What is Spiritual Growth and Progress?
A study based upon The Urantia Book, the Bible, and the work of Abraham Maslow
by Dave Holt
Our world is witnessing the failure of coercive law and military force to achieve peace. To bring about a true and lasting peace and a real brotherhood of man, we need to foster spiritual growth and progress within individuals. I first designed this study for use in an Episcopal Church group. It combines psychologist Abraham Maslow's growth theory with concepts of Christian growth and development. Some references to the Urantia Book (cites read: UB old ed. page #, paper, section, par.) are included, but the number of relevant passages that can be included is much greater than here offered.
The class is based on Future Tasks, Part IV of Abraham H. Maslow's Toward a Psychology of Being.
2 Peter 3:18, "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord."
(a) We will assume that those who are taking this class seek growth and progress. We also begin with the assumption that we will not be talking about material goals, at the same time understanding that material success may be related to your success in your spiritual achievements.
What are your goals? What kind of growth would you like to achieve? Can you describe your goal in a word or a phrase? (examples: do you want to grow in knowledge? Become more compassionate, more loving? Grow in righteousness? Overcome a bad habit that holds you back spiritually? Extract yourself from a pattern of abusive behavior to yourself or others?)
(b) What methods do you have now, if you have any, for assisting yourself to grow?
The idea of being born in sin, "born under a bad sign," is partially true for some of us, but it breeds a misconception that we are not born ever and always connected with the love of God through his spirit within, his angels and his Son Jesus. Even when we are not mindful of it, or remembering it, we are always in connection with God and his forgiveness. This inspires us to strive for growth and progress in our faith in this connection, making it more real in our day to day reality, and making us full partners with God in establishing his love and justice in the world.
Acts 17:28 "For in him we live and move and have our being."
(UB: pgs. [OE/NE] 29/24, 35/29, 139/121, 1155/1013, 1282/1122)
(c) Are you willing to accept the trials of seeking growth? Growth comes with the uncovering and solutions of life problems, both spiritual and material, which can be painful. It is important to be willing to make these discoveries. (see tasks #9, #17)
The first stage in solving a problem that is in the way of our growth is to stop denying there is a problem. Coming out of denial can sometimes be done well on our own, but other times the denial is shared. Others around you can be "in denial" also, such as members of your own family.
"It is our mission to help men solve their spiritual problems and in this way to quicken their minds so that they may be the better prepared and inspired to go about solving their manifold material problems." (Jesus in UB, p. 1662, 148.5.4)
We will look at growth as problem solving under three facets that I think are necessary to achieving it:
Self-actualization is acceptance and expression of the inner core or self, and fullest development of one's talents and capacities.
B-cognition: The unselfish (altruistic) cognition of the object in its own right, without reference to its need gratifying or need frustrating qualities, without principle reference to its value for the observer.
D-cognition: Cognitions which are organized from the point of view of basic needs or deficiency needs and their gratification and frustration.
Growth is not merely the accumulation of experiences, adding one episode of our life onto another. Real growth means that we can derive meaning from our experiences. We interpret them; we come to a philosophical or spiritual description of what we have learned, even if we aren't aware of having used philosophy or religion.
After each task there will be readings from scripture, psychology, and other sources to illuminate the task.
1. "We have each of us an essential inner nature ... with an appreciable hereditary determinant."
Ezekiel 36: 26-27, "I will give you a new heart...I will put my spirit within you."
Luke 17:21, "The kingdom of God is within you."
Psalm 139: (13-16) "For you created my inmost being...I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
"Such ideas [as the divine spark] can only be based on the existence of unconscious psychic processes, for otherwise we simply could not understand how the same ideas crop up everywhere ... such images are not inventions of the intellect; rather they are natural revelations." (Carl Jung fr. Psychology and Religion)
Discussion Question: Is "within you" a collective spirit presence whose influence we all share? Or is it something individualized like a guardian angel? In Christianity and the UB, the concept is not that a spirit pervades all nature, but that spirit is something separate from nature and available to conscious beings with mind.
A philosophy of life may help us to understand the different endowments of a soul and spirit within, e.g., in terms of Being (Spirit) and Becoming (Soul). We also need to discern the qualities of our own nature, our gifts and circumstances, as separate from the overall undifferentiated human nature or collective unconscious. Seeing ourselves as merely a part of the ocean of being, a goal conceived by the great teacher Buddha, constitutes a kind of surrender of personality. As Westerners, for the purposes of this study, we will preserve the idea of individual survival (salvation) in religion, and as confirmed by the discoveries of our great psychologists (ref. task #4).
2. Origins/ Destiny. "natural inclinations, propensities or inner bent ... shaped in the first few years of life ... are potentialities, not actualizations."
3. "Authentic selfhood ... being able to hear these impulse-voices within oneself...They are hard to know."
Isaiah 30:19, "This is the way, walk ye in it."
Psalm 42, "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disturbed, disquieted within me?"
Psalm 46, "Be still and know that I am God."
Psalm 51, "the hidden part" where "thou shalt make me to know wisdom."
John 16:13, "the Spirit of Truth, he will guide you into all truth."
4. "Each person's inner nature has some characteristics unique to the person."
1 Corinthians 13:12, "...I shall know as fully as I am known..."
5. "It is possible to study this inner nature scientifically...and by inner search and psychotherapy...to discover what it is like ... not invent or construct." (but see #8, we can be creative with what we innately have)
"People can learn to study their life force in the same way that a master gardener studies a rosebush." (Kitchen Table Wisdom, Dr. Rachel Remen)
Thomas Merton's assessment of the value of Buddhist meditation which, "seeks not to explain but to pay attention, to become aware." (Zen & the Birds of Appetite, pg. 38)
UB p. 2094, 196.3.par 10-14, "The human mind does not create real values..."
6. "Much of the inner deeper nature is unconscious impulses... capacities, emotions, judgements, attitudes, definitions, perceptions etc." The goal: to uncover the repression and bring these to consciousness if needed for growth.
"To know God, you must know yourself...you must humble yourself to know yourself better." (Baptist sermon 1994) ... (also The Gospel of Thomas)
Mark 4:26-28 (Parable of the Sower) "A man scatters seed on the land; he goes to bed at night and gets up in the morning, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he does not know ..."
(Recommended essay: Carl Jung, The Transcendent Function)
(b) The unconscious is not dangerous or bad as people think; "our depths can also be good or beautiful." The roots of love and creativeness lie deep in the inner self. The goal: to recover them, to enjoy and use them.
Galatians 5:22-23. Fruits of the spirit are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (UB p. 2054) [193.2.2]
7. The "inner nature pressing always for open, uninhibited expression." The goal: to allow the urge to grow... "the will to health."
Philippians 2:13, "It is God who works in you, inspiring...the will and the deed."
Psalm 1:3, "And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season."
John 15:8, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit."
Luke 6:45, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good."
Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled."
8. "The inner self grows ... partly by discovery ... partly
also a creation of the person himself." (a combination of something already
there--God-given? And something we create on our own, using what is pre-existent
in some way), e.g., an intertwining of the gifts of grace and intentional
effort, a theme of Partnership with God or Spirit and Stewardship emerges.
9. "the failure to grow to one's potential ... valuelessness is a source of illness."
Matthew 25:14-30, Parable of the Talents, or Luke 19:11-27, The Pounds
Matthew 12:33, "you must either make the tree good or else ... corrupt."
"unused capacities can become a disease center, or atrophy and disappear, thus diminishing the person."
"When you come to know yourselves then you will become known and you will
realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you will dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty." (The Gospel of Thomas II.3, Nag Hammadi)
UB p. 1437, 130.6: "The Young Man Who Was Afraid"
10. "Truth revealing and uncovering techniques ... psychotherapy, science, education, art ... lessen malice, fear ... increases love, courage ... altruism." The latter are deeper, the good is more natural and intrinsically human.
2 Corinthians 3:17, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
11. "Uncovering therapy reduces evil or destructive hostility ... [which] is reactive rather than instinctive and may be expected to lessen as the personality matures and as the society improves."
I believe that we must first affirm the reality of our own inner violence and tame it or know it before we attack or criticize the violence in others around us.
Job 42: 5-6: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent..."
Romans 7:14-20, "what I do is not what I want to do but what I detest..."
12. "No psychological health is possible unless the essential core of the person is fundamentally accepted, loved and respected by others and by his self."
Deuteronomy 33:27, "The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms."
John 16:27, "The Father himself loves you..."
"Isn't it important to be on your way, even if you don't always get there?" (told by a schoolteacher to her class after the Space Shuttle explosion, Jan. 1986)
13. "Controls of the psyche coming from fear of the psyche are largely neurotic. Balance is needed between spontaneity and control."
Proverbs 25:28, "He who has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls."
Psalm 18:21-28, "I kept myself from my iniquity..."
Ephesians 4:29, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying that it may minister grace unto the hearers."
UB p. 1609, 143.2, "Lesson on Self Mastery" (some echoes of Romans 12, in the Bible)
14. Maturity means to transcend deficiency (D) needs ... one is not only motivated by deficiencies, not merely coping, but also by "being, expressing ... developing B-cognition which is unselfish, altruistic; with increasing selfhood, B-cognition and B-motivation become easier."
Prayer of St. Francis, "Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive..."
15. "The general human need for belongingness includes the need for community, for interdependence, for fellowship [in order to] to develop strength in individuals..."
John 15:1-4, "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine..."
John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less...Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind..." (Meditation 17).
16. "Though in principle, self-actualization is easy, in practice it rarely happens (less than 1% of adults.)" The conviction that humanity's intrinsic nature is evil or dangerous prevents self-actualization or the achievement of a mature self.
Mark 10:15, "Whosever shall not receive the kingdom as a little child, he shall not enter therein."
Romans 8: 16, "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."
17. Growth is painful as well as having its rewards and pleasures. It usually requires the sacrifice of something familiar and satisfying--easier. It requires "courage, will , choice, individual strength, as well as protection, permission and encouragement."
John 15:2, "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit."
UB p. 1097, 100.4, "Problems of Growth"
UB p. 1984, 184.4, Jesus "Hour of Humiliation"
Growth addresses problems we carry that hold us back. There are three important phases here:
1. Coming out of denial, recognizing that there is a problem
2. Arriving at an understanding of the problem (insight therapy, spiritual insight)
3. Living in affirmation, "actualizing" ones solutions to spiritual & life problems
There will be a temptation to evangelize ones discovery of the problem and to want everyone to come out of denial with you, if it is shared by the family or a social group. This missionary tendency can reflect badly on your insight, distorting it until it becomes hurtful to others, bad for those around you, hence valueless.
Give up ones "internalized parents as a sole ethical guide, becoming responsible rather that dependent, replacing fear with courage."
Jesus on family. Matthew 12: 46-50, "Who is my mother and who are my brethren?...whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven..."
18. Growth is a dialectic between fostering forces and discouraging forces. "Homeostatic tendencies (stabilizing), Freudian defense mechanisms are defensive, pain-reducing postures ... quite necessary, and not always pathological." "It is good to have intrinsic guilt when [a person] deserves to." (Maslow, p. 195)
The Serenity Prayer of AA: "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, Courage to change the things we can, And wisdom to know the difference."
Romans 12:3 "For I say...to every man...not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith."
UB, p. 1209, 110.6, "The Seven Psychic Circles"
19. Growth is moral choice of good over bad, understanding that there is a naturalistic system of values when discovering what is good and what is bad. Choosing the good is difficult, evil is sometimes attractive.
The singer, Gladys Knight, talked about conquering her gambling problem: "That's the amazing hand of God. When he is the light in your healing, he fixes it completely. I left it in his hands and said, `I love you more than I love this.' Same thing with my cigarettes. I threw them out one day... My prayer to him was to take away the desire, and that's exactly what he did. I can walk through the casinos, no problem."
20. "Neurosis is not part of the inner core but rather an evasion of it... it is a loss of capacity and diminishes the human being and real self."
Micah 6:8, "What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?"
21. Allow the integration of the rational (scientific) and the "irrational" (mysterious, religious). Such opposites are seen to be unities, and "the dichotomous way of thinking recognized to be immature."
Jeremiah 23:28, "Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream."
UB p. 2066, 194.3.20, "Prayer does so often dig out larger and deeper channels wherein the divine bestowals may flow."
(b) "The concept of a healthy unconscious and healthy irrationality sharpens awareness of the limitations of abstract verbal and analytic thinking." A full description of the world requires "pre-verbal, metaphorical, intuitive types of cognition." Expand our science to include both kinds of knowing.
Luke 12: 11-12, "Take ye no thought what ye shall say for the Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say."
UB p. 1095, 100.1, Religious Growth: "Growth may be intentional but...unvaryingly unconscious."
22. Develop creativity for psychological health. "Value one's primary processes, accept impulses instead of always controlling them, enjoy peak experiences."
1 Cor. 2:10-11, "For the Spirit explores everything...Among men, who knows what a man is but the man's own spirit within him?"
Philippians 2:5 "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus..."
John 15:11, "These things have I spoken unto you...that your joy might be full."
UB, p. 1591, 141.5.par 1, "Mortals may be empowered to live individual lives of originality and freedom before God."
23. Cultivate the integrative power of peak experiences "in which time disappears and hopes are fulfilled," to integrate "splits within the person, between persons, within the world, and between the person and the world."
Matthew 6:22, Luke 11:34 "The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body will be filled with light."
John 10:10, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full."
UB p. 1739, 156.5.par 5, "the old and the inferior will be forgotten..."
24. Enhance or create societies that gratify basic human needs and permit self-actualization, and develop education that fosters it also, to help the person live in both worlds, the inner and the outer.
Romans 12:2 "And be ye not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind..."
UB p. 1220, 111.4.par 3,5. "The Inner Life" "Only in the higher levels of the superconscious mind...can you find those higher concepts...which will contribute to the building of a better and more enduring civilization."
25. Emphasize "the role of action in psychology--goal-directed, motivated and purposeful action." "The urge to service." De-emphasize analysis of the past; "from Freud we learned that the past exists now in the person; from growth and self -actualization theory we must learn that the future also now exists in the person in the form of ideals, goals, mission, destiny, etc."
UB p. 1211, 110.6.17, "action, completion of decisions...kinship with the cosmic actuality of the Supreme Being."
Ghandi taught, "act, by all means, but make your act, in the modern sense of the word, a sacrifice. That is...choose a selfless goal, use right means (non-violence), and never try to get the results for your own benefit." (Michael Nagler, Reading the Upanishads, in Easwaran's translation of the same)
Seminar by Dave Holt, (Distilled from 43 tasks in Maslow's original list)
Bible references use the King James, and the New English Bible (Oxford).
A service of
The Urantia Book Fellowship