Beyond the Filipino Psyche

Some assumptions of an indigenous, transpersonal Filipino psychology

Carl Lorenz Cervantes
6 min readMar 27


Photo by Bas van Wylick on Unsplash

This essay was also released as a podcast episode. Listen here.

The Filipino Transpersonal Mind

We’re used to the idea that the mind comes from the brain. But that is like looking for time in a clock. You can take apart the pieces of the clock, you can name them and understand how they work, but you can’t find time in it. The mind exists beyond the brain and the brain itself is simply a “receiver” for the larger signal of shared consciousness, like a television receives broadcast signals (Beauregard et al., 2018). The idea that the mind is a shared phenomenon that exists beyond the individual brain allows us to explain paranormal phenomena–particularly telepathy.

The folk beliefs that we hold on to imply that we believe in a spirit world. In Filipino belief, nature is filled with spirits: the material and spiritual are not distinct from one another–they are on a continuum (Mercado, 1991). The spirits that we believe in are not entirely sinister, nor are they always benevolent. They are both charismatic and terrifying. Our belief in the spirits of nature shows our respect for a world that is both beautiful and dangerous. By studying our folk beliefs and customs, we may better understand how to interact with the transpersonal aspects of our psychology, and so better understand the landscape of the indigenous Filipino psyche.

Many experiences which, in the West, are interpreted as mental conditions are, in the Philippines, believed to be caused by spirits. So, in order for the healer to be effective, they must learn how to work with the framework of the individual–that is, they must be knowledgeable in folk methods of healing (Bulatao, 1982). If we deal with psychic phenomena such as spirit possession or sapi using a Western psychological model, we may not be as effective in curing the condition as a folk healer might be, who uses traditional methods of healing. In other words, if the healer forces an explanation to the patient using the medical language of Western psychology, telling them that their spiritual experiences are simply hallucinations or dissociative states, then it is more than likely that the patient will reject the treatment.

Although we may not have absolute proof of the existence of spirits, we must act as though they are there. Speaking in terms of Western psychology, we can think of psychic disturbances such as sapi as the splitting of consciousness–that a subjective part of the mind took over the patient. In order to speak with this subjective part of the mind, we can’t use the language of the objective mind. We must use the language of the subjective mind, which is the language of spirits.

Indigenizing Philippine Consciousness

In the occult book Karunungan ng Dios, published by Melencio Sabino in 1955, the Holy Trinity sat on three rocks, called Piedra Mental, Piedra Crisol, and Piedra Amor, which are bait, ala-ala, and loob. These are psychological terms, and so we can say that KND actually presents, through folk Christian mythology, a simplified structure of the Filipino psyche.

Bait is a person’s goodness or reason. It’s interesting that these two are put together into one word. We believe that when a person is good, they are also reasonable. When a person loses their bait, they also lose their grip on reality and so you can no longer talk to them in a logical or coherent way. We believe that they also become dangerous–they have lost their goodness.

When we talk about the inside of an object, like a box, we talk about it’s “loob.” When we talk about the loob of a person, we are not only referring to their organs, we are actually talking about their personality. When we translate personality to Tagalog, we talk about “pagkatao.” And so, the loob of a person reflects their full humanity. We are part of a context, and we can’t be removed from it. In other words, we can only identify ourselves based on our interaction with other people. Our loob, or inner self and personality, can only be identified by placing it in the context of other people. The collective, shared identity is called kapwa. The individual loob is recognized only through its interaction with kapwa (Reyes, 2015). For example, kagandahang-loob, which refers to a beautiful inner self, is both a description and an action. A person can only be said to have kagandahang-loob when they do good deeds. The self is therefore recognized only through its interaction with kapwa.

We believe that nature is filled with spirits, and our interaction with the spirit world is reflected in our superstitions. We have spirits, but we also have the individual soul, which gives us life. This soul also has its own life. Whenever we sleep, it usually travels to mystical realms, and what it sees are also what we see in dreams. Whenever we are shocked, the soul leaves the body, and if it gets lost, we usually ask a folk healer to bring it back.

We can use the borrowed term “espirito” to refer to the individual soul, but we can also use the indigenous term “hininga,” which means breath (Mercado, 1991). When a person dies, we usually say that their breath was taken. “Kinuha ang kaniyang hininga.” Hininga is the breath of life. When a person takes a breath, they experience Ginhawa, which is stability and peace related to family and community (Strobel, 2021).

Filipino Cultural Values as Everyday Spirituality

There is an old saying: “Madaling maging tao, pero mahirap magpaka-tao.” It is easy to be human, but it is difficult to act like one. The individual cannot be removed from their context, and so being human necessarily involves other people. The way we interact with others is through pakikiramdam and pakikisama.

Pakikiramdam is feeling with other people and adjusting to their moods. It is a kind of cultural telepathy or emotional intuition that allows us to maintain a social balance. A person without pakikiramdam has little to no empathy, and is seen as selfish or self-centered.

Pakikisama is when we honor another person’s self-expression by letting them lead. While this can go to the extreme of conformity, pakikisama can be an important cultural value that allows us to figure out the boundaries and customs of a social group.

Kapwa used to be translated as “other people,” but it is more complex than that. Kapwa is the self with other people. It is a shared identity. There are various levels of kapwa, categorized into ibang-tao and hindi-ibang-tao. If you are outside the group, then your interactions typically involve polite mingling. If you are part of the group, you are expected to participate in the group’s activities. The highest level of Kapwa is pakikiisa, which literally means becoming one with other people (Enriquez, 1978/2018).

When an individual becomes one with kapwa then they also share their convictions and struggles. This is when pakikisama becomes pakikibaka. The individual stands up on behalf of the group. Kapwa seems to have spiritual implications. The goal of spirituality is harmonious coexistence by going beyond oneself to merge with the collective. Kapwa is about transcending the self and recognizing the self in other people. Thus, kapwa can be spiritual.

In the West, when a person reaches self-actualization, they unlock their full creative and social potential. But it is limited to the development of the self. Our Philippine heroes became self-actualized individuals only when they sacrificed themselves to serve the collective. So, it can be said that giving up ako in favor of tayo can be a way for the Filipino to find completeness (Bulatao, 1992).

Self-actualization in the Philippines is transcending the self through service and sacrifice. It is about fighting for a greater purpose, together. Self-actualization is a collective movement towards psycho-spiritual growth. Long term stability in the form of ginhawa can be achieved through one’s own effort, but a collective effort goes further and beyond the intimacy of one’s personal circle. Efficient systems — in terms of transportation, food security, and acquiring other basic necessities — is necessary for the stable peace of a long-term ginhawa.


  • Beauregard, M., Trent, N.L., & Schwartz, G.E. (2018). Toward a postmaterialist psychology: Theory, research, applications. New Ideas in Psychology, 50, 21–33.
  • Bulatao, J.C. (1982). Local cases of possession and their cure. Philippine Studies, 30(3), 415–425.
  • Bulatao, J.C. (1992). Tayo: An inquiry into self-actualization in the Filipino. In Phenomena and their interpretation: Landmark essays 1957–1989. Ateneo de Manila University Press.
  • Enriquez, V.G. (2018). Kapwa: A core concept in Filipino social psychology. In R. Pe-Pua (ed.), Handbook of Filipino psychology volume 1: Perspectives and methodology. University of the Philippines Press. (Original work published 1978).
  • Mercado, L.N. (1991). Soul and spirit in Filipino thought. Philippine Studies, 39(3), 287–302.
  • Reyes, J. (2015). Loób and Kapwa: An introduction to a Filipino virtue ethics. Asian Philosophy, 25(2), 148–171.
  • Strobel, L. (2021, October 11). GINHAWA/ BREATH: Wholeness and Wellness in the Filipino and Filipino American Experience. Medium.



Carl Lorenz Cervantes

Writer, researcher, and teacher.