“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Some people define “spirituality” as going to church and believing in some form of God. Others may define spirituality along the lines of one of the Eastern non-theistic traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism or Hinduism. Others still, may define spirituality simply as becoming a better person, engaging in quiet reflection, meditating or going for a walk in the woods. However you define “spirituality”, the vast majority of people in the world either believe there is something more which goes beyond our immediate experience of the world, or at the very least are seeking some way to grow as a person and to become the “best”, and the happiest, they can become in their careers, hobbies or relationships. Studies have also shown that higher levels or spirituality or religiosity are strongly associated with a greater sense of meaning in life as well as higher levels of psychological and emotional well-being. In other words, people who hold a belief in some form of higher power, something bigger than who and what we are, whether defined as “God”, “Energy”, “Source”, “Collective Consciousness” or “Spirit”, tend to be happier, healthier and even live longer.
Although overall belief in God, church attendance and traditional religious affiliations have been declining steadily for years, there has been a corresponding increase in people seeking out non-traditional, “New Age” or alternative paths to personal and spiritual growth. Some of these include yoga, Tai Chi, Shamanic practices, meditation and mindfulness, energy practices, dance, music, art and even the use of entheogens (ayahuasca retreats etc). What all of these practices share in common from a psychological standpoint is that people are motivated to seek meaning and value in their lives and to transform themselves into the person they wish to become and attain their highest potential as a human being.
With this growing global interest in seeking personal growth and spiritual development, a field of psychology began to develop over 50 years ago which grew out of the works of Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow and Stanislav Grof and is called Transpersonal Psychology, which can be succinctly defined as the psychology of spirituality or spiritual psychology. Transpersonal psychology concerns itself with three primary areas of study:
- Beyond (trans) Ego Psychology
Expansion of self, development of compassion and altruism and our highest human potential
- Wholistic/Integrative Psychology
Wellbeing and health requires a balance of nurturing the body, mind, heart and spirit
- Psychology of Transformation
Personal and spiritual growth is about transformation of the self, the person, towards higher and more optimal ways of experiencing, perceiving and living in, the world
Transpersonal psychology is about the pursuit and cultivation of our highest personal or human values which often lead to profound psychological transformations, higher or expanded states of consciousness and expansion of the self which encompasses all person’s, all life and the entire planet. Transpersonal psychology is the study of spiritual or psychological transformation and awakening to these expanded states of self and consciousness.
“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up”
~ Eckhart Tolle
Whether we follow a traditional religious practice, any of the New Age spiritual paths, or neither, the highest levels of human consciousness and personal transformation share a common state of “awakening” which can occur spontaneously or gradually over time. This state of awakening is characterised by a psychological shift in the person’s consciousness, values and perception of themselves and the world. Some of the core features of awakening include:
- Decreased concern for material possessions, fame or financial wealth
- Decreased sense of ethnic, national or group identity
- Decreased sense of separateness from all person’s, all life, all matter (non-duality)
- Decreased psychological chatter, noise or turbulent emotional reactivity
- Decreased fear of death
- Increased concern for global or universal values
- Increased sense of union or interconnectedness with all person’s, all life, all matter
- Increased compassion and altruism towards others
- Increased states of inner stillness, calm and well-being
- Increased appreciation and gratitude, for all life
In his book “The Leap – The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening”, Steve Taylor (2017) defines awakening as follows:
“In many ways, awakened individuals experience a higher-functioning state that makes life more fulfilling, exhilarating, and meaningful than it may appear in a normal state of being. As a result of this internal shift, they often make major changes to their lives. They begin new careers, hobbies, and relationships. They feel a strong impulse to make positive contributions to the world, to live in meaningful and purposeful ways, rather than simply trying to satisfy their own desires, enjoy themselves, or pass the time.” (Taylor, 2017)
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Diamond, S. (2013). The Psychology of Spirituality. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/kUwQQq
Hartelius, G., Caplan, M., & Rardin, M. A. (2007). Transpersonal psychology: Defining the past, divining the future. The Humanistic Psychologist, 35(2), 135-160.
Routledge, C. (2016). Are Americans Really Becoming Less Religious? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/wG2wNj
Taylor, S. (2017). The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Taylor, S. (2015). Transpersonal Psychology: Exploring the Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/QkbhlR