The journey through life is a quest for meaning. We are trying all along to make sense of our existence by seeking answers to notions like; ‘the meaning and purpose of life’, the mystery of the universe, and most important of all, our identity. Adolescence is the period when our search is intense for self, meaning, and purpose. No wonder during this period we often use the pronoun “I” for ourselves. Logically correct, though, the Descartes’ classical phrase “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) does not satisfy our spiritual curiosity.
Many of us don’t realise that there exists a direct connection between parental attachment and spirituality amongst adolescents and young adults. To understand this better, we should first try to comprehend what exactly is implied by these two concepts.
A number of psychologists define ‘attachment’ as one specific aspect of the relationship between a child and a caregiver in the initial years of childhood. They divide this relationship into four categories – secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-resistant and insecure-disorganised – according to varying circumstances of each infant. Parent-child interactions are the first lesson an infant learns from the caregiver, mostly the mother. If the interpersonal relationships are full of love, warmth, and sensitive care and based on mutual trust, the infant would feel secure and comfortable with his environment and the people around him. He would develop a positive attitude towards others and find life worth living. By the same token, less fortunate infants receiving insensitive, careless and harsh treatment at the hands of the caregiver will form a negative view of people and the world and lose trust in relationships. Since these early impressions are everlasting in the life of an individual and determine the whole range of do’s and dont’s in later life, the die is cast right from childhood.
Spirituality is a concept of God with many perspectives but what is common in all explanations of spirituality is a sense of connection or belonging to a bigger omnipotent, omniscient being. This sense is innate and is manifested in a myriad ways “including all forms of reflection and introspection in which the primary goal is to explore one’s relationship to the transcendent in order to deepen and enrich personal meaning, purpose, authenticity, and wholeness”. Our transcendent relationship is strongly believed to bring love to our human relationships. This is inherent and necessary for the love between parent and child.
Empirical research shows that spirituality is a natural endowment just like our faculties of vision, smell, taste, touch and thinking. As Lisa Miller, clinical psychologist best known as a research scholar on spirituality in psychology, has stated in her book The Spiritual Child, “spirituality is experienced through a biologically-based faculty and we are born ready to use it; we enter the world prepared to have a spiritual life. Science also shows that while we are born inherently spiritual, this faculty can be sustained and cultivated by parents or dulled by neglect.”
Normally people equate religiosity with spirituality. But it is important to note that religion is dogmatic in its approach and attempts to attain spirituality through decree and practice. Religion is not spiritual itself but only a way to attain spirituality. All religions are exclusive to spirituality whereas spirituality is inclusive and manifests itself as an inner awareness or a sense of relationship with a higher power or creator or God. This is regardless of whether an individual subscribes to any religion or not. Religion represents or prescribes a way of spiritual attainment by adherence to religious tradition, values and prayers, whereas spirituality can as well be personal. Spirituality is a broad-based concept which embraces all creeds and concepts in so far as they seek to connect an individual with a higher being.
As far as attainment of spirituality by way of religion is concerned, we see that in Islam the canonical law and the Sufi doctrine both run parallel within the orbit of the religion and termed in Arabic as “Sharia” and “Tariqa”, respectively. The Sharia is based on teaching of the Quran and the Sunna, emphasising the patent part of Islam consisting of decree and practice. The Sufi doctrine is concerned with an individual’s inner-self and path of spirituality.
Adolescence is an understandably turbulent period when young adults are struggling to find firm answers to questions concerning their identity, meaning of life, love, moral values and trust in the higher power. It has been seen in studies, and not surprisingly, that individuals reared in a secure environment where ethical values are emphasised with love and understanding have a strong sense of spirituality and they are better equipped against depression, substance abuse and risk-taking. On the other hand, adolescents who are brought up in families which were afflicted with poverty, conflicts and lack of mutual respect and were devoid of moral values are not primed for spiritual development. These people not only struggle for spiritual attainment but are far more likely to suffer from depression and indulge in substance abuse and even sexual risk-taking.
It would not be farfetched to mention the cataclysmic event of the last century that has generally affected humanity’s will to seek spiritual development, including that of the young people’s. This horrific event was World War II. In its wake, this war did not just bring loss of human life and devastation of properties at an unprecedented scale but also changed the collective human psyche forever. It caused a paradigm shift in the thinking of people and their attitudes and outlook on life. The time-tested values together with the established cultures were shattered. It gave rise to materialism, consumerism and selfishness. In the pursuit of material gains life became very hectic and competitive, leaving no leisure time with people for relaxation and reflection. As a consequence, irrespective of gender, individuals got stuck in a rat race. To meet the demands of an ostentatious lifestyle even the mothers have started working, leaving them unable to give too much quality time to their children. The shift from a joint family system to nuclear family units has further deprived children of the love and attention of the grandparents and the kith and kin.
We must realise that for a smooth spiritual pursuit a secure attachment is a prerequisite without which we will continue to bring up children lacking interpersonal skills and for that matter, a need for spiritual development.