By May 30, 2010 1 Comments

On Integrative Healing, Spirituality and Religion

Working as an individual and couples’ psychotherapist has afforded me such an opportunity to appreciate the role of spiritual self-understanding in people’s lives. Interestingly, it is not necessarily readily available for religious people any more than it is for agnostics. So pervasive have become the material definitions of life, that people (religious or not) tend to define themselves by their physical aspects and personal mannerisms; and to define success as a function of the incomes they can generate, the extent to which they can provide a comfortable lifestyle for their families, the social and professional status they attain, the fun and entertainment they can have, the educational degrees they have to show, the number of friends on Facebook they can boast. With such a standard for what constitutes the significance of a person, no wonder most people are plagued with anxiety, depression, unsettlingly competitive perceptions of their social environments, and struggles with self-esteem and confidence.

Photo by Amy Sahba

In our “age of anxiety”, one of the most powerful awakenings I have been privileged to witness again and again in my quiet back-yard office, is when a person discovers that their greatest value is in the fact that they are! Learning to be with ourselves, to experience that de-fault quiet core within, that sense of fullness and completeness that comes with quieting the mind and getting in touch with our hearts, with the wisdom and spiritual insight that speak when we listen… those are moments of empowerment worth millions.

It is such a joy to see a person’s face quiet and relax, and then light up with insight; to watch that person, who came all nervous and in pain, walk away lighter and with hope and confidence, that I always feel I am in the presence of a miracle…

Yet, I know it is not a miracle to access that power and sense of worth within. I know it to be the very purpose of life’s journey. I call it developing spiritual literacy – i.e. our understanding that life is primarily a spiritual event, and that all the forces that play out on the material plane, and all our struggles, can best be understood and governed from such a perspective.

As people discover that their mind is a much greater entity than their ever-chattering, ever fearful and demanding brain processing, they discover their deeper understanding, thought and imagination, and their faculty of inner vision. They realize they are not as much at the mercy of arbitrary life events as they used to feel. They realize they can feed and nourish their own souls, and begin to change their lives to make them more soulful. They also realize that there is a spirit within them that guides and seeks to transcend obstacles and discover new horizons.

Dost though think thyself only a puny form when within thee the whole universe is folded…

As people discover the universe hidden within, they see their struggles and problems in a whole different light, and begin to realize new possible solutions. They reframe their experience of life from that of ‘victims’ to that of authentic engagement. They may experience an awakening of the spirit of faith, which may inspire them to re-examine their spiritual or religious commitments, and enter into a new dialogue with the ethical, moral and spiritual teachings of world religions. Such a study of religion can provide well-articulated and comprehensive understanding of the human path to spiritual happiness.

I find it one of the most hopeful developments in social science that we are progressively seeing the emergence of spiritual psychology, i.e. a psychology that understands human well-being as a psycho-spiritual process, rather than simply as understanding and removing old traumas, and developing better coping skills. A cutting edge example of such an emergent spiritual psychological approach to well-being is the field of mindfulness, which draws on neurobiology, psychology and spirituality. Mindfulness studies are increasingly providing breakthrough new knowledge about the capacity of the human mind to chose to re-wire its own brain in the direction of much more functional and integrated inner governance.

Mindfulness-oriented psychotherapy, like the one I practice, helps people develop a whole new sense of the I that chooses what to do with its ego drives, and how to draw on its higher powers in order to meet life’s challenges.

Such contributions from the new (and still unrecognized) field of spiritual psychology moves people (both religious and agnostic) significantly closer to the goal of human happiness and well-being.

What, then, can be the potential distinctive role of religion in this process?

Of course, any meaningful conversation about the potential role of religion in human well-being would have to first acknowledge the fact that religions have far too often been the source of much repression, fear, and distrust of the ‘other’; and have thus not only hindered many people from attaining well-being, but have also been the cause of more divisiveness and hostility among human beings. But is that the true purpose of religion? Or is that rather the outcome of unfortunate but common human misinterpretations and misuses of religion, which continue even today, even among the most progressive religious orientations?

Essentially, every revealed religion in human history has described the most fundamental reality of a human being as a soul. It has pointed people on a path to recognizing their true reality as the soul, and setting out to know themselves as souls. Further, religions have had a lot to say about the enormous potential for human fulfillment as people choose to engage consciously in a mindful interaction between their own individuality and their inner vision.

Religions have consistently recognized the two potential capacities of the human individuality – the capacity for accomplishment, i.e. the latent talents waiting to be realized; and the capacity for inner change, i.e. the dual nature waiting to be drawn upon by a person’s moral and behavioral choices. (Check out that little gem, Henry Weil’s Drops from the ocean). They have encouraged people, through prayer and meditation, as well as through community life and service, to engage their inner vision into actualizing both their capacity for accomplishment and their capacity for inner change towards greater personal and collective wholesomeness.

So as people begin to discover their inner health and sense of non-contingent well-being, they may begin to re-examine religion as a source of a comprehensive philosophical and spiritual understanding of reality, as well as of coherent guidance toward a spiritually fulfilled life.

In my inner conversation between my own experience of life, that of my clients, which I share with them, my psychological understanding of health and the healing process, and my comprehensive search for meaning and coherence, I have found deep nurturance in the Baha’i understanding of the unified purpose of religion as a stronghold that guides, supports, confirms, and encourages the best efforts of our higher nature to transform ourselves, our communities, and our world. But more on that another time…

For now, may the spirit of health and healing infuse your day!


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1 Comment on "On Integrative Healing, Spirituality and Religion"

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  1. izzat ansari says:

    i love the fluidity with which you share the deep insights you have gained from your own personal work and the understanding of the sacred scriptures

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