|In 7th grade: Year 4 of being the Class Atheist. Oh, |
the existential angst of breakfast! My sister Alizon
is clearly oblivious to the unbearability of it all.
It was several years after college before, very slowly at first, I began to find a place – to want a place -- in my life for transcendent love, inner peace, “all-right-ness,” acceptance, awe, beauty, wonder, humility, gratitude, a freshness of experience; a feeling of plenitude, abundance, and deep simplicity of all things; “the oceanic feeling,” Sigmund Freud spoke of, calling it “a sense of indissoluble union with the great All, and of belonging to the universal.” These are ways of describing the spiritual. In moments of heightened spiritual experience, the gap between self and world vanishes. The normal experience of time leaves us, and each moment has a quality of the eternal in it. There is no better name for this than “spirituality,” and it turns out that it does not require theism or any of the things Cecelia Ringling is into.
Psychologist Robert Cloninger and his team at the Center for Well-Being of the Department of Psychiatry of the School of Medicine of Washington University in St. Louis sought a way to define spirituality more definitely, empirically, and measurably. Their 240-item questionnaire called the "Temperament and Character Inventory,” includes, as one of the dimensions of character, something they call "self-transcendence" – and I’d call spirituality. Self-transcendence is an orientation toward the elevated, whether that is experienced as compassion, ethics, art, or whether it is experienced as a divine presence.
By orienting toward the elevated, we transcend the ego defense mechanisms by which most of us spend our lives governed. Self-transcendence means conceiving oneself as integral to the universe as a whole. Self-transcendent individuals are spiritual, unpretentious, humble, and fulfilled. This self-transcendence, as Cloninger measures it, is the sum of three subscales: self-forgetfulness; transpersonal identification; and acceptance.
Self-forgetfulness. Transpersonal identificaltion. Acceptance. Are these qualities on which you'd like to improve your scores?
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This is part 3 of 6 of "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Spirituality"
Part 1: "This Is It: Atheist Spirituality"
Part 2: "Spirituality and Types"
Part 4: "Self-Transcendence, Huh? What Is It Good For?"
Part 5: "But Do You Have a Spiritual Practice?"
Part 6: "Woooo-Hoooo"