What Spirituality Means to Me

sitting in meditationSince this is my first article as a contributor to Mind Petals I thought I would start with an attempt to outline a concept around which most of my writing is likely to center – spirituality. What I will give is my opinion and understanding of what spirituality is and how it differs from and also relates to what is commonly covered by the term ‘religion.’

In recent times religion’s role in the lives of many people, especially in the western world, has greatly decreased. People tend to see religions as useless, rigid and outdated systems of rituals, rules and practices. Often it is. It often divides people. It has been used as a guise for some horrific crimes, also to manipulate and as a political tool.

The problems with much large-scale organized religion is that the external forms and dogma have become totally separated from the deeper teachings and have become control mechanisms blindly and fanatically followed. This happens because religion is mistakenly seen as the end, rather than the means it is. When seen on this level all the superficial differences are perceived as important and judgment and division prevails.

Religion has come to us from spirituality. Within every organized religion there is a more esoteric, inner, dimension which goes beyond the mere following of rules and empty ritual and explores the deeper issues that gave birth to the external forms of religion. Some examples of such spiritual traditions amongst the major world religions are Gnosticism in Christianity, Sufism in the Islamic tradition, Kabbalah in Judaism.

In other cases the esoteric movement may be less clearly defined and organized, and of course spirituality does not need a connection to any specific tradition. Some belief systems which are predominantly focused on the internal states, Buddhism and Taoism come to mind, are often seen as more spiritual. Even in these cases however, over time the solely exoteric sides have developed often at the expense of the original teachings as seen in the case of religious Taoism.

What is generally understood by the term spirituality is a more personal struggle to grow and develop inwardly. Spirituality deals with the important questions everyone must reconcile for themselves. Although discipline, rules and ritual are also essential in spiritual development, spirituality, or true religion, is a system that uses these appropriately to guide the practitioner to higher levels of development.

Essentially a person’s spirituality is the way they deal with the condition of existence and interact with reality. I believe that the existential question is something everyone one of us is trying to reckon with, even if it our tactic is a flat denial. Our human condition necessarily defines the way we live. The fact our life is limited and not ever-lasting gives perspective to everything in our lives. It ultimately leaves us with nothing permanent from the ‘worldly’ and the realization that even we will one day become nothing.

This pending annihilation can be quite terrifying or even depressing, rendering everything else as meaningless. Some people pretend the problem does not exist and simply try their best to get caught up in life and live as if they will never die, postponing the question as long as they can. If you think about it you will realize this is also the approach of blind-faith religion. Alternatively, spirituality is an attempt to work towards the solution this problem – to find something lasting and worthwhile which will give us a sense of certainty and peace.

Where religion offers us the uncertainty (as by the time you find out if it is right or wrong it is too late) of eternal life for accepting someone else’s understanding, spirituality encourages us to seek our own answers to reach a state which transcends death. This aim is the reason that across all spiritual paths, and therefore also preserved in the religious traditions in varying degrees, there is one aspect that stands out as central and common to all. This commonality is the striving of the aspirant to move from a self-centered perspective to a more universal state, to identification with a ‘whole,’ something which transcend duality. This state is seems to be cultivated through understanding and acceptance and to manifest indiscriminate empathy and love.

In future articles I hope to explore in more detail the concepts of the spiritual traditions and give readers and overview which is hopefully interesting and informative.

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