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The Spiritual Relationship

Way back in April 2017, I defined spirituality as “having a relationship with life.” I now have a better understanding of what that really means. The relationship we have with life isn’t about what is true for everyone. It is about the truth each of us holds with the world around us. This is what separates spirituality from science. Our truth, the truth we experience in our own lives may only be our own, while science seeks to find the “truth” that affects many lives, if not everyone’s life. Some of what we experience may come from a shared truth. However, our relationship to any truth is our own. Not everyone has the same relationship with each other either, so it is likely that each of us has a unique relationship with life.

The relationship with life is about the exchange we have between ourselves and what’s in our world. It is about how well life reflects back to us what we see in ourselves or if life touches on those things we despise and shun in ourselves. It is how all the forces in our life push against us or uplift us. This includes every aspect of our lives, from our personal desires to our professional talents and beyond. Spirituality is rooted in this relationship.

Our different relationships

As psychologists have explored for decades, our relationship with our family is the first place that shapes how we feel about life. Our parents have an impact on our emotional states and how we develop as emotional beings. Of course, if we have siblings, they undoubtedly become part of this experience as well. This is important, because it is through our feelings that we learn about relationships to other people as well as ourselves. While family is the first influence on our feelings and relationships with others, we continue to have relationships elsewhere each of which may confirm or update our expectations of life.

Parental Influence on the Emotional Development of Children – read more

What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – read more

Friendships are another relationship that influences how we experience life. The quality of friendships covers quite a broad range of experiences. We can have acquaintances whom we seldom see or with whom we only share a passing familiarity. We can have playmates that we seek out to share interests or activities. We can have mentors (or seekers) with whom we have a teacher and student type friendship. We can have confidants with whom we share our most personal thoughts and feelings. Each of these kinds of relationships can shape how we relate to life overall and our overall sense of it.

Work colleagues are another common relationship we all encounter. At work, there tends to be a more formal and often times hierarchical relationship experience, perhaps similar to parents and siblings. We may or may not feel deeper influence from these relationships, but we may also have opportunities to either verify our expectations of life or change those expectations through the relationships we have at work. They certainly create another area in our life where we determine what life holds for us.

Changing our views

Our relationships with each other and our relationship to life are dynamic and changing as well. Even if our parents set the foundation of our sense of life on an emotional level, we can experience life different ways over time. Friends come and go. Work places often come and go as well. We begin to see what remains consistent and what is different, both in the world around us and in ourselves.

Personal development models such as Erik Erickson’s 8 stages model help us see our relationship with life in more detail. In Erickson’s model many of the earlier stages include references to lingering emotions or states of well-being. For example, if someone does not master the first stage of trust vs. mistrust, they may feel a consistent anxiety until they are able to figure out how to participate in life with a sense of trust.

Erik Erickson’s stages model – read more

The complex course Joseph Campbell described and called the Hero’s Journey is a more generalized version of how a person changes their relationship with life. In this model, a person is called from their regular life to explore something extraordinary. They transform themselves in some way during their exploration and return to their lives a different person. This journey isn’t just about fictional heroes but about how each person can experience spiritual transitions in their own life when their relationship with life changes.

Hero’s journey – read more

Crisis and asking questions

We may question our beliefs or seek spiritual help when we feel a crisis in our lives. It is not uncommon to see movies or read stories where death causes someone to start contemplating life more deeply and asking more serious questions. If you’ve grieved from the death of someone close to you, you know how intense it can feel.

Indeed, I think many people have beliefs at an unconscious level that only come up as they face challenges and crises. Sometimes, I think the reason these beliefs surface is because people want to change how they feel or perhaps try to prevent themselves from feeling whatever difficult emotion they experience from the crisis. If they can avoid or remove such feelings through different beliefs, then they contemplate that possibility. Although we cannot prevent ourselves from feeling bad, we can make our relationship to life, the beliefs we have about it, more conscious and livable.

It is important that we look at what is around us and wonder what good each thing really does in our lives as well as what good we for it. We can look at our family, friends and colleagues to see whether or not we are doing well together or if we need to make some changes. We can look at other areas where we spend our time, what that time spent really means and whether or not we should make changes. Sometimes, those changes may mean that we have to grow more. Sometimes, those changes may mean that we need to change our relationships. It may help us to think about the different relationships we have to others and to ourselves and figure out what those relationships mean to us individually as well as a whole. Maybe that is how we begin to make conscious our singular but complex relationship to life.

Spiritual Crisis on the Death Reference site

Are You Having A Spiritual Crisis on the Wellness Universe blog

From Spiritual Crisis to Spiritual Awakening on the Psychology Today site

What Role Do Religion and Spirituality Play In Mental Health on the APA site