Lately I have been reading about solitude and writing about surrender. They seem to go together and have much to say about the spiritual dimension of psychotherapy.
Solitude is usually defined as a period of time away from the company of other humans. However, within that definition there is a great deal of variation in terms of how much contact one has with the natural world other than humans. Solitude can be structured to minimize or maximize one’s contact with the natural world.
The minimalist version is the monk living in a hermitage where he stays inside to pray and meditate, living on food that is left for him by other monks whom he never (or rarely) sees. An intermediate version would be spending a few days and nights on a vision quest on a mountain, usually not far from one’s community of supporters down below.
The maximum version of contact with the natural world that I have come across is Robert Kull’s new book, Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes. It is a diary, edited with added commentary of his year alone on a remote island off the southern coast of Chile, relying completely on the food he brought with him and catching fish for his sustenance. There, the climate made physical survival an ongoing challenge as Kull sought psychological and spiritual sustenance through encountering the psychological and spiritual challenges of such deep solitude. He spent a good deal of his time outside the basic shelter he had built for himself, exposing and surrendering himself to being part of the wild forces of the natural world.
I believe we all hunger for surrender, whether or not we choose to expose ourselves to the extremes of the natural world. Our hunger is to know our unique soul’s purpose and to find the courage to surrender to it. Psychotherapy is at its core an enterprise devoted to facilitating such knowing and surrendering.
Although psychotherapy does not involve absolute solitude in that there is at least one other human present, it does involve an intention to spend some time each week separate from the usual human world. The time regularly spent only with one’s therapist or with other members of one’s therapy group is intended to facilitate the suspension of the usual constraints on human interaction, providing the opportunity to expose and surrender oneself to the wild forces of unconscious process.
In this way, it is similar to a period of solitude in the wilderness, exposing and surrendering oneself to the wild forces of the natural world. If the therapist’s office has windows that open to the natural world then the weather and/or non-humans outside can become co-therapists, inviting surrender to forces both internal and external.
© Copyright 2008 by John Rhead. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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