Here I attempt to
condense years of experience gained while helping people
dissolve relationship issues and emotional blocks that delay spiritual development.
Spiritual Development, Religion & Identity
Spirituality is a warm and fluffy word for me,
while religion seems cooler and more demanding. For me, spiritual
development seems to imply personal evolution, while religious behavior
seems to imply personal submission. Both imply that following certain rules or
recipes has lasting benefits.
As the definitions can be so different, lets look at the goals.
For me, a primary goal of religion is obedience
- an ongoing sense of surrender and duty that builds stability and security. For me, a primary
goal of spirituality is
happiness - an ongoing sense
of connectedness and fulfillment that builds relationships and vibrant
community. Of course, many people
participating in organized religions say that they are spiritual.
Relationship behavior seems to be a good
measure of obedience and happiness. Whatever the truth within the myths and
legends surrounding founders of religions and spiritual paths, both obedience and happiness strongly affect how people
express love ( or caring or respect) in their relationships. I perceive a sense of duty and a pursuit of happiness as
relationship qualities - not individual habits.
Both religious dogma or spiritual freedom can lead to a sense
of connectedness and living with integrity. Both can define and perhaps
constrain a sense of identity and how to behave in relationships.
Our personal identity seems to define which relationship
qualities we develop. By identity, I refer to the essence of a person.
For me this is not ego (I perceive ego as a split-off childish or
teenage part) or
personality (I perceive personality as a mixture of masks, habits and
For me, identity refers to a sense of Self - a sum of human qualities - a sense of integrity. And identity is something that we can
refers to emotional numbness or a lost sense of self.
The lights are on but nobody is home.
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 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. Spirituality may
also be assessed in terms of ability to negotiate with esoteric agencies,
evidenced by good luck for an individual or a community.
During your coaching I was shocked to
discover that everyday conversations
can feel like spiritual events. I communicate with people differently now.
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.
Expect your descriptions of spiritual experiences to
questioned and criticized. Any claim of a relationship with an esoteric agency may
indicate sainthood one culture, delusions in another and demonism in a third. Similarly, experiences
following the ingestion of psychotropic substances may indicate the presence of
spirituality in one country - and the absence of spirituality in another.
Descriptions of spiritual experiences vary. Many skills that we
take for granted were once evidence of magic or spirituality including
remembering, writing, spelling, mental arithmetic and planning.
Having observed spiritual experiences in many cultures,
I see 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 sacred or spiritual - often locations with unusual
geographic features - or places where one or more persons have died or been
buried - or places where spiritual events were recorded.
||Some items and
objects are considered 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 spiritual. Spiritual beliefs often lack factual basis,
and often concern dead people or special locations.
||Some values are
considered spiritual. Spiritual values often lack practicality
and can rarely be measured or assessed in ordinary reality.
||Some identities are considered spiritual. Some people recognized as spiritual
communicated with abstract metaphors and 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 numbness, dissociation
and depersonalization. However, if the symptoms of identity loss do not cause
significant emotional distress or interfere with normal functioning, they are
unlikely to be recognized or resolved.
Some people describe feeling separate
from their minds or bodies. Such dissociated self-perceptions are often
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 resulting from
trauma. I would suggest that spiritual
and mentor damage are also primary causes of chronic
The symptoms of identity loss may be worsened by immature
beliefs and habits. People who did not learn how to behave as mature adults may
be unable to enjoy lasting happy relationships although they may seek a perfect
relationship (often with an imagined perfect mother or father) as evidence of
Many people start showing signs of identity loss
during the challenges of adolescence and leaving home. Some warning signals
are social isolation, loneliness and addictions. Empty people try to fill their
emptiness - but junk food or narcotics are poor substitutes for happiness.
We help people from many
racial or ethic backgrounds dissolve blocks to spiritual progress. We find that more
women than men ask for help with symptoms of identity loss. Many men won't ask for help when lost in a strange city -
let alone when lost in life.
We meet many people with symptoms of identity loss who not
want to improve. They often believe themselves to be special and/or enlightened
and may claim to have destroyed their ego or got rid of
their emotions or
that they now live
in samadhi, satori or enlightenment. And perhaps they do.
We observe people's relationship skills
... or lack thereof ... and enquire about their relationship history. Dissociated
people often have few relationships and avoid
responsibilities of healthy relationships. They may
prefer shallow affairs to commitment. Often described as reserved or withdrawn, such people may prefer seclusion and celibacy to the ongoing challenges
of committed partnership
Every Peter Pan needs a caretaker - a Wendy. It is
interesting to notice how dissociated and detached people cope with the practical
details of their everyday lives. How do they find people to look after them?
My colleagues and I help motivated adults to manage
complex relationships and difficult emotions. This includes helping people find
lost parts (resources
or qualities) of themselves and helping people define and plan appropriate
goals that can utilize and integrate those once-lost parts.
Spiritual Ecology and Sense of Life
It is interesting to observe the evidence of
spiritual development used on spiritual paths, and we study the beliefs, values,
relationship skills and spiritual goals of happy people whose lives make sense.
We are fascinated by how those people recognize and dissolve their blocks to
happiness, often by helping other people enjoy these same
Spirituality for Couples .
Spirituality for Families .
Is Soulwork "New
Happiness, fulfillment and spirituality are
We help people clarify goals, manage emotions and
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