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A process-definition of spirituality

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An interesting antidote to the mediocre could be re-worked, of course, but I think is a good somatic starting point focused not in the content but in the process


"...I am proposing the following definition of spirituality or the spiritual experience:


a subtle, bodily feeling with vague meanings that brings new, clearer meanings involving a transcendent growth process.


First, the spiritual experience involves a subtle, bodily feeling with vague meanings. The client has a vague, subtle feeling that can be attended to in the body at the present time. Spirituality involves subtle feelings, a bodily sense, and not simply a cognitive belief system. For example, a client may have a vaguely "good" feeling that involves a large sense of peace and calm in the chest or a vaguely "uncomfortable" feeling that includes a sense of emptiness in the torso area. The feelings are subtle, elusive, hard to describe, and more than can be put into words. The feelings are not just single emotions such as happy or afraid. They can be located in the body, for example in the throat, chest, or stomach. The vague, complex feelings carry implicitly felt meanings or meanings that are only vaguely felt. The exact meaning is not yet known.


Second, this subtle, bodily feeling with vague meanings brings new, clearer meanings. "Bring" implies that people frequently perceive that they do not cause these new, explicit meanings to occur. At first the client senses an unclear feeling that carries only implicit meanings. As the client continues to pay attention to the unclear, subtle feeling in a gentle, caring way, new meanings unfold and become more clear. For example, as a client pays attention to a vague feeling of peace and calm, the client may receive a new, explicit meaning or understanding of "accepting another person's differences."


Third, a spiritual experience involves a transcendent growth process. "Transcend" means to move beyond one's former frame of reference in a direction of higher or broader scope, a more inclusive perspective. Such transcendence is essential to human growth. A transcendent growth process, found in all human beings, involves moving beyond one's own unhealthy egocentricity, duality, and exclusivity towards more healthy egocentricity, inclusivity, unity, and a capacity to love (Chandler, Holden, & Kolander, 1992). The movement from unhealthy to healthy egocentricity might involve the ability to become more assertive or the increased ability to stand one's ground.


Gendlin (1996) has described this growth process in the following way:


...when a person's central core or inward self strengthens and develops, the "I" becomes stronger. The person--I mean that which looks out from behind the eyes--comes more into its own....


One develops when the desire to live and do things stirs deep down, when one's own hopes and desires stir, when one's own perceptions and evaluations carry a new sureness, when the capacity to stand one's ground increases, and when one can consider others and their needs....One comes to feel one's separate existence solidly enough to want to be close to others as they really are. It is development when one is drawn to something that is directly interesting, and when one wants to play. It is development when something stirs inside that has long been immobile and silent, cramped and almost dumb, and when life's energy flows in a new way. (pp. 21 - 22)


Spiritual growth involves bodily felt release, more life energy, feeling more fully present and whole, a sense of feeling larger and being able to accept or reach out to more parts of oneself, to more people, and to more of life (Campbell & McMahon, 1985). For example, a client feeling peace and calm who receives a new understanding of "accepting another person's differences" may have the growth experience of accepting others more as they are, thus reaching out to more people. After a spiritual experience, growth usually occurs in many areas of the client's life.

When I taught Focusing in Japan, the importance of a process definition of spirituality for cross-cultural counseling was confirmed by participants in my workshops. In the West people often think of spirituality as involving more self-transcendence and love for others (content terms). The Japanese are raised with the assumption of oneness and unity with other people and their environment. Their language reflects this assumption. Personal pronouns, such as I and you, are frequently omitted from sentences. For the Japanese the process of spiritual growth tends to involve developing more healthy egocentricity, more of a sense of individuality and separation. When Westerners speak of spirituality in terms of unity and self-transcendence (content terms), Japanese people may have the reaction that they don't need spirituality. When I spoke about spirituality in process terms (implicit feelings unfolding into more explicit meanings that bring more easing and life energy), they could see the relevance of spirituality in their own lives.


This definition of spirituality includes what is often referred to as "transpersonal experiences." Transpersonal experiences involve an expansion or extension of consciousness beyond the usual ego boundaries and beyond the limitations of time and/or space (Grof, 1976). Spiritual process may include transpersonal experiences, such as intuitive, psychic, and mystical experiences. Also, when referring to spiritual content, I assume that transpersonal content is included."

Edited by Ulises

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