What Does the Term “Spirituality” Include?
When I started meditating years ago, I came across the word “spirituality” in most of the books I read on the subject.
But a quick online search will include results for metaphysical sites, psychic sites and more.
While I think there is definitely a place for these things, the idea of “spirituality” is almost…problematic.
If you ask someone, “what’s your religion?” or “what do you believe?” and the answer is, “I’m spiritual,” or “I’m spiritual but not religious,” this can mean so, so many things.
It might be a cover for being Pagan. It might mean that you’re open to all religions. It might mean you’re agnostic. It might mean that you’re “religiously confused.” It might mean that you subscribe to Eastern Philosophy. It might mean that you dabble in Native American shamanism. It might also mean that you regularly meditate.
See what I mean?
Not long ago, I came across a term called, “spiritually independent.” Basically it refers to someone who respects all religions, is open to ideas, and that a person doesn’t subscribe to one particular path.
That is exactly the point of view with which I approach my own spirituality.
I grew up Catholic. I enjoyed it while I was into it. But personal problems with the ideology (especially concerning women) prompted me to ask hard questions for which I couldn’t find the answers.
I’ve gone on to explore other Christian denominations, the Unitarians, and Buddhism. I’ve looked into Native American ideas and paths, as well.
I’ll be honest: I haven’t explored the religion of Islam or Wicca or polytheistic religions that much. Part of it is my lack of understanding and part of it is that I feel more comfortable with the first set of religions and ideas to which I refer.
Eastern Philosophy and Christian-based ideologies (insofar as my familiarity with them), as well as Native American Indian ideologies seem to resonate with my own heart and soul the best.
And because every person is different, other ideologies might sit better with them.
This is all okay – and the way it should be.
But for the purposes of defining spirituality, I explore ideas within the traditions with which I’m familiar, while exploring ancient ideas that have withstood the test of time.
I’m open to other ideas, of course.
This is why the term, “spiritually independent” is good. On the spirituallyindependent.org website, their definition fits the purposes of my own perspective perfectly:
The Spiritually Independent are wisdom seekers and meaning makers who cross religious, scientific, and artistic boundaries. We are passionate about story as well as history, mythos as well as logos, rapture as well as ritual.
That last word catches my attention: I love ritual.
Years and years of attending Catholic mass have left me with a strong desire for ritual in my life. I actually do love many of the meanings and symbols they use: a crucifix to symbolize a sacrifice for love, a chalice and bread to symbolize fellowship, a rosary to symbolize repetition of prayer as meditation.
(And, well, maybe the church didn’t entirely intend for little ol’ me to derive such meanings, but with this personal take on that, I could appreciate their ideas and symbolism a little more.)
Because of the need for ritual, I have created it in my own life. I like to smudge and use sage, believing in positive and negative energy and hoping to dispel negative energy.
Evolution and Science
I believe in focusing on the breath – going within to help navigate an often traumatic world. I have a ritual of meditating every single day.
And yes, I believe that science and evolution inform many of my own personal decisions and understanding of my world…and my spirituality.
Yes, I think humans evolved from neanderthals who evolved from apes who evolved from other mammals who evolved from all the other kinds of animals who preceded them…all the way to the first one-celled organisms that first appeared on the earth.
I think about how the earth is like a giant spider web – borrowing from Native American wisdom – and that which we do to one part of it, affects the whole.
So yes, if we pillage the forests and the mountains, leech oil into our oceans, blast rocks and don’t care to save animals from going extinct, yes, I think we’ll have to answer for that. We’ll have to answer to ourselves and to the seven generations after us who will have to clean up our mess.
But I also believe in the goodness of humanity.
That we aren’t “all good” or “all bad” but that we have the power to make decisions that can change the world.
For the better. Or worse, if we shirk our responsibilities to ourselves and to the earth.
Because, really, when we invented all our gadgets or started exploring the ends of the earth, our ancestors’ intentions weren’t bad. Decisions that came afterward were.
One of the biggest reasons I have trouble with Christianity, for example, is the fact that in its name, early European explorers had complete disregard for the thoughts, feelings, traditions, and ideas of Native American populations. It wasn’t Christian and therefore it was “bad” – and had to be eliminated.
Word spread among tribes of Native Americans such that entire populations committed suicide before the arrival of the Europeans to escape a hard life of slavery, torture and dismissal of cultural traditions and ideas.
Cortez and his group burned the Aztec codices, destroying their written history and account of their belief system.
Missionaries prohibited them from speaking their language.
And because the explorers’ point of view was so violently enforced, the founding of the United States even recognized slavery as an acceptable way of life – to the detriment of so many other people and their way of life.
To this day, we bear the legacy of the institution of slavery with the persistent existence of white privilege and lack of understanding of those who are “different” from us: from those who are homosexual, transgendered to those who emigrate and settle in the US.
Honestly, being spiritually independent is part of my own way of addressing this. We are many in this human race, but really, we all are one.
We all have a need for security, love, compassion, acceptance, belonging, food, shelter, clothing, and to feel important.
To not erase our human history, but to acknowledge our historic wounds, learn from them, and make a conscious decision to help all find their path, their raison d’être, and to proudly walk this earth knowing that each of us is love, has worth, and that we are all equal and capable of creating peace within ourselves is one of my goals.
And still, today, the idea of proselytization bothers me – very much so. I’ve always thought that one’s path to living life – as long as it doesn’t hurt others – is a highly personal one.
What gives one human the right to impose deeply personal beliefs on another? This goes for any religion. Any path. Any way of life.
Quite a few religious traditions try to get followers through coercion: “you’ll go to hell if you don’t believe in Jesus,” or “if you turn away from your religion, you’re doomed,” and on and on.
Looking Within…and Breathing
That kind of dogma makes me want to run far, far away.
So that I can explore within. Get in touch with my spirit. My instincts. My own abilities to elicit change and spread love.
It also leads me to think that if whatever path you’re on leads to a higher consciousness and a higher state of being, then that’s the right path for you.
So if you’re Christian and you’re on a path that makes you happy and you’re content with the ideologies and they help you to be the highest version of yourself, then that’s the right path for you.
But if you are a more spiritual person who finds comfort in meditation and exploring the tenets of Taoism or Buddhism or both, and that leads to a higher consciousness, then that’s the path for you.
As I’ve traveled around the world, I have found that every culture has its own way of doing things and addressing life’s most important questions.
Why not look at what is working within those cultures and acknowledge that perhaps adopting that which resonates is totally okay and acceptable to help a person on their own path?
And a person should be allowed to change as they acquire new ideas and experiences.
Allowed to explore what resonates.
Because that’s the point, isn’t it? To ultimately become the highest version of ourselves. It shouldn’t matter how we get there as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.
What should matter is how a person has changed for the better and how they’ve made the world a better place.
What matters is that we are comfortable with exactly who we are – and how we can be proud of that fact.