How we know
Heartfulness eMagazine|August 2021
TOBIN HART is a humanistic transpersonal psychologist, professor in the University of West Georgia’s Humanistic, Transpersonal and Critical Psychology program, and co-founder of the ChildSpirit Institute. In the final part of this series, in which he is interviewed by VICTOR KANNAN, Director of the Heartfulness Institute USA, Tobin speaks about the intersection of western psychology and spirituality, in particular the importance of presence, imagination, wisdom, love, compassion, purity, and overcoming spiritual bypassing.
TOBIN HART

Q: When you talk about possibility, would faith be part of wisdom?

Yes, in this sense my favorite definition of faith is a suspension of disbelief. So, rather than believe in something, there is another important quality or capacity we call imagination. One of the powerful allies for wisdom and possibility is imagination. Can we conceive of another way? And can we act “as if ” for a bit? Can we hold open possibility for long enough? Imagination is a bridge between the known and the unknown. From psychology, we know our minds are so powerfully conditioned to see things, to perceive in a way, and to believe in a way. If we can imagine another way, suddenly we can free ourselves. That’s also part of what I think wisdom is about – to free ourselves.

Q: So faith is also a bridge between the known and the unknown.

Exactly. Yes.

Q: So imagination is the bridge between the known and the unknown.

Yes.

Q: Wisdom is also a bridge between perhaps the known and the unknown at this point in time, in a way that they seem to share in the quality of each other.

Yes, absolutely. Really, I think with all the things we are talking about, if you go deep enough into any one of them it opens to all the others. Wisdom involves some other things too. It involves cultivating clarity and seeking guidance. Different capacities serve us. For example, how do we find wise guides? From our interiority, from our inspiration, from a dialogue with a good book, with our children, with our loved ones in general, and, ultimately, with any circumstance, we’re looking for signs.

The indigenous cultures often read signs, such as the flight of a bird or something that crosses our path. It’s fascinating to say, “Wow, okay, what does that do for me? Why does it resonate?” Rather than making any ontological claims about somebody sending this bird to me, it’s instead, “What is that about? What does it trigger or open? How can I dialogue with this? What does it make me think of ?” So we’re always available for guidance, and it’s always available to us.

Q: And that is not possible if we are not present. In the wisdom category, you talk about discernment, and also about the child’s ability to directly perceive things.

Exactly.

Q: In your book, you mention a tool called SAM, the Spirituality Assessment Matrix. So, if I were to say to myself, “Hey, I want to become wiser, I want to be able to perceive things better,” then what type of assessment should I give myself?

You’re referring to the instrument we made. It’s just a series of questions to ask yourself. It’s for self-reflection when folks look for help, direction and guidance to develop their psycho-spiritual potential. I think it’s very difficult to do the spiritual life without simultaneously doing the psychological, and the psychological without the spiritual. SAM was designed to give a self-assessment about what your strengths are already, and what might be some specific trailheads for growth.

How do we find wise guides? From our interiority, from our inspiration, from a dialogue with a good book, with our children, with our loved ones in general, and, ultimately, with any circumstance, we’re looking for signs.

For example, you might discover that you have this incredibly big heart, compassion and empathy, but you may not have a strong capacity for, say, discernment. Another person might have a lot of presence, being really aware and awake, and yet not have what is the fourth direction – they have not found their voice. They haven’t yet found their creative expression in the world.

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