Exploring the Spiritual Dimension of Self

Often times, when people talk about spirituality, it sounds like spirituality is something “out there” or something one needs to get. Other times, people will refer to activities or events as being “spiritual” or “not spiritual.” For example, meditation is spiritual but hanging out at a corner bar is not spiritual. For me, spirituality is not something outside of a person nor do I view events, places, or activities as being more spiritual than others. Instead, my understanding of spirituality is that it’s a dimension of who we are. Spirituality is part of the self in the same way that my body or emotions are part of who I am. Just as I take my body with me when meditating or when watching a game and having a beer with friends at a sports bar, so too the spiritual dimension of who I am is also present every moment of every day.

This week, I am sharing an excerpt from my book, The Integrated Self: A Holistic Approach to Spirituality and Mental Health Practice, which explains the spiritual dimension of self.

The spiritual dimension of the integrated self is that dimension that allows and enables us to experience something more than what is already given in the other dimensions. The spiritual dimension is that aspect of who we are that adds value to human experience from the other dimensions.

The spiritual dimension is a dimension of transcendence toward something more than is apparent in the experiences of the other dimensions. It is a dimension of aspiring to find or discover something greater than is part of the other dimensions. It is also transcendence in and through the other dimensions. In other words, this “more than” spiritual dimension is experienced as part of the other dimensions. It is a transcendence that is within real life.

The spiritual dimension is evident within the engaging dimension when work is transformed from routine and drudgery to something meaningful; when the day-to-day sacrifices of a long-term relationship and family life are experienced as something of value; or when the tedium of hobbies like gardening or needle-point are experienced as valuable and enjoyable.

The spiritual dimension is manifested through the embodied dimension when the experience of touching another becomes an act of love or care; when pain, as in childbirth, is a source of joy; when physical exhaustion from dancing at someone’s wedding or from exercise and body building become purposeful because there is something more than just exhaustion taking place.

The spiritual dimension is often rooted in the sociohistorical dimension as aspects of one’s culture form the sources for meaning, purpose, and value in an individual’s life. Cultural customs, foods, and icons take on particular value as national anthems, the raising of a flag, singing a Christmas carol, or gathering for a holiday meal become something more than songs or routine habits. Perhaps even more deeply rooted are cultural values that shape an individual’s life in potent ways including a culture’s understanding of the role of parenthood, success, or specific belief systems.

The spiritual dimension of the integrated self may be expressed in religious idioms but is not limited to religious language. For example, consider an individual who goes for a walk in the woods to sort out thoughts about a particularly stressful experience at work. On this walk, the person pauses and watches and listens to a bird perched in a tree who is chirping in a pleasant manner. A person who practices a certain set of religious beliefs may interpret the experience as God sending the song-bird with a message about the need to take more time to relax rather than focus on work stress. Another person may describe the same experience by stating that by watching the bird, there was an inspiration about the need to relax rather than focus on work stress. The presence or lack of religious idiom is not what constitutes the spiritual dimension. Instead, it is the dynamic through which an ordinary life event, hearing a bird sing, is understood as more than just a chirping bird. The transcendent dimension of the spiritual dimension results in the discovery of something meaningful about the bird’s song, which in turn adds meaning and value to the person’s life.

The spiritual dimension of the self is operative in and through the other dimensions, opening those dimensions to something “more than,” infusing them with meaning, or purpose, or value.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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