‘Oh, but I’m not spiritual like you’ she said, as she waved her hand in deference, referring to my work as a spiritual mentor. My mouth crooked upwards to one side in a half smile. It was not the first time I’d heard a woman say this to me.
Mind you, she’d just spent the past five minutes telling me how she feels guided by something within her to do the work she does. She told me how that thing inside of her pulls at her, steers her to each new step, seems to have a life of its own, and how she can’t ignore it.
If that’s not the definition of a spiritual calling, I don’t know what is. Spirituality can show up in any area of life though, not just work. All the time, I hear people who wouldn’t identify as spiritual say things I would consider spiritual. The problem is, spirituality is a tangled web of triggers for many people.
Would you like to do a little experiment with me? Before you scroll on, take a moment to close your eyes and think of the word spirituality. What comes up? What images, memories, thoughts and feelings come up? What’s the reaction in your body?
What comes up will vary depending on your personal background, but for many people they’ll first think of religion. That could feel intrusive like a knock at the door. Attempted conversion. Biblical dogma and ridged belief systems. Judgement. Shame.
Or, on the other end of the spectrum: spiritual cults. Gurus. People dressed in all white. Brainwashing. Group thinking. Airy smiles mixed with vegetarian meals and incense.
But spirituality isn’t any of that. The definition of spiritual is: relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
So, the simple answer is: if you believe you have a soul/spirit or some unknown life-force then congratulations! You are spiritual! Let’s use the word soul from here on just for ease.
So then, what is spirituality? Well it is your exploration of what it means to have a soul, or how you organize your beliefs around the idea that there is an intangible force that animates your body.
You might begin to consider: What is the purpose of a soul? How does it operate in my life? What is the relationship of the soul to ‘me’ in the physical form? Do I believe the soul is a part of something greater?
One obstacle to understanding spirituality is that there aren’t many places to explore what it means and how it weaves through every aspect of life without having a specific dogma attached.
The great news is that spirituality truly is whatever you choose to make it. Spirituality is a personal, evolving exploration of the unseen mysteries of life. Spirituality is your direct experience of your soul. Nobody can tell you what to believe. You can read things, have experiences with certain groups or teachers and even go on to change your mind!
The tricky thing is we have been conditioned to look elsewhere for answers by the nature of the patriarchal, Christian culture we’ve been raised in (more on that in future posts!). Part of your work is to find those beliefs that keep you looking outside yourself. And yes, part of learning is taking in information from different sources and trying it on for size, but the question always comes back to: Does this feel right to me? Then you move on to the challenge of not getting stuck to any one idea and allowing your beliefs to be fluid as you learn and grow.
In my experience I’ve found the key to figuring out what you believe is to first get clear on what you don’t believe. So, here’s another suggestion: go back to those first thoughts that flooded through when you thought of the word ‘spirituality’ and make that list on one side of a page. Then, if you have ideas about what an alternative might be you can write those on the other side of the page. If you’re not sure, leave it blank and know that’s an area for exploration
For me, I knew in my heart from a very young age that what the church was teaching didn’t make sense to me. How could God be all-loving, forgiving and all pervasive yet also be some old dude outside myself in the sky judging and condemning?
Even though the culture I grew up in gave me mixed messages, and even though people judged me on my beliefs and I felt like an outsider, something in me knew without doubt “God is in me and all around me. God comes in many forms. God is loving.”
But what I think, feel and know in my heart isn’t the point. I’m not actually here to give you all the answers. I’m here to encourage you to look at and let go of any beliefs that might be preventing you from finding your own truth.
You might not know what’s true for you right now and that’s okay! Not knowing can be scary. We don’t like to feel naive, but letting yourself off the hook can be liberating. Giving yourself permission to explore something new and finding out what feels good to you can be exciting.
My final suggestion? Close your eyes again. See the darkness behind the lids and imagine that your soul is there inside the darkness with you. Then have a chat with this unseeable part of yourself.
You might say: “What is it I need to unknow? What is it I need to know? I’d like you to guide me to the information that would help me understand….”
And with that you have begun your inquiry into what spirituality means to you!