Spirituality – What the &%$# Is It Anyway?

That’s the question, isn’t it? Nailing down spiritual stuff can be elusive.

To define the concept of what spirit is, at least, we have ages of tradition to draw upon. For many religions, the spirit is the life-force that may go on after the body returns to dust: If, how, and when that happens can differ depending on the tradition and interpretation. Very often there is some sort of divine judgment involved.

In some traditions the individual’s spirit is interconnected and unified with all other spirits and with another big “S” Spirit, a kind of universal consciousness. This interconnection of all spirits combine to form a greater spirit and intellect or, depending, a deity. There are traditions where this intersectionality of spirits includes the spirits of the natural world – animal and plants – as well.

That’s the spirit: But defining what is spirituality can be much more slippery. Common definitions can be vague, ambiguous, and obscure and may mean many things to many people. To many, spirituality equates with religion.

Others may see the religious and the spiritual as polarities. To wit:

  • Religion tends to divide, who’s in and who’s out – the lambs vs. the goats, the devoted vs. the infidel, believers vs. non-believers – whereas spirituality is concerned with oneness and universality and rejects dualisms.
  • Religion speaks of a singular true religion or way and can demand conversion from other belief systems whereas spirituality considers many perspectives and sees all religions as many paths to a shared, singular goal.
  • Religion requires an acceptance of the supernatural whereas spiritual practices tend to be focused on the personal and internal rather than a deity and dogma.
  • Religion demands worship and adoration whereas spirituality focuses on meditation and mindfulness.
  • Religion speaks of the afterlife and eternal salvation whereas spirituality is concerned with the here and now.

What It Is, More or Less

As it is often practiced, spirituality is, more or less: An endeavoring for personal growth; an experiencing of our deepest values; a desire to transcend limitedness of our body and mind; a searching for a sacred dimension; a way of adding meaning to our lives; and an exploring of a meaningful self-knowledge. In modern practice, this may also come salted with a blend of humanistic psychology, mystical and esoteric traditions, and elements of eastern religions (particularly Buddhism).1

The Science of Spirituality

What of the spirit and spirituality in scientific terms? That is, are we able to judge spirituality within a context of measurable, empirical evidence?

Of course, that depends on how you view spirituality. According to studies included in a research project by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), those recovering from addictions “frequently cite spirituality as a helpful influence.”2 Length of sobriety, improved treatment outcomes, and reduction in chances of relapse were all positively affected by the role of spirituality. As to what specific aspects were effective or what methods could be incorporated into formal treatment practice for a variety of individuals with different spiritual preferences, well, that was indeterminable.

Another study determined that the benefits of spirituality as a potential health resource could be attributed to the placebo effect.3

What Spirituality Means in Recovery

To address this helpful influence of spirituality in recovery, treatment programs offer a variety of methods and practices for clients to explore and develop their spiritual aspects. In our program at BLVD, the offerings include meditation, yoga, mindfulness training, and a variety of psychotherapy approaches. Through these methods, the client can begin to repair, heal, and strengthen their connections of mind, body, and spirit. As an addict, the individual feels they no longer have a choice to stop the abuse, they become dependent on their own obsessive and irrational thinking. Through mind work and therapy, this mindset is overwritten. Although the addict was likely unaware of these patterns while in the depths of their substance abuse, their addiction was an expression of a longing for connection. Rather than experiencing those difficult feelings, and unfulfilled longing, substances take the user out of the moment. And, for a time, they can appear to solve the problem. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and self-consciousness can seem to dissolve away. But the problems themselves don’t change. This will become clear to all who use sooner or later.

In recovery, self-acceptance becomes a vital core value. Many who become substance abusers do so because they have had experiences that scare them to death – like trauma, or they have lost something that really matters to them – like mourning a loss. Ending their substance abuse forces them into a bright light. Clarity demands confrontation and responsibility – a proposition that is scary for anyone, not just the addicted. To this end, Eastern philosophical methods like yoga, mindfulness, and meditation can be key. Science backs this up: Studies have shown that meditation can be one of the best therapy tools for helping to overcome addiction. Those who used meditation were also found to have lower rates of relapse and more positive outcomes in their long term sobriety than those who didn’t meditate.4,5

Powering Up the Mind

And then there’s mindfulness: Simply put, mindfulness is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. In the practice of mindfulness, you accept your thoughts and feelings without judgment. In this practice you understand that feelings of anger, self-pity, depression, craving, etc. are rooted in the past or future and not the present moment. These type of intrusive and ruminative thoughts can be some of the central and most crippling symptoms that can feed into addictive behaviors. By bringing yourself back into the moment, you are experiencing the mind and body as they are in the now.

Mindfulness research has shown that qualities of the mind that we once were immutable, such as our temperament and character, are not. They are, after all, alterable. Through practice we can retrain the mind and reconfigure it on a biological level by creating new neural networks. So powerful, in fact, is mindfulness in its ability self-direct changes in thinking, it has shown to be as effective as anti-depressants.6

The Plastic Brain

Once it was believed that such change was limited after childhood. Research has confirmed that this is not the case. We can continue to grow and change well into adulthood. The more mindfulness and meditation is practiced, the easier it is to change thinking patterns. Even for those just beginning, they can achieve advanced states of concentration and insight equal to that of senior meditation practitioners. It is not the number of hours spent on meditation but the intention and focus according to research.

Other forms of practice like yoga, tai chi, and other forms of meditation can also have mind changing effects. When spiritual type practices like the above are joined with forms of therapy, the results can be even more powerful. Humans are suggestive creatures. What we believe can have more of an impact on us than what is even objectively true. While the concept of mind over matter is an old one, science has shown that it has never been more true.

Ultimately, we can be what we choose to be.

If you or a loved one feels a need to overcome an addiction, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout Southern California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.

  1. https://www.dickhoutman.nl/mediatheek/files/2007__houtman_and_aupers.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2943841/
  3. https://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/366/1572/1838
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12765213
  5. https://www.prison.dhamma.org/en/na/NRF%20Substance%20Abuse%20Study%202006.pdf
  6. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)62222-4/fulltext

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