By Suma Varughese November 1998 Psychotherapy and spirituality are converging, each being enriched by the other ‘I am God. I am all, life, infinity. I will be always and everywhere. I can be killed but will live because I am all’—From The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, 1940 ‘As I lay there limp, motionless, mindless, suddenly I saw in a tremendous flash that my God! I am the Lord! The Lord God, creator of the Universe, of the cosmos, of the multiple universes’—Deepa Kodikal in A Journey Within the Self Two voices at different times and places, saying virtually the same thing. But while the legendary Russian dancer Nijinsky ended his life in a mental hospital, Deepa Kodikal, an unknown Indian housewife, is revered by all who have read her book. The same reality. Yet one considered a madman and the other a mystic. Why? Partly because of the place of origin: Nijinsky from the pragmatic, secular West, Kodikal from the transcendent East. Partly the time: 1940s Europe was strongly Christian, rigidly scientific with no space for concepts such as inborn divinity. But the larger reason for this divide is that while Nijinsky was studied by Freud’s psychoanalytic lens, Kodikal is viewed from the concept of self-realization through union with the Divine. Nijinsky and Kodikal stand on two ends of the compass separating psychology from spirituality in Freud’s time. ‘I have already found a place for religion by putting it under the category of the neuroses of mankind,’ the father of psychology had once said in a letter. Cut to voices of some contemporary psychologists. ‘Unlike clinical psychology which aims to lead the individual to a normal state (normal being defined according to a statistical mean), spiritual psychology seeks to illuminate the path taken by an individual moving towards a state of perfection.’—Jacques Vigne, Indian Wisdom, Christianity & Modern Psychology ‘The guru-disciple interaction, touches deeper, more regressed layers of the psyche which are generally not reached by psychoanalysis. The devotee, I believe, is better (but also more dangerously) placed than the analyst to connect with and correct the depressive core at the base of human life.’ —Sudhir Kakar, The Analyst and the Mystic Don’t look now, but things are changing. Psychology and spirituality are coming together in strange and unexpected ways. Spirituality, anathema in Freud’s time, is today setting the agenda for changes in psychology’s understanding of man, his motivation, purpose for living and his relationship with the universe. In turn, psychotherapy is proving to be an invaluable aid for travelers on the long and dangerous path to self-realization. Today, spiritual gurus such as Acharya Ram Mohan, a teacher of Vedanta, don’t hesitate to use terms such as rational emotive therapy (RET) in their workshops, and psychologists are freely advocating yoga and meditation as a therapeutic measure to handle neuroses. The terms themselves are merging. Jean Houston, the well-known American psychologist, talks of sacred psychology. In his book, Indian Wisdom, Christianity and Modern Psychology, French psychiatrist Jacques Vigne refers to spiritual psychology. Then there is the humanistic or Third Force psychology (the other two being psychoanalysis and behaviorism), which spans the works of Abraham Maslow, Victor Frankl, Eric Erickson, Erich Fromm, and others who collectively introduced a more positive dimension to Freudian analysis. Maslow later went on to propose the transpersonal or Fourth Force psychology which is focused on the study of transcendental experiences and includes altered states of consciousness, meditation, ESP and other such supersensory phenomena. Increasingly, though by no means conclusively, the guru and the psychologist are collaborators rather than foes, each helping the other in their common mission to transform humanity. Follow me to Kripa Foundation’s de-addiction center at Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai, western India. In the grimy basement of the Mount Carmel Church, 30-odd men are seated in a circle. At a signal from their counselor, Melwyn Pinto, they shuffle to their feet and intone the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’ Prayer over, each reads aloud an assessment report, listing the good and bad points prepared by the rest of the members. The feedback ranges from complimentary (‘very hard working’) to vicious (‘most useless and hopeless person in the world’) and humorous (‘uses bad language at this age!’). As the drug addicts struggle to assimilate viewpoints, Father Joe Perreira, one of the two founders of the Kripa Foundation (the other being Ozzie, a recovered addict), observes: ‘Our program helps the individual recover his self-worth by connecting to God.’ Kripa, which claims a 69 per cent recovery rate for drug addicts, seamlessly blends both spiritual and psychological therapies in its program. Daily schedule includes yoga, meditation, introspection, room maintenance (therapeutic duty assignments), counseling and group therapy. Obviously, psychology and spirituality are compatible disciplines. But where does one begin and the other end? Would we define concerns such as helping an individual gain control over his life spiritual or psychological? Is there room for two disciplines or is spirituality only the undiscovered aspect of psychology? Spiritual thinkers would vote for the latter. After all, they argue, the Buddha and Krishna had disclosed deep insights into human nature long before Freud came into being. What’s more, they had taken human understanding to its logical conclusion by providing the way out. Look at this passage from the ancient Indian philosophical poem Bhagavad Gita, dispassionately outlining the causes that lead to mental collapse: The quality of life is in the mind. The day you realize that, you become the navigator of your own life. There is just you, and how you choose to make your life. At this stage, free will is absolute. Destiny appears to be feeble in comparison with powers of the mind. ‘If a man meditates on the objects of sense, attachment to them arises; from attachment, desire is born; from desire, anger is produced. Through anger comes bewilderment, through bewilderment wandering of memory, through confusion of memory destruction of the intellect, through destruction of the intellect he is destroyed.’ (11,63-64) Psychologists, on the other hand, would argue that psychology, by its scientific nature, cannot be transcendent. Says Rashida Ghadially, a practicing Indian psychoanalyst: ‘Psychology is into reductionism and fragmentation. It cannot substitute for religion.’ Adds Indian psychotherapist Rani Raote: ‘Psychology is a science of human behavior. It can only go by what it can document.’ There are other, even more opposing, points of view. According to Dr Kulin Kothari, a psychiatrist based in New Delhi, India, all mental diseases are caused by chemical imbalances, which, in the case of psychotics, must be treated with medicines. However, such a point of view ignores the benefits of yoking spirituality to psychology. According to Dr Rajendra Chokani, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist: ‘Psychotherapy treats symptom-specific illnesses, while spirituality takes the total personality into consideration.’ Says Acharya Ram Mohan: ‘Psychology moves from being in a state of insufficiency to becoming sufficient through acquisition. Vedanta believes that we are already complete.’ The eastern approach cannot conceive of a separation between psychology and spirituality since both are concerned with the study, understanding and control of human nature. Says Jehangir Palkhivala, a Mumbai-based lawyer-turned-yoga teacher: ‘In yoga, we don’t separate the problems of the body and mind. Insomnia, hysteria, and even manic depression can be treated by the application of appropriate asanas, breathing techniques and diet control.’ The West’s rigidity on these matters rests as much with that region’s dominant religion,Christianity, as with psychology. Lacking a concept of the immanent God, the religion is based on a creed and theology that is external to the self, hence removed from the realm of psychology. While psychologists may still treat spirituality with suspicion, the two zones are merging in imperceptible ways. Today, over a 100 therapies such as Gestalt, RET (rational-emotive therapy), reality therapy, existential psychology, logotherapy and the Rogerian approach, stress positive ideas of man. Psychotherapists are also shifting from therapy to therapy, depending upon the need of the patient. ‘A shy or defiant person, for example, may not take kindly to rational emotive therapy which emphasizes taking stock of your behavior,’ says Sushma Sharma, head of Ashray, a counseling and social work organization. Perhaps the most uniting factor in the Indian context is that Indians, by and large, are believers. Says Ghadially: ‘A psychologist in India cannot afford to be un-religious. If you believe religion is bogus, you are doing a terrible injustice to the psychic lives of patients.’ Corroborates Maya Kripalani, a child counselor and psychologist, who writes a popular parental counseling column in The Times of India‘s Mumbai supplement: ‘In my column, I don’t know who I’m counseling. All I can give is a message of hope. If that is alive, they won’t give up.’ Even the hard-core psychiatric branch has many open-minded practitioners. Chokani is one of them. An ardent practitioner of vipassana, Chokani&rsq
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