Modern psychology recognizes spiritual crisis as a valid pathology. Examples include the loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, the questioning of spiritual values, or the spontaneous functioning of a chakra. The ancient Eastern doctrine of the chakras as a series of psychic centers within the body is currently being accepted by a large number of transpersonal psychologists. The chakras are intended to function at evolutionary intervals of human development, but premature spontaneous functioning or lack of proper chakra development results in various forms of mental illness. Modern research by transpersonal psychologists has suggested that spiritual problems resulting from the chakras can be addressed by first realizing which chakra is being activated or is underdeveloped, and then adopting suitable techniques for that chakra.
Chakras. In Kundalini Yoga these are focal points or nexus of psychic energy situated along the spinal column, usually inactive, and psychically experienced as lotus pedals.
Kundalini. An Eastern term that refers to a seat of evolutionary energy residing within the body, usually dormant, at the base of the spine.
Religious or Spiritual Problem. "This category can be used when the focus of clinical attention is a religious or spiritual problem. Examples include distressing experiences that involve loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or questioning of spiritual values that may not necessarily be related to an organized church or religious institution." (DSM-IV, p. 685).
Spiritual. This term usually refers to "experiences of wholeness and integration, irrespective of religious belief or affiliation" (Bloomfield, 1996, p. 143). It also "refers to the realm of the human spirit, that part of humanity that is not limited to bodily experience" (Scotton, 1996, p. 4).
Transpersonal Event. "A transpersonal event may be said to have occurred when there has been a confrontation between personal and impersonal elements of the psyche" (Brookes, 1996, p. 81).
Transpersonal Experiences. Experiences beyond the personal. This includes experiences "beyond conventional, personal, or individual levels" (Scotton, 1996, p. 3).
Spiritual Emergence. Naturally occurring or induced "episodes of non-ordinary states of consciousness" (Grof, 1996, p. 57). These include Maslow's (1971) peak experiences, precipitous psychic abilities, possession, near death experiences, and awakening of Kundalini.
Spiritual Emergency. When spiritual experiences emerge without warning or preparation and precipitate anxiety or crisis (Grof and Grof, 1989).
Transpersonal Psychology. The branch of psychology that focuses on the study of transpersonal experiences and related phenomena" (Walsh and Vaughan, 1996, p. 15).
Transpersonal Models of the Psyche.
A model of the psyche based on Jung (1990) is shown in the accompanying figure below. This model is a dynamic one. The central archetypal Self is at the center of the psyche. The Self looks outwardly at the conscious ego, which interacts with the physical world through the filter of the persona. It looks inwardly at the archetypes of the collective unconscious through the filter of the anima or animus. Assagioli (1993) has a similar model, but he splits the unconscious into three levels: a lower (subconscious), middle (personal), and higher (superconscious).
In Jung's model, psychic energy flows between all components of the psyche. Jung (1973) called this energy libido. Normally the libido is tuned to specific psychic functions, however, it can be redirected or "canalized" into other channels by the use of symbols.
"I have called a symbol that converts energy a "libido analogue." By this I mean an idea that can give equivalent expression to the libido and canalize it into a form different from the original one." (Jung, 1973, p. 48)
Thus symbols can help us to become conscious of the unconscious, and to be aware of the various unconscious processes going on in our psyche.
The model shown above is called transcendent because the Self transcends the personal ego. According to Jung's individuation process, normal growth is for the ego to develop and mature during the first half of life. During this time, the ego individualizes itself from the unconscious Self. The goal of the psyche during the first half of life is to develop a strong ego-personality. During the second half of life, the ego assimilates the Self, by becoming consciously aware of it (Edinger, 1974). If done properly, this assimilation process gives meaning to the ego as well as a sense of fulfillment.
Walsh and Vaughan (1996) present a fourfold transpersonal model of the psyche:
a. Consciousness. This is the central dimension of the transpersonal model where "normal" human consciousness is seen as defensively contracted, and therefore a reduced state of consciousness. Optimum consciousness is potentially available at any time, and is usually approached by degree in developmental levels.
b. Conditioning. The "normal" person is entrapped in conditioning, but freedom from such conditioning is possible, and comes with optimum consciousness. The most important form of conditioning is attachment, which is closely associated with desire.
c. Personality. Most psychologies affirm that the personality is the person. In transpersonal psychology, the personality can be transcended. It is something that a person has, rather than their identity. Failure to identify oneself with the personality is not necessary seen as pathological.
Wilber (1977) suggests that a disidentification from the personality can lead to healthy adult development.
d. Identification. Traditional psychologies define identification as an unconscious process in which one identifies with someone else. Transpersonal psychology emphasizes the need for an internal (intrapsychic) identification--one in which a person identifies with psychic phenomena or processes. Identification with mental content usually restricts consciousness. Identification with mental conflict can cause many psychological problems. The thought "I'm scared" for example, will exert little influence once it is realized as a mental concept and one disidentifies from it. By identifying with such a thought, a long series of self-fulfilling fears and anxieties can ensue.
The Chakras of Kundalini Yoga.
The yogic system of the chakras (centers) and nadis (channels) is "a five-thousand-year-old way to integrate body, mind, and spirit" (Nelson, 1994, p. 161). The Eastern systems of Kundalini Yoga and Tantra postulate that we have a subtle body, etheric body , or aura, that surrounds the physical body and interpenetrates it. This subtle body has its own system of organs, veins, and blood in the same manner as the physical body. The seven subtle organs are called the chakras or psychic centers. The subtle veins are the nadis or channels. The subtle blood is psychic energy called prana. When air enters the physical body during inhalation, prana is said to enter the nadis of the subtle body simultaneously. By using yogic posture and breathing techniques coupled with appropriate visualizations, the prana can be made to enter the lowest chakra at the base of the spine and to cause Kundalini to rise up the central channel or sushumna nadi, which lies along the spinal column. As it rises, each of the seven chakras are stimulated or activated, in turn. Kundalini itself is usually personified as a goddess who represents the feminine creative energy of the universe. It is an evolutionary energy that usually lies dormant at the root center at the base of the spine. Her activation of the centers is said to cause all sorts of associated phenomena, from psychic powers to physical health. (Avalon, 1964; Judith, 1987; Krishna, 1970; Montoyama, 1981; Mookerjee and Khanna, 1977; Nelson, 1994; White, 1979). Jung (1996) equates the goddess Kundalini with the anima.
Each chakra is associated with specific gods and goddesses, but all of these deities are projections from within rather than external (Zimmer, 1933). Sannella (1989) concludes that "the entire process of Kundalini action can be seen as one of purification or balancing" (p. 102). Activation of the higher centers is associated with the transcendence of the personality, and thus the importance of the Kundalini in transpersonal psychology.
The Psychology of the Chakras.
Eastern tradition has described the seven chakras in great detail. These descriptions are typically couched in terms of deities, powers, letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, animals, and other symbols. Western psychologists, beginning with Jung (1996) in 1932, have delved into these psychic centers, and have generally agreed to the following psychological associations:
1. The root chakra (Muladhara). Located at the base of the spine, this center guides the development of the fetus and infant before the ego develops. Its primary activity is physical and mental survival as it prepares the ego for relative independence. The ego is merged with the Self.
2. The typhonic chakra (Svadhisthana). Located at the genitals, the second center acts throughout early childhood encouraging the ego to develop its sense of being a separate self. The ego lives in a world of wish-fulfilling fantasy as it separates from the Self. Its primary activity is desire. Relationships with others are begun, but colored with fantasy and idealization.
3. The power chakra (Manipura). Located at the solar plexus, this center urges the young adult toward a career and to obtain a suitable mate. The ego gains maximum individuality, and also separates or alienates itself from the Self. Its primary activity is the fortification of the ego.
4. The heart chakra (Anahata). Located at the heart, this center urges the ego to seek a more universal attachment with all humanity. Its primary activity is compassion, and it is considered to be the first spiritual level.
5. The inspiritation chakra (Visuddha). Located in the throat, this center reopens communication with the Self. Its primary activity is creativity. This center urges the ego to develop shared goals with others. "Western psychology generally holds that this is the highest stage that a person can reach in life" (Nelson, 1994, p. 164).
6. The shamanic chakra (Ajna). Located in the brow between the eyes, this center allows the ego to be transcended into a higher consciousness. Its activation is often associated with visionary power and prophesy. Its primary activity is insight.
7. The reunion chakra (Sahasrara). Located at the crown of the head, this center marks the re-merging of the ego with the Self. It marks a voluntary dissolution of all self-boundaries. Its primary activity is unity, and its activation is accompanied by an overwhelming sense of the oneness of all things.
Bloomfield (1996) reports that in 1974 forty million adults had experienced the symptoms of spiritual awakening and half, or twenty million, of these repeatedly. He concludes that the number of people who admit having spiritual experiences is quickly increasing. Lukoff, Lu, and Turner (1996) report that from thirty to forty percent of the American population have had mystical experiences "suggesting that these are normal rather than pathological phenomena" (p. 237).
I have found that the system of the seven chakras from ancient Tantric yoga provides a near-ideal way to determine an individual's level of personal and spiritual growth. Using this system, modern transpersonal therapists can respond to their patient's spiritual stumbling blocks with techniques that are specific to that level, techniques that neither demand more of a patient than he can accomplish, nor devalue the higher strivings of spiritually advanced individuals. (Nelson, 1996, p. 307)
Ideally, the chakras will open one at a time with each growing from lessons learned in the past to make integration easy and painless. However, occasionally the chakras open prematurely or out of sequence, causing problems. Stanislav and Christina Grof coined the term spiritual emergency to describe such situations (Grof, S. and Grof, C. 1989). These emergencies can range from minor spiritual setbacks to a major psychosis.
Examples of such problems can include a spontaneous spiritual experience (seventh chakra) where a person feels that he or she is Jesus (an example of ego-inflation). Spontaneous stimulation of the sixth chakra can result in telepathic communication which is misinterpreted as witchcraft or government thought control. Feelings of compassion brought on by spontaneous stimulation of the fourth chakra can result in a person giving away possessions that she can't afford. Spiritual emergencies can often merge regressive characteristics with the mystical or supernatural.
Wilber (1983) distinquishes between pre-egoic lower chakra states and trans-egoic higher chakra states pointing out that modern psychology has confused these two important areas and thus has blurred madness with transcendence. Transcendence can only occur after a strong and independent ego is established.
Transpersonal psychotherapy suggests that the technique to use must fit the client. In addition to the more obvious techniques such as imagination, meditation, and prayer (Firman and Vargiu, 1996) transpersonal psychologists have developed a wide range of innovative therapies. Yensen (1993) for example, has developed a perceptual affective therapy using audio-visual environments. Other techniques include biofeedback, multi-modality therapy, relationship psychotherapy, beathwork, guided-imagery therapy, psychedelic psychotherapy, and past-life therapy to name only a few. Another important therapy has to do with disidentification:
Disidentifying from the personality means recognizing experimentally that our personality is not what we are but what we have--not the source of our identity but the means by which we express that identity in the world. By disidentifying from it, we do not destroy or abandon it, rather, we transcend its limitations and the self-centered and separative tendencies these limitations can bring. (Firman and Vargiu, 1996, p. 127)
A simple technique reported by Enright (1996) is renaming the symptom. By renaming the problem (saying "persistent" instead of "stubborn" for example) the client realizes that she has control over the meaning and value of the problem, and it sometimes offers humor which can defuse a potential crisis.
Hoffman (1996) suggests that the therapist must try to understand and appreciate the client's life, teach the client to meditate, have the client pay attention to dreams, and encourage the client to read sacred texts.
Knowledge of the ancient Eastern doctrine of the chakras has led to special techniques associated with premature or spontaneous chakra activation. Nelson (1994) says that "the chakras are archetypes" (p. 162) and an understanding of them is crucial for psychology. As archetypes, their activation or functioning can cause altered states of consciousness and can serve as guides to spiritual development. "Because we tend to deny levels of awareness above our present focus, breakthroughs of higher consciousness are usually mis-diagnosed and treated with methods that negate their potential for spiritual growth" (p. 167).
Schizophrenia, for example, can be considered as a regression back to the first or second chakras which results in emotional blunting, delusions, and hallucinations. Borderline Personality Disorder occurs when someone tries to cope with third chakra tasks without first completing first and second chakra development. Therapy for borderlines should include attempts to stabilize their sense of selfhood in our third-chakra society and assist them in achieving spiritual growth through worldly empowerment (Nelson, 1994).
A transpersonal approach to therapy holds that unhappiness is not the normal human condition. The goal of transpersonal therapy is to liberate the client from the root cause of unhappiness, which is the alienation of the ego from the Self. The transpersonal therapist strives to eliminate the sense of loneliness and estrangement in the client, so typical of our third-chakra society, by allowing the penetration of higher consciousness into her awareness in a gradual and structured manner that integrates rather than represses the spiritual experience.
Many people today have spiritual or extrasensory experiences but because of ignorance tend to repress or downplay them. Knowledge of ego-transcendence processes is helping psychologists to understand many forms of spiritual crisis and to develop effective coping strategies.
Ideally, transpersonal therapy for spiritual emergencies in a residential setting emphasizes the same five areas of healing that apply to other disorders: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social. Therapy within each area aims to uncover and remove blockages that prevent the natural expansion of consciousness through the higher chakras. (Nelson, 1994, p. 408)
Modern psychology now recognizes spiritual crisis as a valid pathology. Examples include distressing experiences that involve loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, questioning of spiritual values, or the spontaneous functioning of a chakra. The ancient Eastern doctrine of the chakras as a series of psychic centers within the body is currently being accepted by a large number of transpersonal psychologists. The chakras are intended to function at evolutionary intervals of human development, but premature spontaneous functioning occasionally occurs that leave a person scared and uncertain of their experiences. Examples include mystical experiences, UFO experiences, near death experiences, and various psychic abilities which are usually misinterpreted as witchcraft or possession. Modern research by transpersonal psychologists has suggested that spiritual problems resulting from the chakras can be addressed by first realizing what chakra is being activated, and then adopting suitable techniques for that chakra.
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