to approach spirituality will certainly not apply to everyone, and that without knowing you personally, I am able to speak only in the most general way. In fact, my suggestions, being generalized, may not be the best thing for you. Indeed, this is the point I have just made about the methods imparted, usually in an authoritative tone, by so many gurus, guides, self-help authors, and spiritual teachers, so please take what follows merely as suggestions to be tried out in the spirit of experiment, certainly not as gospel.
That said, one way involves working with two practices at once. The first requires an ongoing, honest, non-judgmental observation of one's own life, behaviors, and personality patterns with a view towards feeling and noticing barriers to further psychological and emotional development--not, by the way, trying to remove the barriers, but just feeling and noticing them. The second practice is to ask oneself: "Who am I? Who is seeing, feeling, and thinking these things?” So, I am recommending that you might like to combine two practices that seem to be helpful for many people: self-observation, and self-investigation.
By "self-observation" I mean watching oneself as if one were watching a friend for whom one feels a certain affection, but can see also with a certain detachment and objectivity. For example: suppose that someone makes a remark that I find insulting, and I begin to feel angry. In self-observation, instead of focusing attention on the insulting remark and upon the motives of the person who made it, I will instead simply watch anger itself as if observing a phenomenon that I want to understand better. So, it is not the insult that I wish to focus upon, nor do I wish to prove to myself that the insult does not apply to me, nor do I want to focus upon the personality and possible character flaws of the person who made the remark, but rather I want to watch anger as it manifests in my own habitual process of responding to perceived insults with anger and self-justification. That is why this practice is called self-observation. And I will apply this same attitude of non-judgmental self-observation to all of my behaviors, thoughts, and emotional states whenever possible. You might begin with this practice, for example: when speaking, notice your own tone of voice. Just notice it, without judging. Try this for an entire day, and see what happens.
By "self-investigation" I mean discarding the conventional and normal ideas that "myself" is my body, my name, my personal history, my membership in a family, my profession, my nationality, ethnicity or so-called “race,”and approaching the question--"Who am I?”--afresh. Simply ask, "Who am I?" without accepting any final answers. Just keep asking.
Perhaps these two procedures seem simple-minded, and, from a certain point of view, I suppose they are, but like my nutritional advice, you can try them for a while, and see if you like the results.
Dear Dr. Robert,