The Divine Therapy: A First Step Toward Finding Peace of Mind

You’re seeking peace of mind, emotional fulfillment, and a sense of your place  in the world, try looking in hell. We’re not talking about your Sunday-school  teacher’s fire-and-brimstone inferno but the one you’ve built for yourself in  the privacy of your own mind. According to husband-and-wife psychotherapists  Bonney and Richard Schaub, the road to enduring solace begins, inevitably, with  a tour of your home-honed torture chambers.
The Schaubs’ personal  journey, which led to their book, Dante’s Path (Gotham), began 40 years ago. Frustrated  that traditional therapy failed to address spiritual needs—and that so many  apparently successful people they met seemed to feel lost in their lives—they  stumbled on the work of an Italian analyst named Roberto Assagioli. A student of  Freud, Assagioli had rejected the master to develop something called  psychosynthesis, which rests on the belief that we’re each capable of reaching  beyond our personalities, that we can grasp transcendent wisdom—but only if we  first take a long, hard look at how we contribute to our suffering.
“Born  in a Jewish ghetto in 1888, Assagioli was no stranger to the kind of hardships  we can’t control. He was imprisoned by the Fascists (for being a pacifist), then  freed, only to be forced into hiding during the Nazi occupation. Shortly after  the war, his only child died. He deeply understood the pain that life can visit  on us, yet insisted that a profound, healing wisdom is always available. He  found his internal Mapquest not in modern science but in Dante’s 14th-century  masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. Written while Dante was in exile, this  epic poem depicts the progress of “the Pilgrim” on a guided tour of hell and  purgatory, and finally into an illuminated paradise. While Dante’s frame of  reference was Catholicism, Assagioli read his work metaphorically, as an  exploration of our inner realms, a model of personal transformation.
“The  idea,” Richard Schaub says, sitting in the Manhattan office where he and Bonney  use psychosynthesis to treat clients with 21st-century problems, “is that we all  use a limited amount of consciousness. If it’s absorbed in hell  patterns—fear-based instincts and the reactions we develop around them—that  means we’re unable to discover other parts of ourselves.” We create our own  hell, the Schaubs believe, through indifference (attempting to protect ourselves  by assuming an air of not caring); greed (insatiably craving money, stuff,  accolades—anything to fill the emptiness inside); jealousy; intentional cruelty;  betrayal; and addiction. We’re in “purgatory” when we become aware of our  self-created torments and consciously work to release ourselves, and rise to  “paradise” when we tap into our higher wisdom, our universal connection with  others.
“Combining traditional therapeutic techniques with meditation,  visualization, and even contemplation of art, the Schaubs have helped cancer,  cardiac, and AIDS patients gain relief from depression and rage. They’ve also  led clients with marital strife, career anxiety, and garden-variety angst to  recognize their role in their problems as a first step in getting unstuck.
“The Schaubs’ view of addiction is particularly eye-opening: “It isn’t just  about drugs and alcohol,” Bonney says. “Some people say, ‘I’m a shopaholic,’ or  that kind of thing. But the next step is to understand how habitual thoughts  stop us. For example, someone I work with has a hard time taking in all the  things she has accomplished. There’s a part of her that’s tremendously envious  of other people.” She can now watch that misery-making process start in her  thinking, Bonney says: “She goes into a social situation and compares  herself—that person looks better than she does, that woman’s younger, that  person makes more money. It becomes completely self-defeating. It takes over the  way a drug does. But it goes back to her survival instincts from childhood. This  was her way of taking care of herself—having to always be the best and the  smartest and the prettiest to get the attention she needed.”
“Worry,  Richard says, can also be addictive. “I know a highly successful woman with tons  of money in the bank, but she obsessively thinks about every horrible thing that  could happen—If this goes wrong, I’ll do that, and if X happens, I’ll do Y—so  she probably won’t end up on the street. Then she feels temporarily relieved, as  though she had a drink. But it’s destroying her stomach,” Richard says. “To  liberate your consciousness, you have to recognize these patterns and actively  help free yourself.”
“Looking in your dark corners takes guts—but the  eventual payoff might be extraordinary. “So many people feel a nagging sense  that they’re not getting something, some promise hasn’t been fulfilled,” Richard  says. “Our understanding is that we have potentials we don’t have a name for and  we don’t know how to make them active. That’s part of the spiritual journey, to  discover those capacities.”
“When Dante started to write The Divine  Comedy, he had lost everything,” Bonney says. “He needed to face his losses  and then find a way to still feel hope and connection.” Dante spent the last  years of his life reaching for higher states of consciousness, and he taught  that love—an ego-transcending unity—is the source of all joy. “I see people  today who are so identified with a job and then the job isn’t there, and the  first response is, Oh my God, this is unimaginable. But once they get past the  shock, a lot of people start to reconnect with what’s really important to them.  And they’re grateful. They wouldn’t have chosen to be thrown into this position,  but it got them to reevaluate what they want to do with their lives, what they  want to put their energy into.” And their vulnerability can bring them closer to  other people, “to a sense of union as opposed to separateness,” Bonney says.  “Having listened to so many people’s stories, I can read what Dante wrote and  recognize it as true and feel tremendously encouraged by the fact that  literature and art can touch human truth at such a deep level.”

Is it hell  being you? Good news: You may have just taken the first step toward finding  peace of mind. Dawn Raffel sits down with an inspired pair of  psychotherapists.
By Dawn  Raffel
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