Posted by Jennifer Mata on June 9, 2008 at 11:31 AM
"Religion is an institutionalized approach to spiritual growth formed rounf doctrines, ritual, and standards of behavior. Spirituality is the very personal and intimate expression of our relationship with the Divine." (Hart, 2003, p. 173)
What are some of your opinions about religion and spirituality? Do they intersect? How?
Posted by Jennifer Mata on December 2, 2007 at 12:19 PM
I went to a Breathwork session yesterday at Union Theological Seminar. It was hosted by Dr. Judith Miller, who is a professor at Teachers College, and has been doing breathwork for over 20 years. I had been to one of her sessions back in the Spring, but this was my first complete workshop. I went in with very low expectations of what I would get out of it, since it is very difficult for me to be able to quiet my mind and experience altered levels of consciousness if I am not closely guided by someone. This was large group setting and everyone was left to explore and experience as they would. The only instruction given was to breath deeper and faster than normal, and then the music started. We were breathing for about 2 hours and then came together to share our experiences.
My experience, as I expected, was not earth shattering. I was very distracted by people walking by me, by others moving close to me, and making noises (someone next to me was actually chanting) and I was also very, very cold and somewhat hungry. Needless to say, close to the end I was ready for the music to stop, and the whole activity to come to a halt. Nevertheless, I saw some lights, heard some words, which came in passing, and saw something that looked like an eye of light, a couple of times.
Other people had very powerful experiences, most of them could relate what they saw and felt to what they are going through currently in life. I made some parallelism of my own involving: control issues, letting things be, accepting that things happen for a reason, having too high expectations of myself in regards to performance, etc.; but again nothing quite ground moving.
What was of worth to me in this workshop, and the reason I think I came to have this experience, was the conversation that took place close to the end. While a woman was relating her experience to the group, through Dr. Miller's scaffolding, she describe her vision as an overwhelming love, a sense of utter beauty, and feeling safe and peaceful, all of this after going in a dark scary cave and coming out victorious of a fight of some sort. Dr. Miller's interpretation of this immediately was that she had had a Christ Awakening experience. I had to ask the question which I have been grappling with in my research: "Do you think there are other words, another non-religious vocabulary, to explain what she experienced?". Of course, I explained where I was coming from, and how I understood spirituality away from religion, and religion as one path, but not the only path through which to develop spiritually. Dr. Miller's answer was non convincing. She did though, acknowledge her biases and explained that all religions begin with a mystical experience, and this being a mystical experience itself, and sharing this characteristic with religions, was easily explained through religious language.
Another participant urged us to be conscious when "giving and unknown territory a map" and thought that it might be helpful to just let the experience be described as the participant did, with non-religious words, and to not label it with religious terminology and constructs. Dr. Miller then made a point of explaining how the woman's experience was exactly the same as what she understood as a Christ Awakening, which is based on archetypes within the collective unconscious. She said she had offered this piece of information to the woman so that she could better understand what had happened to her and keep moving along in her process. The woman was thankful. Even though she clearly stated she was non religious, she now had a name for her experience and thought Dr. Miller's intervention was helpful.
For me it was clear where Dr. Miller was coming from and how ego, training, and previous knowledge was playing a part here. The role of the healer, the guru, the teacher, the therapist who can and has to save the suffering, imperfect, and in-process client, came to mind. Dr. Miller has obviously lived by and believes in religions, and seems to understand spirituality and spiritual growth through religious language, archetypes, and constructs. She has religious names for certain spiritual experiences, and seems to think that because she accepts and works with different religions (Christian, Judaic, Buddhist, and Shamanic) she is being all encompassing to every possible spiritual experience and our understandings of it.
In my literature review one of the problems I have repeatedly seen researchers encounter is not having a language, a non-religious language, to refer to spiritual matters. Every time I ask someone what is their spiritual background the answer I get is a religion. I truly believe that as along as we keep on explaining and seeing spirituality as tied and bound by religion we won't be able to truly understand spirituality. We need to open up and see that there are many paths through which we can live and experience our spirituality and make an effort, a conscious effort, to find words that can explain it, without falling into the common religious talk.
Here I am today, grateful that I had the opportunity to explore breathwork as a technique for spiritual development, and yet cognoscente of the fact that these particular spiritual guide is not the one which I am looking for, not the one which will allow me to transcend my religious bounds.
Posted by Jennifer Mata on June 24, 2007 at 5:59 PM
I think I've wrote about my dissertation work before, but if not, here
goes. I am working on getting my proposal ready for its defense, and
I'm still struggling with some issues. My topic is children's
spirituality and how they live their spiritual experiences in
public/secular classrooms. I ultimately want to observe children in a
kindergarten class, and with time and a ton of data, be able to
describe what it looks like, or how it feels to be spiritual in a place
in which it isn't necessarily encouraged or nurtured. My overall goal
is then to be able to help teachers go this route if they decide to do
During the spirituality in the classroom seminar
I attended this weekend we were asked, at some point, to talk about our
spiritual experiences as children or with children. I remembered a
little girl I had in one of my classrooms which completely puzzled me
and made me think and question what I believed was the core of
humanness. I believed then, and I think I still do now, that humans are
inherently good, that our bad sides develop through socialization and
experiences we go through. Yeah I now, a very romantic approach to it,
but what can I say?
This little girl though, was not all good,
in fact she was down right evil at times. She would plot out nasty
things to do to her classmates, and every time I would turn around she
would do something to make someone cry or upset them. You might be
thinking she was just acting out, or exploring her power and the
different effects she could have on people, and that might be true. But
she was 2 and half years old, and really how much experience do you
have at this age, to be so bad?
She came from a loving family,
the sweetest mom that a child could have. I talked to my supervisor
about it and to the counselor of the school, because I had never seen
anything like this, this little girl was scary. Here we were in an all
girls Catholic school, encountering evil in a beautiful, smart, and
sweet -looking little girl. You could really see it in her eyes when
she retreated to a corner to plan out her next step. It was truly
We never really understood why she did this. If it
was a phase, or something she was dealing with, or maybe something she
had learned from others around her. We never really knew with
certainty. I moved to another school after that, and I'm not quite sure
what happened to her. But my question now is, can evil be inherent? Can
humans be born bad? What have you experienced?