Hey everyone! I’ll be serializing parts of my first book Universal Spiritual Philosophy and Practice, with a new short section every couple of weeks, although starting with some fairly elementary stuff… enjoy!
There are some elementary things people often have misconceptions about, which need to be cleared up before we proceed. They have to do with what spirituality is, how it is experienced, and its relationship to modern science, especially physics and psychology. For many, this scientific connection imparts to spirituality a relevance and plausibility it didn’t used to have.
1. SPIRITUALITY AND “EXPERIENCES”
Spirituality is defined here as the part of religion that all religions have in common. As such, it is fundamentally mystical, transcending all cultures, languages, histories, and even personalities. It seems to involve our personalities, because we each interact with the great mystery (God/Self) in our own unique way, even though it’s the same great mystery.
First we need to put to rest a basic misconception about “spiritual experiences.” It is sometimes thought that finding your spirituality is always about having some definite inner experience that tells you that you’re doing the right thing—some momentary bliss or interior wow! confirmation that you’re on the right path.
Put this idea out of your head.
First, it’s great if you have such experiences, but for most people it’s more often about faith: the simple conviction that the things you are doing are helping your spirituality, maybe if only little by little, and that there is a gradual and slow transformation going on of a permanent, lasting nature inside you, way beneath the radar. You are not, after all, interested in some buoyant mood or illusory phase of happiness that won’t last. As time goes on and you do your work, this “faith” will slowly grow into a deep and profound joy.
In a sense, belief is experience. The inherent average “mood” a person experiences, be it joyful, depressed or whatever, is what he or she believes 100%, without reservation. That itself is the person’s experience of God or divinity. It’s “where you’re at”—as God as created you, right now.
The reason a lot of people don’t get into spiritual paths is because they don’t experience anything as “missing” from their lives—at least, according to their current understanding of what life is, or what it is possible for life to offer them.
2. PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SPIRITUAL GROWTH THE SAME
Another natural tendency some of us have is to separate psychological growth from spiritual growth, since we usually go to different places and get different methodologies for each. But ultimately they are the same. A good spirituality assumes good mental health, and cannot develop in the most balanced way without it. Although it can involve opposing qualities (“toughlove” verses sympathy) spirituality is about self-knowledge, which increases as we develop greater appropriate love, compassion, tolerance, and sacrifice for ourselves and others. Alleviating depression, getting along better with your spouse, overcoming addiction, discovering your aptitudes—anything constructive that you might approach some kind of psychologist for helps your spirituality. It was Jung who said that every patient over 35 whom he dealt with experienced problems which ultimately stemmed from a lack of connection to a deeper, spiritual sense of meaning.1 It’s definitely helpful, therefore, for some people to engage more in the psychological/therapeutic aspect of personal growth, instead of the spiritual aspect of that growth.
(It will be necessary for me to occasionally step into a psychological frame of reference to remind us that spirituality involves all aspects of your being. The difficulty here for hard-nosed psychologists is that, as these two frames of reference merge, it becomes more and more difficult to define or measure the psychological data, and less and less possible to ignore the conviction that spiritual perspectives are valid, even if they can’t be defined or measured.)