God on your own God on your own
Finding a Spiritual Path Outside Religion

Joseph Dispenza
ISBN 9780787983123 (0787983128)
Jossey-Bass
£15.99

Category: Spirituality
Reviewed by: Áine Ryan

God on your own is a blend of a personal account of Dispenza's disillusionment with organised religion and leaving monastic life, plus reflection on the process of finding one's own spiritual path. He draws on Jung's assertion that it is part of being human to search for the spiritual and that the major task of the second half of life is to find a spiritual outlook. Dispenza argues that religion, rather than help us in that search actually separates us from God, and holy books curtail discussion about the spiritual life. Despite this, however, we fear taking responsibility for finding our own path and experience a profound grieving process in leaving organised religion. Again using Jung he looks at the archetypes of Seeker and Destroyer and their usefulness in this process. The Seeker brings sacred scepticism and fear of conformity while the Destroyer breaks down old attitudes and beliefs. The Destroyer is not simply destructive, dismissing the concepts and beliefs of organised religion, but rather makes way for the new and the possibility of unravelling genuine truths from religious rules and doctrines.

For Dispenza it seems the key thing in creating one's own spiritual way is a shift from a belief in a God "out there" withholding something from us, to seeing God as "in here" in oneself. With this in mind he moves on to explore and reinterpret his vows of "poverty, chastity and obedience" as "detachment, innocence and responsibility":

  • Detachment not as disengagement or indifference but as a letting go of compulsive or rigid clinging to ideas, people, and things.
  • Innocence as non-judgemental, truthful, trusting, avoiding doctrine and easy answers.
  • Responsibility for ourselves and the rest of the world.

He suggests that the age of religion is at an end and this is the start of an age of spirituality wherein we recognise that we are all one and widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures. Organised religion with its divisiveness must come to an end for us to be able to grow into authentic spiritual adulthood.

This process of transforming rather than destroying already held beliefs is a helpful starting place perhaps for many who are finding their own spiritual paths. However I wonder if Dispenza's account of his spiritual path might be differently received depending on why one is embarking on that path. He opens his account with an experience of walking on hot coals, going on to recount at some length his out-of-body experience and uncovering of past life memories. I wonder if this might be liberating for those who are making their own way because their experience of organised religion is of a too narrow, judgmental approach to what is seen as acceptable spiritual practice. However, I think it could further alienate those who are leaving organised religion because they are no longer able to believe what the church teaches. Dispenza's apparently uncritical embrace of new spiritual practices could perhaps helpfully bear an encounter with the Seeker and Destroyer archetypes if the wounds of previous experience are to be healed rather than simply bypassed.

Áine Ryan, March 2010

Áine Ryan is a counsellor/psychotherapist in the NHS, and studied theology with Exeter University.

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