Healing Your Rift with God
An Interview with Paul Sibcy
By Melissa West
Cleaning a cow-fouled spring taught Paul Sibcy, author of "Healing Your Rift with God: A Guide to Spiritual Renewal and Ultimate Healing," about the spiritual life. As a youth, every hot August Paul had to dig out the spring on his family’s farm, "wrangling out rocks and shoveling mud from the spring’s mouth so that clear water sprang forth again, forming a cool and inviting, rock-fringed pool from which (the cows) could drink their fill."
Sibcy, who grew up to co-found a holistic health clinic, resented having to dig out the spring. He hated the cows for destroying their own paradise by wallowing in the spring and trudging through it on the way out to pasture.
Decades later, Sibcy remembered "spring cleaning" as a powerful metaphor for his life’s calling as a holistic counselor and meditation teacher. "We humans have a clear, pure spring in the center of our beings, a spring of spirit that is our reason for being here," he writes in "Healing Your Rift with God." "We somehow lose it and befoul it just as those cows did, mindlessly in pursuit of our daily commerce... Taught from infancy that we must accomplish, earn, and ‘become somebody,’ we are essentially herded away from our inner spirit, which seems to have no place in life. We become ‘somebody’ and lose our souls."
Sibcy writes from hard-won experience. Describing himself as a "creature in pain who kept moving," he bottomed out one lonely winter in Ogden, Utah. A profound spiritual awakening there changed his life and livelihood, leading Sibcy to devote himself to clearing his own inner spring and helping others do the same. "Little did I suspect as a boy that I would be cleaning out that spring for the rest of my life, eternally helping myself and others to roll away the stones from this pure fount of life so we might drink again the waters of our soul and be restored."
Sibcy has found in his work over the years that all of us, faithful seekers or otherwise, have some area of confusion, hurt, or denial around our relationship with God which keeps us from full expression of our spirituality. This wound, or "rift with God," is the focus of "Healing Your Rift with God."
Personal Transformation caught up with Paul at his home California, where he is also a co-founder of Pathways to Self-Healing, a non-profit spiritual community offering classes and programs for God-realization, and an adjunct faculty member at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.
Personal Transformation: Paul, what do you mean by a rift with God?
Paul Sibcy: A rift is that illusion of not being connected with the Self, not feeling a connection with the universe. That’s where our pain and suffering come from: when my mind gets busy trying to save me or fix me. All of that dissolves when I come back to myself and my connection with the Earth and the spirit of life.
Transformation: What if someone said, "I don’t believe in God in the first place, so what is there to heal?"
Sibcy: They don’t have to believe in G-O-D; that’s not important at all. What is important is being in sync with life and spirit. I’ve known very spiritual people who don’t believe in God. Many of us think of God as the big daddy in the sky who’s tracking good and bad, a punishing, vicious childhood god. Well, I don’t believe in that god, either.
Transformation: How would you describe the god you do believe in?
Sibcy: I call it life itself, that which lives and moves and breathes through me. It is this organic, unfolding unity of all being that is God. By quieting the mind and relaxing into the body, we find both ourselves and God, the consciousness and intelligence that’s beneath all existence.
Transformation: What causes a rift with God, this intelligence beneath all existence?
Sibcy: In my own spiritual recovery, and in working with others, I found five types of spiritual wounds that call for healing: recovery from religion, recovery from rebellion against religion, recovery from God-betrayal, recovery from scientific materialism, and recovery from nothingness.
The first group includes churchgoers who are very spiritual in nature, but have been wounded by religion. These people have been taught that they are unforgiven by a harsh god; they are wracked with guilt and shame, and yet still earnestly believe. I find that a real spiritual rift.
The second group, who are recovering from rebellion against religion, were taught in youth about the big punishing daddy in the sky. They then feel so unredeemable that they rebel against God. If we feel that God is who we are, then we’re obviously in rebellion against ourselves, and then the old adage that a house divided against itself cannot stand becomes very true.
Then there are those recovering from God betrayal. A child’s consciousness is so clear, when it perceives mommy and daddy or anybody else, it is perceiving God. If something happens that teaches a child that the universe isn’t friendly, then they find themselves feeling betrayed by God. For example, someone I know was molested by a teacher in first grade. She feels really betrayed by God. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic; it can be just not having your prayers answered or losing your dog.
Many of us are recovering from scientific materialism. Our educational institutions are all based on scientific materialism. The more we’re educated in that, the less we have a connection with the divine. Recovering from scientific materialism involves learning that scientific methodology as developed in the last couple of centuries is a wonderful tool for dealing with the material world, but next to useless in dealing with God.
And finally, recovering from nothingness. We are so conditioned in our marketing culture to project our desires outward into the external world. We are constantly bombarded by advertising that says you have to conform to a certain standard to be okay. We have the problem of nothingness because there are no higher values in the culture. It’s only what’s cool and fun, the values of materialism and popularity.
Transformation: If a reader recognized themselves in one of these descriptions, how might they start recovery?
Sibcy: Become aware of how your rift feels in your body, when it came and what purpose it serves in your life. Then do all you can to become friends with that part of you; learn to be lovingly gentle with it. We have to arrest the tendency to change it. This seems contradictory, I know; we were all reared to "fix" ourselves, to "get better." But "fixing" doesn’t work; the minute we try to fix the rift, we are simply reinforcing our belief that we are not okay just as we are. In spirit the only reality that really matters we are perfect manifestations of the one light. There is no problem with us. That’s the great mystery of spiritual healing: as a child on the farm I was occasionally called upon to midwife the birth of a baby calf. I soon learned that pulling and prodding only hindered the birth. The real work in birthing is done by nature. All I could really do was relax and reassure the mother, and facilitate in whatever way I could. Love was the main ingredient, I have come to believe.
So I recommend that you treat yourself the way I learned to treat those cows and calves with love, awareness, and the confidence that you’ll know what to do when the time is right to heal your rift and have your own birth.
Transformation: I’m reminded of your motto at your holistic health center, Integrated Healing Arts: "All healing is self-healing."
Sibcy: The highest healing is when people begin the process of healing themselves, stepping out of what I call the magic fix phase, hoping we can get fixed immediately. It’s the wounds that cannot be easily healed that bring us into ourselves. By working with that wound as a koan or a mystical phrase that we don’t quite understand, whether it’s a body symptom or an emotional symptom, it begins to offer up treasures.
Whenever we find ourselves with pain that won’t go away by all the means we try, then we begin this journey inward to ourselves, and from our center we find our interconnectedness with all of life. From that interconnectedness we begin to discover our real relationship with God, and find the healing that comes with that.
Transformation: What are some of the common obstacles to healing the rift with God?
Sibcy: The most common is trying to be "good." I used to teach writing and literature, and the first question students asked me was, "What do you want?" I would answer, "I want you to learn how to think." They didn’t like my response. They wanted a formula for pleasing me so they could get an A.
It’s the same problem that we have on the spiritual path. We try to follow the rules and be self-righteously good, which is just another form of separation from the divine. We’re not authentically engaging myself in the process; we’re really trying to strike a deal. We’re trying to do what we’ve been taught in our culture, to find out what the teacher wants, and give it to them. That isn’t an education, nor is it healing a rift with God.
Another obstacle is "spiritual bypass," trying to find the fastest way to fix ourselves. There’s a Zen Buddhist story about the American asking the Zen master how long it will take to become enlightened and being told seven years or so. The American says, "I am a university graduate, I’m very good at this, I can work day and night." The master replies, "Okay. For you, 50 years." We want to get there fast by bypassing our problems and difficult feelings.
One of the most important obstacles is surrender: really letting go and trusting. All of us are trained to be responsible: hold down this job, make this amount of money, pay the insurance policies, plan for retirement, all of which takes our attention out into the world and away from ourselves. On a spiritual path, sooner or later, we have to have faith and trust that if we let go, that we’re going to be taken care of. That’s scary, because we have been trained in scientific materialism to think that the brain is our only friend and guide. As long as we rely totally on our own brain we do not surrender, or encounter the fruits of surrender.
Transformation: What are the fruits of surrender?
Sibcy: Well, I’ll speak from my own experience. I go through this every day because my mind gets really busy trying to control my life. Then I have to let go. When I release the fear I feel joy and a sense of adventure, of being carried benevolently along my path of life to my best and highest good. Our ego puts its faith in things rather than God and says, "I’m feeling insecure. Hmmm, let me add up my bank statements and look at my projections for the next 30 years and see if my insurance is paid up. Phew, now I’m okay." And, of course, we’re not okay in that way: somebody close to us suddenly dies, we get sick, or the company we’ve put our faith in goes down the tubes. When we let go of trying to control our lives, a deep sense of security arises, the sense of being a rightful person on a rightful path, that there’s a power greater than ourselves that’s guiding us and loving us.
That’s what I call healing the rift. I do that just about every day. That’s my spiritual practice, becoming aware of how I’m not surrendered, and letting go.
Transformation: What you seem to be saying, both in this interview and in Healing Your Rift with God, is that the rift with God goes hand in hand with rifts with our deeper, core selves. Is this so?
Sibcy: Yes. I don’t see how it could be otherwise, because my experience of life is we can’t be separate from the whole. So, in short, any disconnection I have with my own heart and soul disconnects me from the whole. Any separation, anywhere, is separation from God.
Transformation: And working from that, it means that whenever we reconnect with our deepest selves, we are also reconnecting with spirit and vice versa.
Sibcy: Yes. I find that when I’m suffering, if I can feel my wound and go into it deeply enough, then I go through it and reconnect with spirit. The other way I deal with my suffering is to just go directly to spirit, and when I reconnect with spirit in the big tent, then I find that when I turn back to my wound or hurt, it now has a larger context, and I have a different way of looking at it. The hurt may still be there, but I’m not all hurt; there’s a bigger place.
Transformation: Given that healing the rift with God is a life-long journey, I’m curious what the growing edge is in your own healing process.
Sibcy: I’m still learning how to be a single person in all senses of the word after being divorced for three years. I’ve been partnered with a woman during most of my "spiritually awake" life. Before my divorce I had no practical experience about the different spiritual doors available when one is single. In this three years I’ve experienced spiritual growth I couldn’t have had in relationship. There was a way in partnership that I couldn’t help but depend on that other person and their love. Now I have to depend on God, and so much of the love that went to a partner now goes to God. And so much of the love from God comes directly to me, rather than going through retail, as I like to say.
Transformation: You’re getting it wholesale! Direct from the manufacturer!
Sibcy: Exactly! It’s like going wholesale rather than retail for love and connection. Before, no matter how intense my spiritual practice, I relied on my partner for many of the love needs that I must now share with God. I had no idea how wonderful and euphoric that can be! And how painful, sorrowful, and lonely as well. I have found this new love experience with God very intense, much more so than when I was partnered. No one who has truly surrendered to God has any choice but to follow God’s will, and that is where I am working on the rift just now: total, absolute surrender. My own father’s suicide gave me a wound in terms of not trusting or having faith that people will be there, so being alone in this time in my life is really the cutting edge, I guess, and it’s wonderful.
Transformation: Looking back over your whole journey, Paul, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
Sibcy: That I’m loved. When you’re "in" love, you’re in God, and God is within you. Once you know that you don’t have to earn love or your place in the world, then all you really need to do is your job: What am I here for? It’s a process I go through a lot, turning my life over to God first thing in the morning and saying, "Well, God, this is your life, so what would you like to do with it today?" There’s a surrender and a peace because I know that the answer can only come from deep within myself. If there’s something in me that says, "Oh, I can’t do that," or I’m scared, then I know that I’ve got a rift to work with. So just knowing that I’m loved is the most important thing.
Transformation: What, in closing, would you most like to say to the readers of Personal Transformation?
Sibcy: Begin the journey where you are, wherever you are suffering. Look into your own life, and begin investigating that suffering. Let your suffering lead you to wholeness. Not by giving in to the suffering and losing yourself in it, but treating it like a koan: what’s this about? what’s the cause of this suffering? And follow it, follow the path that leads you toward healing. Remember that you are loved and you’re one with the whole; it is only illusion that we’re separate and isolated. Just follow that path to healing. That’s what my heart says.