William James

World Sickness and the Thirst for God

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By Nicolina Santoro, MA, IMF 77972

Once upon a time, in the vast kingdom of the helping professions, there lived a therapist whose thirst for knowledge and desire to aid in the process of personal and interpersonal change was unrivaled in all the land. This therapist had taken it upon herself to rewrite the story of her own history in a manner that changes the context of painful past experiences from blockages into tools that create a larger understanding and empathy for those she has chosen to serve in her work.

This constantly evolving therapist became immersed in theory and work of great minds such as Carl Rogers and William James. Realizing that human potential is vast, she wanted to understand how important stories and fairy tales were to constructing the memories that colored the landscape of reality, a reality that seemed to have the power to dictate how people see themselves and live their lives.

These dominant fairy tales permeate the fabric of our perceptions which also bump up against the lives of others we come into contact with out in the world. Personal narratives or “life styles” are filled with characters that are archetypal in nature, influencing us to play out repetitive sequences in life. These characters tend to take on the personas of stereotypical themes that are reinforced by learning them at a young age, or by the social referencing effect of our dominant culture.

William James calls the mental fatigue effect of living in an environment laden with unrealistic scenarios or fairy tales “world sickness.” It appears as though living in a world dominated by stereotypes and fairy tales could be implicated in the aggravation of many types of mental health issues.

How can we address the fatigue, depression, anxiety, and thought distortions that world sickness creates and impacts?

Let’s start with being gentle with ourselves. When we imagine a supreme spiritual being, the embodiment of certain characteristics seems to be present across many cultures. Some of these characteristics include unconditional love (a love that exists beyond judgment), a superconscious presence that never dissipates or abandons, and the ability to create out of seemingly thin air. For the scientists who have a different path, god could also be described as the picture of what we theorize as the highest human potential. We have the potential to express this in our own reality by living our lives in accordance to our deepest and strongest values while moving away from comparing ourselves to the unrealistic standards or “fairy tales” woven into the fabric of our society, loving ourselves and others through the lens of acceptance and vulnerability, a gentler version of happily ever after.


References

James. W. (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study on Human Nature. Longmans, Green & Co. London, UK.

Miller, W.R. (2006). Integrating Spirituality into Treatment: Resources for Practitioners. Washington: American Psychological Association.

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Between Religion And Science, The Soul Gleefully Swings

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Soul Food...we all need it.

Soul Food: We All Need It! (Photo Credit: Dollar Photo Club)

By Nicolina Santoro, M.A., MFTI

Humans have contemplated the origins of the soul, and its connection to some sort of divine, omnipotent source for thousands of years. This post is not an advertisement for religion; it’s an exploration of the theme. Religion is a comforting, human way to personalize and categorize our universe. It is also the ghost in the machine, impossible to ascertain, or even quantify. The matter of divine connection as a collective species is the fire that forged worship, mysticism, philosophy, psychology, and eventually transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal Psychology is a school of thought inspired by the pioneering work of American psychologist, William James, one of the forefathers of modern psychology. It is the exploration of the highest potential of man, as defined by the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.

According to James, the religious experience has four key components:

  1. It is short in duration
  2. It is hard to describe in words and very emotional
  3. It leaves the subject feeling as though they have learned something significant
  4. It happens to the subject usually without conscious manipulation, though the environment has shown to play a role.

Imagine a feeling that at once dissolves the individual into a place of complete connectedness and love. The religious experience is so moving that it can affect an individual for the rest of his or her life. The memory of the experience is so charged, it seems it can be recalled at will for years. A normal physiological occurrence that feels similar, albeit usually shorter, is the human orgasm.

There is nothing modern about this experience or this longing. Ancient cultures all have their unique brand of religious experience. Deep trances, speaking in tongues, dancing frenzies, and altered states of consciousness, in various forms, were common to indigenous people of almost every continent. Their purpose was to bring whole tribes of people into communion with the divine force. As time went on, this unseen force acquired many names, was worshiped in many languages, but the only constant in the matter seemed to be this shared drive to find, and have a communion with this force.

The religious experience has been known to have long-term effects on the subjects who have had them. Modern science has become increasingly interested in studying these effects, which include a new appreciation for life, better moods, inspired creative activity, increased levels of tolerance, patience, and empathy. The subject feels a part of something special, like a divine force took a moment out of infinity to validate them. We all know how good validation feels. Validation is like high performance fuel in the gas tank. The engine of the car is going to run better.

Science has some very interesting conclusions to bear on what is happening to the subject of a religious experience on a neurological level. In The Neuroscience of Religious ExperiencePatrick McNamara and collaborators describe how the neurotransmitter dopamine, when produced excessively, has been correlated with increases in religious inclination, hallucinations, and dramatic shifts in the subject’s perception.

Positive correlations between religion and health have also been noted in the research on dopaminergic neurons, and their managerial properties in relation to the autonomic nervous system. A subject in the throes of a religious experience shows high activity in the frontal and pre-frontal cortex of the brain, suggesting that higher order functions are at work, rather than the evolutionary biological reaction that would reside mostly in the limbic system. Some of the noted positive health effects on the subject include reduced anxiety, blood pressure, and pain symptoms. Subjects reported more positive mental well-being, and confidence. The lasting effects of regular spiritual practice are positively correlated to improved mental and physical health.


At Healing Pathways Psychological Services, we work with people of all faiths, backgrounds and cultures. We all have the same goal: to live a happy and purposeful life! Call us if you’d like to meet one of our talented therapists.

 

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