Saturday, September 29, 2012


For a non-denominational college like Rollins to promote the spiritual development of its students, such spirituality must be natural and not supernatural: a testable, measurable, definable phenomenon of personal growth, the farther reaches of health and wellness.  It is a matter of psychology and physiology, not of theology or religiosity—of doctoring, not doctrine.

This is not to deny that supernatural spirituality, based on visionary insight and faith in scriptures has long been a powerful force in society and in personal conviction, but a secular college grounds its curriculum on scientific rationalism, not on belief; on evidence and argument, not on untestable assumptions endorsed by Authority.

Let the spirituality promoted by Rollins, then, be naturalistic and humanistic, not faith-based; cultivated as well by atheists and agnostics as by believers, and regarded as a vital dimension of personal development.  In the venerable triad of Body, Mind and Spirit, understand spirit to mean one’s highest and deepest potential Self, the best person one might aspire and labor to become.


Saturday, September 22, 2012


Perhaps the most practical way to address this topic of spirituality with respect to its development in students is to talk in terms of behavior and to ask the question: If students were more spiritually developed and mature, how would they behave differently from those less well developed?  Then, having determined the chief behavioral characteristics, consider how best to facilitate their development while at Rollins.

Consider spirituality then as a state of consciousness that needs to be cultivated, but that is largely inhibited by the mundane culture of the secular world: materialistic, rushed, scattered and self-centered— rather than balanced like clay on a potter’s wheel: a traditional image of dynamic tranquility, of serenity and poise in the midst of a whirling world.

In these terms, some would say that spiritual persons have learned how to center themselves, how to come back “home” to the core of their personhood or soul, to their essential Self. 

Instead of being torn, scattered, fragmented, frazzled and bewildered by the blows and buffets of mundane mindlessness, they learn to become mindful and peaceful without resorting to pills and palliatives.

Calm down.  Get centered.  Breathe deeply and slowly.  Seek the Bliss-point within.  Glow.  Radiate.  Fiat lux.

Then go back into the bustle better able to cope, more serene and stable, animated by good will and generosity because your own essential needs have been cared for, your energies recharged.

What else can facilitate such centering and thus expand one’s repertoire of spiritual practices?  Music.  Helping others.  Tending a garden or caring for pets.  Studying various spiritual methodologies, perhaps including entheogens.

The point of aiming to enhance students’ spiritual consciousness is to elevate their full-functioning as human beings to the further reaches of human possibility—beyond body and mind and toward soul.

* * *


Of the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types, I would infer that the INFJ personality is the most spiritually inclined: Introspective (able to turn inward and reflect), Intuitive (alert to subtle signals beneath the sensory range), Feeling (emotionally attuned) and Judging (prioritizing according to a scheme of values).

Although this Jungian typology indicates a person’s current orientation toward one of sixteen personality-type categories, Jung supposed that with growing maturity and wisdom, one would ideally become increasingly able to function across all four ranges: from Introverted to Extroverted, Intuitive to Sensing, Thinking to Feeling, Perceiving to Judging.

Therefore, while different areas of Rollins’ curriculum and co-curriculum support the twelve other orientations, any college programs addressing students’ spiritual development should lead them to develop and enhance their Introspection, Intuition, Feeling and Judgment.

* * *


How Spiritually Advanced Are You?

In order to determine the degree of your spirituality, answer the following questions with regard to your own attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.  Each question points to one or another personal characteristic indicative of spiritual orientation and development.

Extraordinary Spirituality
  1. Do you converse with God?
  2. Do you converse with angels or spirits?
  3. Do you feel guided by spiritual nudges or inklings?
  4. Are you sometimes mysteriously comforted and calmed by what seems to be an invisible but palpable presence?
  5. Do you suffer from hallucinations?
  6. Do you believe that “things happen for a reason”?
  7. Have you experienced clear instances of synchronicity?

Ordinary Spirituality
  1. Do you sometimes have warm and tender feelings for others, not only human beings?
  2. Are you normally attentive, kindly and generous toward others, concerned about their interests and well-being, even strangers?
  3. Do you at times feel exuberant, uplifted, joyful or “spirited,” for unselfish reasons, as when others succeed or thrive?
  4. Are you sensitive to beauty in nature and in art and emotionally exalted by it?
  5. Does the ancient triad—Truth, Beauty and Goodness—appeal to you as provocative ideals worth pursuing?


Sunday, September 16, 2012


For all that science aims to comprehend and account for all of nature, rendering it into facts and theories and laws, measurable and rationalized—the supernatural still haunts us from the sidelines of science.

There seems to be something beyond the ken of measure and methodology, unaccountable to such rule and law as governs the material realm.  We have called it “spirit” or “animus” or “elan vital,” supposing it irreconcilable with rationality.

Though remaining mysterious, it yet seems palpable to some, and imaginable as spirits or angels or deities, occult forces and presences existing behind the scenes of the phenomenal world: numinous and beguiling.

Yet rational empiricists call all such testimony fantasy and delusion, tolerable in children but a sign of mental immaturity in improperly educated adults.  Imagination and fiction are fine amusements in our lives, by way of entertainment and escape, but must be closeted when serious matters come to hand.

Paradoxically, though, spirit matters, and it will not keep to the closet, won’t be brushed aside like a foolish court jester.

To be “spiritually” inclined is to be amazed that life exists in the universe, and all the more amazed to think that, for all we know, life exists only here on Earth.  Still more amazing is that unique consciousness we humans possess which recognizes and reflects upon our being alive on a planet teeming with life, on (some say) a living planet.  To feel awe and wonder in this knowledge is a spiritual emotion, the highest rung on the ladder of human sensibility, expressed as ecstasy, exaltation and glory—the mystical dimension of consciousness, which we are wired to manifest, sometimes spontaneously, more often through the devoted discipline of a spiritual quest.

For a college to attend only to the mental, intellectual, physical and social needs of its students, and not to provide for their “ultimate concern” as human beings (to quote Paul Tillich), not to nurture their spiritual potentials—would be utilitarian but not exalted, and surely not humane.


Saturday, September 15, 2012


As some of you may know, in the Olin Library’s basement College Archives, there’s a corner shelf labeled “Rollins' Future History.”  Browsing there yesterday, I came upon a document that refers to our task force.  It seems that we actually achieved something noteworthy.  Here’s an excerpt.

* * *

The idea for Athena Hall arose in the Fall of 2012 within President Duncan’s Task Force on Spirituality at Rollins, a diverse campus group selected by Dean of the Chapel Patrick Powers to determine how students’ quests for meaning and purpose in their lives, for entertaining the Big Questions and for seeking wisdom, might best be met.

The hope arose, even in the group’s first meeting, that a new campus venue might be built to inspire conversations and events promoting deep and soulful, but also playful, mutual contemplations, as well as spiritual festivities.

This project began modestly during the renovation of Rollins’ Cornell Campus Center with the addition of the Athena Arena, a set-apart circular space (not unlike Olin Library’s Pillow Room), in which numerous “Dialogues” or conversations were scheduled throughout each semester by the student coordinators and faculty mentors.  Between programmed events, the Arena served as a lounge and a quiet place for meditation and discussion.  The serene view of Lake Virginia nourished contemplative souls.  Wall decorations and statuary evoked Athenian scenes of wisdom lovers pursuing their quests.

Only three years later, Athena Hall was built, a new “Greek house,” though one of a different sort than a fraternity or sorority.  It was not a dormitory but a tranquil facility for study and conversation, carrying on the former activities initiated by the Athena Arena, but now more spaciously and comfortably accommodated.  Both students and faculty knew that the walk over to Athena would take them out of their respective silos and into a conversational arena where wider and deeper matters might be entertained and engaged, where soulful confabs could occur, where sanity and sanctity would be respected.

One of the most memorable of Athena’s early public events brought together off-campus representatives of numerous spiritual traditions for a Friday afternoon colloquy intended to describe and demonstrate contemplative and meditative techniques native to their respective sects.  The collegial group included a rabbi, a Benedictine monk, a woman Buddhist priest, a Catholic priest who was a scholar of Quakerism, an African shaman from Burkina Faso and his prayer drum, a Congregationalist minister, a Taoist priest and yoga master, and a local animist who conversed with nature spirits.

In a center circle sat these featured guests, while Rollins observers ringed them in the outer arena overhearing the immensely cordial conversations among these spiritual specialists.  The afternoon was not about debate but about sharing methods and practices for inducing deeper states of spiritual consciousness, leading to more harmonious and integrated body/mind well-being.

After the expositions and discussions, the assemblage walked to Mills lawn, part of which had been set up as a labyrinth, with other areas designated for Tai Chi and yoga demonstrations.  One group proceeded to the lakeside to detect tree sylphs and water sprites, and to summon brown bunnies from their sedge nests. . . .


Friday, September 14, 2012


     Not everyone born human grows humane,
     For Homo sapiens is far from wise
     At birth and must assiduously attain
     To higher consciousness to realize
     Potentials furled in every human soul,
     A spirit seed in need of nurturing
     That without careful tending won’t grow whole,
     An unfledged nightingale who cannot sing.
     So any college that may hope to send
     Its graduates beyond its gates prepared
     To serve the world and deeply comprehend
     Its needs will show that it has truly cared
          Not only for their intellectual parts
          But also for their glowing souls and hearts.


Saturday, September 8, 2012


Having been asked by Rollins’ Dean of the Chapel to join a task force on enhancing spirituality in students’ lives, I said yes, I would—if only to think and talk with others about whatever spirituality might be.  I’ve been giving that subject consideration.

Take 1

After some mulling, it occurs to me that spirituality simply means helping others.  It is the impulse or spirit or inspiration to treat others kindly, charitably, compassionately; rather than to neglect or ignore them, especially in their needs.  It comes down to that.

Perhaps it starts higher up, say with a heavenly or beatific vision or an angelic visitation that reveals the Way of Love.  More likely it begins with kindnesses you’ve received from others, starting with your parents and other caregivers in your childhood.  Their examples have taught you how to care for others, and you have found it gratifying to do so.  Simply that.

If Jesus’ main message is the same Golden Rule we find all the world’s spiritual traditions to proclaim, then caritas or charity or a loving deed kindly motivated is the essence of spirituality—of loving kindness.  It is nothing more mysterious or mystical than that, and nothing less.

Take 2

I consider spirituality as a dimension of human consciousness, even an aptitude that needs to be acknowledged and developed as part of the flourishing of our generic potentials.

In these terms spirituality would be recognized as the high end of the spectrum of human consciousness, approaching what some have called “cosmic consciousness” or “unitive consciousness” or (in religious lingo) “union with God.”

Spirituality lies in the field of human psychology, and to the extent that psychologists study the psyche or soul, developmental psychology would address, at its further reaches, the subject of soul-building as the natural upshot of human maturation, the goal of our growth.

Take 3

But what, we may ask, is the spirit in spirituality?  While the Latin word spiritus, at the root of spirituality, refers literally to breath and respiration, the prime indicator of life and aliveness, spirit suggests more: some quintessential and mysterious life force that inhabits us in life and departs from us at death, surviving the demise of the body.

Is that so?  Or just a hopeful fantasy?  Is there a Spirit World, perhaps including angels and devils, as is vividly imagined by poets like Dante, Milton and Blake?  Is it indeed departed spirits that “spiritualists” summon and commune with in their sessions, say in Cassadega, Florida?

Doubtless, to many spirituality means communion with the Holy Spirit, supposed by Christians as one of three aspects of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Thus, to be a spiritual person one prays and invokes and converses with God, seeking guidance and consolation, more profoundly than a child talking with an imaginary friend.

Or is spirituality a term for the highest level of human consciousness, a refined and rarefied state of mind that people may aspire to develop and attain—a beatific, visionary mentality that reveals Holiness and Bliss, Wonder and Awe with stunning immediacy and lasting resonance in memory?

Take 4

While a technical education is for growing more capable and adept at performing specific functions, a liberal education is for exercising various areas of our intellect and growing wiser.

Spirituality is an aspect of wisdom in being an opening to the higher and deeper regions of our human mentality, pointing us to higher purposes and goals and to deeper understandings of what human beings must do to flourish and fulfill ourselves.

We undertake a liberal education to liberate ourselves from narrowness and shallowness of mind and heart, and to set our lives on courses aimed at worthy, even noble, ends.


Monday, September 3, 2012


How will my life look to me when I review it from my deathbed, should I have the chance to do so?  Will I then regret what I have done or failed to do?  What choices and decisions will I cherish most?

To think like this habitually, rather than being morbid, may be the most vital practice I can follow and the most realistic, since I cannot know when I shall die—perhaps today.

How sad, though, to find I’m at death’s door and then to think of what I might have done or been—but failed to realize.

What opportunities did I not seize?  What initiatives did I not take?  What endeavors and adventures that would have vitalized my being did I pass by?

Carpe diem.