Spirituality for Humanists:

Six Capacities of Our Human Spirits


    If we do not believe in any 'spirits' beyond ourselves,
can we still have some spiritual life?
This on-line essay will explore six capacities of inwardness beyond our
physical, emotional-psychological, & intellectual dimensions of being:
(1) self-transcendence—going beyond ourselves;
(2) freedom—resisting socialization and re-inventing ourselves;
(3) creativity—bringing something new into being;
(4) love—reaching out to others as Thou;
(5) anxiety—feeling our underlying Malaise; &
(6) glimpses of joy and fulfillment
—discovering life beyond angst and despair.


Introduction: how spirit differs from other dimensions of our beings:

1. the physical dimension—given by our genes;

2. the emotional-psychological dimension—learned since birth;

3. the intellectual dimension
                    —characterized by words, verbal learning;

4. the spiritual dimension—beyond the physical,
                    emotional, & intellectual dimensions
                    —characterized by the following capacities.

Capacities of Our Human Spirits:

1. Living Deeply in a Superficial Culture

2. Self-Transcendence, Self-Criticism, & Altruism

3. Freedom: Transcending Enculturation and Choosing for Ourselves

4. Creativity: Making Something Genuinely New

5. Love: The I-Thou Encounter, Discovering other Persons of Spirit

6. Existential Anxiety
                    and other Manifestations of our Existential Predicament

Five differences between simple fear and existential anxiety:
                    (1) description
                    (2) cause and channel of approach
                    (3) duration
                    (4) scope
                    (5) cure

7. Glimpses of Joy and Fulfillment

        In our deepest moments of spirit, we might notice that
        depression has been lifted, angst has disappeared.

Spirituality for Humanists:

Six Capacities of Our Human Spirits

by James Leonard Park

Introduction: Overview, Definitions, & Distinctions

    We become more deeply persons of spirit to the degree
that we express the following six capacities:
self-transcendence, freedom, creativity, love, anxiety, & joy.

    Spirit can be distinguished
from the three other dimensions of being in the following ways:
The life of the body is everything that comes from our genes.
We necessarily devote significant effort to surviving.
The life of our 'hearts' includes all our emotional, psychological,
& personality-responses developed since birth.
The life of the mind depends on words or other symbols.
Thru years of education, we develop our capacities to think.
And the life of the human spirit falls outside everything
that can be explained as physical, emotional, or intellectual.

1.  Living Deeply in a Superficial Culture

    In order to develop our human spirits,
we might have to separate ourselves in meaningful ways
from the on-rushing events of everyday life.
A spiritual or personal journal might be a good way
for us to focus our spiritual dimensions more carefully.
We could read books by other persons of spirit.
And perhaps we could exchange letters with others,
exploring the ups and downs of our spiritual lives.
We might also explore our spiritual dynamics in study groups.
Ultimately, we might seek people
who already know something about the life of the human spirit
to be our spiritual guides.

2.  Self-Transcendence, Self-Criticism, & Altruism

    Our spirits empower us to step outside of ourselves,
to transcend any given situation of life.
And from this perspective, we can even judge ourselves.
This ability of spirit to criticize who we have been
enables us to change ourselves for the better.
Also, because we are not encapsulated in our egos,
we are able to reach out to others in compassion and concern.
Altruism can even be observed in children.

3.  Freedom: Transcending Enculturation
      and Choosing for Ourselves

    Freedom is our capacity to rise above all circumstances
in which we find ourselves and to make life-changing decisions.
Nothing is more characteristic of the human spirit than freedom.
Even tho powerful socializing forces profoundly shape our lives,
we always have the freedom to resist conformity
and to define ourselves as persons who will pursue other purposes
than the goals recommended and reinforced by our cultures.

    The more fully we understand the forces of enculturation
—which would shape our lives if we did not transcend those influences—
the better we can resist those pressures.
The highest use of our personal freedom
is to choose or invent our own purposes for living.

4.  Creativity: Making Something Genuinely New

    Frequently our human spirits dream up something entirely new.
We do not fully understand how such creative moments emerge.
But when we have flashes of insight and surprising new ideas,
we know that something important has happened to us.
And we might wish to capture and package such moments.

    We cannot force our spirits to be creative,
but we can be ready for creative moments when they occur.
Being creative in art, writing, scientific research, etc.
includes being able to recognize creative flashes
—and how to apply our new insights.

5.  Love: The I-Thou Encounter,
      Discovering Other Persons of Spirit

    Love can be a moment in which two spirits meet.
This happens when we become open to each other.
We cannot force moments of I-Thou encounter to happen.
But we can create relationships in which such moments do occur.

    Nevertheless, no matter how fully we appreciate
moments of meeting others as persons of spirit,
such encounters are fleeting:
Every Thou becomes an It again.

    The I-Thou encounter probably needs to be distinguished
from romantic love, with which it is sometimes confused.
Romantic love is an emotional response,
well based in emotional programming.
But I-Thou encounter transcends all the illusions of romance.
We become open to each other as the real persons we are,
not projecting any false images or trying to conjure up
the dreamy feelings of 'love' we have learned from the mass media.

    It would be wonderful to be able to create
communities of persons of spirit,
but this probably cannot happen, because it is so easy to confuse
spiritual encounter with emotional and psychological dynamics.
Nevertheless, we can remain open to new encounters
—and treasure the moments of I-Thou meeting that come our way.

6.  The Disclosure of Existential Anxiety and other
     Manifestations of Our Existential Predicament

    Now we turn to the dark side of the human spirit.
As wonderful as freedom, creativity, & love are,
they come along with an awareness of anxiety, depression, & despair.
As we become more free in all dimensions of our lives,
we will also discover more angst, more existential meaninglessness.

    Existential anxiety differs from simple fear in 5 ways: 

1. All fears have specific causes in the world.
But angst is free-floating and not connected with specific situations. 

2. In fearful situations, we know why we are afraid.
But angst comes from everywhere and nowhere. 

3. All fears are temporary—lasting only while the danger is present.
But existential anxiety is permanent
—always waiting within to disclose itself. 

4. Each fearful situation threatens only a limited set of values.
But existential anxiety 'threatens' everything. 

5. We have a fighting chance against anything fearsome.
But existential anxiety arises from within us.
Therefore fight or flight is impossible.
Wherever we go, we take our angst with us.

7.  Glimpses of Joy and Fulfillment

    However, angst is not the last word about human spirit.
As we develop our spirits in the other ways just explored,
we might have spontaneous moments
in which we break thru to the other side of despair,
in which we glimpse JOY and fulfillment.

    If we are open and receptive to such moments,
we will attempt to become better attuned with them,
trying to discover what we were doing right
that allowed existential despair and anxiety to lift.

    Peace replaces existential anxiety when
(1) we stop trying to overcome angst by our own powers,
(2) we abandon the psychological techniques appropriate for fears, &
(3) we become open to peace and meaning.

    Then, over the years of living in such release,
we learn how to become ever better attuned with peace.

secular sermon length: 6.67 KB   
revised 9-19-99; 6-30-2001, 3-25-2003; 6-24-2003; 10-12-2006; 5-28-2009;11-12-2010; 10-8-2011; 5-30-2012; 11-13-2013;

AUTHOR: <>  James Park is an independent existential philosopher
with a deep interest in spirituality.
He has written five books on existential spirituality,
Spirituality for Humanists.
The others will be found in the Existential Spirituality Bibliography .

    For more information about James Park see his home page:
James Leonard Park—Free Library

 If you would like to know more about any of the seven themes outlined in this secular sermon,
each of them receives a more complete discussion in the following series:

This secular sermon is based on a small book of the same name:
Spirituality for Humanists:
Six Capacities of Our Human Spirits
by James Park.
The complete text of this 24-page book
is available free of charge on the Internet.
Simply click the name above or go to the following URL:

These chapters have now been revised and included in a new book called:
Spirituality without Gods:
Developing Our Capacities of Spirit

This book is also available free of charge on the Internet.

Go to other on-line essays by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.


Go to the Existential Spirituality page.

Go to the beginning of this website
James Leonard Park—Free Library