Published as Perspective 3 in Heron, J., Participatory
Spirituality: A Farewell to Authoritarian Religion, Morrisville NC:
Lulu Press, 2006. For an extended version see
A convincing account of spirituality for me is that
it is about multi-faceted integral development explored by persons in
relation. This is because many basic modes of human development - e.g.
those to do with gender, psychosexuality, emotional and interpersonal
skills, communicative competence, morality, to name but a few - unfold
through engagement with other people. A person cannot develop these on
their own, but through mutual co-inquiry. The spirituality that
is the fullest development of these modes can only be achieved through
relational forms of practice that unveil the spirituality implicit in
them (Heron 1998).
In short, the spirituality of persons is developed
and revealed primarily in their relations with other persons. If you
regard spirituality primarily as the fruit of individual practices, such
as meditative attainment, then you can have the gross anomaly of a
‘spiritual’ person who is an interpersonal oppressor, and the
possibility of ‘spiritual’ traditions that are oppression-prone (Heron,
1998; Kramer and Alstad, 1993; Trimondi and Trimondi, 2003). If you
regard spirituality as centrally about liberating relations between
people, then a new era of participative religion opens up, and this
calls for a radical restructuring and reappraisal of traditional
spiritual maps and routes.
Certainly there are important individualistic modes
of development that do not necessarily directly involve engagement with
other people, such as contemplative competence, and physical fitness.
But these are secondary and supportive of those that do, and are in turn
enhanced by co-inquiry with others.
On this overall view, spirituality is located in the
interpersonal heart of the human condition where people co-operate to
explore meaning, build relationship and manifest creativity through
collaborative action inquiry into multi-modal integration and
consummation. I propose one possible model of such collegial
applied spirituality with at least eight distinguishing characteristics.
1. It is developmentally holistic, involving diverse
major modes of human development; and the holism is both within each
mode and as between the modes. Prime value is put on relational modes,
such as gender, psychosexuality, emotional and interpersonal skills,
communicative competence, peer communion, peer decision-making,
morality, human ecology, and more, supported by the individualistic,
such as contemplative competence, physical fitness.
2. It is psychosomatically holistic, embracing a
fully embodied and vitalized expression of spirit. Spirituality is found
not just at the ‘top end’ of a developmental mode, but in the
ground, the living root of its embodied form, in the relational heart of
its current level of unfolding, and in the transcendent awareness
3. It is epistemologically holistic, embracing many
ways of knowing: knowing by presence with, by intuiting significant form
and process, by conceptualizing, by practising. Such holistic knowing is
intrinsically dialogic, action- and inquiry-oriented. It is fulfilled in
peer-to-peer participative inquiry, and the participation is both
epistemic and political.
4. It is ontologically holistic, open to the manifest
as nature, culture and the subtle, and to spirit as immanent life, the
situational present, and transcendent mind. It sees our social relations
in this present situation – our process in this place - as the immediate
locus of the unfolding integration of immanent and transcendent spirit
(Heron, 1998, 2005, 2006).
5. It is focussed on worthwhile practical purposes
that promote a flourishing humanity-cum-ecosystem; that is, it is rooted
in an extended doctrine of rights with regard to social and ecological
6. It embraces peer-to-peer, participatory forms of
decision-making. The latter in particular can be seen as a core
discipline in relational spirituality, burning up a lot of the
privatized ego. Participatory decision-making involves the integration
of autonomy (deciding for oneself), co-operation (deciding with others)
and hierarchy (deciding for others). As the bedrock of relational
spirituality, I return to it at the end of the paper.
7. It honours the gradual emergence and development
of peer-to-peer forms of association and practice, in every walk of
life, in industry, in knowledge generation, in religion, and many more.
8. It affirms the role of both initiating hierarchy,
and spontaneously surfacing and rotating hierarchy among the peers, in
such emergence. More on this later on.
Once it is grasped that the spirituality of persons
is developed and revealed primarily in the spirituality of their
relations with other persons, that as such it is a form of participative
peer-to-peer inquiry, and that all this is a new religious dawn, without
historical precedent, then it is reasonable to suppose that any
authentic development of human spirituality in the future can only
emerge within the light of this dawn. In other words, if a form of
spirituality is not co-created and co-authenticated by those who
practise it, it involves some kind of indoctrination, and is therefore,
in this day and age, of questionable worth.
Spiritual leadership within an extended doctrine of
I prefer to think of the spiritual development of
human culture as rooted in degrees of relational, moral insight and not
in an evolutionary logic. Evolution as a concept seems best left to
natural processes. Otherwise intellectual bids to know what cultural
evolution is up to, rapidly convert into hegemonic arrogance and
attempts at social and intellectual control. The developing of the human
spirit in cultural forms is a different category and is very close in my
view to the way in which our realization of an extended doctrine of
rights, in theory and practice, can unfold.
There seem to be at least four degrees of such
Autocratic cultures which define rights in a
limited and oppressive way and there are no rights of political
Narrow democratic cultures which practise
political participation through representation, but have no or very
limited participation of people in decision-making in all other
realms, such as research, religion, education, industry, etc.
Wider democratic cultures which practice both
political participation and varying degrees of wider kinds of
Commons peer-to-peer cultures in a libertarian
and abundance-oriented global network with equipotential rights of
participation in decision-making of everyone in every field of
human endeavour, in relation to nature, culture, the subtle and
These four degrees could be stated in terms of the
relations between hierarchy, co-operation and autonomy (deciding for
others, deciding with others, deciding by oneself).
Hierarchy defines, controls and constrains
co-operation and autonomy.
Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and
autonomy in the political sphere only.
Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and
autonomy in the political sphere and in varying degrees in other
The sole role of hierarchy is in its spontaneous
emergence in (a) the initiation, and (b) the continuous flowering,
of autonomy-in-co-operation, of spirit-in-manifestation, in all
spheres of human endeavour.
To elaborate this last point: creative leadership
initiatives are taken by those who launch and empower co-operative
groups of autonomous people. Charismatic empowering leadership of this
kind is fundamental. Once the groups are up and running, charisma
devolves and rotates: developmental initiatives are taken spontaneously
by different peers at different times, and with respect to varying
issues, in order further to enhance the flourishing of autonomy and
co-operation within the group, within networks of groups, within the
parity of spirit (Heron, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2006).
Heron, J. (1997) 'A Self-generating Practitioner Community' in R.
House and N. Totton (Eds), Implausible Professions: Arguments for
Pluralism and Autonomy in Psychotherapy and Counselling,
Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
Heron, J. (1998) Sacred Science: Person-centred Inquiry into the
Spiritual and the Subtle, Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
Heron, J. (1999) The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook, London:
Heron, J, (2005) Papers on the Inquiry Group,
Heron, J, (2006) ‘Spiritual inquiry: a handbook of radical practice’,
Kramer, J. and Alstad, D. (1993) The Guru Papers: Masks of
Authoritarian Power, Berkeley: Frog Ltd.
Trimondi, V. and Trimondi, V. (2003) The Shadow of the Dalai Lama:
Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism, http://www.trimondi.de