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Spiritual Psychology: An Essential Part of Personal Development

Spiritual Psychology: An Essential Part of Personal Development

When we think of spiritual development or spiritual practice, we probably think of meditation.

However, meditation is not a panacea, and although it is undoubtedly a powerful method, it is only one of the paths and forms of which there are actually many. For example, it usually doesn't solve the deep-seated problems and scars that most people carry. Regardless of which spiritual practice you choose, without supplementing it with a corresponding spiritual psychological method, your path is then distorted, incomplete, superficial and can even become misguided.

Because our spiritual journey always needs an element of psychological exploration and healing, otherwise we are susceptible to typical problems such as spiritual materialism, spiritual narcissism, denial of reality, avoidance of reality, repression, dissociation, disconnection from the environment, poor sense of self, retraumatization, or falling over the edge of a healthy spiritual life into an imaginary world torn from reality, which can also result in mental illness or worsen an existing one. The psychological objective influence is what keeps the spiritual seeker on firm ground.

Like all things in life, spirituality needs to evolve over time. Immature spirituality is infantile, evasive, repressive and limiting. For it to mature, we need to unite the world of spirituality and psychology.

Spiritual psychology

is a combination of spirituality and psychology. It examines how the mind affects spiritual development and, conversely, how spiritual development affects the way we think and perceive. Spiritual psychology is sometimes also referred to as transpersonal psychology because it goes beyond the personal level and goes into the metaphysical level.

Topics explored in spiritual psychology include:

  • Identifying, naming, and healing mental, emotional, or physical trauma.
  • Exploring the phenomenon of soul loss and finding a way to overcome this condition.
  • Uniting mind and heart.
  • Discovering your own spiritual mission.
  • Understanding the meaning of life.
  • Release of blocked energy.
  • Inner work through early inner scars.
  • Working with the inner child and working with shadows.
  • Going through the dark night of the soul.
  • Gaining access to your true nature.

There are many topics that spiritual psychology explores and can help you deepen your experience. It all depends on your current needs.

When we look at these two fields, psychology and spirituality, it may seem to some that they are incompatible, or that they describe completely different things in a different language. In fact, psychology and spirituality have much more in common than people commonly think.

The word "psychology" comes from the root psyche meaning "breath, spirit, soul" and "logia" meaning "study". The original meaning of psychology was the study of the soul. This definition is a far cry from the more mind-centered secularized clinical psychology of the modern world.

In order for a person to be successful and really get somewhere, it is almost always necessary to be a bit of a psychologist, and this applies not only to spiritual development and general work with people, but also to work with animals and work with oneself.

Psychology and spirituality names and examines the mind, soul and spirit. Therefore, they are not separate or contradictory fields. Just as the depth and surface of the sea are inseparable, so is the spirit and psychology of each person. As in the ocean, there is depth and surface within us.

In other words, we all have a horizontal axis (our earthly self) and a vertical axis (our spiritual self). Our horizontal Self is focused on doing and becoming. Our vertical Self is focused on being and free flowing. If we are to live a life of freedom, balance and wholeness, we must honor and understand both aspects. By omitting one, we lose quality and progress in the other.

Why psychology alone is not enough

Psychology is very useful. We've all gone through some level of toxic social conditioning, trauma, and primal wounds. Therefore, it is crucial that we explore and work through these issues so that we can live a more peaceful life (and not infect our children, family, friendships and work relationships). But psychology alone is not enough. When psychology lacks spirituality, it is sterile, self-centered, and empty … it lacks deeper meaning and higher purpose.

Thanks to psychology and its application, we can become more functional members of society, but we lack a deeper connection to life. Psychology is very much like a rabbit hole: the deeper you dig, the more you find. And the more psychological sewage you find, the more likely you are to pathologize yourself and get stuck in mind-generated stories in an endless loop of doom.

In this sense, psychology can become both poison and medicine at the same time. On the one hand, he points out all the ways in which we are "deficient, emotionally unstable, wounded and insufficiently attuned to others and their needs", on the other hand, he gives us all the tools to help us overcome these pathologies...

At what point does true self-acceptance exist, or even transcendence beyond the limited ego? At what point does psychology end and spirituality begin?

Even Jung understood the paradox of psychology and the trap of self-improvement when he wrote: “Now and then in my practice it happened that the patient outgrew himself because of unknown possibilities, and this became an experience of paramount importance to me. Meanwhile, I learned that all of life's biggest and most important problems are basically unsolvable. They must be, for they express the necessary polarity inherent in any self-regulating system. They can never be solved, only outgrown.”

If we can ever overcome our problems, psychology is the guiding hand that helps us in the process. Sometimes psychology accelerates the growth process. But very often psychology is riddled with a paradoxical undercurrent of self-sabotage. The more we work on ourselves, the more flawed and inadequate we feel.

Why spirituality alone is not enough

Realization alone does not necessarily change the being as a whole. One may have some light at the spiritual summit of consciousness, but the parts below remain what they were.

Any purely spiritual path (meaning paths that focus exclusively on the metaphysical and transcendent parts of us and our lives) is not enough. When spirituality lacks a psychological element, it is disconnected from reality, dissociative, often irrelevant, unsubstantiated or unhelpful, and prone to many troubling problems such as spiritual egoism, spiritual materialism, and spiritual bypassing. We could meditate for many hours a day, we could be able to do fancy yoga asanas, we could have a pure high vibrational diet, we could understand the law of attraction backwards and forwards, we could know all the forms of the spiritual man, but it's all just a glittering charade if we can't come to terms with yourself and face your psychological problems and inner shadows. Without deep and honest self-acceptance, the spiritual life rests on a dangerous psychological foundation and is nothing more than an escape into a world of illusion. Humble self-knowledge is the most basic condition of all true spirituality.

Joseph Burgo, a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst, wrote on the subject: “Everyone teaches you how to find happiness, how to experience unconditional love, etc., and the self-help and spiritual communities are full of it.

While the desire to find love, happiness, and overcome difficult emotions is normal, we are not addressing the root cause of our suffering, which can and will resurface over and over again.”

Spirituality can easily be used to escape, avoid, numb and suppress deeper issues within us, all in the name of "love and light".

Just because you've had an amazing spiritual awakening, numerous mystical experiences, ego death, and whatever else, doesn't mean you've evolved on a really deep level.

Getting lost in the light

There are many ways to get lost in the light just as easily and properly as in the dark. For example, meditation is often promoted and offered as a cure for almost all of our ills, and while it certainly has constructive benefits, it is greatly limited in its scope if it lacks accompanying psychological work.

Renowned Buddhist meditation teacher Jack Kornfield writes about this: “Many of my students use meditation not only to discover the inner realm and find inner balance, but also to escape. Because we are afraid of the world, afraid of living fully, afraid of relationships, afraid of work, or afraid of some aspect of what it means to be alive in the physical body, we run to meditation.

Anyone who has practiced this for a while has probably seen some such element in their heart and mind. We need to understand that meditation, like any other kind of therapy or technique, can be used in an imaginary way: for greater inner freedom, for inner liberation, for opening your heart.

But it can also be used in a defensive way: to serve our ego and our fears. We quiet ourselves by watching our breath and pushing out any difficult emotions so we don't have to deal with our problems. By giving our attention to the light so that we can avoid certain aspects of our shadow and our dark side, we are not evolving.”

This is where psychology comes in: It helps us face these deeper issues, explore them, accept them, and heal ourselves. There are many areas where psychology is better equipped and can help a person faster than meditation. For example: fears and phobias, relationship problems, work problems, grief, unfinished business, sexuality problems, early injuries…We need both spirituality and psychology to work simultaneously in our lives to reach our evolutionary and spiritual potential as human beings.

Spiritual Psychology: The Marriage of East and West

So what is the antidote to the limitations and toxicity inherent in both the purely psychological and purely spiritual paths? The answer is the marriage of East and West. Connecting spirituality and psychology.

Spiritual psychology honors relative and absolute, subjective and objective, mind and heart, body and soul, Eastern and Western approaches to personal transformation. Spiritual psychology is a holistic practice that takes into account all aspects of a person's being - from earthly problems to metaphysical ones.

As Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes, “The processes of inner transformation are both spiritual and psychological. Spiritual work is awakening to a higher state of consciousness: heart consciousness. Psychological work involves cleaning the psyche from all conditions, psychological blocks and complexes that could hinder our spiritual awareness.

By integrating the opposing aspects of ourselves, we create a foundation for spiritual life, without which any higher consciousness would be distorted and could create a dangerous imbalance.

Psychological work prepares the psyche for the intensity of inner experiences; it creates an empty, uncontaminated inner space for the awakening of our own divine essence.”

In this sense, psychology - the Western approach to transformation - is like a gardener, preparing the ground of our being for spiritual growth by removing all weeds and waste.

When we lack the purifying and ennobling effects of psychology, our spiritual growth can become polluted with an unresolved inner shadow self that creates instances of spiritual bypassing and even spiritual narcissism.

But when our spirituality is not fueled by our unresolved inner wounds and shadows, it comes from a place of clarity, a heart-felt and soul-driven desire to let go, evolve and transform.

If psychology is form, spirituality is formlessness. If psychology focuses on personal truth, meaning and problems, spirituality focuses on impersonal absolute truth and the direct realization of the Divine. Both go hand in hand.

Impersonal is truth, even personal is truth; they are the same truth seen from the two sides of our psychological activity; neither alone gives a complete description of Reality, and yet we can approach it with both.

When we combine the wisdom of East and West, we have a whole path that helps us move beyond ego inflation, spiritual materialism, and illusion into the realm of true transformation.

It is true that there are some ancient Eastern spiritual paths that are quite complex and multi-layered. But the western mentality is very different from the eastern one. As psychotherapist and yogi Mariana Caplan writes, “It is important to realize that most contemporary spiritual traditions simply were not designed to penetrate the cellular or psychological injury caused by the type of trauma that is common in Western culture. It comes from broken homes, disconnection from our bodies, from nature, and alienation from an authentic source of spiritual wisdom.”

The Western psyche is significantly different from the Eastern in that it is much more fragile. Most of us lack cohesive families, culture, or a strong belief system to support us, and this has a big impact on our spiritual journey (whether we want to admit it or not).

Jung commented on Richard Wilhelm's translation of the Taoist text The Secret of the Golden Flower as follows: "There can be no greater mistake than for a Westerner to take up the practice of Chinese yoga, for that would only strengthen his will and consciousness against the unconscious and produce the very effect which should be avoided. His neurosis would then simply be intensified. It cannot be emphasized enough that we are not Orientals and that we have an entirely different starting point in these matters.'

Jung's view that Westerners should avoid Eastern self-help methods is short-sighted, but he made an interesting point. We must remember that our approach to the spiritual path must also include Western methods of healing that correspond to our culture and its specific problems. We cannot simply resettle straight into the customs and practices of the East...

Can people from the East also benefit from spiritual psychology? In most cases, yes. With the rise of globalization, many Eastern cultures are increasingly exposed to Western thought and society. As a result, many intact Eastern ways of life are now dissolving - and with that comes a whole host of problems (and opportunities). In order to face these inevitable problems, the people of the East will also need a spiritual psychology to help deal with the destabilizing times in which we now live.

How to Bring Spiritual Psychology into Your Life

In order to walk in balance, we need to bring spiritual psychology into our lives. There's no getting around it. Too much of one path can easily wreak havoc in our lives. We need both ways to find the joy, inner peace, love and freedom we seek.

Incorporate inner shadow work into all your spiritual practices. Exploring your shadow self is absolutely essential. When we use spirituality to escape our pain and darkness, it leads to problems such as blind faith, loss of discernment, groupthink, spiritual narcissism, an "us vs. them,” grandiosity…

Start by asking yourself, “In what ways am I using this practice to avoid or disconnect from something unpleasant within me?”

Explore your ulterior motives. You can also ask a trusted friend, loved one, or spiritual advisor for an honest opinion on the matter.

Ask yourself Why questions often. It helps to penetrate any illusion or delusion on one's personal journey. For example, we might ask, “Why am I devoting so much time to this spiritual practice? Why am I so desperate to feel bliss? Why do I dress like this? Why do I want to explore this particular part of myself?'

Build a relationship with your inner child. If you have a wounded inner child, it is very likely that you will use spirituality to try to bury your pain. Spiritual bypassing is often the result of an unresolved inner child who believes that if they were "perfect enough," everything would be okay.

The unresolved inner child also has a dark side: He is arrogant and refuses to see the life of others and himself clearly because something he believes in tells him that he is special and superior. So, for people who have a badly wounded inner child, spirituality can be used to fix themselves in a dogmatic, rigid, holiest position and black and white way of seeing the world.

Attach a psychological concept to every spiritual practice. To create balance, evaluate your current path.

For example, take a sheet of paper and divide it in two. On one side, write down all the spiritual practices you engage in. On the other hand, write down all the psychological practices you engage in.

Which do you have more, spiritual or psychological sides? This exercise is a simple way to find out which side you prefer more.

For more ideas on how to bring psychological influence into your life, explore the following ideas:

  • Working with Archetypes
  • Changing Destructive Thinking Patterns
  • Exploring Core Inner Beliefs
  • NLP - Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy
  • Enneagram
  • Learning Self-Love and Self-Care

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