What does spirituality mean?
Why would a person be interested in becoming more spiritual? What do you get from it? What is the difference between spirituality and religion? These are the types of questions I have been asking myself over the last 10 years, these days, I find it even harder to express what spirituality means to me because, the more I quieten all the voices in my mind – the more I let go of my ego neediness – the more I connect with myself and life, I don’t think there needs to be a description.
Seems to me that, how spiritual you are has nothing to do with what you believe, yet, everything to do with your state of awareness, consciousness and outlook on life.
Typical resources define spirituality as;
“An internal direction which endeavours to enable a person to understand or explore the essence of their being, this is often achieved through Spiritual practices, such as, contemplation, study, meditation and prayer – with the intention to grow internally. Spiritual experience includes that of feeling more connected with life and with a greater reality, establishing a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world.”
I quite like that description – and another description that inspires me and guides my intent is: “So, if you want to grow spiritually, it’s so simple, that it’s overlooked all the time. It’s a decision to be loving and kind towards all of life, including your own, at all times no matter what. To be forgiving, to be gentle, to be that which is supportive of life – so it becomes not what you do, but who you are. You become that which supports life, supports all endeavours, it encourages those who need encouragement and it becomes the energy of life itself.”
Pretty difficult to put on your your ‘To Do’ list though! To be honest, the engineer in me still struggles with the word ‘spiritual’ and even in my own mind it summons up images of tree hugging and deluded individuals running around hugging each other and not facing up to the realities of life!”
However, I do think that I am spiritual – and these days I feel that it can be whatever I want it to be, whatever is right for me, it can change, it can grow and it can unfold as I learn new points of view and as I experience living and thinking in new ways.
The philosopher Alan Watts had a point of view that I like – which offers the concept that to assume we are just humans is to miss an important point, which is; we are human and alive, only because we have air to breathe and water to sustain us. therefore, perhaps, we should be classified as the unit which supports both – e.g. a human is an organism in a micro environment – one is dependant on the other. In addition all humans are dependant on each other to continue propagating the species and supporting each other. I feel that this is the dance of life that I call spiritual.
So, for me, being spiritual means to be able to calmly flow along within the dance of life, to resist being pulled into all the emotional games we have learned to play around control, aggression, fear and the concept that we have to “be a certain way” to be acceptable to the “rules of others.’ To be able to live below the radar of the emotional angst, power struggles and ego driven actions of the planet. And at the same time, to not be judgemental or needing of anything to change – or for anything to have to be any different than what it already is, and to be in a place of acceptance – knowing that there are so many illusions that we create in our mind that just are not true.
I have focused on living with the concept that in any situation I have 3 choices; to accept, to change or to resist – and it seems to me that living them in that order leads to a lot less anxiety and drama in my life – which is another aspect (to me) of being spiritual (being nice to myself!)
Religion versus spirituality
To me, religion is a more of an institutionalised system with a lot of rules and processes that are required to be adhered to; whereas, spirituality is much more personal. Religiosity seems more outwardly orientated, doctrinal, authoritarian and inhibits some personal expression, whilst spirituality often implies more subjective, emotional, inward-orientation with the freedom to be freely expressive. I believe that they are similar, yet different and that you don’t need to be religious to be spiritual (and it is OK if you are!)
For me, cognitive flexibility is one outcome of being spiritual rather than religious that I find is a powerful tool to keep me healthy and motivated. Because coping responses that are built around fixed rules and inflexible strategies mean that you have to try harder at the same thing if it is not working in the first instance, whereas trying a new approach or moving to a new point of view may often help you to overcome your challenges sooner and with less emotional stress.
I think there is a big difference between ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ – belief, offers the assumption that something is true and that it must be clinged to and followed precisely, this process is based in fear, the worry about not following the rules and the fear of punishment or reprimand. Whereas, faith allows you to let go and trust. Faith is not clinging, it is about relaxing and leaning into the fear with faith that you will be OK.
So, I don’t think that you need to be religious to be spiritual, however, the more spiritual you become the more you are aware of the incredible interconnectedness of everything in the world and see that you are life.
What spiritually works for me…
In my experience, there comes a point in personal development and therapy where there are no more answers, you can’t just say “do this and you will feel xyz…” – at this point some people realise that a whole new paradigm is required if they want to live their life in a way that enables them to feel free and more happy. To me, that’s what spirituality is, a way of living that is kind and thoughtful – yet trusts that things will unfold in a positive way and if they don’t, well, I’ll still be alright and perhaps the less good things need to happen in the context of the bigger picture.
Time plays tricks on us, for example, if you lose you job you may feel terrible or angry, however, 2 years later you may be in a wonderful job and in retrospect losing that old job was the best thing that could have happened to you. Can you see how your point of view can be hugely influenced by which timescale you choose to perceive your problems from?
I come from a scientific and non-religious background and for many years struggled with the concept of spirituality and the many diverse ways of trying to understand what spirituality is. On my own long journey I have found a balance that I am comfortable with, perhaps not the God with a beard, but a power, an energy, perhaps some form of divinity that I would call Spiritual which helps me to connect with inner peace, happiness and more fully understanding myself. I’m NOT into crystals, angels and tree hugging (but I’m OK with those who are) and have come to realise that there are tangible elements out there that transcend logical conscious descriptions.
“With humility comes the willingness to stop trying to control or change other people or life situations or events ostensibly ‘for their own good’. To be a committed spiritual seeker, it is necessary to relinquish the desire to be ‘right’ or of imaginary value to society. In fact, no body’s ego or belief systems are of any value to society at all. The world is neither good nor bad nor defective, nor is it in need of help or modification because its appearance is only a projection of one’s own mind. No such world exists. Simple kindness to one’s self and all that lives is the most powerful transformational force of all.”
By not restricting your mind to the limits of Newtonian logic, you allow new concepts to become open for investigation. My personal experience and results from working with many clients has led me to firmly believe that inner calmness, self love, helping others and confidence come from stopping the voices in our mind and not believing what they say – realising that they are not us (big step I know! But possible) and that they cause a whole load of unnecessary emotional suffering.
Spiritual values and beliefs
I am a strong believer that if you can articulate your values and beliefs then this provides a new platform from which you can begin to see why you are the way you are, then, from this new more selfaware point of view it is possible to make effective changes that open up the possibilities to become more decisive about what you do (and don’t) want from life. Motivation and action then begin to develop – followed by more choice and emotional calmness. My own personal values have been influenced heavily by my personal growth and my spirituality – you can read about my values here….
Understanding and letting go of the ego
If you really want to grow spiritually understanding all the tricks our ego plays on us is fundamental – because our ego deceives us, it is like a voice inside us, chattering away, through all of our thoughts and emotions, it is a fearful voice and causes so much anxiety and suffering. It is the part of us that thinks it is “I” and it tries to distinguish us from others. It is the part of our mind that experiences the external world and then reacts to it. It’s positionality was developed during our younger years and through our schooling which manifest in our beliefs, values and concepts that we mimicked from our environment. This ego was taught that to be right is good and to be wrong is bad – and that, good gets rewarded and bad gets punished – and through this we classify ourselves as better or worse than others. However, this is a world of illusion, it only exists within our minds. The whole concept of winning and losing, better and worse is only a deception that exists within our minds – because this does not happen within nature, one tree is not better than another, one cow is not more beautiful than another.
Our ego wants us to believe that we are ‘greater than’ or ‘worse than’ – and at the same time avoids responsibility, which it does by apportioning blame to people and events external to us “they made me do it” and when the ego is unable to blame externally it turns on itself and tells us the “I’m not good enough” story and that we must struggle to go on, struggle to survive. It tells us that if we get more we’ll be happy, if do more we’ll be happy, if we can stop them doing that… then we’ll be happy.
Once you can see this, our graspingness on life can lessen, our neediness can lessen and through this our ego is no longer being fed, we do have a choice. To become free it is important to observe oneself, to become the observer of our thoughts and behaviours, whereby we can reveal the old outdated beliefs we have accumulated, then we can realise the true self from our false ego.
By letting go of the ego you can see the world in a whole new way, no longer dependant on what others think or do, you become released to explore what makes sense to you.
A few years back, I was in a restaurant and we were seated at a table where one seat was facing into the room and the other left its occupant facing a wall. Unconsciously my old habits and learning’s fired off and as I had been taught over the years and I naturally guided my wife to the chair with the view. She however, said that she wanted me to have that chair today. An uncomfortable feeling came over me as I reluctantly took that position, I sat with that feeling for a few moments and then realised what was going on in my mind, my ego was so concerned that other people would see me and judge me for not being a Gentleman (according to what it thought a Gentleman would do) that it felt threatened – and this happened in a few seconds, under the radar and based on a lifetime of domestication and learning which ended with me experiencing uncomfortable feelings so I would make it ‘right’ – I just smiled to myself upon that realisation and got on with having a lovely evening. This is just one example of the importance of letting go of the ego and just enjoying life.
Quietening the mind
I found that we can communicate quite effectively with our own unconscious mind and that we are one giant biological chemistry set, we can dose our selves up with chemicals and emotions that feel bad (we can do this easily) more importantly, we can generate a whole new set of thoughts and feelings that dose us up with a very nice set of feelings. One of the simplest aspects (to me) of spirituality is about not having to be right or wrong, best or worst, not having to justify yourself or judge other people – just being comfortable with yourself and helping others where you can.
Many of the fields I studied left me shaking my head, whilst others seemed too good to be true. Personally, the jury is out on how many of these ethereal spiritual concepts work, however, I found that if you take the good bits from each (even if it is only used as a sensible concept) you can construct a way of being that makes sense and more importantly, leaves you feeling really calm and good on the inside – and surely, that’s what it’s all about.
Can I help you spiritually?
Well, I’m no spiritual guru, I’m not ‘enlightened’ – I’m not even very religious (although all religions fascinate me.) However, I have spent many years exploring spirituality from an engineers perspective, then from a less rigid non-Newtonian point of view, and finally living my life in many new ways, exploring and changing my beliefs, redefining my values, learning new skills, changing my profession and I have found that there is a whole new world within that is non-dependant on the external.
So, if you are interested in growing spiritually – and you want to learn in clear and precise steps – and you’d like things to be explained to you with clarity – and if you want someone to tell you “do this…. do that…” then I think I can help you get moving along a new pathway, where it takes you though, is your journey.
Spiritual quotes I like
“The more we give love, the greater our capacity to do so.”
“Make a gift of your life and lift all mankind by being kind, considerate, forgiving, and compassionate at all times, in all places, and under all conditions, with everyone as well as yourself. This is the greatest gift anyone can give.”
“That which you resist stays.”
“Love is misunderstood to be an emotion; actually, it is a state of awareness, a way of being in the world, a way of seeing oneself and others.”
“Everything you see happening is the consequence of that which you are.”
“Every thought, action, decision or feeling creates an eddy in the interlocking, inter-balancing, ever-moving energy fields of life, leaving a permanent record for all of time. This realization can be intimidating when it first dawns on us, but it becomes a springboard for rapid evolution.”
“We change the world not by what we say or do, but as a consequence of what we have become.”
“All judgement reveals itself to be self-judgment in the end, and when this is understood a larger comprehension of the nature of life takes its place.”
“The readiness to initiate the journey cannot be forced nor can people be faulted if it has not occurred in them as yet. The level of consciousness has to have advanced to the stage where such an intention would be meaningful and attractive.”
“The downside of spiritual education is the build-up of the vanity of ‘I know’ and the devaluation of people who are ‘not spiritual’. Therefore it is important as a foundation to spiritual training and education to learn how consciousness manifests as the ego and its mechanisms.”
“It is only the minority of people who seek self-improvement or personal growth. This is because whatever one’s self-criticisms, one secretly really believes that one’s way of being is okay and probably the only correct one. They are all right as they are, and all problems are caused by other people’s selfishness, unfairness, and by the external world.”
“Spiritual evolution occurs as the result of removing obstacles and not actually acquiring anything new. Devotion enables surrender of the mind’s vanities and cherished illusions so that it progressively becomes more free and more open to the light of Truth.”
“Everybody is like a magnet. You attract to yourself reflections of that which you are. If you’re friendly then everybody else seems to be friendly too.”
“Why give the ego more power by resisting and opposing it?”
“With spiritual work, the terms ‘is’ or ‘are’ become progressively replaced by the term ‘seems to’, which is due to the increasing realization of the degree to which perception is the mask that hinders truth.”