An unexpected detour — A psychologist talks about finding God
Warmer, deeper, enduring relationships—what makes them happen? No one has to look far these days to see why it's so important to get things right when it comes to relationships, whether they're between individuals or nations.
Recently Dr. Henry Grayson, a psychologist and author, talked with Russ Gerber of the Sentinel's Radio Edition. Dr. Grayson has explored the connections between psychology, physics, and the world's spiritual traditions. He's recently published his findings in a book titled Mindful Loving: 10 Practices for Creating Deeper Connections.*
During his conversation with Sentinel Radio, Grayson described an epiphany he had that surprised him, because at one time he had considered himself a scientifically minded psychologist who was an agnostic, perhaps even an atheist.
Still, he'd been searching with all his heart for something deep and meaningful. He wanted to find an inner peace and a real state of joy that couldn't be disturbed, and that wouldn't leave him subject to circumstances.
Then one morning more than a decade ago, he felt compelled to go to church—something he hadn't felt for at least 15 years. He was attending a weekend seminar in New York City.
A prominent theoretical physicist was the guest speaker, and the mental health professionals in attendance were there to explore what, if anything, the newest concepts in physics had to do with human relationships—concepts that suggest our connectedness, rather than separation.
"The next morning," Grayson said, "I got up to go back to the seminar, and I had the strongest urge to go to church. [It] was a Sunday morning. I had not had that kind of an urge perhaps ever in my life, even in times when I had gone [to church] more regularly. I thought, 'Well, I'll be embarrassed going back to a scientific meeting saying I've been to church.' But I had learned to trust my intuitive pulls—I'd never lost that. So I decided I would go.
"I went to a church in Manhattan near where I lived, en route to where my meeting was. I found myself, from the moment I entered, reinterpreting everything in the light of the findings from the new physics—all the hymns, the Scriptures, the commentaries, the talk, the prayers. I was so moved, to the depth of my being, that I sat there for the entire service with tears rolling down my cheeks. I felt as if I'd just discovered a whole new world. The world that I had known before was one of separation, more like the Newtonian view of the world where we are separate from each other, from the universe, from God. And in that separation, there is anxiety, depression, illness, and conflict."
Grayson's views of life had indeed changed, dramatically. He now glimpsed a real connection among us all, one that was mental and that had spiritual roots. He found that he was "not separate from anybody else, that mind is really all linked together. That which we call God is not separate from us, but I am a part of that same essence." This insight "moved me to the core of my being, and began to change my whole way of looking at the world—the way I practice and the way I live."
When Grayson took that detour into a church, it turns out he was responding to an intuitive sense much larger than he first realized. He returned to the conference that afternoon and began to talk about his experience with the other attendees. "Actually, I was embarrassed at first, but I couldn't contain myself. I told people what had happened. One by one, they expressed that they had had a similar kind of urge, and wished they had had some way to honor it as I had. This was [the case] whether they were Christian or Jewish, or Protestant or Catholic."
Grayson considers himself to be on a spiritual journey, applying what he learns along the way to his practice of psychology. For example, he no longer thinks of ego in the way he once did. "I've come to think of ego as being more like a voice of deception, the voice which has been recognized in most cultures as that voice that takes us away from truth, or from what is really real."
"If we're that image
and likeness of God, we're of the same substance.
And as such, we have enormous power to affect
our lives in every way—to affect our physical health,
but also to affect our relationships".
—Dr. Henry Grayson
What Grayson now sees as reality is a far cry from how he saw things at earlier times in his career—as separate from God and spiritual truth. "If we're that image and likeness of God," he observed, "we're of the same substance. And as such, we have enormous power to affect our lives in every way—to affect our physical health, but also to affect our relationships."
At one point, Grayson decided to try an experiment. He wondered to what extent thought influences relationships. He wanted to see what would happen if he intentionally thought certain kinds of thoughts about his wife. So, on certain days he thought only loving, caring thoughts about her, and dismissed all negative, angry thoughts. On alternate days, he thought only critical thoughts. When he came home after thinking only loving thoughts, "she would hear my key in the lock, and she would come bounding to the door to greet me with a hug and kiss, and take my hand and lead me off to the couch to sit down and talk and discuss the events of the day. On the alternate days...I'd call out cheerily to greet her, and I would hear a grumpy response from the far end of the apartment. I would start up a conversation in a friendly way, and within four or five minutes we'd be in some kind of little spat." Grayson's wife was relieved to find out this was only an experiment.
One of the important lessons he learned from the experiment, one that he believes has a direct bearing on relationships, is the need to guard one's thinking. "Those thoughts that disturb our inner peace—that make me feel little, helpless, afraid, depressed, resentful, angry, deprived, lonely, separate—would be what I would call the 'enemy thoughts." It doesn't matter what name we give it, but it's that voice that leads us into what I would call 'untruth.'"
In Mindful Loving, Grayson has put aside traditional methods of counseling, and is mapping out a different path, combining Western psychology with a blend of spiritual approaches. Perhaps what is most significant about Grayson's spiritual and scientific journey is how it began, and what that says about receptive thought—thought that's open to new possibilities, and even to just a moment of glimpsing a higher basis for relationships. In a world where interaction between individuals and between nations is sometimes stormy at best, receptive thought and transforming moments can open up a whole new world of wonderful possibilities.
Grayson realized from his own experience that none of this has to take forever. Referring to the Bible's book of Revelation, he said: "[St.] John had his vision about the nature of reality, and most people have interpreted that to mean some kind of eschatological thing down the road after we die, or the end of the world. But I came across the phrase, you shall all be transformed 'in the twinkling of an eye' [I Cor. 15:52].
"I realized that [the Bible is] really talking about the way transformation can occur. The time it takes for us to change and grow, or have a transformation, is our resistance to it. But when we're ready for it, it just takes an instant."
*New York: Gotham Books. 2003.