In the first part of this post, I discussed religion; I suggest here that spirituality refers to something broader than religion, but includes religion. If we think of religion as expressed as one dimension (belief systems), spirituality has three dimensions: that of
- belief systems,
- value systems (faith development over time), and
- transformative experience (mystical experience).
An individual’s religion varies from belief in God to a belief that God is a figment of imagination; his/her spirituality can vary anywhere within this three dimensional structure.
John Fowler, in Stages of Faith, suggested that human beings undergo a hierarchical staging of faith development, expressed largely as an evolving locus of authority and a value system. A locus of authority identifies to what aspect of life I give authority, outward to the rules of others (the Bible, the Koran, etc.), or inwards to my own searching for wisdom. Values are very different from beliefs; values express what I (or others) consider important (and are often hidden within beliefs).
Fowler suggested that, during their lives, people move from relative rigidity and a focus on external authority (fundamentalism), through conventionality and questioning, to an deep acceptance and compassion, eventually living their own truths with profound authenticity. At these latter stages, people live the rules, not just follow them. It is important to note here that the rules they live are the principles that would generally be considered wise and compassionate, and they often live them fiercely, and passionately. Examples for me include Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, and others; on the surface, many of these individuals are religious, but fundamentally I suggest they are deeply spiritual. The process is age-dependent, and only a small number of people proceed through all stages.
I am also reminded here of an adage: “Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment;” the development of faith often requires much work. Part of this work is the work that occurs in therapy. A number of sources I know have noted that individuals in therapy often become less religious and more spiritual, less focused on beliefs and more focused on value systems.
The third aspect of spirituality is that some individuals have profound experiences that transform their lives. Examples range from the awe of sunrises to those of near-death experiences and other occurrences. I myself have had a number of experiences that have dramatically transformed my life.
For some individuals, the experiences have been so profound that the impact is strongly felt by those around them. The stories of Jesus, Mohamed, and Buddha express this clearly, and are the basic foundation of these religions. I would also suggest that these individuals are at the high end of Fowler’s scale of faith development, having had profound experiences, subsequently radically living their own authenticity.
Thus I consider spirituality as having three inter-related dimensions, all of which can be transformative, and give meaning and purpose to life:
- belief systems (faith tradition or religion)
- value systems of authenticity (faith development of values and locus of authority)
- direct experience (mystery)
Personally, I have been deeply affected by each of these.
Furthermore I suggest that every human being has a spiritual life, some more enriching than others; every human being exists somewhere within these three dimension of beliefs, authenticity, and direct experience.
My questions ultimately to everyone are:
- What gives meaning to your life?, and
- Is the universe friendly?