Out there, in here and back then…
There are some really useful ideas taken from counselling and therapeutic work that can help in the spiritual life. One of these is the: out there, in here and back then… ways of looking at how we are. Having a sense of these three aspects is sometimes seen as helpful in counselling and psychotherapy work and when I came across this way of thinking it struck me as also having relevance for the spiritual life.
Out there – that seems to be very much about the external trappings of religion and our spiritual practices whether that is to do with a set ritual and routine and following various readings or saying various prayers. It can also course be linked to how we are in the world and how our spiritual life affects how we are with others. But I also found myself thinking about how ‘out there’ is very much like the persona the part of oneself that is in the world. The bit of us that is certainly out … It may be less about being out and proud and there may be times when the way we are ‘out there’ can feel shameful. We are very much ‘out there’ when attending standard church services. For example where I currently attend we are often asked to introduce ourselves to each other before the service or during exchanging the peace and quite often there is a lot of talk going on before and after the service. There is a hugely social element to the whole thing and I’m reminded that C. S. Lewis always left during the last hymn so he didn’t have to talk and shake hands with people – he wanted to take the experience – the ‘in there’ experience away with him before it became diluted- a sentiment I have great sympathy for.
In here – when this is used in therapeutic work it’s very much about the relationship between the therapist and the person who is coming to therapy… what happens in the consulting room. Perhaps in spirituality it can be about our relationship with the divine. What does it actually mean to be in a personal relationship with Christ and with God? It’s different from the relationship with the therapist which involves a face-to-face encounter. ‘In here’ in terms of our spiritual life is about a face-to-faith encounter. The quality of the relationship is deepened by contemplation and silence but of course it also hugely influences the ‘out there’ part as well. But it is also, like in therapy, a developing relationship and one that has its good and bad sides to it. It is absolutely psycho-dynamic and greatly affected by the ‘back then’ part.
Back then – this I think is crucial for the other parts to be meaningful because if we can understand how the past affects the present then we can understand our spiritual life better. Because of course the way it was ‘back then’ (both in our actual environment and in our inner world) has an implication for our relationship with the divine and how we conduct that and also how we are with others. ‘Back then’ experience may mean that we expect a punitive demanding sort of God who wants us to be compliant and passive or we may expect a rather absent God who will only like us if we are good. Understanding the ‘back then’ can release us to be really alive in the relationship – both the ‘in here’ and the ‘out there’ times.