Spirituality is a beautifully nuanced and complex song whirling inside each of us, sometimes echoing so loudly we cannot hear anything else even if we try and sometimes playing so softly, we must quiet everything else in order to listen. It is, of course, difficult to definitively describe such a flexible and adaptable concept, as it is a rather personal thing for everyone.
Let’s start by breaking spirituality down to the central term “spirit,” defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the nonphysical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character; the soul.” By extension then, “spiritual” could be thought of as pertaining to the relationship to spirit. And from there we can build to thinking of “spirituality” as the devotion of attention to the spirit and the things that affect it.
Spirituality is a widely discussed and engaged in concept, because it is a place to turn to in the search for meaning, answers, or simple respite in the chaotic whirlwind of life. While it makes it difficult to describe, spirituality’s variability is one of the most wonderful aspects about it, because no matter what you are looking for, you can probably find it, in some way, through spirituality.
Different Types of Spirituality
There are a multitude of motivations that animate spirituality, and therefore are many different types of spirituality that correspond to those varying motivations. Some are fueled by knowledge, service, energy, and/or a desire to ease difficult emotions. Some seek solutions to specific problems or answers to specific questions, and other variations try to cultivate a general set of values and aligned practices so that they might be primed to navigate life in a way that appeals to them. For some forms of spirituality solitude is imperative, while others absolutely cannot be practiced alone. This is because spirituality can be an individual endeavor, a collective one, or a hybrid of the two depending on who you ask.
For many, spirituality connecting to a greater force or entity that exists outside of oneself is central. It can be referred to as a specific deity: the Universe, energy, Mother Earth, community, and Spirit, just to list a few possibilities. Forms of spirituality that center around a greater-than-self being often involve practices aimed at communing with that force as a way to bring peace, calm, answers, hope, joy, clarity, or other desired outcomes.
One important note is that spirituality can be connected to religion, but it can also exist independently of it. When combined with religion, spirituality is the belief system and religion is the rules and structures organized around the belief system. Some find religion helpful because it offers predetermined answers and practices for engaging with spirituality. It doesn’t work for everyone though, either finding religion too restricting, or they have more personal reasons for not participating.
A spiritual practice is an action or set of actions one engages in to connect with their spiritual goals. A few common examples of spiritual practices include meditation, writing, participating in a community gathering, breath work, prayer, astrological readings, energy healing, attending a religious service, reading Tarot, and spending time in nature; however, arguably any practice imbued with intention or purpose that aligns with one’s spiritual goals could be thought of as a spiritual practice. For example, mentally preparing yourself for the day ahead, while stirring your morning coffee, could be a spiritual practice. As could spending time looking in the mirror and affirming your reflection. Yet another example could be calming and centering yourself by taking a bath. Spiritual practices come in many forms and you might already have some you engage in, maybe even subconsciously.
If you are interested in adding a new spiritual practice to your life, try analyzing if a certain activity, space, outfit, food, smell, sound(s), or other external stimulus makes you feel aligned with your spiritual goals. Signals vary widely but include feeling calm, clear, focused, open, and like you’re ringing inside yourself. Once you’ve honed-in on a specific external stimulus, you can ritualize it in a way that brings you back to it, in an effort to cultivate that sense of alignment. What that ritual will look like is entirely dependent upon you, but try to find an action or set of actions centered around that external stimulus that helps you focus on one or more of your spiritual goals, and really hold your attention there throughout your engagement.
What is Spirituality to You?
As you probably already know, the answer to this question will be different for everyone. For some, spirituality is an entire way of life, for others spirituality is more of a long-distance relationship. There’s also the matter of timing and pace. Over time, your spirituality is likely to grow and shift, ebb and flow, just like any other aspect of your life. If you allow it to, this movement can teach you new information about yourself and your spiritual motivations. If not, it might be the cause of some confusion and frustration in your life.
If you don’t already know your own answer to this question, or if you’re looking to expand your understanding of your answer, try asking yourself one or more of the following questions:
- How do I connect to the world around me?
- What would living my best life look like?
- What do I value?
- When do I feel best?
You can use your answer(s) to explore what sort of spiritual practices help you meet those aims and if there are any established structures of spirituality that provide a useful scaffolding. In this process, it’s best to remain as open as possible. Acting upon judgement or preconceived notions may limit your ability to truly answer your own questions or to engage with spirituality in as deep and meaningful a way as you might otherwise be able to. Make space to be surprised. It’s a part of the journey.
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