Reflections for NDU Spiritual Fitness Connector
Chaplain Tom Statler
Joint Forces Staff College
REFLECTION #1 on Spiritual Fitness of Operational & Strategic Leaders Start date: 2/20/19
(1 of 6) As I begin a series of short reflections for NDU and JFSC (each less than 200 words), I want to first propose a new definition of spirituality in order to set the stage for personal and corporate moral development through spiritual fitness. If we are going to be spiritually fit, then we need to have a firm understanding of what it means to be spiritual, and that varies from person to person. The conventional association of spirituality with strong religious belief is the reason for the diverse, maybe contradictory, understandings of spirituality, so I’ll begin by saying that spirituality, as I see it, has nothing to do with religion. Said another way, you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual—perhaps a shocking statement coming from a Christian chaplain! Strategic leadership is made up of all sorts of people, and moral and ethical demands aren’t limited to the religious. In my next segment I will explain more on how spirituality does not equate to religiosity, so I will ask you to tune in again for reflection #2 next month!
REFLECTION #2 on Spiritual Fitness of Operational & Strategic Leaders Start date: 2/27/19
(2 of 6) In my first reflection I left you with a perhaps shocking understanding of spirituality that has nothing to do with organized religion. I developed my theory of human spirituality over several years of ministry and study as a military chaplain—a context that is very different from the parochial setting from which I came as the pastor of a congregation. It is a context that requires I see each and every person who comes to me for help, guidance, and assistance in the same manner. It doesn’t matter if they’re religious or not, and the metrics suggest that many in the military today have no religious preference. What can I, as a person of faith, say to those who have no religious faith? Plenty, it turns out, if I see them as a person with a hurting or wounded spirit. In reflection #3 in my April blog, I’ll begin to talk about what defines our inner spirit.
REFLECTION #3 on Spiritual Fitness of Operational & Strategic Leaders Start date: 3/6/19
(3 of 6) In reflection #2, I promised to begin describing our inner spirit, so I will do so now with the understanding it will take more than one reflection to flesh out that out. Each person, by virtue of their being a human being, possess an inner spirit. That is the bottom line as to why a religious belief is not necessary, but more needs be said on the subject. Our inner spirit, yours and mine alike, is comprised of all about us that is intangible (unable to be touched). That is in contrast to all about us that is tangible—our physical bodies, even down to the microscopic/cellular level. Let me pause for a moment and ask a question to prepare for my next segment. What makes us truly human? What animates this collection of cells we call our bodies? The answer is our inner spirit; it is what makes us more than the sum of our parts.
Reflection #4 on Spiritual Fitness of Operational & Strategic Leaders Start date: 3/13/19
(4 of 6) In reflection #3 I left you with a rhetorical question about what really makes us human, and the answer was it is everything about us that is not physical—our inner spirit, in other words. Our physical bodies are only half of who we are when we stand in front of a mirror and who we present to others. Theoretically, those images should be the same, and any separation or difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us is another matter altogether, but it is nonetheless a spiritual matter. Our inner spirit, while being the entirety of our intangibility, is centered around two poles of existence: our cognitive pole (the conscious and unconscious thoughts we generate) and the affective pole (the emotions we have, whether acknowledged or not). This is similar to Daniel Goleman’s theory of having an rational mind and an emotional mind in his book on emotional intelligence (EQ).1 If we understand spirituality in this manner, we can see how it applies to ALL individuals and not just the religious.
1 Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: What It Can Matter More Than IQ (New York, Bantam Books, 1995), 8.
Reflection #5 on Spiritual Fitness of Operational & Strategic Leaders Start date: 3/20/19
(5 of 6) In reflection #4 I left you with a broad definition of human spirituality as all that is intangible about us, and our intangibility revolves around two poles: our ability to think, and our ability to emote (feel). That is too simplistic of an answer for a seasoned philosopher, but my concern isn’t theoretical. It is quite real, so I’m okay with a simplistic view of our inner spirit comprising all about us that is intangible. Hopefully, you can already begin to see the impact such an understanding has upon us. If you or I have our ability to think short-circuited because of trauma, injury, or substance abuse, or if we experience an emotional trauma, injury, or loss, then our spirits are directly affected. There are also biological effects when our spirits are not well (the physical symptoms of depression come to mind), so there is no dualism—a belief in a separation of the spiritual from the physical. Just as we must attend to our physical bodies (diet, exercise, etc.), so we must also attend to our inner spirits. We call this process spiritual fitness, and it is strongly linked to our moral character and ethical behavior.
Reflection #6 on Spiritual Fitness of Operational & Strategic Leaders Start date: 3/27/19
(6 of 6) Center of gravity (CoG) is a term very familiar to joint officers and senior enlisted because military operational art has borrowed the concept from the physical sciences. There is debate on just what we mean by CoG in military literature, and I follow the thinking of Dr. Antulio Echevarria II who believes CoG to be a factor of balance for us and our adversaries rather than a source of strength. With this understanding of CoG in mind, the scale is a helpful metaphor for spiritual fitness. When we are diligent in balancing our thoughts with our emotions through various spiritual disciplines (religious and non-religious), and avoiding to whatever extent possible extremes in either domain, then we are seeking, and finding, our spiritual CoG. I define our spiritual CoG as the characteristics, capabilities, and location from which a person derives their freedom of action, moral strength, and willingness to grow within a given community. Hence, our spirituality is our moral and ethical CoG. Corrupt or compromised spirits will easily fall into immorality, whereas balanced spirits can withstand pressures brought against it (bend but not break). The goal of spiritual fitness is to strengthen the connection between the head (thoughts) and the gut (emotions), and, when relatively balanced with each other, be able to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason.