“Like the physical, the psychical is not necessarily in reality what it appears to be”
― Sigmund Freud
Someone asked me recently what is the difference between Spirituality and Psychology. I took a pause and surprised myself with the answer, “I don’t think anyone can give you an absolute answer today. I can only tell you how I relate Psychology to Spirituality.
Spirituality talks about three elements or bodies or whatever you want to call it – mind, body, and soul. Psychology is the study of mind and behavior and primarily pertains to three parts of the cognitive triangle – thought, feelings and behavior. Our mind pertains to our thoughts which can be ours or can be picked up from our circumstances. Our mind influences our emotions and feelings which get stored in the various parts of our bodies. Our actions or behaviors are, then, influenced by what we think and feel, and vice versa. Psychotherapy is a way to help people with a broad variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties so that a person can function better and can increase well-being and healing. It seeks to help an individual become aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors so that they can eliminate patterns, unlearn and learn new ways to help become what they might have been had they not experienced the difficulties that they did throughout their lives. It’s also a way to see flaws in the way an individual has lived his/her life so far so that they are more aware of themselves and can take action to live their authentic selves. What remains after removing any thought, emotion, or behavior that does not align with what we truly are is what I believe is the soul – our authentic self. So in a way, psychology is the scientific mirror to spirituality. Both have the same goal – getting in touch with our authentic selves.”
My answer surprised me because I had never before been able to put into words how I relate to spirituality and psychology. Yet, it made so much sense to me. Neither of the two fields can exist without the other. What we don’t understand today and what lacks any scientific evidence, is often ignored, rejected, or condemned by those who like to limit the understanding of the world to what scientific books can explain. Similarly, those who choose to look at science as the enemy and only believe in what spiritual books or beliefs state, tend to overlook the power of scientific methodology and give in to fear. I don’t think there is a need to make a choice. Parts of spiritual experiences that science can’t explain today are a realm that’s waiting to be discovered as science and technology progress.
In 1990, Newberg, a pioneer in the field of neurotheology, began his work in the field by scanning what happens in people’s brains when they meditate. He studied 150 brain scans, including those of Buddhists, nuns, atheists, people speaking in tongues, and mediums practicing psychography—the channeling of messages from someone “other” than oneself. He found that practices that involve concentrating on something like a mantra, tend to activate the frontal lobes, the areas chiefly responsible for directing attention, modulating behavior, and expressing language. On the other hand, when practitioners surrendered their will, such as when they speak in tongues or function as a medium, activity decreased in their frontal lobes and increased in their thalamus. This suggests that their speech is being generated from someplace other than the normal speech centers. (Link: The Atlantic). Till today, we don’t know how or what causes this to happen but even being able to recognize that there is something in our brains that’s causing us to enter an “alternate” state is something that science could not acknowledge until recently.
During the early modern period (1450–1750), approximately 90,000 women and men were accused of witchcraft in Europe, about half of whom were executed. The vast majority of those accused did not identify as witches, while some did come to think, after being tortured, that they may have unknowingly practiced witchcraft. Witch-hunting as a practice is still continued in many regions of the world. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, more than 2500 people in India have been tortured and killed in these hunts between 2000 to 2016, most of them being women. However, people say that the “number is much higher because most states don’t list witchcraft as a motive of murder”. So there is no concrete number of people that have lost their lives to being accused of a witch. On average, an Indian woman is “killed every other day after being accused of witchcraft, according to government statistics”.
Sounds torturous, doesn’t it? Humans never cease to amuse me. On one hand, we don’t believe what we don’t understand. On the other hand, we destroy whatever it is that we don’t understand and can’t explain.
Science has proven that our heart has an electromagnetic field. The heart’s magnetic field, which is the strongest rhythmic field produced by the human body, not only envelops every cell of the body but also extends out in all directions into the space around us. The heart’s magnetic field can be measured several feet away from the body by sensitive magnetometers. Research conducted at HMI suggests the heart’s field is an important carrier of information. (Source: Research Paper). Yet, before this could be proven scientifically, a skeptic would have refused the idea of our hearts doing anything other than pumping blood. Similarly, a believer would have believed in anything superstitious to “prove” that it’s true.
So who’s right? The scientist who rejects what science of their time can’t explain or a believer who blindly believes in a superpower? I would say they’re both right and both blinded by the limitations of their ways. I believe the scientist is right to not believe the superstitious reasons for a phenomenon that a believer believes in and the believer is right in not rejecting something just because science can’t prove it today.
In 2013, a 70-year-old scientist and journalist Gian Paolo Vanoli argued that vaccinations cause people to turn homosexual. We all have heard similar claims when Covid Vaccines were rolled out. A German superstition declares that if you cheers with water you’re actually wishing death upon the people you’re drinking with. In Turkey, an itchy right-hand means you’ll come into some money but an itch on your left means you’ll lose money. Getting a haircut in India on a Tuesday is said to bring bad luck.
Surprisingly there are few practices that both science and spirituality have started to agree on. Reiki, a Japanese spiritual practice, is solely based on the principle that the therapist can channel energy into the patient using touch, to activate the natural healing processes of the patient’s body and restore physical and emotional well-being. It believes in our soul’s energy chakras and universal healing energy that can help living beings heal. As per this study conducted in 2017, Reiki is a safe, gentle, and profoundly relaxing healing modality that can be practiced by anyone who has received an “attunement” from a Reiki master. This study has found reasonably strong evidence for Reiki being more effective than placebo, suggesting that Reiki attunement leads to a quantifiable increase in healing ability. It’s interesting to observe that the same therapists might have been termed “witches” in the 1450s.
Today, we can’t even say for certain what role our DNAs play in our evolution. For years, the vast stretches of DNA between our 20,000 or so protein-coding genes – more than 98% of the genetic sequence inside each of our cells – was written off as “junk” DNA. The “Encode” project started in 2003 found that the “junk” DNA is far from useless: within these regions, they have identified more than 10,000 new “genes” that code for components that control how the more familiar protein-coding genes work. Imagine talking to a scientist in the early 2000s and questioning how evolution didn’t get rid of this “junk”.
So where does that leave us? I believe our minds, body, the universe, and nature are much more complicated than what today’s science or blind faith can understand. What can’t be understood by science and is rejected by the “bright” minds, does not need to be false. It leaves people who have nothing else to turn to but religions and superstitions to fear the unknown and blindly follow what society tells them to. What someone believes blindly to be caused by a superpower, can similarly be explained by the science of the future. Who knows the science of tomorrow might be able to confirm that ancestors’ “memories” are carried over to the individuals over generations via DNAs which impacts our psyche and it is when a specific condition is met, that some individuals start to “recall” past lives and “speak” to their ancestors or “other spirits” resulting in what is today called “spiritual emergence”. Quantum theory states that a small particle on Earth can have an impact on a planet situated somewhere else in the Universe. If a particle can have such an impact on a vast body of mass, is it that difficult to speculate that humans can have a similar impact on one another without realizing it? Highly sensitive people till a few decades back would have been termed “abnormal” because of their increased sensitivity to others and their surroundings. Who knows science of tomorrow can finally explain what altered states of minds are and why some of us have “gifts” that others don’t?
I find myself in a weird predicament. Having experienced what science can’t explain today, having seen for myself how my psyche relates to my spirituality, having experienced outwardly experiences while performing and receiving Reiki healing and feeling my patient’s emotions while doing so and having seen what my brain can do, I find it hard to limit my understanding with either today’s science or with the blind beliefs of others. I am a student of science and yet the only comfort I could find for myself was within the spiritual community because the “logical” minds could not understand my experiences. Yet, it was the science of today that could help me confirm that I was not going “crazy” and get a better hold of my situation though I have started to doubt that any one of us is truly crazy. At the same time, I find it difficult to believe that there will never be a science that can explain all of my experiences. I hope that tomorrow comes sooner than later because I believe that the more strides are made to bridge the gap between science, psychology, and spirituality, the more “enlightenment” we’ll experience as sentient beings. I just wish that in the battle of the egos of the “learned” and the “believers”, we don’t lose our humanity.