Part of Dr. Gersten's healing philosophy is that addressing and embracing spirituality is part of a holistic approach. By the early 1990’s Americans were flocking to complementary and alternative healthcare practitioners. Research studies revealed that spirituality was the number one reason why people were making this choice. Spirituality deals with life's great questions: 1) What is the purpose of life? 2) Where did I come from? 3) Where do I go after this life? 4) Is there a God or Higher Power? If so, what is my relationship to Him/Her?
Without embracing these issues, healing cannot be called "holistic" or “integrative.” Incorporating a spiritual dimension to healing is a natural thing to do, and it facilitates healing of body and mind.
Here is one way to think of spirituality and religion: Religion can be compared to a container, like a vase. It deals with rites, rituals, leadership, and buildings. Spirituality is like a liquid that deals with the 4 questions. When the liquid of "spirituality" is poured into the container of "religion," one has a powerful combination.
Healing is not simply about treating a condition. It is about treating the person who has a symptom or illness. Healing that addresses spirituality in a practical, open way goes further than an approach that focuses entirely on physical modalities. Treatment usually deals with “problems.” Spirituality goes far beyond dealing with problems.
People are seeking spirituality in their healing because, 1) It is important to most people, 2) People feel connected to doctors and other clinicians who share similar beliefs and who are open to hearing a patient’s unique beliefs and experiences, and 3) Addressing spiritual issues facilitates healing and improves quality of life.
The graphic at the top of this page is a “yantra,” a visual focus for meditation. What is meditation? It is a practice that helps quiet the mind. If you’d like, focus on this yantra for a minute…or return any time you’d like.
The average person’s mind churns out about 5,000 random thoughts per day. That’s 35,000 thoughts per week, 1,820,000 per year. If you’re 50 years your mind has churned out about 91,000,000 thoughts…so far. The mind picks up its adult speed around age 10. Most of those thoughts are junk…neither good, nor bad. The faster the mind moves, the more stressed out a person feels.
There are many ways of thinking about spirituality. For Native Americans and other indigenous people the sense of oneness with Nature is the heart of their spirituality. For Buddhism and Judaism in particular, spirituality is first about human values and character. The five core human values are: truth, integrity or right action, peace, love, and non-violence. A person may have mastered the ability to attain high states of consciousness, but if they have not developed a foundation in values and character, they really have missed the point of spirituality.
Neither psychiatry nor psychology has developed a decent model or definition of the “mind,” even though that is what they are treating. I’ve learned a lot from many religions and spiritual texts. From the Vedas I discovered a concept called the “antahkarana,” which means, “tools of the soul.” Those tools are the mind, the intelligence, the ego, the will, and memory.
The mind churns out an endless flow of thoughts and desires.
The intelligence determines what is true and what the right course of action is.
The ego, in the Eastern sense, is the storehouse of beliefs. From the standpoint of Western psychology most of our core beliefs are deeply unconscious.
The memory and will are obvious.
If we realize that “who we are” is not the mind, we make an instantaneous jump in our consciousness. If we can watch our mind, who is watching? It is either the intelligence or the soul (atma) that is watching. The mind-body connection if very strong and very real. By learning to tame the mind through simple practices, we can dramatically slow down the speed and amount of thoughts that the mind generates, which then decreases our stress. Trying to decrease stress without addressing the role of the mind will lead to partial success. That is why I spend time with my patients, early on, in teaching them how to tame their mind.
Because I realized early on in my career that spirituality was important, yet missing in psychiatry, I wrote “Are You Getting Enlightened Or Losing Your Mind?” to help integrate spirituality into psychiatry and medicine.
SPIRITUALITY AND HEALING
TAMING THE MIND
"Your book is BRILLIANT. I just wrote this review on Amazon as I finished reading it last night. Oh my word, dear soul, you literally are a Shaman. You keep walking your brave, bold path, dear one. You might feel like you stand alone, but that is only because you See sooo far beyond the mediocrity that is out there. And believe me, the mediocrity is sadly very extreme, it is the norm in our culture and many others. You are clear, hopeful voice, one we all need.
You really are a pioneer, a trail blazer of the highest order. Thank you, my friend, for gracing my life with your magnificence, wisdom, creativity, and beauty. Much love and gratitude to you. I wrote on Amazon: "Dr. David Gersten takes psychiatry to a level that is all but unheard of. I applaud this brave, free-thinking man. He is a clear, wise voice in a profession that has all but lost its way and original purpose...to heal. Dr. Gersten has the most expansive and whole view of healing body, mind, and spirit that I have ever seen or heard of. Dr. Gersten is a healer in the truest sense of the word.
If you are seeking a more open-minded perspective on the experiences that you might be having, then I cannot recommend this book enough. In fact, this brave cutting-edge book needs to be in every single psych-school in the world. Most of our psychiatry and its associated views of ‘treatment’ are like something out of the dark ages. I read and reread Dr. Gersten’s section on spirituality and why it must be included in psychiatry. The way he so beautifully encourages individual spirituality, whatever that might be for each person, is both profoundly moving and totally brilliant.
This book confirms everything that I have always known was missing in many of the psych arenas. I have been shocked and appalled that the psych-professions can be considered healing professions when they all too often are stripped of soul and the allowance of spirituality, and sadly even stripped of honest emoting as a method of tracking feelings, and more importantly getting to really feel who we are as human beings.
He also stresses how unique we all are, and how important the honoring of that uniqueness is to our healing. We are not one-size-fits-all human beings. Another thing that Dr. Gersten talks about, and that I feel has to be included in all psychiatry is testing of the physical body, to understand that things like heavy metals, hormones or chemical imbalance, black mold, or other toxins could very well be at the root of emotional and mental upset.
The extent of Gersten's inclusiveness is dazzlingly brilliant. I have never seen anyone in the psych-world with such a vastly open mind. Gersten is a trailblazer in a field that I fear is bordering on severe negligence. In his healing approach, this man looks at every single angle and does not reject any possibility. I am glad that he is in the world, changing lives, and opening the way to a more hopeful future for those who suffer...a more hopeful future for all of us. Thank you, Dr. David Gersten." — Robin Easton
"I am honored to have Robin Easton's words and wisdom. I could not say those things about myself. Easton spent 20 years naked in the tropical jungles of North Australia and developed a connection to Nature that I have never encountered before. Her 20 years radically changed her, transforming her to at level where she feels deeply connected to all of Nature and all of Life." — Dr. David Gersten
As a psychiatrist, medical doctor, I have done my best to address and nurture body, mind, and spirit. The BODY part came through amino acid therapy (as part of a complete nutritional approach). I addressed the MIND part through Guided Imagery, and a variety of MindBody Psychotherapy Techniques. I spent 6 years writing "Are You Getting Enlightened Or Losing Your Mind? - A Psychiatrist's Guide for Mastering Paranormal and Spiritual Experience." Recently, Robin Easton reviewed my book. She is the author of "Naked In Eden." When she reviewed my book, what she had to say explained spirituality, as a critical part of healing. She explained my work better than I can describe it. So, I am honored to have her write such kind and wise words about the book and my work. I share her words here...and a bit about Robin Easton after her book review.
THE POWER OF FAITH AND SPIRITUAL CONNECTION
People need to have faith in someone, whether it is faith in God/Higher Power, Nature, or one's Self. From a clinical standpoint those with a strong spiritual connection do better than those who do not have faith in anything. Every doctor has seen miracles in their clinical practice, but most doctors have a hard time accepting a miracle or trying to create a "space" in which miracles of all kinds can happen. My book, "Are You Getting Enlightened Or Losing Your Mind?" describes a number of miracles that I personally have experienced and many that my patients have experienced.
Related to Faith is Purpose or Sense of Mission. If our life is metaphorically a horse and carriage, the horse is our sense of purpose. If we have purpose and the faith to move toward that purpose, our "horse" is in place, and it pulls our life forward without much effort. That horse will not run in a straight line. It will run up mountains, across rivers, and you just have to hang on for the ride. If you don't have a sense of purpose or think the idea is silly, your life is the carriage with no horse. It takes great effort to move forward in life if there is no sense of purpose.
Purpose can be anything: planting a garden, doing what you love to do, writing, drawing, or excelling in sports. Some people say, "I want to have a sense of purpose, and I've been searching but I haven't found my purpose yet." My answer is, "Your current search IS your sense of purpose.
SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION
Let's say we have 2 vases. One is religion and the other is spirituality. Religion involves structures, sacred texts, buildings (churches, temples, mosques), and leaders. Metaphorically spirituality can be thought of a the "juice of life," that deals with life's great questions. Religion can be an empty vase, which is not very useful. Spirituality does not need a container, but if you pour the "liquid" of spirituality into the "religion vase," now you have a very powerful resource. The vase without spirituality does not take people very far. Spirituality does not need to be stiff and dry. It can be unique to an individual. Living near the beach in Southern California, I have met many people for whom surfing is their religion and spirituality. Their relationship with Nature, the Ocean is their spirituality.