Rachel Berghash


Interview with Rachel Berghash and Katherine Jillson


What is the origin of your interdisciplinary work?
We studied with Dr. Preston G. McLean, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher, who taught interdisciplinary interior life seminars combining religion, philosophy, psychology, and poetry, along with biographies of great personalities. These essays issue from the work with Dr. McLean and from the many years of our own teaching and study.

What would you say is the most important thread that runs through the essays?
One of the most important threads is the costliness of character and the costliness of ideas. We show it, for example, in St. Teresa's capacity to withstand attacks and in Milarepa's unceasing practice and persistent self- examination of demonic obstacles. We also show it in Socrates and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died for their ideas.

How is psychology related to religion in these essays?
The essay about the Buddhist Milarepa's struggle with demons was written from the point of view of psychology. We relate Milarepa conjuring up his guru for help to the psychological idea of calling on one's lost good object for support. We show that his achievement of realizing that the demons are in his mind is in concert with him owning his bad objects and then releasing them. In the essay "Being and the Self," we show that the psychoanalyst Winnicott and the Hindu sage Maharshi make the point that what is sought, either the true self or the Self, is already there inside the person. The Maharshi's teaching to repeat asking "Who am I," is similar to Winnicott's view— questioning the false self, enabling the true self to live.

What is an example of how you relate philosophy to religion and spirituality?
The philosopher Whitehead diverges from traditional dualistic religious thinking of good and evil. He strikingly articulates this dynamic in his theory that opposing ideas are vital means of evolution. Similarly, according to the poet Blake when love and hate and heaven and hell struggle with each other something new is created.

How do you relate poetry to spirituality?
In the view of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, the spirit, embodied by the saint and the artist alike, is tender and open and participates in the wretchedness of lives. The leper is a symbol for wretchedness. In Letters on Cezanne Rilke discusses the artist's life with respect to the self-overcoming exhibited in "lying-down-with-the-leper and sharing all one's warmth with him."

What sources did you use in writing these essays?
We used original source material throughout. For example, we used the autobiography of St. Teresa and the book of Jeremiah. For Zoroastrianism we consulted the hymns and litanies of the religion. We quoted from the Qur'an and Jewish sages when writing our essay about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Another example is our use of the songs of Milarepa, without which those essays would have been impoverished.

What do you expect readers to get out of your book?
We hope that readers will expand their understanding of their relationship to themselves and to the Other by becoming intimate with the ideas and examples of people in the book. We also hope that readers will appreciate and learn from religions not their own, and will recognize the value of integrating material from myriad disciplines. One reader has said that reading the essay "Exploring Unity and Distinction" brought him closer to the divine.