Psychology of Devotion and Devotional Experience: A Developmental Perspective

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An important facet of humanistic psychology is its exploration of psychospiritual dimensions of human experience. Devotion is a relatively unexamined experience of this kind, one that rests at the very heart or foundation of many of the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions. The ancient art of bhakti (devotional) yoga is presented initially, followed by a discussion of the nature of devotional experience and its role in our everyday lives as part of our interpersonal relationships, careers, and creative expression. A specific description of devotional process in spiritual development as articulated by Sant Keshavadas (1982a) is then presented. In this context, loving devotion, or bhakti, begins as part of a more orthodox, externally focused worship of God, progresses as an increasingly intense inner love and internally focused worship, and ends in a one-pointed, supreme love described as a direct personal knowing of the Divine realm (i.e., a state of being love itself). The relations and implications of Keshavadas’ model to selected psychological issues are then addressed. These issues include recognizing and integrating unconscious patterns, deepening one’s intuitive awareness, developing a nonjudgmental attitude and compassionate nonattachment toward the individuals and events of one’s life, gaining mastery of (i.e., reducing) one’s emotional reactivity, and balancing one’s cognitive and emotional processes. Selected clinical issues related to types of devotion are also examined, including the infant-mother relationship and development of the individuated self from the perspectives of attachment and object relations theories.

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