I have been intrigued over the years trying to understand just what constitutes “spirituality.” In my own Judeo-Christian background, I have ways of conceiving what our spirit might be and am even able to compare it to God’s Spirit Who indwells us.
But I still find myself interacting with individuals who don’t share my particular spiritual beliefs and so I find it necessary to develop a mutual language that helps us understand human nature and the “personality” we can’t see behind the face.
I believe our best model for comprehending the invisible “nature” of a person comes from an understanding of what the human “spirit” represents and how this “spirit” drives human thought and expression.
Imagine for a minute that your being – the true essence of who you are as a person – fills up a circle. For a moment, let yourself see that circle and envision your spirit filling up that space. Be creative in how you picture this – imagine taking what defines you as a person, your values, what’s important to you and visualizing that filling up the inside of the circle.
You can give the circle a color and even change the shape to oval or other geometric objects. But still conceive of the space entirely made up of the absolute pure essence and qualities that define you as a person.
This may be challenging! Trying to picture your own self and the energy that defines you may not be easy. It can also be difficult to define those qualities and characteristics that best represent your true nature. But I believe that the journey toward personal success and happiness depends on each of us getting in touch with our truest self – our spirit – and making choices that honor our deepest values!
For now, do your best to get in touch with your inner personality – those attributes, beliefs and values that make you a distinctive human being and projecting those into a defined space like a circle. Again, I call this your spirit – what sets you apart and defines you as a human being.
In Christian terms, you can think of this as the new creation God has implanted in your heart and soul – being remade into His image. The Spirit of God indwells us and His nature and ours become blended into a powerful spiritual force and presence in the world. Our new identity spiritually becomes the true essence of who we are.
At any rate, the circle in our model and metaphor becomes a way to think about spirituality. Most would agree that if we can picture and define our deepest self, who we are at the core of our being, that there is something profoundly “spiritual” about this. Our inner person can’t be literally seen – it represents an essence, a life force that moves us, shapes our decisions and builds the world we live in.
Expanding the Circle – Inner Light
Now imagine protecting and honoring that circle and our essence – that somehow all our decisions and actions need to be a reflection of our deepest self – not a false self or mask we put on that hides our true nature. In a way, we could argue that the circle actually grows when this happens. Who we are inside expands as we identify our true self and reach out to others with our deepest personality, talents and care.
If we truly believe that life is a spiritual journey and that all our decisions mirror an inner self composed of our deepest values – what we might call our light – then we have a model of growth and development limited only by our imagination and the choices we do, and don’t initiate in life.
Expanding the Circle – Outer Light
Now let’s build on this metaphor and focus on understanding “spirituality” in a broader context. Can we define our spiritual energy as including our own personal core of positive values and beliefs but also forces coming from outside our own personal being? In other words, how do we define spirituality more broadly? Are we talking about God, some force in the universe or simply the energy we find within ourselves? How are we filled up spiritually from within and without and what does that involve?
I believe that finding true happiness and peace in life centers on grasping all the ways we limit our understanding of our own potential and what brings vibrant energy into our personal universe. In other words, we often fail to discover how we are fed spiritually, where we draw our models of living from and whether or not we have the vision to look outside ourselves for personal empowerment and definition!
If we believe that reality starts and stops with just “me,” then our perspective on life and others will center on a limited version of who I am – just me! If, on the other hand, my paradigm of what brings life and positive energy into my world comes from a universe of transcendent ideals, spiritual beings, and a higher calling than just what I make up about life, then my world ends up being constructed from a broader range of possibilities.
Let me provide an example. If, for instance, I believe that the universe calls each of us to a life of love, sharing and compassion, then my definition of meaning in life will include a focus on “breathing in” love from all around me and sharing it with others.
I could argue, and I actually would, that God Himself can be defined as “love” – which we find in a very useful and meaningful, Biblical sense.
Another example would be our perspective on what brings “light” into our lives. Light can be thought of as a spiritual energy that swallows up darkness, selfishness, narrow mindedness, war, etc and that darkness involves an energy that sucks away personal power and enlightenment.
What is your definition of “light?” What have you found brings joy and positive influence into your world and into those whom you care for? Light, like love, transforms negative energy and depression into brilliance, direction and momentum. But we must have a working model for how we see and experience light!
A Biblical look again provides meaning to this. Jesus Himself defined His own being as “light” when He referred to Himself as the “light of life.” He stood for goodness, love and prosperity and the kingdom He preached was a kingdom of light – created to defeat the forces of darkness.
My point in all this involves the question of where we draw our power for life from and our perspective on what gives life true meaning! And ultimately, how do we get beyond our own selfishness and narrow way of looking at the world into a broader definition of purpose and value for us and others!
I have discovered, inside and outside the church, that many people experience a limited appreciation for anything in life other than what comes there way – how to get through the work week, day and month. Most of us don’t grow up experiencing “spiritual” realities in our own homes and stumble when it comes to defining what gives life true value.
And so it becomes important to open up spiritual resources, ideas and experiences to provide deeper meaning and purpose to this brief journey we have on earth.
I would argue that your journey in life is a spiritual one if you choose to appreciate this kind of personal meaning for all that happens in your present and future.
The beginning of all this centers on your commitment to expand your own view of life’s meaning to include something both inside and outside yourself – explore and focus on where positive energy comes from – within and without – and you can even start with your views on “light” and “love” to kick start the process.
The Shrinking Circle
Back to our circle! We have now expanded our model of spirituality to include not only our inner core and our deepest beliefs but also where we draw positive, life giving energy from outside our own human existence. Remember that we argued our circle can grow and expand, bringing success and joy into our world. Yet just as the circle, representing our spirit and essence as a human being, can grow and expand, it can also retract and shrink.
One of the best examples of this is in the field of addiction and recovery. Drug and alcohol dependence or abuse and sexual addiction – actually any addictive and compulsive enslavement – limits our experience and awareness of our true self! Our priority becomes “using,” along with all the obsession, time and money it takes to get high and act out.
In other words, our focus and intent centers on the substance or experience we keep pursuing at the expense of knowing ourselves fully and being in touch with our brilliance, light and the best within our personality. Addiction simply drowns out and replaces an alignment with all that we really stand for.
And so in the process of addiction, our circle begins to shrink. Our only priority centers on a selfish high we chase and has nothing to do with experiencing and bringing out our best for others and for ourselves. We become enslaved to the highs we seek out.
Now imagine your spiritual circle and whatever in your life limits your experience of your true nature and values. Even aside from addiction, that can be the pace of life you keep or even how you limit your own awareness of your core values, spiritual resources you draw from and the difference you want to make in the world. Anything that limits our perception and connection with our deepest values and our true nature causes the circle to shrink.
Growing the Circle
This is in large part why organizations like AA and other recovery programs emphasize the spiritual nature of the recovery process. During the process of addiction, the circle shrinks and most addicts don’t even know themselves in the fullest sense of the word. Their inner spirit is covered up with acting out and priorities that center on using.
And so the recovery process can be defined as growing and expanding your spiritual circle so that you truly know and embrace your core as a man or woman. And broadening this circle to include spiritual resources that transcend just your person and your own wants and needs! This process honors the life you have within – your deepest core values and self-definition and allows you to grow in your awareness of yourself and what you have to offer life and even God.
Beyond addiction, many of us get caught up in the pace of life and our awareness and appreciation for what we hold onto most dearly in our values and beliefs gets covered up. We lose sight of what ideals, spiritual tools and even transcendent beings hope to bring into our world. It is easy to lead an unfocused life – just trying to get by – and hoping to manage the anxiety and stress that comes our way.
What a beautiful model to think of – that our spiritual being can grow and expand as we choose to live a different life that honors our deepest values, our core beliefs and the spiritual resources and principles that guide our journey! And that allows us to give to the world – to others and ourselves – what matters most to us – our best self!
A Mindful Approach
I believe the real starting point for honoring our spiritual self, centers on practicing “mindfulness.” In essence, a mindful life implies we spend time reflecting on our inner experience, what brings joy and energy to our existence and our ultimate purpose and gifts we have to give the world and those we love.
Mindfulness means we explore our thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally to discover overt and even hidden meanings. It means we reflect on our spiritual nature and seek out influences that provide dynamic, positive energy into our outlook and way of living.
Being mindful means becoming a “seeker” of the truth – being curious about what we don’t know and soaking up information and experiences that give us an expanded and even different view of situations and people we hadn’t considered before.
And being a mindful seeker means we don’t judge other people’s experiences as bad or good but stick to our own truth, the light we bring into the world and what we have to offer others. Ultimately, a spiritual journey embraces not only our own needs and wants but those around us who need to experience our light and compassion.
I view “mindfulness” as a way of accessing spiritual truth – a kind of gateway into the heart and soul. It implies we are willing to let go of our defenses and seek answers within ourselves. And it means we look for meaning outside ourselves in a universe replete with joy and light.
For many of us, we have found this in the being of a God we worship. Your journey needs to define, for yourself, all the sources of love, compassion and light that make this more than a simple existence trying to get through the day. Your circle will grow and you will become a true light in a world that needs your shining brilliance.
We can examine our life with a simple metaphor of a circle. Imagine that inside this circle you can visualize your own spirit and the spiritual resources that give you energy and meaning in life. Allow them to fill up the circle completely.
The more we fill up this circle with our spirit and the flow of spiritual resources available in life, the more the circle expands and grows.
At the same time, experiences, choices and lifestyles can restrict our awareness and growth spiritually to the point the circle begins to shrink. The best example would be addiction – which limits our ability to know our deepest values and keeps us from experiencing spiritual realities that life or God provide!
The growth of our circle means we are thriving as human beings, that we live in the presence of energy that gives deep meaning to our journey and those we love and creates purpose and direction that drives our choices and behaviors.
In this growth model, we continually define our core values and identify the spiritual resources that infuse us with life and personal meaning.
- Identify your core values – those beliefs and standards you live by and that drive your choices in life. List each one and examine how you specifically live these out. Could you enhance the way you operationalize these values by becoming more strategic and consistent in living them out?
- How do you define spirituality? Does it include a higher power, a set of working, positive ideals you subscribe to? How does your model of spirituality influence your life choices, how you treat others and how you spend your time?
- Draw a circle. Imagine your spiritual energy filling up that circle. Underneath, list the values and spiritual beliefs that define you as a person and give you purpose and meaning in life. Now draw an even larger circle – what causes your circle to grow? What choices, behaviors and beliefs cause it to expand and create even more meaning in this journey of life?
- Spend time this week and month exploring how to become a “mindful,” contemplative person intent on learning about love, light and joy. List and meditate on those principles that contribute to your circle, that expand your understanding of your spiritual nature and that allow you to reach beyond your typical way of viewing your purpose in life.