Get to know the mental psychologist and painter Jana Rentzel

EJana Rentzel has had an artistic flair since she was a child. She loved painting and drawing.

But she also loved God.

Her Protestant family attended church every Sunday in their hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

“It really didn’t address my deeper spiritual questions. And so I actually moved away from the Church when I got into college,” she says.

After earning a Fine Art degree from Memphis College of Art, she relocated to Dallas to work as lead illustrator for Neiman Marcus’ national advertising. She could work remotely, so she decided to move into a small cabin in Colorado. There she was introduced to Buddhism.

Nestled in the mountains, she began a seven-year apprenticeship in Ageless Wisdom Teachings with Greg Tzinberg.

“I studied and practiced Buddhism during this time, not with any intention of becoming a Buddhist, just because it really spoke to my deeper spiritual quest,” she says.

Rentzel still speaks to Tzinberg and his wife every week.

In 1992 she began her master’s degree in transpersonal psychology and began training as a counselor. She eventually earned her PhD in psycho-oncology and served as a chaplain at Baylor University Medical Center.

Rentzel, who still paints, now teaches at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, which has certification in spiritual direction, along with her online retreat program, Luminaries.

What is spiritual psychology and how is it different from traditional psychology?

The most prevalent schools of psychology are cognitive behavioral psychology. So let’s really look at our cognitions, how we think, how our thoughts affect our behavior. And while all of this is tremendously wonderful and really important, there is another dimension to who we are and that is our spiritual nature. How we perceive ourselves on a deeper level – some people would even consider it our immortal level – who we were before we were born, who will be after we die. And a spiritual source, whether we call that God or ultimate reality, or Buddha, nature or whatever we call that deeper aspect of who we really are, that has a tremendous impact on people’s lives and their perception of it. Being able to work with people using both toolboxes has always been so important.

Do your courses cover the major religions?

I follow some of the most important mystical teachers of all ages. So right now I’m teaching a course based on Sufism, the mystical arm of Islam, and many corresponding similarities with Christianity and Judaism. On the surface, things can look very different. But when you get to the core teachings and principles, they all start to look a lot alike, and it’s that deeper core that I really draw from.

How are your SMU courses different from the Luminaries courses?

Well they are personal which I really love. And this is set up for professionals, people who are already in the field of theology or some kind of ministry. But it’s set up so that people attend three intense weekends a year for three years.

are you still painting

I have a studio in my house. I no longer do portrait commissions because my time became so limited that I decided if I didn’t have that much time to paint I would rather paint what I wanted to paint. And I have plans for a book I want to write. Much of what you and I have talked about about our spiritual unfolding I would like to illustrate with painting as well. So this is going to be a project that will probably keep me busy and out of trouble for years to come.

How has your own spirituality changed?

I like to think that I am a good teacher, that I learn as much as I teach. So I think that’s a big part of it. I have become much more spiritual. I am married and have three stepdaughters. I have six grandchildren. I have two golden Doodle puppies who are like my four legged children. So I have a really fulfilling life. But what I’ve really learned, which means so much to me, is how to integrate my outer, more mundane life with my inner spiritual life so that they aren’t two separate things. I love that I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I can almost always have one foot in both worlds. It allows me to bring much more love and compassion and peace and calm into my life and hopefully into the world around me as well.

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