In search of a common spirituality: Scaffolding for evolving consciousness

This article is based on an article published for the Institute Of Noetic Science’s online journal, Noetic Now (Issues 5, December 2010)

This article explains five essential steps to expanding your consciousness through spirituality

What does successfully expanding your consciousness actually involve? Many religions or spiritualities profess to know the answer. As a result of completing extensive psychological research, I identified certain key steps that anyone – no matter what your religion or spirituality – should understand and follow to successfully expand their consciousness. I propose that, when you are having a spiritual experience, it is important to understand what is happening: within you, to you, and through you. And doing that involves five sequential and essential steps.

The five steps are:

  1. Have a structured daily practice to explore your spirituality.
  2. Stay present to all experiences that arise during – or as a result of – your spiritual practice.
  3. Perform your spiritual journey with intention and commitment for your entire life.
  4. Make sense of your spiritual experience through four spiritual belief “filters” – they’re explained in this article.
  5. Continue to track your progress in expanding your consciousness using a recognised and well-travelled ‘map’ – which is set out below.

Of course, nobody’s spiritual journey is that simple. But, these five steps provide you with the basics of what you need to consider and implement to expand your consciousness through spirituality. If you would like to learn more about these five steps, please read on.

Spirituality is central to being and becoming a healthy and well-adjusted human being

Spirituality is a universal phenomenon. It does not matter where in the world you live or what ‘tribe’ you are a part of, you can be assured that spirituality will be a part of the social fabric of your immediate world. Why? Because spirituality makes the human life vibrant and provides us with meaning. It provides us with a sense of morality and ethics, and allows us to find a sense of peace in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. In fact, spirituality is central to being and becoming a healthy and well-adjusted human being.

The purpose of spirituality is to expand your consciousness

Yet becoming a healthy and well-adjusted human being is not itself the main purpose of spirituality. The main purpose of spirituality is much more. The ultimate concern of spirituality is to expand your consciousness. That is, to help you make sense of yourself in the world around you.

If you explore your spirituality over time, you can experience fundamental shifts in perspective. For example, shifts in how you understand yourself and the ultimate nature of reality. And in expanding your understanding of the ultimate nature of reality, you undertake the personal journey towards being and becoming your highest potential in and for the world.

Through spirituality, you experience yourself within the context of an infinitely expanding wholeness. And you experience this infinitely expanding wholeness as arising within you too. Within your expanding consciousness you experience yourself as increasingly connected to – and merging with – Spirit. And, you also experience yourself as emerging from Spirit in vibrant, unique and profound ways for the world. Through the ongoing practice of your spirituality, you can experience a sense of deep purpose, magic and grace unparalleled to what you might have experienced in your life so far.

You need to practise spirituality to expand your consciousness

Not unsurprisingly, however, just thinking or saying that you are a spiritual person is not enough to expand your consciousness. So what is? Although there is no one answer, a number of research studies have shown that the level of consciousness a person attains in late adulthood is determined by their commitment to intentionally incorporating a spiritual ‘practice’ into their everyday life. In other words, a formal practice is an important aspect of anyone’s spiritual journey.

What practising your spirituality needs to involve

The ‘practice’ of your spirituality relates to what you do to explore your spirituality. For example, you might undertake a mindfulness-based meditation practice each day to manifest a heightened awareness in your every-day life. Or you might attend church, synagogue or the mosque to experience a feeling of being connected to a Higher Power. But no matter what you do, it is only through sustained spiritual practice that you have the opportunity to delve deeper into – and remain more present with – increasingly expansive levels of consciousness. And the ultimate spiritual practice involves paying attention to the exquisite fullness of your unique and inter-connected life, moment-by-moment.

First, you need to understand what “spirituality” actually is … and this can be hard

There is confusion about what spirituality actually is. Ask a hundred different people what they believe spirituality to be and you will likely get a hundred different answers. This is because the term ‘spirituality’ is value laden and culturally, religiously, and ethnically bound. So, although spirituality is a universal phenomenon, where in the world you live or what ‘tribe’ you are a part of will influence what you understand spirituality to be. This has created some problems for how we think about spirituality and our search for a common spirituality.

There are common elements across all religions and spirituality

But, regardless of your cultural, religious, or ethnic background there are some common elements to spirituality. For example, most spiritual and religious traditions agree that spirituality involves an emergent and continual process of psychological integration – or the “transcendence of your ego” – towards an expanded consciousness. They also agree that spirituality – to a greater or lesser extent – involves:

  • a commitment to conduct yourself with authenticity;
  • an openness to the many mysteries of life;
  • the identification, pursuit and fulfilment of your unique purpose in life;
  • your willingness to develop connections with other people and the planet; and
  • an appreciation that spirituality is one of your most fundamental life tasks.

There is now a way of thinking about spirituality that is inclusive of everyone’s unique experience of spirituality

Spirituality therefore, has several important elements. Some elements are common to all religions and spiritualities and some are more important than others. Although there is much research exploring spirituality, only a small number of studies have undertaken a comprehensive review of a large number of spiritual and religious traditions to identify the common elements. My research is one such study. I believe I have identified elements that could be considered common to all religions and spiritualities.

In identifying the elements common to all religions and spiritualities, I developed a holistic conceptual framework for considering spirituality. I then validated its accuracy through extensive statistical analysis.

Through my holistic conceptual framework, you can orientate your own particular and personal spiritual practice and locate your experience of your spirituality within a broader and more universal spiritual context. Put another way, my holistic conceptual framework allows you to pursue the spiritual practice that works best for you and also to know that your unique and personal spiritual journey will lead you towards experiencing the deep purpose, magic and grace I described earlier.

Here are the four important elements of spirituality – they will help you to better understand your own spirituality

After an extensive research study, I found what I believe to be the key aspects of a more spiritual life and identified the following four important elements.

1. Use a map to identify where you are at in developing your consciousness

First, how do you think of your life? Is your life a never-ending experience akin to ‘ground-hog day’? Or do you think about your life as an evolving experience? I believe the second approach is more useful for developing your consciousness.

A truly evolving life can be seen as an ascending spiral with quantum evolutionary steps. Each step is not just learning or understanding something new, but a completely different way of knowing. And if you think about life that way, then not all spiritual experiences can be considered equal. And if they’re not all equal, how do you know which ones are more important. Further, how do you know where you are at in developing your consciousness? To do this effectively and accurately, you need a map for understanding your consciousness.

Fortunately, there are a number of ‘maps’ available for understanding your present level of consciousness. For example, you could consider Grave’s Spiral Dynamics; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; Loevinger’s Ego States; Cook-Greuter’s Levels of Leadership Maturity; Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development; Fowler’s Model of Faith Development; or Wilbur’s Spectrum of Consciousness. An overview of each of these ‘maps’ for understanding your present level of consciousness is readily available on the Internet.

Your world-view – how you make sense of your place in the world

Each ‘map’ for understanding your consciousness can be considered in a similar way: as an indicator of your world-view. Your world-view is your unique combination of attitudes, perceptions and assumptions that inform how you personally understand and make sense of your place in the world. As your beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and assumptions about yourself and the world become more expansive and inclusive, so does your consciousness.

There are three things you need to understand about your world-view:

  • first, that you have a world-view;
  • second, your world-view is influenced by your age, gender, race and cultural-societal context; and
  • third, your world-view commences with a self-centred orientation and evolves through a number of clearly defined stages or levels towards an ego-transcended world view of yourself as being and becoming a part of the great universal unfolding of Spirit.

The evolution of your world-view typically occurs across your lifespan. But simply being older does not mean you will have a more evolved and expansive world-view. In fact, you can sometimes become stuck at a level of world-view resulting in you not expanding your consciousness any further at all. This is important, because if you get stuck at a certain world-view level, this can influence how you make sense of your spiritual experiences and – consequently – whether you expand your consciousness.

2. Work on what you believe in because it can help or hinder the development of your consciousness

In practicing your spirituality, you will have spiritual experiences. For example, you may experience feeling more connected to Spirit or you may experience greater clarity around your reason for being in your world. These are important. But, what is more important for developing your consciousness is what you actually believe in and how you make sense of your spiritual experiences. Let me explain.

I have found that there are four core spiritual beliefs that are common to all spiritual and religious traditions. Each of us – no matter what religious tradition – filter all of our spiritual experiences through these four core beliefs. I will explain these core beliefs in detail. But my point is not so much that you need to filter experiences through these core beliefs but how you filter. First, let’s explore the four beliefs.

The four common spiritual beliefs

The four spiritual beliefs common to all spiritual and religious traditions are:

(a) An openness to the mysteries of life – This means a universal spiritual belief that there is an order to the universe that transcends human thinking. This belief determines how open you are to life’s mysteries and how rigorously you explore spiritual ‘phenomenon’ (both intrinsic and extrinsic) beyond and outside the ordinary range of human experience and understanding.

(b) A belief in exploring life’s meaning, purpose and direction – This means a universal spiritual belief that there is a meaning and purpose to a person’s life that transcends life’s intermediary pursuits. (By intermediary pursuits I mean such things as riding a motorcycle, obtaining an academic degree, etc.) This belief relates to how readily you explore your life in order to find your unique purpose for ‘existing’ in the world.

(c) The belief in fostering wholeness and interconnectedness – This means a universal spiritual belief that all life is interconnected and that it is one’s bond to all humanity that provides a sense of wholeness. This belief determines how readily you foster connections and commune with all other sentient beings – including nature – in order to experience a sense of wholeness.

(d) The belief in self-discovery and inner growth– This means a universal spiritual belief that all people are consciously and unconsciously undertaking a journey towards a transcended ego. This belief related to how open you are to exploring yourself in order to rise above an ego-driven, fear-based and external comparison-oriented existence.

Your openness to these four universal spiritual beliefs will ebb-and-flow over the duration of your spiritual journey. However, no matter how open you are to these beliefs, to continue to expand your consciousness, it is important to maintain a more expansive and inclusive ‘filter’ when trying to make sense of your spiritual experiences.

How to maintain a more expansive and inclusive filter

What does it mean to maintain a more “expansive and inclusive filter” as it relates to the four core spiritual beliefs I identified? Let me demonstrate.

Read the following four statements and see if you agree with them:

  • I believe that there is more to this world than can be seen and physically studied;
  • I believe my life has meaning and purpose;
  • I believe that, although individual people can be difficult, I feel an emotional bond to all humanity; and
  • I believe that every experience I have in life allows me to learn something new about myself.

The more you are able to respond ‘yes’ to these four exemplar statements as you live your life, the more expansive and inclusive your ‘filters’ for understanding and making sense of your spiritual experiences will be.

3. Understand that evolving your consciousness takes a lot of work – there are three elements and no shortcuts

For most of us, we are at times more or less focused on our spiritual journey. Indeed, some research studies have found that people are more likely to commence a spiritual journey during times of extreme emotional or psychological turmoil. Other research studies have found that sometimes people will stop their spiritual journey if they become bored or feel ‘stale’ in undertaking their spiritual practice.

If you want to expand your consciousness, it is important that you remain present to your spirituality, maintain your spiritual practice, and continue to try and make sense of your spiritual experiences.

It is also important that you recognise that expanding your consciousness through your spiritual practice takes time and the path can sometimes be difficult. There are no shortcuts. But there are some key things to keep you on track.

The three tenets for staying present to your spiritual journey

Here are the three tenets necessary for staying present to your spiritual journey:

(a) Intention – it is important that you undertake your spiritual journey with intention and a conscious focus on why expanding your consciousness is important to you.

(b) Commitment – it is important to proactively integrate your spiritual journey into all domains of your life – for example, family, work, friends, etc – and appreciate that exploring your spirituality is not taboo in any one aspect of your life.

(c) Timelessness – it is important to remember that your spiritual journey will take a lifetime – or lifetimes.

Remember, it is not enough just to focus on the tenets of intention and commitment in undertaking your spiritual journey. It is the never-ending, lifetime exploration of your spiritual experiences that gives you the inner nourishment needed to continue to expand your consciousness.

4. It is essential to establish and undertake daily spiritual practice

If you want to expand your consciousness, it is essential to establish and undertake a daily spiritual practice. This is because a daily spiritual practice provides the mechanism for aligning your inner and outer worlds. Put another way, it allows you to align how you understand yourself moment-by-moment with what you experience yourself doing in your every-day living.

You may already have a formal spiritual practice. And if you don’t, there is no shortage of options available for your consideration. For example, you could meditate, pray or chant, or explore the everyday unfolding of nature. Generally, no one spiritual practice is better than the next. The key is that it must be daily and ongoing.

How to select a spiritual practice

There are three things you should consider in selecting a spiritual practice:

  1. your spiritual practice needs to provide you with an experience of something greater than yourself;
  2. the spiritual practice should be something you can do over and over again; and
  3. the spiritual practice should be something you can undertake within, and as a part of, all of the different aspects of your life.

A common spiritual practice is prayer. Prayer would qualify as an effective spiritual practice because:

  1. the act of praying connects you with a Spirit greater than yourself;
  2. prayer is something you can repeat over a lifetime; and
  3. prayer is a practice that can be undertaken at any time and for any duration.

Three things you can do after reading this article

The findings and ideas presented in this article aim to provide you with a holistic approach for considering your spirituality, and to provide you with some suggestions for how you might adopt a more rigorous approach to expanding your consciousness.

In summary, if you are interested in the concepts outlined in this article and you are keen to expand your consciousness, consider the following three points:

  1. Reflect – often – on your spiritual journey as it relates to the findings and ideas presented in this article.
  2. Identify and document any gaps in your current spiritual journey you may notice as a result of reading this article.
  3. Integrate into your spiritual journey any missing elements you may have identified in reading this article.

To access my full PhD dissertation, please email me.

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