What is Spiritual Growth, Really?
Spiritual growth is broad enough to encompass both the idea that the ultimate truth can be discovered from a complete group of strangers at an AA meeting, as well as from your own internal stillness while meditating in your living room. It is the quest of every recovering drug addict and alcoholic, whether they realize it or not. But the problem is that so many of us have preconceived notions of what “spiritual” means, and some of us have a limiting belief system in place that makes it harder for us to grow spiritually.
Photo by sean mcgrath
We might think that growing spiritually means that we have to become more religious. Or that we have to engage in certain practices like daily prayer and mediation. What’s more, many recovering addicts have some emotional baggage associated with these ideas, and thus are hesitant to approach the subject of spiritual growth with an open mind.
The creative theory of recovery has it’s own unique formula for spiritual growth, and specific actions that you can take to help you make progress in this area.
The limitations of traditional spiritual growth
1) You are not your belief system
One of the neat things that I did in early recovery was to try on a number of different spiritual “hats.” I explored eastern philosophies, read through the new testament, and pretty much read all sorts of different books regarding spirituality. What I learned by all this was the power of true open mindedness. This is the ability to try on a new spiritual “lens,” instead of staying stuck in a specific set of rigid beliefs.
Some people have great resistance to this idea, because they have internalized their belief system into who they are. Not only that, but they tend to defend this belief system with a great sense of pride.
Now I’m not saying you have to change your religion in order to grow spiritually. But what I am saying is that you might benefit by staying truly open minded to ideas from other belief systems and philosophies. Why limit yourself to the dogma of one system, when there is so much more opportunity for growth out there?
Imagine the depth and added knowledge that comes when, say, a Christian priest studies eastern philosophy, or even Native American spirituality. The new knowledge doesn’t take away from the priest’s Christian belief set….instead he notices overlaps and similarities and thus experiences a strengthening of core spiritual principles that seem to keep popping up as he studies. This is the power of opening your mind to new spiritual ideas, philosophies, or even religions. In AA they have a saying: “take what you need and leave the rest.” Apply this to spiritual and religious concepts as well and you will find a whole new world to explore that can open you up to spiritual growth.
2) Some spiritual paths are non-holistic (and thus limiting)
I think there is some danger in falling into too narrow of a recovery program that focuses sharply on what I would call “traditional spiritual practices.” In other words, if all you do in recovery is pray and meditate according to a certain belief system, then you are leaving a lot of spiritual growth on the table.
Spiritual growth is bigger than that. Imagine a walk through nature or an invigorating jog across the countryside. Imagine painting landscapes or composing and performing music that truly touches people’s souls. Spirituality is bigger and broader than what most people think it is. Remember that it’s all spiritual:
* You can find a special connection to your higher power in the unlikeliest of places.
* All learning is essentially spiritual growth. You see the world in one way, and then a shift is made and you gain new awareness. You see things in a new light, and it does a better job of explaining reality than your old thought processes. This is learning. You adopt a new belief set about how things are; about how things work.
This becomes especially powerful when you can apply this to your own life after seeing it in others. In recovery, we don’t have to keep learning only from mistakes. We can connect with other recovering addicts and use their knowledge to help steer us on our own path. This is learning; this is spiritual knowledge applied. It’s using our connections with others to empower each other in a positive way.
Clearly, there is more to spiritual growth than the “traditional” ideas that most of us have about what constitutes spirituality. In the creative theory of recovery, the world becomes our playground, and every person we encounter becomes a potential teacher.
What is spiritual growth?
Spirituality is a lens through which you perceive the world. It helps us to explain our reality and can provide a guide for living. For many of us, spirituality also speaks of how the universe works and tries to explain what are role in the world is.
Therefore, spiritual growth must be the progression of how we see the world. It is the evolution of our consciousness. How we see and frame events in our minds changes over time, hopefully for the better. Here is an example:
Say that you have a friend who is struggling with drug addiction. You’re frustrated to watch this person continuously fail and return to using drugs.
In the early stages of your spiritual growth, you might frame this in your mind as “$h!t happens.” The universe is cold and cruel and this person just doesn’t get it. Or perhaps you have a belief set that says they are experiencing the tail end of some bad karma; that the universe is paying them back for wrongs they have done. (Notice that this is not a very empowering way of viewing things).
After some level of spiritual growth, you might find it easier to relate to this struggling addict and feel compassion for them. You identify closely with their struggle and can remember when you were in their position, or going through a similar struggle. Thus you might reach out and try to help them in some way, based on what you learned by going through your own struggles. (Notice that this is more empowering for both people).
After even more spiritual growth, you might experience an even closer connection with those who are struggling, and can see that people who are acting out, behaving badly, or just generally failing miserably at life are actually doing the best that they can with the resources available to them–just like you have always done in your life. You feel true compassion for them and have an intuitive sense of when to offer your “experience, strength, and hope,” and when to hold back and allow them learn from natural consequences. Life becomes a learning experience and a series of lessons and we can see that others are on a similar path. We use our intuition to guide us when attempting to help them, and some will also use prayer and meditation in this way too.
So you can see that spiritual growth is a progression of sorts. Specifically, it is the evolution of how we perceive the world and different situations. Furthermore, spiritual growth is all about what we do with those perceptions of the world. The trend is towards a more positive outlook on things, as well as the shift towards learning from experiences and also helping others.
As we grow spiritually, the emphasis on learning continuously increases. Everything becomes a source of knowledge; a way to refine our belief system. We stay flexible and open-minded so that we are always ready to take in new knowledge.
The creative theory of recovery and spiritual growth
Specifically, here is how the creative theory of recovery approaches spiritual growth:
1) Holistic approach – Shift in attitude from traditional “spiritual viewpoints” to an all-encompassing view of spirituality and opportunities for growth in our lives. Physical, mental, and emotional experiences and processes start falling under the “spiritual umbrella” and can teach us new things. Each person in our life becomes a potential carrier of new knowledge for us as we cultivate humility and try to learn from every interaction.
2) Use of multiple “lenses” through which we view our lives - gaining new truths through multiple perspectives. Also, ultimate truths and core beliefs can be seen to run parallel in multiple belief systems and philosophies. Thus we learn better what is truly useful in our spiritual growth and what is essentially “fluff.” For example, the practice of meditation that is almost universally found in all major religions and philosophies throughout the world, demonstrating a common thread. Other principles can be found in the same manner, such as forgiveness or the virtue of helping others.
3) Emphasis on learning and constantly seeking new knowledge. “What can I learn from this experience?” We are driven to grow from every failure; from virtually any experience.
4) Turning seemingly “negative” experiences into either a learning experience, or a way to connect with others and help them avoid the same mistakes. In recovery, our previous failure can become a valuable lesson for someone else, provided that we share that message.
5) A shift from self-centeredness towards a genuine interest in other people’s well being. This is one of the great gifts in recovery, that we can experience real joy from being able to reach out and help other addicts.
Spiritual growth is a process. I don’t think you can really wake up one day and say: “I’m going to grow spiritually today!” Instead, we embrace the creative life in recovery and start making progress on our journey, slowly. It is only after pausing later and looking back that we can see just how far we have come. This is how we grow spiritually.