Course 1: Spiritually Engage

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In Course 1, we invite you to engage in, and begin, your journey toward spiritual renewal and growth. We offer various definitions of spirituality and encourage you to clarify what spirituality means to you and how it may be helpful to you. We encourage you to affirm your own spiritual language and to clarify how you can communicate about spirituality with family and friends who may understand spirituality in different ways. We invite you to set some spiritual goals that you would like to work on during this course. Finally, we ask you to complete a questionnaire about your spiritual beliefs, concerns, strengths, and resources.

Lesson 1: Spirituality is important in our lives

The teachings of the major world religions and the writings of many philosophers, theologians, and social scientists converge in agreement that spirituality is a universal human concern and capacity—a basic condition of human existence.

We are all spiritual beings, whether we know it or not. We have worked with many clients who said, “I am not a spiritual person!” We would often think, and sometimes say, “You are not yet acquainted with your spirituality – but you soon will be.” It has been said that some do not feel, believe, or know of their spirituality simply because they have no language to talk about it. Those who have a religious background may more easily ponder and discuss their spirituality because they had been raised in an organized religious structure that included narrative, stories, symbols, practices, doctrines, and canonized scripture which provided a language for discussing spiritual things with other like-minded individuals.

Whether we are theistic or non-theistic, religious or non-religious – we all can find or create a language for understanding and expressing spiritual beliefs. In these courses, we will be using universal spiritual principles, that may help you nurture your spiritual language.   

Spirituality is important because it helps us grow, develop, and recover in all areas and facets of our lives. Ignoring our spirituality causes us to fragment, lose, or ignore important parts of who we are. If we nurture all areas of our lives, rather than fragmented parts, we can feel a greater sense of wholeness and completeness.     

Spiritual beliefs are important to consider in recovery and personal growth because they have great power to inspire, provide hope, help us change, and motivate us to become our best selves. As we each become our best selves, families, groups, and communities the world becomes better.

Nurturing the spiritual within us is important in buffering against the problems and ills of our society. Dr. Lisa Miller’s book, The Spiritual Child, summarizes hundreds of research studies and concludes that nurturing the spirituality of a growing child wards against depression, anxiety, substance abuse, unwanted sexual experience, and pregnancy. To learn more about Dr. Miller’s insights about the importance of our universal, innate spirituality, we invite you to watch the video below.

Lesson 1 Application Activity

  1. We invite you today to begin a spiritual renewal journal to record the thoughts, feelings, and spiritual insights that come to you as you take this and other spiritual renewal courses offered by the Academy for Spiritual Renewal and Positive Mental Health. Many of the application activities invite you to record your thoughts, feelings, and insights in your journal and so it will be helpful to have one. Your journal can be of your choosing (e.g., a hard or soft cover paper journal; a file in your computer, iPad, or phone; a spiral bound notebook, etc.).
  2. Once you have obtained the journal you wish to use, please take a few minutes to write down some of the thoughts, feelings, and/or insights you experienced as you read the material in Lesson 1 and as you listened to the video of Dr. Miller. Reflection and meditation can help us find meaning for the concepts in our own lives and help them become personal for us. With this understanding, we become more prepared to take steps in making the principles an active part of our lives. Principles made a part of our lives, eventually become principles that become a part of who we are.

Lesson 2: What is meant by “spiritual” or “spirituality”?

This is a small question about a big topic. Answers to this question can be long, complicated, and diverse. We address this briefly here.

First, spirituality and religiousness are not necessarily the same thing, even though for some, the two go hand in hand. We like to think of it this way: Religiousness is a smaller subset of spirituality. Religion can be a more specific type of spiritual orientation, while spirituality is more broad and more universal.

What is spirituality? It is in the individual and unique “eye of the beholder,” and in the heart of the believer. In the video below, Dr. Michael E. Berrett shares some of his perspectives about the nature of spirituality.

Additional insights about the nature of spirituality and how it is developed is offered by the major world religions. The world religions differ somewhat in their teachings, nevertheless, there are some general similarities among them. For example, the theistic world religions teach that humans are spiritual beings created in the image of God. These religions also emphasize the importance of human beings’ relationships with God and living in harmony with God’s moral laws. The Eastern religions traditions also emphasize the importance of correct living and spiritual enlightenment, but they do not view spiritual progression as dependent on one’s relationship with or obedience to a Supreme Being. There is agreement between all of the world religions that humans are spiritual beings and that spiritual enlightenment and growth is a universal human potentiality.

Another source of insight about the nature of spirituality can be found in social science literature. Table 16.3 provides a sampling of the numerous definitions of spirituality that have been offered by social scientists. As can be seen, although there is considerable variability in the definitions, commonalities can be found, including the notions that spirituality (1) is a universal human characteristic and need; (2) involves a search for the sacred or transcendent in life; (3) contributes to people’s sense of meaning, purpose, and values; (4) involves living congruently with one’s beliefs and values; (5) contributes to a universal love of humanity; and (6) is not the same as religion, though it is often associated with religious beliefs and experiences.

Click the button below to download two tables about religious and social scientific perspectives about spirituality. These tables summarize the views of the major world religions and many prominent social scientists about the nature of spirituality.

Lesson 2 Application Activity

Write down in your spiritual renewal journal the ideas and insights that resonated with you as you read the various perspectives about spirituality offered by the world religions and social scientists.

Lesson 3: Understanding Your Own Spiritual Beliefs

How would you describe your spirituality, and your spiritual beliefs?

If you are not sure about your own beliefs about spirituality, then that’s OK – and you are not alone. Many individuals have a sense of what spirituality means to them – but have difficulty finding a language to describe it. You may not have used the word spiritual to explain those things in your life that are connected to belonging, love, goodness, the sacred, inspiration, enlightenment, seeking truth, seeking light, or doing what you believe is right. Sometimes we have thoughts, feelings, and impressions that we may not have words for.

Sadly, sometimes our spiritual language can be misused to separate us from others, and we might be judged by others from our spiritual language. Sometimes, not having a language to think or speak about our spirituality can lead us to become more separated from our spiritual beliefs.

Thankfully, we can learn or develop a language of spirituality – a language of our own spirituality. Having a language can help us think about, talk about, share, and declare our spiritual beliefs – which can nurture and strengthen them.

In managing the differences and diversity in spiritual beliefs between ourselves and others around us, it is important to find commonalities, and focus on them rather than differences. It is important to give others good intent – and see that as family members in humanity, we have the same needs, and desires. We can be willing, and learn to see the good in, and have respect for, ideas and beliefs which are different from our own. Approaching spirituality in this way is important for nurturing acceptance, inclusion, equality, and harmony for our brothers and sisters of humanity. Our spiritual beliefs will grow over time. We can all learn something about spirituality from the beliefs of others – no matter how different those beliefs may seem.

When we read religious or spiritual writings of any religious faith, spiritual tradition, or other uplifting books, we may find ideas, meanings, and practices that don’t seem to fit us. On the other hand, we may find things that make sense to us, feel at home with us, and those that touch our hearts. This can help us clarify our beliefs. Remember that what is most important, is not what others think about what spirituality is. What is most important is what you think, and what you know, and what you come to know to be true about spirituality for you.

The important thing about spiritual beliefs – is that they are ours. We are not here to compare with others for competitions sake, attempt to capture approval, or judge others for their beliefs. These beliefs are individual, personal, and sacred. These beliefs are especially beneficial in one’s life when they are internalized – in other words – when they become one’s own. Research has shown that it is spiritual beliefs that are internalized that are most beneficial in helping people towards recovery from emotional and addictive illness.  

Last of all, we will learn more about our spirituality by starting with, and attending to, that which WE DO KNOW, no matter how small that may seem to us, rather than spending endless time ruminating and worrying about that which we do not yet know. Those things will come. Spiritual renewal and growth is a process – not a destination.

Lesson 3 Application Activities

The activities below may help increase your clarity and understanding about your own spiritual beliefs. Pick two or three of these activities that seem most helpful to you.

  1. Start with whatever you do know about your spiritual beliefs. Write down one of your spiritual beliefs in your journal. Spend some time identifying the spiritual beliefs you do know about now – and don’t worry about those things you don’t yet know about in your spiritual searching.
  2. Take some time to ponder about who your “spiritual heroes” are. Who do you look up to? What is it about them that you admire so much? As you look and find answers to that question, you will learn more about your spirituality. We tend to admire those who are similar to us in those beliefs that matter the most. We can use spiritual heroes as “a mirror” to begin to identify and clarify our spiritual beliefs and our own spiritual nature.
  3. Consider and ponder what your loved one’s (e.g., parents, spouse, siblings, close friends) have taught you about spirituality by word or by example (good or bad). Write down in your journal those things that are most meaningful to you. What do you believe in and intend to “take into your heart and life.” What things have you decided to “leave behind and not keep as your own.”
  4. Write your spiritual beliefs in your journal and say them out loud. As you do this, notice how you feel when you make these declarations. Feelings you experience in that moment may lead to feeling dissonance or confusion, or validation and affirmation. Paying attention to your feelings can teach you what you truly believe in and what you are still trying to figure out.


Prayer is a force as real as terrestrial gravity.  As a physician, I have seen men, after all other therapy had failed, lifted out of disease and melancholy by the serene effort of prayer.  Only in prayer do we achieve that complete and harmonious assembly of body, mind and spirit which gives the frail human reed its unshakable strength.”  (Dr. Alexis Carrol)

Prayer has been defined as an inward communication or conversation with God or a Higher Power.  Prayers can be offered verbally or silently.  All of the Western world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism) advocate prayer.  There are prayers of petition (asking something for oneself), intercession (asking something for others), confession (acknowledging wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness), lamentation (expressing distress and asking for support), adoration (expressing honor and praise to God), invocation (asking for the presence of the Almighty), and thanksgiving (offering gratitude).  Although the specific manner in which prayers are offered differs from religion to religion, there is general agreement that prayer may include (1) addressing God by His name (e.g., “Heavenly Father . . .” or “Dear God, or Dear Lord . . .”; (2) thanking God for His goodness and blessings; (3) asking God for His assistance and blessings; and (4) closing the prayer in some manner (e.g., “Amen”). 

Scientific Research about Prayer

Lesson 4 Application Activity

  1. We encourage you to pray in the manner and using the language that is consistent with your own religious tradition or spiritual beliefs.  If you have questions or concerns about prayer, we encourage you to discuss them with your spiritual leader, trusted loved ones, and/or your therapist.
  2. We encourage you to consider how prayer could help you in your journey of spiritual renewal and growth and to set a goal to make prayer a more meaningful practice in your life.

Course 1 Self-Check Quiz

Click on the button below if you would like to complete an optional self-check quiz about some of the content covered in Course 1. You are not being graded for the course and so the quiz is provided simply as an opportunity for you to review some of the important ideas presented in the course.

Spiritual Renewal for Positive Mental Health Questionnaire

Now that you have completed Course 1, we invite you to complete a spiritual renewal questionnaire that will help you gain greater insight into your spiritual beliefs and resources and how you can draw upon them in your journey of growth. Your responses are confidential and will never be shared in a way that would enable anyone to link your name and identity with your survey responses. After you complete the questionnaire, you will be sent a confidential summary of your results as feedback to assist you in your journey of healing and growth.

Course Evaluation and Feedback

We invite you to provide feedback about what content and activities in Course 1 you found most helpful and what you might recommend we change or add to the course to make it even better. Click on the button below to open the course evaluation/feedback survey.