A friend recently said to me, “Just because it’s spiritual doesn’t make it better.”
Among a host of wildly instigating comments, this became an interesting point to begin a discussion—a lengthy one—that indicated mostly that my friend is having a problem with how I appear to her.
It is a common situation (that I have admittedly seen in myself) where a vegan yoga teacher trying hard to present an image of good yogi-ness, and be on a path to self-realization through self-improvement while just working on it every moment the best she can, is made out to be a holier-than-thou guru with an ego that inflates with every mention of meditation. Need I mention that I am both of these people?
The former is my perception of myself, the latter is my friend’s.
In this difficult stage of our seven-year friendship, she asks for my personal insights. Surely, I extol the benefits of meditation and yoga as powerful tools for healing and spiritual connection, (which is why I teach yoga to others), but lately my advice is quickly resented and deeply unwelcome.
My enthusiasm for metaphysical philosophies, moral dilemmas and depression antidotes should be “kept to myself.”
Why does she ask, then? I can see she thinks I sound more like a yoga teacher than a friend. I don’t see the difference, but I can sense I need to listen more, ask more, and say less.
There is a door (of perception) between us, and it’s sad to think that if it isn’t opened, the friendship could be lost.
This comment about spirituality formed an appropriate platform for a variety of questions. I’ll introduce not only questions and statements I’ve brought up, but also ones I should have brought up—and, questions that have risen since then, in myself.
Let’s begin with some key issues that arose with my dear friend. Hopefully, this will help iron out relationship kinks that come from following your heart. Times when your path seems to shut out those you care about, unable to reach right now.
What is Spiritual?
Based on many readings, discussions with others and personal experience, the concept of spiritual has come to mean any action, effort, or intention that brings about a sense of completeness, well being, inner joy, connection with others and the universe.
This can sound various or vague, so using the dictum of the dictionary, spiritual is used to describe things that are “of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.”
If someone is spiritual, they tend to be, “not concerned with material values or pursuits.” This term can also be extended to religious affiliation and endeavors.
This definition acts appropriately to cover anything that deals with the metaphysics of human existence and how we adjust our lives to experience or understand its profundity.
How does one find or express spirituality?
This is a very personal question that can hold tension. If someone is a bit anti-spiritual, they will fight the notion that what they aim to experience, or have experienced in this life is anything of the sort—because of the label. It doesn’t matter what it’s called, and we might not even know what it is, until we become aware of it. When we do, we will likely find a way to identify spirituality in a rational way.
Often times, we give it a label—the soul, rapture, essence, true nature, deeper/higher self, love, etc.—and associate the activities that relate to that deeper experience. This is how people come to associate the feelings experienced through meditation, climbing, yoga, running, skydiving, dance, playing or listening to music, as kinds of spiritual attunements.
Anyone can experience a spiritual sensation.
That deep feeling of love within our hearts when gazing at the ocean with a lover, the passion of being truthful and speaking the heart’s desire, or the unity in sharing life on earth with all beings. As stated before, the dictionary definition of spiritual covers everything to do with the non-physical self; so it’s experienced as a sensation, a feeling. To know this type of experience, however, one must acknowledge it, or be aware of its presence.
My friend mentioned an interesting point: “If everyone is on their own path (to becoming enlightened) then surely each person ‘seeks spirituality’ in his own way, be it singing in a choir, doing yoga, driving a race car, drinking, or killing people. Everyone acts in order to make themselves feel better.”
This is where it gets complicated.
Now, it isn’t very often that people will link the same seemingly endless joy, or ecstatic happiness reached through those types of activities (that often bring stillness to the mind, and love to the heart) with others like racecar driving, shopping, playing video games or killing.
I could be slightly off, based on my limited range of experience here, (mainly with the racecar driving and killing) but saying that spiritual awareness can be activated or cultivated through these types of activity seems a bit far fetched.
Especially killing. If you think that you feel spiritually connected and uplifted while shooting someone or something—you’re deluded.
It is important here to mention religious beliefs as a driving force behind violent acts, which certainly happens in many cases. This connotes a separation between rational thought beliefs and sense intuition that leads to a further topic: intention.
Someone may use drugs and drinking to reach spiritual states, but these actions come with heavy side effects—often of the very opposite nature. If one continually drinks or does drugs to feel better, happy or enlightened, it becomes a primitive source of pleasure that stops when the source cannot be obtained.
This is not sustainable as a persistent spiritual practice, and it evidently wastes a lot of beautiful life energy and potential. Additionally, those glimpses can only be a fragmented image of pure essence, however accurate or distorted, of the universal spirit, infinite cosmic energy that does not disappear even when your perception of it does.
Perhaps it is true that plants that bring about certain psychedelic or sedative effects are designed to show us a glimpse of higher, or altered states. But the fact remains that the awareness obtained from the experience is what matters. Just like every other human experience that can shift and raise your awareness, drugs and alcohol are just the same.
Some people learn lessons from life experiences, some learn different lessons from the same experiences; some learn nothing at all. Though drugs and alcohol habits may point you in the direction you seek, they very easily become a crutch by carving a spiral of physical craving.
They show a pretty glimpse of light and feelings of abounding love then, return your body and mind to the dark depths that brought you to seek in the first place.
How do we know that what we do is spiritual?
It comes down to intention. Once we have experienced a sensation or sight of true spiritual intuition, it is natural that we will (right away, often, sometimes, or some day) want to direct our intentions to act in accordance to the wisdom it lights from inside us. Depending on our own personal paths, we may doubt this intuition, or cast it aside for other worldly pursuits until we are about 50 years old and ready to explore the complexities of life; seeking to find meaning then.
For others, following this personal guide is the most important thing to do. In this case, the individuals are aware of the Spirit feeling, know that certain practices will heighten the high its connection brings, and assimilate the intention of acting in accordance with that higher self. This helps explain why the actions and habits of some individuals, though they may be counter-cultural, are devoted entirely to non- material, soul-searching, or spiritual endeavors.
Over time, abstinence from excessive food intake, drinking, drug usage and other compulsive bodily addictions shows a more accurate reflection of the individual’s state of mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing; back to nature, no need for assistance. Furthermore, it becomes more natural to exhibit positive emotional qualities like compassion, gratitude and love for others.
What is not spiritual?
Based on the definition of spiritual, and taking into account philosophy from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it is most apparent that attachments one holds to the physical body, vanity of youth, material acquisitions, emotional attachments, and learned mental constructs, is the crux that divides man from his spiritual nature. Thankfully, this gap can be mended by activating awareness—through practice.
Generally, something that is not spiritual will be anything (activity, person, situation) that blocks, deflects, or discourages the natural expression of the universal spirit within you. Your true nature.
All things that won’t last are not intrinsically spiritual. The body’s senses (including the mind), interactions with food, drink, visual/aural stimulation, sex, sports, money and status. We can perceive these things on a basic level, so they are not themselves spiritual things. The body and the earth are home to the Spirit, while also expressions of it.Photo: via destiny grow on Pinterest
All things constructed can be considered expressive arts of mankind. So, can we discover spirituality through these things? Of course, we have to. After all, we are human beings with sense perception (although the 6th sense is often overlooked). We can marvel at the beauty of the natural world, in the same way we marvel at the advances in technology.
However, we need to remember that the magnificence that made these things comes from within. The natural world usually helps stimulate that humble realization, (as opposed to the fear that may arise from being thought of as disposable piece of technology) reminding us gently, freely of our transient spiritual nature.
What if I don’t believe in the Spirit, Universal Consciousness, or God?
This is a good time to discern the awareness of spirituality, and the practice thereof.
As mentioned before, everyone experiences moments of spiritual awareness all the time. We don’t have to believe in anything for that. Some identify it as spiritual, some don’t. Those who feel this to be of great importance in living a meaningful life often feel the urge to practice: feeling and knowing whatever infinite wisdom they experience, and practice embodying that vibe.
If one is aware of that spiritual feeling, but pays no mind to its existence or on cultivating it, that feeling will not be as strong or constant as it is in someone who mindfully tunes-into it every day. A weakened or diverted spiritual connection appears very often in those who suffer constantly during their lives.
If one is not aware of it, hasn’t thought too deeply about it, or finds they don’t believe in the concept, maybe they will be introduced at a later date. It may be that one regards the spiritual concept as something different. This is where a few note comparisons and a little open acceptance might actually show each of us to be more similar than expected.
Arjuna Ardagh mentions in his book Leap Before You Look, “that presence [spiritual feeling] itself requires no practice. It is. It only requires recognition. It’s not something we attain, but something we realize has always been there. However, the embodiment of realization does require practice, just like a musical instrument.”
Someone may strike a chord on a guitar, or play a note on the flute and can feel the resonance of something further—but they don’t know how to access it; they don’t know how to play the music.
With all of the infinite ways to express one’s Self and strive to experience the Spirit, are some right, and some wrong?
If someone has no discipline to meditate, chant, play an instrument, draw, dance, or do yoga—what else can they do to connect? Can someone become a spiritual alcoholic, shopper or drug user?
It becomes a bit too easy to draw out and blur the lines between being a disbeliever, spiritual seeker, or well practiced in spirituality. Likewise, everyone has his or her own boundaries, speeds and levels of enlightenment based on experience.
It’d be great if we lived in an understanding world where there was no condemnation on how we live our lives, but in fact there is a lot of deep criticism between our selves and each other.
Can someone feel the spiritual connection through shooting someone in the face? (This actually came up). Personally, I strongly feel that someone behind a gun would feel hatred, anger, fear, or nothing-ness; yet, what do we know when there are so many people in the world, killing for the sake of higher purpose? People participate in warfare in the name of God every day. Is this spiritual?
In Western society, it is widely agreed that we have formed a few statutory moral basics on right and wrong. Serious mental conditions arise, explaining why many wrong actions take place. This emphasizes that all individuals are subject to the fluctuations of the mind, bodily urges, and emotional raptures.
Spiritual practitioners, working through various forms of meditation, study the workings of the mind to the degree that they become witness to it. When maladies arise in the mind, an observer of the mind is more likely to pinpoint them, and dispel them before they can materialize into actions. One who does not practice any form of mental observation (meditation) will be less likely to control the effects of thoughts and emotions on a conscious level.
Is spiritual better than not? Or is it just a case of semantics?
It is not the case that spiritual is better than non-spiritual. If we say the opposite of spiritual is material, we know for sure they’re different. Depending on your focus, they’re two sides of the same human experience. You do have a choice as to whether you preoccupy your efforts in experiencing mainly material pleasures, or seeking to amplify the spiritual experiences in your life. You will likely have a splattering of both.
This conversation was quite a dramatic, an intense example of how indeed everyone is on his or her own path. It sadly becomes the case where people in difficult life situations see themselves as inferior, belittled by, and ultimately intimidated by those who feel more grounded in their right direction. Just because someone is spiritual, doesn’t mean they’re better than you, nor trying to be.
Spiritual is different from non- spiritual. If your interests and zeal focus mainly on the physical and material plane, then maybe you don’t consider yourself spiritual.
Maybe, you’re interested in using your body, mind and actions to bring about material changes (personal and global) that match your inner environment —hopefully, it’s of a spiritual disposition.
You may be more preoccupied with the beautiful cosmic connection you’ve attained through dedicated years of meditation and conscious spiritual living—may we all be influenced by the insights you bring to this world!
Like I’m not “Spiritual” I just practice being a good person on Facebook.
Assisr Ed: Dana Gornall/Ed: Sara Crolick