Could Emotional distress and Spiritual development be linked?


A fundamental question at the heart of psychology that is often overlooked relates to the link between emotional distress and spiritual development. What is it that links psychological with spiritual?

Could it be that deeply painful and traumatic experiences shift our awareness. Dr Russell Razzaque, author of “Breaking down is waking up,” describes how we are all functioning at an “ego” level, one in which we are pretending to be a series of characters and forms engaged in a dance. He goes on to describe a world with different levels, where it’s possible to move from one level to the other, from our solid everyday tangible life to another more spiritual level. He describes it being a bit like a sea, where above, the planet looks like a series of unconnected islands and continents but, below exists a different reality, where we see that none of it is separate at all – it’s just part of one giant land mass that makes up the Earth’s surface. It’s all a matter of perspective.

In order to experience this deeper level requires an expansion of awareness, and thus can occur through practices such as meditation or can happen spontaneously, perhaps, he suggests as a consequence of psychological distress. The difference being that it is not a conscious choice but a spontaneous experience. As such it can sometimes be somewhat frightening when it does.

Because we move through the world with our ego constructed “self” a self we create in our minds to make sense of “our world,” changes to this perception can be hard to comprehend as our reality is shifted. People talk of “peak experiences” where just for a moment a different reality is experienced. Peak experiences are often described as a heightened sense of wonder, awe or ecstasy, moments that stand out from everyday experiences (Cherry). Other such mind altering experiences can be, so called, “out of body experiences,” the consequence can be that people see life very differently afterwards. Similarly, some drug takers may glimpse “another world,” quite often a surreal but sometimes spiritual world.

Finally, returning to psychiatrist Dr Russell Razzaque, he leaves us with this interesting statistic, and that is, that 74% of people who have suffered a major mental illness describe themselves as ” deeply spiritual” – a figure many times higher than that of the general population.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

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Cherry. K. “What are peak experiences – psychology overview.” www. psychology [Accessed 7/7/14].

Razzaque. R. (2014). Why Breakdowns Can Also Be Breakthroughs, in Watkins Mind, Body, Spirit, Issue 38, Summer, pp 52-53.

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7 ways that mindfulness will enrich your life.


1. Mindfulness is not about salvation, becoming saintly or developing a holier than thou personality. Our true nature is basically good and mindfulness enables us to develop greater awareness of the self, the world around us and people we come into contact with. By accepting that the knowledge we presently possess is not the absolute changeless truth, we learn to avoid being narrow minded and bound to particular views or doctrine. The path to reality (not salvation) is living mindfully, cultivating greater peace, compassion and understanding. Non attachment from views allows us to be open to others’ viewpoints, open to continual learning and stops us becoming bigoted know-alls. All systems of thoughts are guiding means only, not absolute truth.

2. Mindfulness offers us choice, and choice is freedom from worldly (or other worldly) constraints. Mindfulness is about seeing with our own eyes and making choices every moment, choices that have a direct impact on our world, that world in which we inhabit. It does not lay before us a set of rules we must slavishly follow, nothing we must accept purely on the basis of somebody else’s spiritual authority. Mindfulness is about direct life experience, in the now, from the thoughts we think, to the words we utter and the deeds we do.

3. Like a benign and loving gardener caring for the seeds and plants, yet also nurturing the environment and creating a haven for frogs, birds and wildlife, the more acts of kindness, caring concern and tender loving care we offer to those around us and our world, the more they will blossom and produce seeds, fruit and beautiful flowers. By creating the conditions that nurture others, we are creating the conditions that let our inner self flourish. Nurturing our own positive qualities and choosing positive over negative, allows us to find positive meaning in our lives. Mindfulness allows us to see things and discern with greater accuracy and less distortion. We begin to listen to a peaceful inner voice, rather than a fragile ego.  The result is a greater inner confidence and personal security.

Mindfulness can help nurture and develop greater emotional resilience and freedom from stress and emotional disharmony. By cultivating inner calmness we can learn to develop the ability to bend with the winds of emotional turbulence. Like a pebble on a beach we can allow the negative waves of emotional disharmony to pass over us. Responding to stress around us with a non reactive awareness we can develop a more balanced perspective. What might have been responded to in a negative, attacking, judging or defensive manner can be as a neutral part of life’s passing show.

5. It can help to promote a greater sense of connection with others. Just as the act of physically hugging another can flood the body with oxytocin, a hormone that enhances closeness, warmth and nurturing in early parenthood. Mindfulness can help us to develop a deeper sense of personal security which can bring about a soothing influence on those around us. As we become less prone to receiving whatever negativity may be emanating from those around us, we develop a more stable sense of self.

Developing a more intimate relationship with ourselves can lead us to become less reliant on others. When we do not “need” others to feel accepted, supported and loved, we are not dependent on others to make us feel secure and accepted. Just as when another is overwhelmed by anxiety, hooked into being upset and overreacting, we can help by simply offering a mindful presence, offering ourselves as a safe container by paying full attention with heartfelt empathy and emotional attunement. Adopting a sense of calm spaciousness along with a calm and caring warmth can help them feel the safe haven, if only at a subliminal level of neural resonance.

Mindfulness promotes greater honesty and genuineness. When we stop saying untruthful things in order to impress people or for our own personal aims and interest, we learn that we do not need to play this game. When we step back from gossiping or spreading rumour we do not know to be certain, we become less judgemental, less critical. Over time people will begin to recognise we are truthful and courageous and will gravitate towards us; they too are likely to want to learn to speak truthfully and constructively like us, and in so doing, begin to develop a greater sense of personal security.

7. Tuning into the self through mindfulness allows us to be fully present and available. It will help us to learn how to manage physical and emotional pain and stress and to fully experience thinking, feeling and being. It allows us to be fully present in whatever we are doing, accepting without judgement and savouring the pleasures in life as we experience them. It allows us to detach from worries and become less concerned with success and self-esteem. It can help cultivate a greater sense of personal well-being, and research has shown that it can help improve physical and psychological health.

Until next time,

Love and Peace, Steve

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Bennett-Goleman, T (2013) “Try a Little Tenderness” Shambhala Sun, July. 69-74.

Hanh, Thich Nhat (1991) Peace is every step; the path of mindfulness in every step. Rider.

McLeod, M (2013) “Are You Spiritual But Not Religious?” Shambhala Sun, Nov. 43-49.

Healers or helpers?

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How many of you reading this have wanted to help people to feel better? There cannot be any of us who have not witnessed a friend or loved one sick and wanted to help them, or heal them, or somehow make them more comfortable.

We go to doctors expecting them to heal us. Some will wish to become healers. Whether doctor, nurse or therapist, none are truly healers. From a holistic perspective the premise that some people have the “power” to heal is a nonsense. The healer, rather than having the power to heal simply becomes the “agent of change.” This is not to negate the role of the agent of change, but rather to realize that people have the power to heal themselves.

As a therapist I cannot take away people’s problems. While they might be eager to pass responsibility to me, I am keen to pass it back. I do not choose to engage with passive recipients of care, indeed,  the responsibility and credit for change, belongs ultimately to the patient. I am keen to encourage all who come to see me, to believe that they hold the key to healing, not me.

If I am working with somebody and they fail to improve, I do not despair. Instead, I need to encourage them to believe that they will improve and to promote self-confidence. A person must first desire to change and believe that they will. People get better through the belief that they can heal themselves.

As a therapist I can only be a catalyst to change; a helper, not a healer.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapist.

Ref: Jackson, R. (1982). Massage Therapy; The holistic way to physical and mental health. Thorsons Publishers Limited.

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The Human Condition

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“Dis-ease” is something that affects us all, in fact, it is part of the human condition. I like to add a hyphen between the s and the e, as I believe this enables the word to be understood and appreciated more accurately and for what it implies; rather than when simply written as “disease.” It is not possible to prevent dis-ease and neither should we. After all, human beings evolve through sickness and health. Both states teach us much.

In our western world we view sickness as bad and something to be avoided at all costs. We do everything we can to eliminate dis-ease. Pain, whether physical, psychological or spiritual is viewed as something to be banished or avoided. The first hint of discomfort sends us hurrying to the doctors looking for a pill to “cure” our “dis-ease.” or “dis-comfort.”

Medicine is at a crossroads today. Pioneering research and developments in neuroscience show us how chemicals inside us form a dynamic information network. linking mind and body. Convincing evidence exists to support that we, as individuals, cause most, if not all, of our own health problems.

In the past fifty years we have polluted our air, water, land and food. The incidents of cancer are rising, in part, because people are living longer and detection rates are improving, but also because most cancers are environmentally caused. We cannot cure cancer, which is a symptom of human decay, without recognising and eliminating its cause – not the pollution itself, but our attitudes towards life that created the pollution. Pollution is not the cause of cancer; it is only the agent of change.

Sadly, so often Mother Earth is taken for granted. Many people live lives cut off from nature. Choosing to drive instead of walking, choosing quick and easy processed food over “real” food. We sit and watch television or play computer games rather than sit in the garden. In many towns and cities the colour green is absent from view; instead we see concrete, cement, hard things. Because we are so distant from nature, we become sick. We need to be mindful and practise awareness if we want to save our world, ourselves and our children. Every time we throw away a plastic bag we know that it is different from a banana peel and that it will take a long time to decompose. Knowing that our action is not in the direction of peace and good health for our planet or ourselves should urge us to think with awareness.

As a body therapist as well as a talking therapist, I am struck by the number of people I see with “psycho-somatic dis-ease.” It has been estimated that 75 per cent of illnesses are psychosomatic, other more liberal estimates suggest up to 95 per cent. I am not for one minute suggesting illness is “all in the mind,” and does not exist in reality. Mostly, symptoms are very real. What I am saying is that illness is very often brought on by the action of the mind (psyche) on the body (soma) or vice versa.

Each one of us carries the potential to contract any dis-ease at any time. It is only certain people. however, who will become ill while others remain well. Good diet and good health habits are but part of the picture. If we look holistically we can see that individuals actually have concious control over and responsibility for their health.

The word “holistic,” comes from the Greek holos, meaning “whole.”  It tells us that an integrated whole has a reality independent of and greater than the sum of its parts. In my opinion, for so many reasons, it is imperative that we learn to cultivate an awareness and understanding of the many aspects, or component parts, that comprise the whole. With regard to our “mental health” it is not sufficient to have a “check up from the neck up,” and neither is it sufficient just to consider the body when we are physically unwell.

If you look back at all the illnesses you have experienced and what was going on in your lives and around you at that time, you will discover that most of your health problems have arisen because of circumstances and many will have served a useful purpose. Often life’s lessons are as a result of illness. The depression that leads us to make the decision to change our career or the frequent stress headache that leads us to evaluate the demands on us. The bad cold that prevents us doing something we did not want to do, or the upset tummy that meant we did not have to give the lecture we were not ready to give.

The physical body is the outward expression of our inner self. It reflects the inner condition through thoughts, feelings, ideas and emotions. The inner (subconscious) self communicates to the outer (conscious) self through health, sickness, pain and so on. We just need to learn the language of the inner self and listen to what it is saying. So often, physical illness can be viewed as a metaphor for underling issues. For example, back pain may indicate issues relating to support or burden. A sore throat may be related to issues of communication, perhaps the holding back of something needing to be said. I am not implying that we should disregard physical symptoms as medical issues, what I am saying, is that illness should be considered holistically from a physical to a spiritual dimension.

Health is a dynamic process. By searching within ourselves we will find the real causes of our dis-ease. Sickness can be a positive manifestation and is so often a valuable vehicle heralding growth and personal development. Looking at “dis-ease” from an expansive holistic perspective is the “cutting edge” of healing, not the sole preserve of hippies. Next time you get a headache, ask yourself what it is telling you and what you need to learn from it.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist


Caldwell, C. (1997). Getting in touch; The Guide To Body-Centred Therapies. Quest Books.

Hanh, T. N. (1991) Peace is every step; The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Rider.

Jackson, R. (1980) Massage Therapy: The Holistic Way To Physical And Mental Health. Thorsons Publishers 

Pert, C. B. (1997). Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel The Way You Feel. Pocket Books.

Tolle, E.(2009). A New Earth; Create A Better Life. Penguin Books.

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