Stress Reduction and Sacred Moments

"The great lesson from the true mystics, from the Zen Monks, and now also from the Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologists ? that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one's daily life, in one's neighbors, friends, and family, in one's back yard, and that travel may be a flight from confronting the sacred ? this lesson can be easily lost. To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous." - Abraham Maslow

An electronic search of Psychological Abstracts in psychology's last 100 years reveals a 14 to 1 ratio of psychological articles about negative emotions versus positive emotions. The imbalance in research of negative versus positive makes it ever more important to ask the question, what does it mean to live the good life? Religious scholars to philosophers to modern day psychologists have pondered the perennial question of what it means to live well. In the past few decades there has been a considerable surge in interest and research on the phenomena of well-being. Distilled through the years, subjective well-being (SWB)and psychological well-being (PWB)have emerged as the most prominent concepts in mainstream research. SWB focuses more on positive/negative affect and life satisfaction while PWB is concerned with meaning, purpose, and existential issues. Through empirically validated studies, research in each field has created operationalized, well validated constructs of well-being (Diener, 1984; Lucas, Diener, & Suh, 1996; Ryff, 1989; Ryff & Keyes, 1995).

Empirical research suggests that, in considering an approach to pursuing a lifestyle conducive to good overall health and well-being, an important factor is cultivating a sense of sacredness in one's life. Recent studies show a high positive correlation between cognitive and affective aspects of the sacred and well-being. Some studies suggest that connecting with the transcendent and experiencing a transcendent sense of self foster well-being. Other studies find that well-being is positively correlated with a sense of support from the transcendent in areas such as marriage, parenting,healthy family relationships, and sustaining physical health. Emmons and McCullough (2003) applied a new intervention that focuses on fostering gratitude and linked it to life satisfaction and a sense of purpose in life. Furthermore, cognitive and affective components associated with the sacred have positive correlations among themselves, implying that when experiencing one aspect, others may be felt at the same time. These studies underscore the concept that there is a significant positive connection between what are considered sacred components of life and well-being and a negative connection to stress. It can therefore be argued that an intervention cultivating these sacred components may increase well-being and reduce stress.

Sacred Qualities and Sacred Moments

A large body of theory has described a broad spectrum of experiences that may or may not be considered a sacred moment. The key aspect of a sacred moment, as defined and described in this study, is that it is a moment in time that is imbued with sacred qualities. For the purposes of this study, sacred qualities are defined as having two components: (a) they inherently possess spiritual qualities as defined by Lynn Underwood and the World Health Organization, such as gratefulness, feeling of connection with and support from the transcendent, sweet-sadness, awe, compassion, and/or a deep sense of inner peace, and (b) they are imbued with qualities such as precious, dear, blessed, cherished, and/or holy. Consequently, for the purposes of this study, sacred moments are defined as day-to-day personal moments that are imbued with sacred qualities, which seem like time-outs from daily busy-ness, where a sense of stillness arises or occurs and where concerns of the every day just seem to evaporate. In other words, in order to experience a sacred moment, the moment needs to be imbued by the individual with these sacred qualities. Although extraordinary mystical experiences could also be considered sacred moments, the focus of this research is on those more ordinary day-to-day experiences.

After defining these moments, it seems important to find a way to cultivate them. A core aspect in cultivating these moments is being able to attend to the present moment. Different methods have been developed over the last decade to help the individual control attention, including; hypnosis, biofeedback, and gestalt therapy. Currently, the most applicable and prolific field of study attending to the present moment is mindfulness. Mindfulness has been defined as a method of focusing attention on the present as it occurs. Learning how to train the mind and body to be in the present moment is critical to being aware of what is sacred in the moment.

Studying the effects of sacred moments on people's lives could serve to add understanding and knowledge for practical ways to increase well-being while providing a possible therapeutic alternative to treating stress. A serious need exists for programs that promote well-being in both psychologically healthy and unhealthy individuals. It is important to understand whether aspects of sacred moments can be cultivated as a therapeutic intervention and consequently whether their cultivation can contribute to a reduction in rising medical costs associated with stress. Current research is quick to point out that rising amount of stress in western society is due to the increasing complexity of responsibilities and events (i.e., 9/11). Stress is a precursor to anxiety, and approximately 19 million Americans are afflicted with some type of anxiety disorder today.

Furthermore, disorders such as anxiety critically impact quality of life and well-being. Although current research is working towards discovering factors that influence well-being, there is still a pattern of sidestepping the qualities of sacred moments in reference to mental health and well-being. With the field's persistent emphasis on techniques toward mental health that do not explicitly involve the sacred and the transcendent, it seems critical to continue to tap this area for its value to psychology.

Psychology is becoming more interested in those moments that transcend and include the ego, are non-ordinary, and are personal. Arthur Hastings, a leading Transpersonal Psychologist points out:

"These experiences are usually defined as going beyond the ordinary sense of identity or personality to encompass wider dimensions of the psyche and the cosmos. This can include experiences of intense love, enhanced perception, a sense of merging into a more comprehensive identity, spiritual and religious experiences, psychic awareness. . . . Other definitions suggest that transpersonal means optimal health and well-being, holistic development of the self and the psychology of transformation."

Both sacred moments and well-being are suggested in Hasting's description of transpersonal psychology. A study of sacred moments could aspire to bring transpersonal psychology out into the mainstream of psychology and bring mainstream thought into the transpersonal realm.

Questions

1. What effects does the cultivation of sacred moments have on subjective well-being, psychological well-being, and stress.

2. What are the people's experiences of having sacred moments? What helps the cultivation of these moments and what hinders the cultivation of these moments in daily life? The recent surge of interest in well-being has brought a serious need for interventive strategies.

*** There is currently a study that is about to begin that explores the affects on sacred moments on daily life.

IF you are interested in learning how to potentially cultivate more of these moments in your life, please check out http://sacredmomentstudy.blogspot.com

Elisha Goldstein holds an M.A. in Psychology and is a 4th year doctoral student at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto. He is currently exploring how the cultivation of sacred moments in daily life affects well-being and stress. If you would consider participating in this invaluable study, please go to http://sacredmomentstudy.blogspot.com You can also check out http://mindfulmoments.blogspot.com

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