What is Spirituality? An Introduction
When we speak about spirituality, not everybody has the same notion about what it is and what it is not. Whether you are just starting with spirituality or whether you have already gained extensive experience, looking for new impulses is always helpful in extending, upgrading, and improving our views. So, let’s jump right in!
Spirituality in our Modern Society
Spirituality vs. Religion
If you are only just beginning your journey, you might be confused about what spirituality is. Many people grow up with the belief that being spiritual means being religious and that you should go to church, to the mosque or the temple regularly, say your prayers daily and follow the rules (especially institutionalized) religion has set up for you. Yet, religious people are not necessarily spiritual, and not all spiritual people are religious.
Religions are concepts invented by people, emergent from spiritual ideas. Unfortunately, religious leaders have often used religion to exert power over people. Many people do what a religion asks of them because they are afraid of the consequences if they don’t do what they are told. Being afraid of going to hell is one of these fears. Other people only adhere to their religion’s guidelines because they feel it is what their family or community expects of them but not because they are convinced what they are doing is the right thing.
Moreover, although many religions share spiritual elements, emphasis is often put on their differences instead of what they have in common. Instead of creating greater community, religion often creates separation and sometimes even violence between religious groups.
How We Lost Our Spirituality
So, if religion is following a system established by other people, then what is spirituality? Spirituality is not what you practice. It is what you are. Instead of putting a label on people, spirituality recognizes that there is only one truth but several paths that lead to it. Spirituality is what you were born with.
As babies and children we feel an innate connection to nature and the universe. We act based on intuition and follow our gut feeling instead of making rational decisions. We trust in our parents because we feel a connection to them. Labels such as skin color, religion, political view or job title don’t matter to us. We appreciate other people for who they are: A fellow spiritual being. When we grow up, our parents, teachers, friends, our whole environment starts to imprint itself upon us. As children we are naturally curious and susceptible to new ideas. We soak up every information that comes our way and absorb it. At such a young age, we aren’t able to analyze the information that enters our minds, and if it comes from sources we trust, we have no reason to doubt its validity.
This is how our spiritual qualities are bit by bit replaced by what society wants us to think and believe. Children who grow up in a racist environment have a higher risk of becoming racists themselves, children with success-oriented parents probably grow up to value status and money more than deep relationships.
The same happens with our connection to nature. When I was about three years old, I was standing on my great-grandparents’ balcony together with their dog, Max, and I remember watching the largest garden-spider crawling across the tiles. I can see it still in front of me, like I saw it back then. I was even kneeling down to get a better look at it, trying to be like Max and get my nose as close to it as possible. It didn’t scare me, I was simply fascinated. But later, and I can’t tell you when it happened, I developed an immense fear of spiders. Why? Because everyone around me was either scared of them and called other people for help to get rid of them, or killed them on their own. So in my mind manifested: Spiders are bad, ugly, scary and need to be killed. Today I know of course this isn’t true, but they still disgust me and I still need my partner’s help to carry them out of the house.
How to Recognize Spirituality for What it is
Then, is spirituality to start liking spiders? Well, in a way it is. Spirituality means valuing all life, feeling connected to every being on the planet or rather in the universe and the universe itself, and it means finding back to who you really are, not what society has made you. As a spiritual being you trust your intuition instead of trusting what society tells you. You don’t believe in putting labels on people, and you don’t inflict suffering on other beings, neither directly nor indirectly. Spiritual beings have a strong connection to their true self without being egocentric or egotistic because they understand that everybody else is their own reflection. Hurting others means hurting yourself, and being good to others is the same as being good to yourself. You see, spirituality is really not about religion but about compassion, love, understanding and connecting to every other entity and about being one with the universe. Spirituality is about realizing that it is not the materialistic goods companies try to sell you which matters, but that real wealth can be found only inside yourself. If it feels good to you to follow a specific religious path, then sure, go for it. Everybody has to find their own path to the one truth. But be prepared that at some point your view may transcend the religious veil to discover that everything boils down to universal, spiritual concepts and that religion is not necessary to be spiritual. And what about enlightenment? We will adress this in another post, so check back!