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Exploring Non-Western Therapies and Spirituality


Sep 25, 2012
Planet Lunatic Asylum

Non-western therapies and spirituality have a place in emotional healing.
Post published by Dan L. Edmunds Ed.D., B.C.S.A. on Jun 17, 2013 in Extreme States of Mind

Within Sufism is the concept that we are spiritual beings who have begun life in the unconscious union with nature but have been cast out from Paradise. We are constantly evolving and seeking to return to the original state that is of our real nature. Sufism is focused on a concept of holding the Divine as an object of desire, as holding the Divine as the beloved. It is inner experience that leads to an intense longing for the beloved. Sufism places greater importance on knowing one’s self, of having awareness rather than scholarship. In order to attain this awareness of one’s self Sufism holds we need a guide. This is comparable to the Eastern Orthodox practice of having a spiritual father to act as a facilitator and mentor in the process of becoming more aware of one's passions and being able to gain mastery over them. It is also comparable to the Hindu idea of having a Guru.

Storytelling is common in Sufism in order to teach principles. One such example is the story related regarding the Greek who painted a beautiful mural and the Chinese who cleansed a wall and made it shine like a mirror that reflected the image constructed by the Greek. The point in such story is that through cleansing of the self and becoming aware, we can reflect a more beautiful existence. Another story is that of the ragged man who presents himself at the head table at a banquet. The man is ridiculed and asked if he is the prime minister, a king, or a prophet. He responds he is above them all. He is then told the only thing above a prophet is God, and asked if he is above God, to which he responds that he is. He is told nothing is above God, and the man’s response is “I am nothing.” Here we see that this man has attained the certainty of union with the Divine and realized that he possesses nothing apart from it. In the story of the Homa, the Homa represents the pride and vainglory of men. In the entirety of the story, various birds represent the passions of men who steer them away from truth and the contemplation of the Divine.

Sufism encourages the concept of repentance, and the decision to reform, cleansing piety, and the development of internal serenity. One must first learn how to measure one’s behavior, from this they develop an intense longing for the divine unity and enter a state of drawing nearer towards the Divine. They can then enter a state of contemplation of the Divine, thus securing themselves, and finally obtaining a certainty of their unification.

Al-Ghazzali is one famous Sufi mystic. Al-Ghazzali felt the need to free himself from past traditions and to go through a process of ‘unlearning.’ He began to develop the idea that there was a power above reason. As he experienced dreams and ecstasy he began to have less faith in reason. He studied diligently and went through periods of skepticism. Al-Ghazzali later concluded that theology had its purposes yet it did not satisfy the intense longings of his heart and soul, and neither did science. Sufism for Al-Ghazzali provided experience not definitions. He began to realize however that his life of fame and wealth was opposed to awareness and that truth could only be known after he had gone through a complete transformation of his moral character.

In Sufism, there is the concept of the An, which is the experience of joy and originality. It is a creative movement, an awakening. Such is accomplished through diligence within the master-disciple relationship. Dancing and chanting (referred to as Zekr) are methods Sufism uses to attain concentration and spiritual ecstasy. Sufism refers to seven valleys that each man must cross. There is the quest, love, understanding, independence and detachment; pure unity, astonishment, and poverty/nothingness. To Sufis, the antidote to all human ills lies in the need and realization of love. Once the individual has come to the realization of love, he begins to realize that the Divine permeates the entire world and that every individual possesses the spark of the Divine.

In Buddhist psychology, one of the goals is to realize our natural state of things. An example is given with water. Water does not seek to change its states on its own accord. It is only man who seeks to alter his states and this is what is often underlying the emotional distress he experiences.

Morita therapy has its origin in Zen Buddhism. In Morita therapy, feelings as a result of who one is and the situations they are in. It is important for us to recognize feelings which are not within our control and behaviors which are. Our behavior influences our feelings but we can use our behavior in a means to help us succeed. Morita therapy is thus primarily purpose focused than feeling focused. It sees humans as overly sensitive t faults and its purpose is not getting rid of symptoms but helping to educate us about overcoming limitations.

Inpatient Morita therapy involves a week-long isolated bed rest with no distractions. Activities after this point may involve gardening, weeding, and journaling. Tasks are done because the need to be done from the Morita viewpoint. In outpatient Morita therapy, patients will awake at certain times whether they choose to or not. They will focus intently on their daily activities and seek to separate feelings from behaviors.

In Naikan therapy, which derives from Jodo Shinshu, the emphasis is on the concept that we have done nothing on our own. The goal is to inspire the desire to repay others and be able to express gratitude. Naikan therapy helps us to turn away from self-centeredness. In inpatient Naikan therapy, one reflects upon what they received from others and what they gave in return. There are also periods of isolated reflection. In outpatient Naikan therapy, there is daily reflection and exploration over what feelings one has control and the ones they do not.

In both Naikan and Morita therapy, the emphasis is on being practical and realistic, providing a teaching rather than a medical model.

Non-western healing arts are various and the West is beginning to attain a greater awareness and integration of these practices. The goals of the East and West may appear the same; however the paths are often unique and diverse. Each is centered on bringing about liberation and recognizing the person as a harmony of mind, body, and spirit.

Hinduism incorporates the use of ayurvedic practice and yoga. Ayus means life. Veda means science and knowledge. Thus Ayurveda is a system of knowing life and how to sustain health. There is no distinction in Indian thought between physical and spiritual well-being, they are interconnected. There is the term ‘rta’ which implies a fixed order. Disease is antra, that which is contrary to order. Ayurveda consists of propitiations and exorcisms as well as homeopathy and allopathy. Ayurveda is believed to have Divine origins. It has as its purpose to unite the divine and human together in a synergy.

Indian philosophy’s main quest has been for the elimination of sufferings. Ayurveda plays a role in this. There are three ‘gunas’ that Ayurveda refers to: Sattva Guna—this is the power that creates happiness. Rajas-Guna—this is the power which allows us to experience pain. Tamas Guna— indifference. The gunas are opposed to one another yet they relate to each other and determine the nature of a person or thing.

The fitness of the body is important if one is able to reach to a spiritual goal, thus Ayurveda is seen as a method for the spiritual athlete to maintain stamina. In Ayurveda, much of health and healing is connected to food and its proper digestion. Undigested food causes disease. Disease is seen as external, internal, mental, and natural, and the methods for addressing disease are seen in

the realms of curable, relievable, and incurable. The prescription may involve cleansing processes, a sedative, proper diet, and meditative practices. Balance is considered to be the most important part of maintaining health.

Yoga comes from the word meaning to bind. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to Arjuna that yoga is a way to end pain and sorrow through a complete abandonment of desire. There are various forms of yogic practice. Jnana Yoga is a form meaning union of knowledge. It is intellectually based and geared at seeking to understand one’s self. Bhakti is devotional yoga and may involve personal devotion based on offerings (puja) to Temple Deities. Hatha Yoga is the manipulation of physical and astral bodies through postures and hand positions. Kundalini Yoga refers to the system of awakening within one’s self the female creative energy called Shakti. Kundalini Yoga discusses chakras which are centers of energy flow within each person. This vital force is channeled through the nerves which are called nadis. It is breath control that can be effective in purifying the nadis. The chakras each have a function. The Muladhara chakra which exists between the genitals and the anus is described as having four petals and is associated with the earth element of the person. Another chakra located is located in the genital region and is associated with sexuality. The manipura chakra is centered in the naval and the anahata is centered in the heart. These chakra are related to digestion and emotional expression. When one awakens kundalini within the chakras, they may feel tingling, temperature changes, headaches, and auditory hallucinations. The headaches are seen to be connected to moving towards higher consciousness and death of the ego. When one awakens Kundalini, they begin to take on qualities of selfless compassion as emulated by a Guru who serves as a guide and mentor. Focusing in the various chakras can create various feelings and aid one to reach a higher potential. For example, meditation upon the heart chakra is said to produce feelings of warmth, love, and well-being.