Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Whakairia Ki Runga: The Many Dimensions of Wairua

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Whakairia Ki Runga: The Many Dimensions of Wairua

Article excerpt

A growing body of empirical literature attests to the positive association between spirituality and well-being. Across a variety of countries and cultural contexts, many people indicate having had at least one 'spiritual experience' in their life, and endorse spirituality as personally valuable. For Maori, indigenous people of Aotearoa, wairua (spirituality) has always been acknowledged as a necessity of their health and wellbeing. However, what do Maori mean when they talk about wairua? Utilising a qualitative research approach, this article explores some ways through which Maori talk about wairua. Four themes were noted and are discussed. Wairua is fundamental to Maori existence and therefore, important to Maori health and wellbeing.

   "He maha nga peka o te wairua ... te wairua a te tangata,
   te wairua o te whenua, te wairua o te korero, te wairua
      o te tamaiti,
   te wairua o tena whakatipuranga o tena whakatipuranga;
   te wairua o tatou matua tipuna, te wairua whakahaere
      te tangata
      kia tau te wairua."
   "There are many different dimensions of wairua ... wairua
      of the people,
   wairua of the land, wairua of the spoken word, wairua
      of the child,
   wairua of different generations; wairua of our ancestors,
      the wairua that directs
      and inspires a person to engage."

      (Valentine, 2009, p.60)

Currently lacking definitional consensus, the term spirituality is used in a multitude of ways (Gall, Malette, & Guirguis-Younger, 2011). From a Western perspective, it most typically describes an intrinsic, autonomous, and subjective sense of transcendence or connection with a sacred dimension of reality, which provides meaning, purpose, connection and balance (Benjamin & Looby, 1998; Gall et al., 2011; Gallagher, Rocco, & Landorf, 2007; Midlarsky, Mullin, & Barkin 2012; Pargament, 2007; Sperry & Shafranske, 2005). In other places, it has been described as "an internal connection to the universe" (United Nations, 2009, p. 60). For Maori however, spirituality is culturally defined and best captured by the term wairua.

Spirituality and Psychology

A growing body of empirical literature attests to the positive association between spirituality and well-being (e.g., Cohen & Koenig, 2004; Cotton, Levine, Fitzpatrick, Dold, & Targ, 1999; Miller & Thoresen, 2003). Across a variety of countries and cultural contexts, many people indicate having had at least one 'spiritual experience' in their life (Landolt, Wittwer, Wyss, Unterassner, Fach, et al., 2014), and endorse spirituality as personally valuable (Kohls & Walach, 2006). Although historical figures concerned themselves with matters of the spirit (Hood, 2012), and there has been increasing interest in the psychology of religion and spirituality in recent decades (Miller, 2012), the contemporary discipline of psychology still largely ignores the fundamental value of spirituality to lived experience. Guided by a reductionist, materialist philosophy emphasising dominant scientific principles (i.e., objectivity, positivism, empirical verification), it is often at odds with more subjective, experiential, and transpersonal ways of understanding the world. Indeed, the Western scientific enterprise, which has spread around the globe and is assumed rational, logical, superior, and universal in its application of laws and principles, underscores much of what is considered to be the contemporary discipline of "psychology" (Levy & Waitoki, 2016). In reality, while useful and beneficial in its own right, this discipline is only a particular type of psychology--Western academic scientific psychology--that reflects the worldviews, values, and perspectives of certain cultural groups (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen, 2002).

Arguably complicit in the ongoing process of colonization through its influence on core societal institutions (i.e., education, politics, employment, among others) (Berry et al. …

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