Does Science Have a Place in Spirituality?

Art courtesy of Maureen Meyer / Tappan Collective

Does Science Have a Place in Spirituality?

Does Science Have a Place in Spirituality?

The woo-woo of spirituality has always made psychotherapist Kasey Crown a little uncomfortable. Consider it a by-product of a childhood that didn’t exactly encourage free-flowing expressions of love, light, and rainbows. Maybe you can relate. Maybe your immediate environment didn’t like to entertain the thought that we don’t have everything figured out. Maybe things like energy medicine and clairvoyants seemed like excuses to avoid taking responsibility.

Crown gets it. She’s been gingerly tiptoeing out of the spirituality closet for over a decade. In her psychotherapy practice, she works with people to integrate spirituality into their “real world.” And it still causes a little tension in her life.

Love, presence, oneness, nonattachment. This all sounds well and good, but how can we embody those principles without ignoring the ambitions and insecurities crucial to our personal growth? For answers, Crown draws on the work of other psychologists and groundbreaking scientists, who are beginning to develop the language necessary to dive into spiritual phenomena.

That pragmatic approach makes her a good—some may say great—companion to clairvoyant Jakki Smith-Leonardini. Together, they run a series of workshops called WellSoul, where Smith-Leonardini brings the connection to spirit, and Crown brings the take-home tools that can land that energy down on earth. Both helped us out at our most recent In goop Health, where they led an abbreviated version of their weekend-long retreats. If you’re craving a more in-depth session, check out their events page, and if you can, snag a space at their upcoming workshop at Ojai Valley Inn this October.

For now, though, how do we get higher while staying grounded? Crown has plenty more to say on the topic of science and spirituality.

A Q&A with Kasey Crown

What is a “spiritual orientation,” and how can it lead to healing?

A spiritual orientation means viewing the whole of life as meaningful, from the unassuming to the deeply challenging to the beautifully inspired. Every moment contains information relevant to our conscious development. From this vantage point, events are happening for us instead of to us and serve to mobilize our curiosity, creativity, and productivity.

By asking the question “What is my soul attempting to learn from this experience and how can I use that information to change my attitude, outlook, and behavior for the highest good of all concerned?” we empower the wisest part of ourselves to lead the charge. This question disrupts the negative bias that makes us rush to judgment, and it awakens the curious student within. Suddenly challenge serves a purpose. When we replace taking things personally with taking responsibility, we exercise the muscles of resilience and resourcefulness that are necessary for healing pain and repairing relationships.

The word “spiritual” is loaded for a lot of people. How do you suggest we overcome this?

One of the most common barriers to adopting a spiritual perspective is the confusion that spiritual language can leave in its wake. Because we don’t operate with a shared definition of spirituality, the moment we hear the word, our mind serves up a laundry list of potential associations, like religious cults, or mental illness, or unintelligent and ungrounded woo-woo, or unscientific mumbo-jumbo. Most of these associations develop based on things we have been taught or via uncomfortable expressions of spirituality we may have witnessed; rarely, though, are they opinions established through experience.

One way to aid the letting go of misunderstandings is by coming up with a definition of spirituality that is expansive enough to include multiple perspectives but succinct enough to alleviate confusion. My favorite definition comes from Dan Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist and founder of the field of interpersonal neurobiology. In his book Aware, he suggests that “spirituality refers to the basic human drive for meaning and connection.” He defines meaning as “something that has purpose and significance.” And he defines connection as relating to our experiences of “belonging, as being a part of something larger than our skin defined sense of self.”

I love this way of thinking about spirituality. It feels like a comfortable conversation starter for people who may otherwise feel shut down—at least that has been my experience in clinical practice and workshops. I find that now more than ever before, people are yearning for spiritual understanding as a means to help navigate the disarray of our social, political, and natural worlds. By recognizing that we belong to something larger than our “skin defined sense of self” we can take part in efforts to regenerate the well-being of all.

Spirituality is a means of staying aware of our interconnectedness with not only those nearest us but the entire human family, the earth we call home, its many inhabitants, and the universal energy that contains us.

How would you suggest that we begin to nurture a spiritual mind-set?

Practice. Mindfulness practice. Be it contemplative or reflective meditation; a more active practice, such as psychotherapy, journaling, prayer, honest dialogue, gratitude, silence, neutral observation, energy work, spending time in nature; or embodiment practices, like yoga, breathwork, and Tai Chi. All serve to bring our attention into the present moment. Once in the here and now, we are available to receive powerful insights capable of transforming our consciousness, healing the mind, and guiding wise action.

Through practices of intention, attention, and awareness, we find new ways of being with and responding to events as they unfold in our lives, and we incorporate qualities of consciousness that are both nourishing and reparative. Love, trust, acceptance, forgiveness, and gratitude blossom through practice. As we strengthen these virtues, we begin to break up with old narratives about who we think we are and to dissolve old ideas about how we think things and others should be.

Practice helps us move more effortlessly into cooperation with the high vibrational current of internal energy that some call the soul, and the greater universal energy that surrounds and connects us all.

Does a spiritual practice require a belief in god?

That depends on whom you ask. Most spiritual teachers would probably say yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what we think it does. Much like the word “spiritual,” the word “god” is mired with confusion. The religious connotations alone can send some running for the hills. In theistic religions, god is often personified, but for those who identify as spiritual and nonreligious, god represents the idea that there is something bigger than our everyday consciousness—a mystical dimension with its own energetic frequency.

In recent years, science has been exploring the many ways that we glimpse or access that higher level of consciousness through events like near-death experience, crisis, loss, psychedelics, prayer, and nature—and through a wide range of practices, including meditation. Those who have had these experiences of higher consciousness report, with a high degree of certainty, that there is a spiritual realm beyond our physical reality.

This realm is consistently described with words like love, oneness, expansiveness, universality, nonseparation, or light. These words all describe a frequency of energy that we can connect with, an energy that contains wisdom we can then integrate back into our conscious awareness and live in alignment with.

As we connect with these energetic states of consciousness, even if only for a fleeting moment, our sense of it grows and our ability to attune to it is enhanced. Whether you define this infinite wisdom as love, source, truth, universal energy, or god is really a personal preference.

What do you say to those who think science and spirituality are in conflict?

Let’s debunk that myth. I am not a scientist. My background is in philosophy and psychology, but much of what we know in the field of psychology stems from science, and every week, new research is released that pertains to our human brain, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, relationships, and the study of consciousness.

From my perspective, spirituality and science are not in competition. Science is about observation and experimentation—it does not have finite answers to all of the world’s questions, especially when it comes to the unseen. I follow Dan Siegel’s lead here again. He says that “being scientific means being humble, acknowledging our limits, and following our curiosity so we can learn, grow, and expand our skills of perceiving and knowing.”

Through practice, we can “broaden our skills of perceiving and knowing” and learn to trust intuitive information in much the same way that we rely on scientific data.

For a nerdy, scientifically minded spiritualist and psychotherapist like myself, the fact that more and more scientists and medical and mental health professionals are stepping forward to share their own stories of higher consciousness and the mystical feels exciting and opens the door for more people to walk through.

Kasey Crown, MA, MFT, is a psychotherapist, a wellness educator, and a writer. She partners with intuitive Jakki Smith-Leonardini to produce WellSoul workshops, designed to connect science and spirituality.