Psychology and Spirituality
Two Paths, One Goal
By Elham (Ellie) Ezzati, M.A.
"Psychology” or the “study of the soul” originated as a science less than one hundred years ago in the European and American culture attempting to answer the same questions man has been asking ever since the beginning of time, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose in life?” “Why do I suffer?” And, “What comes after this life?”
Rooted in the Greek culture, at one point this field was explicit in working with the soul in order to find answers to these difficult questions. However, Western psychologists have progressively shied away from turning to the soul. Instead, they have come to rely more on behavior and intellect in order to understand what makes a person whole. This shift in focus was partly due to gaining credibility in the scientific circle. In order for psychology to be seen as a science it had to follow strict, scientific methodology.
That is, it would need to become an experimental field where concrete, repeatable measurements and data could be generated and studied. The early psychologists realized that behavior could be empirically measured while matters pertaining to, or of the soul, could not. Thus, they left the more esoteric explanations to the clergy and the theologians to grapple with.
In the older Eastern traditions, indigenous cultures such as Persian, Arab, Indian, and Chinese, have much of the fabric of their society and culture build around spirituality. A spiritual outlook does not necessarily refer to a religious outlook on life per se. Rather, it adheres to the belief system that there is a greater, more creative life force energy permeating the universe. This life force exists beyond the personal and material aspect of nature. This force is considered to be transcendental in that it supersedes the powers of intellect and wisdom of all beings combined together.
While in the West, the predominant world view is that science is the path to understanding the mystery of the universe and ultimately to the understanding of us; in the East, it is the remembering and the re-connecting of the soul to its original source that will provide the same goal. In the West, inventions such as psychotherapy and psychoanalysis are used as pathways to understand the self, while in the East there are other means. Some of the ancient Persian-Sufi practices include meditation, contemplation, zekr and fekr.
In the past thirty years, a new field of study has been steadily growing in the United States. This emerging field embraces both world views and believes it is the combination of Western thought and Eastern mysticism that can promote the well being of individuals. Transpersonal psychology (Trans: beyond or through) is an example of one of the schools of thought that bridges science and spirit.
Most, though not all transper-sonal therapists, believe an individual soul comes to earth in order to be “schooled”. Just as we go through conventional schooling to expand our mind and grow intellectually, our soul also goes to school so it too can grow and expand in awareness. While intellectual growth helps us gain more personal freedom through the choices available to us, spiritual growth helps create greater inner joy and peace through the love and compassion that is acquired.
Life itself is the school for the soul bringing about this inner love. Through its many trials and tribulations the soul learns to trust, surrender, forgive, love and ultimately have compassion for the self and others. The more a person is able to experience love and compassion, the more personal joy and fulfillment is gained.
However, the attainment of these higher states of consciousness is no easy task. Often times it requires years of hard work to overcome the pain, bitterness, anger and resentment most individuals harbor throughout their life. But once the person is able to release these blockages, the results gained are profound.
In the ancient Persian tradition, the heart is believed to be the center of healing. It is believed that once a person’s heart opens up, many problems or difficulties they are facing will change. One of the most important goals of transpersonal ther-apy is to help the person have a heart-opening experience. There are many ways to do this. The most common way practiced in this culture is through getting in touch with the unconscious mind. Based on the teachings of Sigmund Freud, we now know that the unconscious mind stores much of the past and forgotten traumas in life.
This repressed material is what stops individuals from connecting to the heart. Instead, it keeps people bound to past pain and suffering. Some of the ways to uncover unconscious material is through dream work, guided meditations and imagery, as well as entering hypnotic and trance states. As these hidden aspects of our selves are revealed, there is room for change. The more a person is able to release old wounds and hurts, the more readily they can experience love. As a result of this heart opening, the individual gradually becomes a healthier, happier and more loving person.
As Rumi, one of the most revered Persian Sufi poets, wrote:
There are two kinds of intellect; the first is acquired—
Thanks to it, you learn like a schoolchild
Books, teachers, reflection, concepts, all kinds of Sciences…
You learn and your intellect grows superior.
But conserving this knowledge is always a burden.
The other intellect is God’s pure gift; Its heart is in the breast of the soul.
When the water of divine knowledge jets from the heart
It never becomes stagnant or old or dirty.
And if it can’t flow outside, what does that matter?
It keeps flourishing from within the self.
(Divan-e-shams, translated by Andrew Harvey)
Ellie Ezzati, C.M.T, M.A. is an adjunct faculty at Santa Monica City College and the University of Phoenix. She is also a practicing Shamanic healer and trans-personal counselor in Beverly Hills, California. For more information about private sessions and/or workshops please visit www.centeronpeace.com or call (310) 498-3573.
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