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2. Human Nature, Human Spirit Login/Join 
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- Continuing to set the table, here . . .

In session #1, we saw that spirituality could be understood in a broad sense as our natural human striving for meaning and self-transcendence. There is a deep inner longing within us that seeks to find meaning and fulfillment in ways that transcend simple gratification of our bodily needs, and this indicates a spiritual aspect to our human nature. What I would like to do in this session is to develop in some detail the understanding of human nature and human spirit that I will be using in this series. This conference will be a little longer than most.

Body and Soul

Slide #4 in the slideshow (resource for registered users) shows a traditional understanding of human nature as body and soul. You've heard this one before, I'm sure: the body is the physical part of our nature, and the soul is the spiritual. This is fine, but I don't think it sufficiently accounts for the wide range of experiences that we as humans have. We know what the body is -- our physical anatomy, organ systems and, presumably, physiological processes. And what's been called our soul powers -- reason and will -- are also tangible experiences we can relate to. But what about experiences like emotion? Imagination? It seems that non-human animals have these as well, yet we say they have no spiritual soul. Do these psychological experiences stem from the body? How do we account for them?

Slide #5 provides a better nuance, I believe, making a distinction between a psychological and spiritual level of our being. In classical scholastic theology, it was held that the spiritual soul encompassed or incorporated into itself an animal level and vegetable level, whose powers roughly correspond to what we're calling the psyche and body/organism, here, respectively. Daniel Helminiak, whose book on The Human Core of Spirituality influenced this schematic, writes of our experience of mind as both psyche and spirit. This is not to say that the two are distinct and separate, like oil and water, functioning completely autonomously and independently, only that they do encompass different sets of concerns and experiences which actually do, at times, go on in distinct fashion.

Finally, slide #6 presents the big, big picture, as it were, a simplification of Here we see human nature existing in four levels of reality: physical, vegetable (physiological), animal (psychological) and spiritual. We also see on the right side of the slide the disciplines that correspond to the study of these levels and the in-between phases. Spirituality, here, is presented as a bridge between philosophy and psychology, or, if you prefer, a philosophical psychology. This is not to say that you have to be a philosopher to understand spirituality, only that human spirituality goes beyond the kinds of concerns addressed by empirical psychology (emotions, memories, imagery, dreams). It is also to affirm once again that spirituality is concerned with meaning, values, and self-transcendence, all of which are informed by one's philosophical perspective. This is summed up in slide #7.

The Human Spirit

The attributes of the human spirit, then, are distinct from those of the psyche, or animal level of our being. So far as we can tell, these attributes are unique to human (and other spiritual) beings, and include the following:

1. Self-awareness -- By this I mean that we are not simply conscious of our inner and outer world (higher animals seem to have this capacity as well), but that we are also conscious of our consciousness -- i.e., we are self-aware. There is an aspect of our human consciousness that always transcends the contents or operations of consciousness, enabling us to be present to both what we are doing, and to ourselves as we do it. This self-awareness is, ultimately, a pure, observational power; without it, we would have experiences, but we would not have any sense of a self that has had these experiences.

2. Free-will -- Because we are self-aware in the manner described above, we are always free to choose our attitude and response to a situation. This is not to say that we don't have habits of thought and emotion that seem to "choose" for us, at times -- only that we are not completely determined by these. Such freedom is the basis for genuine hope, and a summons to responsibility.

3. Rational intelligence -- A capacity to know and to understand, not just what is "out there" and how things work, but the spiritual meanings they hold as well. Reason, in this sense, is more than logic, including what Jung called "feeling", which is rational intelligence manifest in the service of relational harmony.

These three attributes constitute the primary characteristics of spiritual beings, including (in scholastic theology) angelic beings. Of course, we are not pure spiritual beings like angels; the human spirit operates in sync with our psychological and physical nature as well, and in such a harmonious manner as to constitute an integrated and harmonious whole. Or, at least, that's what the Creator intended. When the body become ill, as we know, it can influence our psychological attitude and even our sense of spiritual aliveness. Likewise, when one is psychologically wounded, the spirit and the body suffer as well. Finally, when there is spiritual dysfunction, the psyche and body are profoundly disturbed.

The Human Spirit "At Work"

Given this understanding of our human spirit as "rational-self-awareness-infreedom," we note that its ordinary functioning is oriented unto four operations:

A. Be attentive - note what's going on within and without; wonder
B. Be intelligent - questioning, curiosity
C. Be reasonable - striving to know what's really real and true
D. Be responsible - what to do with what we know; doing the good; loving

The theologian, Bernard Lonergan, calls these the transcendental imperatives of human consciousness. They are transcendental because they call us out of ourselves to an ever-greater, unending conscious embrace of truth, goodness and love. As we move from A to D, we experience a heightening intensity of consciousness, so that doing the good and loving act entails a fuller exercise of our human nature than simply attending and observing.

Although these four movements follow one another in a natural progression, we can focus on one exclusively, exercising our will, for example, to be attentive, or even to do some kind of loving work. The upshot generally seems to be a kind of overflow from one to the other, however, so that being attentive raises more questions and awakens a greater desire to know, to understand, and to do good.

As noted above, the human spirit is embodied and en-psyched; conversely, we might also say that our bodily and psychological levels are enspirited. What this means in a practical sense is that when being attentive, for example, spirit becomes aware of sensory information coming through the body, and psychological data from the psyche. This, in turn, activates the other operations of the spirit as we strive to intelligently and reasonably understand the meaning of this information and then responsibly act on this basis. There are times, however, when we can exercise our spirits more or less independently of sensory and psychological information, as in higher reasoning tasks like mathematics, and in some forms of meditation. During such times, we can approach experiences of "pure reason" or "pure awareness-in-freedom," which can confirm for us the reality of our spiritual nature. Most of the time, however, spirit is exercised in a sensory and psychological milieu in a culture amidst relationships, work and similar concerns.

All in all, this topic could, in itself, form the basis for a deep and enriching study. We will do so this Fall when I present a premium group course on Christian metaphysics. I will stop here, however, as the purpose of this lesson was to sketch out the understanding of spirit as we will use it in this series. If there are questions for clarification and additional development of this topic, they can be addressed in this thread.

Reflection and Discussion

1. What questions or comments do you have from this session?

2. Share an experience that has confirmed for you the reality of your spiritual nature.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Phil,
Posts: 3853 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Phil, that was a great presentation. It was very clear and well composed, especially considering how difficult (even controversial) such subject matter re: human nature can get. I am really looking forward to the other conferences with great expectation. [I am also now looking forward to your accomplishing the same feat in treating metaphysics, which I have really muddled, myself, over the years.]

Posts: 100 | Registered: 30 January 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Phil, I think you have found your element in this area. This is helpful. I feel I draw my life from spirit, and it has never been easy to describe my orientation to others who ask.
I seem to keep pushing through boundaries of belief to something that a deeper part of me remembers as spirit. It has led to experiences that have changed my life. There are aspects of ourselves that will probably always be just beyond our reach, as the mystical and unknown aspects of God seem to call us out of ourselves
and into a larger embrace of love. Perhaps we can all better find our way together in a spiritual community.
Posts: 74 | Location: Iowa, called Heartland | Registered: 08 February 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I do enjoy this topic very much, and have read/reflected on it considerably through the years. My work with recovering alcoholics and drug addicts years ago helped to sharpen for me some of the distinctions between psychological and spiritual disease. Discovering Lonergan's approach to this topic was also helpful.

Just so some of you won't think that where this is going is to a treatment of spirituality that emphasizes primarily awareness, intelligence/reason, and freedom, let me reassure you that I'll be taking a wider approach. Although we can identify these attributes as constituting the spiritual dimension of our human experience, our ordinary use of them is in reference to a wide range of issues and needs. Our physical and psychological needs, for example, need to be addressed at those levels. But doing so entails some exercising of our spiritual nature, as it permeates and informs every part of our being.

The word "holistic" is often used in reference to a spirituality that includes care of the body and psyche, and we will be taking that approach. Care of body and psyche will not be the central focus, however; if that were so, the spiritual emphasis would be lost and we would, ultimately, be dealing with a holistic psychology or wellness practice of some kind.

More on all this as we go along . . .
Posts: 3853 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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