Inner Talents

Published in Resonance, March 2001.

We all have talents; we are all talented.  Talents are those formless inner urges and potentials that demand outer expression.  When our work is a manifestation of our talent, we become a channel through which our Soul influences the world.

To find an outer expression for our inner talents is one of the gifts of Life.  I would even say it is the path to true contentment.  Working at an occupation that is a container for our yearnings and abilities, we feel a deep satisfaction, knowing we are fulfilling our life task.

Most days I feel that blessing.  I know I have been guided toward activities that most express my inner nature.  As a psychotherapist, teacher and writer, my life overflows with activities that give me profound pleasure.  That was not always the case; I took a long roundabout path to this point in my life.

At the age of sixteen I left Dungarvan, the small town in Ireland where I lived with my mother, to find work in the ‘big city’ of Cork.  With little money in my pocket I arrived, lost and apprehensive with no place to stay.  The second night, as I prepared to bed down in a hostel for homeless men, a gaunt and unkempt man approached me.  He said I was not in the right place and should go with him.

Not sure what was happening, I followed as he walked miles across the city.  Eventually we reached an ordinary row house in the suburbs and knocked on the door.  It was opened by a blond haired boy, a year or so older than myself.  The man asked if I could stay the night and the boy led me in.  The man left and I never saw him again.

Thus started a strange and formative period of my life.  I had taken refuge in a home for “wayward boys” run by a Catholic charity.  For just under a year I lived in a house with ten teenagers and a rather odd male housekeeper.  They told me about their extraordinary lives and helped me understand what makes each person unique and different from all others.

I shared a room with Charley and we became close friends.  Charley was in the home because his parents couldn’t handle him.  He had taken to stealing and lying and had finally been caught breaking into a store.  He told me his father drove him crazy.  Whenever his Dad got angry he would call Charley a “little bastard.”  Then Charley would get enraged and do something stupid like getting drunk.

Around this time I had picked up a book on hypnosis and taught myself how to induce a hypnotic trance.  Each night when we went to bed Charley would be my willing hypnotic subject.  I suggested he see and experience whatever he most desired, allowing his dreams and fantasies full rein.  He loved it.

After a few weeks, however, the hypnosis began to take on a life of its own.  A spontaneous picture appeared in Charley’s minds eye: a three-year-old boy in a big room filled with beds.

Over the next few nights night more details emerged — images of a little boy in an orphanage run by nuns.  The boy was sad and lonely, looking out of high windows with bars on them.  One day, a couple appeared at the bottom of the long flight of stairs.  They took the boy by the hand and led him away.  The images kept repeating and repeating, looking for some explanation

I started to piece things together.  I believed Charley was illegitimate and given up to an orphanage as a baby.  His Catholic mother had later married and persuaded her husband to adopt the boy, but he had never fully accepted Charley as his son.  When enraged, his resentment would come out by calling Charley a ‘bastard.’  This triggered Charley at some deep level and he would act out his anger and hurt.

With no more insight than most adolescents, I tried to get Charley to hear this explanation — but naturally he could not listen.  The reality was too strange and disturbing for him to accept.  We drifted apart and not long after I moved away.

Charley was my first unsuccessful psychotherapy case.  Now I come across many similar hidden memories in my work as a therapist, but at that time I was unnerved by the intensity of my contact with Charley’s inner world.  I gave up any thought of exploring the depths of experience, so it was many years before I could allow that interest to reemerge.

In the early 1970s, not long after I had been opened in Subud, a youthful helper in the wilds of Ireland tried to help me find what was my inner talent.  We agreed that for a time it was good for me to work as a carpenter — a good beginning even though it did not provide the answer I had hoped for.  Looking back I see how unready I was to face the long haul of training to become a psychologist.  It would have been emotionally overwhelming.  I needed grounding in practical skills first.

By 1974 I was desperately looking for purpose and direction.  A bunch of us rootless young men lived and worked together in Cheltenham, UK, in an enterprise called “Golden Designs.”  It was difficult.  We made little money but there was a kind of idealistic naïveté that held us together for a time.  Someone or other was in a crisis at any given moment and the dynamics of the house kept changing as people came and went.

I began to notice a pattern in my response to new arrivals.  At first, I would feel a sense of connection and friendship.  However, within three weeks, that person would become the most irritating and impossible person to live with.  The pattern was so predictable that I realized it must be me, not their quirks that drove me crazy.  This was my introduction to the power of projection–the way we attach our own unintegrated negative aspects onto others.  That insight made a deep impression.

As the enterprise began to fall apart from dawning realism, I was given a glimpse of where my life path would eventually lead.  One evening during the Subud spiritual exercise, I received a series of pictures that came clearly into my mind like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.  In the images I worked in something like a doctor’s office.  People came to me, I talked to them and they went away healthier.  The receiving made no sense to me, so I put it away in the back of my mind.

Months later a friend, Helena Leask, was visiting the house.  She had been reading Carl Jung’s, Memories, Dreams and Reflections and was very excited.  She knew the book was important for me and practically forced me to read the book.  Jung’s life story gripped me totally.  I knew then that I too wanted to be immersed in the mysteries of the human psyche, that my receiving was about working as a psychotherapist.

That started a nine-year journey of education and training before I could be called a psychologist.  It was not easy to stay motivated, particularly when I found that academic psychology was mostly nonsense.  However, the inner sense that I was moving in the right direction kept me plodding onward.  Eventually the formal learning was over and I could get down to the real education of working with people.

Now my life is rich and fulfilling.  Psychotherapy clients constantly remind me of lessons I need to learn.  Many people, even those with severe problems, recognize the need for a strong spiritual grounding in their lives.  Each workday I have the opportunity to use my inner experience to help others connect more deeply.

Since 1991, I have also taught at Naropa University, a center for contemplative education.  The students enroll because they feel the need for a different, more profound dimension to learning.  Finding a spiritual discipline and practice is part of the education, part of the culture for students and faculty alike.

When we follow our life path, we receive inner assistance to tolerate the struggles along the way.  Talents do not come in neat packages; we keep striving to realize new and greater dimensions of what needs to be accomplished.  There are no end points, no places where we can rest and say we have achieved the final goal.

I experienced this intensely over the years between 1995 and 2001.  I knew for many years that I should write a book connecting spiritual understanding with psychotherapy.  The problem was my mind; I thought so much that my writing came out technical and dry.  Swallowing my pride, I enrolled in a freshman writing class at Naropa.  Even with better skills, I still had to write the wrong book for a number of years.

As my sense of direction clarified, I could rely on my inner feelings to guide me in the important writing decisions: how should I approach the book, what should it be titled, what content needs to be in each chapter?  In one important experience, I felt the presence of three powerful and frightening beings, like those depicted in Indonesian shadow puppet plays.  They danced a dance of life, lending me energy to complete my task.  The book, “Seeking Wholeness,” was published in 2001 after six years of work.

Now I wait for the next life task.  Talents are never used up or completed.  While we are alive, we have within us a spiritual urgency to create more, live more and keep offering something new to the world.  We are here to make a difference, a difference that no one else can achieve.  When we rise to the challenge, use the abilities Life lends us, it is like a pebble thrown into a pond.  The ripples circle out, further and further, creating the future of humanity.