Friday, May 27, 2011

What is Spiritual Formation? Digression: Models of a Person

Dallas Willard's model of a whole person is diagrammed as a series of concentric circles, as shown below (from
In the center is the will (because it makes decisions) or the heart (i.e., the center of things) or spirit (non-physical).

Surrounding the will in this model is a concentric ring representing the mind -- this includes the thoughts and feelings. The spirit, or will, can decide to forgive someone, but when that person appears, unhappy memories, hurt feelings and vengeful thoughts may arise unbidden--thus the distinction between spirit/heart/will on one hand and the mind on the other.

Next is the body, which is one's own kingdom ("kingdom" being the range of one's effective will). The body has habits, not all of which are under the full control of the mind. For example, some youth camps have a "ropes course," which includes platforms 30' or more off the ground. When you go there, the kids running the course give you a safety lecture so your mind knows that you're safe: the ropes are strong enough, and all the hardware they put on you is secure enough to stop you from falling. But when you get up on that platform, your palms, your armpits, and your feet may not know this.

Surrounding the body in this model is the set of social interactions. I'm a little fuzzy on this, but the soul is the integration of all these human functions. The psalms have in more than one place "O my soul" e.g., "Why are you cast down, O my soul?" or "Bless the Lord O my soul" -- but the spirit isn't addressed in this way.

Someone has observed that the will is not very good at making decisions like "I will not drink the rest of the year" and following through on that. The will can, however, make a decision like "I will go to tonight's AA meeting" and get the body there. For most of us non-marathoners, the will can't carry out a decision to run 26.2 miles, but the will can decide to get up today and run a mile or two... and after some days to decide to run three or four....

There is another model featuring circles -- this one due to Larry Crabb Jr. and diagrammed at left -- but as I recently figured out, it's more of a diagnostic model--focused on psychological (from the Greek ψυχὴ/psuche, soul) problems. Anyway, in this one, the innermost circle refers to a one's Personal needs; it's full to the extent that someone feels their needs for security and significance have been met. These are two crucial longings that every human being has.

The next circle, the Rational one, has to do with models and beliefs; it's full to the extent that those models and beliefs in fact match reality.

If my mental model of the world says I'd be happy if only he did more of this, or she did less of that--if I believe all my problems are somebody else's fault--I can be quite sure my rational circle isn't full.

The next circle, the "Volitional" one, is full to the extent that one's goals are acknowledged. Suppose my father built a multi-million dollar business, and as he lies dying he tells me, "I have no doubt you will drive my company into the ground and destroy all I've built" (none of which is true by the way). Do you think I might develop a desire to show him he was wrong? And if I did, how likely is it that I'd say that to anyone -- even myself? Lots of people have lots of unacknowledged goals -- many of them not as extreme as that -- and to the extent they're not acknowledged, the volitional circle is empty.

The last circle in this model is the Emotional one. When an event impinges upon me, my feelings depend not just upon the substance of the event, but upon my goals (acknowledged or unacknowledged) which in turn are based upon my beliefs (rational circle) about where Life with a capital L comes from. My emotional circle is full to the extent that I consciously experience my feelings.

Someone with a non-full emotional circle may habitually yell, “I'm not shouting!!” Or if you ask how they feel about something, might reply "You sound like my daughter. Do you mean, ‘What are my thoughts on that?&rsquo"

There are lots of reasons why any of these circles may not be full, but as you've probably surmised, a healthy person has all four circles close to full.

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