You’re likely reading this article because you’ve been thinking about your own spiritual development, or because you’ve had some sort of spiritual experience that’s made you look more closely at the topic. Or maybe you’re just interested in spirituality just for the sake of interest. In any case, I just wanted to share with you a bit about what I had found in my dissertation research a few years back.
I interviewed psychologists who had self-identified as having experienced some sort of spiritual development. Through the use of a very specific methodology, my goal was to create a universal snapshot (the structure) of this experience: In other words, any psychologist who had experienced some sort of spiritual development would be able to read the structure and say, “Yup, that’s how it happened for me”.
For the purpose of this article, though, I’ve left out the psychology-specific aspects, and included in the structure only the themes that might be more general. It’s important to note that because the original study was done on psychologists (and the original structure was thus modified for the purposes of this article), this information may or may not resonate completely with the average reader. This is not presumed to be a scientific article by any means: I note these themes purely for interests’ sake, and to encourage the reader to explore his or her own experiences further.
The following description contains the themes that were common to all of the participants in the study (the ‘essential constituents’), as well as the themes that were common to most, but not all (the ‘substructures’). The word "often" is used when the topic in question was a substructure:
“Spiritual development is experienced as a process that continues throughout one’s life: it is an ongoing, as well as a historical process. At some point in their lives, people experience a catalyst for the examination of their spiritual belief systems: a specific incident or feeling that causes them to look more closely at their spiritual selves. This is not necessarily experienced at the beginning of their journeys, as some individuals may hold a solid spiritual belief system that becomes challenged by a catalyst later in life (leading them to further exploration or reexamination). People ultimately internalize a spiritual belief system, which may be similar or different from their family of origin (or it may be similar in form to their parents’ (i.e. the same religious affiliation) but with a more personal sense of meaning and understanding attached to it). People also experience positive consequences from their sense of spirituality in their personal lives; although they often also often experience a conflict between their own belief systems and the beliefs of others as a part of their journey. Individuals often experience a sense of connectedness to others, living or deceased, or to a higher transpersonal reality such as God or Self as a result of their experiences. Experiences of synchronicity also often shape the development of spiritual beliefs (either informing new ones or validating existing ones); and people often experience a transpersonal event at some point in their development that strongly impacts their spiritual belief system. (Synchronicity is defined by Carl Jung as "a coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same or similar meaning”. A transpersonal event can be thought of as an event that extends beyond the normal personal experience).”
So take these findings for what they’re worth – see what fits for you and what doesn’t. Hopefully they encourage you to further explore your own development, and to engage in more discussion with others about theirs: people don’t generally just share these things for the sake of casual conversation. When I began these conversations, I was very surprised by the incredible things I was learning about people whom I thought I had already known reasonably well – and how much similarity we actually shared on a very personal level.
Chris Hammer, Ph.D. is a certified professional coach and licensed psychologist. He offers leadership and life coaching services, as well as various self-development tools for people who are passionate about reaching higher levels of success and becoming the best they can be.
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