I will attempt to condense years of experience gained
helping people change emotional and relationship
issues that delayed or prevented
their spiritual development.
Spiritual Development, Religion & Identity
Spirituality is a warm and fluffy
word for me, while religion seems cooler
and more demanding. Spiritual development seems to imply
religious behavior seems to imply personal submission.
Rather than arguing about definitions, lets look at the goals.
For me, a primary goal of religion is obedience - an ongoing
sense of duty that supports community stability. For me, a primary goal of spirituality is
- an ongoing sense of connectedness that builds
relationships and vibrant community.
Relationship behavior seems to be a useful measure of obedience
and happiness. Whatever the truth within the myths and legends
surrounding the founders of religions and spiritual paths, both
obedience and happiness affect how people express love (or caring
or respect) in their relationships. I perceive a sense of duty
and a pursuit of happiness more as relationship qualities
rather than individual qualities.
Both religious dogma or spiritual development can lead to a
sense of connection and integrity. Both can support a
sense of identity, relationship behavior and success.
We can choose which relationship qualities we develop. By
"we", I refer to the essence of people.
For me this is not ego (I perceive ego as a split-off
teenage part) nor personality (I perceive personality
as a mish-mash of masks, habits and fixations).
For me, identity refers to a sense of Self - a heart-full
sum of human qualities - a sense of integrity and connectedness.
Identity is something that we can hide, forget or lose.
can refer to a state of emotional numbness or a lost sense of self.
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. At its most basic, spirituality might be called good luck.
A lone survivor of a disaster may be called special, holy or chosen.
Spirituality includes approaching external spiritual
agencies through their symbolic manifestations - by showing submission,
fear, respect, gratitude or reverence to symbols. Spirituality may
also be assessed in terms of ability to negotiate with esoteric
agencies, evidenced by good luck for a community.
In contrast, religious behavior is more often a reverence
for sacred objects, learning chants and songs, repeating body movements
and reciting dogma. If these cases, religious development might be
measured in terms of ability to remember and repeat these lessons.
Sacred images, chants, mythic language, incense and ritual can be
used to support beliefs and maintain community bonds.
During your coaching I was
shocked to discover that everyday conversations
can feel like spiritual events. I communicate with people very
Your descriptions of spiritual experiences will likely be
questioned and criticized. A claim of a relationship with an esoteric agency may
indicate sainthood one culture - and psychotic delusions in another.
Descriptions of spiritual experiences vary
between cultures. Many skills that you take for granted were once
evidence of magic or spirituality. These skills include remembering,
writing, spelling, mental arithmetic and planning. (Have you ever
been enchanted by a spell?).
Having observed spiritual experiences in many cultures, there
seems to be a predictable hierarchy. Here is a simple table I created to
assess spiritual development, based on Dr Gregory Bateson's hierarchy of
abstraction (from Steps to an Ecology
of Mind, 1976):
Evidence of Spirituality
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 an unusual event was recorded.
||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".
||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 an esoteric or spiritual agency.
||Some beliefs are
considered especially spiritual. Spiritual beliefs often lack factual basis,
and often concern dead people or special locations.
||Some values are
considered especially spiritual. Spiritual values often lack practicality
and can rarely be measured or assessed in ordinary reality.
are considered spiritual. Some people recognized as spiritual
communicated with abstract metaphors and often died in interesting
ways. Their lives typically include periods of suffering during
which they found ways to limit their suffering, often by
identification and dissociation.
identity is a goal of many spiritual paths, although expect
bitter disputes about whether or not a person has
What is Identity Loss?
Identity loss refers to emotional dissociation
and depersonalization. However, if the symptoms of identity loss do not cause
significant emotional distress or interfere with normal functioning, those
unlikely to be recognized or resolved.
Some people describe feeling separate
from their minds or bodies.
Dissociated self-perception may be
called detachment or depersonalization.
A survey by the U.S. National Institutes of Mental
Health (NIMH) indicated that about half of American adults have
experienced brief episodes of depersonalization, usually following
trauma. I would suggest that spiritual
and mentor damage are also
primary causes of such dissociation.
Symptoms of identity loss may be worsened by immature beliefs
and habits. People who did not learn how to be mature may
be unable to enjoy lasting happy relationships (e.g. family,
teams, partnership or parenthood) although they may seek a
perfect relationship - while lacking mature partnership
Many people start to show signs of identity loss during the
challenges of adolescence and leaving home. Warning signals
include social isolation, loneliness and obsessions. Empty
people try to fill their emptiness - but junk food, pornography
or drugs are poor substitutes for happiness.
We have helped many people change their resistance to
happiness and spiritual progress. We find that more
women than men ask for help with symptoms of identity loss,
although many men won't ask for help when lost in a strange city -
let alone when lost in life.
Consequences of Dissociation
We meet people with symptoms of identity loss who do not
want to improve. They may believe themselves to be special
and/or enlightened and often claim to have destroyed
their ego or got rid of their emotions and
that they now live in samadhi, satori or
enlightenment. And, depending on their
definitions - perhaps they do.
We observe people's relationship skills ... or lack thereof.
Dissociated people often lack relationship skills, they may
prefer shallow affairs to commitment - and short-term fun
to lasting happiness. Often reserved or withdrawn, such
people may prefer seclusion to the challenges of healthy
teamwork or partnership.
Happiness, fulfillment and spirituality are
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