The spiritual life is…part of the human essence. It is a defining characteristic of human nature…without which human nature is not full human nature.
We have all heard stories involving the triumph of the human spirit. In the UK, the annual Pride of Britain awards ceremony celebrates the remarkable achievements of individuals who have acted in ways that transcend the everyday. A poignant posthumous award in 2014 went to the magnificent Stephen Sutton who raised almost five million pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust, even whilst he was dying from the disease. Hollywood makes blockbusters from true life tales such as 127 Hours, the story of how Aron Ralston amputated his own arm to free himself from a trapped boulder and certain death.
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘spirit’ as ‘person’s animating principle or intelligence…person’s mental or moral nature; attitude or mood…courage, self-assertion, vivacity…state of mind.’ Stephen Hawking, himself no stranger to adversity, says: We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.
Spirit, then, is something intangible that we all possess. But do we all utilise it to our best advantage? Aron Ralston refused to let his accident prevent him from climbing mountains again; twenty-year old Chinese swimmer Lu Dong won gold in the 100m backstroke at the 2012 Paralympic Games, having had to launch herself into the race by clenching a towel in her teeth because she has no arms. These individuals are examples of what can be accomplished if we set our minds to it.
If, potentially, we’re all capable of courageous and inspiring acts, I’m curious about what drives some people to succeed, whilst others crumble, in the face of tough challenges. Worse, still (mostly for themselves), some people become bitter and mean-spirited as a result of unhappy life experiences.
Stephen Sutton exemplified the notion of spirit as a connection to something larger than you. Depending on your belief system, this can have religious connotations, but it doesn’t have to relate to faith. Susan Jeffers’ books refer to a ‘Higher’ versus a ‘Lower’ self; these concepts can be understood without reference to religion, perhaps as motivation through love as opposed to fear. It has been suggested that love and fear are our principle motivators; I, for one, can see how certain actions and behaviours can be construed as loving whereas others, even if appearing otherwise, can be attributed to fear.
Anger, for example, can be seen to have fear at its core. The perpetrator of the crimes against me was violent and intimidating, however he claimed to have been abused in children’s homes when young; it is possible to see that his anger developed as a defence mechanism in response to the fear such abuse would have engendered. (This does not excuse his, or anyone else’s, criminal behaviour, even if it explains it)
To say that the devastation my tormentor’s actions wreaked in my life left me broken is an understatement; there have been times when I felt beyond repair. Determination and a fighting spirit kept me going; cultivating a spiritual outlook was essential to my recovery from PTSD and facilitated the post-traumatic growth that stopped me from drowning in overwhelm. I believe that we all have access to an indefatigable inner resolve should we so desire. It is our essence, the very heart of who we are as humans. Adopting a more spiritual point of view, that is being able to acknowledge a bigger picture, keeps challenges in perspective and helps us to solve problems in the most constructive way.
Quite often it takes a traumatic event to jolt an individual into situation in which it becomes necessary to draw on our unlimited reserves of spirit. In the hero’s story this is known as the ‘inciting incident’, an occurrence that forces change in the hero’s familiar life. When all that you previously believed to be real has been obliterated, you have to make the choice whether to break down or break through. Anyone, however, is free to be guided by Thich Nhat Hanh’s assertion that ‘At any moment you have a choice that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it’.
Embodying your spirit leads to increased vitality; this has a positive effect on your appearance as well as your psyche. We can all bring to mind people who embody their spirit. They have an inner light that makes them attractive and dynamic. If you allow your spirit to guide you, you will become capable of expressing your highest and best self. This leads to increased satisfaction in life, and we all want that, don’t we?