Psychological wellness is the missing piece in many spiritual traditions.
As a devoted spiritualist and counselor in Transpersonal Psychology, I realize the importance of integrating the spiritual and psychological into our lives. By embracing our whole body. mind and spirit, we attune to our emotional intelligence and felt-sense awareness.
When we seek spirituality without psychological integration, we miss out on our cognitive signalling and our body’s instinctive responses. For some people that can look like spiritual bypassing – a term coined by John Welwood, in 1984. In his spiritual explorations, he noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with emotional issues, unmet needs and unresolved wounds.
Psychology without spirituality is no different. When the spiritual is denied, we get stuck in the ego-thinking mind, rationalize our feelings, rehash old wounds, and consequentially circumvent the richness of our inner knowing.
“Cultivating psychological health isn’t the end of the road,” writes Sara Avant Stover in The Book of She. She says, “It’s the launching point of the spiritual journey. We need both, in different degrees at different stages of our lives, in order to weather the inner work required to become fully realized spiritual beings.”
The conflict between transcendence and unresolved psychology.
He believes that the shadow side of spirituality is an unaddressed dilemma that permeates and afflicts most religious and spiritual traditions. He suggests that spiritual traditions deny the conflict or side step the issue altogether, and don’t provide followers a genuine way to deal with unaddressed shadow material – our unconscious thoughts and feelings.
“Trying to move beyond our psychological and emotional issues by sidestepping them is dangerous,” suggests Welwood. “It sets up a debilitating split between the Buddha and the human within us. And it leads to a conceptual, one-sided kind of spirituality where one pole of life is elevated at the expense of its opposite: Absolute truth is favored over relative truth, the impersonal over the personal, emptiness over form, transcendence over embodiment, and detachment over feeling. One might, for example, try to practice non-attachment by dismissing one’s need for love, but this only drives the need underground, so that it often becomes unconsciously acted out in covert and possibly harmful ways instead.”
This reminds me of a conversation I had with someone who raved about experiencing a spiritual activation with a prominent spiritual teacher, yet who was unable to set clear boundaries in her marriage. It felt as though I was speaking with 2 different people – the spiritually inspired and the compulsive neurotic.
She was a middle aged woman, highly successful in her business, affluent, stylish and beautiful. She was also grieving her fairy tale marriage which she had thought was rock solid, until her husband became involved with a prostitute. Then her life turned upside down and she despaired over the security of her marriage and home. To my surprise, instead of facing her pain and taking charge of her life, she waited on her husband and begged for his affection. It was heart wrenching. I didn’t see how the spiritual activation informed her choices. Her spirituality appeared very separate from her personal life.
Without psychological integration, spiritual initiation has no ground to stand on.
When our spirituality does not support our shadow, we’re susceptible to manipulation, repression, distorted beliefs, and exaggerated detachment.
Many people seek spiritual superiority to safeguard against abandonment and pain. They unconsciously expect immunity from the dark side of life. But by avoiding the underlying fear that pushes them to aspire to such greatness, they reject their fundamental needs.
When our needs are disallowed, spiritual initiations trap us in “overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries,” describes Robert Augustus Masters in his book: Spiritual Bypassing.
As well, we can become over identified with trending concepts such as “Don’t take it personally” or “Whatever bothers you about someone is really only about you” or “It’s all just an illusion,” explains Masters. These comebacks are not valid and do not take into account the underlying needs of personal psychology – emotional and moral intelligence.
True spiritual enlightenment welcomes the whole person.
“True spiritual enlightenment encompasses and transforms the entire spectrum of our being – from the heights of illumination to the nadir points of destructiveness and self-loathing. Anything short of this is, for me, a type of travesty.” – Tom Kenyon
It is a travesty! As spiritual seekers, we work so hard to measure up to an ideal version of who we think we should be, not welcome all facets of our experience, especially not our shadow.
We don’t realize that seeking for perfection is a way in which we try to avoid the dark. Such evasion of the shadow in ourselves and in others, as well as the avoidance of pain, distracts us from the real gem that resides within our shadow self. The gem is our true value.
The woman I described earlier is not someone who values herself or her fundamental needs. Instead, she negotiates with her unmet needs – her childhood trauma and insecurity – anything to avoid the pain of abandonment that is occurring in her present life.
Embracing all facets of human experience allows us to dive deep under the surface of pain and suffering, deeper into freedom, soul-purpose and beauty.
Pain is a messenger, a guide from your inner being. When you form an intimate relationship with pain, instead of trying to avoid or control it, you discover what is truly wanting to emerge in your life. The pain becomes an ally.
One of my clients has come to realize that the physical pain she’s wrestled with for a number of years is a messenger sent to reconnect her to her Source. The pain is a guide drawing her to the place right beneath it – the illuminated place where she can slow down and sit with all the parts of herself, where she can make space for the known and the unknown.
I’ve seen so many people come home to themselves by delving deep into the pain. They find a profound inner knowing within all that they’ve been so desperately trying to avoid. That is the power of BodySOUL Integration, the gift of trans-personal psychology.
When we finally stop trying to run away from ourselves, we arrive at a place where nothing has to be changed. We cease perceiving ourselves as broken. We see our sacredness.
On the path of healing there comes a time when the voice of old wounds
transforms into faith and empowerment, and you encompass
a new vision of yourself. Discover how
Feature image by Ksenia Makagonova