What’s your spirituality?
by Daniel Cameron, for LifeLube
It’s hard to deny spirit. Ask someone at a cocktail party (who would deny spirits there?) what their spiritual beliefs are, and you can generally expect them to come up with an answer, regardless of their religious beliefs or political background. Despite the occasional lack of real spiritual focus in American culture, it would be surprising to hear “I don’t have spiritual beliefs” or simply “I’m not spiritual.”
No one has an easy answer to spiritual questions, but most agree that spirituality is important, or least relevant, to human life.
What you may hear in response to your question is an example of how the person’s spirituality ties in with their religion. Religion and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. Religion is one way spirituality can be expressed. So spirituality, that which relates to the spirit or the inner life of an individual, is really the parent topic.
[LifeLube LOVES this song - from the Indian film Jodah Akbar. You don' need to understand a word to be moved by it. About 5 minutes in the whirling begins - not to miss.]
Spirituality encompasses both itself and its subsection of religion. Why, then, does the “religion” entry on Wikipedia, today’s “go-to” web site for collectively understood facts, have over 6,500 words devoted to it, while “spirituality” barely clocks in at 2,000, “spiritual practice” at even less, about 900? Maybe it’s because religion has so many particulars to it: familiar rituals, comfortable rules, well-known dogma, etc. Religion consists of dozens of different spiritual institutions that offer countless opportunities to practice, follow, understand and believe in something concrete (doesn’t even naming “God” make the concept more tangible?).
Spirituality, on the other hand, is completely deregulated, with an individual’s spiritual path bound only by the values and beliefs they deem worthy and important in their personal spiritual realm, their universe. With fewer specifics to rely on, writings about spirituality are almost automatically abridged, limited by the concept’s limitlessness.
So if we assume spirituality is the “corporate umbrella” of religion, but is also limitless in scope, what then can be said about the topic in a single blog?
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Let’s consult the dictionary definition of the root word to start. Literally, “spirit” means “the animating or vital principle in man (and animals); that which gives life to the physical organism, in contrast to its purely material elements; the breath of life.” Alternatively, the spirit can be understood in terms of a person’s soul, emotions, inner being, consciousness or even observation of supernatural phenomena.
But what do people really mean when they talk about spirituality?
A significant number of Americans, 24% according to a 2005 Newsweek poll, identify themselves as spiritual but not religious, implying spirituality is some sort of alternative to religion. Perhaps it has become a safe landing place for those whose religions have rejected them, rebels who reject commonly accepted ideologies, or merely the disillusioned. Either way, interest in organized religion is waning. Yet, while religious texts are copious, we have few universally available and recognizable modern spiritual texts to draw from. Looking at today’s prevalent visual-media card catalog, we have “What the Bleep,” “The Secret,” and not much else. And maybe that’s how it should be.
But how many can say they are serious about spirituality?
Spiritual practice is widespread, but can sometimes be stilted by a trend toward “pop spirituality”: the compartmentalization of spiritual pursuits into a 10-minute meditation session, a rushed half-hour of yoga, or a six-month flirtation with Kabbalah. In an increasingly fast-paced culture, spirituality is seen as existing within the space and time of scheduled activities, and ignored or sidelined elsewhere.
In reality, spirituality could, and perhaps should, be a baseline consideration for all activities.
In a recession climate, spiritual practice might understandably be considered a luxury, with many opting toward escapism to fill their spare time rather than serious self-examination.
Spirituality is not considered essential to our day-to-day lives. By the way, it’s not only the immoral and money-hungry who dismiss the concept as irrelevant. Even respected psychologist Abraham Maslow eventually acknowledged that spirituality or “self-transcendence,” as he called it, didn’t appear on his pyramid of human needs. The category was added unofficially much later, almost an afterthought after more “basic” needs like social acceptance, maximizing one’s Earthly potential, self-esteem, etc. were considered. As much as we’d like to make it a priority, it’s fair to say spirituality hasn’t always been foremost on the minds of the average American.
Even when we do give an honest stab at it, too many modern attempts at spiritual understanding fall short of self-expansion and turn into self-promotion. Somewhere along the way from concept to execution, supposed spiritual practice can turn into a five-minute break from material and monetary pursuits, a way for people to feel better about unexamined lives, or a fast-acting band-aid for a much deeper problem. That doesn’t mean recognizably spiritual trappings such as yoga and meditation can’t be important parts of spiritual exploration. But shallow spirituality and faux-spiritual organizations whose principal goal is monetary gain shine brightly on TV as spiritual false idols.
Don’t we need a healthy spirituality, more than anything else perhaps, if we are to strive for happiness?
My personal spirituality is informed by a desire to connect with the universe, understand the fate of lost loved ones, and a desire to be at peace with myself and my life. My spirituality is also closely connected to home, introspection, social connections and (hopefully!) sexual fulfillment.
What’s your spirituality?
The only definite about that question is that as you consider it, you will discover many possible paths to follow, and few definite conclusions. In the end, isn’t that more comforting?
[Feel free to tell Daniel, and LifeLube, what you think in the comments.]