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Awareness Is Freedom: The Adventure of Psychology and Spirituality proposes a unique combination of spiritual and psychological concepts that together lead to greater self-awareness and wellbeing. It is structured as eight lessons, each focusing on different aspects of psychology and spirituality, to support readers in their personal journey of self-growth. The psychological and spiritual theories described in the book are backed up by scientific findings that enhance the legitimacy and power of its message. The book also includes practical exercises which allow the reader to apply the ideas in an enjoyable way that will lead to self-improvement and greater satisfaction in life.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Dr Itai Ivtzan is passionate about the combination of psychology and spirituality. He is a positive psychologist, a senior lecturer, and the program leader of MAPP (Masters in Applied Positive Psychology) at the University of East London (UEL). If you wish to get additional information about his work or contact him, please visit www.AwarenessIsFreedom.com
Read an Excerpt
Awareness is Freedom
The Adventure of Psychology and Spirituality
By Itai Ivtzan
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Itai Ivtzan
All rights reserved.
Lesson 1: Psychology & Spirituality
We begin with a simple definition of psychology and spirituality that will later serve as a point of reference in the discussion of these terms. The word "psychology" comes from Greek: "psyche" is the word for "mind" or "soul", and "logos" means study. In other words, psychology is the study of the mind or the soul. Significantly, in the West psychology is only referred to as the study of the mind, whereas the "soul" part is completely ignored. Although psychology could have been the discipline that brought together the mind and the soul, the purely analytical approach adopted in the West was unable to accommodate the soul. Students reading psychology at the university often tell me that they are disappointed with their program. Many of them enrolled because they genuinely desired to better understand themselves and others, and to enhance their self-awareness and self-growth. To their disappointment, they find themselves spending long hours studying statistics and other aspects of psychology that appear to be less relevant to self-discovery. This gap between their original expectations and reality frequently causes frustration. I believe that all aspects of psychology are valuable, and that without statistics it would not be possible to conduct high-quality research; yet I am also convinced that failing to include the spiritual aspect of psychology in the curricula has put the psychology boat on a course that runs close to the essential questions of life but does not really touch upon them.
Psychology as we know it deals with the mind: the way we think, consciously form concepts, understand the world around us and make sense of it.
Defining spirituality is significantly harder and less clear cut, primarily because there are different approaches to spiritually, each generating a different definition. Sociologists, for example, are mostly interested in the impact of spirituality on social institutions, philosophers tend to focus on the philosophical implications of spirituality, and theologians are likely to ponder over the part of spirituality in the religious experience. In the present book, spirituality is regarded as a practical tool to achieve self-growth, because it paves the way for transcendence. It helps transcend the analytical functioning and cognitive processing of the mind, and makes room for other experiences. It might be easier to contemplate the spiritual experience from a psychological point of view: Psychology differentiates between cognition and meta-cognition. Cognition deals with one's thinking processes while meta-cognition is defined as "thinking about thinking". Imagine focusing your attention on an apple. You are using your cognitive faculties to become aware of the colours and aroma of the apple, but the experience rarely ends there: your meta-cognition immediately enters into action, and your mind generates thoughts in reaction to whatever is at the centre of your cognition at that moment (in this case the apple). Your meta-cognition may produce reactions such as "wow, what a beautiful apple, I should have bought more" or "I hope it has no worms in it". Spirituality points the way to transcending meta-cognition, that is, staying conscious of the apple but avoiding a parade of thoughts and reactions to it. This implies a capability to fully immerse one's awareness in the moment.
Spirituality is an invitation for a journey of transcendence that will transform your present illusionary self, the Ego Formed Self, into your Authentic Self. The discipline of spirituality regards what you perceive as your 'self' as an illusion that is an obstacle on your path to freedom. In lesson 4 we discuss the concept of self, understand the difference between the Ego Formed Self and the Authentic Self, and perform exercises that will lead you from one to the other.
In the West, an interesting shift is noticed in the way spirituality is perceived. The number of people who realise that their lives are incomplete has been growing. People understand that they have been evading certain aspects offered by life due to apprehension and discomfort. A growing feeling of oppression drives them to seek an alternative, a way to deal with these difficulties, break the boundaries and experience freedom. This is where spirituality comes in. Once they are willing to face meaningful questions, spirituality clears the way for growth. It enables them to transcend the limitations they perceive, with emphasis on "perceive". In many cases, the restrictions that exist in life stem from individual perspectives, and from people's concepts about their limits. Spirituality invites you to transcend your boundaries, and experience life with clarity and greater choice.
Spirituality has become increasingly popular because it is so relevant to our time. Look no further than the mushrooming of spiritual courses and retreats, nourished by frustration and difficulty. But the proliferation of spiritual books and courses does not necessarily guarantee quality. Many of the teachings on offer have very little to do with the spiritual essence of growth, and are merely by-products of the New Age trend. Concepts such as "let go", "live in the present", "just be" are tossed around, but their meaning remains obscure. Many individuals have been visiting spiritual workshops and retreats time and again for years, but have not succeeded in truly evolving and changing. To distinguish between an empty spiritual discussion and a meaningful one, look for their outcomes, find out whether or not change was achieved. An authentic spiritual process that touches upon essential questions about the true nature of one's consciousness is bound to produce change. Your life, your experiences, your attitude, and your understanding of your self will all change. That is your indicator as to the fact that you are engaging with genuine work that is relevant and meaningful for you. It is also crucial to emphasise the words "for you" in this context. A spiritual journey is personal; transcendence and growth are therefore achieved using subjective tools. A certain book, teacher, or workshop might be highly relevant and meaningful for one person but useless for another. Learning to recognise the tools that are relevant and meaningful for you is an important aspect of the spiritual journey.
As already mentioned psychology and spirituality must combine to bring about growth. Growing means daring to go beyond your personal boundaries. We all conduct our lives according to our personal definition of self, which carries with it a series of boundaries and limitations. Growth means pushing the boundaries to expand one's inner space. In practice, this implies that certain options, which were previously out of bounds, are now permitted and available. You have pushed your boundary, you have grown, and therefore you have the choice to say "yes" to certain things that used to be an automatic "no" in the past. This process frequently provokes two conflicting emotions: excitement and apprehension. While the adventurous prospect of going beyond your own boundaries and exploring new territories is exciting, it also provokes apprehension and anxiety. New experiences touch on the unknown, and most of us are intimidated by the unknown.
Religion vs. spirituality
The concepts of religion and spirituality are often confused, and must be clarified and told apart. Historically, the rise of secularism in the mid-1900s necessitated making a distinction between spirituality and religion. Earlier, a religious person was automatically regarded as spiritual, and vice versa. Secularism advocated disengagement from religion, and yet individuals maintained their inner spirituality, ascribing new and distinct connotations to it. Although religion and spirituality both search for that meaningful and transcendent experience referred to as "sacred", there is a thorough difference between them: Religion leans on group-validated organised means and methods, and prescribes specific practices that must be maintained within the group. It thus combines the search for the sacred with group-validated means. Spirituality, on the other hand, does not prescribe any rules, means or methods to determine the nature of its search element. By the same token, it is possible to practice religion by following group-validated means and methods without actually being spiritual, that is, without engaging in a quest for the sacred or for transcendence.
In a study we conducted, my colleagues and I measured the level of spirituality in 205 participants. We evaluated their quest for the sacred, e.g., whether or not they had experienced transcendence, and their sense of oneness with the environment. We also measured the prominence of religious involvement in their lives as manifest in their adherence to group-validated means and methods (e.g., frequency of visits to a place of worship). Four categories emerged from the scores obtained for religious involvement (R) and spirituality (S) – R+S-; R-S+; R+S+; R-S- – representing four possible combinations: high religious involvement and low spirituality, low religious involvement and high spiritually, high levels of both, and low levels of both. In the same experiment, we also measured the participants' wellbeing, using as criteria the levels of meaning in life, self-actualisation (fulfilling one's potential), and willingness to undertake the exploration of self-growth. The findings were fascinating. Two groups, R+S+ and R-S+, where spirituality was prominent with or without a religious context, consistently showed higher levels of wellbeing. The group with the lowest levels of wellbeing was the R+S- one, where religious involvement was high, but spirituality levels were low. In other words, the results indicated that spirituality, especially the aspects of meaning in life, self-fulfilment, and self-growth, is a crucial constituent of wellbeing. Notably, religion was found to have the power to enhance wellbeing if it incorporates spirituality. Note that all the tested aspects of wellbeing were the products of one's own inner exploration and could only spring from the individual seeking them. Take for example the matter of meaning in life. Your sense of meaning stems from your individual journey of exploration and from the questions you ask. Meaning in life is not obtainable off the shelf, but must be conceived individually. Spirituality rises from your own creativity, courage, and personal choices, all powerful triggers of transformation.
Psychology and spirituality: The meeting point
As already explained, psychology focuses on cognitive processes such as knowledge, thoughts and ideas and on their interconnection, while spirituality is involved with experiences that transcend these processes.
Psychology and spirituality could be described as "feet on the ground, head in the sky". Psychology represents the "grounding" effect, in which the mind is used for thinking, rationalizing, and understanding life. Spirituality transcends rational thought and evolves intuitively over one's lifetime. Living a full life would mean embracing these different aspects of life, and maintaining a balance between them. Most people tend to search for a single unambiguous answer and dismiss all others. They either follow the mind-oriented psychological path or the intuitive transcendental one. Many members of the academic milieu reject vehemently all intuitive alternatives; they strongly believe that life should only be experienced through the mind. But many spiritual groups with which I am acquainted first-hand, see the mind as the enemy, and consider intuitive transcendent experiences as the only valid tools in life. By adhering to their one-sided views, both groups are restricting themselves. While being well equipped to deal with certain situations, they are ill equipped to deal with others. Rather than being contradictory, mind-based and intuitive-based experiences are complementary. They represent two aspects of the entity we call life. Certain moments in life require mind-oriented skills, while in others one must let go of the mind and act intuitively. Having both options at one's disposal at any given moment offers greater flexibility and taking action properly. This could happen only when both the psychological and the spiritual are alive within you. To realize in full the potential of growth in your life, you must be able to shift between the psychological and the spiritual poles in accordance with the situation and at your own choice.
Psychology and spirituality: Interdependence
Because psychology is based upon the mind, it has an important role in our journey towards self-awareness. Psychology is the means to explore and map out your mind, and understand its hidden motivations. The mind contains fragmentary information that ultimately defines who you are. Psychology helps you get in touch with this information, and gain insights on who you are and how you define your self. Spirituality, on the other hand, aims to transcend this rational processing. The newly acquired ability to transcend that which has been acknowledged is the point where psychology and spirituality meet. To transcend something, one must be aware that it actually exists. In other words, awareness is the key word. To become who you really are, you must transcend your illusionary perception of yourself. Since this illusion is based upon mind constructs, the awareness gained through psychological processing is necessary for spiritual transcendence. By exploring your psychological processes you get acquainted with your mind's definition of yourself. Psychology is therefore crucial to the spiritual journey for transcendence. Thus there is a strong bond between psychology and spirituality: Psychology is the means by which you get to know your mind, spirituality enables you to transcend your mind. They are essential for one another.
What stands in your way to living a full and free life: The concepts of personality and ego
One major obstacle stands in your way to living your life fully: You are not experiencing life as it really is. You may think this weird: "Of course I experience my life, what else would I be experiencing?" My reply is that you are actually experiencing your personal interpretation of life. The difference between the two is the difference between conditioning and freedom. We are rarely in touch with each and every moment of our life, and are therefore unable to connect directly and clearly to whatever comes our way. In fact, most of us bring our opinions, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs into our interpretation of each moment, drowning it. This prevents experiencing each moment as it is. Imagine the sun coming out and bathing you with its light and warmth. If you could simply bask in its warmth without further reaction, you would be experiencing life as it is. But this is almost impossible for most of us; a series of reactions immediately light up in our minds: "I wish it were this warm all the time" or "It's too hot, I should have applied sun screen". Every reaction pulls us away from the experience of life as it is, replacing it with our personal interpretation of life. We are constantly reaching out to the experience, but hardly ever manage to penetrate the many layers that wrap it.
What is the source of this personal interpretation? What is it that prevents our first-hand encounter with life? Psychologists call it personality. Spiritual teachers call it ego. What is personality? "Personality structure is described in terms of components that (once they are fully formed) are considered stable and enduring. Personality processes are descriptions of motivational states, which give rise to behaviour whose expression is mediated by that structure". The first essential element of this definition is that our personality is comprised of components, many mosaic-like pieces that come together to form one structure – the self. These components are quite stable and enduring. As time goes by, the components that develop within us tend to grow steadier and more solid. Individual components apply to different moments in life, becoming an integral part of our personality. Significantly, these components prompt the personality processes that determine our motivational states. The motivation that drives us towards a certain moment depends on the components that make up our personality. Whether you tend to be enthusiastic, bored, connected, disconnected, committed, or avoiding, depends on inner components that generate your motivational states. I have heard people say: "I just felt disengaged, the feeling came out of nowhere, I have no idea why I felt this way". Statements such as this indicate that the persons who utter them are blind to the way in which their personality components work. One's motivation (or lack of it) is never coincidental; it springs from a mental component and naturally gives rise to certain behaviours. The impact of a personality component does not end with motivation, but also affects one's behaviour, choices, and actions. It therefore has a very real impact on life and the way people experience it. The last part of the definition deals with mediation. The structure of our personality is a mediator that determines our behavioural expressions. In other words, the experience of a certain moment and the behaviour it entails rarely interface directly, because a personality component stands in the middle and mediates between them. This mediation results in a subjective interpretation rather than an unbiased experience of life.
Excerpted from Awareness is Freedom by Itai Ivtzan. Copyright © 2014 Itai Ivtzan. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
To the reader 1
Lesson 1 Psychology and Spirituality 9
Religion vs. spirituality 12
Psychology and spirituality: The meeting point 14
Psychology and spirituality: Interdependence 15
What stands is your way to living a full and free life: The concepts of personality and ego 16
Here and now exercise 1: Naming your ego concepts 18
Why must a personality/ego be created?
Psychological measurement 1: Personal need for structure questionnaire 19
An idea of your self 23
Weekly exercise 1: Discovering your ego concepts 26
Lesson 2 The Meditative Skill 29
The influence of meditation
Different kinds of meditation 33
Here and now exercise 2: The wandering mind 34
Who is in charge of your awareness? 35
If you are washing the dishes, just wash the dishes 36
Meditative technique vs. meditative state 38
Breathing meditation 39
Understanding meditation 40
Weekly exercise 2: Breathing meditation 44
Meditation: Retraining your attention 46
Patience and subtle changes 48
Psychological measurement 2: Personal growth initiative scale 50
Beginning to meditate 51
Different meditation sessions 52
Lesson 3 Aware and Unaware Thinking 54
The thinking obsession
There is nothing wrong with the mind 55
Resting in your inner "home"
Aware vs. unaware thinking 56
Cultivating aware thinking 57
Here and now exercise 3: writing your thoughts 58
Ego concepts grow and shrink 59
Gradual progress 60
Breaking the attachment 61
Psychological measurement 3: non-attachment scale 62
Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional 65
Weekly exercise 3: Observing your thoughts 66
Lesson 4 The Illusion of the Self 68
The concept of self
Trapped in patterns 69
Is there a container? 70
Here and now exercise 4: can you find the experiencer? 76
Attachment to the self 77
The mind fights for its existence 79
Enlightenment: An alternative to the ego formed self 80
Awareness of the layers that conceal your authentic self 82
Facing your self 83
What is the experience of enlightenment? 84
Psychological measurement 4: Compassion scale 85
Weekly exercise 4: Consciously choosing enlightenment 86
Lesson 5 Everything is Neutral 89
Here and now exercise 5: The clock experiment
Schema theory 90
Spirituality and schemas 93
The neutrality of life 95
Weekly exercise 5: This situation was neutral 96
Psychological measurement 5: Perceived autonomy in life domains scale 99
Taking responsibility 101
Lesson 6 The Art of Presence and Meditation Techniques 104
Here and now exercise 6: Walking meditation 105
Being and thinking
Meditation permeates life 106
Psychological research: Mind-wandering 107
Psychological measurement 6: Mindfulness questionnaire 108
Meditation techniques 113
Changing techniques 123
Weekly exercise 6: Meditation techniques 124
Meditation will not make you passive 125
Developing meditation 126
Lesson 7 Impermanence: This Too Shall Pass 129
Life is change
Stress: Psychological reaction to impermanence 130
Impermanence is sensed as dangerous 131
Psychological measurement 7: Personal meaning in life 132
Emotional polarity and the Authentic Self 134
The cycle of misery 135
Here and now exercise 7: Your cravings and rejections 136
Dependent and independent emotions 137
Weekly exercise 7: Engaging with change 139
Enlightenment is impermanent
Lesson 8 Freedom and Meditation - Bringing It All Together 142
Thoughts and emotions
Emotions and bodily-sensations 143
Psychological measurement 8: Body awareness questionnaire 145
Yoga, psychology, and spirituality 148
Thought, emotions, and bodily reactions: The link 152
Relevance to your spiritual journey 153
Observing? How? 155
Here and now exercise 8(A): Emotions & sensations 156
Here and now exercise 8(B): The rag-doll technique 157
The art of non-reaction
Weekly exercise 8(A): Body awareness 159
Weekly exercise 8(B): Reaction to events 161
Life-Long Exercise: Going deeper into your Authentic Self 162
Final words 164