Spiritual psychology, also referred to as transpersonal psychology, involves integrating spiritual or transcendent elements of human experience into the therapeutic process as essential to psychological functioning. It recognizes the potential for growth inherent in “peak” experiences and other shifts in consciousness that can change, in an instant, how much of our true nature we can recognize. It seeks to see symptoms as a part of the higher self, trying to self-actualize. It goes beyond what’s right with people, and asks, “What makes people extremely well, or optimal beings?”
So, as we are concerned with at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, how does that translate to our relationships with food and body? Abraham Maslow, one of the seminal thinkers in the field of spiritual psychology, believed that beyond the basic survival needs of food, shelter and water, love and belonging, we strive for Being-needs. Being-needs are the needs that emerge once there are no deficiencies in basic needs. They are needs for making the world a better place through meaningful contributions of work, creative expression, justice, and spiritual truth. Logic from this point follows then, that symptoms in our relationship with food could be illuminating blocks toward that higher self.
1. We Are All Part of a Larger Whole That is Essentially Good
We are tapped into a larger Source. And because we are part of this Source, we are all basically good in our nature. Just as there are microbes, cells and organs inside our body, we are each cells in a larger field of consciousness. When we struggle to find an answer from our ego-identified self, there is a collective consciousness with unlimited resources we can tap into for guidance.
If we struggle with unwanted patterns of eating, we can tap into this Source for answers. It’s the foundation of any 12-step program to find a version of a Higher Power, or something bigger than you, to put your faith in. It can be the community of people gathered with a singular goal to recover. It can be a God from religion. It can be nature. It can be the collective pool of everyone’s unconscious minds, or it can be the synergy in human connection.
Whatever your mind wraps around that can identify a higher being can be a resource for answers. As Albert Einstein stated, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” Sometimes we need to alter our existing consciousness through spiritual practices in order to find a different way of thinking about our problems.
2. We Are Already Whole
Carl Jung, another contributor to spiritual psychology, believed that part of the function of transpersonal therapies is to awaken personal awareness and intuition (non-rational knowing) with the body’s ability to heal itself through compassionate self-support. We are not broken, waiting for someone else to fix us. We have all the answers and simply need to wake up to this understanding. We all possess basic goodness at our core, and when we can remove shame (which is a function of the ego, or sense of self) we can hear our Higher Self. It’s a much more empowering stance than going outside ourselves for answers.
Jung believed that this Higher Self was tapped into the collective unconscious, and we can have access to it for answers. He believed that in this wholeness, we contain the seeds of any aspect of human experience, from self-actualization to murder. Which seeds flower simply depend on which seeds we water. The parts of ourselves that we cannot acknowledge yet, whether helpful or harmful, exist in what he called the shadow. And the only way to make the shadow self more conscious is to see how we react to others.
If we react to others with a negative or positive charge, we are seeing an aspect of ourselves projected onto them. If we react neutrally, chances are we seeing them as they are without judgment. Think of this applied to our relationship to food.
3. Our Relationship with Food Mirrors Our Relationships with Others and Ourselves
Food is neutral, yet for those of us who struggle with our relationships to food, it feels anything but neutral. Dynamic Eating Psychology teaches us that it’s not food that is the bad guy, but rather, our relationship to it that can be conflicted. What we project onto food, such as “it’s scary,” “it will make me lose control,” or “it will make me unlovable,” are all thoughts we already have about ourselves, but we act it out with the food.
Attacking another, even food, only attacks the very body that sustains us all. There is no conflict outside that is not happening inside. As we start to come from the acceptance that we are good in our basic natures and already whole, we can compassionately sit with our reactions of fear regarding food.
We realize that there is no need to earn love, because we are already deserving of it. So we don’t need to alter ourselves, or our body, to prove anything. We are love and we are already part of the bigger whole. There’s no need to earn love because we are love. There is no separation from the Source, even if we feel separate from another in this moment. Having this stance changes the way we view our symptoms with food and body.
4. Symptoms are Opportunities to Wake Up to a Greater Knowing
Stan Grof was another contributor to transpersonal psychology, and he coined the term “holotropic.” Holotropic means “moving toward wholeness.” Grof used the term to speak about how every bit of consciousness is contained in a single cell, just as DNA has every program to become what it’s designed to be.
From this perspective, perhaps our problems are not problems after all. They are simply the next experience to wake us up to a greater knowing of who we are. Every experience is an opportunity to grow, if we take it as such. If we start to look at our relationship to food this way, what are our problems with food and body helping us to see?
From a transpersonal perspective, true identity is not body or form; it’s spirit. The body brings experience into being. So are our struggles with food and body helping us to see how we abandon ourselves when we forget we are part of the whole? Does our body show us that we need boundaries to protect our integrity from other people who forget this truth? Do we binge because we cannot say no to other people’s attacks on our psyche, forgetting that we are already whole? Do we starve because we forget we are just as important as anyone else, equal in dignity, and already seen by the Source? Do we use compensatory behaviors because we do not trust our body or our wholeness to resolve conflicts?
No matter what you believe, looking through the lens of spiritual psychology can sometimes help shift your perspective on the same old issues. Whatever you think you may have lost or never found in yourself is still there if it is true, because we contain in one atom the whole universe. Nothing is lost. You are already whole.
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