Way back in the day (the early 1990s), two respected psychologists in Northern California let their curiosity and perhaps their own woundedness drive their research interests. They wondered what factors contributed to the unfolding of the sacred in women’s lives – how they weathered the disruptive processes of being transformed from a child of God into “an adult of God.” So they went around to all their friends and asked them to nominate candidates they considered to be “spiritually mature.” In the end they came up with people like the poet, Maya Angelou, Jungian psychologist, Marion Woodman, former nun and artist, Meinrad Craighead, and meditation teacher, Toni Packer. Then they set out on a five year journey doing a kind of Grounded Theory-Appreciative Inquiry research study to essentially discover how these women “found the river of their own lives and surrendered to its currents.”
In essence they would meet with these women and ask them to tell about transformative periods in their lives. They also asked them what was most meaningful and sacred to their unfolding spiritual development. Patricia Hopkins and Sherry Ruth Anderson compiled, edited and published the results of their interviews in their best-selling book,The Feminine Face of God. What I took away from this extraordinary research is that the journey of each of the women interviewed was primarily driven by what I call The Two Perilous Questions.
Create at Your Own Peril
These questions have shown up for me in one form or another in the work of many different people. For example, Robert Fritz, the retired conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, has written extensively on the process of creativity. By examining his own creativity in minute detail, he was able to break the actions down in ways that actually make the creative process replicable. And in my mind, becoming spiritually mature is, by decree and by definition, a very creative process. And best-selling author, Steven Covey’s Second Effectiveness Habit – Begin with the End in Mind – is certainly related to these questions and to creativity.
The Lens of Neurotheology
It’s interesting to go back and revisit this research, looking at it through the lens of neurotheology. By what neurological process might these women have arrived at this place of spiritual maturity? While mostly conjecture on my part, based solely on the stories they’ve told, I suspect it was accomplished in two ways. Assuming that the brain played in integral part in their process, the first way seemed to involve things like therapy, contemplation and prayer. By this process, a number of these women apparently returned to the “scenes of the crimes,” those early remembered trespasses against them. And in that revisiting they seemed to find creative ways to emerge triumphant from those trespasses, if only in their own imaginative heart. The second way to spirituality involved frequently invoking The Two Perilous Questions.
The First Question
So, what are The Two Perilous Questions? The first one is: What’s true for me? This, like the second, is to be asked recursively. In simple terms a recursive question is one that, asked repeatedly, grows an ever-deepening awareness and clarity out of itself. It also, I suspect, spurs the growth of profound neural connectivity in the brain and body. This question invites us to raw self-examination, keeping us current and continuously caught up with our lives, apart from what significant others may think or wish for us. It’s perilous because it sets the stage for change, often needed but frequently resisted … leading almost inevitably to the second question.
The Second Question
The second Perilous Question is: What do I want? When this question follows on the heels of the first, it becomes considerably more difficult to resist the needful changes awakening in our hearts, brains, minds and bodies. Often the answer to this question is … peace and relief. Sometimes it is joy, or adventure, or simply change for change’s sake. Other times these questions force us to construct our own Ordo Amorum – a personal hierarchy that consciously forces us to choose between the people, places and things we love, versus those we love most. What makes these questions perilous is the fact that they often bring us face to face with humanity’s and our own unadulterated suffering, plunging us into the Dark Night of the Soul on the way to spiritual emergence. It certainly did for many of the women who attained spiritual maturity as they searched for The Feminine Face of God.
So, by all means, ask these perilous questions, but you do so at your own risk.