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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Outside the Box

In everything you do . . .
prove yourselves innocent and straightforward,
children of God beyond reproach
in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation—
among whom you should shine like the stars of the sky.

—see Philippians 2:14–15

Catholic Psychotherapy  |  Spiritual Counsels  |  Books  |  About CSF

The Nine Dot Puzzle | The Real Box: Fraud and Games | Contempt of the World | Detachment from the World: Chastity, Modesty, and Humility | Summary

MANY years ago, especially in the 1960s, the Nine Dot Puzzle was popular in business circles for teaching a concept of creative thinking. The idea was that creativity could be enhanced if one were to step “outside” self-imposed presumptions of reality.

The puzzle consisted of nine dots arranged in a square with the challenge to connect all the dots with four straight, continuous lines, never lifting the pencil from the paper.




If you have never seen this puzzle before, consider it carefully before viewing the solution below.






The solution depends on drawing some of those lines outside the “box” defined by the nine dots themselves.


The Real Box

Although the Nine Dot Puzzle is just an intellectual puzzle, it symbolizes a deep psychological desire. So what might this desire be? What is the real box that we yearn to escape?

Well, that box is the “box” of creation fallen away from God and into sin.

And our dilemma is that, while we are bounded by this box, we cannot see out of it. We cannot pierce the veil of sin with science, technology, philosophy, or spirituality. No human effort can open the eyes of our own spiritual blindness.

While in the box we feel ignored, undervalued, and underprivileged. While in the box we are helpless, wretched creatures grasping for any illusion of power and control. While in the box we are enslaved to its fraud.

So what can we do? How can we find truth? How can we see God?


Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.


—John 14:9

Our only hope is Christ. To see Christ is not only to see the Father, but it is also to recognize the fraud of the world that enslaves us.


Jacques Lacan, a brilliant French psychoanalyst, taught that, in psychological terms, Jacques Lacan the social world is a fraud. In so far as the social world around us places constant demands upon us as individuals, Lacan called the social world “the Other,” and he expressed the truth of social fraud with a profound saying: “There is no Other of the Other.” [1] By this he meant that all of the meaning we attribute to our human creations, including language itself, has no value beyond its own limited self-reference. 

Interestingly enough, Genesis 2:19-20 essentially says the same thing when it tells the story about God bringing the “various wild animals and various birds of the air” to the man “to see what he would call them.” Note that God didn’t name the animals; He simply said that “whatever the man called each of them would be its name.” Here God gave the man the freedom to create language, a language guaranteed only by its own enunciation. 

Now, although Genesis speaks from the revealed religion of the Jewish tradition, and though Lacan was not religious [2] and spoke from the position of secular psychology, the essential point should be clear: no language—indeed, no human creation—has any absolute meaning. 


The world offers itself to us in full spectacle, but there is nothing to see, really, except deluded celebrities gloating in the fraud of self-importance.[3] Thus we have a world filled with


Advertising and entertainment industries that mesmerize us and our children into the deepest levels of self-deception, all in the guise of making us “feel good” while we ignore human dignity.

“Progressive” politicians don’t and can’t fulfill their empty promises of “hope” but instead lead us into a corrupt wasteland of self-gratification.

Educational systems forsake education for politically-correct brainwashing.

Health care systems manipulate our bodies with medications and technology and defile our dignity and our souls in the process.

“News” media forsake the noble ideal of objective reporting and brazenly distribute biased social propaganda.

Parents who don’t know how to parent and don’t even care that they don’t know.


Political activists use intolerance and bullying of others to demand tolerance for their own agenda.

And, yes, bishops, priests, deacons, and religious who refuse to defend the true faith but instead stay within the box of social fraud, playing its games to protect their own pride and to seek their own social status.


In the pure sense of the word, a “game” refers to a process of social interaction that depends on procedural rules to ensure that all participants know what to expect of each other. If you were playing chess and your opponent suddenly pulled out a gun and shot you, you would be at a clear disadvantage.

Therefore, because any participant interested only in the acquisition of power will dominate the others, games require rules of conduct to provide a certain fairness, so that true expertise, rather than raw force, should decide the outcome.

Accordingly, politics is a game. Business is a game. Warfare is a game. And, like it or not, even romance is a game; that is, because romance is not based in true love, romance is, in technical psychological terms, a game, and to play this game you must make yourself into an object and put yourself in competition with everyone else playing the same game.

In fact, everything within the box of social fraud is a game. Even those persons who can recognize the fraud around them and want to throw a wrench into the works—like political activists—are still playing a game.

There is no escape from fraud and game-playing by playing the game.

There is only one true escape: to stop playing the game and step outside the box. To understand what this entails, let’s begin with a concept that, in Latin, is called Contemptus Mundi.

Contempt of the World

Contemptus mundi, or “contempt of the world,” is not, as some people would say today, an outdated medieval concept.


Contemptus mundi does not mean to have disdain for sunrises and sunsets and swallows rollicking in the evening sky.


Contemptus mundi does not mean contempt for natural beauty.

Nor does contemptus mundi mean to nurture disgust and hatred for anything.

So why does Christian “contempt“ for the world have nothing to do with hatred? Well, Christianity is based in love, and to understand love we must be clear about the following:


Love has nothing to do with hatred for evil.


Love has nothing to do with fighting Satan and his agents with human power.

Love has nothing to do with trying to avoid hell.

Love, however, has everything to do with the desire for the good.

Contemptus mundi, therefore, is the Christian rejection of the world—the human social world, in all its vanity—and its futile attempt to hide from God and from His true love. Contemptus mundi is loving refusal to condone or participate in the world’s sins.


Likewise, the concept of contempt for the self (especially as used by Thomas à Kempis and Saint John of the Cross) does not mean self-loathing or self-condemnation, nor does it lead to self-punishment. It really means to set aside your self-interests so that you have the time and the inclination to pray for others and be a personal example to them, all in the interest of their spiritual good, and yet to develop your own talents as fully as possible, in spiritually healthy self-love, so that your growth might ultimately benefit the growth of others. 


If you don’t grasp this point right at the beginning of your spiritual quest, how will you ever make any spiritual progress? How will you ever fulfill the command of Christ to pray constantly (Luke 18:1), for example? How can you pray constantly when your head is filled with the world and all its cell phones, video games, television shows, movies, music, sports events, shopping, drugs, alcohol, and erotic activities [4]?


He said to them again, “I am going away and you will look for Me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.”
      So the Jews said, “He is not going to kill Himself, is He, because He said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?”
      He said to them, “You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.”


—John 8:21–24

Detachment from the World

To step outside the box of social fraud, therefore, requires detachment from the human world in all its vanity. Accordingly, detachment from the world shouldn’t be considered as a spiritual work in the negative sense—that is, as whatever you do to avoid something. Instead, it should be considered in the positive sense as whatever you do to achieve something good. 


Consider that Christ emptied [5] Himself to come into the world—right into the midst of our wretchedness and pain—to free us from our enslavement to sin. Therefore, those who call themselves Christian should be willing to empty themselves of their pride of self and to enter into the pain of others, so that, through sacrifice and prayer, others might be healed from their sins.


Now, detachment from the world has several practical aspects: chastity, modesty, and humility.


As the full human response to divine love, chastity encompasses all the psychological, social, and physical consequences of accepting that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and in therefore distancing ourselves from—or, in scriptural language, dying to—the corrupt social world in which we all live, to prepare ourselves for holy service in the Kingdom of Heaven.


Chastity is not the repression of sexuality, it is the purifying transformation of desire into love.

If you take the TWELVE FRUITS of the Holy Spirit—Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Longanimity (forbearance), Goodness, Benignity (kindness), Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continence, and Chastity—and mix them together, you get a fruit salad called mutual cooperation. Mutual cooperation is the essence of Christian life. And chastity is a core ingredient in that recipe. You simply cannot have mutual cooperation if you are always making others into objects for your personal pleasure.


In a practical sense, chastity refers to abstinence from all sexual activity which is not open to procreation between a man and a woman within the indissoluble bond of Holy Matrimony. In other words, if you are living in the man-woman bond of Holy Matrimony, to live a holy lifestyle it is necessary to abstain from all sexual activity that is not ordered to procreation. If you’re not living in the man-woman bond of Holy Matrimony, to live a holy lifestyle it is necessary to abstain from all sexual activity.

F YOU STAY within the box, you will be enslaved to the exuberant fantasy that your aching throb of loneliness might be alleviated through someone’s body. But outside the box, in Christ, you can be for others a soul enrobed in chaste beauty, and you will be filled with all the fullness of real love.


Our bodies are meant to be chaste and modest temples of the Holy Spirit so that we can relate to others through our hearts with true love. Our bodies are not meant to be covered with the graffiti of tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), or made into works of “art” with fashionable costumes, piercings, hair dye, gaudy make up, shaven heads, or hostile punk hair styles. Our bodies are not meant to be defiled by making our reproductive organs into the equipment of a recreational sport. Nor are our bodies meant to be made into instruments of social acceptance, expressions of vanity and pride, or provocations to lust.


The Blessed Virgin herself is the model for all feminine modesty and humility. Because of her purity and humility, Mary was chosen to bear Our Lord, and, because of her love for the Divinity she carried within her, she maintained a demeanor of modesty for the rest of her life.

In a similar way, every Christian woman is called to see herself as a vessel of grace, treating with respectful humility the vessel of her reproductive functioning—which, being given by God the Father, is not something she possesses—and protecting the vessel of her entire body with the cloak of modesty.


Modest clothing, therefore, should cover the body with dignity rather than put it on display as an object. In this context, clothing can be immodest either because it is tight-fitting or because it exposes bare flesh. For women especially, tight-fitting clothing (including internationally ubiquitous blue jeans, T-shirts, and tank tops, along with athletic wear and swim “suits”), shorts, short skirts, low necklines, and bare shoulders serve one unspoken purpose: to incite lust. Just because certain styles of clothing (or lack of clothing) may be socially accepted does not prevent them from being “weapons for wickedness”—sins of pride and lust, and grave offenses to the very holiness we pledged to seek and defend in our baptismal vows.


Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness.


— Romans 6:12–13

Endeavor, then, to develop a “modesty of the eye” that does not seek to be “seen” in the world or to “see” others as mere objects for your own pleasure. 

F YOU STAY within the box, your life will be enslaved to lust and to the manipulation of others for your own pleasure, status, and power. But outside the box, in Christ, you will find the ability to soul for other souls [6] in righteousness.


Encompassed within the virtue of humility are three different graces that allow you to live a genuine Christian life. These are the graces


to set aside your attempts to make yourself feel “special” through the acceptance and admiration of others;


to overcome your repugnance to feeling emotionally hurt by others;

to seek the good of others in all things, setting aside all competition, even at your own expense.

Still, let’s be careful that this is done in a psychologically healthy manner.

First, it’s good when our work is recognized and appreciated; the spiritual point is that we shouldn’t crave this admiration as an aspect of a personal identity, but that we endeavor to accept all benefits of our work in praise of Christ, who emptied Himself for our sake, who suffered for us, who died on a cross for us, and in whose service we do our work. But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).

Second, we all feel hurt when someone insults us; still, the spiritual point is that we don’t need to build up psychological defenses to protect ourselves from the pain of being insulted if only, even in our deepest hurt, we always endeavor to trust in Christ, who alone will protect us from all danger. Be not afraid, as Jesus says repetitively throughout the Gospels.

Finally, although “placing others first” runs counter to natural self-preservation, the spiritual point is that, if we really trust in God, not only can we stop competing with others to satisfy our pride but also we can endeavor to notice the needs of others, looking on others with compassion, in the hope that they might be saved from damnation because of their own desperate obsession with self-preservation. Nevertheless, our concern for others must not take on a form of masochism or self-defilement; in all of our charity to others we must never relinquish the responsibility of developing our talents to the fullest, so that we can serve Christ effectively and joyfully, in pure love.

To be taken with love for a soul, God does not look on its greatness, but on the greatness of its humility.

—St. John of the Cross
The Sayings of Light and Love, 103

F YOU STAY within the box, your life will be enslaved to pride and to the unremitting defense of your own ego. But outside the box, in Christ, you will find true peace in service to others.


What a waste to stay in the box and play the games that the world plays in its spiritual blindness and ignorance of sin! What a waste to cling to your “self” and its attachments to the world! What a waste to refuse to empty your “self” in Christ! What a waste to renounce the Cross by filling yourself with the world’s frivolity and vanity, thus joining a God-forsaking culture in hiding its pain behind illusions where truth can never reach!


Who wrote this web page?



1. Lacan, Jacques. “The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian unconscious.” In Écrits: A selection (Alan Sheridan, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton, 1977, pp. 310-311:
    “Any statement of authority has no other guarantee than its very enunciation, and it is pointless for it to seek it in another signifier, which could not appear outside this locus in any way. Which is what I mean when I say that no metalanguage can be spoken, or, more aphoristically, that there is no Other of the Other.”

2. Lacan, at least, did not attempt to subvert religion like Freud, nor did he try to “psychologize” religion like Jung and Rank. Lacan simply respected the fact that psychoanalysis could say nothing meaningful about religion. See “The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian unconscious.” In Écrits: A selection (Alan Sheridan, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton, 1977, p. 316:
    “We [psychoanalysts] are answerable to no ultimate truth; we are neither for nor against any particular religion.”

3. See Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

4. Eroticism is not love, it’s desire, pure and simple. If it were love, we wouldn’t have AIDS and venereal diseases, would we? Even in Holy Matrimony sexual activity between a man and a woman is more often than not just a form of desire—what John the Evangelist calls “sensual lust.” Nevertheless, in true matrimony a man and a woman can raise their sexual activity to the level of the holy when sexual union ratifies their mutual desire for mystical union with God.

5. “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). The Greek word translated here as “empty” is kenosis, a great mystery that illustrates the process of divine love seen not just in the Incarnation but also in the giving of the Holy Spirit. And, behind all of this, stands God’s emptying of Himself in His act of creation, a pure act of love.

6. Jacques Lacan, “God and the Jouissance of Woman.” In Mitchell, J. & Rose, J. (Eds.), Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985). See p. 155:
    “In effect, as long as soul souls for soul there is no sex in the affair.”


Recommended Reading
A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites (including this webpage) is now available at your fingertips in book form.


Healing by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. explains how psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury. But if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts. Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

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