Well, what is spirituality?
Is it a thing? Does it mean I have to go buy a bunch of crystals, sell Young Living and do the yoga? Not Exactly.
It's up to you
Spirituality is religion, individualized. It incorporates absolute truths found across most love-based religions, such as karma, loving your neighbor, belief in a higher power, and generally being a good person. But it primarily regards your personal, unique metaphysical experiences and discoveries. To be a spiritual person means to be someone who discovers divine truths in your own subjective way. You may have different experiences than others, but those experiences are truths to you that you deeply believe in. Honoring those truths in your own way is what being spiritual means.
The differences between religion and spiritualism
Religion has a place
Before I say anything else, know this: both are important. Both have their place in this world. Why a person would choose one over the other is going to be a deeply personal decision. The benefits of both religion and spirituality are uniquely different, but beneficial nonetheless. Claiming one as better than the other is a form of judgement, and thus unvirtuous to one's own practice.
Religion is a necessary and beneficial part of the human experience because some people need (and prefer) structure in their spiritual development. It provides guidance for those who resonate with organized religion, as opposed to the highly subjective experiences of spirituality.
Of course there have been (and will be) those who warp religion for their own gain, but that isn't something we can control. Nor should it be a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Religion has its place in this world, as there are many who would have difficulty developing spiritually without it.
That being said, spirituality has its benefits too. In recent years, there has been a shift away from organized religion towards spiritualism. I feel this is for multiple reasons, some economic, some generational, but mostly because many people who are independent are looking for spiritual truths and answers that don't make them feel dependent on someone or something.
The benefits of spirituality include its highly individualistic and subjective nature. It is a way to build a relationship with the divine for some who may feel too dependent or reliant on organized religious doctrines they may not resonate with. There are those who are concerned with spirituality-based pursuits (usually people who follow organized religion) as something of a metaphysical "buffet" where one can pick and choose what they believe in and practice, but that's the very nature of spiritualism. As a spiritualist, what you believe in is your truth. It's only natural for the spiritual beliefs of an individual to not align with many religious doctrines. Spiritualism is a solution for those who seek answers and fulfillment beyond the limits and rules of organized religion. As long as you've got love in your heart, respect others, and are trying to be a better person, how does that harm others?
Now for the differences
- Religion has an existing set of rules, ideas, and doctrines—spirituality...not so much
- Religion is organized and designed for group worship, while spiritual beliefs are very personal and therefore not as naturally designed for organization or group settings
- Religion has (generally speaking) relative truths that can conflict with other religions, while spirituality follows absolute truths found in most religions (as mentioned earlier such as karma, loving your neighbor, do no harm, etc...)
- Religions can seek to discredit each other's belief systems, while spirituality focuses on validating the individual experiences we have with the divine—even if they are not the same or interpreted in a similar way
You can be both
Yes, you can be both religious and spiritual—to the extent you feel your religious beliefs allow. Being spiritual isn't a religion unto itself per se (unless you're specifically talking about the religion of spiritualism, which is similar but technically not the same as what I'm talking about in this blog). No, spirituality is your personal faith and relationship with the divine. When you are religious, you can be spiritual too, because you're diving even deeper into your faith than the limits religious doctrine can go. Being spiritual is something you can practice every moment of every day. To be spiritual and religious mean to explore what your religion means to you as an individual, in a loving and personal way.
How to explore your spirituality.
Exploring your spirituality means going deep. It means asking the big questions about what you believe in, and why. It's a leap of faith (so to speak), and it takes time. We don't find all of the spiritual answers in an instant—sometimes finding what it means to be "spiritual" within ourselves takes years of pondering, inflection and self-discovery. But below are a few handy methods to becoming a more spiritual person.
I've talked about meditation before in a previous blog post, but it comes in handy here, too. Someone once said, "Prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening" and its true. The more you meditate, the easier it is to notice the signs from the Universe and be fully present in the moment. It's like shutting down all the background programs on your computer, or just giving it a reboot altogether. Meditation allows you to clear your mind and focus on things more easily.
Since spirituality isn't really organized, it doesn't exactly have a Bible you can go to for guidance. That being said, there are many books out there on spirituality. Books by Ekhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and Doreen Virtue are great places to start. Here's a list of some other books that would also be a great place to start. It is best, however, to go with your gut and use discernment when you read spiritual books. Your spirituality is what you make of it—go with what resonates with you.
Look for the signs
Yes, the Universe is talking to you! Get a dream journal and start jotting down your dreams. Notice any trends or symbols? Write down unusual feelings or visions or thoughts you've had lately—how are they relevant to your present situation? Look for synchronicities, such as number sequences or words people say. Pay attention to the animals that cross your path—and do research on animal totems and their meanings. The more you listen, take notes and pay attention—the easier it will be to hear the signs.
Spend time in nature
Nature was the first church. Before people made buildings to worship in, they did so outside (just ask the druids). Aside from being a wonderful way to energetically purify and ground, nature is a great place to connect with the divine. Being outside allows us to take a step back and get a good perspective on things, and maybe even get some inspiration (just ask Ralph Waldo Emerson). It's also a great place to listen and receive signs from the universe. Divine thoughts and feelings have a funny way of flowing into someone while in nature more so than anywhere else.
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to be more aware of yourself, your spiritual progress, and be fully present in the moment. It's also a great way to quiet your mind (aside from meditation) that can allow you to receive messages from the divine. Mindfulness is a way to perform a "self-check" and open up to hear the Universe in a better way.
Last but not least, there's gratitude. For the longest time, I was a very pragmatic individual. In many senses, I still am. But I learned how to shift from being a "Negative Nancy" to a more positive, grounded person through being thankful and grateful. I started practicing finding 3 things I was grateful for every day and forced myself at the end of the day to recognize them—even if they were small, silly and insignificant to anyone else but me. Then as the weeks and months passed, I noticed a shift—I began to think more positively about things, and situations I used to be upset about, no longer bothered me as much. I owe that to practicing gratitude.
It isn't easy, though. Well, it is and it isn't. If you're like I was and find it hard to be a "sunny-side up" kinda person, know that gratitude as a default mindset takes time because you're literally rewiring your brain. Give yourself some patience. Even if you can't find 3 things to really be thankful for, you can always be thankful for the fact that you're alive. Other ways of practicing gratitude are thanking the universe for things more often. Say thanks for that parking spot, or the ability to drive a car. Try and take a moment to breathe and be thankful for everything you have at this moment.
Spirituality and being spiritual is ultimately what you make of it. There are no official rules or things you must do. Just be honest with yourself and what it means to be closer to what you consider to be divine. Go with the tools and materials that resonate with you, and respect the things that don't. Be authentic, and know that your relationship with the divine will be authentic, too.