What’s the difference between personal and spiritual growth anyhow? I think self knowledge is perhaps the only spiritual or personal growth there is, isn’t it?
It’s a very good question. Depending on ones spiritual background, one can go into this very deeply, or just skimp the surface. Ken Wilber has tried to chart levels of spiritual development in people very precisely. He ended up with eight levels (or colors), if I understand him correctly.
In the yoga tradition Enlightenment itself (Samadhi that is) has levels. There are different kinds of Samadhi and one is better than the other.
But in our day to day talk about this spiritual growth and personal development do tend to mix. There’s a lot that is called spiritual, that I’d personally categorize as personal development. And yes, in both self knowledge is an important aspect of it. But to be complete a third stage has to be added, which leads me to three forms of growth or development:
- Personal Development
- Spiritual Growth
- Quest for Enlightenment (Moksha, Samadhi, Nirvana, Redemption)
Personal development does not have to be spiritual. People who follow a course in pottery making or gardening are personally developing themselves. Personal growth can take the form of keeping up to date in your profession. Psychotherapy too is a way to do personal growth. In short: anything that helps you to function better in your day to day life – personally or professionally – is a form of personal development.
Personal development does not have to be spiritual. None of the examples I gave above are spiritual in any sense. But those who take a management course will in some cases be given meditation exercises. This means that personal growth seminars use spiritual techniques. Does this mean it’s spiritual what they’re doing there? I’m not sure. I think it can only be called spiritual if people transcend themselves, or there is reference to a higher power, god or inspiration. But even if God is called upon, if the goal is material success or riches – is that very spiritual?
For me it’s spiritual development only when people learn to be more ethical in their day to day life and business and learn to contribute (more) to society. Old fashioned or new ‘values’ should play a part – for it to be called spiritual growth. I personally also use the words ‘spiritual growth’ when I talk about how spiritual insights can help us live more peaceful lives, improve our relationships and prevent problems.
But that could also be called personal growth. The words ‘personal growth’ do sound more selfish. Things like learning to be more productive, dealing with stress and becoming successful fall under personal development. Nothing wrong with it, but it is focused on ME. This transforms into spiritual growth, I think, when the effect of our actions on others is taken into account.
Spiritual growth also includes the support people can feel from being part of something Larger. For instance: people who convert to Christianity, because they find in Jesus the strength to overcome Alcoholism. I’d personally label that experience differently, but the personal transformation involved certainly has a spiritual component.
There is a gliding scale between developing hidden aspects of oneself (personal development) and transforming yourself and reintegrating yourself (spiritual growth). In the latter case spiritual experiences will play a part in more cases.
Buddhism and Hinduism go a step further. Their basic assumption is that human beings can be liberated from the maelstrom of daily struggles. This liberation does not involve suppressing emotions, but not being touched by them. Nirvana and Moksha are states of consciousness that go beyond the ordinary. Those who follow one of these paths are on the quest to Enlightenment or Awakening. There is more to this path than merely living an ethical life and a sense that ‘there is more’. This path asks in addition dedication and perseverance. It’s also a revolutionary path in the sense that it can get rid of all material and social wealth – because ultimately money and status don’t matter.
Personal and spiritual growth too can result in drastic changes in one’s day to day life – change of job, new relationships, new friends etc. The search for Awakening or Awareness (if I may translate Nirvana like that) ultimately goes a step further: the environment we live in becomes less important. This does not necessarily involve retreat into a convent. The implication is that the goal no longer has anything to do with the environment, only with our inner state. Ultimately, so they say, the very idea of a ‘goal’ drops away as well.