What do we mean when we talk about ‘spirituality’? What do we mean when we describe someone as ‘spiritual’, or something — an experience, an idea, or a feeling — as ‘spiritual’?
We may think of spirituality as synonymous with religion, but it is not. It is far more eclectic. Take New Thought, Spiritualism, Theosophy, and add a dash of occultism, a sprinkling of UFO religion, a dollop of Jungian psychology, and lashings of mysticism. What do we get? A host of eclectic ideas and practices: channelling, meditation, divination, yoga, conscious-creating, astrology, energy healing, shadow work, quantum mysticism, alchemy. The list goes on. All of these things plus many more fall under our general, modern conception of ‘spiritual’, and so it is no wonder why the term can often become confusing. Generally, the term implies a connection with something bigger than our selves: you may be familiar with terms like ‘ascendance’, ‘raising vibration’, ‘higher frequency’, even ‘transcendence’ and so on; whereas for me, spirituality is the connection to our selves: not a bigger, broader, or higher connection; but a deeper one.
Indeed, spirituality is not about height but about depth. It is not something we aspire to, or raise our vibration to experience: spirituality is our grounded reality that is here, now, in all its grittiness, in all its chaos. The word ‘spiritual’ is a derivation of ‘spirit’ and comes from the Latin word spirare, which simply means ‘breathe’, and spiritus, or ‘breath’. Spirituality is life, existence, being. It is not something otherworldly and out there: it is right here, it is all around us, it isus. If spirit simply means breath, then the act of breathing is what connects our inner and outer worlds: the two cannot be separated. The word ‘inspire’ — Latin inspirare — also means to ‘breath in’, and so by its very definition, spirituality is something at once within and without of our selves, it is our life force, as well as our inspiration.
What does ‘spirituality’ mean to you? You may have firmly rooted spiritual beliefs and practices; or you may dismiss the idea of spirituality as woo, out there, and otherworldly; or you may have an interest, a curiosity, and would like to know and experience more. I suggest that, as we are each born with a soul, then we are by our very nature spiritual, for it is intrinsic to our humanity. So rather than being woo and out there, spirituality not only has practical but imperative implications for our daily lives: spiritual perspectives, experiences, and practices are erroneously framed as otherworldly when they are in fact precious human resources that can enable us to manifest our ideals and effect real, lasting change. Indeed, spirituality is for the everyday, for everyone. But what is it, and why do we need ‘spirituality’? Why now?
In the Twenty First Century there is a growing interest in psychic phenomena, neuroplasticity, transcendental meditation and mindfulness, energy healing, and various pseudo-sciences such as the law of attraction and quantum mysticism to name but a few. These amalgams of ideas and practices all focus on personal transformation and have been increasingly adopted into various self-help modalities. This focus on inner transformation is what we may call, in a general sense, ‘spirituality’.
For some people the word ‘spirituality’ may be an instant turn off, for it has connotations of a fluffy, ‘out there’ approach to life that is removed from everyday problems and struggles; whilst for some it is mere escapism from our physical, material reality, often referred to as our ‘Three-Dimensional’ experience in metaphysical circles. But nothing could be further from the truth. If you have a body, a heart, and soul — which we all do — then you are spiritual: spirituality is the development of our inner selves and it is everywhere, and in everything; it is the essence of our reality, the very essence our being. Spirituality is not about escaping from the world by retreating into some higher level of consciousness; rather it is about how we interact in the material world, in the here and now, consciously, and with a conscience. It is about how we face our everyday challenges as much as it is about pursuing our wildest dreams and living our fullest human potential.
What makes a person ‘spiritual’? We are all spiritual, for spirituality is inextricably part of our human essence. We do not need to travel to the far reaches of the East in order to undergo a spiritual awakening, nor do we need to attend a silent retreat or practice reiki healing; we do not need to be psychic, or practice meditation, or do yoga; we do not need crystals, incense, tarot cards or other accouterments; and we do not need to believe in channeling spirits — or believe in anything for that matter — other than a belief in ourselves and our potential to live our personal truth.
Spiritual discourses habitually refer to the ‘higher self’, or the part of us that transcends the earthly plane, as if it were somehow our real self, our soul-self. Oftentimes this ‘self’ is referred to as the Fifth Dimensional or spiritual self, as opposed to the Three Dimensional or human self. But any separation of the two is erroneous, for we embody both. Notions of transcendence are at risk of promoting escapism, or what is sometimes referred to as ‘bypassing’ the real, concrete, everyday world. It is as if we are afraid of our humanness, our own shadow, instead of embracing it, celebrating it, and seeking empowerment in it: indeed, our fallibility enables learning and growth; and our vulnerability is our strength, for it shows compassion and grace in the face of adversity. Oftentimes in spiritual thinking, our human self is divorced from our higher self, or is somehow made inferior to it. But spirituality is not about connecting with our ‘higher’ self but about connecting more deeply and authentically with our human self: it is not about denying our humanness, or escaping from this Three Dimensional reality; rather, it is about learning to live in the world with greater love and compassion.
My personal approach to spirituality is anthropocentric, interpreting or regarding the world in terms of human values and experiences. I call this an immanentist approach, whereby our integrated self — which includes our humanness and our spirituality as indistinguishable aspects of our being — is fully present in the physical world. This approach runs counter to ‘transcendentalism’, or the belief that divinity is something wholly independent of the material universe — it is something outside of ourselves, rather than an intrinsic aspect of our being. The spiritual and the human are inseparable aspects of our reality. The more we embrace our human self — our intrinsic selfhood — the more we are fully present, authentic, and integrated: we can only fly so high as our roots are deep, and so it is in the depths of our being that we reach our greatest heights.
To be spiritual means to be human: spirituality and humanity are synonymous; and so we cannot divide each other into spiritual and non-spiritual, for we are all human, and therefore we are all spiritual. It is futile to think of the human and the spiritual as distinct ideas, for our spirituality and our humanness are two sides of the same coin; one implies the other by definition, and they are indivisible. But the extent to which we invest in the growth of our soul is down to each individual to choose: how to find balance between our inner and outer world in order to give meaning, purpose, and value to our lives. Whilst some people may harbor an interest or curiosity in spirituality, others may explore the depths of its subject matters with immense devotion and passion. Others may gravitate towards spiritual ideas and practices without even being aware of it, for there has been an increasing overlap between spirituality and self-help in the form of positive thinking and personal development. Whilst this group of people do not wholly subscribe to spiritual beliefs and practices, they represent a growing interest in spiritual ideas that is gradually seeping into mainstream Western culture. But regardless of the extent to which we are aware of and engaged in spiritual ideas and practices, we are all spiritual, for we can be ‘spiritual’ anywhere and anytime, for we are always ‘spiritual’ by virtue of the fact that we are human: spirituality is part of — and inseparable from — our human essence, for we each have an inner self, we each have a soul.
If you are aware of our inner self, and you have a deep desire to develop your inner self for insight, enrichment, and to discover your true potential, then you may choose to embark on a spiritual journey. Words like ‘enlightenment’ and ‘awakening’ are often used in spiritual communities to describe the endpoint of that spiritual journey; but the truth is, there is no endpoint: the journey itself is the point, for it is a journey towards having a better understanding of our selves, loving our selves more deeply, and integrating those parts of ourselves that we have denied or forgotten. ‘Awakening’ is simply realizing our potential for inner growth, committing ourselves to that growth, and learning to trust our inner compass to lead the way; and ‘enlightenment’ is synonymous with the enrichment of our inner being, which ultimately allows us to lead more purposeful and fulfilling lives.
Our spiritual journeys are often described in terms of ‘ascension’, as if our path were vertical. However, our journeys are at once vertical and linear, horizontal, incorporating our day-to-day reality. At the point of intersection between the horizontal plane and the vertical plane — where our human reality meets our spiritual reality — is when we experience moments of insight and soul growth. For this reason, the everyday and the transcendental cannot be divided, for they are inseparable. All things exist as part of a continuum, for there is no separation: any form of separation — from the self and each other, from the inner world and the outer world, or in the form of binary thinking — leads to psychical and spiritual fragmentation: ultimately, this leads to feelings of incompleteness and alienation.
Indeed, our world cannot be divided into the inner and outer world, for the two worlds are inseparable: we draw on our experience and interaction with the outer world to shape our inner world, and we project our inner world into the outer world in the form of our beliefs, behaviours, and actions. The problem arises when we focus on the outer world at the expense of our inner world, and when we begin to measure success, progress, and power by using standards that are external to us, such as material wealth, or by seeking validation from other people. A primary cause of depression, anxiety, and despondency is focussing too much on the external aspects of our lives. Many people pursue money, even fame, as if it were a measure of success. For too long we have associated bettering ourselves by means of more expensive clothes, a faster car, a higher paid job. But none of this fills the void inside, for it merely gorges our Ego rather than nourishing our soul, leaving a yearning, a hunger inside for something more — a hunger for meaning, purpose, and answers.
Our search for ‘answers’ is the root of our perennial suffering, or what Buddhism calls our ‘dissatisfaction’. We resort to distractions — such as drink, drugs, sex, power games — to numb the pangs of emptiness. As human beings we are predisposed to seek fulfilment in the possession of material goods, through power and control, but as we know, a life devoted to any of these goals is vapid on an existential level. The allure of money soon dwindles when we realize there is more to life than possessions; and the ecstasies of the flesh may bring instant gratification, but they do not fulfil our need for longstanding connection and security. For this reason, a reconnection with our souls — our inherent spirituality — is desperately needed, for the human race is undergoing a new evolution — not a biological one, but an evolution of consciousness, of awareness. Why? Because our species is also undergoing an unprecedented level of emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering: we are becoming increasingly out of alignment with our deepest values and beliefs; our hearts are becoming increasingly hardened or hollowed; and the void inside is becoming vaster as we detach more and more from our individual truths. When we engage in shallow pursuits — money, fame, sex — we consequently become hollow inside; we are merely carcasses searching for a soul, when in truth our soul has been there all along. It never left us. Our heart, our humanity, our purpose and our passion, our reason and our truth, has never left us. We simply became lost in the dream — or the nightmare — of a reality divorced from our inner self.
It’s time to wake up.
An internal shift — a nurturing of the soul — is required as we become slaves to our Egos, to other people’s egos, and to a society that conditions us with beliefs and values that no longer serve us, but rather perpetuate the repression of our emotions, our true self-expression, and keep us trapped in a mindset of fear. It is time to take our personal power back in all aspects of our lives, to shift our focus inwardly so that success, progress, and power is measured by how much we are inwardly aligned to our truth; so that success is not measured in pounds and pennies, but by our integrity; progress is not measured quantitatively, but quantitatively; and power is not measured by the acceptance of others, but by the degree to which we live our lives according to our personal values and our individual truth.