Whenever we hear others say they are spiritual the first thing they usually hasten to add is that they are not religious or affiliated with a church. I think the reason that so many of us feel the need to stipulate what does NOT define us is our uncomfortable awareness that we have slept long only to awaken in the primal vastness of our own unexplored landscape. Spirituality then is the journey into that vastness without the template of codified religion and, for many of us, without a belief in God. And because so many of us who have embarked upon this journey were molded in the familiar forms of organized religion the sudden freedom to find our own way, although exciting, is at times unsettling.
But for now, let us not dwell on the negative what-it’s-not definitions, but take a look at what spirituality really is.
1. The Self as the Land of Discovery – Cultivation of personal spirituality is the recognition that everything worth discovering lies within us because what we find within us is the only learning we can take along when we leave this world. We will leave behind the degrees and certificates, the diplomas and credentials. When we re-enter the dimension of eternal realities we will lay aside the temporary identity of the body and resume the eternal identity of our soul. With all our flaws, inconsistencies and false starts we are the Land of Discovery and the very things that hurt and frighten us most are the key factors that guide us inward. Asking What is Spirituality? as a mantra can pull us toward our still-point center where the distracting agitation of the mundane world is not present. This silent place is the landscape we must explore. It is here, inside, that we do our spiritual groundwork.
2. Exploration Through Various Modalities – yoga, meditation, shamanism, dream diaries, journaling, prayer, T’ai Chi, dance, drumming. The list is nearly endless. Another way of experiencing the sublime involves pushing the body to its limits of endurance, at which point some people report spiritual phenomena comparable to out-of-body events. Such experiences can change one’s understanding of life and one’s very nature. There are many ways to break down or soften the boundaries between the material world and the unseen dimensions. Sometimes we come upon these methods by accident, as in the case of out-of-body states caused by trauma and near-death. An intentional undertaking of spiritual growth can be accelerated by most of these ancient practices and most sincere seekers choose at least one as a daily practice.
3. Transpersonal View of Reality – Transpersonal simply means states of consciousness which exceed the limits of personal identity. Most of us who believe that we have a life beyond the boundaries of the body have had some kind of experience that opened us to this possibility. We have come to believe that the divine essence which fills the expanse of all possible universes fills us as well. We are not just full of god; god is full of us. This realization enables us to explore the Self as the Land of Discovery while acknowledging the eternal nature of the human soul.
4. Evolving Philosophy – This refers to more than just personal evolution, but deliberate development undertaken with the express purpose of achieving deeper states of insight and broader integration of the Self into the wider world. It is an acknowledgement that, whether we mean to be or not, we are in the process of becoming someone different from the person we are right now. We do not so much control our evolution as ride it. In fact, I think of it as a horse without a mane or bridle. Perhaps a better image is the surfer’s ideal wave. It is the soul in its natural habitat and it cannot be controlled. Nor can it be submerged for very long. It is our blueprint, our software, and it is changing. We can influence our development by cultivating high ideals and emulating those we consider exemplars. There is much we can do to guide our transformation; but we cannot remain the same.
So, what is spirituality? It is you at your best and worst. But mostly, it is you whenever you are attentive to your thoughts, actions and desires. It is you while you are engaged in examining yourself and where you are headed. It is you when you are engaged in activities that take you into the recesses of your inner world. It is you when you remember that you are more than you realize. It is you when you are willing to assess how well you are doing in your efforts to be whole.