Sources of Spirituality

Awhile back, I asked people to help me figure out a working definition of spirituality. I’m not going to do the same sort of survey for religion, but I am curious and invite people to weigh in on that here if they’re interested. In the meantime, I’ll be using my own current definitions for this post.

Last time I described spirituality as the process of becoming who you want to be and building the world you want to live in. I kind of glossed over an important component of that, my understanding of “spirit” as passion and fullness of life. So an even simpler explanation of spirituality would be whatever awakens that in you. I was asked in a comment to the last post where the Divine fits into that, and I think that varies from person to person. I purposely didn’t include any form of deity or particular practices in my definition because I was trying to get at the most bare-bones approach that includes everything. As I noted in that post, both religion and spirituality are incredibly vague terms that are used to group together practices and ideologies that have very little to do with each other. Because of that, using a very specific definition doesn’t work, anything we try to add to be more in line with what one group (or even many groups) thinks or does is likely to confuse the issue by cutting others out of the definition.

Some people might think that’s a good thing. There are people who define “true religion” in terms of their own faith and see all others as just a corruption or a cult. But I’m not talking about true religion here (nor am I agreeing that’s even a thing), I’m just trying to figure out what we’re talking about in this multi-cultural world when we discuss spirituality. Whether or not any particular practice associated with that is worthwhile is a personal decision. The practices you choose will vary based on factors such as personal abilities and preferences, philosophy (ideas about what is true or what matters, how to determine meaning and ethics, etc), and religion (ritual and rules for living life according to a particular tradition, usually in agreement with a community). It may or may not involve any sort of god or anything supernatural/mystical, and practices might be noticeably religious in nature or completely secular.

My own approach to spirituality is primarily based around relationships and communication. I enjoy learning about religion of all kinds because it means so much to people and has had such an important influence on our world. I like experiencing the sense of awe around the sacred, which I feel most often in quiet worship spaces such as shrines or other places of prayer. I like to see the devotion expressed in works of art, and to encounter the Divine in my own quiet meditation. All of these things open windows of understanding for me and help me to see past my flaws and limitations to how I think life should be. However, so do secular practices such as talking to other people about mundane things, taking a walk on a nice day, even reading a comic book or watching a movie. What I’m doing doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I’m doing it actively and attentively, but these things stand out as ones that are particularly useful and meaningful to me. These are things that make it particularly easy to be attentive and present.

My approach to life is all about empathy and connection. Whatever God/dess/the Divine is (personally I almost always use feminine terminology if only because I’m still seeing nonsense like this), it’s present first and foremost for me in our connections to each other and to the world. I embrace religion as a way of connecting to other people, without that connection and a shared sense of purpose and meaning I don’t have much use for it. I tend to dismiss objective moral systems in favor of situational, narrative ethics: what makes someone “good” isn’t that they can follow some abstract list of rules but that they can respect others’ feelings and perspective and treat them the way they want to be treated. So it makes sense that my spirituality, the things that make me feel like my life has meaning and is heading toward something better, are things that help me feel connected to others. My personal answer to that question posed earlier is that for me, Goddess is present in all of those connections, helping me come out of my shell to be reborn into greater wholeness, and she is the reason something as mundane as reading a comic book can become a spiritual act.

But that’s not going to be true for everyone, and in the interest of building up understanding of others I’ll turn the question back to readers. What is the primary drive for your spirituality (or finding meaning in your life, if that word is still a little woo-ish for you)? Is the Divine involved, and if so how? And a couple more for people who fall in that “no spirituality” category…Is there an equivalent you find useful? Do you think life has meaning or that you can make meaning out of life? What motivates you and/or helps you decide how to live and what’s important?

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