Spirituality begins with recognition of the need for individual choice and the recognition of all the influences in life that affect free choice. Free choice is influenced by both internal addictions and compulsions and external power and propaganda. Critical creative thinking can offer a place to start. It can be overwhelming and scary when the individual first becomes conscious of the abundance of the lack of personal choice in one’s life. Most people actually remain unconscious of all the influences that can be easily acknowledged and changed. Additionally, we all will always have unconscious areas of lack of freedom that we will work through throughout our lifetime. Balance is working through the process slowly with humor and self-acceptance.
One of life’s interesting paradoxes is that it requires a courageous and honest looking at the self to even recognize the forms of self-consciousness that are unconscious lacks in choice fostering a subtle underlying self-doubt and self-disapproval. This type of self-consciousness causes a lack of freedom and joy in life but is easily unnoticed as the root of a problem or set of problems. A solution for this self-conscious limitation is an examination of what is true self and what is a false self. The false self is a protective mechanism influenced by the culture and environment. The individual wants to be acceptable to whatever ideal image they are drawn to. The problem results when one loses individual uniqueness and healthy idiosyncrasies in an attempt to conform to the chosen “ideal image”. Again, balance leads to a recognizable goal of developing the wanted qualities of the “ideal” with accepting and adding personal limitations and different types of strengths. This is the process of personal creativity in individuation.
Recent research proposes similarities between the processes of the arts and creativity and planned personality development. “Following Aristotle…virtues are acquired just as we cultivate a taste and love of the arts” (Lear, 1988; as cited in Leffel, 2007, pg. 273). Planned personality development offers new choices and new paradigms for living. Despite the suffering and tragedies of life we are offered the invitation to believe in love and creativity. “Life as call excludes divine determinism and asks for human creativity” (Olthuis, 2006, pg. 68). The paradigm of cultivating personal development as a personal artistic endeavor allows us to learn how to develop connection instead of control, within and without.
The first step to balance is recognizing the areas where choice is limited. Where there is a lack of freedom and joy in daily functioning there may also be a restriction in choice. Change can be cultivated sometimes just in recognizing that there is personal choice in areas that feel like no choice because they are heavily determined by circumstances. Even when circumstances cannot be changed, a new perspective can foster internal empowerment and creative play with what might look hopeless and unchangeable. “Mental health is envisioned as the “freedom to move back and forth between the harsh light of objective reality and the soothing ambiguities of lofty self-absorption and grandeur in subjective omnipotence” (Mitchell, 1988, p. 188; as cited in Aalsma & Lapsley, 1999)… Healthy narcissism, then, reflects a delicate balance between illusion and reality. The ideal parental, and, by implication, therapeutic, response is a flexible movement between the two extremes, neither giving in completely to full immersion in illusion on the one hand, nor crushing hope with “cynical rationalism” on the other” (Mitchell, 1988; as cited in Aalsma & Lapsley, 1999).
Life is made up of an individual in diverse relationships. Relational psychoanalysis presents spirituality as an “embodied emergent phenomenon arising out of the God-givenness of what it means to be a person” (Strawn, 2007, pg. 7). The individual is made up of a conglomerate of internal or intrapsychic relationships that have been internalized in an ongoing relationship from birth with the interactions in the world that become part of the personality structure. The individual is therefore a unique combination of genetics, biology, temperament and relationship. Religious ideologies often make it difficult for us to be honest about the real human experiences of “real needs/motivation/drives around sex and aggression” (Strawn, 2007, pg. 11). Sex and regression are central aspects of what it is to be human (Watson, 2007). Psychologist Melanie Klein paints a landscape of our internal world as consisting of “a life-long struggle to integrate the good and bad aspects of ourselves and others, to protect those we love from our own destructiveness, to repair the relationships we have damaged, and to experience gratitude rather than envy for the good we have received from others” (Hall, 2007, pg. 16).
Creative thinking in the approach to resolving personal problems and enhancing development addresses the “heart” of the issues. The common practice of utilizing cognitive and behavioral strategies for change misses the mark in addressing the motivational and affective dynamics needed for creative problem solving (Leffel, 2007). Arts-based learning and exploration of self-development offer tools for subjective explorations of the inner landscape (Hughes, 2009). Insight and emotional awareness cultivated through creative practices can foster the interruption and restructuring of problem behavioral patterns. It takes courage to journey into the internal chaos to find that seed of free choice. Reasoning alone is a cruel taskmaster, but love promises a healing path to balance.