Psychology adjunct taps into the spiritual side of December
Amidst the Jingle Bell tunes, mall Santas, menorah lightings, Christmas tree lots and the winter solstice comes another, lesser-known association with December. According to the National Day Calendar and Chases Calendar of Events, December is spiritual literacy month.
Even Sharon Mijares, whose teaching at Brandman University and academic writing focuses on spirituality and psychology, was unaware. She does think spiritual literacy is a good idea.
“I think spiritual literacy means you’re living in the moment and every moment is relevant and has value,” said Mijares, an adjunct faculty member who has traveled the globe and written extensively about spirituality and mental health. “You’re awakened to a sense of spirituality that gives meaning to your life. You can see how you can become a more ethical person. We need so much more understanding in the world,”
All religions, she said, have some form of the “golden rule,” as it’s known in Christianity and Judaism – a guiding principle to treat people as you want to be treated. “It’s about our caring relationships with one another, and yet that’s where humanity has failed most.”
As for understanding the universality of spirituality, she said Islam states it as becoming a complete human being, although that sometimes gets lost in translation. “Spiritual literacy, at its bottom line, is becoming the best human you can be through developing human capacity for knowledge (wisdom), compassion, and unselfish love,” she said.
Buddhism, she said, puts its emphasis on loving kindness, facing fears and the healing power of acceptance without judgment – also concepts found in psychology.
A Pew Research Center study says more and more Americans see themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” That fits Mijares’ observations about what’s going on in the world and among her students. Making that fit with the ever-present commercialism of December can be a challenge, although she thinks that wanting to give to other people comes from a spiritual place.
“It (responding to the commercialism) is also difficult because it causes great bills,” she added, remembering when she once brought so many presents for her children that she had no money left to pay the electric bill.
For those struggling to find a balance, she suggests examining what has meaning in your own life. “The golden rule is really a full circle. It’s a sense of equanimity, which is where psychology comes in. We’re the ones living this life. You can’t ignore ‘self.’ The bottom line is that you both give and receive. That changes how you treat your own life and how you treat others.”
Those concepts mesh well with psychology as well, even though the academic discipline sometimes ignores it, said Mijares, who earned bother her master’s and Ph.D. in psychology. “The two go hand-in-hand.”
When she first began teaching the course on spirituality and mental health, she had students do a psycho-spiritual interview to see how spirituality added something to that person’s life. “It was set up in a clinical way, and these were students who weren’t at that level yet,” she said.
She revised the course (and has since revised it two more times) to have students ask each other how spirituality helped them during a difficult time. Now she has students working in groups to look at how various religions approach spirituality.
“What really impressed me (about her latest class of undergraduates) was their ability to speak about their own traditions (usually Christianity) but not trash other religions. Go back 10 or 15 years, and there wasn’t the openness that I’m seeing now. It used to be harder for students to get past the idea of somebody being different from the prescribed norm. That’s a major change.”
Her next major project is co-authoring a book on gender imbalance, “The Power of the Feminine: Facing Shadow, Evoking Light,” with Aliaa Rafea from Egypt, Gal Harmat from Israel, and Tenzin Dhardon Sharling, from Dharamsala, India, and Norwegian journalist Marte Holby. Like her classes and her other books, it will draw on wisdom from all religions as well as five regions of the world. In other words, another addition to the world of spiritual literacy.
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