Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
.
>>   Books
> add tags
Abstract:
Explores what is the nature of human reality, the purpose of human life, transcendence, and whether we have free will, using case histories, in-depth analysis, and practical examples. First 3 chapters only.
Notes:
Chapters 1-3 of this book were posted online at the publisher's website, still online at archive.org.

Parts of this book can be read online at google books.


The Psychology of Spirituality:
From Divided Self to Integrated Self

by Hossain Danesh

Sterling Publishers, 2000
Contents
About
Chapter 1: Basic Questions
Chapter 2: In Search of Meaning: The Case of Carol
Chapter 3: Towards a Psychology of Spirituality

About

"Having freed itself from the chains and locked gates of the asylums, having replaced witchcraft with analytic insight, and having refined the crude alchemy of the past to a substansive understanding of the chemistry of the brain, modern psychology is now ready to focus on the spiritual dimension of human reality."

This book is written for those who ask difficult questions: What is the nature of human reality? What is the purpose of human life? What is love? What is reality? What is the secret of happiness? Do we have free will? Is transcendence real?

Through case histories, in-depth analysis, and practical examples, The Psychology of Spirituality offers new ways of addressing these and other important questions. The Psychology of Spirituality demonstrates that life can, in fact, be good, happy, and fruitful, and that we human beings are, indeed, noble beings only if we knew.

About the Author

Dr. Danesh is Rector of Landegg Academy, an international private university in Switzerland. He is a writer and an international consultant with over thirty years of experience in the fields of psychiatry and family medicine, community development, ethics, and world order studies. His areas of research and expertise include the psychology of spirituality, anger and violence, marriage and family, cross-cultural issues, death and dying, and consultation and conflict resolution.

In 1985, after being elected to the post of Secretary-General of the Bahá'í Community of Canada, Dr. Danesh left his academic position as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa in order to dedicate himself to work in the areas of peace, human rights, the plight of refugees, conflict resolution, and community development. In 1994 Dr. Danesh resumed his academic career at Landegg Academy

The Psychology of Spirituality, now being reprinted in both English and Chinese, is one of four books by Dr. Danesh. His other books are: The Violence-Free Society: A Gift for Our Children; The Violence-Free Family: Building Block of a Peaceful Civilization; and Unity: The Creative Foundation of Peace. He presently has five other books in preparation on the themes of violence, marriage and family, consultation and conflict resolution, as well as a book for children on death and dying entitled The Mysterious Case of the I.W.'s.

As an international speaker and consultant, Dr. Danesh has addressed many audiences at numerous universities and public forums throughout North, Central, and South America, Europe, Russia, India, Malaysia, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and China. In addition, he has produced several television programs on the themes of marriage, family, and violence.

Section One: Beginnings

Chapter One:

Basic Questions

Forty years ago on the first day of my training to become a physician, I was assigned to the emergency room. Our medical school had a six year program that combined pre-medical and medical training. The students had just finished high school, and many of us were quite young. I was sixteen.

Moments after I arrived in the emergency room, an ambulance brought in five members of one family, ranging in age from fourteen to eighty-one, all suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. In the urgent atmosphere of the emergency room, everyone was given a responsibility, and mine was to administer oxygen, give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and do whatever else might be necessary by following the example of the physician next to me who was working on another victim. Three hours later, after an intense experience that seemed to last a lifetime, we stopped. All five patients were dead. I was totally numb, unable and unwilling to think about this, my first medical experience. However, my inactivity was not destined to last for long. Several more patients were brought in, and I was given the task of cleaning, under a nurse's supervision, the severely lacerated, bloodstained face of a young bicycle accident victim to prepare him for examination by the doctor. As I gently and cautiously worked the blood and debris away from the young man's face, I realized with horror that he was one of my best friends. Fear and pain engulfed me, but I had to continue to fulfill my responsibility. I was deeply relieved when he uttered his first words and it became clear he would recover.

Later that afternoon a number of us gathered to share our first day's experience as medical students. Many of our experiences were dramatic, or at least so they seemed. One of my classmates had had a particularly unusual experience. He had been given the task of taking the vital signs (pulse, respiration, temperature) of a number of patients. One of his patients was from a nomadic tribe and had never been in a hospital. My friend had placed a thermometer in the patient's mouth and left him briefly to speak with the patient in the next bed. When he returned, the thermometer was gone. The tribesman had simply eaten it. The nurses and doctors immediately began to treat him for mercury poisoning and gave the bewildered student the task of separating the whites of many eggs to be fed to the patient as part of the treatment.

When I reflected on these events, I realized they were more than purely medical happenings. Those who had died of carbon monoxide poisoning were also victims of poverty and ignorance. Their deaths brought the realities of life and death very close to me. I realized how easy it was to die and how preventable their deaths might have been. The injustice of it all and the knowledge that these deaths need not have happened made me angry. The bicycle accident victim aroused in me yet another feeling, the fear of losing loved ones. I began to think of all those whom I loved and who could easily get injured, fall ill, or die. Finally, the case of the tribesman caused feelings of embarrassment. The incident clearly showed the immense gulf that can exist between people. This gap, resulting primarily from differences in education and life experience, made my novice friend so unaware of the need to communicate with another human being that he simply assumed everyone knew what was obvious to him. I would probably have done the same thing under similar circumstances. Though I had always believed that in reality we are all one, I saw that in practice we can still be quite far apart.

In the years since, many such events have occurred in my practice as a physician and as a psychiatrist, dealing with some of the crucial issues of concern to us all. Cardinal among these are the issues of life and death; followed closely by the quest for happiness, love, and acceptance; the fear of pain, illness, loss, and rejection; and such concerns as the purpose of life, the nature of relationships and the mystery of suffering. The list goes on, and I have come to the conclusion that human concerns are exceedingly diverse and virtually limitless.

All these concerns, however, can be classified into two groups: those that involve physical survival, and those concerned with the purpose of existence. The former group motivates us to feed, protect, and shelter ourselves. The latter group challenges us to find purpose and meaning in all that we do. One connects us to the animal world and reminds us of our biological heritage; the other points to our spiritual nature and its significant role in our lives. In fact, without meaning and purpose, life becomes extremely painful, an unwanted and at times intolerable burden. Healing professionals have long known that many suicides and even homicides take place in the context of meaningless, aimless lives.


One morning several years ago, I was called to the neurosurgery ward for a psychiatric consultation. There I encountered a middle-aged man sitting in bed, bewildered yet somehow bemused. He told me that all his life he had lived as a loner. He had never married because he could not find anyone willing to marry him. He had not done well in school, and had not continued his studies after high school. He secured a simple job and lived (as he described it) an uneventful, boring, purposeless life. In the fifty-fifth year of his life, he decided that there was no reason for him to continue living. As far as he was concerned, his life had been a miserable, meaningless burden, and he decided to kill himself.

This decision had created a certain degree of excitement and sense of anticipation in him. He had always viewed himself as a complete failure, but this time he planned to be successful. He devised his suicide in a way that appeared foolproof. After doing some thinking and research he decided that the surest method would be to put a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. He bought a gun and did just that. To his utter amazement, however, not only did he not die, but he did not even severely damage his brain. The bullet had lodged between the two hemispheres of his brain without causing any apparent lasting or significant damage. As he recalled this bizarre tale, he smiled and said, ``Once a loser, always a loser.''

In my subsequent work with this man it became evident that he was very kind. In fact, he considered kindness to be his greatest quality, and having faced death he lost his shyness in admitting that he was in fact a considerate, kind, and loving person. However, he had always considered these qualities to be of secondary value to those of aggressiveness, drive, forcefulness, and success, which he felt he did not possess. He was, in many ways, reflecting the value system of our society and what that society considers to be important signs of worth, prestige, and success. After fifty-five years of mere survival and an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he decided to do volunteer work at the hospital and thereby gave a purpose to his life. He discovered his own spiritual dimension.

We all possess a spiritual dimension. Human nature is distinct from that of the animal by virtue of its special spiritual qualities. Although humans are physically similar to animals, we become truly human when our biological and instinctual capacities become the means through which we live lives of knowledge, love, reflection, search, and purpose, and we discover our humanity when we begin to search for answers to many challenging questions: Why are we here? How did we get here? Where are we going from here? What is the nature of our minds, feelings, and thoughts? What is the nature of human love and how is it related to our relationships? Is there a Creator, life after death, a purpose in all that happens in our lives?

One of my patients, Carol, single-handedly focused my attention on all such questions.

Chapter Two:

In Search of Meaning: The Case of Carol
A Case Study

Carol, a thirty-five-year-old married mother of a four-year-old son, asked for help in dealing with her deep distress over her serious illness. Some four years earlier, while she was still breastfeeding her son, her physician telephoned to inform her that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The shock of the diagnosis and the manner in which her doctor informed her made Carol very angry, fearful, and depressed. She was angry not only because of her illness but also because she believed her physician had conveyed the diagnosis in an inhumane manner. She felt betrayed not only by God but also by her fellow human beings. In many ways she felt helpless and alone. She believed her very existence was in jeopardy and that there was little she could do about her situation. Her fear subsided somewhat when she was assured by her physicians and surgeons that with a mastectomy and a course of anticancer drugs she would be cured. She would be able to continue her life in an ``almost normal'' manner. Being a highly educated person and placing a lot of importance on the ``scientific,'' Carol felt reassured about her future and underwent a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. In the process she lost her hair and was acutely sick and exhausted, all of which made her miserable. But she considered this worthwhile because she believed the outcome would mean freedom from cancer.

During this period, Carol had several transitory thoughts about God, death, and life after death, but she did not spend much time pondering such issues. As far as she was concerned, death meant the end of her existence, nothing less and nothing more; and if God existed, it did not matter much as far as her life and death were concerned. So Carol continued to focus on her cure and avoided thinking about death and other related issues.

After two years of treatment, her cancer reappeared. The promised cure had not taken place. Instead, her cancer had spread. This turn of events put Carol in an unenviable position. She felt totally betrayed. Science had failed her. In her opinion, the medical profession had lied to her, and she was totally alone. Nonetheless, she returned to her physician for possible new forms of assistance. He told her the treatment would be more of the same, only with stronger, more debilitating drugs. The doctor also said that when she began to have pain, he would make sure that she would receive painkillers, tranquilizers and, if necessary, some psychological counselling.

In response to this news, Carol began exhaustive research into all aspects of cancer, its causes and cures. She read and became educated about most of the issues related to cancer, studied the relationship between cancer and emotions, diet and vitamins, and in particular Vitamin C. She studied alternative modes of treatment unavailable through medical institutions, and she sought advice of various other physicians and agencies with regard to her condition. She began to take megadoses of Vitamin C and other vitamin supplements. She changed her diet, stopped chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and decided to consult a psychiatrist about the emotional aspects of her illness.

It was at this time that Carol made an appointment to see me professionally. I found her to be extremely unhappy, distraught, disappointed, and angry. First, we had to deal with her anger towards the medical profession. I pointed out that physicians are, like herself, basically impotent in the face of death. Doctors also try to avoid death, and that is why most of them focus exclusively on curing the disease. When they fail, they focus on the physical comfort of their patients. Unfortunately, doctors often avoid dealing with related issues that accompany a serious illness, issues such as the purpose of life, the reason for suffering, or the nature of death. Many members of the medical profession feel physicians need not address the psychosocial or spiritual dimensions of illness.

Modern medicine has become, for the most part, a mechanistic and inhumane practice, focusing almost exclusively on the body and its diseases. It pays little attention to the psychological consequences of illness and still less to its spiritual dimensions. Patients who ask for assistance in either of these two areas are referred to psychiatrists and psychologists for psychological and emotional support, and to the clergy for spiritual support. This schism in patient care is highly unsatisfactory, especially for those facing their own death or the death of a loved one.

Carol and her family were in extreme crisis when our sessions began. She wanted to know what medical science could do for her, what she herself could do to control her disease, how she could prepare herself for the future, if there was anything in her past that had made her susceptible to cancer, and whether there were different forms of treatment not yet scientifically proven but reportedly effective. If, despite all her physician's efforts, as well as her own, she did not recover, she wanted to know how she should prepare herself for death. Moreover, she needed to know how she should prepare her young son, husband, and parents for her death.

One could object that most of these questions do not belong in the realm of ``legitimate'' medicine and psychiatry, that no member of the medical profession could possibly be competent to answer such questions, which extend beyond the domain of medicine to psychology, sociology, and religion. This objection is legitimate at one level, but before we completely dismiss the questions of this patient and those like her as inappropriate or irrelevant, it would be valuable to review her situation in a more integrated manner.

Carol's case was approached along these lines. We began by looking at all these issues simultaneously. In the course of subsequent sessions, it emerged that Carol was reared in a middle-class, conservative family. Her father was basically reserved and emotionally aloof, while her mother was overprotective and excessively critical. In spite of this emotional environment, her early years were uneventful. She was physically healthy and attractive, socially outgoing and likable, and intellectually superior and successful. She had done well at anything she tried. She attended church but derived little satisfaction from religion and was unable to integrate religious doctrines with her logical reasoning and thinking. Consequently, she gradually lost interest in religious concepts but retained an interest and affinity for religious music, architecture, and rituals. Her adolescence was relatively uncomplicated. During those years, she was gradually able to choose her own direction and to become more independent of her parents, especially in lifestyle. She became a socially conscious person, showing considerable concern for social and individual injustices. She held several jobs in the field of social services at hospitals and in the government.

In their marriage, Carol and her husband were able to deal successfully with the challenges of life until the diagnosis of cancer. The appearance of cancer (especially its metastasis two years later) caused serious disruption to their lives. Their views about themselves and the world were no longer sufficient to explain and deal with this crisis.

For Carol herself, the dilemma was even more devastating. She suddenly realized that not only was her life in jeopardy, she was also in danger of losing everyone¾her husband, son, parents, relatives, and friends. To her horror she found that she was not able to make any sense of these events. Faced with death, all that she had learned about life's challenges and threats and coping methods were inadequate. She began to read more books on cancer and its treatment, and also books on death, dying, and bereavement. She had many questions and actively tried to formulate a new framework within which her life, her disease, and her death would all be meaningful and understandable. Her attempts to do so met with considerable obstacles. Basically, the answers were neither forthcoming nor adequate. She fully understood the physical and medical aspects of her illness and began to search for physicians who would provide her with a type of treatment she felt was more appropriate. She did not hesitate to ask for consultations, explanations, and new treatments from her physicians.

However, in the emotional sphere she did better. She was able to understand and deal with her feelings of anger, fear, and sadness. She fully understood the psychological explanations of these emotional states, and she was able to identify the dynamics at work in her own case. Nonetheless, in spite of these insights, she remained dissatisfied. Detailed, complex, and seemingly plausible medical and psychological explanations did not satisfactorily explain the mystery of life and death to her nor did they answer her questions about the purpose of life, the meaning and purpose of human suffering, the wisdom of an untimely death, and similar issues.

These were, of course, spiritual questions that she ultimately had to answer for herself. Such tasks are enormously difficult and the individual in crisis requires help and encouragement to deal with them. In the context of regular and frequent interviews, help and encouragement can be provided, given the willingness of the physician or the therapist to discuss such matters, acknowledge their legitimacy, recognize their importance, and share with the patient information and experience that would clarify these issues.

Carol became wholeheartedly and enthusiastically involved in the process. She began to relax and embarked upon the all-important task of facing the ultimate¾her own death. Gradually she was able to understand and express her feelings about her own death. She did not back away from pondering her reality and the condition of that reality after death.

Naturally, she had hoped for a longer life. At first she bargained for more years, then months, and finally weeks. A noticeable change then occurred. She began to talk about her own death as not a very frightening event. She came to feel that her life had a purpose and would continue to be purposeful. She became more at ease with the whole situation, except that she still wanted to know more, especially about the condition of the human reality after death. Once again she followed her own approach to this matter and began to read many books on this topic. One day, when she had difficulty breathing and was exhausted, she said that it felt as though her body was a burden to her, and she thought that her reality was independent from her exhausted, diseased, and uncomfortable body. She was surprised at these feelings. She had never thought that she would come to believe that life had a spiritual as well as a physical dimension.

As her cancer spread and her physical health deteriorated, her understanding of her own life increased. One day she told me that as far as she was concerned she had a soul that was different and separate from her body. She was nevertheless very afraid to mention this to anybody. Her greatest fear was that her relatives and close friends would discount her understanding of her own spiritual reality. She feared they would analyze everything along psychological lines and discard her insights as wishful thinking in response to her illness and imminent death. In spite of this overwhelming possibility, she decided to share her views and thoughts with her relatives and friends and even went so far as to make those views and thoughts a part of plans for her funeral. To her relief, responses were extremely positive, and she was showered with encouraging affirmations.

Carol's case provides us with many challenges to our common understanding of human nature and our attitudes regarding the purpose of life. It poses questions regarding self-love, interpersonal relationships, human feelings of fear and anger, and finally those of life and death. It challenges our concepts of anxiety and depression and does not allow us to explain away the rich phenomena of our lives through biological and psychological explanations alone. It calls for answers to eternal questions about knowledge, love, freedom, justice, happiness, existence, and nonexistence.

These issues all belong to the spiritual domain which is addressed in the following section.

Chapter Three:

Towards a Psychology of Spirituality

In the case history just reviewed, several fundamental questions were raised, among them: What is true human nature? How do body and mind interact? Is there a soul, and, if so, what are its properties and characteristics? Is there an existence after death and if so, what kind of existence? And, finally, does spirituality have a reality and if so, what is it?

These questions have been with us for as long as we can trace back into human history. As early as a hundred thousand years ago, our ancestors had burial rituals, made amulets, and were concerned about death, evil spirits and forces beyond human comprehension. This was sixty thousand years before language was invented. In ancient times no distinctions were made between physical, psychological and spiritual experiences. Physical, psychological, and spiritual problems were identified as the work of the devil or acts of the gods, attributed to magic, exorcism, shamanism, punishment, and sacrifice.

At the dawn of civilization, in various ancient cultures, the belief in spirits and their influence on the hearts and minds of people was widespread. In the Bible we come across references to madness being caused as a punishment for disobeying God's com-mandments. For example, Saul has unusual childhood experiences, later becomes distraught, and finally commits suicide. In the Greek, Roman, Persian, Egyptian and Chinese cultures, popular belief in supernatural causes of mental disorders was widespread.

The concept of soul divorced from the qualities of the body was expressed in philosophical terms for the first time by Heraclitus, who lived between 540 and 475 B .C.. Soon thereafter, Hippocrates (460-355 B. C.) asserted that human sorrow and grief, vision and knowledge, and various senses all came from the brain. He furthermore stated that when the brain is not healthy we experience ``sorrows, griefs, despondency, lamentations'' and other abnormal conditions. Later, Plato stated that the soul has three parts -- appetite, reason, and temper -- which closely resemble Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego.

The belief in the relationship between emotional or mental conditions and spiritual concepts has continued throughout history and has affected the lives of individuals and societies of all cultures. Remarkably enlightened, although limited, views on the nature of human psychology arose from the earliest times. However, frighteningly destructive views and practices were held by the general population as well as by ecclesiastical and political authorities. In the fifteenth century, witchcraft mania swept over Europe and caused the death of more than two hundred thousand innocent women and children (and some men) in Germany and France alone. Smaller numbers of victims were put to death in England, Spain, and elsewhere in Europe.

The central preoccupation of the ecclesiastical authorities dealing with witchcraft was supposed sexual activities between women and the devil. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued a decree that removed any reluctance to persecute those accused of witchcraft. The infamous Witches' Hammer (Malleus Maleficarum) was published in the latter part of the fifteenth century. This book is replete with sexual detail as well as religious superstition about mental illness, and the fear and hatred of women.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, several noted individuals began to refute the claims of the exponents of witchcraft and rose to defend the rights of women. Among them was Juan Luis Vives, who in 1524 wrote a treatise on the education of women. Vives has the distinction of being called the father of modern empirical psychology. Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) also defended the rights of women. His book On the Nobility and Pre-eminence of the Feminine Sex is of considerable interest with respect to the struggle against misogyny. Another prominent figure of this era was Johann Weyer (1515-1588), a physician with extraordinary psychiatric insights. Through his clinical work he demonstrated the fallacy of the witchcraft doctrine and outlined, for the first time, some of the fundamentals of the relationship between patient and doctor in psychotherapy. He is considered by some to be the first psychiatrist.

These contributions gradually separated the unhealthy mix of religious doctrine and clinical findings. Slowly, a scientific approach to understanding the human emotional state began to develop. Human behaviour increasingly became the domain of clinical practitioners and behavioural scientists. Treatment methods became more humane. The German philosopher Göckel (1547-1628) coined the word ``psychology'' and emphasized the importance of the dynamics of the body-mind relationship.

In 1793, Philippe Pinel (1745-1826), the father of modern psychology, became the Superintendent of Bicêtre and later Salpêtrière, two institutes for the care of insane men and women respectively. It was Pinel who freed the mentally ill from their chains.

However, the most significant advance in modern psychology occurred at the beginning of this century when Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, and, later, many other of his books. Freud spoke of his struggles to achieve greater self-awareness. According to Bruno Bettelheim, Professor Emeritus of both Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, ``The English rendition of Freud's writings distorts much of the essential humanism that permeates the originals.'' These distortions are especially significant with respect to the manner in which the original concepts of psychoanalysis, which are ``deeply personal appeals to our common humanity'', are presented in depersonalized and dehumanized ``scientific'' language. Bettelheim points out that in the original German language the emphasis is on the first part of the word ``psychoanalysis.'' ```Psyche' is the soul -- a term full of the richest meaning.'' In English translation, the emphasis is on ``analysis'' and the enormous significance of the fact that we are dealing with the human soul is generally ignored. Bettelheim points out that ``Freud often spoke of the soul -- of its nature and structure, its development, its attributes, how it reveals itself in all we do and dream.''

The original objective of psychoanalysis was to encourage people to reflect introspectively on their inner lives and the life of their souls. However, as Western society, and particularly North American society, became more materialistic in its orientation, it changed the character and initial aims of psychoanalysis and created new schools of psychiatry, which are ``behaviorally, cognitively or physiologically oriented and concentrate almost exclusively on what can be measured or observed from the outside....''

During this century, psychology has emerged as a legitimate and significant area of study. Psychotherapeutic approaches have multiplied. Educational, industrial, institutional, individual and group psychologies have infiltrated all segments of our lives. Psychological terminology has permeated common speech and the folk wisdom of Western societies. Much of human behaviour, particularly the sexual and aggressive aspects of behaviour, is now discussed in psychological terms and dealt with accordingly. Parallel to the ascendancy of psychological concepts in these societies has been a marked decline in the influence and relevance of the teachings of mainstream religions. With the rise of psychology and the fall of religion, spiritual aspects of life have received little or no attention.

Together with psychoanalytic schools, the behavioural, cognitive, existential, developmental, humanistic, and other major schools of psychology have all made great contributions to our understanding of the instinctual, biological, and psychosocial forces that affect the formation of our personalities and life styles. We are now more fully aware of the importance of our childhood experiences in forming our personalities. We know the genetic roots of some major psychiatric disorders. We are beginning to understand the biochemical configuration of affective disorders, schizophrenia and some other major psychiatric illnesses. We have developed novel and effective methods of psychotherapy, marriage and family therapy, and group therapy. We have also begun, with some success, to apply our psychological insights into socio-economic and political aspects of human life.

However, along with these major achievements, modern psychology has become increasingly mechanistic and lifeless in its orientation and approaches. An ever greater and all-inclusive emphasis is placed on the development of chemical agents that will calm our anxieties, counter our depression, and decrease our confusion. We are increasingly offered new techniques and steps to overcome our addictions to drugs, to food, to work, to our relationships, to God -- to everything. We are told unhesitatingly that we are victims and have to take revenge and discharge our anger at those who have wronged us, be they our parents, family members, friends, or strangers. In their attempts to analyze and explain away the root causes of such disturbing behaviour as violence, cruelty, inequality, prejudice, greed, selfishness, war, and so on, psychologists and psychiatrists have resorted to instinctual, hereditary, biophysiological, and ethological (the scientific study of animal behaviour) explanations.

Many people, disappointed and mistrustful of mainstream schools of psychology, are turning to fringe movements with fantastic claims and fanatical approaches. In many instances, the rational is giving way to the irrational, and loving therapeutic encounter is being replaced by indulgent and self-gratifying counsels.

These conditions exist because the fundamental dimension of human nature -- the spiritual dimension -- is either missing or misunderstood. The absence of the spiritual dimension in current therapeutic approaches has also caused moral and ethical bankruptcy. Consequently, the therapeutic sanctum has become a battlefield. In therapy, love and trust -- unconditional, pure, and unadulterated -- are essential prerequisites. Without them, anger and mistrust will dominate. Both the therapist and the client will be wary, the former for fear of being accused, the latter for fear of being abused. Each enters the relationship with discomfort and suspicion, and little, if any, healing takes place.

Having freed itself from the chains and locked gates of the asylums, having replaced witchcraft with analytic insight, and having refined the crude alchemy of the past to a substantive understanding of the chemistry of the brain, modern psychology is now ready to focus on the spiritual dimension of human reality.

The central objective of the psychology of spirituality is to integrate the biological, psychosocial, and spiritual aspects of our reality into a fuller and more balanced understanding of human nature and human needs. We have, by now, laid a solid foundation for understanding the human person in health and in illness. We now know that the separation between the biological and psychological, the body and mind, is arbitrary. Every human condition is both biological and psychological. The body affects the psyche and the psyche influences the body. While the body takes prominence in some conditions and the psyche in others, all human conditions are a combination of both. This does not mean, however, that the same approach can be applied to all conditions.

At the present time, one of three general approaches is advocated. On the one extreme are those who contend that all human conditions, whether in health or illness, are physical in nature and should therefore be treated physically, through chemicals, surgical interventions, diet, exercise, and other means and modalities that alter the functions and conditions of the body. On the other extreme are those who argue that all human conditions, whether in health or illness, are psychical in nature and should therefore be dealt with through psychical means such as psychological interventions, mind-affecting substances, mental exercises, religious rituals, and magic. The exponents of both orientations are adamant in their views. They seem, at times, prepared to go to the bitter end, even if it means further injury to the person or persons involved. Somewhere between these extremes is the largest group -- those practitioners and people who are willing to use the knowledge and insight of both groups.

An interesting and highly consequential aspect of all three approaches is the way they deal with the dilemma of dualism. The doctrine of dualism considers human reality to consist of two opposing and irreducible elements: matter and mind, body and soul, or the material and the spiritual. This doctrine is problematic because it divides reality. In its essence, reality is one. In order to overcome this thorny issue, most scientists of our time have chosen simply to reduce the mind to a configuration of extremely complex chemical and electrical activities in the brain, hence material in its essence. Likewise, they have resolved the body -- soul, material -- spiritual dichotomies by denying the reality of soul and the validity of the spiritual. Similarly, those who consider all reality to be psychical have made the same error as the material scientists, by attempting to explain all objective reality in psychological terms, have made the same error as the physical scientists. The third group has basically abandoned any hope of resolving this difficult issue.

As we will see with the psychology of spirituality, there is no dualism at the level of the living human being . The living person is one, as there is total unity and integration between the two distinctive expressions of reality, i.e., the material and the spiritual. The psychology of spirituality, therefore, perceives human nature as an integrated and unified human reality with three fundamental powers: to know, to love, and to will.

All human conditions, both in health and illness, and with respect to life and death, are experienced and understood by us through our capacities to know, love, and will. The way we live, experience our existence, and understand and deal with opportunities and challenges all depend on these three capacities. The psychology of spirituality explains human reality and life experiences within this framework. As such, our discussion will focus on knowledge, love and will, which are the properties of our psyche. We will first begin with a review of human nature and concepts of self and soul.

Back to:   Books
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
.
. .