What is Spirituality? Key Points in Bold

(Copyright May 2002 by Lisa Love).

Below is a small excerpt from my Ph.D. dissertation on Weatlh & Spirituality where I was asked to do substantial research of the spiritual literature to come up with a defintion of spirituality. 

To help you sort through the required documentation in a Ph.D. dissertation, I have put the key points in bold.

Qualities of Spirituality

     What are some of the qualities associated with spirituality?  To begin with, some people (Braudy, 1997; Dunbar, 2000; Fridson, 2000, Goddard, 1995; Hill & Smith, 1995; Jagers & Smith, 1996; Kilpatrick, 1999; Niederman, 1999; Rolheiser, 1999; Roof, 1999) consider the qualities of energy, vitality, and power to be primary spiritual components. Ronald Rolheiser (1999) states: We can see from all of this that spirituality is about what we do with our spirits, our souls.  And can we see too from all of this that a healthy spirit or a healthy soul must do dual jobs: it has to give us energy and fire, so that we do not lose our vitality, and all sense of the beauty and joy of livingThus, the opposite of a spiritual person is not a person who rejects the idea of God and lives as a pagan.  The opposite of being spiritual is to have no energy, is to have lost all the zest for living – lying on a couch, watching football or sit-coms, taking beer intravenously! (pp. 11-12)

     Other qualities often attributed to spirituality include those of having a life purpose, or being endowed with the capacity to give one’s life meaning (Canda, 1988; Elkins, Hedstrom, Hughes, Leaf & Saunders, 1988; Frankl, 1967; Howden, 1993; McGrath, 1997; Wheat, 1991).  Still other people attribute spirituality to the belief in an Ultimate Reality (Banks, Poehler & Russell, 1984; Francis, 1986; Howden, 1993; Hungelmann, Kenkel-Rossi, Klassen, & Stollenwerk, 1985; Nagai-Jacobson & Burkhardt, 1989; Nierderman, 1999; Rolheiser, 1999; Wheat, 1991).  Niederman (1999) found in his research with over 300 people that this Ultimate Reality (or Ultimate Other as he called it) is usually made up of a “God archetype” (p. 91) of some kind, which is dependent upon the cultural and religious orientation a person holds.  The experience of an Ultimate Reality can be either dualistic or non-dualistic. The dualistic position sees the God-archetype as a being, force, or spirit out there somewhere that can be related to for inspiration, comfort, or aid.  The non-dualistic perspective asserts there really is no other in an ultimate sense, because that other is also within us as well. (Bailey, 1945; Brunton, 1984, 1986, 1988; Wilber, 1977, 1979)

     Another view of spirituality is that it pertains to a belief in life after death (Jagers and Smith, 1996; Niederman, 1999).  It also pertains to the capacity to contact the deceased, a view often found in indigenous shamanic traditions (Coogan, 1998; Noss, 1999, Ryan, 1999), the “spiritualists” movement of the late 19th century (Sadleir, 2000), and amongst modern day mediums and psychics (Sadleir, 2000).  Spirituality can also be associated with the cultivation of psychic powers and a cultivation of altered state experiences (Coogan, 1998; Noss, 1999, Ryan, 1999; Sadleir, 2000), which are often entered into as a means to contact the dead and access subtle realms of perception.      

     A number of other authors take issue with this view of spirituality.  Aurobindo (1948, 1958; Satprem, 1993), Bailey (1942), Brunton (1984, 1987b) and Underhill (1955)  warn that psychic powers and altered state experiences divorced from a moral base can inflate the ego and therefore impede spiritual growth.  Alice Bailey (1942) even goes so far as to assert that this kind of pursuit can really be a digression from cultivating what she calls the “higher psychic abilities” that include qualities such as a refined intellect, a calm emotional state, and other surprising words like discrimination, healing, active service, spiritual discernment, response to group need or vibration, and perfected knowledge to name a few (pp. 559 – 563).        

     Aurobindo (1948, 1958), Bailey (1922, 1937, 1942, 1945), Brunton (1984, 1988), Fowler (1981), Marion (2000), Satprem (1993), Underhill (1955), Wade (1996), and Wilber (1977, 1979, 1995, 1996, 2000) are a few of the leading thinkers who talk about spirituality as emerging primarily after an ego stage of development.  Spirituality occurs only when a certain developmental level of consciousness is reached, which Bailey (1922, 1937, 1945) refers to as undergoing the first initiation, Brunton (1984, 1986) speaks about as the beginning of the spiritual quest, Wade (1996) calls the level of transcendent consciousness, and Wilber (1995) refers to as the centauric, vision-logic, or psychic (1981) levels of consciousness.  At this point the ego begins to dissolve, or transcends itself (Elkins, Hedstrom, Hughes, Leaf, & Saunders, 1988; Frankl, 1962; Jackson, 1980; Jenkins, 1995; O’Brien, 1994; Niederman, 1999), and the life emphasis shifts from what one gets out of life for oneself, to what one can increasingly give to others  (Banks, Poehler, & Russell, 1984).  Bailey (1942) refers to this as the <b>shift from acquisition to contribution.</b>

     For a number of authors (Lane, 1987; McGrath, 1997; Shafranske, 1984, Zumeta, 1993) spirituality exists when there is a sense of community, or when someone becomes other oriented(concerned about others and not just oneself).  This sense of other can extend from simply a concern for one’s own family, to a broad concern for environmental and planetary welfare, which some authors believe only takes place when the individual has sufficiently transcended the ego (Bailey, 1937, 1945; Brunton, 1984, 1988; Wilber, 1995, 2000). 

     Finally, spirituality for many authors has to do with the cultivation of a number of traits that are often viewed as moral in nature (Beversluis, 2000; Kornfield, 2000; Teasdale, 1999, Walsh, 1999).  Both Wayne Teasdale (1999) and transpersonal psychiatrist Roger Walsh (1999) believe the emphasis on morality should be less on outer injunctions of how to live, and more upon behaviors derived from an inner realization of what Walsh (1999) calls the “direct experience of the sacred” (p. 3) which include the following qualities:  a) a reduction in cravings for material goods; b) a cultivation of emotional wisdom that manifests as compassion; c) the living of an ethical life; d) a concentrated and calm mind; e) the ability to see and recognize the sacred in all things; f) the cultivation of spiritual intelligence resulting in wisdom; g) and the desire to put spirit into action, through the embrace of generosity and the joy of service.  

     This view that spirituality is dependent upon the cultivation of certain qualities fits with the research study conducted by Niederman (1999) who found his participants equated spirituality most often with qualities that included: love and compassion; the ability to sit with mystery and not have all the answers; honesty, self-evaluation, positive thinking, patience, self-acceptance; good nutritional habits and exercise; forgiveness, self-disclosure, risking, touching, self-improvement; activities such as meditation, prayer, imaging; a desire to fashion one’s life into a life of holiness; inner strength; joy, peace, awareness, centeredness; release, gratitude, humility, tolerance, faith, commitment, surrender; an ability to see beyond the present reality; discipline, trust, love, commitment to spiritual practice, a sense of well-being, and a greater sense of connectedness and relatedness to others; and a sense of harmony with self, others, and the environment.

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2 Responses to What is Spirituality? Key Points in Bold

  1. Ashley says:

    I found that gratitude is a wonedrful way to truly appreciate everything and everyone around. And it’s the best way to getting more of what you want.

    • I would agree gratitude is important, but as I wrote in my book it is not enough. After all, plenty of egotistical people are very grateful for their capacity to accumulate a lot of stuff (often at the expense of others). So, gratitude in my opinion needs to be combined with the many other qualities that are listed in the article as well.

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