"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." --Pierre Teihard de Chardin
The ripple effect. The butterfly effect. The domino effect. One singular entity influencing another and another and another. We know that a single drop of water affects the whole pond and that the light flapping of butterfly wings contributes to powerful, hurricane-like winds. Therefore, if one human being changes, from the inside out, how does that affect the rest of us? Can it actually change our collective consciousness?
Thirty-one graduate students at Teachers College, Columbia University are going to find out. This past January, the oldest and largest graduate school of education in the United States, introduced the first-ever graduate program in clinical psychology with a concentration in spirituality: the Spirituality and Mind-Body Institute [SMBI]. The evidence that spiritual practices alter our physiology and drastically improve our state of wellness is being validated, explored and expanded upon in a more formalized way-- through a rigorous, scientific framework at the Ivy League level.
How could this affect the rest of the world? In A New Earth, world-renowned spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle says,"Being spiritual has nothing to do with what you believe but everything to do with your state of consciousness. This, in turn, determines how you act in the world and interact with others." The SMBI program imparts this perception -- it provides a new framework in which to work toward a greater self-awareness. By turning inward, we come to understand ourselves better and this personal, inner transformation directly affects our external life situation. That being said, this could make for one massive ripple effect.
Dr. Lisa Miller, Founder and Executive Director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute, Director of Clinical Psychology at Teachers College and Editor of The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality who launched the program agrees with Tolle. Miller explains, "The intention behind this program [SMBI] is to contribute to the creation of a society with spiritual values. As human beings, we're not just billiard balls bumping into each other. We are all a part of this living, conscious Universe and how we affect each other is of ultimate importance. The scientific perspective that all consciousness is one, is sacred, may reawaken our appreciation for the living beings around us--for all life."
To Miller, this step forward for Ivy League education "holds the potential to open a mass gateway to a spiritually attuned mainstream higher education. We need spiritually oriented leaders. I am not sure that we have all the time in the world. We need a higher education now, right now, to build citizens who are spiritually aware, deeply reflective, and inwardly accountable to a high moral bar and stand on spiritual values. We built a framework for this type of spiritual education and the students sure came. And once they came, they really helped develop it. Now other schools are doing the same and I am thrilled."
William James, the Harvard trained psychologist and pioneer in addressing the human experience through psychology and spirituality, wrote the following concerning the spiritual experience, "The world we see, that seems so insane, is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now and dissolve the fear in our minds."
A century later, the state of our world continues to seem "insane" and the fear in our minds is manifesting in our lives as anger, blame, hate, judgment, intolerance and inequality. We unwittingly seem to blame external forces and outside influences for these negative situations. We're quick to point fingers at other people, races, genders and countries. It has been engrained in our minds to look outside of ourselves for the source of a problem. Although it feels easier this way, doing so only inhibits us. By blaming others we evade responsibility for our own consciousness. If we long for a different result, one that exhibits positive change in our world, we must look inside ourselves and work through the places within us that remain mired in fear. According to Eckhart Tolle, "If the structures of the human mind remain unchanged, we will always end up re-creating the same world, the same evils, the same dysfunction."
The emergence of the SMBI program at Teachers College, Columbia University represents a shift in how we perceive our relationship with ourselves, and, subsequently, the rest of the planet. It embodies the notion that a conscious world can only be created by conscious individuals.
Eleanor Cobb, a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Candidate at Teachers College as well as Director of the SMBI, states, "This program marked a pedagogical shift away from an emphasis on performance and evaluation towards an emphasis on the inner process of self-reflection, professional growth through openness and receptivity, and an integration of one's own journey with academia, science, and connection to others... The integration of rigorous science and true self-exploration creates a more expansive approach to education that opens possibilities."
Miller offers the following, "Academia is where we open our mind to discover; how we come to know, test, inquire and pursue. We look into multiple paradigms-- whether it is from neuroscience or history of science or psychotherapy or spiritual activism. There is an academia for a broad range of views about the nature of reality, certainly to include a loving, conscious universe."
When I ask Miller why spirituality is important for our daily lives, she lights up, "At the end of the day, it's about Love. We're all able to have a direct, living relationship with a guiding, conscious Universe--that's really the golden thread that runs through us all."
For more information on Eckhart Tolle, please click here.