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“Sometimes I Don’t Even Know Where I Am Going”: What Supports Individualized Personal Spiritual Change?



Unlike processes of spiritual change within or between-faith, individualized processes of spiritual change cannot rely on the support provided by institutional religions through religious rituals, agents and coherent belief system (e.g., Pargament & Mahoney, 2009; Rambo, 1993). To understand how individuals manage such a potentially arduous change process, the present study explored the facilitating processes of deep personal spiritual change outside of institutional religion, using a qualitative-phenomenological perspective. In-depth interviews were conducted with 27 Israeli adults (13 men and 14 women between the ages of 25 and 66), who were undergoing such change. The analysis of the interviews uncovered 2 main kinds of supporting resources: internal-personal (i.e., deliberate choice, courage, and intentional attention and awareness) and external-environmental (i.e., the availability of spiritual contexts and experiences, spiritual groups and like-minded peers, spiritual teachers, and a sense of connection to a higher power or the transcendent). The findings underscore the pervasiveness of supporting mechanisms that individuals undergoing self-led spiritual change use. These reflect 3 central orientations, internal, horizontal, and vertical, that together maintain these change processes. (PsycINFO Database Record
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality
“Sometimes I Don’t Even Know Where I Am Going”: What
Supports Individualized Personal Spiritual Change?
Pninit Russo-Netzer
Online First Publication, April 28, 2016.
Russo-Netzer, P. (2016, April 28). “Sometimes I Don’t Even Know Where I Am Going”: What
Supports Individualized Personal Spiritual Change?. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.
Advance online publication.
“Sometimes I Don’t Even Know Where I Am Going”:
What Supports Individualized Personal Spiritual Change?
Pninit Russo-Netzer
University of Haifa
Unlike processes of spiritual change within or between-faith, individualized processes of spiritual change
cannot rely on the support provided by institutional religions through religious rituals, agents and
coherent belief system (e.g., Pargament & Mahoney, 2009; Rambo, 1993). To understand how individ-
uals manage such a potentially arduous change process, the present study explored the facilitating
processes of deep personal spiritual change outside of institutional religion, using a qualitative-
phenomenological perspective. In-depth interviews were conducted with 27 Israeli adults (13 men and 14
women between the ages of 25 and 66), who were undergoing such change. The analysis of the interviews
uncovered 2 main kinds of supporting resources: internal-personal (i.e., deliberate choice, courage, and
intentional attention and awareness) and external-environmental (i.e., the availability of spiritual contexts
and experiences, spiritual groups and like-minded peers, spiritual teachers, and a sense of connection to
a higher power or the transcendent). The findings underscore the pervasiveness of supporting mecha-
nisms that individuals undergoing self-led spiritual change use. These reflect 3 central orientations,
internal, horizontal, and vertical, that together maintain these change processes.
Keywords: adulthood, qualitative methodology, spiritual change, spirituality, supporting processes
Supplemental materials:
Spirituality has played a key role in human experience as an
integral part of an individual’s life, throughout history and
across cultures (e.g., Vaughan, 2002). However, unlike other
domains of human development such as the cognitive, the
motor or the emotional, relatively little attention has been paid
within canonical life span theories and models to the study of
spiritual development as integral to human normative develop-
ment (e.g., Roehlkepartain, King, Wagener, & Benson, 2006).
Furthermore, spiritual change and development are unlike other
change processes that individuals undergo, such as marriage or
choosing a career, given that they are more idiosyncratic and
less normatively anticipated by society. The salience of spiri-
tual change and development vary widely in different cultures
and for different individuals (Roehlkepartain et al., 2006) and
engaging in such processes often involves a volitional, con-
scious choice (Wink & Dillon, 2002). Thus, although the po-
tential for spiritual experiences and development is considered
inherent to human nature (Benson, Scales, Syvertsen, &
Roehlkepartain, 2012), it is not necessarily relevant to everyone
(Kiesling & Sorell, 2009). The present study sought to explore
the processes which support and facilitate personal spiritual
Spiritual Change
Spiritual change is broadly defined as a transformation, “a
change in the meaning system that a person holds as a basis for
self-definition, the interpretation of life, and overarching purposes
and ultimate concerns” (Paloutzian, 2005, p. 334). This conceptu-
alization highlights meaning-making as a central underlying di-
mension of spiritual change (Pargament, 2006; Wortmann & Park,
2009). A wide range of internal and contextual factors may insti-
gate such processes. These include socialization and spiritual/
religious practices that lead people to seek spiritual answers
(Chandler, Holden, & Kolander, 1992), as well as distinct life
experiences. These include, for instance, transitions in life and
stressful events that may challenge or destabilize existing meaning
systems, and function as turning points which shape the route of
one’s spiritual life (Fiori, Hays, & Meador, 2004; King, 2004).
Internal experiences that involve doubts, inner conflicts, and spir-
itual struggles may also lead people to search for new answers
regarding their spiritual concerns (Exline & Rose, 2005). Efforts to
cope with such disequilibrium and to rebuild meaning may include
processes of questioning, seeking and changing the way the spir-
itual is understood and experienced (Batson, Schoenrade, & Ven-
tis, 1993; Pargament & Mahoney, 2009; Wortmann & Park, 2009).
For example, one of the main domains of positive change as part
of posttraumatic growth following adversity is spiritual change,
reflecting an engagement with fundamental existential questions
and increased interest in issues of a spiritual or religious nature
(Shaw, Joseph, & Linley, 2005; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004).
Positively valenced distinctive events such as peak experiences as
well as religious, mystical, or transpersonal experiences may also
serve as catalysts for spiritual change (e.g., Greyson, 2006; Miller
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Pninit Russo-
Netzer, Department of Counseling and Human Development, University of
Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel. E-mail: pninit.russonetzer@
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Psychology of Religion and Spirituality © 2016 American Psychological Association
2016, Vol. 8, No. 2, 000 1941-1022/16/$12.00
& C’de Baca, 2001), by illuminating sudden insights and changes
in perspective that may alter individuals’ sense of self and meaning
(McDonald, 2008).
Historically, processes of spiritual change have taken place
within a particular organized religious tradition, and religion has
been described as involving “the search for significance that oc-
curs within the context of established institutions that are designed
to facilitate spirituality” (Pargament, Mahoney, Exline, Jones, &
Shafranske, 2013, p. 15). Spiritual change for individuals within
organized religion often involves a personal search for higher
meaning and purpose in relation to the divine, sacred, or the
transcendent within the dogma and the practices of that religion
such as in intensification and strengthening of faith (e.g., Danzig &
Sands, 2007; Pargament & Mahoney, 2009; Sandage & Moe,
2013). However, processes of spiritual change may also involve a
change of context, within the same religious tradition (such as in
shifting denomination) or change across religious traditions (such
as in “switching” between faiths or conversion) (Paloutzian, 2005;
Rambo, 1993; Sandage & Moe, 2013). They may also include
losing faith, disengagement from or leaving organized religion
(Spilka, Hood, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 2003), such as in ‘exiting’
processes (e.g., Davidman & Greil, 2007) and deconversion (i.e.,
the rejection of religion for a nonreligious worldview; Hood,
Csöff, Keller, & Silver, 2011).
This variety notwithstanding, spiritual change is described as
involving challenging and demanding internal processes that re-
quire support (e.g., Fuller, 2001; Paloutzian, 2005). Within reli-
gious traditions, such processes are often maintained, guided, and
facilitated by religious rituals and agents (e.g., Pargament & Ma-
honey, 2009; Rambo, 1993), which provide an organized and
coherent belief system, guidelines for behaviors, framework of
meaning and purpose to life (Park, 2005), and a means of social
support for difficulties when needed (Pargament, 1997; Shaw,
Joseph & Linley, 2005). These also include personal relations with
a spiritual guide or mentor such as a rabbi, a priest, or an imam, the
existence of a consensual worldview which serves as a guideline
for the moral and worthy life, and a community of believers to
belong to. For example, mechanisms of religion and social support
networks were found to play a crucial role in facilitating social-
ization, commitment and a sense of belonging for individuals
experiencing religious conversion processes (e.g., Gooren, 2007;
Kerley & Copes, 2009; Lofland & Stark, 1965). This is also
evident within the context of religious intensification in Judaism
(Baalei teshuvah), where individuals report social relationships
and belonging to a community as contributing to the continual
process of extensive learning and engagement in religious precepts
leading to strong commitment to Judaism (Danzig & Sands, 2007).
Spiritual Change Outside Institutional Religions
Spiritual change also occurs outside institutional religions. In
fact, recent studies of Western societies indicate that the phenom-
enon of individualized spirituality involving the search for ultimate
significance outside the boundaries of institutional religions is on
the rise (see Fuller, 2001; Streib, Silver, Csöff, Keller, & Hood,
2011). In the United States, for example, roughly 28% of all adults
and 33% of adults under 30 consider themselves spiritual but
religiously unaffiliated (Oman, 2013; Pew Research Center, 2012).
Evidence from Europe suggests a similar trend, with individual-
ization and a nonorthodox personal spirituality taking the place of
traditional religions and spiritualities characterized by transcen-
dent theism (e.g., Heelas, 2007; Houtman & Mascini, 2002). This
is the case also in Israel, where the present study was conducted.
About 42.5% of the Jewish population in Israel (Government of
Israel, Central Bureau of Statistics, 2013) identify themselves as
secular, in the sense of not belonging to a religious community and
not observing traditional rituals.
In contemporary Israel, the distinction between religious and
nonreligious affiliation is defined by marked characteristics,
such as ways of dressing, educational institutions, and daily
practices subscribing to either Orthodox or Conservative Jewish
belief (Ruah-Midbar, 2012). Thus, to the Israeli Jewish secular
population, their Jewish identity is often experienced as a
national or ethnic identity and not as a religious identity (Ez-
rachi, 2004). Furthermore, the lack of a clear separation be-
tween state and religion in Israel leads to the dominance of
religious laws (halakha), customs, and symbols in a variety of
spheres. This state of affairs often evokes resentment toward
religiosity and Jewish orthodoxy (Pelleg & Leichtentritt, 2009)
because it is perceived as involving coercion. The transition to
an individualistic worldview and the deepening of social, cultural,
and ideological crises of identity spurred a search for alternative
sources for meaning and resulted in an increased interest in and
move toward spiritual and metaphysical venues of personal spiri-
tual meaning in Israeli society (Beit-Hallahmi, 1992). This is
evident in the growing interest and involvement in contemporary
alternative spiritualities that may lead to significant changes in life
(Ruah-Midbar, 2012; Simchai, 2009).
Spiritual change processes that take place outside institutional
religious frameworks often reflect and are influenced by the char-
acteristics of the postmodern sociocultural context (e.g., Heelas,
1996; Roof, 1999). For example, the current postmodern world is
characterized by a lack of stability, a lack of certainty, and the
dissolution of binding traditional frameworks (Buxant, Saroglou,
& Tesser, 2010). In such a context, and in the absence of a
sanctified authority to relate and attend to, the self is considered to
be an authority and the constructor and creator of norms and
standards (Roof, 1993, 1999). This is reflected in a shift from
loyalty, commitment, and social belonging to an ideology of
autonomy and agency (Sutcliffe, 2000), in which “the ‘individual’
serves as his or her own source of guidance” (Heelas, 1996, p. 23).
For example, the literature discussing deconversion argues that
such processes may often be experienced as solitary, as disaffili-
ation often requires the severing of both primary and secondary
social ties (Streib et al., 2011; Sandomirsky & Wilson, 1990). In a
broader sense, this is reflected in what Wuthnow (1998) has
described as the contemporary changing spiritual landscape from
’spirituality of dwelling,’ which emphasizes a particular (typically
religious) community and tradition that provides stability and
security, toward a predominance of a ‘spirituality of seeking.’ The
latter involves open-ended seeking and journeying within or be-
yond the boundaries of religious institutions, emphasizing experi-
ence, transition, and eclecticisms (Roof, 1993, 1999; Wuthnow,
1998), reflected in selective or uncommitted explorations of prac-
tices and worldviews (Smith & Snell, 2009).
Self-initiated processes within the fluid, eclectic, and deregu-
lated arena of alternative spirituality (Bruce, 1996; Sutcliffe, 2000)
are for the most part voluntary (Roehlkepartain et al., 2006) and
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
idiosyncratic (Kwilecki, 1999). Thus, individuals are faced with
the challenge of personally constructing their own worldview and
identity with less clear guidance of traditions and support of stable
structures and designated authorities to guide this process.
The lack of established religious rituals, agents, and social
networks illuminates the need for a better understanding of the
elements, circumstances, and processes that support individualized
spiritual change processes outside established religious contexts, a
phenomenon which is on the rise in contemporary postmodern
Western societies. In line with the call to explore spirituality using
methodology that does not distance itself from people’s experi-
ences (e.g., Pargament & Mahoney, 2009), the present study
utilized a bottom-up qualitative approach to explore the question—
are there any processes that can be identified as supporting indi-
viduals in sustaining a self-led change process outside institutional
religions, which is often idiosyncratic and eclectic? The primary
interest of a qualitative design is understanding how individuals
ascribe meaning to or interpret a given phenomenon (e.g., Hodge,
2001; Merriam, 1998). Of the variety of qualitative research meth-
ods available, the phenomenological research method was chosen
because it places a specific focus on exploring the meaning of
phenomena in human experience (Giorgi, 1997) from the perspec-
tives of the individuals themselves (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994).
Participants were recruited via multiple methods, including ad-
vertisements in various areas and Internet forums, as well as the
“snowball” method (i.e., asking one participant to recommend
others for interviewing; Babbie, 1995). A broad and open invita-
tion was provided, as follows: “For an in-depth study, we are
searching for individuals who have undergone, or are currently
undergoing, spiritual change in their lives.” As is customary in
qualitative methods, the sample size in the present study was
determined by the saturation principle: data were collected and
analyzed until no new themes emerged (Padgett, 1998). The final
sample included the first 27 people who responded to this open
invitation and experienced spiritual change outside the boundaries
of institutional religion; that is, they did not describe themselves as
participating in an organized traditional Jewish community. Three
people who responded to the invitation but whose spiritual change
was directed toward institutional religion were not included. The
sample included 13 men and 14 women who came from a variety
of spiritual orientations, such as Transcendental meditation, New
Kabbalah, Buddhism, and Shamanism (see Table 1 in the online
Supplemental Materials for more detail on the sample). Although
participants often reported having a current preferred and perhaps
dominant orientation or practice, all of them described a process of
search that involved several spiritual orientations and noted that in
their current worldview and conduct they mix aspects from differ-
ent spiritual perspectives. Despite this variety, based on in-depth
analyses of their interviews it appeared that for all the participants,
the change process was experienced as fundamental and culmi-
nated in the establishment of a new “post-modern” committed
spiritual identity that involved several coexisting dialectics (see
Russo-Netzer & Mayseless, 2014). Furthermore, the process of
spiritual change was experienced by them as work on the self,
which comprises two complementary processes: uncovering and
cleansing the self—the Spiritual-Psychological facet—and expanding
it and rising above—the Spiritual-Transpersonal facet (Russo-Netzer
& Mayseless, under review).
All participants were Jewish Israeli, from various ethnic origins
(51.85% “Ashkenazi,” i.e., of European American origin, 33.3%
“Mizrahi”, i.e., of Asian-African origin, and 14.8% mixed origin).
Ages ranged between 25 and 66 years (M45.3; SD 10.9).
Regarding education levels, participants ranged from high school
graduates (28%), graduates of technical schools/professional di-
ploma (28%), to college graduates (44%). Fourteen participants
were married, six divorced, six single, and one widowed. The
participants differed in the length of the change process at the time
they were interviewed, ranging roughly from five years or less
(four participants), five to 10 years (10 participants), 10 to 15 years
(10 participants), and more than 15 years (three participants). See
Table 1 in the online Supplemental Materials for further informa-
In-depth face-to-face semistructured interviews were employed,
lasting between 1.5 and 3.5 hours (M141 min; SD 39.82). All
interviews were conducted by the first author and were audiotaped
and transcribed verbatim. The participants signed an informed
consent following a detailed explanation of the research and their
rights prior to the beginning of each interview. Each interview
began with a general, open-ended question regarding the experi-
ence of the spiritual aspect in the participants’ lives, enabling them
to speak spontaneously and describe their personal and subjective
experience as freely as possible in their own words:
I am interested in the personal experience of people who have under-
gone, or are currently undergoing, a change in their lives which they
define as spiritual. Could you please tell me how you experience the
spiritual aspect of your life?
Throughout the interview, whenever necessary, the participants
were asked open-ended probing questions to encourage them to
elaborate, clarify meanings, reveal unexplored points or provide
further details and examples, to achieve in-depth understanding of
their experiences. For example: “What made this change possi-
ble?”, “Can you describe that particular experience / incident in
more detail?”, “What was it like?” or “Can you give an example?”
(van Manen, 1990). All interviews took place in the participants’
homes at their preferred time, to maintain a familiar environment
(Creswell, 2007) and allow them the conditions of time, space and
convenience to freely and spontaneously develop their story in
their own way, pace and language.
Data Analysis
A phenomenological analysis of the interview transcripts was
employed to gain a deeper understanding of underlying facilitators
of the spiritual change process. All interviews were read indepen-
dently several times to gain an overall impression of the partici-
pants’ experiences until a sense of immersion had been obtained.
Then, ‘meaning units’ as expressed by the participants (Giorgi,
1975) were identified, through a process of ‘open coding’ (Strauss
& Corbin, 1990). These separate meaning units were used to create
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
descriptive categories of basic themes to construct an initial frame-
work for further analysis. Next, the various categories and basic
themes were reexamined and compared for possible connections
across individual meaning expressions as well as between partic-
ipants. In this stage, the different general and unique themes were
gathered and grouped across the interviews into clusters of similar
issues, resulting in two main categories. Although the process is
presented here in a linear form, in practice it represented a cyclic
process, as each stage built upon its predecessor, for each case
separately and across all cases. As such, it involved a dynamic and
repeated back-and-forth movement between “the parts” (i.e., texts
and quotations) and “the whole” (i.e., the entire transcript), be-
tween units of meaning and general themes (e.g., van Manen,
Qualitative methods have employed various criteria of quality
such as validity, rigor, trustworthiness, fairness, authenticity, and
credibility (Morrow, 2005). Guided by the phenomenological par-
adigm, which honors reflectivity and subjectivity, the present
study took into account constructivist criteria and trustworthiness
standards such as dependability (“a systematic process systemati-
cally followed”; Patton, 2002, p. 546), verstehen, or the deep
understanding of the participants’ meanings, a dialogue between
various perspectives and researcher reflexivity (Morrow, 2005;
Patton, 2002). These were addressed through methods of memo-
writing and reflexive research diary (Wall, Glenn, Mitchinson, &
Poole, 2004) throughout the process to record researcher’s reflec-
tions and interpretations (van Manen, 1990). At the same time, a
continuous process of critical discussion of the data was con-
ducted, including feedback and insights from independent col-
leagues, enabling triangulation and increased vigor of the analysis
and interpretations. In addition, all of the interpretations were
grounded in direct and rich extracts from the interviews (Stiles,
The participants recounted that as part of their spiritual change
process, they are (or were) involved in exploring various spiritual
practices and some forms of spiritual orientations. However, they
did not identify themselves as adhering to a specific structured
religious/spiritual tradition. Rather, they described a self-led pro-
cess which is creatively and idiosyncratically constructed by the
individual her/himself, and combines different elements from a
range of practices, traditions and beliefs explored by them. The
diverse ways and sources that serve these individuals in piecing
together their spiritual change process reflect postmodern values of
multiplicity, relativism, and choice, as well as the personalized and
eclectic nature of the process. This highlights the importance of
identifying what supports such idiosyncratic processes. The fol-
lowing example from Nathan (all names are pseudonyms to protect
the privacy and anonymity of the participants) exemplifies the
participants’ need for support in facilitating and maintaining the
process of spiritual change and describes the different resources
that he relies upon:
There are many challenges in this process, a lot . . . the hardest thing
is where you feel very alone, misunderstood . . . or where I encoun-
tered a lot of barriers, a lot of frustrating points at which I don’t know
where to go. Sometimes I don’t even know where I am going. As a
result of trusting the process, I knew what to do. I knew I had to
sometimes get help from other people, to go to a clinician, caregiver
or coach, to work on myself, to meditate, all sorts of things that always
brought me the answer. It doesn’t make it easy. I think that the
strongest tool I probably have is some kind of ability to stop and
observe what is right for me at the moment. [Nathan, male, 43]
The analyses regarding the issue of support underscored two
main kinds of supporting resources: personal-internal and external-
Personal-Internal Resources
Several personal resources were identified in all of the inter-
views as supporting the change process according to the partici-
pants: (a) deliberate choice, (b) courage, and (c) intentional atten-
tion and awareness.
Deliberate choice. Deliberate choice emerged from the inter-
views as important to the participants’ commitment to their spir-
itual change process. Yasmin, for example, refers to her deliberate
choice as the mechanism that allows her to hold different dimen-
sions and still maintain a solid core:
I choose. Yes, this is essentially what keeps me going . . . it helps me
to be able to constantly be drawn to different directions, even if they
are contradictory, but at the same time it also helps me to get back to
my center, to keep myself centered. [Yasmin, female, 25]
Tali described a clear and thoughtful choice which involves a
personal responsibility toward maintaining and coping with the
continuous process of inner change:
You do this [spiritual] work because you want to understand, to
learn, to change, to crack, to agree to see who you really are and
it is hard . . . it’s really hard because it means getting inside your
gut, going all the way . . . you have to be in a state where you
understand that you can choose and that you are strong enough to
choose and take responsibility for it. It’s knowing that there is a
hand somewhere that is reached out for you, if only you would
agree to reach yours as well. It will come but you have to want it,
to choose it. [Tali, female, 53]
Similarly, Nathan emphasized the significant place of his con-
scious choice to be committed to the spiritual path:
I think that choice is the essential thing here. I chose this [spiritual]
path. I chose and I continue to choose every day to remain in the
position of choosing . . . there is always a choice of whether to persist
. . . and the universe, it tries you out, to check if you are really serious.
[Nathan, male, 43]
Rachel [female, 59] highlighted that the element of choice is not
passive but associated with making an effort and with doing: “You
have to choose to see the opportunity in what happens to you in life
and to grab it, but, more importantly, you have to be willing to do
something about it.”
Alongside the importance of choice, some participants also
articulated a strong conviction that there is no turning back once
the process has begun:
When you start to work on yourself and you start change, it’s very
hard and unpleasant, and you really want to say ’stop, what do I need
all this for? . . . But at the same moment that I say it, it is clear to me
that I have no choice. I have no choice, because once you start to see
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there is no going back, you can’t stop seeing and say ‘it’s all good.’
[Meirav, female, 45]
A similar conviction was articulated by Reuven:
I don’t have a choice . . . it’s like wanting to go back to being a child
again. A child has fun, he doesn’t have that much of heavy respon-
sibility, but I am already part of the process. I can’t go back anymore
. . . because I understand that I want to remove the foreskin, the blind
that covers my eyes and I want to see, I really want to see. It’s like in
that movie, ‘Matrix’. Once you take the pill, you can’t go back . . . life
becomes real. [Reuven, male, 47]
Such a lack of choice or an inability to “go back” to a previously
held worldview essentially reflects the difference between two
elements of the change process: “knowing” and “working.” Once
the participants have entered the spiritual change process, their
worldview has changed and they can no longer choose to deny
what they know or “close their eyes.” “Working,” as part of their
personal change process however, is a matter of choice and such
choice sustains their engagement in light of the demanding nature
of the process.
Courage. The participants also highlighted the importance of
courage in their commitment to the process. Yogev, for example,
noted courage as an inner guide that led him to find meaning in and
to develop a commitment to the process:
To do this kind of demanding work you have to have courage.
Spiritual courage. That kind of courage allows you to be willing to
take risks because you know they are worth taking since they rein-
force something within you. [Yogev, male, 53]
Yasmin also highlighted the importance of courage to support-
ing her throughout the process:
You have to be willing to go through whatever happens . . . and I
mean whatever happens, whether it’s fear, or pain, or anything else
. . . so courage is a very important ingredient in this process, in
confronting these things. [Yasmin, female, 25]
Dorit identified two facets to courage derived from personal
determination—an inner courage to contain internal challenges or
struggles, and an external courage to endure in the process despite
external challenges:
It demands a lot of courage . . . an inner courage to cope with
things that are rising from the inside, and an external courage of
not ascribing too much meaning or importance to things everyone
else does . . . it requires that you know your direction and stick to
it. [Dorit, female, 52]
Reuven also described courage as twofold, and highlighted the
dual complementary facets of courage in overcoming fears and
pain, and in trusting the process even when “you do not under-
You need to be someone who isn’t afraid to want to reform oneself . . .
someone who isn’t scared to run headfirst into a wall and is not afraid
of pain. Because pain and suffering are elements that make you amend
yourself....It’s also not being afraid to trust. Because once I learn
to trust my inner system, it means understanding that in many cases
there are things that have their own place even if they don’t make
sense. [Reuven, male, 47]
Intentional attention and awareness. The participants also
overwhelmingly underscored the importance of being self-aware
and reflective. Amit described the important interaction between
being present, paying attention and an openness to see and accept:
You must be present, and must pay attention to what happens so you
are able to really encounter reality, or other people....Ilisten
attentively, and when I encounter helplessness I say, ’here, my teacher
has arrived’, and then rather than feeling like I have to prove some-
thing, I can release it to explore what I really want and choose what
is right from within. [Amit, male, 51]
Rachel articulated how close attention to and awareness of inner
voices as well as of external reality throughout the process requires
patience and mindful attention:
It means looking at it as a process throughout time, and being patient
with the process . . . it is very meaningful to stop and observe, to ask
ourselves and to listen. [Rachel, female, 59]
Yasmin also stressed intentional self-awareness and observing
as critical:
Awareness is critical. You can’t do this process without awareness.
It’s not something you do because someone ‘brainwashed’ you. It
has to come from you. It has force and power because it comes
from your awareness, from your observation, from your attentive-
ness. You have to be able to observe. If you don’t, you can’t do it.
[Yasmin, female, 25]
The participants highlighted the importance of intentionally
being attentive, open and self-aware throughout the process.
Yaron, for example, noted:
You need to have a strong will to be open and attentive. In my
experience, you need to maintain open eyes and an open heart. To
be willing to be aware, to learn things about yourself, to acknowl-
edge how much you don’t actually know and to be open to it.
[Yaron, male, 26]
In sum, the participants described several personal-internal re-
sources: deliberate choice, courage and engagement in intentional
and mindful attention, all of which contributed to their persistence
in maintaining a continuous and demanding self-authored spiritual
change process.
External–Environmental Resources
Along with the internal supporting processes, the participants
also pointed out the significance of external support in the process.
These included the following: (a) the availability of spiritual
contexts and experiences, (b) specific spiritual groups and like-
minded peers, (c) spiritual teachers, and (d) a sense of connection
to a higher power or the transcendent.
The availability of spiritually related contexts and
experiences. The participants described an active exploration of
different and diverse spiritual orientations and practices. Many of
them participated in workshops, retreats, courses, and voluntary
spiritual practice groups (such as Vipassana, Mindfulness, or Tran-
scendental Meditation). In addition, they described participating in
the joint study of “spiritual materials” with others, such as scrip-
tures from different religions, channeled materials, Shamanism,
courses in miracles, ancient Eastern texts such as Buddhist sutras,
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and so forth. Some of these practice groups, retreats, or study
groups were led by spiritual teachers and some included same-
status peers. The participants also engaged in dyadic interpersonal
interactions led by spiritual teachers as well as in informal con-
versations with their peers. The availability of a variety of contexts
and groups supported the participants’ spiritual exploration, study,
and practice, and allowed them to be exposed to and to experience
a wide variety of traditions, approaches, and disciplines, and to
come up with their own mixture of spiritual beliefs and practices.
The availability of the spiritual context also enabled the partici-
pants to select a community that would resonate with their choices
and interests. Yaron provided a clear and lively delineation of
these issues:
I began to see, to feel, that there is something beyond. Something that
I don’t exactly know how to explain in words, and I began to slowly
search for its meaning . . . I began to really get into, to delve into some
kind of spiritual search process. To read a lot of books, and engage in
all sorts of channeling, and courses and workshops, and Reiki, past
life regression, Meditation, Vipassana, and Buddhism, rebirthing, a lot
of searching, searching for questions, for answers . . . it’s a lot but I
can see truths in all kinds of ways . . . because each of us is a bit
different and the variety of ways that exist today allow you to explore
and understand things more deeply through different approaches. So
you can really cover a wider spectrum. Because, eventually, all of this
searching and exploration of different workshops, practices or meth-
ods are basically ways of ‘knowing thyself.’ All these allow me to
know myself from the inside. [Yaron, male, 26]
To the participants, the active exploration of an eclectic variety
of approaches constitutes a kind of mosaic that integrates different
beliefs and traditions that coexist with no contradictions, as in the
following illustrations by Boaz and Meirav:
I feel that my path was paved. It was paved through Indian Shaman-
ism, Celtic Shamanism, Hebrew Shamanism, Jehovah, Kabbalah....
I basically synthesize beliefs to make my own path. Whatever felt
right to me, from anything, I took it and synthesized it. And there is
no contradiction, everything is connected and integrated together for
me. [Boaz, male, 63]
I did some Kabbalah, and Buddhism, a lot of Vipassana and Yemima
[a method for conscious awareness], and this integration between
them was just what I needed, although my [spiritual] teacher didn’t
like it because people tend to think that their way is the right one, but
I don’t think so....Ilove the connections, the combination. I can be,
for example, when I’m in a retreat to translate to myself Buddhism to
Yemima and Kabbalah, and the other way around, because for me, all
of that are really connected and complement each other. They hold the
same universal truth. [Meirav, female, 45]
Although the participants appear to be involved in various
spiritual practices and some forms of spiritual orientations as part
of their spiritual change process, they do not adopt a specific
structured religious/spiritual tradition. Such eclecticism and mix-
ture between traditions and practices appears to reflect the partic-
ipants’ belief in perennialism (i.e., the view that all traditions and
religions share the same essential truth; Heelas, 1996).
Spiritual groups and like-minded peers. The discovery of
like-minded peers, groups, or networks that are open to the spiri-
tual and who engage in spiritual processes endowed the partici-
pants with a sense of belonging to a community, and provided
support throughout the demanding change process. This was ar-
ticulated by them as finding a ‘shared language’ with people who
understand them, as can be seen in the following excerpt by Ziva:
I don’t share my experiences with everyone because they won’t
understand. It is like speaking a foreign language. But there are people
I met in workshops and events and we have a shared path. We
strengthen each other; it is an environment that supports and rein-
forces my process [. . .] it feels like a community, I feel like I found
my ’soul family,’ because I feel that the connection is so strong and
powerful with these people that I can’t explain it otherwise. [Ziva,
female, 44]
Nofar articulated a similar experience, reflecting on the impor-
tance of taking part in a group that “speaks the same language”, as
a community committed to cooperative learning and development:
When I got to this group, it made me suddenly see that there are other
people who speak the same language, the spiritual language . . . you
feel a connection. [Nofar, female, 47]
The group and the connection with like-minded peers allowed
the participants to engage in self-reflection, to elaborate on past
and current difficulties, and to reintegrate them in a holistic,
broader scope. The group further provided the enabling conditions
of intimacy and trust that the participants could use to share their
personal experiences and behavior, and experiences in the group
taught them about themselves. Nathan and Shelley recounted such
a situation:
I had an experience there [at a workshop] that I couldn’t explain. An
experience that felt especially good to me, that made me cry, not out
of sadness, but from joy. I didn’t know why. And then I realized that
I saw the people around me and I felt the connection, I felt love, I felt
close to them . . . I had some kind of paradigm about life, I’ve seen the
world and the people within it as a rather cold and alienated place . . .
and this experience suddenly made me see, it made me really expe-
rience that everyone is looking for warmth and love. And that is what
eventually made me become connected and simply melted away
something within me, that brought down some kind of wall I had
within me. It made me cry....Itopened a crack in me, it made me
realize that there is something very big here that I don’t understand in
life. [Nathan, male, 43]
It’s like being in my weakest, most vulnerable, spot—and there to be
accepted . . . it is a healing place. In the group there are very intimate
encounters among people who are actually strangers, which I think
allows some kind of process of self-acceptance that is very deep . . .
there is something very liberating when you disclose a wounded place,
it doesn’t matter what, in front of people . . . because everyone was
there and saw how much I hurt, even how much I lack control, and
nothing [bad] happened. Everything was alright. [Shelley, female, 32]
Yaron pointed out the insights gained in group processes that
mirror and reflect what they see in a person as supporting factors
in an otherwise individualistic change process:
What is good in a group is reflection. Reflection means a group that
you trust, people you love and can rely upon to truly reflect something
out of love, to point out the places that you don’t want to see, I think
that is the power of a group . . . they can show you the way, the door,
but only you can open it and pass through it. Most of the work remains
yours. [Yaron, male, 26]
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Along with providing emotional support and acceptance, the
groups also functioned as a context for meaningful interactive
experiences with peers that often revolved around sharing ideas
and personal perspectives, joint learning and the discovery of new
ideas and information. Roee, for example, discussed the impor-
tance of joining others who shared the spiritual process in order to
explore, learn, clarify and crystallize insights:
I joined this group that was involved with the evolution of conscious-
ness, where we explore together and meditate together and ask spir-
itual questions together, which develops your consciousness. The fact
that there is a group that thinks about what spirituality means or what
it means to develop, makes us develop ourselves and our conscious-
ness . . . new patterns are created, new forms of communication or
understanding. It’s like some kind of advanced brainstorming. [Roee,
male, 44]
Spiritual teachers. The participants emphasized the impor-
tance of spiritual teachers as significant sources for insights and as
supporters of their spiritual change process, as can be seen in the
following excerpt from Shay:
You must have a teacher . . . it’s a big mistake for people to treat
themselves . . . you must. It gives you an opportunity to grow. By
myself, I can progress until I reach a limit, but I can’t see. I can’t
really know what I look like from a bystander’s viewpoint, no matter
what. Even if I stand in front of a mirror, I don’t know what I look like
. . . I need someone to show me what I look like. Thus, whoever wants
to really, really develop, must have a teacher. [Shay, male, 34]
Participants articulated the importance of the spiritual teacher as
a “living model” and as a source for knowledge and guidance:
Throughout the process you feel that you need someone. It’s like in
anything, you must have a teacher. You can’t learn to play music from
a book . . . it’s not like learning from a master who is an expert, a
living model . . . he lives it and he can pass his skills to you because
it [what is passed] is a living thing, not a dead one. It’s not something
that you can learn from a book. It’s not something you can see on
television . . . it must be someone who leads you . . . otherwise you
can’t. It’s like you are going into the jungle. Our mind is like a jungle,
you can’t wander around there alone. You must have someone to
guide you, to direct you through your emotions, your thoughts, your
ups and downs within. [Dorit, female, 52]
Yogev recounted a relationship with a spiritual teacher that
reinforced his self-confidence and allowed him to acknowledge an
unrecognized part of himself:
In the interactions with him, I felt that he was taking me or this part
of me [the spiritual; P.R.N] more seriously than I did myself. And in
each such interaction, he treated me or my spiritual yearning in
complete seriousness, which reinforced and made me more and more
aware of this dimension....Sothis is something that I think is one
of the most important services that a spiritual teacher can do for his
students. [Yogev, male, 53]
A similar experience of such meaningful dyadic relationship
was described by Ziva whose spiritual teacher facilitated her
self-discovery and empowerment:
During the workshop, the teacher carried out personal processes on
people in front of the group. He sat in front of me and there was some
kind of process where he held me and I burst into tears. It wasn’t
crying, it was shouting and yelling, there was just so much pain . . .
and the most amazing thing for me was that when I looked at him, I
saw that he was crying with me. It was just amazing. He was there
with me, for me. Something in his presence, you feel his power . . . it’s
like there was something there that allowed me to release all that pain
. . . It’s very powerful. . . . I think that what I met there is love, loving
myself, and loving without an object. You feel it towards all living
things. [Ziva, female, 44]
Elsewhere in her interview, Ziva distinguished between a
teacher who exemplifies a humane model for development and
shares the spiritual path, and a “guru,” who she perceives as
reflecting a nonequal relationship of dependence and relinquish-
ment of personal responsibility, and also talks about nonsupportive
encounters with teachers:
I am not a ‘guru’ kind of person, who favors erasing myself. What I
mean is that I love teachers who are human beings. I am not looking
for someone who will be above me . . . what I really love in the
teacher I am working with is that he never pretends to be enlightened,
or even close to being enlightened. He exposes his weaknesses so
much, his humanness, and I really appreciate that. I can learn from
such teachers. Because they are like me. They did a process, worked
on themselves. I can see whether I can also go through this process,
through the same work that they did. There were also teachers and
moderators that hurt me, that I went through a very rocky process with
and who I felt were not there for me [. . .] those were very scary and
painful moments. [Ziva, female, 44]
Such reservation, accompanied by an inner examination and
exploration of the spiritual teacher is also reflected by Roee:
I think you should be very careful not to turn a teacher into a ’guru,’
to blindly adore him . . . you should check what is right for you, if it
is right for you....Because you will eventually need to learn for
yourself, for real . . . the teacher is only a guide to show you the way,
that’s all. He can’t replace you in your path. [Roee, male, 44]
Higher power. The higher power, the ultimate or the tran-
scendent emerged from the participants’ experiences as a signifi-
cant source of support and trust, representing some kind of ‘secure
base’ (a secure ‘place’ from which to explore), as well as a ‘safe
haven’ (a ‘place’ that comforts you when you are agitated, dis-
tressed or frustrated and angry) that allowed the participants to
trust and feel ‘held’ throughout the process. Although participants
came from a variety of traditions and beliefs, this was apparent in
all the interviews. Although participants referred to their feelings
and mental states (e.g., feeling secure) they clearly referred to
these experiences as emanating from outside help and from an
entity, energy, or force that represents a transcendent external
source, and not synonymous with the self. Shay and Tali, for
example, articulated an experience of a strong connection to the
transcendent that is perceived by them as a source for support
and comfort and which empowers them to cope with challenges
in the process (Shay refers to a ‘safe haven’ and Tali to a
‘secure base’):
The greatest gift of channeling, at least for me, is that they [channeled
entities] are always quiet, they are always silent. No matter the drama
I am in, they always maintain a silence that is a kind of anchor . . . a
constant reminder that it’s not the end of the world, which is very
meaningful in moments of adversity and difficulties in the process.
[Shay, male, 34]
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It’s like walking in the world knowing that there is something beyond.
You know, it’s like you have something like an angel that guards you
. . . and it gives you the strength to cope, even with crises in the
process and with the insights. [Tali, female, 53]
Amit emphasized that such a connection with the transcendent is
established by conscious and volitional trust and confidence rather
than by the fear of a ‘punishing God,’ which he associates with
religious tradition:
It’s trust, trust and confidence, that helps you to continue and be
present, to become aware, to see things as they are . . . it’s trust in my
deep connection, in some kind of personal connection with ’what is
beyond,’ that is conscious and aware, a trust that is not based on the
fear of some kind of a grandfather-God who sits up in heaven and
observes you, and disciplines you, and punishes you like in religion,
which I find to be a childish and naive perception of divinity. I trust
and have faith in what is immanent, in all that exists in a universe
which is greater than me alone. [Amit, male, 51]
This inner sense of trust in the process, which is derived from
‘knowing’ that the transcendent, the ultimate or the ‘beyond’
guides and supports them throughout the process is evident in the
words of Boaz, who emphasized that such an essence lies at the
core of specific manifestations of different traditions:
You can’t be in this spiritual process without faith or trust. And it
doesn’t matter what you call it: universe, nature, or the KanTaka,
which is the great spirit of the Indians, or God....Because when you
break the things that you grew up on during this process, you are like
a baby in troubled water. You need to trust something, or you will
drown. You must trust something much bigger than you. Something
infinite that you are a part of. [Boaz, male, 63]
A few participants also referred to the love they perceived from
that source:
It is not a belief nor a religion, it’s knowing that you can be helped,
that you have ‘someone’ to talk to . . . that you are not alone, which
is a huge thing. It changes everything completely . . . it’s fantastic,
this feeling of unconditional acceptance, it heals so many places
inside....Ican’t imagine my life without the connection to heavens,
this higher wisdom, this guidance, however you want to call it . . .
God, the angels, the divine spirit, the Holy One Blessed Be He . . . it
doesn’t matter what you call it, the connection is just essential. It’s
impossible to live without it . . . this acceptance, the unconditional
love you get, supports you on your way. [Mira, female, 57]
In sum, it appears that alongside personal-internal resources, the
participants also use external-environmental resources in order to
initiate and preserve a process of personal spiritual change. These
included supportive interpersonal relationships with peers and
teachers, the availability of an enabling sociocultural context, and
a sense of connection to an infinite source of higher power which
transcends the private self but is unmediated by organized religion.
The present study explored processes facilitating personal spir-
itual change, experienced by the participants as a major change in
their lives. The findings demonstrate that despite the rather am-
biguous, unaffiliated, and fluid nature of their spiritual change
process, the participants were able to secure for themselves dif-
ferent sources of support and a sense of direction. The two main
forms of supporting processes discussed above, namely, the
personal-internal and the external-environmental, can be seen as
reflecting a multidimensional support system that includes both
‘reaching-in’ and ‘reaching-out’ to resources that helped maintain-
ing the participants’ spiritual change process.
Inner Processes
The personal-internal resources that were identified reflect in-
trinsic motivation processes, involving deliberate choice, courage,
and intentional attention and awareness. These resources reflect
the operation of inner guidance and self-reliance, which facilitate
and support the participants’ capability to manage experiences and
challenges throughout the process. The participants’ focus on
conscious choice underscores the importance of volitional engage-
ment in their development and growth. This finding lends support
to Benson et al. (2012) assertions that spiritual development in-
volves a volitional, conscious choice of active engagement. A
similar view of the importance of choice was also eminent in
accounts of quantum changes, in which, despite sudden experi-
ences of conviction, individuals still articulated active choice to
embrace or reject such experiences and the implications for their
lives (Miller & C’de Baca, 2001). In the context of the present
study, such volitional involvement appears to allow the partici-
pants to actively maintain their self-led process, to perceive chal-
lenges and barriers as opportunities for further development, and to
fuel their efforts toward maintaining the demanding processes
Another internal resource which emerged as important for the
participants’ engagement in the spiritual change process is courage
to face and confront internal as well as external struggles, uncer-
tainties, and challenges. Courage has been viewed as the energiz-
ing impetus for choosing growth over safety needs (see Goud,
2005). The participants in the present study are not provided with
a clear image or structured script of the nature of their change
process as is often the case with affiliation to organized religions
(e.g., Davidman & Greil, 2007; Gooren, 2007). The strength
gained through adopting a courageous attitude toward the “un-
known,” which is involved with a self-led change process appears
to reinforce the participants’ capability to exercise their agency
throughout and to “trust the process.”
The interviews further uncovered the noteworthy importance of
the participants’ reliance on inner reflection processes, which
involved directed attention and self-awareness. The importance of
such capacities has been apparent since antiquity, when the Pythia,
the Delphic Oracle implored each supplicant to ‘know thyself’
above all things, and Socrates suggested that the ‘unexamined life’
should be avoided. It is also evident in contemporary views which
regard spiritual development as a process of awakening to our
inherent spiritual nature (e.g., Wilber, 2000) and practices that
emphasize the importance of self-awareness and reflection for
personal development such as mindfulness (e.g., Brown & Ryan,
The participants in the present study appear to not only engage
in self-awareness and attentive observing on a continuous basis,
but also clearly articulate their own awareness of the significance
of these processes to their spiritual change process. The reflective
dialogue engendered by processes of self-exploration and atten-
tiveness contributed to their enhanced self-assurance, self-reliance,
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and increased sense of personal accountability. Such inner aware-
ness is thus manifested in a coherent metacognition and does not
resemble rumination. These inner processes helped the participants
become aware of their experiences, to provide an anchoring struc-
ture and thus allowed them to let go of previous knowledge or
self-narratives and open up to the unknown in order to be able to
transform and change. Together the inner strengths allowed them
to feel agentic and competent.
External Support
Beyond the processes described above, which reflect a turn
inward for support, as well as a reliance on personal agency and
self-awareness, the present study revealed that the process of
spiritual change is also strongly supported by relatedness. Such
relatedness is experienced by the participants as both ‘horizontal’
(i.e., other peers, sociocultural context) and ‘vertical’ (i.e., the
transcendent), and it appears to grant them a sense of being held
and supported throughout the process.
In the horizontal sense, spiritual change is embedded in and
facilitated by sociocultural contexts and their concomitant inter-
personal interactions. The effect of the general cultural context
with the multiplicity of alternative spiritualities is reflected in the
availability of different types of spiritualities to experience, ex-
plore, or examine. This context and its diverse groups, courses,
books, and workshops, as well as the open space it creates, may
offer legitimacy and encouragement for inner spiritual change
processes as well as play an important role in facilitating the
participants’ self-led change process. The personalized, autono-
mous, and eclectic nature of the process, as well as the moral
relativism it embraces (Tucker, 2002), are manifested in the di-
verse ways and sources individuals employ in assembling their
continuously unfolding process. ‘Reaching-out’ to like-minded
peers who share similar processes of spiritual exploration and
change, and facilitating contexts such as spiritual groups provided
the participants with an opportunity to find others who ‘speak the
same language’ as them, and to feel understood.
This resonates with processes within religious contexts, where
social structures such as religious or faith-based communities
promote social interaction and reinforce a collective set of shared
values (e.g., Ebstyne King & Furrow, 2004; Smith, 2003), embed-
ded within a strong grounded sense of group identity (Braam et al.,
2001). However, although their function appears to be rather
similar, the nature of the various forms of alternative spirituality
communities in the present study is different from the more tradi-
tional close-knit communities of institutional religion as they are
less organized and less formal. Some of these communities are
formed ad hoc such as groups or alternative spiritual classes that
work together for a limited time, as well as workshops, retreats,
and festivals. Such contexts are experienced by the participants as
more fluid, diffused, and flexible. As Bruce (2006) explains, “the
weakness of community in the New Age alternative spirituality is
not an accident but an inevitable consequence of its solipsistic
basis of authority . . . the self is the final arbiter of truth and
utility.” (p. 42). Hence, although not contextualized within an
organized and stable community with clear values and ideologies,
the comradeship they found in groups and fellow searchers who
helped them along the process provided them a sense of support,
connection, and relatedness together with individual self-
More specifically, groups provided two main types of support:
(a) the nurturance of joint learning and development, and (b) an
affirming and emotionally supportive fellowship which encour-
aged self-expression, and which provided validating and empow-
ering experiences. Such contexts thus allowed the participants to
address their deep human need for acceptance and belonging (e.g.,
Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Deci & Ryan, 2000), as well as to
support and reinforce their inner processes of self-awareness and
self-discovery while encountering challenging emotions and psy-
chological difficulties. Such support was achieved through shar-
ing, mutual exploration and learning, as well as through the ex-
pression and recrystallization of insights, beliefs and attitudes. The
need for confirmation and reassurance was satisfied through the
experiences of emotional resonance and validation. Furthermore,
and through their encounters with others, the participants could
also learn about themselves and gain in vivo insights related to
their behavior and interactions in the world. In a broader sense,
such interactions contributed to the participants’ sense of self-love
and self-acceptance that was also mirrored in their own growth in
love and caring for others. This was evident both within the
various contexts and groups to which they were exposed and as an
overarching sense of interconnectedness, acceptance, caring, and
contribution, which emerged as important ingredients of their
spiritual identity following their change process (Russo-Netzer &
Mayseless, 2014).
In addition to facilitating contexts and groups, the participants
also highlighted the importance of spiritual teachers as meaningful
figures in their spiritual change processes. The participants re-
ported experiences of supportive relationships with spiritual teach-
ers who served as sources of guidance and knowledge. The teach-
ers’ authentic recognition and affirmation were perceived as
empowering and provided an acknowledgment of a participant’s
often fragile sense of self, as well as a ‘living model’ to learn from.
Together, the meaningful and deep group and dyadic relationships
with spiritual teachers and peers appear to enable the participants
to deepen self-discovery and to empower the development of the
self throughout the change process. The importance of spiritual
models and/or teachers as exemplars of spiritual development and
change is evident in all spiritual and religious traditions (Oman &
Thoresen, 2003). Such spiritual modeling is facilitated by social
learning, socialization, and observational learning (Oman, 2013)
and appears to be a significant source of support for a process of
spiritual change inside and outside religious contexts alike.
Interestingly, although the function of context and relationships
appears to be prevalent in various search and change processes, the
present findings also emphasize the unique dialectics between
internal and external processes. The participants continuously put
each of these (e.g., courses, groups, teachers) to scrutiny through
their internal mechanism of self-reflection to determine whether it
is right for them—a tool which appears to be central in their
experience and which is developed in the course of the change
process. Such internally guided filtering involves discerning the
‘authentic’ from the specious (as, e.g., in distinguishing spiritual
teachers from ‘gurus’). In this respect, the commitment to and
involvement in external supporting processes is moderated by the
participants’ own agency, by their individualism, and by the use of
their own reflection and self-awareness. In this way, they maintain
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balance between their need for community and reliance on others
on the one hand, and the maintenance of their autonomy and
personal responsibility on the other hand.
Along with human contexts and relationships, the participants
also referred to a connection to a higher power or to the ultimate
as a source for guidance, love, and support. This relatedness to the
transcendent forms the vertical sense of support in the process of
spiritual change in the present study. Interestingly, the partici-
pants’ descriptions of their connection to the “higher power”
appear to be different from the other three externals sources.
Whereas their descriptions explicitly refer to “actual” groups,
teachers, and contexts alongside their feelings and experiences
with regard to them, their description of the “higher power” is less
concerned with the nature of that higher power which was per-
ceived as rather amorphous (“it doesn’t matter what you call it”;
see p. 22) and more with their relationship to and connection with
it. Yet, it is experienced as a source which is transcendent to them
and to which they relate, and not as something which is internal or
identified with the self.
The connection to the ‘beyond’ appears to function as a ‘secure
base’ from which to explore, and as a ‘safe haven’ that comforted
and reassured them throughout the process and its accompanying
challenges. The idea that a relationship with the transcendent
carries with it qualities such as ‘secure base’ and ‘safe haven’
resonates with Kirkpatrick’s (1998; Granqvist & Kirkpatrick,
2008) model of religious processes, in which a relationship with
God can be described as an attachment bond. More specifically,
the model points out the resemblance between internal working
models of God and religion and those developed within close
relationships, suggesting that for securely attached individuals
positive God images are perceived as “reliable and trustworthy”
(Kirkpatrick, 1998, p. 962). The participants’ connection to the
transcendent in the present study was similarly experienced as
granting strength and confidence to face challenges, although
unbounded within formal organized structures of institutional re-
ligion. In this sense, the participants experienced a sense of per-
sonal providence, a connection and a guidance which accompanied
them throughout their process of spiritual change.
Such unmediated and intimate connection with the transcendent
may resemble the contemporary suggestions with regard to the
changing perception of God, especially outside organized reli-
gions: from traditional images of a being that is distant and
removed from the world, to a more accessible and more personal
higher power that is both transcendent or ‘beyond’ but still present
in individuals’ everyday life and experiences (Roof, 1999). Such
experiences have been reported within certain religious contexts as
well. For example, Luhrmann (2004) described a rather similar
phenomenon among evangelical congregants who, as part of the
contemporary social-cultural influences of the postmodern condi-
tion, built an intimate interpersonal relationship with God. Such a
relationship is essentially experienced as tangibly more vivid
and personal than the God of their fathers (Wuthnow, 1998).
The participants’ reliance on the connection to a higher power
or to the ultimate as a source for support highlights an inter-
esting component in their experience of ‘spiritual but not reli-
gious’ change processes. Although they are outside a traditional
religious context and though they may maintain an ambivalent
stance toward institutional religion, the study participants also
appear to voice an experience of the deity as an important
source for security and guidance in the process. Such a sense of
connection to an infinite source of higher power is experienced
as transcending the private self yet unmediated by organized
Support Processes Within and Outside
Institutional Religion
Altogether, the supporting sources found to facilitate and bolster
the demanding process of spiritual change reflect three central
orientations: internal, horizontal, and vertical. The participants turn
inward to draw on their personal-internal resources of intentional
self-awareness, which anchors and validates their experiences.
This is accompanied and maintained by their conscious choice of
volitionally committing to the process as well as by their courage
to explore new things and persevere in their engagement and see
it through. They are also aided and supported by external-
environmental resources: both ’horizontally,’ through their facili-
tating contexts and connections with peers and teachers, and ’ver-
tically,’ through their relatedness to the transcendent. Taken
together, these ingredients can be seen as providing the conditions
necessary for addressing core human psychological needs for
autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000),
which, in turn, support their ability to hold and maintain the
complex processes they experience.
These processes, voiced by the participants in the present study,
appear to correspond to supporting processes within religious
traditions, in particular with regard to external-environmental
ones. Such structures (i.e., peers, spiritual teachers, social support,
as well as a sense of connection to a higher power) are often
inherent in organized religion and appear to be recreated by
individuals engaging in this process outside of an organized frame-
work. This illuminates common basic processes of utilizing sup-
port and facilitating environments in the context of search for
spiritual meaning, despite the various forms and pathways indi-
viduals choose as part of their spiritual change processes. It also
aligns with a general perspective of universal human needs (e.g.,
for security, autonomy, competence, and relatedness; e.g., Deci &
Ryan, 2000), and perhaps delineates universal paths by which
individuals find support and recruit assistance in their search for
spiritual meaning. This corresponds with King’s (2008) assertion,
referring to spiritual process of meaning-making: “Whether this
process is one of personal construction or socialization, the inten-
tional act of relying on personal, religious or cultural ideology is
central to spirituality” (pp. 57–58).
Adapting and modifying traditional and fundamental frame-
works appear to enable the participants to face contemporary
challenges and changing environmental conditions, and organize
their eclectic process and experiences into a seemingly coherent
structure. Whereas religion traditionally tended to cultivate sense
of unity and community by generating a cohesive and shared
worldview which validates individual, group, and cultural beliefs
(Mattis & Jagers, 2001), outside such context, the ‘quest culture’
appeals to seekers by emphasizing ‘personal knowledge’ rather
than the ‘unity of knowledge’ and offers various activities aimed at
greater inner discovery, experience and self-transformation (Roof,
1999). Thus, voluntarily self-constructed patterns of relationships
with peers and spiritual teachers may enable such seekers to gain
a sense of support and community in an accessible and yet infor-
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
mal way, amid instability and disengagement from religious insti-
tutions and practices.
Alongside the similarities of spiritual change processes inside
and outside religious contexts, the findings of the current studies
also underscore the saliency of personal-internal resources, expe-
rienced by the participants as crucial for the maintenance of the
spiritual change process. This reflects an interesting dialectic be-
tween the reliance on ‘significant others’ (i.e., groups, like-minded
peers, teachers, higher power) to support and accompany them,
and the central role of the individual self which is the facilitator
and moderator of the process. By accessing both poles of this
dialectic and balancing them, the participants manage to gain a
sense of belonging and community in uncommitted and fluid
settings outside of a formalized structure of religion, and yet
adhere to their autonomy and self agency. This observation reso-
nates with Wuthnow’s (1994) insights, gained from his exploration
of the widespread small-group movement phenomenon in North
America. He suggested that these groups, often spontaneously and
informally formed, reinforce contemporary values of individual-
ism and fragmentation while still providing the highly needed
personal connections. Additionally, they allow for individualized
spiritual seeking in an otherwise secular context, “a form of
spirituality that is thoroughly adaptable to the complex, pluralistic
world in which we live” (Wuthnow, 1994, p. 25).
To conclude, in many of today’s world’s cultures, individuals
are no longer obligated to fixed, culturally given structures, and are
faced with the freedom (and challenge) to form their own identities
through conscious and autonomous choices (Adams, 2003). The
present findings point to an equally strong tendency to seek stable
foundations to hold on to. The participants’ eclectic ‘self-made’
mechanisms of support appear to enable them to make-sense and
organize their experiences of an individualized process. In this sense,
the participants of the present study appear to replace institutionalized
religion’s traditional functions of meaning-bestowing and commit-
ment with alternative and self-constructed structures which pro-
vide them with continuity, stability and coherence. This might
possibly reflect an inherent need for structure that provides an
anchor and a compass for navigating through a self-led process
which is often idiosyncratic, eclectic, and unaffiliated. These in-
sights suggest that cultivating sensitivity to the unique nuances
involved in the manner in which individuals conceptualize and
experience these processes may contribute to a more complete
understanding of spiritual change processes in particular, and
human development as a whole.
Caveats and Directions for Future Research
The participants who volunteered for the present study, despite
representing a rather heterogeneous cross-section in terms of so-
cioeconomic status, age, and spiritual orientation, constitute a
subgroup of individuals who have experienced spiritual change
within a specific cultural context. Being spiritual yet nonreligious
reflects a fundamental duality in the Israeli secular identity, man-
ifested in the tension between rejection and continuity vis-a
mainstream Jewish culture and religion because of the lack of a
clear separation between state and religion (Ezrachi, 2004). As
such, their experiences may not necessarily capture the broader
phenomenon of spiritual change in contemporary Western societ-
ies in general. Yet, qualitative research methods in general and
phenomenological research in particular do not strive for repre-
sentation, generalization or the extraction of an objective truth
from the findings (Patton, 2002). Instead, they strive to gain an
understanding of the processes by which human beings construct
meaning from experience (McPhail, 1995; van Manen, 1990) and
allow the potential for extrapolating the findings to other settings
or contexts by providing rich data suggesting ideas that merit
further exploration (Elo et al., 2014).
In line with this, it is suggested for future research to further
explore what facilitates the individual capability to hold and sus-
tain self-led, challenging, and continuous processes outside orga-
nized institutionalized structures among other populations and
distinct cultures, using larger samples and various methods of
investigation. Such an exploration may contribute to the under-
standing and development of support structures for spiritual
change processes, and in particular given the growing proportion
of individuals in contemporary Western world who identify them-
selves as “spiritual but not religious”—a phenomenon which war-
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Received August 3, 2015
Revision received March 30, 2016
Accepted April 5, 2016
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... For more information, seeMoran & Russo-Netzer, 2015; Russo-Netzer, in press;Russo-Netzer, 2017;Russo- Netzer & Mayseless, 2014;Russo-Netzer & Mayseless, 2016;Russo-Netzer & Moran, 2017. ...
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This paper focuses on the epistemological and experiential aspects through which we can gather together the fragmented pieces of our reality. In it, I aim to broaden the overarching framework of wholeness in second wave positive psychology (PP 2.0) and argue that healing the growing divide between components of humans, systems, and disciplines must be acknowledged and validated as essential to achieving a more complete wholeness. First, I advocate for expanding our ways of knowing, by becoming aware of and embracing multiple dimensions and perspectives. This includes listening to the human voice and understanding the human context. It also includes being open-minded and open-hearted in approaching varied ways of knowing. Second, I advocate for broadening the scope of what it means to be human. This includes understanding and validating humans holistically by moving beyond zero-sum, binary categories to consider the value of human paradoxes, limitations, and complexities, as well as appreciating the joining of opposites and the value of brokenness. I then conclude with a few suggestions for future application of these ideas, and offer concluding remarks.
To prepare youth for civil society, we need to expand the modern conception of humanism to a form of spiritual, communal, and pluralistic humanism that incorporates spirituality as a core dimension of human nature. Embedding these concepts in education involves three pillars—alignment with the spiritual and authentic self; community, interconnectedness, and service; and cherishing variety and pluralism—needed to prepare youth to create and sustain a harmonious, participatory civil society. We present a conceptual model for spiritual development and a practical model that invites pluralistic spirituality into education. We focus on the community of philosophical inquiry as another crucial layer that cultivates critical, creative, caring thinking and communal dialog, which are necessary to engage in a participatory civil society.
Identity development is an important developmental task impacted by many facets of a person’s life, including ethnic background, abilities, and religion. Notwithstanding its decisive role in identity development, however, religious identity research has been rather sparse. Religious identity refers to how the person uses religion to answers the question “who am I?” or “who are we?.” Research that focuses on the religious identity development of particular groups is more scarce. This review article intends to synthesize the current state of the research in regard to religious identity development, especially as it relates to emerging adult Catholic religious identity development. A brief consideration of theories that may aid in understanding religious identity will be undertaken, followed by a review of empirical literature that suggests possible influences on religious identity. The methods, strengths and weaknesses of current research will be considered with implications for future research. It is hoped that through a better understanding of the current research on religious identity development a clearer path forward may be paved in research development.
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This study was aimed at researching the effects of gratitude on the integration process of self- transcendent experiences (STEs). STEs are experiences beyond those of the personal self of everyday life. For the purpose of this study, specifically, the experience of the dissolution of the self and of unity with the cosmos was of interest. This present study’s design was generic qualitative and the participant selection was purposive. The core of the study was based on 5 semi-structured in-depth interviews with participants who are community leaders and/or teachers of consciousness who have undergone a profound STE of unity consciousness or nondual existence, having dissolved the “I” to a large extent. Those chosen went through a successful transformative integration process and are now living from that new place of consciousness in which they are interfacing through the self with the dual world of daily life. The lens of gratitude was applied. Separately, a survey about the role gratitude has played in the integration process was sent to 15 participants who had a minimum of one profound STE. Participants for the survey did not need to be fully integrated. The implication of the study was to find potential support strategies for the integration of STEs for people with STEs and healthcare professionals alike. The study found that an attitude of gratitude, a gratitude practice, or consciously generating gratitude was of support in the integration process of their STEs. The participants that were fully integrated had established gratitude as a state of being from which they approached life. Additional supportive life changes were a healthy diet, time in nature, talking with like-minded iii friends, and most of all having a meditation practice that helps to center. Beyond integration, participants stated the importance of personal transformation and stabilizing the STEs as a new plateau.