Spiritual growth has always been integral to an individual’s sense of well being, even before mankind has conceptualized the term and digested it in a multitude of ways that it eventually sprung up different methodologies on how one can build upon it. You name it – yoga, karma, or maybe reincarnation. There are so many that they range from the most mystical to the most practical. But whether you are already treading your own “spiritual path”, or in deep need of spiritual fulfillment, a deep understanding of what spirituality is can be very helpful in more ways than one.
In order for us to fully comprehend what spirituality means, perhaps it is essential that we discuss the meaning of the root word itself, which is spirit. Spirit is an intangible property, one that alludes to something incorporeal, something mysterious and not bound by the material world. The most hailed scholar and physicist, Albert Einstein, alluded to spirituality through these words: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious – the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” This brings us to the two things that he mentioned – art and science. These two indulgences have dominated human’s consciousness in the process of achieving answers to the mysteries that have confounded us about the universe. These two distinct establishments, polar opposites they may be, have paved the way to advancement in the realm of technology and human awareness.
To grow spiritually is to gain knowledge
The search for answers is deeply rooted to our innate need to gain knowledge about ourselves, and how we are connected to everything around us. Mundane activities like fixing a car engine or observing an ant farm are unconscious manifestations of that need, and in consequence, related to spirituality.
You only have to read Robert M. Pirsig’s magnum opus, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, to understand what I’m talking about. While this contradicts the idea of spirituality as something not bound in the material world, these physical avenues are helpful channels that allow us to achieve that transcendence, and in turn present to us a peek into the mysterious.
Some individuals achieve spiritual sustenance through the means of meditation. Meditation is a process of serious contemplation, or turning inward to reach a profound state of peacefulness, focus and awareness. The practice of meditation has originated from the Eastern cultures, and has been adapted by the West in the form of prayer. Buddhist monks are astute in their belief that meditation is the way to Enlightenment, which explains the sanguine temperament by which they deal with other people.
To grow spiritually in a world defined by power, money, and influence is a Herculean task. Modern conveniences such as electronic equipments, gadgets, and tools as well as entertainment through television, magazines, and the web have predisposed us to confine our attention mostly to physical needs and wants. As a result, our concepts of self-worth and self-meaning are muddled. How can we strike a balance between the material and spiritual aspects of our lives?
To grow spiritually is to look inward
Introspection goes beyond recalling the things that happened in a day, week, or month. You need to look closely and reflect on your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and motivations. Periodically examining your experiences, the decisions you make, the relationships you have, and the things you engage in provide useful insights on your life goals, on the good traits you must sustain and the bad traits you have to discard. Moreover, it gives you clues on how to act, react, and conduct yourself in the midst of any situation. Like any skill, introspection can be learned; all it takes is the courage and willingness to seek the truths that lie within you. Here are some pointers when you introspect: be objective, be forgiving of yourself, and focus on your areas for improvement.
To grow spiritually is to develop your potentials
Religion and science have differing views on matters of the human spirit. Religion views people as spiritual beings temporarily living on Earth, while science views the spirit as just one dimension of an individual. Mastery of the self is a recurring theme in both Christian (Western) and Islamic (Eastern) teachings. The needs of the body are recognized but placed under the needs of the spirit. Beliefs, values, morality, rules, experiences, and good works provide the blueprint to ensure the growth of the spiritual being. In Psychology, realizing one’s full potential is to self-actualize. Maslow identified several human needs: physiological, security, belongingness, esteem, cognitive, aesthetic, self-actualization, and self-transcendence. James earlier categorized these needs into three: material, emotional, and spiritual. When you have satisfied the basic physiological and emotional needs, spiritual or existential needs come next. Achieving each need leads to the total development of the individual. Perhaps the difference between these two religions and psychology is the end of self-development: Christianity and Islam see that self-development is a means toward serving God, while psychology view that self-development is an end by itself.
To grow spiritually is to search for meaning
Religions that believe in the existence of God such as Christianism, Judaism, and Islam suppose that the purpose of the human life is to serve the Creator of all things. Several theories in psychology propose that we ultimately give meaning to our lives. Whether we believe that life’s meaning is pre-determined or self-directed, to grow in spirit is to realize that we do not merely exist. We do not know the meaning of our lives at birth; but we gain knowledge and wisdom from our interactions with people and from our actions and reactions to the situations we are in. As we discover this meaning, there are certain beliefs and values that we reject and affirm. Our lives have purpose. This purpose puts all our physical, emotional, and intellectual potentials into use; sustains us during trying times; and gives us something to look forward to—a goal to achieve, a destination to reach. A person without purpose or meaning is like a drifting ship at sea.
To grow spiritually is to recognize interconnections
Religions stress the concept of our relatedness to all creation, live and inanimate. Thus we call other people “brothers and sisters” even if there are no direct blood relations. Moreover, deity-centered religions such as Christianity and Islam speak of the relationship between humans and a higher being. On the other hand, science expounds on our link to other living things through the evolution theory.
This relatedness is clearly seen in the concept of ecology, the interaction between living and non-living things. In psychology, connectedness is a characteristic of self-transcendence, the highest human need according to Maslow. Recognizing your connection to all things makes you more humble and respectful of people, animals, plants, and things in nature. It makes you appreciate everything around you. It moves you to go beyond your comfort zone and reach out to other people, and become stewards of all other things around you.
Growth is a process thus to grow in spirit is a day-to-day encounter. We win some, we lose some, but the important thing is that we learn, and from this knowledge, further spiritual growth is made possible.