What is Spiritual development?
Our relationships reflect and reveal the spiritual basis of our culture. Our behavior in our intimate and committed relationships most strongly exposes the truth and effectiveness of our spiritual progress. Happiness, fulfillment and enlightenment are relationship qualities – not individual qualities.
Science and Spiritual development
People in our scientific society read and write more about spiritual life, spiritual growth and spiritual development than about science.
Yet, although we consider spiritual development to be important, our definitions of spirituality, spiritual practices and spiritual relationships are often dramatically different.
Spiritual love there might be called self-hatred here; and obvious spiritual truths here are obvious demonic deception there.
A spiritual path requires spiritual coaches, mentors and teachers; a manifesto and an interested audience.
As spiritual coaches can only assist people who know less than they do – some guidelines about how to recognize who is “spiritually advanced” or “spiritually developed” or even “spiritually healthy” would be useful.
Let’s start with how to recognize “spirituality”.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality appears to be an integral part of all human cultures. Spiritual development may be regarded as connection to something external to the self, or as an internal experience, or both.
Spirituality at its most basic can be called luck or coincidence. In this case a spiritual person is lucky – a survivor of a war or disaster may be considered holy or chosen.
Spirituality is often defined as reverence for sacred objects, learning holy chants and songs, repeating body movements and reciting dogma. If so, spirituality can then be measured in terms of “ability to repeat chants, body movements or dogma”.
Spirituality may be perceived as “success without effort”, in which unseen forces are assumed to cluster around certain blessed individuals. Some people measure spirituality by unearned material success.
Spirituality includes unusual varieties of human experience, including an ability to create relationships with what are perceived to be gods, spirits, ancestors, or other non-physical realities. Spiritual evolution can then be assessed as “ability to channel esoteric information”.
Spirituality may include approaching external spiritual agencies through their symbolic manifestations – interacting with perceived spiritual agencies with fear, respect, gratitude, or reverence. Spirituality may be assessed in terms of “ability to bribe or flatter spiritual agencies”, as evidenced by good fortune for the community.
Spirituality also includes descriptions of experiences. Obsession with sacred images, chants, mythic language, incense and ritual can provide religious experiences. Shared individual experiences can both prove a dogma and form a basis for community bonds.
The validity of personal spiritual experience is easily questioned. Similar experiences of a relationship with an esoteric agency may indicate a saint in one culture – and a witch in another. Experiences following the ingestion of psychoactive substances may indicate the presence of the spiritual in one culture – and the absence of spirituality in another.
The qualities of a spiritual experience vary between cultures. It appears that many practices taken for granted in Western civilization were once “spiritual experiences” of the highest order. These once-spiritual experiences include: writing, spelling, mental arithmetic, planning and guesstimating.
Dr William James, in his lectures: Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), described four qualities of mystical experiences. Dr. James said that: “These four characteristics are sufficient to mark out a group of states of consciousness peculiar enough to … be called the mystical group.”
Hierarchy of Spiritual development stages & spiritual experience
The similarities and differences in spiritual experience across human cultures follow a predictable hierarchy. Spiritual evolution and development has many dimensions, and some important dimensions that can be readily recognized and assessed are Environment, Things, Actions, Beliefs, Values, Identity and Transcendence. These form a hierarchy of abstraction (suggested by Dr Gregory Bateson in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1976):
- Environment – Some locations are considered especially sacred or spiritual – often locations with unusual geographic features – or a place where one or more persons have died or been buried – or a place where a spiritual event was recorded.
- Things – Some items and objects are considered especially spiritual – often objects of unusual scarcity. Spiritual objects also include possessions or even parts of people who were recognized as “spiritually advanced”.
- Actions – Some body movements or repetitive behaviors are considered sacred. This includes movements, chants, repeated words or thoughts that symbolize or request a “preferred” relationship with a spiritual agency.
- Beliefs – Some beliefs are considered especially spiritual. Spiritual beliefs often lack factual basis, and concern dead people or locations considered spiritual.
- Values – Some values are considered especially spiritual. Spiritual values often lack practicality and can rarely be measured or assessed in ordinary reality. See the next table.
- Identity – Some manifestations of identity are considered spiritual. People recognized as spiritual often communicated in abstract metaphors and died in interesting ways. Their lives typically include periods of intense suffering during which they found ways to limit suffering, usually by identification and dissociation.
- Transcendence – Transcendence of identity is a goal of many spiritual paths, although there can be bitter disputes about whether or not a person has, in fact, transcended.
Hierarchy of Values
“Values” can be perceived in the evolutionary hierarchy suggested by Dr Clare Graves (described in Spiral Dynamics, 1996). This table loosely interprets Dr Graves work:
- Survival – To enjoy luck – to survive long enough to raise children
- Tribal – To enjoy family – to survive in tribes with the help of friendly spirits
- Power – To enjoy power – to be a warrior – to discover and conquer new worlds
- Stability – To enjoy stability – to build civilizations and create literature
- Success – To enjoy success – to create individual success and mobility
- Community – To enjoy community – to share feelings in a protected group
- Systemic – To enjoy complexity – to find interconnections in apparent chaos
- Global – To enjoy globalism – to value and nurture all life
This hierarchy of abstraction and hierarchy of values may be combined to provide a hierarchy of spiritual development. This hierarchy indicates both personal and community spiritual evolution.
Spirituality Sacred Things – Sacred Actions -Sacred Beliefs
- Lucky me – Lucky tools; hunting weapons; clothes Find “lucky” places; using magical senses Spirituality is luck
- Tribal – Sacred charms; foods; protective symbols Chants; movements; rituals; songs Spirituality is faithful obedience to the chiefs
- Warrior – Sacred tools of battle and warfare Duels; Sacrifice; Respect; Conquest Spirituality is magical power
- Dogma – Sacred papers: books; certificates; awards Marches; respect dogma; initiations; authorities Spirituality is obeying the rules; rewards after death
- Success – Status symbols; luxury toys; “trophy” partner Competing and winning; donations Spirituality is recognition for success
- Community – Communal ownership Sharing information and human resources Spirituality is a shared experience of community
- Systemic – Communication and information tools Integrating self; effective systemic diversity Spirituality is systemic human behavior
- Global – Everything and nothing is sacred Living for humanity and/or nature Spirituality is connecting with the universe
In most cultures, esoteric agencies are believed to provide humans with a variety of gifts. These may be freely given, or they may have a price tag. Gifts may be dispersed randomly, or follow a set of rules. Spiritual gifts may include:
- prophecy and divination
- trance states, dreams, visions and mystical experiences
- instant healing and miracles
- wildlife and weather control
- intuition and inspiration
- possession (a spiritual entity controls a person’s body)
- embodiment in the lives of individuals
Spirituality can be expressed as moral behavior – acting appropriately within relationships. Spirituality may require or specify cultural standards of conduct. Some individuals cultivate a lifelong personal relationship with a spiritual agency – perhaps a “guardian angel”.
How to develop spiritually – Spiritual ecology
How do you want to use spirituality to enhance your sense of life? Perhaps our world is burdened with enough spiritual paths and spiritual teachers. While it is interesting to note the level of spiritual development shown by adherents to various types of spirituality – it seems more useful to focus on the spiritual goal of a life that makes sense.
A sense-full life can include and integrate the various levels of chosen paths of spiritual development. Following the evolutionary hierarchy described by Dr Clare Graves, a sense-full life can includes all spiritual levels in an integrated whole:
- Physical comfort can include an awareness of coincidences
- Family togetherness can include dead ancestors and family spirits
- Respect for power can include protecting weaker members
- Stable security can include justice and fairness
- Material success can include donations to the community
- Community equality can include diverse expressions of spirituality
- Integrating complex systems can include social projects
- Global citizenship can include a whole-world spirituality