Over many millennia, humans have used sound and music for healing in cultures around the world. Shamans are the perfect example. With their rattles, drums, and vocalizing, they invoke a spirit or take the person in need of healing into a dimension not known in ordinary states of consciousness. In the 1600s, the western world learned of such conditions through trance-induced yogis who could sleep on a bed of nails and offered cures to various ailments. Later, in the 60s, non-ordinary states of consciousness were associated with psychedelic drugs such as LSD used by hippies. Unfortunately, neither of these examples does justice to the healing power of non-ordinary states. At the same time, we need to take care not to be quick to assume that any non-ordinary state achieved by any means can be helpful to our healing. Finally, we might like to add that a certain maturity is necessary to approach the process with integrity. This article is about such maturity and integration.
In psychology, the term "non-ordinary states of consciousness" has slowly come to gain recognition as something of value, that is, as states that can contribute to our healing. Christa Smith, a doctor of psychology says: "I often witness clients relying too heavily on the ordinary mind. They painstakingly analyze themselves and their problems with little payoff, as if the ordinary mind is the only and best tool for healing". (Psychology Today)
We might want to consider Albert Einstein's famous insight that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. It is not only what we think but "how we think" that causes many mental health issues. And then, there is the emotional side that defines the process.
As we continue to grapple with covid and its many effects, mental health has reached the forefront of our awareness. This term "mental health" is delicate because the general sense is that it carries a stigma, that it points to an extreme imbalance that borderlines or crosses over into madness.
For instance, read this extract on the US Open from reporting relayed via AOL.
If our mental problems were solely thinking problems, we could probably solve them through rational means. However, the emotional aspect, the physical sensations accompanying certain types of thinking, cause us to experience a "state of consciousness." Since much of spirituality could be understood and spoken about as "states of consciousness," the field of spirituality is wide open to draw from, as a resource, to help with psychological imbalances. For instance, we might identify and help correct many of these imbalances in time before they develop into full-blown mental illnesses or physical illnesses. However, that is easier said than done.
The problem is spiritual bypass, which psychologist John Welwood identified as the substitution of spiritual activities and processes for the crucial psychological development necessary for an individual. In other words, while non-ordinary states of consciousness can assist us in our healing, they can also be used as a substitution for other critical areas of self-development. We might consider this substitution as something that has gone on for millennia. Eastern spirituality, in particular, has not intersected or integrated with the development of western psychology these past few hundred years. Like the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita, most eastern sacred texts are thousands of years old. Many developed in the Middle Ages. Others, like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, are 500 years old.
To develop an integrated model for health that draws from psychology and spirituality through non-ordinary states of consciousness, we must address spiritual bypass.
Like any spiritual seeker today, I find myself at the intersection of a vast quantity of information, a massive convergence of cultures, and wisdom traditions from around the globe. Over many decades, I studied with many wise humans on the planet and taught alongside many of them, too. One of my gifts is facilitating non-ordinary states of consciousness for myself and others, from intimate groups to large public gatherings. As a result, I built a strong career, publishing books, producing music, and offering events worldwide for more than 30 years. And then, I started to remember complex trauma in childhood.
It is one thing to teach others tools of consciousness; it is quite another to learn to use them yourself when there is an unfamiliar disturbance within yourself. I had never known this state, not with such intensity. Diagnosed with PTSD in 2018, particularly from the muscular memories that never let up, I needed to work my way from the ground upwards. After several years of EMDR and somatic therapy methodologies, I'm now integrating the wide range of practices I learned and that I've taught as The Yoga of Sound into my healing process.
Throughout my journey, these past few years, the students in my Yogic Mystery School have shared these methods of integrating eastern spirituality with western psychology, of identifying spiritual bypass alongside developing non-ordinary states that we bring to bear upon our healing process. The "maturity" spoken of earlier develops through the integration of western psychology with eastern spirituality. Without the accountability of western psychology, one can unwittingly succumb to spiritual bypass.
Western psychology has developed in leaps and bounds from Freud and Jung to Maslow, Assagioli, and our living father of Transpersonal psychology, Stanislav Grof, also dear to my mentor, the late Bede Griffiths. In a nutshell, Grof teaches that "Psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy as we know them are broken. They don't allow for non-ordinary states and don't have a category for spiritual experiences. They often tranquilize and hospitalize people for experiences that in other cultures would be considered extremely valuable."2 Nevertheless, psychologists like Christa Smith offer us the opportunity to integrate non-ordinary states into our healing process.
Health can no longer fragment into mental health, physical fitness, and spirituality, each its separate domain. Instead, our way forward into the 21st century is through models of integrative health. My wife, Asha, is my model for such a system. She studied spirituality side-by-side with me, with many of the same teachers, including Bede Griffiths. And she taught alongside many of the same spiritual luminaries I co-presented with, like Wayne Teasdale. Yet, over a decade ago, she understood and practiced so many of the pieces that I am only now realizing are crucial to an integrated model of health.
Asha Paul is not only my spiritual coach but helps many of my students, as well. Women, in general, are bringing forth a kind of wisdom that is so needed today.