"Spirituality" was a word I rarely heard as a child. "Religion" was a more popular term, and religious matters were generally left in the hands of the clergy. Spiritual development or mysticism, which the religious scholar Evelyn Underhill describes as the "development of spiritual consciousness," was unknown in my early life, even though my parents were well educated and we attended church regularly. While today I would claim that my Protestant mother became a mystic through her journey toward death, for myself, this event shattered my religious perspective. Before I could rebuild it I had to carefully redefine my understanding of what the word "religious" means and how it is different from spirituality and the development of spiritual consciousness.
As I entered young adulthood, the cultural changes of the 1960's swept over my generation. This new tide began breaking our sexual taboos, and simultaneously introduced the idea that mystics might have something to offer us all, as many of our young people followed their rock idols to India, for example, and meditation became popular. But my particular crisis in spirit didn't begin until my early thirties, initiating my journey into self-knowledge and an existence consciously aimed at growth and renewal. In the space of a few months, my life seemed to twist itself into a giant question mark. In spite of my previous success in business I was afraid to stop and afraid to go on. The depression this conflict caused became a call to learn how to understand and love myself. Actually, I'm sure that if you had asked me at the time I would have said, "Of course I love myself." But that was before I had realized we can't genuinely love somebody we don't know.
Honestly knowing ourselves is no simple task. To begin with, it means accepting who we are, including what we don't like about ourselves. However, this kind of acceptance isn't real until we've constructed a good idea of who can be at our best and at our worst. Getting to know ourselves also brings the startling realization that while we may think we are adults living a unique life, we are really living scripts written jointly by our society, families, churches, traditions and friends. My previous book, Sacred Selfishness, shows the pathway out of these impersonal roles. Experience teaches us that building self-knowledge leads to authentic living, self-love and the awareness that something within us -- whether we prefer to call it our true self, the Self or the Divine -- cares about us and wants to guide our lives toward their highest potentials.
The process of self-discovery builds inner strength, integrity and compassion. It increases our capacity to love, and these characteristics combine to create a person of substance. Paradoxically, the journey into ourselves soon leads us back into life with new energy and sensitivity. Then it takes us a step further into the dynamics that frame our relationships to other people and the Divine aspects of existence.
The most compelling energies in these dynamics are sexual and spiritual desire. As I've mentioned, passion means more than a sexual urge or religious suffering. It also means to be filled with a great desire for another person, an idea, the Divine or a full life. Both sexual and spiritual desire strongly influence the way we view ourselves as well as how we perceive other people -- our outer relationships depend upon how well we have learned to understand ourselves. We may have learned to fear our passion, to deaden it or channel it into things that do not add to our lives -- or expect our partners or someone else to kindle the flames of our vitality. At the same time, difficulties in our relationships challenge us to learn to know ourselves better. No matter how we look at our growth, whether from a spiritual or psychological perspective, self-awareness is the key to freedom from our past and gives us real choices. Through growing consciousness, sexuality and spirituality can support our efforts to live more passionately and to understand love in all of its forms.
Bud Harris, Ph.D., is a certified Jungian analyst, a graduate of the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich, Switzerland. He received his doctoral degree in counseling psychology from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. Bud combines over fifteen years of business experience with over thirty years as a practicing psychotherapist, psychologist and Jungian analyst, bringing practicality and depth to his work. He has lectured widely and written a number of articles and books. He currently lives and practices in Asheville, North Carolina.
More information is available about Dr. Harris on his Web site, www.budharris.com, where you may also sign up for his quarterly newsletter.