What are the relative contributions of nature and nurture to feelings of spirituality?


Whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu, religious thinking and belief attempt to ground human experiences and thoughts in the spiritual and ethereal. Religious experiences are considered 'otherworldly' and not material. Heightened spiritual behavior through prayer, meditation or yoga is considered to lead to a state of 'transcendence', 'inner peace' or a 'nearness to God' depending on which faith you follow. Hence, the notion of spirituality and religion is based on an ethereal component. Scientific observations suggest there are specific physiological aspects to spiritual behavior like meditation, prayer, and yoga.

“Spirituality is defined within three areas as goal oriented theologies, a world oriented spirituality with nature and ecology, and as a humanistic perspective focused on human potential.”

Van Doorn, Judy R. (2013). Nature-based Spirituality and Relationships with Values and Well-Being. Environment Matters. Retrieved from


Otherworldly- relates to an imaginary spiritual world.
Transcendence- the state of existence or perception that exceeds and goes beyond normal understanding and also beyond the physical world.
Inner peace- state of being mentally and spiritually at ease with enough understanding to keep oneself strong when faced with stress and chaos.
High complex emotions- increased core patterns of memories and perceptions
Spirituality- Concern for or sensitivity to the things of the spirit or soul, especially as opposed to material things. Spirituality is the fact or state of being incorporeal.

Health Benefits of Spirituality

Many people nowadays follow transcendental meditation, prayer, and yoga to enhance their spiritual and physical wellbeing. These spiritual practices are 'in' activities, which produce physiological health benefits. Among regular practitioners of meditation and prayer, a higher level of psychological health has been observed. Anxiety and depression are lowered. Regular meditation and prayer decreases the stress hormone, plasma cortisol. Transcendental meditation and yoga also increase EEG coherence and blood flow to the brain, induce muscle relaxation and
lowers blood pressure.

“Engagement with nature, through both direct sensory exposure and a sense of connectedness, was related to better psychological health.”

Kamitsis, Ilias. Spirituality mediates the relationship between engagement with nature and psychological wellbeing. Journal of Environmental Psychology.p140 Retrieved from

The Brain

Many parts of the brain are involved in the development of spiritual experiences. Different parts of the brain do not work in isolation from one another. The brain and nervous system function as
an integrated network. Since spiritual behavior such as prayer and meditation involve 'highly complex emotions, sensations and thoughts, therefore many parts are involved. The limbic
system, that part of the brain which is associated with emotions and motivation and the connecting hypothalamus, amygdala and the hippocampus are observed to be involved in
spiritual activity. Some of the most basic components of the nervous system like the arousal and quiescent system also foster religious experiences. Thinking was associated with material changes and activities in the brain and the connected nervous system. This promulgates the brain behavior notion. According to this notion, all aspects of human behavior and experiences are functions of a material structure, the brain. Nevertheless, many people continue to believe in a 'higher power' that guides and controls human action and behavior.

The frontal lobes of the brain, which are associated with attention, showed increased activity. This was expected since greater concentration and focus was essential to meditation and prayer.
However, what was most interesting was the decreased activity observed in the posterior superior parietal lobe. The neurobiological workings of transcendental spiritual experience are believed to have been evolved from the evolutionary function of mating and sexual reproduction. These findings on the material nature of spiritual experiences have created a lot of controversy as well as heightened interest in the society. Many argue that by the machinery of neurobiology of faith, spirituality, religion, and 'God' is dismissed as mere chemical reactions occurring in the brain.

“Although atheists might argue that finding spirituality in the brain implies that religion is nothing more than divine delusion, the nuns were thrilled by their brain scans for precisely the
opposite reason: they seemed to provide confirmation of God's interactions with them. After all, finding a cerebral source for spiritual experiences could serve equally well to identify the medium through which God reaches out to humanity.”

Biello, David. (2007). Searching for God in the Brain. Scientific American Mind. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/scientificamericanmind/journal/v18/n5/full/scientificamericanmind1007-


In nature and in the universe in general, everything follows certain cycles. Nature is full of polarities, pulsations and cycles: Winter and summer, breathing in and breathing out, day and
night, male and female, activity and recovery, our heartbeat and so on. Nature is constantly pulsating. Often times we get disconnected with those polarities in modern society. We tend to
get stuck in one extreme, which results in a blockage of the natural pulsation and cyclic nature of things. For example: We try to reduce our sleep to work more, we only like sun but hate rain, we
stay up at night with superficial light and get thrown off our natural sleeping cycle. These are just some examples of how we’ve lost our inner and outer balance. The lesson here is: Embrace the polarity, pulsation and cyclic nature of everything in life. Work, but also recover. Don’t just breathe out, also breathe and embrace the emotional ups and downs in life.In nature things just happen, there is no over-analyzing of things, there is no judging or pondering over the past. Animals are extremely present in the moment they follow their instinct, they neither live in the past nor in the future. The same is true for all the plants and trees.

“Freud ascribes to the realm of the biological and the organic what is clearly a compound of nature and spirit, of biological impulse and rational and spiritual freedom. Therefore he has no
satisfactory explanation for the imperiousness of the sexual impulse, for guilt, or for anxiety.”

Dicken, Charles F. Another Note on Counseling and the Nature of Man. Comments and Letters. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/psycarticles/docview/614421720/EEB3C0CD7B47427BPQ/8?accountid=15182

LeRoy, S. (2002). Spirituality and connectedness. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal. 25(4): 321-322. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/10.1037/h0095006

This article by LeRoy (2002) focuses on the role of spirituality in the natural environment. It defines spirituality as a belief in someone or something beyond oneself that sustains and comforts an individual, aiding in decision making, forgiveness, and aiding through the journey of life. This spiritual idol can be another person, a guide, God, or science. Spirituality is viewed as a force that exists in all life forms and which keeps all life interconnected. Hence, LeRoy suggests that spirituality is found in all humans inherently because every human believes in some power that influences his/her views and supports him/her throughout their journey of life. Therefore, it can be argued that spirituality exists without any nurturing. In other words, humans are born with innate spiritual beliefs due to the need of support from an external for survival of the human species.


Nurture could be defined as the totality of environmental of factors that influence the development and behavior of a person. Psychologists have shown particular interest in socio cultural and ecological factor, such as family attributes child rearing practices and economic status.

Nurture is present in many aspect of life. For example, society says a mother is expected to nurture her children. Self-nurture also introduces the idea that one must learn to care for themselves as they care for everyone else.

Some people choose to connect nurture and spiritualty. This thought is present in most parents who believe they will find the meaning of nurture through spiritualty. These parents decide to raise their children in most forms of spirituality they are familiar with.

Self-nurture: Learning to care for yourself as effectively as you care for everyone else. Retrieved from Domar, Alice D.; Dreher, Henry. New York, NY, US: Viking, 2000.

Children and spirituality: Searching for meaning and connectedness. Retrieved from Hyde, Brendan. London, England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008.

Mid-life spirituality and Jungian archetypes. Retrieved from Brewi, Janice; Brennan, Anne. Berwick, ME, US: Nicolas-Hays, 1999.

When eros is a God: Cultivating the ecstatic potentials of sexuality as transpersonal development. Retrieved from Elfers, John. ProQuest Information & Learning, 2009.

Nurture: Developing Spirituality

Spirituality is not only thought of as a natural phenomenon that occurs in humans. There is also a belief that spirituality is formed and developed by our social interactions and by turning points in our lives. This train of thought centers around developing your own identity in stages and coming to understand who you are. This developmental process is referred to as Psychosocial Development (it is important to note that these stages build on each other as opposed to being separate from each other).

Stages of Psychosocial Development

Stage One: Trust vs. Mistrust
The first and one of the most stage of psychosocial development occurs between birth and the first year of life. In this stage children must learn how to trust and mistrust those around them, namely their parents. This allows children to feel safe and secure (as well as recognize what makes them feel insecure) in the world, and enables them to better make decisions in the future. Children who successfully grasp these concepts are well on their way to developing their individuality and spirituality. Children who fail to succeed during this phase are more likely to feel insecure as they go out into the world.

Stage Two: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
The second stage takes place during early childhood. In this stage, children must develop control over their bodily functions (for example toilet training) and early decision making (what clothes they want to wear or what food they want to eat). Being able to control bodily functions gives children a greater sense of control in their lives, and the early decision making process gives them a sense of independence. Children who fail to succeed during this phase are likely to feel shame, and inadequate in the coming years of their lives.

Stage Three: Initiative vs Guilt
In this stage (during the toddler years) it is important that children begin asserting control of their lives. This is the point in their lives where children should be experimenting with roles of leadership. Taking initiative is one of the ways we discover new things around us and within us, and ultimately leads to us discovering more about our spirituality. Children who fail in this stage will lack initiative and will often doubt or feel guilty about the actions they make.

Stage Four: Industry vs Inferiority
This stage takes place between ages five and eleven. In this stage, children must develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments and belief in their own abilities. Children in this stage require encouragement from their parents, teachers and peers in order to feel as if they are successful. The ability to be proud of, and to believe in yourself is a huge part of understanding your own spirituality. Children who fail in this stage doubt their abilities and feel incompetent in comparison to those around them.

Stage Five: Identity vs. Confusion
In this stage, children must be allowed to ego through personal exploration in order to better understand themselves and where they stand in comparison to those around them. Children who fail to succeed in this stage will feel confused on this matter and may struggle to live up to societies standards.

Stage Six: Intimacy vs Isolation
This step takes place in early adult hood. It is the point of ones life where they must explore the idea of relationships. The people you are able to bond and create lasting relationships help define you as a person and lead to a better understanding of your spirituality. Those who fail in this stage will have trouble maintaining connections with others and will often feel depressed and alone.
Stage Seven: Generativity vs Stagnation
This is the stage in adulthood where we look into finding carreers and into pursuing the things that we enjoy. Those who are successful at this phase will feel like an active and productive part of their community. Those who fail to succeed are left feeling unproductive and uninvolved.

Stage 8: Integrity vs Despair
This is the point in our lives where we begin to reflect on everything we've done. Those who were successful in their lives (completing the stages) feel a sense of integrity and at peace with themselves (spirituality). Those who weren’t successful, are unable to reach a state of satisfaction and will feel despair.

Using Erikson's developmental theory to understand and nurture spiritual development in Christians. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/psycinfo/docview/621960454/89CFB0E4DAAE4B2BPQ/1?accountid=15182

Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/psychosocialtheories/a/psychosocial.htm

Nurturing Spiritual Growth. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/psycinfo/docview/620079244/9A9E708593BD44E6PQ/1?accountid=15182

Spirituality's Contributions to Recovery of Psychologically and Biologically Affected Patients

Walton J. (1999). Spirituality of patients recovering from acute myocardinal infarction. Journal of Holistic Nursing. 17(1): 34-53. Doi: 10.1177/089801019901700104

This article talks about how patients recovering from an acute myocardinal infarction where nurtured of spirituality during their recovery process. This nurturing of spirituality in these patients aided in a faster and smoother recovery. The authors of the article define spirituality as “a life-giving force nurtured by receiving presence of the divine, family, friends, health care providers, and creation”. The reason that this research was done by the authors was to discuss what spirituality means to these patients, and to determine how spirituality influences their recovery. it has been claimed that during the times of illness is when people tend to focus on their spiritual side. This is so that they have an inner belief to take support on, whether it is the divine, or just family and friends. At the end of this study the authors found that nurturing spirituality in the patients aided recovery by giving these patients “inner strength, comfort, peace, wellness, wholeness, and enhanced coping”. This article would be a great aid to a researcher seeking to learn about nurture’s contributions to spirituality.

Walker, D.F., Reid H.W., O’Neill, T., & Brown L. (2009). Changes in personal religion/spirituality during and after childhood abuse: A review and synthesis. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy. 1(2):130-145. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/10.1037/a0016211

This article is based on a research performed by Walker and his colleagues on the effects of child abuse on the spirituality of affected children. The research also focused on how spirituality and religious beliefs helps an individual to recover from a traumatic event, such as child abuse. In the study, it was found that child abuse increased the level of spirituality in some children, while decreased in some others. It also found that having inherent spirituality and religious beliefs helped the children to have a better recovery and reduced the dramatic effects of post-trauma. Walker et al also write in this article about possible psychological treatments/therapy for patients suffering from traumatic events. They also discuss future research scopes in this area of psychology.

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