Spiritual Psychology & Religion

Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire . . . is kindled within the seeker’s heart . . . will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being.

Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah

Beware! Your clinging-to-ego is greater than yourself; Pay heed! Your emotions are stronger than yourself. . . . Your habitual thought is more characteristic than yourself; Your ceaseless mental activity is more frantic than yourself.

Buddhism, Milarepa

Knowledge is a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it.

Islamic Hadith

What is spirituality and what is religion, and what is the place of each in our lives?

In these times of unsettling transition into a global society under conditions often tenuous, fragile, and unpredictable, the age-old human quest for meaning and connectedness has acquired a new sense of urgency. Globalization has brought our lives closer, connecting us to one another and the world, yet also facing us with bewildering complexity. Our different and often competing worldviews and philosophies are brought face to face, deepening further the sense of uncertainty, and bringing about a defensive ideological hardening of boundaries.

How can we find meaning that reconciles our differences and unites us in our diversity; that respects our individual paths to knowledge, love, and a responsible exercise of will, while connecting us all into a human family with shared values and strivings?

In psychology and the helping professions, there is a growing recognition of the relationship between spirituality and healing. The search for meaning and for wholesome connections, described by Thomas Moore as spirit and soul, are central to living a healthy and integrated life. Spirit has been described as that aspect of the human being that seems to be eternally striving to transcend itself and bring greater meaning and coherence to life. Soul has been described as that aspect which seeks groundedness in depth relatedness with all life beyond immediate pragmatic needs and interests. Trauma and crisis may be the result of a breakdown in either spiritual striving or soulful relatedness. Even if trauma is the result of physical suffering, it still prompts seeking healing through soul and/or spirit. Overall, counseling and psychotherapeutic practice now recognizes that being able to bring about a personal and immediate experience of the human soul and spirit is the foundation of effective healing.

What is the place of religion in these processes?

We have seen religious fundamentalism stunt and warp deeply the human spiritual quest. Yet, we have also seen religion bring profound breadth and depth of understanding of the nature of a human being and the nature of life. The challenge seems to be to differentiate between the purpose of religious meaning and structure, and the history of the rise and decline of world religious traditions.

Traditions in religion, like traditions in science, have to be periodically re-thought as they tend to fossilize, in order to preserve these fundamentally ennobling human activities and their ability to foster deeper understanding, love, and the responsible exercise of will.