The human spirit develops first in us as infants and toddlers, little when most everyone else is big. We instintively think, "Other people seem to walk, talk, and handle themselves far better than me." That natural reality injects some sense of "not good enough", or "inadequate" into most people. Virtually all of us then strive uphill towards eventually treasuring themselves. On the way we develop some spiritual skills that assist us in this project. Many of us never arrive at that grand self-appreciation, sometimes because of major harm inflicted on us, but also in part because we never develop the skills. The 25 skills described below consist of a ladder that promotes remedial progress in maintaining and augmenting our own human spirits. Many of them also contribute beautifully to the human spirits around us.
Some of the concepts of traditional religion have lasted for centuries precisely because they were effective in enhancing the human spirit. Over time some of them evolved to a place where they can be highly beneficial for building self-appreciation. For example, belief that a highest transcendent being is personal and takes delight in me specifically (the basic meaning of the Christian term “gospel”). The human potential movement, self-help psychology and the rise of feminists augmented that list of personal skills during the twentieth century. A cluster of such personal spiritual skills that foster good feelings about ourselves contribute to each human spirit’s path towards self-treasuring. Gradually transforming ourselves from self-doubt, self-deception, and self-sabotage, these skills bring forth good feelings about our own person and expand them. They help move us towards actually befriending, rather than merely contending with ourselves.
28. AFFIRMING YOURSELF – Positive self-talking about your body and personality
Affirming yourself verbally is not bragging unless it is exaggerated. If it is accurate, it constitutes humility. It is a skill to acknowledge your strengths as a person or as a professional, when done in a timely and authentic manner. When done well, it solidifies both your self- worth and the respect with which astute people see you. Conversely, negative comments about yourself quickly become tedious to others (The self-deprecatory humor of Jack Benny and Rodney Dangerfield not withstanding). Owning your gifts and talents realistically assumes you have become reasonably clear about what your best personal assets are. The classic virtue of humility is accurate self-knowledge, neither putting yourself far above your essential goodness, nor far below it. A cryptic AA recovery phrase asserts that “Nobody is more important than me, nor any less.”
29. APPRAISING YOURSELF – Accurately perceiving yourself without either exaggerating or minimizing
Great personality theorists surmise about their observations of humans’ complex methods of self-deception, various ways of seeing ourselves that substitute for the self-appreciation to which we aspire. The Greek adage, attributed to several sages, “know thyself” cannot be carried out alone. We discover our primary assets and defects through various forms of feedback in interaction with others. Using that crucible of growing self-understanding well, is itself a major skill.
30. ASSERTING YOURSELF - Raising issues in interactions when it serves your self-care
The assertiveness movement of the 1960s was intertwined with the feminist movement origins of the 1970s. Standing up for yourself verbally and emotionally was a set of specific skills of communication that required courage and learning new phrases and voice tones so as not to be taken lightly. Assertiveness remains a vital skill today in many areas of life, for both men and women to fuel efforts to be seen, heard, and considered seriously.
31. FORGIVING YOURSELF - Acknowledging your wrongdoing and letting go of guilt about it
In Christian theologies, being forgiven by the Divine can sometimes be far easier than forgiving oneself. Remorse, from its Latin roots (re-mordere, to “bite back”) refers to the experience of deeply regretting one’s own previous behavior, usually from which there is now no remedy. Remorse, rumination and perseverating, waste energy that could be used for loving and creating. Preoccupation with the rotten benefits nobody. In fast paced athletics and music performance, getting stuck on mistakes, even huge ones, is self-defeating. Learning how to acknowledge guilt and then let it go is this major spiritual skill.
32. PLAYING – Losing the sense of time in childlike affective enjoyment
I don’t think my mother ever learned how to play. She was so serious, so talented, so dedicated to work and goodness, and then trapped by three children in three years during World War II. She died at 54 when I was twenty. I wish I could have played with her. I would have played better with my children if I had. It should be recommended that all mothers learn how to play before having children. Second best would be learning how from a child, or even a grandchild, soon after. Like all spiritual skills, playing elusively looks easier to learn than it is.
33. WORKING - Exerting energy persistently and vigorously enough to get the job done
As a foreman of a small Iowa dairy my father hired young employees from time to time. He told me once that he could tell rather quickly the ones who grew up on a farm. He said, “They already know how to work.” Investing energy into a job is indeed a skill in itself that is often observable. My mother once confronted me while sweeping the kitchen floor, grabbed the broom from me in disgust and began showing me how to do it with vigor. She also showed me with the same disdain how to use elbow grease when scrubbing something. Motivating yourself to get a job done remains a skill that feeds one’s spirit for a lifetime.
34. EATING – Using human appetite to enhance body and soul without habitual excess or harmful choices
Two kinds of books that occupy several feet of any bookstore or library are cook books and diet books. Eating well obviously remains more complex than we would like. Skills of restraint, thinking, decisiveness, and self-treasuring coalesce and combine with knowledge in the skill of eating wisely. It can be done. Losing weight is one thing, eating well fairly consistently can be much more difficult. But it is a skill that is worth developing.
35. EXERCISING – Bodily exerting energy for health of your body and soul
There is a wise moderation in exercising that seems to slide into fanatical over-doing it on the one hand, or lapse into sedentary lifestyles on the other. Some of us vacillate between the two. The skill that needs to be learned seems to be exercising enough, reasonably consistently, through most of a lifetime. We probably do learn how to exercise by the time we’re 11, but grope about on the extremes as adults before we grasp this skill of moderating vigorous bodily movement for our own best efforts at maintaining health.
36. RESTING - Relaxing regularly and when your body or mind needs it
Spiritually speaking, there are two kinds of rest: night sleep and frequent-enough times of respite during the day. Getting enough sleep, and more importantly, enough restful sleep, removes an important barrier to the human spirit’s resilience during any given day. The scientific study of sleep disorders, which began about 100 years ago, has identified over a dozen sleep problems and a few methods to treat them. During the day there seems to be a special demon that sabotages our ability to take breaks and truly relax during them. Whether at home or in a workplace, all manner of tasks seem to easily absorb all of the time available. If we would get help for our sleep irregularities and take real breaks as often and stubbornly as smokers take smoke breaks, we would be mastering the spiritual skill of resting.
37. ACTING DECISIVELY – Efficiently deciding and acting for your own benefit or a worthy cause
Ambivalence can petrify. Clinicians are almost famous for excellence in this skill. For some it may have come with difficulty in formative education, but making quick decisions remains a hallmark of clinical practitioners.
38. RESTRAINING YOURSELF - Controlling your impulses enough to give yourself a chance in relationships
While spontaneous fun can inject delight into virtually any relationship, much of the time we simply need to hold ourselves back. Knowing when and how to keep your mouth shut saves many relationships. The warm touch of excitement that is natural upon sight of personal beauty, obviously needs restraint in professional and even most social situations. Regaining self-possession when justified rage burns within, highlight the skill of restraining. Pushed to its extreme, (as often happens during medical training and residency), self-restraint robs us of much of the fun of life with its marked inhibition of healthy human inclinations.
39. TUNING IN -- Letting yourself feel what your body is trying to feel, whether you decide to act on it or not
Before being able to express and share your feelings you would need to find them, like finding your keys before starting the car. Letting yourself sense what your body wants to do (hide, hit, cry, run, smile, etc.) gives clues, and the sensations around the heart and the stomach do too. Care for your own emotions begins with tuning in to what they are as they change, sometimes drastically and sometimes frequently, due to what you are seeing, hearing, and touching. At least being able to find a current feeling when asked about it constitutes a minimal level of this skill.
40. SHARING FEELINGS – Conveying what you feel well enough for it to be felt mutually or appreciated by somebody else
On the floor of the foyer of Harborview Hospital in Seattle lies in stone mosaic a Native American adage, “Sharing doubles your joy and cuts your pain in half.” There are those who, without a doubt, date and marry, never realizing that emotional flow between lovers constitutes the very food of intimacy. If their spouse is similarly clueless about the central place of emotions in close relationships, the bond may survive for a very long time. But when either gets deeply hurt and neither knows how to process repairs, confusion and deeper hurts result, sometimes unsurmountable ones. Being asked, or asking yourself, if you can talk reasonably openly and with expression about your delight, your fears, your hurt, your anger, your guilt/shame and your sadness, may bring insight and prevent the confusing pains of intimate loving breakdown later on. Most and probably all of us grow up with major holes in our ability to do so. One feeling or many have been excluded from out formative youth. This skill is rarely incorporated with excellence.
41. DISCLOSING YOURSELF -- Openly and seriously talking about yourself
Somewhere in my boyhood I shut down. Nobody knew much about my insides. My big sisters referred to me as “old silent Gordon”. My grad school peers invariably realized that I knew far more about them than they knew about me. A small group educational experience, beginning at age 29 began to change that. I gradually learned, as it is said, “to bend over, reach up inside my asshole and turn myself inside out”. I learned to intentionally disclose myself. The very word “disclose” means “un-close” or “to open”. Perhaps the best example for most of us is in the first moments you spend with an instant friend. How did your best friendships start? It happened when you found yourself telling her much more than you had planned. It just sort of oozed or poured out of you. You were “dis-closing” facts, stories, and relevant events about yourself, and in the process along with them came attitudes, feelings, values, preferences, biases, opinions, and assumptions. You were developing the skill of disclosing yourself.
42. THINKING – Forming ideas and opinions in your mind about what you perceive
What separates us from our dogs, magnificent as they are, is thinking. Maybe opposable thumbs led to the further development of our brains. But cognition combined with affect is arguably the greatest advance of the evolutionary process so far. Applying an analytic diagnostic framework to a real health care situation may not be very warm, but it obviously must lead the way in addressing medical crisis. Thinking remains a strength of almost all clinicians.
43. INTUITING – Allowing your inner hunches to speak to you clearly enough to respond to them
My chemistry major never fit me well, though it lent me metaphors for human interactions and taught me how to analyze complex issues. At one pint however, in fostering my group leadership abilities, my clinical supervisor quipped, “Sometimes you just need to sit back, stop analyzing, and let yourself know what you know.” Indeed finding my intuitive side then came quite easy. I am naturally more intuitive than analytical, but had learned to rely on thinking abstractly because it was needed for my field, not because it fit me. When intuition gets over-blown it leads to making false assumptions and then tending to rationalize them as correct. Intuition works best when it is confirmed by thinking. But there is some truth to the saying that “the right brain is usually right”.
44. IMAGINING – Using your creative impressions to envision a situation or solution anew
Imagination, say some neo-Jungians, is the only way to soul. Imagination enriches life, adding color, inspiring new perspectives, and creating laughter. Without “making images” life would be quite colorless and the future drab. In order to write a book, create a quality website, establish a valuable program, or develop a romantic relationship beyond today, one must picture how it could be. While to some degree imagination has a life of its own, some intentionality, even in daydreaming actually helps.
45. PERSISTING – Holding on to an idea, project, dream, or plan in spite of adverse opinion
I don’t remember a certain book I read in seventh grade, but I do remember the theme—the positive value of stubbornness. Once when my young children were assembled around the kitchen table with my oldest sister, they asked her what I was like as a boy. She hesitated, and then said, “Well, he was persistent”. She was being kind. The words “stubborn” and “persistent” are similar, but stubborn carries a nuance of not moving while persistent speaks more of relentless effort. Prodding yourself to keep trying with an idea, project or hope in which you truly believe, is the skill of persisting.
46. CONFESSING – Ridding yourself of guilt through sharing regrets about your failings
Christianity includes a long tradition of confessing for relief of guilt, though the practice of confessing to a priest is waning in the present day. The actual process of speaking the specifics of actions and omissions we regret was revived richly for its practical effectiveness during the mid-1930s with evolution of the Twelve Step program. In the fifth of the twelve, (“We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.”) the newly recovering people recognized the need to rid themselves of the enormous guilt of a drinking lifestyle and fashioned a process that worked to thus “clean house”. Remarkably similar to the long catholic tradition of “general confession” a few times in a life, it features simply verbalizing regret openly to another human being. Having heard roughly 1,000 Fifth Steps over twelve years I know the euphoria experienced within two hours after by those who completed them. Confessing once makes it far easier every time after.
47. PLANNING – Envisioning practical steps to organize and energize hopes for the future
An imaginative vision is one thing but a set of strategies for addressing it is quite another. Without a plan a vision is only a dream. Careful thi9ng about how to proceed on everything from building a hospital to finding a new babysitter, is a plan and fashioning one is planning. Since most goals worth pursuing require collaboration from at least several people, planning is most effectively a shared pursuit.
48. COMPETING - Exerting yourself to succeed and excel
When the Seattle Seahawks brought the 2014 Super Bowl trophy back home, an estimated 700,000 fans lined the streets of a city of 500,000. There is a remarkable energy injected into the human spirit by a bit of good natured competition, even when it is vicarious. Witness school children jumping for joy in a gym class team foot race, millions cheering the World Series, and parents screaming at high school sports events, and you can’t deny the spiritual value of contesting with fellow human beings.
49. CRYING – Expressively finding your soul in the midst of significant events
Most of us cannot make ourselves cry at times when we suspect it would make us feel better. Nor can we stop from crying when a great sadness or hurt overwhelms us. But allowing ourselves to cry profusely when it wells up, rather than toughing it out and soldiering on, is the skill of crying. Some crying is of course, manipulation. But soulful crying scours the soul, refreshes the spirit, and expresses (presses out) deepest, sometimes wordless hurts and joys to enormous personal benefit to the human spirit.
50. SAYING GOODBYE – Summing up what a person has meant to you as you part permanently
It does take courage to look somebody in the eye and tell him what he has meant to you as you part, especially when the circumstances indicate that you may never see him again. How to say goodbye during times of impending major loss can mean the difference between relative serenity on one side or a life of regrets, resentments, and remorse on the other. Completing a quality goodbye even once can be instructive for all of the major losses that life inevitably brings.
51. HOBBYING - Investing energy in an enjoyable activity that persistently fascinates you
Not everybody has a hobby, and even fewer of us maintains an avocation, or enhanced hobby that becomes a major thrust of our lives, often having little to do with our primary employment. Hobbies are not necessary but the skills gained in maintaining them do feed the soul of many people, lending them confidence in their ability to learn and develop specific complex aspects of life. They are fun, and thus do enhance the human spirit, sometimes magnificently.
52. DANCING ALONE – Physically and publicly strutting your self-appreciation
Using enthusiastic bodily movement to show that you like yourself just as you are consolidates something in the soul. It matters little how beautifully the prance is performed. Good enough if performed in private in from of a mirror, it works better if done boldly in public. Observers who harbor even a smidgen of care for your worth most always notice, appreciate, and smile. Perhaps embarrassing at first to your children, strutting your stuff even feeds the spirit on into aging. A little dancing skill enhances the experience a hundred-fold.
The Spiritual Clinician For workshops on these topics contact Gordon J Hilsman, D.Min. email@example.com
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