A Bridge Between Chalkboard Science and the Metaphysical Soul

by The Rev. Dr. Jerry F. Smith, S.T.D., WPCA President

The field of Pastoral Psychotherapy is charged with the daunting task of creating a bridge between the “hard” neurosciences and the experience of the metaphysical soul. It seeks to maintain the integrity of each, while heightening the dialogue between them. “Hard” neurosciences ultimately contend that human experience consists of neurochemical processes, rationally expressible as a series of mathematical equations and chemical formulae. What is real, from this perspective, must explicitly yield scientific evidence, as governed by scientific method, and agreed upon by a certain assigned body of peer professionals. This is no recent idea. Manuscripts from Neolithic times cite that ancient Egyptians and contemporary cultures sought the locus of many human problems in the brain, and Sigmund Freud, the founder of modern day psycho- therapy, spent his early career as a brain pathologist seeking the origins of human mental disorders in brain tissue. However vast literature — which includes, but is not limited to, religious traditions of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism — also supports the human experience as metaphysical, wherein reality can transcend that which is perceptible to human senses, and to our intellect.

Metaphysical is defined as the study of what is fundamental to nature and being, and it grapples with two questions: “What is real?” and “What are the properties of that reality?” When amplified these questions evolve into concerns over existence, objects and their properties, space and time, cause and effect, and possibility. Expanding the field to include trans-personal psychology provides an even richer picture. This approach to psychology grew out of other schools including psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology; it studies the transpersonal and self-transcendent, or spiritual aspects, of the human experience, and attempts to describe and integrate spiritual experience within modern psychological theory. The concerns of transpersonal psychology include the recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive, spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness, and it considers issues including spiritual self- development, self beyond the ego, peak experiences, mystical experiences, systemic trance and other sublime and/or unusually expanded experiences of living.

Stark separation between “hard” neurosciences and metaphysics is relatively recent. Until the late eighteenth century, before the advent of the scientific method, the physical and meta-physical had a very congenial interchange around the material and non-material nature of existence. Aristotle, one of the originators of Western science and philosophy, posited an integrated interchange between these two aspects of human experience. And, allowed to converse freely, these two realms birthed astonishing results, like the theory of Relativity.

Sadly, however, while Carl Jung and others laid the legitimate cornerstones of the spiritual and trans-personal in their work, current Western psychology tends to ignore, or disengage from, the spiritual dimension of the human psyche. Nevertheless, pastoral counselors embrace the inclusive dialogical process, and continue to advocate for free, respectful, and non-judgmental discussion between these two parts of our human inquiry. Pastoral counseling establishes a series of contexts that allow for the study, and treatment of the whole human condition.

So, my final questions are: “How do you maintain that free, respectful, and non-judgmental discussion within yourself?” and “How do you enter into it with the broadest spectrum of your professional colleagues?” Please write and tell us your experiences. With warmest blessings, Jerry