Posts tagged ‘Mary Edwards’

Shame || Mary Coday Edwards

Blog 9

Shame: What’s it all about?

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards.

shame

Shame. Common to the human experience, we’ve all experienced it, at times so excruciatingly painful that we seek desperately a hole to fall into, the proverbial wish for the ground to open up beneath our feet in order that we can hide our shame, or what we are ashamed of.

Shame resilience depends on being able to move through shame experiences with self-compassion (after all, how many perfect people do you know?), authenticity, and courage. Getting there, however, requires mindful discernment between shame and its cousinly emotions: embarrassment, humiliation, and guilt, so some definitions are in order.

Embarrassment is a response to something that threatens the image of ourselves (our persona – see last month’s blog), that we’d like others to believe about us. Sources of embarrassment fluctuate based on situations and who we’re with.

For example, nothing like realizing after you’ve been speaking to someone for 10 minutes that you’ve had a nose hair blowing in the breeze; if our persona’s projection is for perfect hygiene, we’ve obviously fallen below the bar, it’s beneath our projected image. If we can use compassionate self-talk, reminding ourselves that we’re certainly not the first ones to have longish nose hairs peeking out, we can move beyond the experience with humor.

If your mother’s 65 and shows up at your engagement party in a mini-skirt and go-go boots, it may cause embarrassment to you if you think it falls short of a family image of class and sophistication.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt

And then there’s humiliation, what we feel as the recipient of a shaming attack by someone else. It consists of an incident that demonstrates a relationship of unequal powers, of experiences of power and powerlessness, where one is in an inferior position and unjustly diminished. Brene Brown uses this example of the difference between shame and humiliation: A teacher is handing back papers and one paper doesn’t have the student’s name on it, and publicly the teacher announces that the student is stupid. With healthy self-talk, the student will be humiliated and embarrassed, but will tell herself, “That is the meanest, most nasty teacher ever. I don’t deserve that.” If the child’s self-talk is, “Ugh. He’s right. I’m so stupid, why do I keep forgetting to put my name on my paper. I’m so stupid.” That’s shame.

“Shame is a soul-eating emotion.” Carl Jung

Segueing onto unraveling shame and guilt, the easiest way to remember is the following: Guilt says “I did something bad”; shame harangues us with “I AM bad.”

Guilt focuses on our behavior. Guilt feelings have to do with ethical or moral principles that we believe are necessary to be a “good” person that we have violated: I did something I shouldn’t have, or I didn’t do something that I should have. Generally speaking, guilt can be a positive, healthy response, when it’s used in a manner to correct something that was indeed wrong.

However, often these principles have come down to us through various authorities: our parents, religious leaders, or our teachers. Perhaps they’ve become laws to our consciences, an authority within our psyches and as we age, need to be re-examined to see if these principles translated into values are still serving us.

If rocking the boat was not allowed in any form for a child, then challenging bullies or an abusive status quo can bring about feelings of guilt when an individual on a personal growth trajectory knows leaving said abusive situation is the next step that’s required. These guilt feelings can quickly slide into shame, if the inner authority continues its tirade against boat rocking of any sort, AND throws in the “truth” that those who do so are bad people. In this case, one is led to believe that they deserve their shame.

Shame washes over us even if nothing external occurs, whereas its cousins pop in for a visit over external circumstances.

Adults who as children were abused, neglected, continually criticized, abandoned, or mistreated internalize the message that they do not fit in, that they are inadequate or unworthy.

Shame then arises when our self-image is doubted or under attack. Me writing this blog is a classic example.

If I believe I am a font of wisdom, and the way that is proven is by how many “likes” and/or “comments” that I receive on Facebook by admiring fans, when that falls short of my expectations, shame eats at my soul. In other words, when I need everyone’s approval to bolster a sagging self-esteem, if my self-worth is tied into needing others to say positive things about me, then “You are a Failure! You are a Failure!” screams at me when, in this case, I fall short of the 1.5 million positive comments I need.

Until we can shift our abusive self-talk to that of compassion toward ourselves, we will continue to believe shame’s message that we are unworthy.

So – pay attention to the emotions running through your body. Ask yourself when these painful encounters occur: Is this shame? Embarrassment? Humiliation? Guilt? Sit with them, breathe into them, and practice self-compassion, non-judgmentally. Embrace your experiences with gratitude; these are your teachers!


Sources include:

Works by Donald Nathanson, Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self; and his on-line materials.

Jacoby, Mario. Shame and the origins of self-esteem: A Jungian approach. 1994. Routledge; London.


About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Here is a list of other blogs Mary has written for People House:

 

Rejoicing with Chaos || Mary Coday Edwards

Blog 8: Rejoicing with Chaos!

final chaos pic

August 30, 2016

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards.

“When the persona is gone, chaos remains. To know that has a magnificence,” said John Heider (1).

Persona literally refers to the mask worn by actors in ancient Greece – the characters they played in their performances.

Our own persona, or mask, begins to form in early childhood in order to adapt to the desires and expectations of parents, teachers, and peers. Children quickly learn that certain behaviors and attitudes are acceptable and will win approval while others may earn punishment. These suitable qualities are then woven into the persona, while what we perceive to be unsuitable gets sent to the basement of our unconscious, stored away in the dark, which Carl Jung called the shadow.

And our ego has a vested interest in keeping this mask intact, as our ego has spent decades perhaps protecting us from what it perceived could harm us, and the persona plays a valuable part in ensuring that safety. Unfortunately, that safety also required the ego to shut out valuable pieces of our true selves.

Now, I do believe ego gets an undeserved bad rap as it’s because of the ego that consciousness arises; i.e., as we begin to wake up to our true selves, our ego is that part of us that reflects on what is arising from within, that necessity within that is calling us to incorporate that which we have denied, have relegated to the shadows; that which is calling us to return to our true selves, our essence. Jung used the term “Personality No. 1” to refer to our outward, adapted personality, and “Personality No. 2” to refer to our true essence buried under the layers.

This persona can begin to crack and fall apart at any point in our lives. In last month’s blog, I wrote how the path of growth includes bumping up against the scary unknowns, which are designed to wake us up.

“ … chaos remains.”

About chaos theory, physicist John Polkinghorne  says that “… there are many complex systems [in nature] whose extreme sensitivity to the effects of very small changes makes their future behavior beyond our power to predict accurately”(2).

A few ideas regarding this annoying inner and/or outer chaos: first of all, our psyche, our unconscious, can be sending up through dreams, synchronicities, and shifts in our moods and our body VERY SMALL CHANGES and we just need to be paying attention, mindfully.

We don’t have to go through life-altering, heart-rending circumstances for what appears to be random chaos to emerge. 

Ruth McLean, in the first verses of her poem Awoken exquisitely describes living with her chaos:

I awoke, one morning,

from shades of sleep,

to find my world had changed …            

 

The ground on which i had always placed my feet,

had subtly shifted with the darkness.

 

The firm beliefs and solid suppositions

that ordered my daily decisions …

had evaporated before my eyes …

 

… caught and helpless,

uprooted and airborne,

I existed …

 

dangling in space

between the old

and the new …

 

one eye was fixed with longing to the past

   the other,

 

with an urgent expectancy,

to what might lie ahead …

 

Next, this chaos is temporary, if we can go with the flow, if we can just allow it, staying with the experience non-judgmentally.  

Lastly, part of staying mindfully with chaos is like the theory: we must remember that there’s a good chance our future may look drastically different from our present – if only in our outlook. 

“…To know that has a magnificence.”

But KNOWING this, PERCEIVING this, that this chaos is a result of personal growth and subsequent transformation, has a MAGNIFICENCE, has a SPLENDOR, has great light, a brilliance.

Metaphorically, this perceiving brings the light of understanding into our circumstances. It does NOT mean that now life is good and I have great wisdom as to what’s going on and what the next step in my journey is.

But we DO know that this seemingly random chaos in our lives has meaning, has purpose, and that we can work with our ego, our persona, and our unconscious to bring out more of our true essence, Personality No. 2, to life every day, that we can truly give the gift to the universe of who we are.

So while we’re stumbling around in the dark, or up on that plateau where the path is difficult to find, keep in mind that magnificence of chaos!

_____

Note 1: John Heider, among other things, studied and helped direct long-term programs at Esalen Institute, taught at the Menninger Foundation of Psychiatry, and directed The Human Potential School of Mendocino, California. He is the author of The Tao of Leadership.

 

Note 2: Polkinghorne, John. Quantum Theory, A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, New York, 2002: pg. 68

_____

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Spirituality in Daily Life: The Physics of Prayer – Choosing Mystery || Mary Coday Edwards

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

Before you scoff, roll your eyes, and close this blog, hear me out.

While living in Mexico, I was a member of a motley online discussion group with members who had too much time on their hands. When group member and retired economist Norm ended up in the hospital with a life-threatening health issue, Catholic Art Professor Darrell wrote Norm that he was praying for him.

In addition to online eye rolling, that phrase released a barrage of harsh and cold-hearted criticisms at Darrell from the agnostics and atheists of the group.

Many of us have left the traditional religions of our younger selves. Prayer conjures up images of an old white guy with a beard, whom we diligently hoped to placate/coerce in order to keep the bad things at bay and get the good things we wanted. 

And I understand that need, the need to turn to something, especially in times of desperation. When I lived in Tanzania, a drought hit the region. We could see the thunderous rain clouds billowing and building in the hills around us, so close it was if we could lasso them and drag them to our patch of rapidly dying crops and cattle. I knew it was illogical, but I was ready to slaughter a chicken against the tire of my car if that would nudge those rain clouds our way.  Could I dance a certain way that would move the gods and hence draw the rain? (Note 1)

ME

Rain dances aside, my reality is informed by ideas from quantum physics.  I don’t purport to understand the math behind the theory; however, renowned physicist Ricard Feynman is quoted as saying, “I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics”, so I know I’m in good company.

But through studying and contemplating the implications of quantum ideas, my reality now includes an interconnected universe, full of potentialities and one where my efforts matter, as I mentioned in last month’s blog.

I will refer to three concepts from quantum mechanics (QM) in this blog (Note 2):

Neil Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity;

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle; and

The EPR Paradox (or the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox)

Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity grew out of the understanding that light can behave as a wave or a particle – both of which are mutually exclusive. Scientists choose an experiment to show that light is a wave or one that shows light is a particle. And it’s not known what light may be doing when it’s not forced to behave one way or another. The scientist no longer stands outside what he/she is observing (classical, Newtonian physics) but the scientist becomes part of the experiment; this is often referred to as an observer-influenced reality.

In addition, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle sheds some light on the subject. It is impossible to measure simultaneously both position and momentum, which are fundamental physical attribute of a sub-atomic particle – only probabilities can be known. Due to the particle’s minuteness, any attempt to measure the location will change its velocity.  

The verdict isn’t in yet – is this a reflection of the limitations of our measuring devices (Einstein)? Or is it ontological, fundamental aspects of nature (Werner Heisenberg)? Philosophically, Heisenberg and others suggest that these probabilities of QM refer to tendencies in nature that include a range of possibilities (within the limitations of that entity being studied). More than one alternative is open and there is some opportunity for unpredictable novelty. And of QM, Heisenberg said what we observe is not nature itself, but rather nature exposed to our method of questioning.

An easy example – stress. Medically we now know that stress can make our bodies really sick. On a sub-atomic level, what’s that doing to our cells? And so we do make choices; i.e., am I going to let my anger make me ill or am I going to do something constructive about it, such as exercise, which alleviates those chemicals that are throwing my  cells into havoc. We talk about genetic tendencies – for example, there is a genetic tendency for alcoholism but choices can still be made to mitigate that tendency. In other words – there’s potentiality in those cells – but it isn’t determined yet – the future hasn’t been decided.

In addition, from the ERP Paradox ideas have emerged implying action at a distance and quantum entanglement, as well as system laws that are not derived from the entity’s individual parts.  

All we need is Love

So back to Norman – his cells were running amuck. Darrell was obviously feeling compassion for a suffering Norman. Who knows what sort of “divine” energy – and energy is what keeps all of our parts moving – may be represented in that compassion that is coming from somewhere within Darrell.

Therefore, Darrell’s prayers: Can they have an “observer-influenced” effect? And if so, then what impact did that energy have on Norman’s body?

Or are we humans so limited in our vision of reality that it only includes that which our physical senses detect? And other ways of “knowing”, such as intuition, don’t exist? And that we can’t influence the “energy” coming off of our own person?

My guess is that Darrell, out of his compassion, wanted wholeness, health, and recovery for Norman, a noble and a good thing.  But other distresses were also at work in Norman’s body.  Maybe that range of possibilities within Norman’s cells/entire system had been reduced, compromised.

A definition of compassion includes entering into someone else’s suffering.  Not only is that a powerful value, but it keeps us human. And we humans have a lot more power/energy/life than we give ourselves credit for.

And this compassion we feel: is it Divine Love moving within us? At our deepest self, have we tapped into the Universal Being, this holy spirit which permeates all? Again, as I noted in last month’s blog, this is my “as if” function, which isn’t based on magic, but on how our universe appears to be operating. My efforts DO matter in an interconnected cosmos.

_____

Note 1: During the height of the Cold War, when the United States and the USSR competed for world dominance, left-leaning Tanzania experienced a devastating drought. The administration of then President J.F. Kennedy sent boatloads of food to the starving nation. Therefore, when I was there in the 1990s, although groundwater supplies were easily accessible, the people were waiting for the U.S. government to come to their rescue again. This is also an example of aid gone wrong.

Note 2: Many books are available explaining the ideas behind QM in a non-mathematical format. John Polkinghourne’s “Quantum Theory, A Very Short Introduction,” is a good place to start.


About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Spirituality in Daily Life: How do we Know, What we Know to be True? Critical Realism as a Guide to the Real ||Mary Coday Edwards

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

My reality includes an interconnected universe, full of potentialities and one where my efforts matter.

How do I justify these claims of knowledge of what I believe to be true about reality?

How we think the world IS determines our actions in this world

For example, ancient cultures supposed the earth was flat. Based on that reality, drifting off in your fishing boat from the coastal area was a scary undertaking. Not having Google Earth, these cultures depended upon their regional experts for exploration guidance.

What is your mode of truth seeking, your theory of knowledge, in other words–your epistemology? Table 1 lists three categories (1):

Table 1: Three Broad Epistemological Theories

Epistemology Its Path to Reliable Knowledge Ultimate Authority
Religious Revelation Revelation: either through direct experience (mysticism) OR in a received tradition (scripture & culture) Divine reality
Scientific Materialism The scientific method tells us what is; matter is the fundamental reality of the universe Science
Postmodern Relativism There is none. Truth is a process of social construction; cultural power determines truth & thus behavior. Scientific rationalism is under suspect as it is seen as another form of social domination.

There is none. Postmodernism speaks againt all grand theories and metanarratives. Truth is just the dominant cultural pattern.

I use all three, and all tempered with critical realism (see Table 2)–but more of that further into this blog.

Personally, I am deeply suspicious of any worldview or world picture that claims to be the absolute truth. However, there are not enough hours in the day and years in my life to understand everything well enough before I can make a decision as to what is truth and subsequently, how to live my life.

About 25 years ago I did venture forth on that quest in typical quixotic zealousness. I was sitting at my desk in Peshawar, Pakistan, planning how we were going to feed the thousands of Afghan refugees returning to a war-pocked Afghan countryside (this is pre-Taliban and post-former USSR days), and I was looking for an absolute value.

ME 3.22

Greening fields, Istalif, Afghanistan; near Kabul

The Green Revolution had come to Afghanistan. We were increasing crop production through the use of modified seeds which required substantial increases in pesticides and fertilizers, and our European donors wanted agricultural projects that reduced or prevented groundwater pollution.  At the time, we couldn’t see a win/win solution.

Looking back on it, I now know it isn’t either/or, but and/both

At the time my Afghan colleagues and I chaffed at this clash of values between East and West, this “colonial imperialism”. We came around of course, as polluted water supplies aren’t supportive of a healthy population (think Flint, Michigan), but I soon hit the moral philosophy books, looking for an apex ethic that would guide my actions. In my naivety, I wanted something that would always be right, in all situations.

Only to find out that there really isn’t any.

But what I did discover rocked my world.

The As-If Function: Critical Realism Opens Us Up to Further Discovery

Physicist/theologian Ian Barbour says the meaning of truth is correspondence with reality (2), but reality is inaccessible to us. As I mentioned in my previous blog, we still don’t know what the inside of an atom looks like (3). But if the scientific community had waited until we knew with absolute certainty how an atom’s quark functioned, we’d still be using rotary phones.

Therefore, we have a form of realism, in that some aspects of the physical world are accessible to us, but it is a critical realism because our scientific– and spiritual–constructs are also reflections of the imagination and intuition of our human minds; they are extrapolations.

John Polkinghorne speaks similarly, saying critical realism is a means to bridge the gap between what we can know about entities to what they actually are and regardless, requires a metaphysical choice (4).

This is living with–and loving–mystery. Only a tiny fraction of the physical universe can humankind understand, let alone explain. The same is true of my spiritual universe; I have limited intimations and experiential glimpses of its vastness and potentialities

However, if I waited until I could live this life with absolute certainty–what I set out to do when I left my desk in Peshawar– I’d be living a life uncommitted to anything. I’d want absolute certainty of the goodness or rightness of any system, set of rules, or ideology. I’d be paralyzed with immobility.

By committing myself to the world picture outlined in my opening sentence, I also open myself up to further discovery. Scientists commit themselves to models and then allow their imaginations and intuition to carry on their creative, scientific endeavors, to see other connections.

Therefore,  I elect to live my life based on critical realism’s as-if function: I live my life as if the world is interconnected, as if it’s full of potentialities, and as if my efforts matter (see Table 2). This does not translate into a shifting reality based on last night’s pizza. I, too, rely on experts to help me navigate my world, but I choose carefully those whom I tentatively follow. Hallmarks of worthy guides are those with humility and acceptance of mystery. These guides dwell among the mystics and poets, spiritual organizations such as People House, and the scientific community.

In the blogs following, we’ll take a look at spiritual concepts emerging from the world revealed to us through quantum mechanics. They are foundational to my as-if realities. Until then, as I encouraged in my previous blogs, pay attention through mindfulness practices to what YOUR reality looks like!

Table 2: An Epistemology of Critical Realism

Epistemology Its Path to Reliable Knowledge Ultimate Authority
Critical realism The “as if” function; a leap of faith, bridging the gap between what we can know about entities vs. what they actually are. None, but courage & humility to take a chance with limited knowledge, knowing we may be completely wrong.

Note 1: Grassie, Billy. Quaker Epistemology: Towards a Friends Philosophy. Presentation to the Friends Association for Higher Education at Haverford College, June 24, 1995. Also, keep in mind these are broad philosophical sweeps which obscure many differences and distinctions of knowing, such as psychological, moral, spiritual, biophysical, and aesthetic.

Note 2: Barbour , Ian. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997:110

Note 3: The atoms subatomic construct cannot be directly observed, but based on theories we’ve developed amazing technology, such as this computer I’m typing on, my cell phone, and information available at my fingertips due to the internet.

Note 4: Polkinghorne, J.C.  Belief in God in an Age of Science. New Haven: Yale Univeristy Press, 1998:53


About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Spirituality in Daily Life: Reject the Box – Not the Mystery! || Mary Edwards

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

In last week’s blog, I mentioned three items relevant to this week’s:

1. Staying present to your current experience: basically, HOW is your NOW?
2. Not only does this NOW hold valuable information, it’s also where we experience Oneness with the Universe, Divine, Higher Consciousness, Gaia, Brahman, Ultimate Reality, Goddess/God, non-God, Light, Love (space limits the ways this concept is expressed), and
3. Spirituality seems to imply we are seeking a connection with something greater than ourselves.

So, combining those three items, did you experience anything when you read that last phrase of No. 2, words I used to describe the ineffable, the unexplainable, the Mystery? Did any of those limiting words cause a reaction within you? In your body? Is one of your emotions screaming at the edge of your consciousness? Did you stop reading at that point? Or is one rising gently, peacefully? Did a past memory surface, pleasant or unpleasant? What did I leave out that feels important to your experience? Do you believe that some of those words/images are just flat out wrong?

I encourage you to bring your awareness to WHAT you may be rejecting and WHY.

No one can tell us exactly what – or who – this Ultimate Reality really IS. Mystics and poets down through the eons have described their own experiences and thus have given us intimations of what this Reality may look like, but at the end of the day, all these terms are metaphoric variations.

A metaphor is used when we don’t know what something is in order to give it some sort of meaning that we can connect the concept to.

Feminist Christian theologian Sallie McFague says that to think metaphorically “… means spotting a thread of similarity between two dissimilar objects, events, or whatever, one of which is better known that the other, and using the better-known one as a way of speaking about the lesser known (Note 1, pg 15).

Scholar Ian Barbour first studied science and then religion, eventually drawing comparisons and differences between the two, in particular how both used metaphors, models, and paradigms to explain the unseen (Note 2). Barbour says that “Religious language often uses imaginative metaphors, symbols, and parables, all of which express analogies” (Note 3, pg 119).

Models & paradigms: Helpful, but not the same as Reality!

Some of these analogies evolve into models. For example, Western Christians are familiar with the metaphors of God as father, king/conqueror, to the point where the Divine is restricted to this patriarchal-defined reality, leaving analogical language behind. In parts of Latin America, the model of God as Liberator informs reality.

But the New Testament scriptures are replete with other metaphors, such as God as the woman seeking her coin. Although that is mentioned in the same Bible verse as the parable of the good shepherd, how many stained glass windows do you see depicting God as Woman seeking her lost coin? Or Jesus as a Mother Hen, gathering up her chicks under her wings (Note 4)? Neither of those metaphors even made it to model stage.

Copy 3 IMG_3287

And this is not just true of Western Christianity; I’ve seen and experienced this pattern repeat itself all over the world. Every religion, every sect, for the most part, has definite ideas about Ultimate Reality, leaving little wiggle room – in other words, little room left for Mystery. It’s the mystics who shatter the walls of their respective boxes.

Barbour goes on to explain how a model can then crystalize into a paradigm. A paradigm, whether in science or religion, includes metaphysical assumptions and captures the imagination of its adherents. In the process, a paradigm defines reality, determines what sort of questions can be asked, and what sort of tools are used to analyze this reality (Note 5).

“Doubt frees us from illusions of having captured God in a creed.”

We have inklings of this Otherness, but our words anthropomorphize this Otherness. When we say, “God is Love,” our human ideas, images, and definitions of love immediately surface. Whatever negative or positive attributes we associate with love are now imputed to the God we defined as love.

When we reject “God”, what we might really be rejecting is the metaphor, the model, or the paradigm presented to us as the only or primary version of Ultimate Reality.  Perhaps it was imposed upon us in our childhoods and it no longer fits our experience. Our world picture changes as we grow and change.

Additionally, if you’re reading this blog, you’re either my good friend or relative, and/or you’re interested in growing spiritually. As noted in last week’s blog, spirituality conveys the idea of living peaceably with ourselves, with each other, and with our natural environment. The global battle for religious supremacy still rages among us. Thinking metaphorically vs. in absolutes (OUR absolutes) about the Divine opens up a space of humility within us where we can cultivate kindness, gentleness, and compassion for our fellow travelers.

Barbour says that, “Doubt frees us from illusions of having captured God in a creed” (Note 6).

So does thinking metaphorically.


Note 1: McFague, Sallie. Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982, 1987.

Note 2: The atoms subatomic construct cannot be directly observed, but based on theories we’ve developed amazing technology, such as this computer I’m typing on, my cell phone, and information available at my fingertips due to the internet.

Note 3: Barbour, Ian. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

Note 4: Luke 15:8-10; Matthew 23:37

Note 5: For more information on metaphors, models, and paradigms, see Barbour, Religion and Science; Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science & Religion; Harper & Row, 1974; and Kuhn, T.S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; University of Chicago Press, 1996 ed.

Note 6: Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative


About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Spirituality in Daily Life: Defining Sprituality

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

The best thing about discussing spirituality these days is that no institution or organization owns its definition and, therefore, can place judgment on what you or I believe is significant to our own spirituality. Google it and within two seconds more than 14 million hits are at your disposal.

However, generally speaking, spirituality seems to imply a two-way search: We seek for a connection with something greater than ourselves and at the same time, seek through self-knowledge to live a fully human and integrated life (Carl Jung called this inward seeking “the inner call to individuation”).

This, of course, erroneously implies dualism. As mystics and poets have written about for eons–and now quantum physics points to ever more tangibly–this search for connection ends up with the understanding that we are truly interconnected, not only with each other but also cosmically. We are made out of star stuff. 

Spirituality, not religion, is the focal point for People House’s personal and spiritual growth endeavors. Quoting from People House’s website, “Spirituality is less about doing and more about being our truest, most authentic self everywhere we go.”

This first blog on Spirituality in Daily Life will look at other contemporary definitions of spirituality–a brief and non-exhaustive review.

PRACTICING SPIRITUALITY: It’s simple but not easy! 

What I suggest is that you read this with a pen and paper at hand and jot down any words that “ping” within you, anything that touches an emotional chord, whether it be joy, peace, fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, sadness, or happiness. And then locate that emotion within your body if possible. Is it in your gut? Chest? A specific chakra region? What and where is your body reacting to? Register this emotion non-critically–emotions aren’t good or bad, they just are (it’s what we do with these emotions that gets us in trouble!).

Why the emphasis on our bodies? Our thoughts wander to past memories and plans for dinner–we have a difficult time focusing on what’s happening right now.  Meanwhile, our bodies are always here, present to our experiences, and hence are amazing founts of wisdom and knowledge. So jot down where that emotion is registering and later sit with that prayerfully and humbly, asking for more understanding.

Spirit Quest

If you should follow through on this exercise, congratulations! You have just practiced a key component of spirituality: you were present to your current experience. This moment is all we have–the past is gone, the future hasn’t happened. The now holds the seeds to the future. When we’re not present to this moment not only do we miss valuable information, we miss the opportunity for self-knowledge necessary to live an integrated life. This present moment is where we experience the Divine, Spirit, Ultimate Reality–where we come face-to-face with God.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, calls this practice mindfulness and says it is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS: How NOT to be vague at the family reunion! 

Historically, spirituality has been used interchangeably as a synonym for religion. One was considered spiritual if one followed the institutionalized and structured system of beliefs, practices, and morals within a given religious framework.

However, in contemporary Western societies, we find an increasing number of people describing themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  William James, author of the 1902 book The Varieties of Religious Experiences, is credited with beginning this separation of spirituality from religion. While they can, and do, overlap, it is possible to be spiritual without being religious and vice versa.

Eckhart Tolle believes that a growing number of followers of traditional religions–once they are able to let go of identifying solely with their dogma and rigid belief systems–are discovering the original depth that is veiled within their own spiritual tradition. Tolle goes on to say that they realize that how spiritual one is “has nothing to do with what one believes, but everything to do with your state of consciousness. This, in turn, determines how you act in the world and interact with others (Note 1).”

In Integrating Spirituality and Religion into Counseling, editors Craig S. Cashwell and J. Scott Young define spirituality as “the universal human capacity to experience self-transcendence and awareness of sacred immanence, with resulting increases in greater self-other compassion and love (Note 2).”

Editors Streib and Hood, in Semantics and Psychology of Spirituality: A Cross-Cultural Analysis, do not offer a definition, as they wanted their research participants to respond to spirituality in ways meaningful to them (Note 3, pg 121). The editors did, however, include Zinnbauer and Pargament definitions of religion as “search for significance in ways related to the sacred” and of spirituality as “search for the sacred,” where sacred refers not only to God and higher powers, but also to a wide variety of life’s experiences: “Virtually any dimension can be perceived as holy, worthy of veneration or reverence [and] . . . not necessarily rooted in beliefs about God (Note 3, pg 5).”

Streib and Hood also include William James’ definition of religion, “as feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” Spirituality, as it is used today, was not part of James’ 1902 lexicon; he used mysticism to express concepts inherent in spirituality (Note 3, page 6).

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Streib and Hood were seeking to capture how their research participants subjectively defined their own spiritualties.  In summarizing their conclusions, while finding no single concept of spirituality, Streib and Hood did identify 10 statistically significant characteristics. It is beyond the scope of this blog to further analyze these findings; these characteristics are included only as a tool to enable you to examine your own defining essentials. Note that these are not listed in order of importance nor were the participants asked to rank these attributes in order of importance – these are ways respondents defined their spirituality.  Following is the list, with short explanations given by the editors (Note 3, pgs 143-148):

1) A feeling of connectedness/oneness: Harmony with the universe, nature, and the whole

2) Part of religion: Christian belief

3) The higher self: Inner search for self, meaning, peace, and enlightenment – which following Abraham Maslow’s thinking, has to be sought and developed.

4) Ethics, values: Holding and everyday acting according to values and morality in relation to humanity; spirituality is often associated with the necessity to lead a moral life.

5) Belief in a higher power(s): Higher beings (deities, gods)

6) Belief in something beyond: Intuition of something of some being(s) that are unspecified, but higher than and beyond oneself. The participants chose not to further define the nature of the transcendent, but acknowledge its existence which they experience to be of importance.

7) Existential truth: Experiences of truth, purpose, and wisdom beyond rational understanding

8) Esotericism: Awareness of a non-material, invisible world, supernatural energies and beings (spirits, etc.)

9) Opposition to religion: Dogmatic rules and traditions

10) Individual religious praxis: Meditation, prayer, worship

So… did you feel any pings? What would you add? And how does spirituality manifest itself in your everyday life?


Note 1: Tolle, Eckhart. A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Plume; 2006. Pages 18, 19.

Note 2: Cashwell, Craig S. and Young, J. Scott, Editors. Integrating Spirituality and Religion into Counseling, A Guide to Competent Practice. American Counseling Association, 2011. Ebook.

Note 3: Streib, Heinz and Hood, Ralph W. Jr., Editors. Semantics and Psychology of Spirituality: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. Springer, 2016.


About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Ordained Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working, and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth