When psychology, neuroscience and spirituality connect, it’s an ultimate trifecta of interest for me. That’s exactly what Daniel Lieberman offers in his 2022 book Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind. Dr Lieberman is a professor and vice chair for clinical affairs in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at George Washington University. He’s also a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and has published over 50 scientific reports on behavioural science. In his most recent book, he unpacks both the potential and the danger of engaging the unconscious part of the human brain.
As a self-described Christian mystic, I devoured Lieberman’s insights, using Jung as his teacher, on how the two parts of the human mind (ego and unconscious) are different, yet essential for experiencing the fullness of human life. To this point, I have struggled to articulate how Christian mystical practices are connected to psychology and neuroscience. This book provided the vocabulary and understanding I was missing. In the remainder of this blog, I will connect what I learned about the unconscious from Lieberman with two common Christian mystical practices.
A Few Definitions
Let’s level set this conversation with a few definitions. In a podcast interview about Spellbound, Dr. Lieberman defined unconscious as “all of the activity of the brain that you’re unaware of.” He described ego as consciousness “because it’s the part of the mind that you’re aware of.” Key differences between these two parts of the human mind include 1) ego having significantly less processing power than the unconscious 2) ego not being able to supply mental energy the way the unconscious can 3) the unconscious being responsible for the things we value most in life: love, friendship, inspiration, compassion and 4) the unconscious housing our shadow side. Throughout Spellbound, Lieberman explains how strengthening and accessing both parts of our mind together is essential to achieving individualization and eventually transcendence.
As I read through Spellbound, the parallels with Christian mystical practices were abundant. For the purposes of this essay, I’ll define Christian Mysticism via one of the most cited authors on the topic, Bernard McGinn. He defines Christian mysticism as “a special consciousness of the presence of God that by definition exceeds description and results in a transformation of the subject who receives it”  With these definitions in mind, let’s take a look at how the practice of Lectio Divina and breath prayer can serve as portals to access the power of human unconsciousness and the Divine Spirit of God.
Lieberman suggests certain practices that aid the human mind in accessing the power of the unconscious and integrating it with the ego such as contemplating symbols from tarot cards and mystical numbers. For some believers this may evoke feelings of fear due to association of such tools with the occult, but Christian mystics have been doing the very same thing with Holy Scripture for centuries through a practice called Lectio Divina (the Divine Reading). Rather than engaging the Bible through the ego (or rational thought), Lectio Divina invites the reader to engage with the text via the unconscious mind and the Spirit of God. This practice involves the slow prayerful reading of text several times, not focusing on the literal meaning of the text, but on how it resonates with the reader and what images, experiences or insights it invokes.
[The] goal was not to finish a passage, but to enter prayerfully into its depths by dwelling on a sentence, a phrase, or even a word – mulling over it, ruminating on it, allowing it to sink into their being and resonate on many levels of meaning. 
The similarity between Lectio Divina and reading tarot cards is stunning. The only difference being the subject of what is being contemplated. In my personal experience, meditating on scripture in this manner always brings up greater connection, insight and interpretation. I now understand that is because it is engaging my subconscious in a way that a rational reading does not.
Another tool that Lieberman suggests for engaging the unconscious is meditation and mindfulness. Again, believers may be skeptical of such practices because of their association to Eastern religions, but the Bible invites us to meditate on the Word of God and be still in His presence. Christians can receive the same benefits of traditional meditation that Liebermann describes by meditating on the Word of God or focusing on the very breath God breathed into us in creation.
Spellbound provided a deep dive into the mysterious workings of the human mind and provided me with scientific language to explain why Christian mystical practices like Lectio Divina and Breath Prayer have become such a powerful part of both my spiritual and creative development. I eagerly anticipate learning more about ways that ancient practices are more relevant than ever to unlocking the potential of human beings and connecting us ever deeper to Spirit of God.
 Simphiwe, “Ep 1 of 7: Secrets of the Unconscious Mind with Dr Daniel Z. Lieberman,” CliffCentral (blog), October 7, 2022, https://cliffcentral.com/brain-brand-show/ep-1-of-7-secrets-of-the-unconscious-mind-with-dr-daniel-z-lieberman/.
 Daniel Z. Lieberman MD, Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind (Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2022), 14.d
 Lieberman, 16.
 Julia A. Lamm, The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism, 1. Aufl., 1, Wiley-Blackwell Companions to Religion (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 30, https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118232736.
 Louise Nelstrop and Kevin Magill, Christian Mysticism: An Introduction to Contemporary Theoretical Approaches, 1st, 1st edition. ed. (London: Routledge, 2009), 131, https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315571881.