Modern Pscyhology and Spiritual Wisdom
The Sufism and Psychology Forum - A Retrospective

(Printed in Psychology: Traditional, Spiritual, Contemporary, a publication of the Community Healing Centers and the Sufism and Psychology Forum, a department of the International Association of Sufism. Issue 2, Spring 2003.)

For the past six years, the afternoon preceding the Annual Sufism Symposium has found the spotlight on a panel discussion sponsored by the Sufism and Psychology Forum (SPF). Each year a group of distinguished speakers and an attentive audience have explored the depths of the relationship between modern psychology and spiritual wisdom, focusing on a topic within the scope of the Symposium theme.

This innovative and extraordinary format has provided a fascinating array of perspectives on personality, spirituality, and indeed, the nature of human being. Over the years the SPF panel discussion has challenged and stimulated its audience by bringing together speakers of differing backgrounds and areas of specialization. Through these exchanges, SPF has encouraged creative and open-minded research, readily accessible to professionals in the field and the general public alike.

The popularity of this program is evidence of the growing interest in Sufi psychology and the bridge between ancient and modern psychologies that is being researched and brought to the public through the work of SPF. As we prepare for our seventh year, let us review some of the highlights of past Sufism and Psychology Forum panel discussions:

Dr. Sharon Mijares spoke on alchemy as a spiritual science of transformation and an embodied process which leads to illumination of the heart. Dr. Mijares brought in information from the chakra system, Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory, Freud's psychosexual stages, the martial arts, Buddhism, Jung, Wilhelm Reich, new-age spirituality, and the wisdom of Sufism to illustrate her belief that, in the words of the alchemist Imam Jafar Sadiq, "By the joining of the power of contemplation all can be attained."

Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz spoke on the ethics of brother- and sisterhood as they are defined in the Qur'an and by the early Sufis, and compared brotherhood to a pair of hands that wash each other. Speaking to the therapists in the audience, he suggested that as Sufis and as therapists it is necessary to bring awareness to adab, or manner, as well as to live by the ethics and ethical standards set forth by the profession. Sufi teachers must take the lead in providing wisdom and education, both within their own schools as well as in contact with the general public.

Dr. Nahid Angha introduced the idea of looking not just at medicine and psychology for healing, but also taking a closer look at the power of personal belief, confidence and meditation as other effective sources of healing. She said: physics tells us that the structure of our universe is made up of waves. From our perspective these waves may take the form of matter, light or energy. They don't lose their potentiality by losing their form or shape. It is understood that matter has less freedom of movement and energy has greater freedom of movement. The human being is also constituted of waves and energies, and can be studied in the same way as other energies.

Dr. Roger Walsh emphasized that one of the practices worldwide that is most centrally used for the cultivation of calm and tranquility is meditation, which he defined as a family of practices with the common intention of cultivating and training of attention to foster spiritual well-being and maturity. He observed that the claims of the contemplative traditions that have been around for centuries are now being supported by research - there is a meeting of the inner and outer laboratories. Over 1500 publications on the psychological and mental effects of contemplative practice demonstrate that meditation can enhance creativity, foster self-control, enhance empathy and the capacity for lucid dreaming.

Dr. Ragip Frager shared a model he has formulated, based on the integration of the psychology of Sufism with the work done by Roberto Assagioli, who was a student of Jung and Freud and is considered by many to be one of the oldest and most respected of the transpersonal therapists. Using the oval or egg diagram of Assagioli, he outlined the seven stages or stations of nafs (translated as self or personality.) The lowest level of the nafs, the Unrefined Nafs, or Selfish Self, corresponds to the lower unconscious and id impulses. At the next stage, the Regretful Self, a little light penetrates the impulses from the lower unconscious. With continued striving (the inner jihad) and the guidance of a teacher, spiritual travel continues until one may reach the Pure Self, in which there is no separation from Allah.

Dr. Charles Tart presented a culmination of decades of research into the self, including his research on altered states, transpersonal psychology and parapsychology. He said that one of the major problems that hinders self-discovery is the perceived blockage between science and spirituality. He described both faith and doubt as human attributes that have healthy and pathological forms. He suggested that the conflict between science and religion is a conflict between faith and doubt, and described his project, in which he is gathering reports of scientists' transcendent experiences. He shared his belief that it is possible to bridge the gap between real science and real spirituality.

Dr. Frances Vaughan, one of the pioneers of transpersonal psychology who has written extensively on integrating psychology and spirituality, spoke about Spiritual Intelligence. She stated that spiritual development is related to the many kinds of intelligence within each human being, but doesn't depend on any single faculty. She stressed the importance of the interface between ego development and soul development and the importance of personal responsibility. She has found that ultimately spiritual intelligence is about "connecting the inner life of the mind and spirit to the outer life of action and service in the world. ... When this happens the soul is at peace, everything is perceived as grace."

Dr. Sean Kelly explored some of the core metaphors of transpersonal worldviews and paradigms from the perspective of philosophy. He pointed out that all of our concepts are metaphors: "We think we understand when we have a concept for something. Generally we've lapsed into unconsciousness - meaning we're not aware of the metaphorical ground of the concept we're using." He presented the constructs of archetypes and the unconscious as two examples of how we "understand the concept but do not know in any exhaustive or absolute way" about something. He ended by saying that we will all be better off if we can get out of the bad habit of taking our concepts literally.

March 28-30, 2003 - San Rafael, California Following on the success of and enthusiasm for the SPF events of previous years, the Sufism and Psychology Forum will present a panel of guest speakers at the Tenth Annual IAS Sufism Symposium which will address the theme, "Healing Arts of Expression and Impression." The SPF Panelists will discuss "Spirituality, Psychology, and Science." This special pre-symposium program will be held on Friday, March. 28, 2003, from 3 to 5 p.m., at the Embassy Suites Hotel, in San Rafael, California. Dr. Arife Ellen Hammerle of the Sufism and Psychology Forum and the Community Healing Centers will moderate the panelists who include psychologists, researchers, scientists and clinicians. Dr. Frances Vaughan, Dr. Roger Walsh, Dr. Daniel Deslauriers, Dr. William Gough, Sheikh Jamal Granick and others are scheduled to present this year.

For more information, or if you have comments or suggestions, please contact us at Copyright © 2004 Sufism and Psychology Forum. All Rights Reserved.

Home | About | Events | Departments | Programs | Projects | Resources | Publications

© International Association of Sufism. All rights reserved. For site related concerns contact:
[Site design by Soraya Chase Clow.]

departmentsprograms projectsresourcespublications about ias