The term “spiritual growth” oftentimes creates esoteric images of bald men and women in orange robes spending their time praying and fasting. It also reminds us of that character played by Julia Roberts in “eat. pray. love.” who traveled from Italy, India and Indonesia seeking for spiritual enlightenment.
We do have a tendency to look at spirituality as equal to religiosity. But they are not one and the same. Religiosity is adherence to a set of belief system, rules and rituals (thus someone who goes to mass every day is very religious, but he is not necessarily a spiritual person). Spirituality is a relationship between the self and a Higher Being. It is this relationship which serves as a lens through which you view and interpret the world around you. It helps us explain our reality and provides a guide for living. For many, this relationship also speaks of how the Universe works and explains what our role in this universe is.
Therefore, when we speak of spiritual growth, we are talking about nurturing this relationship to its maturation. It must be a developmental progression of who we view the world and how we related with ourselves, with others and with the rest of the Universe.
Ultimately, it spiritual growth is about the evolution of awareness – the full awakening of our consciousness – to our Truth.
Ironically, such an awakening if oftentimes hindered by our belief system – the one handed to us by religious traditions. We must realize that our path to spiritual growth is a personal process and cannot be imposed on us. What is important is true open-mindedness – to understand that our lens should expand rather than limit our vision of the world. I know from experience that some people will frown at this idea – convinced that their belief system is the WAY. But based on my experience with people from all walks of life – those who are trapped in their rigid belief system are those whose view of the world is limited, whose consciousness has not evolved. That is what I call SPIRITUAL STAGNATION.
Before I will be misunderstood, I would like to make it clear that I am not saying we should give up or change our religions. Oh no, not at all. All the great religions have great traditions of spirituality. What I am saying is that we should not be contented with sticking to rules, dogma, doctrine, rituals and practices – all these should be reflections of a deep relationship with a High Being, whether we call this God or Allah or any other name. It also means that it will benefit us greatly if we open our minds to other belief systems so that there is so much opportunity for our consciousness to evolve.
Just imagine the richness of our consciousness if a Christian devotee studies Oriental philosophy, Sufi traditions, Native American spirituality, and Celtic belief system. There is the power in knowing that there are universal values and truths.
On the other hand, there are belief systems that limit our growth – that looks at the spirit as separate from the body. For me, a real spiritual system is one that provides a wholistic view of humanity – that body and spirit are integral part of the same whole.
So, given these premises, what do we mean by spiritual growth? Perhaps there is no universal definition for this, but we can cite at least important dimensions:
1) A true spiritual growth is wholistic - It is not just about our soul or our spirit. The growth permeates our whole being – body, mind and heart.
2) A true spiritual growth is inclusive – It does not exclude other spiritual journeys, other paths, other belief systems and other religions. Those who are truly spiritually mature engages in a meaningful dialogue with others and learn from all the other experiences and philosophies
3) A true spiritual growth is evolving – it never stagnates. Spiritual growth means constant learning, constant reflection, it is a never-ending journey.
4) A true spiritual growth is transformative – it changes the person, it heals his body, it changes his relationships, it alters his view of the world.
5) A true spiritual growth is empowering – It liberates the person from fears, anxieties and all his or her interior unfreedom. It moves a person to move away from his ego towards a meaningful contribution to the world and to enter into a significant relationship with the Universe. It makes the person recognize his Truth and make this truth his guiding path.
Perhaps the best way to describe this is to go back to what Liz Gilbert (the character of the Julia Robert in the movie stated above) said:
“In the end, I've come to believe in something I call "The Physics of the Quest." A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”