On Friday I had my first Wellness & Spirituality Throughout the Life Cycle class in my couples and family therapy program. We had an open discussion of the meaning of spirituality that got pretty tense. I admit that I was pretty confused about what was making things tense–I was not in the clearest of minds, as I’d just taken comps the day before. It did get me thinking about Ken Wilber’s essay in Integral Spirituality about the four meanings of the word spirituality. In it, he says that there are at least four very common ways that people mean that word, and that if the specific meaning is not made clear it can lead to confusing and confused arguments. Here’s my paraphrase of his four common meanings:

1) Any human intelligence, skill, or ability taken to the highest level. Think Einstein’s intellect, Carl Rogers’ empathizing. In Kosmic Consciousness, Wilber mentions Michael Jordan playing basketball as an example of this meaning of spiritual.

2) Spirituality as its own kind of human intelligence, as in James Fowler’s Stages of Faith. Wilber cites Fowler’s stages  as just one example: Humans have a capacity for faith that can progress throughout their lives, from an “undifferentiated faith” at infancy through stages like “mythic-literal faith” and eventually, possibly, to “universalizing faith” as his furthest potential.

3) Spirituality as a state of consciousness, as in meditative states or other meaningful altered states. Also peak experiences.

4) Spirituality as a facet of personality or personality type. People who are very compassionate or loving, for example, might be described as spiritual.

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