What Is Spiritual Growth?
Up to this point in the focus has been on aspects of self that do not step very far outside the bounds of things most of us are directly familiar such as our minds, emotional self and of course physical bodies. We have not needed to stray too far to look at honest or accepting responsibility, guilt and blame or discuss such things as how the mind functions or notions around judgement. People have first hand knowledge of such things and so understand what I mean with little difficulty. I can do this without bringing in any ideas that require a belief that we are not just physical beings, though I have done so from time to time. However, in the Spiritual Development section we will be stepping beyond this view.
Most people view our mental and emotional aspects or bodies as extensions of their physical self. That is they feel emotions and notice physiological responses in their body and view the mind as part of their brain or something that arises from it. So far it may even appear that I have not strayed too far from this perspective, the one notable exception would be the essay The Non-Rational "Self" (1), something we will come back to later. Now we are going to be getting into a number of ideas outside of the familiar confines of mind, body and physicality and into spiritual growth and development. As a result it is appropriate to consider what this means in more detail including how I define it.
Before going further I would like to make it clear that, as far as beliefs go, I am not trying to change anyone's. It is up to each person to come to their own understanding of how they view the self and whether we are merely physical beings or not. It really does not matter if one believes we are merely physical beings or that we are more than this because in the grand scheme of things we all have to follow our own notions. Also, I have known atheists who become religious or spiritual and vice versa so in the end all that matters is how we treat others and ourselves.
My experience tells me that there are many who would echo Tracy Chapman's sentiment on religion and spirituality. I cannot answer resolve her or anyone's dilemma on this matter. Each person has to find their own answers or leave the question unanswered. However, I need to consider, examine and also try to answer the question "What is spiritual growth?" as I am writing about it.
"Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise" ~ Bertrand Russell
At first glance it is not a question that seems overly tough to answer though to answer it without being vague is not easy to do. The above quote from Bertrand Russell sums this up quite nicely. It is difficult enough to do this with things that are objectively verifiable, so it applies in spades to notions of spirit, spiritual and spiritual growth. If you ever try to define them you will find it neigh impossible to do so with clarity and not use words that in turn require defining and whose definitions are also vague. I have met many who use terms such as spiritual or being on a spiritual path without being able to clearly define them. Generally speaking there is nothing wrong with this; however, it can become an impediment if one is actually trying to do something concrete such as work on developing spiritually or following a spiritual path.
For example, let us say I am a physicist, and tell people this is what I am. If this is all I say people have no idea what branch or field of physics I work in. The same applies to spirituality. I get that defining such terms may not seem important but if we are undertaking spiritual growth how are we to know we are doing things that will help us with this. If I want to be an astrophysicist then studying atmospheric physics will not help me. Also, working with our minds is part of the growth process and this becomes more difficult when our thoughts about spirituality are vague and some may even be in conflict. Not having clarity also brings to mind Maslow's, which is popularly phrased as "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
Of course I use my definitions of the terms, however, they are mostly based on the standard definitions with some amendments due to personal experiences and research. You need not accept them as your own. I define the terms I use only so that you understand as clearly as possible what I mean by what I say. You should be able to translate my definitions or notions into yours. This way you are can compare apples to apples. It is up to you whether you accept them as presented in whole or in part or keep your own and discard them. All I suggest is that regardless of the definitions you choose try to ensure they are not vague or contradictory. If they are you end up fighting against yourself.
Over the years I have been involved in this area I have encountered many who felt there was no need to define these terms because they were self-explanatory. I find this notion rather interesting because without some clarity how do we know we are referring to the same thing? The fact is we don't. This lack of clarity has led to a great deal of confusion. If I said to someone build me a house and nothing more then it is unlikely the house they build will be what I had in mind.
What has not helped clarify what is meant by spiritual growth is that over the years the number of definitions for it have expanded without any attempts at standardized. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it can be problematic. This is something that has been illustrated repeatedly in the conversations I have over the years. When people tried to share their definitions they struggled to do so in any way that was not vague or so generic as to be near meaningless. It is not a coincidence that many of those who struggle with spiritual growth also struggle to explain their understanding of self.
Why is defining these terms so challenging? The obvious part of the answer is because we are not referring to something that can be objectively verified unlike a physical object. The root word of spiritual is spirit and everyone has their own understanding of what the word means and what sort of thing spirit is. This means that our personal understanding of this terms greatly affects how we go about pursuing something like spiritual growth just as one will not become an astrophysicist by studying atmospheric physics.Another reason for the confusion is found in the evolution of the term spiritual itself over the centuries.
For most of our history the common notion of spiritual paths have been associated with religion and related belief structures of one form or another. The word spirit, in its various forms, is very old but the word spiritual only arose in the 5th century. At that time it was primarily associated with religion. This did not change much until about the 11th century when it became associated with the mental aspect of life as opposed to its material and sensual aspects. It evolved further between the 13th century and for about the next four or so and acquired both social and psychological meanings. That is the term was used in relation to the realm of the inner life and dealt with the purity of things such as intentions, motives, inner dispositions and in some regards the analysis of feelings.
It was not viewed as a separate field in and of itself until Ralph Waldo Emerson did so in the 1800's. Mr. Emerson was one of if not the first transcendentalist. Transcendentalism is commonly explained as follows:
"Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. They believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. "Self-reliant" differs from the traditional usage of the word, however, and refers mainly to a fierce intellectual independence that believed itself capable of generating completely original insights with as little deference paid to past masters as possible." from Wikipedia (2)
Another significant influence during that century was the Theosophical Society, which searched for secret teachings predominantly in eastern religions but also in Judaism, Christianity and others. As a result of their efforts and others, notably the Freemasons, there were a growing number of definitions or understandings of the words. These groups did not reach mass appeal so their views did not become part of the common understanding. However, over the first half of the 20th century awareness of the kinds of views presented by such organizations began to spread slowly but surely though without consistency.
On the esoteric side of things the Theosophical Society was arguably the most prominent of them and while it did not become better known among the masses their ideas did filter out more and more. The biggest shift began after the second World War and much of it can be attributed to the hippy movement in the mid to late sixties. In fact one could argue that the modern day New Age movement began in earnest with The Beatles, The Beach Boys and other celebrities involvement with the Mahesh Yogi.
It started to take off in the 70's and involved a belief in what was termed the Age of Aquarius. Adherents tended to have a more holistic view of the Cosmos and there was also a strong emphasis on what was termed self-spirituality and the authority of the self. There was also a focus on healing using alternative methods (which today are referred to as complementary and alternative medicine or CAM) and belief in such things as channelling and New Age science. As a result it is understandable that there are so many different views about what spiritual growth is and how one goes about it.
I get that clarifying the term has not seemed overly important to many though it should be, especially if one is getting seriously involved in the area. The reason is simply that if I say I am spiritual or on a spiritual path and cannot explain what I mean fairly clearly then I do not actually know what kind of person I am nor what I trying to do. Again, this is only important if one is actually intent on a particular goal rather than moving in a general direction. Doing so is not a issue if one is trying to become better people but not it is not very helpful for those who are actually trying to grow spiritually.
I know that I may sound like a broken record; however, there are few things are more valuable or important in any endeavour than focused intent. For those who are not interested in defining it clearly and without much ambiguity or who do not have the time to do read up on and research the area it is advisable to work on being a better person, whatever your definition of this is. It is hard to go wrong if you are working on being less judgmental, to develop the ability to focus, deal with emotions better, to be more caring and honest and so on. This way all that is required is a decent understanding of how well one is doing at them to gauge their progress. What we should work on depends on our life and what it is showing us. Fortunately if we do this we are developing skills that also benefit our spiritual growth.
What we want to avoid is frittering away our time and energy spinning our wheels. I do not say this casually as I have known many people who have been on a spiritual path for a long time. Despite having spent years trying they do not feel they have progressed as much as they thought they would or are actually confused about the whole topic. This has left many with feelings of discontentment, one that they would be unlikely to resolve if they continue along as they have been.
Clarity is a challenge that is inherent when trying to define conceptual or abstract things. I can point to an object as say, for example, "that is a chair" but you cannot do this with the words spirit, spiritual or the term spiritual path. For example, I can and have ask hundreds people to define such terms and found most could not provide any clear definitions. My definitions of the terms spirit, spiritual and spiritual growth have come from a book, they are the result of my years of interest in this area.
Though I cannot be certain it is likely the first time I ever heard the word spiritual was in relation to religion. I was probably not yet five years old at the time. I do remember reading the term in one of the writings of the great thinkers within a few years of that time and have vague recollections of conversations about it with my father. To him it was, like religion, nonsense. I suppose I tended to believe him at the time or at least accept what he said at face value, that is if I gave it much thought at all. To him it was nonsense because he had no real awareness of such things and only believed in what was objectively verifiable. I certainly understood the notion that much of what is in religious and spiritual books is unprovable and what he meant when he called these aspects dogma but gave little thought to much beyond that.
I think the first time I ever really thought about the term spirituality separate from religion was in the late 60's. This was due to the reading and hearing about the Beatles and their interest in the Mahesh Yogi; however, I really did not spend much time looking into it. To me it was just another aspect of the "hippy" and "peace and love" movements that were going on. It wasn't that I was not curious, because I had "gifts" that could not be explained by science, it was more due to difficulty in finding anything out about it.
It was personal experiences, and considerations of them, that helped me realize I was not anywhere near as firmly bound to the phenomenal world most people seemed to be. I went to many libraries looking for more information but found next to nothing that helped me understand my experiences. What I did find was woefully thin on anything substantive and did not help me understand my experiences. I was not looking for "what or how to" as much as "why and how".
By my teens I was already well versed in symbolic logic, mathematics, the writings of the great philosophers and the scientific method. The bulk of what I found during my searches was too figurative, with each deeply seeped in the religious or spiritual beliefs of the authors. The first books I encountered were the series by Carlos Castaneda about his supposed involvement with a shaman named Don Juan and some books by Anton Lavey my brother had. These books contained a lot of information but was never sure of any of it was real. This changed when I began playing with tarot cards and meditating, I was around sixteen or seventeen at the time. My uncanny ability at readings and my meditation experiences got me thinking much more about the nature of things and invigorated me in my quest to get some understanding of my awareness and experiences.
Trying to answer that question eventually led me to books on the Qabalah, deeper and more esoteric books on the occult, Jewish and eastern mysticism, the hidden meanings in the Bible and so on. Books on the spiritual separate from religion were still hard to come by. This is why I remain thankful for who let read a book he had by a man named Charles Leadbeater titled The Inner Life. It was the first one that helped me start to put a lot disparate information together and did not conflict with my experiences. Through them I did get some rudimentary answers and a whole lot more questions. But that was years ago and times have changed, us along with it. In the time since then our access to information is unbelievably greater and the spirituality part of the public sphere. Today far more people are aware of the spiritual matters and talk more frequently about it.
When I started out I would not have said that I was on a path of spiritual development, that was merely a byproduct of my exploration of the nature of things including self. The whole concept of spiritual development grew out of my notion of self development as in "know thyself". It was this process that led me writing and trying to share what I had learned through various vehicles, including my writings. In order to do this I had to spend time discovering, examining and trying to extract into language what I knew into a cohesive whole. The pieces I "broke out" of my mind had to fit together and while the paradox of "the only thing one can be certain of is that nothing is certain" remains in effect, one certainly make sure their notions are not in conflict and are consistent. After all if two plus two is four one day and a different number the next something is amiss.
I suppose I could tried to avoid labeling one thing personal growth and another spiritual growth, but I did not. The reason I did not is partially explained in the essay The Twin Powers (3) where I state:
"The term "Twin Powers" is one I have penned to represent the use of both our rational or reasoning mind and the non-rational or psychic/intuitive mind to help us grow. We will look at ways of using these two minds for personal growth and self-development. Using these two aspects of our awareness, enables us to work at problems from a multitude of angles or levels. We use the powers or capabilities within each of them to assist in developing ourselves as combined they form a formidable ally. The Twin Powers are our rational mind, with its wonderful reasoning and analysis skills, and our non-rational or psychic mind with its ability to transcend the limitations of the rational mind allowing us to work directly with energies, to bypass blocks and filters and access areas normally blocked, or inaccessible. This begins with a better understanding of what we are, what our “minds” are, and what this means for us." ~ The Twin Powers (3)
What I did was substitute the term spiritual for non-rational (1). Rationalizing is something the mind does and that other aspects of our consciousness do not. For one thing, both terms are just labels meant to delimit what is spiritual or non-rational from what is not. I went with spiritual because notions around the word "spirit" are a part of everyone's mind already, likely since humankind first we developed language, they are also rapidly growing within our collective consciousnesses.
This is all well and good, but the whole concepts stands upon the definition of word "spirit". I cannot be sure I am speaking about spiritual growth until I define what spirit is. The term spirit is generally defined as the non-corporeal aspects of self, those not part of our physical body. The term "subtle", as opposed to "gross" matter, is often used. In religions and many other traditional belief systems it is somewhat synonymous with ones immortal essence. So, essentially what we are talking about is that aspect of us that is is non-corporeal and persists after death. To define what our soul or spirit is from what it is not we need to consider which of our aspects are non-physical and/or persist after death.
I have spoken about the aspects of self numerous times and will not do so here. Suffice it to say that at a high level the aspects of self are our physical, emotional, mental, causal and other aspects of soul or spirit sometimes referred to as our higher self. Of these only the physical self is actually corporeal though many consider or believe that our emotional and mental aspects arise from or are extensions of our physicality. As a result including whether an aspect of us is corporeal element or not as a requirement does not help us much. This leaves us considering the other part of the definition, namely what aspects of self persist after death.
For western based religions the answer to this is unclear as they do not define the aspects of self let alone which of them persist. While they do talk about the afterlife this is of little help. The reason is because if the mind, the house of our personality, is required in the afterlife our personality must be part of our soul or immortal self and therefore must persist in some form. Eastern religions and many natural based religions, on the other hand, do not believe the mind and our lower emotion aspect persist but that the causal self and the other "higher" aspects we have do (terms and their definitions of what these are vary between belief systems).
Regardless of whether we know it or not everyone has a definition of spirit even if they are not aware of it or have not consciously considered it in any detail. This is because even if we do not consider it consciously and strongly affirm it our non-conscious mind will. It will do it in the background without our conscious awareness. Further, it will do so based on the thoughts or beliefs we have taken on regardless of whether or not they are valid. So, rather than leave it to chance I spent a great deal of time in considering and trying to perceive what I am before trying attempting to contain it with a definition.
I like the terms personality and individuality rather than speaking in terms of what is not-spirit or corporeal and whether these aspects persist when we pass on. The home of our personality is our mind whereas the home of our individuality is our causal body, soul, spirit, higher self or selves, monad and so on. I do not believe that personality persists (save as "impressions" made on the other vehicles) and that individuality does. Why I believe this it is also a topic for another discussion. What I will say is that in because of this I refer to activities directly related to working on our mental and emotional aspects as personal growth and those related to the higher aspects of self, our individuality, as spiritual growth.
In some schools of thought all the lower vehicles are considered part of our personality. Do remember that these terms are labels we create and use to make sense of things and communicate with each other. This division is arbitrary as growth in the lower vehicles is also a requirement for spiritual growth. There is no distinct dividing line that between where one could say this is where personal growth ends and spiritual growth begins. Having said, this we can do personal growth separate from spiritual growth but not the converse.
Personal growth is an inherent part of spiritual growth. Breaking it up in this way allows one to focus on personal growth without bringing in too much information related to the spiritual side of things. Not everyone needs or is ready to work on their higher aspects yet. There is absolutely nothing wrong with focusing just on personal growth, there is far too much to learn to do it all in one or even a few lifetime.
Our minds cannot perceive the higher aspects of self I referred to directly for it is not made up of the same type of "matter" as the higher more subtle sub-planes. All the mind can do is allow or block impressions or energies from the higher aspects to flow through (i.e. the causal on up). What blocks it are the thoughts and beliefs in our own minds, something I have written about at length in many series. An analogy will help get the idea across, and it is one I have used many times. Imagine light shining on a crystal. If the crystal is occluded the light will not pass through as it came in. The more junk, conflicting and false notions we hold, and so on, deflect and obscure. You can liken the light to our soul, spirit or higher self and the crystal to the lower vehicles, which are our mind, emotional and physical bodies. The crystal itself is not directly aware of the light yet it affects it.
We enhance our spiritual growth by working on the house of personality such as what I am covering in Becoming Conscious series (4). For most of us this is the activity we are undertaking at this stage of our evolution. At the same time no matter how much we work on our personal growth we cannot awaken our higher aspects without also working on them. When it comes to working on these aspects what is of primary importance is developing the quality of our consciousness. Doing this takes us beyond merely refining our emotional, intellectual, ethical and moral aspects. It takes us from "something we do" to "something we are."
Doing so means working on our causal body, which from our perspective means working on our core self. We cannot get to it until we have refined our lower vehicles and have become more mentally conscious. A significant part of our causal aspect is our intent, which is part of our individuality. Figuratively, it is wellspring or source of what flows through our lower vehicles. We also need to work on the quantity and power of our conscious energy though it is absolutely essential that we work on increasing quality before quantity else we end up corrupted by our ego, the "false self". As the saying goes absolute power corrupts absolutely, though this is very much dependent on the quality of the consciousness.
This is why I have broken up the core material on this site as I have. The first focus for virtually all of us should be personal growth. When we do this we are refining the quality of not only our lower vehicles (emotional and mental aspects) but creating a better vehicle for our greater consciousness or our "true self", as some would say, to express itself. We are not here to get rich, be liked, praised or idolized by others, famous or powerful in materialistic terms and so on. This is the path of those who are still very much asleep or living in a unconscious or almost dream-like state. We are here to learn and awaken our consciousness. Only once this has become a focus should we be working on spiritual growth, which is essentially developing the quality and quantity of our consciousness. Doing so also gives us access to our inner power, power stems from our higher aspects, our individuality, and not our lower aspects. This aspect is our core self and it persists after death.
In my view it is also important to not confuse doing "spiritual things" with being on a spiritual path. I can be empathic with another, do psychic readings, astral travel or even meditate, or write essays and post them on my website, but these are merely acts and one can do them without being on a spiritual path of any kind. By the same token one can be on a spiritual path and do none of them. When I put this all together what comes out is spiritual growth means working on refining the quality and quantity of our lower and higher aspects.
The spiritual path is not an easy one. One needs to realize that progress can be very hard to notice and may not come in the form one expects. This means that if you are intent on following such a path you need to have a firm belief in and commitment to it. I am not saying one should not try only that it is challenging unless one feels it deep within. I spoke about this in the essay series Awakening Our Gifts (5). What can help is developing a firm foundation we can stand upon, one that gives us better balance and an "internal" base of support when the going gets tougher (6).
Our consciousness is developing, evolving and its vehicle for doing so is incarnating. It has enormous capabilities but is in a way unaware of them and must learn how to use them in order to become fully aware. In each lifetime it experiences more and more from different perspectives. Try to imagine you have no knowledge of arithmetic and have to figure out what numbers, symbols and the various operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are. How many examples would you need to see to be able to do this? You need a great many examples in order to figure out. Well, our consciousness has to do this to grasp each of the planes of matter upon which it operates so that it becomes fully conscious on all the various levels.
As you can imagine it builds up a fair amount of karma to begin with, which it must gradually work through. There is no guide book for it, just as we do not get one. Our consciousness must must experience, react to its experiences and then examine and learn from its reactions. At first it takes on a great deal of karma but this gradually diminishes as it begins to "get it". It is only through our experiences that it wakes up. This is why it is foolish to judge others based on how evolved we may think they are in a given lifetime. We ALL go through this process and there is no way around it. Where we are they were or vice versa.
Higher awareness is not given to us, we must build it up and develop it through our actions. By actions I do not just mean our physical actions, I am also referring to our emotions, thoughts and intent. When we think or feel something emotionally we are acting or doing as we are with any expression of our intent. So, in this section of the core material the focus is on our higher awareness. It begins with becoming more aware of our higher aspects and in my humble opinion there is no better way to do this than through meditative techniques. As we develop our ability to silence our minds we can begin the process of developing our sensitivity to our higher aspects, to feeling what is going on "up there". And by feeling I am not referring to the mundane kind whereby we are aware of physical or emotional sensations. It might be more aptly put as knowing instead of feeling, of being rather than doing and this is not something the mind is capable of doing. To do this one must be conscious at a level above the mental.
It is not possible to become more aware of our higher aspects if we are thinking and doing all the time. As we start to get a handle on our lower vehicles through personal growth meditation is the most direct way to learn to silence our restless and relentless minds. We can also work on this by practising such things as mindfulness or getting involved in yoga and so on. I realize that for many this is a challenge because their minds or egos are still very much in control (7); however, it is possible to make progress in overcoming this if one is truly and honestly determined to do so.
In order to work on our higher aspects we must become consciously aware of them. Therefore, in this section we will also look at increasing our sensitivity to higher energies or vibrations. There are many ways to do this and as time goes more essays and exercises will be added to this section to aid you in this. Do be patient with yourself for as I mentioned these abilities must be developed. One thing that is very critical here is continuing to work on personal growth. So long as we are ruled by lower emotions and not higher ones such as compassion, sympathy and affection and so on we are adding to our burden. The same thing applies to our minds. So long as we are ruled by ego and its programming we will continue to live in an illusion about ourselves and the nature of our existence and add to our burden. This is what I was referring to earlier when I spoke of working on the quality of our conscious energies first before the quantity.
The karma someone who is still mostly asleep at the emotional, mental or causal level gets for taking advantage of another pales in comparison to the karma someone more advanced gets for doing such things. With greater knowledge and awareness comes increased responsibility. This is in part why much of the content in this section is available only to site members and not the general public. While the annual fees are small they are enough so that those who are not really serious about their personal and/or spiritual growth or my notions on it will not bother to become members. The other part is that I make myself available to members should they have questions or are looking for or need some guidance; however, I am a team of one I cannot do this for the general public. If you are interested in joining there is a link to the Becoming a Member page in the Reference section at the end of this essay.
The warnings I give are not intended to deter you, they are meant to make you more aware of the challenges so that you prepare yourself accordingly. If you are trying to develop your higher self for selfish reasons the consequences can be severe if not in this lifetime then in one to come. This is not a burden you want to take on. As we work on become sensitive to and aware of our higher aspects we must make sure we continue to work on reducing our ego, selfish intent (and we all have a certain measure of this) and personal wants, needs and desires. By doing so we are making our lower vehicles a better vessel through which your higher self can express itself. Remember, Rome was not built in a day. If we do this then we will find that as we become more aware of and in tune with our true self, find greater joy in life and our compassion and unconditional love for all will start to flower more each and every day!
© 2015 Allan Beveridge
- *The Non-Rational "Self" - http://thetwinpowers.com/en/the-non-rational-self
- Transcendentalism; definition from Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendentalism
- The Twin Powers - http://thetwinpowers.com/en/section-2-growth-fundamentals/the-twin-powers
- Becoming Conscious Series: The Power of Perception (link is to intro page) - http://thetwinpowers.com/en/section-2-growth-fundamentals/becoming-conscious-the-power-of-perception
- Awakening Our Gifts series (link is to the first essay in the series) - http://thetwinpowers.com/en/awakening-our-gifts-part-1-the-face-of-our-challenge
- Developing Our Spiritual Foundation - http://thetwinpowers.com/en/developing-our-spiritual-foundation
- Who Is In Control? - http://thetwinpowers.com/en/whos-in-control