What Is Spirituality – Four Conversations

What is Spirit-uality — Four Conversations


by Ronald Bell

CEO, Collaborative for Positive Integral Change



Herein I use a typology from Dr. Diana Whitney’s 1995 article written for the World Business Academy entitled:Spirituality as a Global Organizing Potential.  Diana states: 


“As an emergent concept, … Each of these conversations evokes … a differing and yet somewhat overlapping set of principles and practices for addressing spirituality… …Current considerations of spirituality … might loosely be clustered into four primary conversations that I have called spiritas energy, spirit as meaning, spiritas sacred, and spirit as epistemology.”


(1)  SPIRIT as ENERGY    


This approach and understanding of spirit revolves around the sense of spirit as energy in individuals, in organizational contexts and in all living systems. 


Spirit as energy can refer to the basic stuff, which animates or makes life possible. Often soul and spirit are characterized as “the breath of life”.


What distinguishes spirit as energy from the conversation of spirit asmeaning, is the primary focus on the feeling of aliveness.  Joseph Campbell emphasizes this inThe Power of Myth:


    “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning in life. I don’t think that’s 

    what we’re really seeking.  I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being 

    alive…or the rapture of being alive.”


Of course, it can be both/and – a sense of aliveness and meaning.





Spirituality is the basic desire to find ultimate meaning and purpose in one’s life and to live an integrated life.”


Mitroff and Denton surveyed or interviewed approximately 1700 people about spirituality and its role in the workplace; this statement represents the most widely held view of spirituality, according to their research. (A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America)


Studs Terkel interviewed workers in diverse work contexts and observed(Working):


    “This book is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for 

    recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short,

    for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”


Terkel says “Most folks have jobs that are too small for their spirits.”




This approach considers Spirit with a capital S. This conversational domain brings a “divine spiritual presence” to perceptions of the natural world and reality.  It may or may not involve organized religion, or specific faith tradition, or belief in a Divine Being per se. It may involve belief in a Divine Being that is envisioned to be “transpersonal” (more than anthropomorphic or personal) and/or at least personal, if the “personal” is considered the highest form of creation/evolution.  This view may sense the sacred or divine as either immanent (with us and within nature) and/or transcendent (beyond us and outside of nature). Some forms resemble a “pantheism” (the divine “as” nature) or a “panentheism” (the divine “in” but not equated with or  identified “as” nature).


This conversation is nuanced and multi-perspectival. Christian theologians such as Paul Tillich speak of God as the “Ground of Being”or as our “Ultimate Concern”.  Jewish theologian Martin Buber speaks of the divine as revealed in the“I-Thou” relationship or encounter.  Buddhist, Taoist and Native American perspectives envision the spiritual, or sacred spirit as a quality in all of life – in nature, animals, plants, materials and in “all our relations”.




Epistemology involves theory of the nature, sources and limits of knowledge.  The spirit-as-epistemology conversation involves awareness of the nature, possibilities and limits of language, and awareness of differences in the ways of knowing and knowledge gained.


Within contemporary multi-disciplinary study-research, bridges are being built across the “epistemological divide” — bridging faith and reason, mysticism and empirical data, connecting scientists and shamans, physicists and poets, meaning and mystery, analysis and awe, science and spirituality.


Postmodern perspective realizes all perception has perspective. Even perspective itself, can be seen or understood from multiple perspectives (implying methodology, ontology or epistemology, etc.). 


Contextual to my conceptual meta-framework for understanding spirituality are the integral theories of Ken Wilber (Integral Spirituality, etc.) and Marc Gafni (Unique Self), evolutionary consciousness (Barbara Marx Hubbard) and cultural developmental stage concepts (Graves/Beck/Cowan).  What one “sees” depends on where one stands — I presentlystand in these map-perspectives and see through these lens. 



The Uni-versal is revealed in part-iculars. We “see through a glass darkly”. Authentic (not metaphysical malpractice 😉 insights and views may be accurate or true, yet still partial (some more true than others). We each perceive essence and spirituality through unique particular prisms — our you-nigue contribution. This results not in an absence oftruth, but rather in a wonder-full kaleidoscope of truth and reality.  Meaning is relational, co-constructed and contextual.  Consciousness of our views being partial makes for experiencing humility and awe, experiencing spiritual meaning and mystery.


At the conceptual level, the elusive quality we call spirit reveals and conceals, resisting quantification and precise definition.At the experiential level, we realize spirit as a source for personal, organizational, societal and planetary transformation.


There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground”.  ~ Rumi

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