Bridging personal and scholarly discovery

In her thirst for spiritual knowledge, Lauren Boni has spent time at a remote Buddhist temple near Tokyo, worked for a non-governmental organization in Nepal and recently, is studying at the University of Lethbridge.

Boni majored in Buddhism and East Asian Religious Studies as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto and spent several summers travelling overseas to get a sense of the religious experiences she was studying.

"I was very curious about different ways of life, different ways of being in the world," she explains.

These experiences solidified a fascination with spirituality's healing benefits.

"I realized that, although people had less in the way of material goods, they had a lot of intrinsic joy and well-being."

This is also confirmed by holistic health research, which links concrete factors like lower blood pressure with spiritual practices.

Now, Boni is at the University of Lethbridge, working towards a Master of Science (Health Sciences) under the supervision of Dr. Gary Nixon, director and coordinator of the U of L's Addictions Counselling Program. Boni's research will employ transpersonal psychology – which asserts that psychological health is improved by connecting with a greater spiritual whole – to look at the spiritual journeys of Canadians practising Sufism, a 1,400-year-old mystical tradition of Islam.

She explains that "all religions have a mystical orientation, which focuses on the internal experience of the practitioner, more so than a specific system of beliefs."

In the course of her qualitative research, Boni will interview Sufi practitioners in Toronto to capture their experience of "non-dual self-realization" – the process of integrating their consciousness with a higher consciousness.

Although in the early stages of her thesis research, Boni says Nixon has become a mentor.

"He's exposed me to so many new ideas in such a short period of time."

Nixon says supervising students isn't unlike counselling: it's about facilitating the growth process.

"A thesis project is like a journey; a person goes through a number of phases. So, I see it as a journey of self-discovery, as well."