Leading a balanced life involves maintaining a balance between our physical, mental (including emotional), and spiritual well-being. Spirituality, in whatever form it is manifested in the individual, is a key element of balance. But what is the difference between being “spiritual,” and being “religious?” Can you be one without being the other?
What does it mean to be spiritual?
Spirituality has to do with our connection to something “bigger” than ourselves and the physical world around us. I like to think of spirituality as a personal connection with divinity. The stronger that personal connection, the more spiritual we are. But what does it mean to be personally connected to the divine? How can we accomplish this? For me, it means spending time contemplating divinity. My own personal spiritual practice is primarily made up of individual meditations and interactions with nature. I do not spend a great deal of time in congregations, although I do periodically meet with others to discuss divinity in its various forms. I would classify myself as spiritual, but not terribly religious.
Spending time contemplating personal relationships to the Divine, and communing with divinity, is the cornerstone of spirituality. In doing so you develop a personal awareness of your own spirituality, and a personal connection with your own divinity, in whatever form that may be.
What does it mean to be religious?
Divinity is conceptualized differently around the world. Many (most) modern religions view divinity as a universal, single spirit, commonly referred to as God. However, there are still some religions that view divinity as a collection of spirits or beings, with each often representing a special characteristic or aspect of our world or ourselves. Hinduism, Buddhism, and even to some extent Christianity – with its concept of the Trinity, angels and demons – have a polytheistic (multiple divine beings) view of divinity.
Nature based religions; e.g. Wicca, Druidism, Neo-paganism, many of which are polytheistic in nature, are also growing in the US and elsewhere. These religions stress individual connections with the natural and supernatural world around us, and vary in their degrees of dogma and organization.
The organization and (more importantly) institutionalization of concepts of divinity is the key characteristic of religion. Religion typically consists of set rituals, gospels, and uniform beliefs that are re-affirmed and taught by religious authorities; e.g. priests, preachers, etc.
For many, being part of a religion or church is an empowering experience. The organization and regular practice of rituals may serve to deepen one’s spiritual awareness. However, many have also shunned organized religion, feeling that placing an intermediary between divinity and oneself stifles personal experience of the Divine.
Why develop your spirituality?
Whether you choose the path of organized religion or the solitary path, developing your spiritual self is a key part of living a life of balance. Being spiritual does not necessarily mean believing in God, or gods, as promoted by organized religion. Your own spiritual path may be a journey of self-awareness, and finding answers to those questions that are larger than ourselves, or even the world around us, such as what is the nature of the human soul… or does it even exist. What happens after our bodies die? What is moral, or right action? How should we interact with the world around us?
Contemplating these types of questions, whether in solitary meditation or within a congregation, are necessary for making meaning of our world. As we contemplate and grow our spirituality we also grow inner peace, and develop as human beings.
Some ways to explore your spirituality
If you are already on your own path of spiritual development I encourage you to continue. If you have not actively begun your journey, you may try some of the following to get started. Again, these are non-denominational and do not conform to any particular religion.
• Take a walk in the forest or park. Try and be aware of and focus on the nature that is around you. Many people see the Divine, or the power of creation, in the natural world.
• Spend time each day contemplating your own spirituality. You may focus on key elements of your beliefs, such as compassion, courage, right action, etc. My personal method of contemplation is usually meditation.
• Try and be mindful of how your actions fit with your spiritual beliefs. Often times we hold beliefs as concepts, but our actions do not match. Where is the disconnect originating from?
• If you are so inclined, seek out others who are also on the path of spiritual growth. They may be like minded, or they may have entirely different views. Either way, try and learn as much as you can from others. Differing views may encourage rethinking your own concepts of spirituality, leading to deeper understanding.
• If it fits your journey, consider joining a congregation, or exploring many different congregations. A valuable aspect of developing spirituality through organized religion is support and socialization. Just keep focus on your goals.
What other ways have you used to explore and grow your spirituality? Please share!