Spiritual Growth is 80% Psychological, 
20% What You Do

 by Jef Bartow

This spiritual principle comes from the integration of what my mentor taught me and what I learned in the outer business world. My mentor emphasized to me on more than one occasion how much the Path of spiritual growth is about psychological change. The impact of spiritual energies and the needs dictated by Spirit overwhelmingly affect each of us psychologically. In the business world I learned the 80/20 rule. 80% of what we accomplish comes from 20% of our efforts. The last 20% requires 80% of our effort. The simple truth was to not go for perfection, but concentrate on getting that first 80%, that let others handle the last 20% if necessary.

Much of the time when I hear individuals talking about their spiritual growth, they tend to always highlight the retreat they went to; the seminar they participated in; the yoga/meditation/self-reflection program they instituted. Now don't get me wrong, these are all highly worthwhile endeavors. But what most spiritual aspirants miss is that our spiritual growth does not come from these programs. Our growth comes from the psychological changes we make in the process. A perfect example is yoga. Learning to do yoga, like any exercise program, brings physiological changes including a sense of euphoria; a state of relaxed peace; and burning calories that can help us stay fit. Unfortunately, this is not spiritual growth. What best can be said of it is that it brings human growth.

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Often, what yoga in the West is missing are the various psychological introspections, self-reflections and changes done in tandem with the physical exercises. This is the spiritual practice of yoga. So now that I have got you to think about the most important criteria for spiritual growth, psychological change, what the psychological change mean? Let's begin by defining our term psychological. According to Webster's, psychology relates to "dealing with the mind and with mental and emotional processes;" and "the sum of actions, traits, attitudes, thoughts, mental states, etc." The root word psyche is probably best defined by C.G. Jung. Our psyche is the "totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious." A simpler way to put it is that our psyche is our consciousness, part of which is conscious and part of which is unconscious. And our consciousness is simply our awareness and responsive perception; our capacity for unified awareness and sentiency.

The totality of our Personality is made up of three fundamental interrelating factors. The first is our Energy Structure (i.e. Tree of Life from Kabbalah) which circulates various energies and forces throughout the totality of our existence. The second are our various bodies of knowledge/energies we create at every level of our being. The third is the conscious and unconscious awareness that grows around our Energy Structure and bodies. Our conscious awareness and responsive perception is our psychology that which will bring about 80% of our growth into Spirit. So, although various exercise programs can help us build a better body, they are not spiritual growth in themselves.

Now let's get to the heart of psychological or spiritual growth. It's about changing the ways in which we operate as humans. We need to change our thinking patterns, emotional responses, instinctual motivations and even our imaginative fantasizing. The broader we make these changes, the more vertical our growth moves toward Spirit. Of course this process is not easy or fun, but the results far outweigh the efforts involved. According to the 80/20 rule, 20% of our effort will bring about 80% of the changes needed.
Let's begin with our thinking. We all grow up creating habitual thinking patterns that mostly come through conditioning from parents, teachers and society. Frankly, it's not our thinking, but theirs! Our job is to define and then change our thinking to become our own. When we let ourselves rotate on our habitual thought patterns, we’re caught up in "mind chatter." Stopping our mind chatter is the first major step in growth through most forms of meditation. A powerful way to make an exercise program about spiritual growth is to learn to do it without mind chatter. Then the spiritual energies circulating through our Energy Structure can flow into our conscious awareness, bringing us insights and the needs of our Soul from within. Later, we can then begin to qualify our exercise program with a particular type of energy (i.e. love, harmony, peace, will, etc.).
And here's where the spiritualizing process really kicks in.

I’m only going to make a few comments about our imaginative nature and the changes needed here. We all fantasize growing up. They say that on average, every male fantasizes about sex 241 times a day. That's a lot of wasted energy. Another spiritualizing exercise is to transform our fantasizing into active imagination. By actively focusing our conscious imagination on our spiritual goals, changes of behaviors, or spiritual state, we begin pouring energy into our consciousness. This evokes our spiritual unconscious to bring us what we need to accomplish our spiritual goals. Isn't that exciting?
Our most powerful pivot in our Personality is our emotional nature. It is made up of both our feelings and desires. Changing our conscious awareness and responsive perception at this level provides a catapult in spiritual growth. The core of the change here relates to transforming our wants into needs and our selfish desires into selfless volition. But as hard as it seems that is to do, remember the 80/20 rule (80% accomplishment through 20% of effort)! The biggest hurdle to get over here is the change from a personal selfish orientation to becoming truly other oriented. We've talked about this in detail in previous articles (especially in From Life Struggles.... to Living by Spirit).

To highlight a couple of good examples here, many studies indicate that the key problems in relationships revolve around money, sex and children. We are all highly conditioned to have a particular emotional orientation to money and children. But it's not all the same conditioning. A productive marriage is one in which the partners have a similar attitude and orientation about these critical factors. But this doesn't make for a spiritual partnership. Each of us needs to spiritualize our orientation to money, sex and those less fortunate than us (physical children and childlike humans). 

One idea is to relate to money as though it is a form of spiritual energy. If Spirit brought you Love or Harmony or Serenity for example, what would you do with it? Would you hoard it? Would you give it away without qualification? Would you seek to help others with it? Spiritually utilizing characteristics of Spirit can be learned by utilizing money in the same way. This radical change in our emotional orientation to money can then be used in changing our emotional orientation in response to all parts of our relationships and life circumstances.

I wrote an entire article on the changes we need to make regarding our instinctual nature as part of living by Spirit. It's another one in my article series From Life Struggles.... What I will highlight here relates to our instinctive processes of eating and drinking. We all need nourishment in order to help re-energize our physical bodies. Unfortunately, our society's reaction to the inflow of intense spiritual energies at this time is to try to resolve their anxiety through overeating. Over 30% of our population is now considered obese, and increasing every year. And there's no end in sight. And few have the forward thinking to realize the impact this will have on medical care in the future as our obese society ages. OMG.

My wife and I have taken to ordering and sharing one entrée when we eat out. And we don't make up for this by stuffing ourselves with bread, crackers and desserts. After having done this for years, it's hard for me to imagine eating an entire entrée for myself. In fact, the few times that I eat out alone and end up over eating, I become stuffed, lethargic and then reflective on what's going on in my emotional nature than needed this kind of comforting/abuse. In reading the biographies of Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo, they subsisted on very little food and used fasting for both cleansing and as a spiritualizing exercise/discipline. The principle that "less is more" can work very well here for all of us.

As to the "20% is what you do" part of this principle, I can only reiterate what I have discussed in many previous articles: we do have to align our behaviors and the actions with our spiritual principles in order to affect spiritual growth. If we can get 80% of our actions and spiritual values in line, Spirit will help us deal with the remaining 20%. And "that's the fact," or should I say spiritual truth of the matter.