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Spirituality 101 | For Beginners

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spirituality

WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY?

While it’s hard to give “spirituality” a clear definition (even Webster’s can’t), I’m going to try to provide an overview of the main elements involved (as best as I can tell).

ORIGIN OF THE WORD

The root of the word spirituality is “spirit” which is defined in Webster’s as follows:

Main Entry: spir·it
Pronunciation: \ˈspir-ət\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French or Latin; Anglo-French, espirit, spirit, from Latin spiritus, literally, breath, from spirare to blow, breathe
Date: 13th century

DEFINITION

1: an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms
2a: a supernatural being or essence: holy spirit
2b: soul

I left off the some of the other definitions that have to do with alcohol and ghosts, since they aren’t particularly relevant here (and as a rule we never mix booze and the undead).

OVERVIEW

In a nutshell, spirituality deals with issues of inner beliefs and feelings, and is closely associated with religion and philosophy. Its various forms hope to shed light on the human experience of reality, purpose, and the meaning of life (in the same neighborhood, uh… maybe really zip-code, as metaphysics). It hopes to answer big questions like: “Who are we?” “Why are we here?” “What does it mean?” “Where are we going?” (and a shout-out to Alan Watts, “Is it serious?”).

People practice spirituality (in whatever form) because they’re looking for something – “inner peace,” “enlightenment,” “success,” etc. – and for many it is a lifestyle and an aspect of identity.

The end “goal” of spirituality is a type of altered or idealized higher state of consciousness that usually conforms with whatever spiritual tradition a person might subscribe to. NOTE: Many people, particularly in the West, mix and match elements of differing spiritual traditions.

SPIRITUALITY VS. RELIGION

The words spiritual and religious are often viewed as two sides of the same coin, and some unfortunately use the words interchangeably, so it’s important to highlight a few distinctions.

Spirituality (Non-religious)

By non-religious spirituality, people generally mean a spirituality in which a person is not guided by the framework of a particular religion/belief-system, and is conducting a more personal “inner search.” It is thought of as more individualistic, and more open to a variety of ideas and influences.

It’s a mix and match of borrowed ideas and personal insights or revelations. So for these non-religious spiritual seekers, this “journey” is very fluid, as they feel there is no single right path to follow. These people would general describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” (see Newsweek/Beliefnet chart below).

Spirituality (Religious)

Religious spirituality usually delves into deepening and strengthening the faith one has in a particular religion/belief-system. The big questions about life are sought to be answered within the confines of said belief system.

You might ask yourself, what then is the difference between religious spirituality and being simply religious?

The easiest way to answer would be to say that someone who is simply religious is more concerned with observing their particular traditions and rituals. They do this either to make themselves feel better (or more connected) through token gestures of piety, or to fit in with their peers and family. For the typical adherent, it’s less about actively searching for answers to fundamental questions and more about going through the motions of group worship (though I’m sure many adherents would reject that categorization).

So when discussing religious spirituality, I’m talking about two types. The first encompasses the mystical traditions (Islam’s Sufism, Judaism’s Kabbalah, Hinduism’s Vedanta, Christian Mysticism, etc.), in which the person is in search of an ultimate reality, a spiritual truth or God (again, within the framework of their particular belief system).

The second relates to those looking for answers from their religion in a more introverted and informal way. Not unlike the non-religious spiritual seeker, they are looking for something they don’t feel they’ve found yet in their main religion.

They’re not satisfied with the superficial answers they’ve heard or read all their lives, but they’re not ready to altogether abandon their original belief system either. So they end up becoming more of an amalgam. They dismiss any negatives or inconsistencies in their belief system, and focus and expand upon whatever seems most positive to them.

From a Newsweek/Beliefnet poll on spirituality:

beliefnet-newsweek-poll

SUMMARY:

That’s the quick and dirty overview. Obviously, thousands of books have been written on this subject, and you can spend your whole life delving into the intricacies.

In future posts, we’ll be digging more deeply into these and related topics.

Clearly, there are many viewpoints on this subject, and people may disagree with some (or all) of what I’ve written. What’s your take on this? Let me know.

Photo: alicepopkorn

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Posted on Sunday, July 5th, 2009

spiritual-moon(Photo: h.koppdelaney)

So what is Spiritual Growth, and how can it help your life?

When you hear about Spiritual Growth, you might think it’s all about the white-bearded guru sitting in a cave, or some hippie earth mother with braided hair. For others, “growth” will have a rigid interpretation assigned to it by a particular holy book or tradition.

Obviously the term is much too complicated for one superficial, all-encompassing definition. What I’m going to talk about is a fluid interpretation of spiritual growth and its practical application in our daily lives.

How does this growth benefit us? Well, here’s my list of the top reasons (if you have others, I want to hear them.)

BENEFIT 1. YOU GET TO SEE LIFE FROM A BIRD’S-EYE VIEW.

“People find life entirely too time consuming.”
- Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, Polish writer

When you’re in the thick of daily life, it can be hard to see clearly. You take the world personally and you feel responsible for things you can’t control. With spiritual growth, you begin to free yourself of the burden of thinking that you’re the driver and the world is your car.

spiritual-flowers(Photo: courgettelawn)

BENEFIT 2. YOU GET MORE CONTROL OVER THE THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL.

“You can not always control circumstances, but you can control your own thoughts.”
- Charles Popplestown

You become a stronger person spiritually and emotionally. You’re better prepared to influence the things you can influence. And you’re much more chill about the things you can’t control.

spiritual-drop(Photo: ania316)

BENEFIT 3. IT QUIETS YOUR MIND, WHICH MAKES YOUR MIND STRONGER.

“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”
- Hans Margolius

You start to get rid of the incessant buzzing that keeps echoing your head. You know what I’m talking about… when you lie down to rest and all the events of your day and all your to-do lists come flooding into your brain.

When I say spiritual growth helps quiet the mind, I mean that you’ll start to have more impromptu moments of the kind you have after meditating (or performing any activity where your entire focus is taken up BY the activity). You’ll be training yourself to get to these quiet places more quickly and easily – just like you train a muscle.

spiritual-rocks(Photo: Mr. Theklan)

BENEFIT 4. YOU CAN DEAL BETTER WITH SORROW OR GRIEF.

“There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
-Carl Jung

We all deal with sorrow at some point, and it comes in varying degrees, but with spiritual growth we not only learn to deal with it, we learn to embrace the positives. You might ask, “What positives?” But every type of adversity or challenge has a lesson, even if we can’t see it at first.

One of the best examples of how spiritual growth can help ease sorrow is this powerful and thoughtful letter written by Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) to the parents of a daughter who was murdered. Even with that kind of unimaginable grief, there can still be something to take away.

spiritual-waves(Photo: somebody)

BENEFIT 5. YOU HAVE PATIENCE & TOLERANCE

“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.”
-Chinese proverb

Here the practical benefit of spiritual growth is to learn to let life’s daily indignities slide off your back. And I’m not talking about faking indifference and bottling up anger and resentment. I’m talking about reaching a point where what other people do or think no longer bothers you. Where, as Wayne Dyer puts it, “you’re independent of the good opinion of other people.”

Anger and resentment come from this fear of what others might do or think. We also experience negative feelings when someone violates our own unwritten, internal set of “rules and regulations”, the ones we expect the rest of the world to live by.

Spiritual growth is not about being uncaring. I’m talking about having a calmness and thoughtfulness that permeates your being, and that allows you to view life with more detachment.

spiritual-tree(Photo: Premasagar)

BENEFIT 6. YOU BECOME COMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN SKIN.

“Why compare yourself with others? No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you.”
- Anonymous

With spiritual growth, you no longer think about playing catch-up with all the people who are doing “better” than you.

You stop worrying about that and you realize (as many have said) that it’s not about being better than anyone else, just being better than you used to be.

spiritual-drops(Photo: Cesar R)

BENEFIT 7. YOU GET HAPPY.

“There is no duty so much underrated as the duty of being happy.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Spiritual growth helps you realize that your happiness won’t come from the outside, but from within. Great! It’s cliche, and what the hell does it even mean?! It means you stop wishing for “stuff” to make you feel complete. A new car, a new house, a fancy hat. I know it’s been said to death, to the point where it might not resonate any more. Money doesn’t make you happy… blah, blah, blah.

But the best way to think about it is to ask yourself:

How did we come into this world? EMPTY HANDED.

How are we leaving this world? EMPTY HANDED.

So the stuff we acquire in between doesn’t technically have any effect on the inside, but knowledge does – on our mind and spirit. We were born with all the “gear” for true happiness.

spirituality-happy(Photo: Donna Cymek)

PARTING THOUGHTS

This list represents what to me are the key benefits of spiritual growth. I’m sure I’ve missed some and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As I said, spiritual growth is hard to define, and it means different things to different people. But the thing that’s true across the board is that spiritual growth brings a deeper understanding of what people believe. When you come to understand your fellow human (the fears, the aspirations), it’s very freeing.

You come to relate to other people around the world in a more personal way. And even if you feel your personal religious tradition is “best” (for lack of a better word), you can’t truly say you have a deep understanding of your own religion if your own religion is the only one you know.

As you taste new things, there will be aspects of some religions that you like and of other traditions that make you cringe, but exposure is an integral part of spiritual growth and maturity.

And a deeper understanding of what spiritual life means to different people will give your mind a freedom that will make you smile.

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Posted on Saturday, July 4th, 2009

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