Written by Geoff Kane, MD, MPH
05 August 2015
“Spirituality”—like “love”—has many interpretations. Some identify spirituality as their personal sense of connection, meaning, and purpose. Others identify it is an elusive abstraction they have never experienced.
Those who equate spirituality with religion and are not religious themselves may assume spirituality is not relevant to them. But when spirituality is understood as pertaining to all relationships—with self, with other human beings, and with the rest of the universe including nature and any personal sense of God or higher power—then the concept encompasses much more than religion and is unavoidably relevant to everyone. Special moments with family, pets, sunsets, trees, rocks, music, or sports teams, for example, become identifiable as spiritual experiences.
Scientific research as well as personal experience demonstrates that interpersonal relationships may be helpful, harmful, or a combination of the two. In a similar way, spiritual connections may be positive, negative, or some of each. At a particular moment, for example, a person in a garden would embody positive spirituality if they were meditating, or negative spirituality if they were formulating a plan to blow up the marketplace.
Addiction as Negative Spirituality
Individuals in active addiction have a relationship with a chemical substance or behavior that repeatedly takes precedence over other relationships. Acting on addiction, people often take actions that go against their own values. So, rather than behave with respect toward self, others, and the universe, they might poison their liver or fill their lungs with carcinogens, lie or steal, and leave needles in the park or beer cans by the roadside.
Recovery as Positive Spirituality
“Recovery” also has many interpretations. One group defined recovery as “a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.” In this definition, sobriety rules out an ongoing relationship with an addictive substance, personal health affirms a respectful relationship with self, and citizenship affirms respectful relationships with everyone and everything else.
It is hard to disengage from addiction and move toward recovery without hope—without a belief that change is possible. Many individuals in search of recovery obtain the hope they need when they exchange stories with individuals who have already made the passage from addiction to recovery. Those seeking recovery learn by example to accept their mistakes and embarrassments, value themselves, and move on.
Kurtz and Ketcham view imperfections and imperfectability as essential to the human condition and acceptance of them as essential to spirituality. “Spirituality begins with the acceptance that our fractured being, our imperfection, simply is…” (p 2) The most authentic of human interactions is perhaps when one of us honestly shares a specific imperfection with another person who accepts us—even prizes us—in our imperfection. Such connections help the person making the disclosure to become more accepting of self—and more able to change.
Recovery and positive spirituality are practices, more courses of action than states to be achieved. Many individuals are more consistent when they engage in a positive spiritual practice that involves other people, or they make themselves accountable in some other way. Also, many individuals do well in solitary practices such as meditation, mindfulness, or prayer. Scientific research as well as personal experience demonstrates that the rewards of recovery and positive spiritual practices are rich—and include joy and humor.