Posted by: Brian | February 8, 2012


“There are no things, only processes.”
~ David Bohm (physicist) ~

  In this opening blog I’d like to explore the notion of Spirituality.

There are many definitions of Spirituality, even in the clinical discipline of Spiritual Care, but the most popular all seem to express similar ideas.  Two leading writers on the matter express themselves this way:

“Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose, and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred”[1]

“Distinct from religion, which is the search for significance through the sacred”.[2] Spirituality “has to do with however people think, feel, act, or interrelate in their effort to find, conserve, and if necessary, transform the sacred in their lives.”[3]

Or, in my own words: Spirituality is first and foremost relational. Spirituality is the willful and loving exercise of that part of us which participates most deeply in Existence. Spirituality is the process of striving toward Being, Acting, and Knowing, from a stance of authentic Connectedness, Meaning, Value (moral, aesthetic, or otherwise), Purpose, and Becoming.

Whatever qualities we list in our definitions (meaning, values, etc.), they are used in the service of Connectedness.  This is part of why Spiritual Care appeals to me most; in moments of crisis, Spiritual Care has our Connectedness as its primary concern – Connectedness with Self, Society, Nature, the Divine, Existence, the present moment, and all the things that create, sustain, and positively transform our inner and outer world.

The function or process whereby we apprehend and respond to our connectedness, is what Jung called the individuation, and what Rogers called the actualizing tendency; and though not named, it would be the impulse that informs movement in Mazlow’s (1954) hierarchy of self-actualization, and Erikson’s (1963) stages of ego integrity. Regardless of what it is called, the ability to extend the self into the world, and model the world within ourselves, is a spiritual process.

For me personally, I find connection and meaning in the experience of Nature (which is reflected in the Self) and the contemplation of my sacred stories (which reflects the Self). I will focus here on Nature.  In the cycles of the day, the month, the year, and the cycles of all things, life, growth, death, decay, regeneration, and rebirth are continually evident. The dis-corporation and reintegration of the elements forms an endless round and nothing essential is lost, though the forms may be radically altered.  “As any good gardener knows, it is the processes of decay that sustain the fertility of the soil. All growth arises from death.”[4]  And while our own intimate losses evoke feelings of fear, anger, or sadness, this same cycle also sustains all existence. We need only walk into a garden or forest to observe the cycle in process.  The seasonal holidays pagans celebrate, honours this round; as do our sacred stories like that of Dionysus dying and being reborn; or Persephone going to the underworld and returning; or Brighid being captured by, and freed from, the Cailleach.[5]  I find the concreteness of these natural and archetypal expressions very powerful for me; and so in addressing disconnection and meaninglessness in others, I am listening for whatever it may be that will orient them, in the same way that Nature and sacred story orient me.  I am listening for their Mystery.

Beyond understanding our place within Nature, I also understand us as being in some way reflections of that Whole.  Different traditions acknowledge and express our connectedness in different ways.  Abrahamic religions speak of being made in the image of God.[6]  Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180 CE) expressed it this way:

“Our universal Nature is the Nature that pervades all existence, and everything
that now exists has a kinship to all other things that will come into existence.
This Universal Nature is called Truth and is the original creator of all truths.”[7]

Norse, and Vedic creation stories speak of the universe being made from dismembering the person of a primordial giant, god, or man. Celtic and Vedic creation stories also speak of the inverse; the first human being made by gathering together parts of the universe.[8]  And, beyond my source cultures, similar views are proposed by Jung:

“There are indications that physical energy and psychic energy may be two aspects of one and the same underlying reality. If this turns out to be the case, then the world of matter will appear as, so to speak, a mirror-image of the world of spirit or of the psyche, and vice versa.”[9]

There is no room here to fully explore these sacred stories in these related source cultures, or the esoteric-sounding statement of Jung, but in this understanding, the person and existence are microcosm and macrocosm, so our being and Being itself, are depicted in a sort of fractal, self-similar pattern – we are each part of All, we are each reflections of All, and in some way, we are each All itself.  For me, this theme affirms the existential importance of the human person: each person is not just a living human document – which accords well with my appreciation of story – I also strive to respect each individual (including myself) as a microcosm of Existence itself, with all the beauty, power, danger, and potential thereof in each of us.  Such notions are not just elaborate itellectual constructs, they are palpable, sensual symbols of our Connectedness, which hopefully evoke a way of being in the world and a way of acting toward ourselves, each other, and all that is around us.   This fractal/reflecting quality is a call to engage the world directly; we can live from the outside in, and just be a product of our circumstances, or we can live from the inside out and transform the world around us.

So, just as my individual practice is inspired by the practices of the therapeutae and the anam cara,[10] my existential understanding of personhood is informed by this primordial trans-cultural creation myth.  This is also why Jungian theory is so influential to me; it has an explicitly Spiritual component, and (in my reading of it at least) can even be viewed as expressing the microcosm/macrocosm view of the human person that plays such an important role in my faith (particularly in Jung’s understanding of the Self, mandalas, synchronicity, and other instances where inner and outer realities are implicitly or explicitly described as reflecting each other).

With this in mind, I will explore the connection between Spirituality and psychology as it informs my practice, focusing on both Jung, and Rogers.

The Jungian ‘analytical psychology’ often incorporates the broad spectrum of human spiritual experience, including the mythology and folklore of ancient and indigenous religions, to gain a deeper understanding of the human psyche.  It is also a branch of psychology that acknowledges spirituality as a necessary component of our over all well-being.

“[Jung] had established these two facts:

1. The human psyche has an autochthonous spiritual function.

2. No patient in the second half of life has been cured without that patient
finding an approach to this spiritual function.

It might be assumed that, after such findings, theologians would have flocked to Jung’s consulting room; but this has not happened…. [T]hey might have at least been glad that an experimentally proved theologia naturalis exists.”[11]

Despite, or perhaps due to, its emphasis on the profound interrelatedness of religion and psychology, Jungian ‘analytical psychology’ draws criticism from both certain psychological schools of thought and certain Christian schools of thought.  In failing to take sides, both sides find analytical psychology suspect.  The fact that spirituality is endorsed at all, draws fire from secular or reductionist psychologies; and the breadth of spirituality endorsed draws fire from any version of religion where ideological entrenchment and ‘one-true-way’ thinking is normative.  Some Christian theologians commenting on Jung “have [even] argued that he should not have ventured into theology in the way that he did.”[12] In the negative responses of both secular/atheistic and narrowly Christian commentaries, the violation of self-imposed boundaries is predictably followed by a defensive response– often with the energised emotionality that would indicate a neurotic trigger.[13]  Other thinkers have benefited from a more synergistic relationship between analytical psychology and Christianity, though serious explorations of other expressions of religion are usually left out of that line of enquiry.  Good examples are to be found in Psychology for Christian Ministry, by Watts et al.,[14]  Personally, I find spirituality and psychology to be simply different approaches to the same meaning-making endeavour, and I see no reason why they can not inform and enrich each other.

Alongside the often abstract theories of Jung, Rogers’ practical and concrete theory also informs my understanding of Spirituality and my practice.  Rogers’ entire theory is based upon the “actualizing tendency”, which serves as the built-in motivation present in every living thing to develop as much of its potential as possible and to make the very best of its existence. Rogersapplies this actualizing tendency to all living creatures.  He compares humans, actualizing their potentials by creating and manipulating society and culture, to animals and plants coevolving or exploiting particular niches in ecosystems. Rogerseven went so far as to systematically and rationally apply this understanding to ecosystems themselves.  The universal applicability of the actualizing tendency to all living beings, and even systems of living beings, is scientifically and spiritually compelling.  It is in harmony with evolutionary principles as currently understood in the life sciences, with the essential goodness of life, and with the previously mentioned connection between person and existence.  I see the actualizing tendency as a functional definition for Spirituality, constrained by the empirical nature of the field in whichRogersworked.

Despite the constraints placed on Rogerian language and shattered by Jungian language; I see these descriptions as pointing to the same thing Spiritual Care Providers describe when we say that, “[b]y spiritual, we mean the fundamental capacity to have faith, to make meaning, to create community and culture, to long for and practice love, peace, and justice, and to be oriented toward wholeness.”[15]

Taken together, my faith, spirituality, and psychology all invite me to remember that each of us is a special part of something larger than ourselves, and in that remembering – regardless of the language we use to describe it – that something draws us toward Being, Acting, and Knowing from a stance of authentic Connectedness, Meaning, Values, Purpose, and Becoming… toward well-being.

[1] Puchalski, 2010, p. 25.

Puchalski et. al. 2009 p.885-904.

[2] Pargament, 1997, p.3

[3] Pargament, 1999, p.12

[4] Starhawk, 1997. p3-4.

[5] Brighid is a goddess of fire who fosters life; a midwife, healer, mourner poetess, craftsperson, and warrior, who governs the hearth, home, hostels, and hospitals – though in this story she is the vitality of nature.  The Cailleach (lit. ‘veiled one’ or ‘hag’) is a monstrous goddess of winter, darkness, chaos, in-between times/place, and the limiting powers of nature, but also a source of fertility and (when engaged correctly) an upholder of kingship, justice and truth)

[6] Genesis 1:26-27

[7] Marcus Aurelius 2006 p.89.

[8]Lincoln 1991 p167-84

[9] Marie-Louise von Franz, 1975. p.236

[10]Soul Friend’. In early Irish monasticism, the anam cara was a monk, nun, or priest who formed a personal relationship with another individual, listened to their private confessions, provided them with spiritual advice, and finally performed last rites upon their death. Some suggest the anam cara may have ancient pagan origins, citing its resemblance to the Hindu Acharya (Vedic/Celtic similarities being quite common); others suggest it likely emerged from a Christian context, anam cara being a translation of the Greek ‘psykhikos philos’, who fulfilled a similar role. The anam cara is strong pastoral image for me in my practice.

[11] Meier, 1989, p.127

[12] Watt, et al. 2008. p 294.

[13] Hollis 1996, p.9-10  Triggering will be discussed in more detail in the section on Spiritual Distress.

[14] Watt, et al. 2008 pp. 295-298.

[15] Bueckert and Schipani, 2006, p3.



  1. […] my first post, I defined Spirituality is the process of striving toward Being, Acting, and Knowing, from a stance of authentic […]

  2. […] of the world’s religions.  For this reason, I would like to follow up on my original post about Spirituality, with the role of psychology in my understanding of Spiritual […]

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