Monday, January 17, 2011

Spirituality, Consciousness, & Awareness

Spirituality (Wikipedia) is matters of the spirit, a concept often (but not necessarily) tied to a spirit world, a multidimensional reality and one or more deities. Spiritual matters regard humankind's ultimate nature and purpose, not as material biological organisms, but as spirits or energy with an eternal relationship beyond the bodily senses, time and the material world.

The spiritual is contrasted with the physical and the temporary. A sense of connection is central of spirituality - connection to a reality beyond than the physical world and oneself, which may include an emotional experience of awe and reverence. Spirituality may also include the development of the individual's inner life through practices such as meditation and prayer, including the search for God, the supernatural, a divine influence, or information about the afterlife. Spirituality is the personal, subjective aspect of religion, mysticismmagic and occult.

The Spiritual and the Religious

While the words religion and spirituality are often used interchangeably, an important distinction exists between spirituality in religion and spirituality outside religion. In recent years, spirituality outside of religion often carries connotations of a believer having a faith more personalized, less structured, more open to new ideas and myriad influences, and more pluralistic than the doctrinal faiths of mature religions. It also can connote the nature of believers' relationship or "connection" with their god(s) or belief-system(s), as opposed to a relationship with a single Deity and the rites of group worship shared by all members of a given faith.

Those who speak of spirituality outside religion often identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious" and generally believe in the existence of many "spiritual paths" (denying that there is an objectively definable best path to follow). Such people often emphasize the importance of finding one's individual path to the divine. Some 24±4% of the United States population identifies itself as spiritual but not religious. Secular spirituality is consistent with holding any supernatural belief, or with holding none.

Many adherents of orthodox religions regard spirituality as an aspect of their religious experience, or faith, and it is a natural part of their lives. People of a more New-Age disposition tend to regard spirituality not as religion per se, but as the active connection to a force/power/energy, spirit, or sense of the deep self. As cultural historian and yogi William Irwin Thompson (1938 - ) put it, "Religion is not identical with spirituality; rather religion is the form spirituality takes in civilization." (1981, 103)

Some modern religions see spirituality in everything: see pantheism and neo-Pantheism. Religious Naturalism in a similar vein has a spiritual attitude towards the awe, majesty and mystery seen in the natural world. For a Christian to refer to him- or herself as "more spiritual than religious" (may, but not always) imply relative deprecation of rules, rituals, and tradition while preferring an intimate relationship with God. Their basis for this belief is that Jesus Christ came to free man from those rules, rituals, and traditions, giving them the ability to "walk in the spirit" thus maintaining a "Christian" lifestyle through that one-to-one relationship with God. However there are many Christians who see spiritual awareness as simply a part of their faith and an extension of their relationship with God.

Spiritual Path

The terms religion and spirituality both refer to the search for the Absolute or God (or whatever name you want to use). One might say that the key difference is that religion is a type of formal external research, while spirituality is defined as the search for God within oneself. This implies that spirituality takes on, with respect to religion, the following characteristics: faith is more personal, less dogmatic, more open to experimentation, and based on personal experience.

Speaking in terms of spiritual quest, it can be said that there are various spiritual paths, and therefore there is no objective truth or absolute by which to decide which path is better to follow, because every person is different, the choice is often left to the individual's own sensitivity and understanding. From this perspective, religion and spirituality are not two opposites that exclude each other, but can be seen as merely two stages in the inner growth of every faithful aspirant, so much so that many followers of constituted religions consider spirituality as an intrinsic and inseparable aspect of their religious experience. The relationship between religion and spirituality can, thus, be seen comparable to the relationship between container and content, between form and substance, or between theory and practice.

Spirituality, in a wide variety of cultural and religious concepts, is often seen as a spiritual path, along which one advances to achieve a given objective, such as a higher state of awareness, outreach wisdom or communion with God or with creation. Plato's Allegory of the Cave, which appears in book VII of [The Republic], is one of the best descriptions of such a journey. The spiritual journey is a path that has a dimension primarily subjective and individual. For a spiritual path may be considered a path of short duration, directed at a specific target, or a lifetime. Every event of life is part of this journey, but in particular one can introduce some significant moments or milestones, such as the practice of various spiritual disciplines (including meditation, prayer, fasting), the comparison with a person believed with deep spiritual experience (called a teacher, assistant or spiritual preceptor, guru or otherwise, depending on the cultural context), the personal approach to sacred texts, etc. If the spiritual path is the same in whole or in part, with an initiatory path, there may be real evidence to overcome. Such tests usually before a social significance, are a "test" for the individual of his reaching a certain level. Spirituality is also described as a process in two phases: the first on inner growth, and the second on the manifestation of this result daily in the world.

Spirituality and Personal Well-being

While people may practice prayer and believe it affects their health (for example adherents of Christian Science), no scientific evidence supports the efficacy of prayer. In keeping with a general increase in interest in spirituality and complementary and alternative treatments, prayer has garnered attention among some behavioral scientists. Masters and Spielmans have conducted a meta-analysis of the effects of distant intercessory prayer, but detected no discernible effects.

Spirituality has played a central role in self-help movements such as Alcoholics Anonymous: "...if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead...."

If spirituality is understood as the search for or the development of inner peace or the foundations of happiness, then spiritual practice of some kind is essential for personal well being. This activity may or may not include belief in supernatural beings. If one has such a belief and feels that relationship to such beings is the foundation of happiness then spiritual practice will be pursued on that basis: if one has no such belief spiritual practice is still essential for the management and understanding of thoughts and emotions which otherwise prevent happiness. Many techniques and practices developed and explored in religious contexts, such as meditation, are immensely valuable in themselves as skills for managing aspects of the inner life.

Relationship to Science

See alsoRelationship between religion and science and Quantum mysticism

A number of authors have suggested that there are spiritual consequences of quantum physics. Examples are physicist-philosopher Fritjof Capra; Ken Wilber, who proposes an "Integral Theory of Consciousness"; theoretical nuclear physicist Amit Goswami, who views a universal consciousness, not matter, as the ground of all existence (monistic idealism); Ervin László, who posits the "quantum vacuum" as the fundamental energy- and information-carrying field ("Akashic field") that informs not just the current universe, but all universes past and present (collectively, the "Metaverse"). Since 1954 the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science has debated the merits of combining scientific thinking with religious perspectives.

Near-death experience (NDE)

If consciousness exists apart from the body, which includes the brain, one is attached not only to the material world, but to a non-temporal (spiritual) world as well. This thesis is considered to be analyzed by testing the reports from people who have experienced death. According to Mr. Anil K. Rajvanshi, if the brain is dead but consciousness lives on, it would prove the existence of something outside the material world and open up an interesting scientific study of the soul. However, some researchers consider that NDEs are actually REM intrusions triggered in the brain by traumatic events like cardiac arrest.


The scientific method takes as its basis empirical, repeatable observations of the natural world. Critics such as William F. Williams have labeled as pseudoscientific and opposed ideas and beliefs that include supernatural forces yet are presented as having a scientific character, citing the imprecision of spiritual concepts and the subjectivity of spiritual experience.

Positive psychology

Spirituality has been studied in positive psychology and defined as the search for "the sacred," where "the sacred" is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration. Spirituality can be sought not only through traditional organized religions, but also through movements such as the feminist theology and ecological spirituality (see Green politics). Spirituality is associated with mental health, managing substance abuse, marital functioning, parenting, and coping. It has been suggested that spirituality also leads to finding purpose and meaning in life.



See also: History of religion

Spiritual innovators who operated within the context of a religious tradition became marginalized or suppressed as heretics or separated out as schismatics. In these circumstances, anthropologists generally treat so-called "spiritual" practices such as shamanism in the sphere of the religious, and class even non-traditional activities such as those of Robespierre's Cult of the Supreme Being in the province of religion.

Eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers, often opposed to clericalism and skeptical of religion, sometimes came to express their more emotional responses to the world under the rubric of "the Sublime" rather than discussing "spirituality". The spread of the ideas of modernity began to diminish the role of religion in society and in popular thought.

Schmidt sees Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) as a pioneer of the idea of spirituality as a distinct field.[24] Phineas Quimby (1802-1866) and New Thought played a role in emphasizing the spiritual in new ways within Christian church traditions during the 19th century.

In the wake of the Nietzschean concept of the "death of God" in 1882, people not persuaded by scientific rationalism turned increasingly to the idea of spirituality as an alternative both to materialism and to traditional religious dogma. Important early 20th century writers who studied the phenomenon of spirituality include William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)) and Rudolph Otto (especially The Idea of the Holy (1917)).

The distinction between the spiritual and the religious became more common in the popular mind during the late 20th century with the rise of secularism and the advent of the New Age movement. Authors such as Chris Griscom and Shirley MacLaine explored it in numerous ways in their books. Paul Heelas noted the development within New Age circles of what he called "seminar spirituality": structured offerings complementing consumer choice with spiritual options.


The scholarly field of spirituality remains ill-defined. It overlaps with disciplines such as theology, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, psychology, parapsychology, pneumatology, monadology, and esotericism.

In the late 19th century a Pakistani scholar Khwaja Shamsuddin Azeemi wrote of and taught about the science of Islamic spirituality, of which the best known form remains the Sufi tradition (famous through Rumi and Hafez) in which spiritual discipline is transmitted to students by a spiritual master or pir.

Building on both the Western esoteric tradition and theosophy, Rudolf Steiner and others in the anthroposophic tradition have attempted to apply systematic methodology to the study of spiritual phenomena, building upon ontological and epistemological questions that arose out of transcendental philosophy. This enterprise does not attempt to redefine natural science, but to explore inner experience - especially our thinking - with the same rigor that we apply to outer (sensory) experience.

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