Modern psychology seems to come to the point of either accepting the transcendental and mystical nature of human being or making a scientific breakthrough, that demystify all the spirituality. The discoveries made by quantum physics about the dependence of the nucleus on the vision of the observer, keep the scientists amazed and also make the path opening our logical minds to no logical aspects of our existence.

The spiritual aspect is included in the theory of humanistic psychology, but still very carefully acknowledged by psychologists in their practice. Meditation, yoga, healing, shamanic visions and other spiritual practices are often pathologized and discriminated as a part of the dysfunction. Still, in recent years psychology of health and psychosomatic medicine are getting interested in relaxation aspect of meditation as a stress reduction technique.

On the other hand, people practising meditation seem to stuck in their growth or enlightenment, because of suppressing childhood traumas or other cognitive drawbacks, that influence their way of thinking about themselves or about the world. For them, psychotherapy might be a great help in further unfolding human potential.

Both western psychology and Eastern practices are trying to understand the nature of the human mind and show people the way of fuller, happier lives. Their integration and trials of mutual understanding might be a great benefit for all mankind.

But sitting for hours without moving to contribute to a happier life? Doesn’t it make a person a vegetable without any feelings?

The main idea of meditation is staying conscious and aware of everything that is happening, observing without judging or interpretation, maintaining “fresh”, sober and open mind. During meditation, it is easier to notice out thinking patterns and matrix that condition our perception. Meditation calms down our thoughts which we become more conscious of. As a result their influence on our mood and behaviour significantly decreases. When we meditate, we become more conscious of how we simplify and distort particular situations in order to maintain our single identity or just quickly react to a stimulus.

There is no doubt, that emotions have an important adaptable function, so why to control them? What is the border between a functional and destructive aspect of emotion?

From the biological perspective, the mechanism of formatting emotions, for example, fear, looks as follows.

When we feel threatened, our organism secretes stress hormones – adrenaline and noradrenalin – necessary for a quick reaction. When on the other hand there is no reaction on our part, these hormones accumulate in our body and cause blood circulation dysfunctions, insomnia, depression, nervous diseases, and other health problems, because our immune system has been weakened (Benson 1988). Also getting in a fight when sensing a danger is not the right solution; quite the contrary, aggression stirs up even more aggression resulting in the escalation of emotions. Even though our hormonal and physiological reactions prepare us for possible escape or self-protection and constitute our biological heritage, they can be very harmful when are not under some kind of conscious control.

Paul Ekman, a psychologist who studies emotions, has been experimented on meditation with the participation of Buddhist monks. They were exposed to very loud sounds of firecracker wile meditating. Ekaman monitored their participant’s blood pressure, muscle movements, heart rate and skin temperature for signs of startle. Their reaction was insignificant, comparing to the reaction of people how don’t practice meditation.

“We found things we had never seen before,” [1] says Ekman.

This experiment proved calming and controlling effects of meditation on emotional states. Yet, the emotions are important for our interactions with the surrounding, so is suppressing them beneficial for our physical and psychological well being? The difference, according to Ekman, is in realizing the emotion, being conscious of its appearance but not reacting on it. It varies from suppressing, because the emotion is allowed to consciousness. It also is not judged as good or wrong, simply acknowledged and allowed to be for some time in the mind. This kind of mental state is possible due to long meditation practice and can be described as a state of the observer.

In our understanding of emotions, they are manageable after they significantly appear in our action, “after you are already burning up,” [2] explains Ekman. Meditation practice helps to control and manage emotions before they do any harm. We can realize as they are rising, but we do no react to them. It is like “recognizing the spark before the flame”, says Ekman. [3]

Besides the emotions, constant stress accompanying our daily lives is also a significant element triggering health problems of a modern human. Most cardiovascular diseases, so widespread nowadays, are caused by a stressful lifestyle. Stress reduction seems to be an important tool for maintaining good health. Meditation, because of its calming and relaxing effect is getting to be a leading practice for lowering the level of stress. It becomes included in more and more therapies, especially those focusing on maintaining good health and curing PTSD.

Meditation complements with psychology also in cognitive aspect, especially in such functions as perceptual sensitivity, processing speed, synesthesia, concentration, reaction time, motor skills, self-control, self-acceptance, self-understanding, insight, self-monitoring, learning ability, short- and long-term memory recall, and academic performance.

As I have mentioned earlier, the crucial principle of meditation is staying alert in peaceful and relaxed manner. This kind of attention can be compared to reflectivity in psychology. Even though it seems, that non-reflectivity or absence of reflectivity makes us more relaxed, it is just opposite. Ellen Langer (1993) in her experiment on reflectivity made one group of nursing home patients practice meditation for two years. Another group of patients was living normal, routine life, based mainly on doing what they were told to do by staff. The rate of deaths in the meditating group was four times lower than in the control group.

Attention is also a crucial element of psychotherapy. An open mind is necessary for an effective therapy and change of personality or behaviour. Meditation prepares for experiencing such a state of openness and gives the background for insight.

First thing we realize while sitting in meditation is how many thoughts run through our heads, how much tension and other proprioceptive signals we feel in our body, and how little control we have over our state of mind.

The main idea is not to control thoughts but effortlessly observe them as they are passing through. In this state of mind it is easy to clearly “see” the thoughts and also to realize the signals from our body – information from our subconscious. We can then work on them in psychotherapy or they simply change just through recognition. Our energy is not wasted on planning the day or thinking about the future, it is all given to ourselves in that moment and it becomes a magnifying glass for our psyche.

Even though meditation starts witch observing thoughts, breath, feelings, emotions, it goes far beyond that. What happens in meditation is not only concerning our own inner word. Very often we experience all kinds of insights about life itself and all human existence.

Meditation creates the state of detachment from the roles that we take in life and from a particular point of view. As a result, we take the roles more consciously and we know that other people also play different roles. We become less judgmental and more empathetic, perceiving whatever we are experiencing as a part of being human. Amazingly, this shifting from “I” to “we” might be helpful in times of depression or deep suffering.

Besides out centred vision, meditation has also another spiritual aspect, which can be important for our well being. In all religions, meditation poses a gate to a spiritual realm. Its important aspect is getting in touch with the Divine in us or with God, feeling the holiness of oneself and others. This spiritual experience enhances our sense of living which, according to humanistic psychologists, seems to be an important factor for a happy and meaningful life.

It has been proven, that spiritual people are generally happier than those who don’t include the spiritual dimension into their daily lives (Myers and Diener, 1995). This might be due to optimistic thinking, a kind of attitude that whenever there is a difficulty, there is a reason for it. Often believing in higher powers gives people strength to get up after the rough times and go on with their lives, keeping the faith and feeling of sense.

The phenomenon of faster recoveries after surgeries is an object of many studies undertaken by psychosomatic medicine. And even though there is still not a clear explanation of how it works, the facts speak for themselves.

Even though the spiritual path is very important, often we meet the obstacles, which only good psychotherapy can help us deal with.

Many spiritual practices don’t pay attention to childhood traumas and schemas that rule our life. They seem to value transpersonal forgetting about “personal”, so people often get stuck in their practice because of some disconnected parts of their personality or thinking schemas that limit them. They don’t know how to work with them and transform destructive patterns, so they try to handle this situation by suppressing what is a burden, what usually doesn’t help.

It is difficult to experience the fullness of Self, live as an integrated individual and maintain the state of mind called enlightenment when there are aspects of ourselves, which we do not know. It is not possible to “skip” ourselves. Expanded consciousness is not a consciousness “above” or “beyond” but rather a consciousness of everything, covering all stages of human development. In order to exceed ego, we first need to have the ego, and that is where psychotherapy comes to hand. Enriching meditative practices with what has been acquired by Western psychology, such as laboratory science, child development, psychopathology, or psychodynamics, can be highly beneficial for the practitioners.

In recent years, western psychologists have been opening up to the knowledge of the East and East opens up to psychological approach. They see the similarities in goals and also differences in tools, which exchange can enrich both approaches of psyche exploration.

The integration trend is expanding what can be observed in uprising new branches of psychology, like psychology of spirituality and health, cross-cultural psychology, integral psychology, integrative psychotherapy, transpersonal psychology.

I personally believe that this kind of integrated approach will lead to more effective treatments and will provide people with the necessary skills for maintaining or unfolding the inner strength. This is what we need more than just regular therapeutic sessions that last for years or just make us well-functioning parts of some bigger social mechanism, detached from mystery, individualism, transcendence and spirituality.


  1. “Tibetan Buddhism and research psychology: a match made in Nirvana?”, Sadie F. Dingfelder. Apa, Monitor, December 03.
  2. “Religion and spirituality in the treatment room”, Karen Kersting. Apa, Monitor, December 03.
  3. “Physician connects ‘relaxation response’ to mind-body health”, Karen Kersting. Apa, Monitor, may 05.
  4. http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/heart/9906/28/feelings.heart/. Feeling it in your heart, William Collinge, Ph.D.
  5. “Psychology, Core Concepts”, P. Zimbardo, R. L. Johnson, A. L. Weber, Allyn and Bacon, 2006
  6. “The Meeting of Meditative Disciplines and Western Psychology, A Mutually Enriching Dialogue”, Roger Walsh, Shauna L. Shapiro.
  7. “Psychologi poznania”, T. Maruszewski, GWP, Gdańsk 2001
  8. “Psychologia Integralna”, Ken Wilber, Santorski, Warszawa 2000
  9. “Psychoterpaia, teoria”, red. Lidia Grzesiuk, Eneteia, Warszawa 2005

[1] “Tibetan Buddhism and research psychology: a match made in Nirvana?”, Sadie F. Dingfelder. Apa, Monitor,  December 03.

[2]  “Tibetan Buddhism and research psychology: a match made in Nirvana?”, Sadie F. Dingfelder. Apa, Monitor, December 03.

[3]  “Tibetan Buddhism and research psychology: a match made in Nirvana?”, Sadie F. Dingfelder. Apa, Monitor, December 03.