- Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation by David G. Benner
A Canadian-born psychotherapist and author or editor of over twenty books, David Benner has gravitated in recent years toward integrating therapeutic insights and Christian spirituality. He plies his craft along the shoreline between these two disciplinary spheres, and it is precisely his ability as an amphibious thinker (able to breathe both air and water, so to speak) that makes him such a stimulating guide and conversation partner. Specifically, Benner is a psychoanalytic and depth psychologist whose theoretical orientation operates flexibly within a modified (less protracted and more immediate problem-focused) kind of analysis. He is indebted to Carl Jung’s analytic psychology and therefore attends to the human subconscious. Benner attributes to the Spirit of God a dynamic to which this theory attends, namely, the soul’s inherent drive toward wholeness and self-realization. Like many of Benner’s other publications, Spirituality and the Awakening Self is punctuated with discreetly-reported but illuminating narratives drawn from his clinical experience.
The unifying aim of Benner’s work is the inward transformation (or unfolding) of human beings toward ever greater wholeness and more meaningful existence. The premise of his work is that such positive transformation is best achieved through a perceptive attentiveness to the psychological and developmental dynamics of our existence, along with a deep apprehension of the overarching reality of God’s everywhere-present and loving heart. He writes: “This journey into a deeper consciousness of our being in God will be our focus in this book” (ix). Spirituality and the Awakening Self not only sits squarely within the Benner corpus but also serves as a capstone for it. Elsewhere Benner has suggested that this is “the most complete statement I have offered to this point of the possibilities of human becoming. I would also say that it represents my fullest articulation of how I see psychology and spirituality coming together in human awakening and unfolding.” (http://www.drdavidgbenner.ca) [End Page 125]
Spirituality and the Awakening Self seeks to identify significant resonances between the Christian mystical tradition (for which Benner has had a lifelong fascination) and contemporary insights into human development. The term mysticism, of course, means different things to different people. For Benner, it is “a participation in the mystery of the transformational journey toward union with God in love” (75). There is, accordingly, a focus in this book on experiences of awakening of consciousness—of illumination, of noticing, of transforming discovery.
Such awakening signifies for Benner a dawning capacity to recognize what beforehand remained hidden, or that for which a person was, until then, not yet ready. He reiterates that a shift in consciousness will inevitably generate changes in the self and in how one relates to the rest of the world (192). The journey of awakening is indeed a journey of becoming (208), because these ascending phases constitute levels of adjusted self-organization (203). These “reorganizations of the self” are much more profound than the smaller, incremental changes that self-improvement projects can create (32). Each in turn must be experienced and properly processed, with the accumulating results carried forward along one’s growth trajectory.
In effect, Benner offers readers a novel contribution to the time-honored Christian genre of ladders of spiritual ascent. It is a genre that includes, of course, the classic three-fold way, as well as such diverse templates as Gregory the Great’s Seven Steps to Spiritual Perfection, Walter Hilton’s Scale of Perfection, and the seven mansions of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. Against this venerable backdrop, Benner proposes a new kind of ladder of four steps, which he depicts as the human self that is centered, respectively, on the body, the mind, the soul and ultimately the spirit.
It requires a certain bravado to label the phases of a model using these notoriously polyphonic and vigorously-contested terms. Apparently unruffled by any concerns about possible Platonic distortion, this is precisely what Benner has chosen...