General Issues with Psychospiritual Integration
The process of self-realization is inseparable from the process of spiritual integration. The integrated path of spiritual development is not about transcending our 'ordinary nature', but is about fully connecting and reconciling our spiritual nature with our physical, human nature. It has been said that a true human being has their 'head at the level of the stars and his feet on the earth'. To be integrated is to embrace all of who we are: among other things, our human, spiritual, animal, and reptilian self. Any type of transformation, on any dimension, automatically begins to impact the ecology of our whole psycho-physical organism. The development of consciousness creates significant changes in our brain, nervous system, somatic experience, and our psyche. These changes, in turn, will initiate a reorganization of our outer life. Understanding what is true in ourselves will begin to digest what is false in us, and what is
blocking the continuing development of truth in our inner and outer world. Every powerful step forward on our journey change and transformation will provoke an equally powerful opposing reaction from forces inside and outside of us.
The development and refinement of this newer consciousness will gradually nudge (or plunge) us into healing the contents of our psycho-physical organism that need to be healed, including emotional and attachment wounds, exiled and unconscious parts of our psyche, repressed history, trauma, outdated beliefs and worldviews, and so on. Our work, our next step in our process, will always be right in front of us. Learning how to receive and integrate the new consciousness, while healing and releasing our existing consciousness, are the two essential movements of transformation, with each one supporting the other. New experiences of reality, and new self-identities, beliefs, ideas, feelings, sensations, and behavior will challenge our psychological and physical wiring, and who and what we believe we are. It's an organic process that we are designed to go through. As we go deeper into spiritual transformation, we must navigate more and more what feels like two opposing worlds, and two opposing realities: the reality of spirit and the reality of the physical world.
Spiritual Difficulties: A Few Examples
Stanislav Grof coined the term "spiritual emergency" to describe a specific psychological and spiritual phenomenon. For different reasons, there can sometimes be a sudden “emergence” of consciousness, spirit, or other subtle spiritual energies, in our experience. In ideal circumstances, it would be helpful to have a gradual integration of new experiences like this, however, a “spiritual emergency” usually consists of times when there is an abrupt and possibly overwhelming shift of our subjective experience of self and world. Sometimes a spiritual emergency sufficiently intense to significantly disrupt our daily functioning. These kinds of experiences are common for individuals with spiritual sensitivity.
In some wisdom cultures, individuals going through such experiences were recognized and valued by the community at large. Special spaces, time, and support were created for these individuals to go through a spiritual passage that was understood as having future spiritual benefit for the community. This gentle energy of "holding" is what is mainly needed for this process. Unfortunately, this kind of communal wisdom is generally missing from our society, however, there are many individuals in our society who are fully present to this phenomenon. Worked with in a skillful way, these experiences can bring substantial psychological and spiritual growth.
Trauma and Spirituality
There's a complex relationship, and a seeming paradox, between trauma and spirituality. In one direction, the experience of developmental or isolated trauma can sometimes push us into initiating spiritual or psychological growth, giving us no choice but to take our next steps on our evolutionary path. In the other direction, it works the other way around: often it will happen that engaging deep psychological or spiritual work will highlight and uproot unresolved trauma that might or might not know about. The spiritual journey, and the experience and resolution of trauma, are intimately woven together. With the greater understanding of trauma that we have today, we can respond with more intelligence, attunement, and precision to this situation than ever before.
Trauma is an experience of loss of control and the solid ground beneath us, and to heal we must renegotiate and regain this security. Alternatively, on the spiritual path, we are asked to gradually give up our control, and we are continuously losing our ground. So what happens when we haven't regained a sense of control from previous trauma, but are being asked to surrender control that we never really felt we had in the first place?
Though paradoxical, the situation is very workable. If possible, it's most optimal to work with our trauma before going too deeply into spiritual territory. In other cases, there can be clarity about taking a break from intensive spiritual work and focusing only on specialized trauma work.Transpersonal psychotherapy provides an integrated view and practice that can help us navigate this extremely common situation.
Conflicts with Spiritual Teachers, Paths, Organizations, and Cults
Sometimes we have conflicts and doubts that arise in relationship to significant people, or communities that we are involved in, that are supposed to have our best interests in mind. It can be difficult, scary, or confusing when we lose trust in our support system.
Regardless of how enlightened or progressive a spiritual teacher or community claims to be, we are human beings with imperfections, flaws, and unhealed wounds. Having access to deep spiritual states of consciousness doesn't mean that we are healthy people, have healthy relationships, and lead a wholesome life.
If we begin to challenge an authority or community, we might find ourselves in a position of isolation regarding a situation in which we experience a lack of transparency. The group dynamics created by certain teachers and communities often do not optimally support full autonomy and individuation, but rather promote conformity, groupthink, and dependency. These kinds of psychological dynamics can be obvious or very subtle. Sometimes an unhealthy situation is clear to us, such as when there is a gross violation of trust. Other times, we may not totally feel clear about what is happening, but simply have the feeling that something is 'off'.
If we are having any of these feelings, we should take them seriously. The degree of critical thinking encouraged by a community will indicate it's level of psychological health. It can be very helpful to have an outside source of support that listens and helps us make sense of the situation, and assists us in discovering and trusting our own perception.
Highly sensitive people possess a multitude of gifts, but this gift also usually presents many challenges, as highly sensitive people tend to feel everything and everyone intensely and without much of a filter. It can feel like walking through the world with exposed skin, while everybody else seems to be equipped with a thick coat of armor. It's difficult to fully inhabit our sensitivity in a world that can be coarse and insensitive.
If you're a highly sensitive person, it's necessary to take time explore how being an HSP impacts your life, and what might help you protect yourself from physical, energetic, emotional, psychic, relational, and spiritual overwhelm. There are many important skills, techniques, lessons, insights, and new kind of actions that we can take that can provide and relief. Sometimes we can really enhance our lives just by making a few minor changes, resulting in a lighter and cleaner experience of our own energy. Both psychotherapy and energy work can help lead us in this direction.
Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)/ Empaths