1) I can clearly define
spirituality out loud now (T F ?)
2) I can clearly describe the
difference between spirituality and religion now. (T F
3) I believe
without question that a Higher Power (a) is aware of me, (b) cares about
me, and (c) guides my life directly and indirectly. (T F
4) I relate
best to people with similar spiritual views to mine. (T F ?)
with different spiritual beliefs than mine are wrong. (T F
6) I believe personal spirituality
ranges between toxic to nourishing, and I can clearly
describe the difference. (T F ?)
7) I believe responsible
patiently encourage spiritual curiosity, awareness, and growth in
kids; and that not doing this is spiritual neglect. (T F
8) I believe
prayer to a personal Higher Power is often effective. (T F
9) I believe nourishing
(vs. toxic) spirituality is an essential part of personal and family
wholistic health (T F ?)
10) I can clearly describe the
required for spiritual
abuse. (T F ?)
11) I know how to resolve serious
interpersonal values conflicts over spirituality and
religion now, or I'm genuinely interested in learning
how. (T F ?)
12) I must help
non-believers find and accept the spiritual Truth (T F ?)
13) I believe
to know God without studying a (or the) Holy Book or Scripture and (b) having a wiser person guide me in interpreting it.
(T F ?)
14) I'm convinced
that some people and/or powers are truly evil, and that I must be
constantly on guard against them. (T F ?)
15) We have no serious
problems in our family now. (T F ?)
to this status check now. (T F ?)
Now I'm aware that...
survey of 36,000 Americans by the Pew
chat on Religion & Public Life published in June 2008
found that "92% of respondents
believe in God or some universal spirit."
What Is "Spirituality"?
Recorded history richly demonstrates the universality of belief in
spirits - non-human entities that can affect persons, clans, and the
environment. Get quiet and
reflect: if a young teen asked you to define spirituality, how would you respond? Try
saying your answer out loud now.
Did your response include "church"
of an organized religion? My experience is that
many people casually confuse
spirituality with religion - a human organization and code of moral and worship beliefs and rituals based on a
hierarchy of officials and a venerated Holy or mystical scriptures
like the Bible, Koran, Bhagavad-Gita, Talmud, Upanishads, or Buddhist Tipitaka.
religion has a name (Hindu, Christian, Muslim, animism, Wicca, Buddhism,
Voodoo, Baha'i, Shinto...)
while spirituality usually doesn't.
Exception - some types of spirituality have distinguishing names,
like Gnosticism. A pious or
religious person or family may or may not
faith-based beliefs and (b) relationship a person has with some invisible "force(s)" which may
guide, intercede, comfort, and inspire him or her in calm and troubled times.
Faith means "Trust based on subjective experience beyond
any meaningful proof." By
definition, spiritual "force" can only be
described indirectly in metaphors, parables, and symbols.
believe it was Hugh Prather who observed metaphorically that unthinking
stained glass windows (religious dogma, scriptures, relics, and ritual) instead of
the Light illuminating the windows (God).
spiritual beliefs and practices have been universal across cultures and
ages, that implies something about...
Spirituality and Human Needs
Premises - needs are
physical, emotional, and/or spiritual discomforts. At least four
factors may promote the primal human need for
spiritual faith across all global cultures and millennia:
daily life in a dangerous, unpredictable,
uncontrollable, unexplainable world and cosmos; and...
the terrifying, incomprehensible nothingness of death;
the ceaseless inner and social struggle between love,
charity, and good; and selfishness, cruelty, and evil; and...
and/or experienced reality of miracles and curses. .
The political, economic, and military
power of faith-based religions
also shapes personal and cultural spiritual beliefs and practices.
term often occurring in self-help and wholistic-health articles and programs
is "spiritual growth." See how your definition of that compares with this
What is "Spiritual Growth"?
Premise - Every newborn child has the potential to develop
personal spirituality. Between birth and death, every person - like you -
goes through a unique, decades-long automatic process of increasing
intellectual (mental) and sensory awareness. Common stages of this process
forming initial ideas about living things,
the world, "spirits," and "gods."
beginning to form basic questions about
life, health, relationships, "fate," and death; and encountering a range
of different answers to them from family members, friends, mentors, and
deciding in an over-stimulating world
whether or not to give priority to personal reflection and intentional
spiritual exploration or not,
gradually testing different answers for
credibility as knowledge and personality develop, and evolving a set of
stable personal beliefs (faith) about spirituality and religions; and...
deciding on the credibility and utility of
one or more religious scriptures in developing personal and
family spirituality, and..
re-examining personal spiritual beliefs in
the light of (a) aging and (b) major traumas; and...
deciding if, how, and when to revise these
beliefs, based on new perceptions and experiences; and...
deciding if, how, and when to encourage kids
and other adults to become aware of, and motivated to explore, this
life-long developmental process.
Would you edit this proposal of the normal spiritual-growth process? Can you
place yourself in these stages? Some
people equate spiritual growth with the slow, natural maturing of their
soul. Some people equate
their evolving true Self with their
soul. There is no "right answer" or "truth" here - only evolving
personal opinions and faith.
An implication of this slow, natural process is that
some people are more spiritually
aware and mature
(developed) than others, regardless of their age and education. Many
believe that living simply in Nature promotes spiritual awareness and
growth, and that hectic urban life hinders these. How do you feel about
this? On a scale of one (very undeveloped) to ten (highly developed and
mature), how would you rank your current spiritual growth? Would others who
know you agree?
Would you agree that the effects of
spiritual attitudes and beliefs on persons, families, and society range from
nourishing to harmful? Which describes the effects on you and your
family? Here's some perspective...
Toxic vs. Nourishing Spirituality
Let's define nourishing as "significantly helping a person meet their
primary mental +
psychological + spiritual + physical needs."
In contrast, anything that hinders a child or an adult from filling
their current primary
needs is toxic.
Would you agree that spiritual beliefs and
practices can help or hinder the people in your home and family in filling their current needs? Toxic
spirituality will lower a family's nurturance level
and raise the odds of psychological
Paradoxically, such wounds +
unawareness will promote toxic spirituality.
For more perspective on the effects of your spirituality or religion, see
this worksheet and return.
Have you met any people who describe significant
positive or negative impacts of spirituality in their lives and
families? There seems to be good reason for
the slogan "the family that prays (shares spiritual faith) together stays
There are at least three ways adults' spiritual beliefs, priorities, and practices can
reduce your family's nurturance level: spiritual neglect,
aggression and abuse, and addiction. Let's look briefly each of these:
In a family context,
neglect means "not
taking responsibility for filling family
members' needs effectively." Do you feel that children's' and adults' spiritual
needs are an important part of their wholistic health?
What are "spiritual
needs"? How about the needs to...
experience the calming, centering
effect of quiet meditation and prayer;
trust that a
benign, attentive, caring spiritual Power offers wisdom and reliable guidance via a "still small
courage, serenity, and will to continue amidst major life stresses,
including natural or human disasters, terminal illness, and death;
experience the reassurance, fellowship,
caring, and community that comes from sharing spiritual beliefs with other
people; and the need to...
perceive the inherent worth, beauty, dignity,
and promise in every person, as a co-equal child of God.
Can you think of other spiritual needs? How
well filled are each of those needs in your life, so far? Notice that
a person experiences each of these needs, s/he cannot recognize and
validate their existence and value. The universal phenomenon of (spiritual)
rebirth, or awakening, testifies to the human capacity to experience
these needs and value satisfying them. Do you know anyone who has
Ranking these needs as important in a child's development implies
that caregivers share responsibility for valuing and identifying their and
their kids' spiritual needs, and working to fill them together.
Premise - scorning, ignoring, or minimizing
this responsibility is spiritual neglect, ineffective parenting, and a probable sign of
Such neglect leaves kids' discovery of a nourishing Higher Power to chance
or to God. People with strong spiritual faith would liken this to ignoring a
child's need to learn to read, problem-solve, and communicate. How important was it to the adults who raised
you to nourish your - and their - spiritual needs? When the young people in
your life are
grown, how will they answer that question?
A second way spirituality may impact your family's wholistic health and
Three conditions must be clearly
present for behavior to qualify as
- otherwise it is aggression. Have you ever been
abused? Have you (your ruling subselves) abused someone else? Do you have strong opinions about
abuse and abusers?
Based on interviews of over 1,000 men and women
since 1981, my perception is that
well over half of typical
adults in troubled relationships and families survived significant childhood neglect,
abandonment, and abuse. ("trauma"). Paradoxically, our
(wounded, ignorant) society disapproves of and passively condones these, and
accepts them as normal.
and epidemic child neglect are irrefutable symptoms of the [wounds +
that is silently crippling our society.
Knowledgeable or intuitive
observers can clearly identify true physical, verbal, and emotional
aggression and abuse can be much more
subtle. Can you recognize it and its effects? I
suggest that family adults' spiritual beliefs, values, and
behaviors that encourage false-self development are abusive (vs.
aggressive), because they can significantly harm vulnerable children who
can't protect themselves.
Consider this innocent
traditionally taught to young Western children:
"Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my
soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to
Would an average four-year-old child know what a "soul"
or "the Lord" is? Would s/he know that the odds of dying
asleep are close to zero, unlike the European bubonic-plague era? Does this nightly
prayer encourage a child to feel
subliminally safe in their bed, home, and life?
modeling and requiring
a young child to believe in and repeat a prayer like this can be
A more vivid example of spiritual abuse is a
wounded, overwhelmed caregiver trying to get obedience by telling an impressionable child "You
are going to burn forever in a lake of fire. Demons will torture you forever!"
How about "God sees everything you do, think, and feel. If
you're not a good child, (a stern, punishing) God will do (something
unspeakably awful to you)!"
Countless millions of people have learned to believe in the Christian/Hebrew Old
Testament. It portrays a schizoid, jealous
God who lovingly provides for his children unless they disobey Him -
i.e. conditional love. That contributed to the torture and death of
thousands during the European Inquisition and the Christian Crusades.
Puritans and other sects were taught to be "God fearing," which increased their
and social anxieties and bigotry vs. their serenity and harmony. The American
Salem witch trials
traumatized many New England families and communities - self-appointed
officials hysterically judging innocent women to be controlled by Satan (a
spirit) and maliciously "witching" others. American Navajo
children were taught to fear evil "skinwalkers" - witches. Most (all?)
cultures have similar malevolent spiritual entities that scare - abuse - young kids.
If the Christian concept of
is over-emphasized or not responsibly explained, it can promote significant
shame, guilts, and
impressionable girls and boys. So can the
Buddhist and Hindu concepts of Karma
and dharma. Beliefs like these can transcend logic, promote
false-self formation and dominance, and can shape adults' lives
Zealous promotion of "spiritual warfare" with
malevolent, insidious demons led by
the Devil, and some occult
beliefs and practices, can create a toxic psychological environment by significantly
disturbing adults' and kids'
harmony, and serenity.
Sternly instructing children that
one religion or spiritual view is "the True Way" and that "unbelievers" must
be converted, pitied, scorned, shunned, or killed, is undeniably abusive and toxic. Your childhood experiences and current environment may cause
to disagree. In my experience, spiritual rigidity
and bigotry (superiority) is a sure
sign of significant
Do you agree that spiritual aggression and abuse
is just as real and harmful as physical, verbal, and emotional abuse? Do you
know anyone who has suffered spiritual abuse? Can you describe its effects?
The third form of toxic spirituality is...
addictions are progressive and life-shortening.
A common addiction is compulsively seeking an
emotional state, like rage (power), sexual arousal, and spiritual-religious
ecstasy. Details vary widely, but the theme is constant: people (i.e. their
false selves) use these
states to reliably numb or distract (self medicate) from in-tolerable
Does anyone in your family use spiritual/religious beliefs and activities to
self-medicate? Do you?
Episcopalian priest Leo Booth's thought-provoking book
God Becomes a Drug - breaking the chains of religious addiction and
abuse" is a compelling first-person description of spiritual/religious
ad-diction, typical effects, and effective recovery from it.
Note the distinction between religious
zealotry or fanaticism
obsession. Current media headlines focus on the violent proclamations and
actions of some Islamic fanatics. Other headlines focus us
on the toxic or bizarre beliefs and behaviors of religious cults in America
and other cultures.
Bottom line: some people use spirituality to nourish - i.e. to build awareness,
wisdom, patience, confidence, hope, compassion, and love. Others use
spirituality in a way that harms themselves and/or others, like neglect, abuse and
addiction. Still other people seem indifferent, and do neither of these.
If average people have spiritual needs...
Why Do Some People Reject Spiritual
Think of the people you know best,
starting with yourself. How spiritual (vs. religious,
devout, or pious) would you say each one is? Answering
means you have some criteria for "being spiritual." Have you ever explored
why some people have firm, thoughtful spiritual faith, and others feel no
interest in developing that?
some people "believers," and others are agnostics ("I don't know if there's
a God") or atheists ("There is no 'God', and
'spirituality' is con and a crutch.")?
Premises - (a) all people have spiritual needs (above); and
(b) in traumatic times, spiritual
faith can reduce local fears, confusion,
guilt, shame, and emotional overwhelm. If so, then something
blocks some people from
developing a meaningful spiritual faith and encouraging their kids to do
Do you have faith
(trust) that the sun will rise tomorrow? That your body is composed of
atoms which you'll never see? That you have a soul or spirit?
That evil or angels exist? When you were one year old, did you
have those faiths? Six years old? Thirteen? How and when did you grow
such assumptions? Think of the most spiritual person you know. Can they say when
and where they "got" their faith in a Higher Power?
I suspect our core
beliefs come from two sources:
unconsciously adopting the faith
of one or more people we trust and admire ("My grandfather believed so strongly in God
and an afterlife it never occurred to me to question
felt a protective
Presence as I went into surgery, and I knew I was going to be OK."
Aging and facing certain death often invites spiritual wondering.
If this is so, then people who have little or no
nourishing spiritual faith
were probably raised by adults with little or no faith, and/or haven't had any significant spiritual experiences.
If you know people who "aren't spiritual," see if these premises hold true.
Spiritual indifference or skepticism can
come from a
tend to be skeptical, cynical, numb, pessimistic, distorted, distrustful,
distracted, biased, closed to other ideas, indifferent, ("Who cares?"),
and/or rigid in spiritual values and beliefs.
That may cause
vulnerable young kids to develop similar "faithless" attitudes, or to form a
spiritual faith as a way to survive daily fears and pain. Which of these
Many wounded adults learned to
survive low-nurturance early years by numbing or ignoring their emotions,
and developing constant
mind chatter. These make it hard or impossible to experience spiritual
needs and realities, and to accept that inner peace and serenity is real, healthy,
and personally attainable.
The popularity of various "retreats" in our culture
suggests that for most of us, meaningful spiritual
awareness depends on periods of undistracted
inner and outer quiet and contemplation. That's a rare condition in
typical low-nurturance homes and environments. How common is it in your
home now? What would your kids say?
Related factors that
probably hinder spiritual awareness and growth in your home are...
relentless busy-ness of American lives and communities, and...
ceaseless stimulation and distraction from TV,
PCs, pagers, phones, electronic games, CD players, and media articles and
Harried or wounded parents who regularly model, condone, or encourage kids
to spend hours focusing on these distractions don't provide incentive for
meditation and spiritual curiosity and awareness.
Balancing activities and
undistracted meditation is the key - and
our true Selves are naturally adept at providing
balance in a dynamic world.
How do these ideas
compare to your views on why some people have little or no spiritual faith? Perhaps more to
Continue with ideas on why spirituality is
relevant to you and the people you care about. Do you need a break first?