There are many definitions of spirituality. For some, it's a relationship with a personal god. For others, a relationship with an energy in nature or the universe. These are personal instances of developing spirituality. In a broader sense, spirituality is the state of engaging with what we understand to be sacred. And what is sacred? It is that with is worth reverence and respect.
Spirituality definition in psychotherapy
When it comes to spirituality in psychotherapy, I'm concerned with helping people discover what they see as deserving of veneration and importance. After that, I work with people to develop a relationship or practice around that. There isn't a right or wrong object of spiritual practice. For example, many Christians devote a spiritual practice around a cross symbol. If we look at this in an unconditioned way, we see that Christians center their spiritual practice on an object that was the execution device of Jesus. Had Jesus' story happened in modern times, that object then might be an IV delivering a fatal dose of chemicals. We might see people wearing little electric chairs around their neck instead of crosses. So, the object doesn't matter. What's important is the meaning that is associated with the objects of spiritual practice.
Why spirituality is important in psychotherapy
Spirituality is important because it is associated with what we find most meaningful in life. The object of our spirituality then becomes an anchor for many of our drives and motivations. If we look at addictions, we can see that the addictive substance or process has hijacked the spirituality of someone. The anchor of meaning becomes alcohol, weed, porn, or gambling. Drives and motivations center on interacting with those hijacked spiritual objects. This is why AA starts with helping people find a higher power. So long as the holy and revered is contributing to hijacking the brain's reward system in an unhealthy way, spiritual poverty will be the result. Without digging deep and finding something with deep, personal meaning, we can be adrift in the universe. What I'm writing isn't some New Age approach to therapy. It's standard practice now to teach the importance of healing people connect with their spiritual practice. Unfortunately, many therapists still ignore this vital aspect of psychotherapy perhaps because they themselves still haven't developed their own spiritual practice.
In our society, we have substituted spirituality with many degraded options. We have made our politics what we revere and become like radicalized religious fundamentalists who feel the need to proselytize, or only spend time with people who see the world the same way. Or maybe we've taken the important effort to create social justice and have perverted it into an effort to be revered based upon some superficial characteristic.
Our society tends to center that which creates conflict and division, an age-old technique used by those in power throughout time. We have abandoned personal spirituality based upon our own experiences and have become messengers of political division. If we don't center politics directly, maybe we center a sports team, celebrity culture, or money. Those things become our revered objects. All of this degraded spirituality serves to prop up the political and economic system. This system serves the few at the expense of the many. We have been conditioned to care more about the political and economic system than the planet and ecosystems and each other. We have been conditioned to see each other as competitors for wealth and resources than as spiritual allies that revere the planet, its resources and inhabitants. Deep spirituality sees the connection of everything.
In this world, we can't become alive so long as there is nationalism, tribalism, arrogance, self-worship, and other perversions of the spirit. The nature of humanity is like that of a school of fish swimming in the ocean. We depend upon each other to become a bigger whole. By this I don't mean socialism. Socialism as it is discussed today is just another "ism" that will create division, extract wealth but just divide it differently and create the same or worse spiritual poverty than that of capitalism. So long as we live in a world without meaning, without forging deep connections with each other, without swimming freely through existence with each other, our spiritual poverty will continue no matter what political system we use.
We have exchanged our spirituality for security. In the process, we have lost our aliveness. We have lost our creative impulses. We hate the system we have traded our lives for but are too terrified to leave it behind. We are like an abused partner who hates their life and their captor, but recoils at the thought of choosing freedom.
Degraded spirituality and mental health
The modern view of mental health so often sees it as a problem with the individual. However, if we look honestly, broadly, and deeply, we see that what is producing mental health disorders is the degraded spirituality that the political and economic system creates. Why are there so many addicted people? Why are there so many depressed people? Why are there so many anxious people? Why are there so many obsessed people? People have become separated from our interconnectedness with each other and the natural world. We used to have meaning in every action we took because it meant helping each other to get through the day. We couldn't survive on our own and the deep emotional and spiritual connections we had with one another supported us. This is why finding true spirituality in psychotherapy is so important. If we don't reconnect with our deep humanity, our spiritual poverty will remain and so will our mental health problems.
We don't live in a society full of people with mental health problems. We live in a sick society that is making people mentally ill. There is no political or economic solution. There is only a spiritual solution.