WHAT SPIRITUALITY MEANS ME
I sometimes have coaching or yoga clients explain to me that they’re not spiritual and that meditation, yoga and self-discovery can seem a bit daunting.
I completely empathise with them because I, too, felt like spirituality was not for me. Mostly, I didn’t really understand what people meant when they said they were ‘spiritual’. To me, spirituality was something that was almost synonomous with the type of new agey self-help stuff that I avoided or criticized – on reflection probably because I was a bit scared to look inward.
What’s amazing is that most people think that spirituality is believing in a greater power. In fact, that’s the outcome of it rather than the definition of itself. I believe that being spiritual is simply being open to understanding the self. Although contested, a widespread definition of spirituality is the process of personal transformation, either in accordance with traditional religious ideals or oriented on subjective experience and psychological growth. It is, by this definition, a practice. A process. The outcome of which is to uncover what lies beneath all of the layers of conditioning – to understand what is the true form of the woman.
I see my spirituality as a hidden resource that I only connected with through true need. Only when I was curled up in pain on my bedroom floor did I ask what else there was. Only when I had exhausted every external option for health and happiness, did I understand that I needed deeper explanations as to what was happening. Only when I stripped everything away did I finally comprehend why – at the deepest level – we need to connect with something more. Only at my most desperate did I acknowledge that understanding who I am could set me free. That having faith was sufficient to transform my suffering into bliss.
These days I acknowledge that I am deeply spiritual. However, my spirituality is different from your spirituality is different from their spirituality. My spirituality has been garnered through the practices of yoga, meditation, through reading and digesting parts of spiritual texts and other helpful books, through interacting with teachers, but mostly, my spiritual practice is centered around experience. I love the concept outlined in Chris Grosso’s awesome book The Indie Spiritualist – that we all find our connection to self through different means. Some people find it through death metal. Some people find it through yoga. Others find it through gardening and caring for other beings.
What does it mean to me and how do I experience it?
First, being spiritual to me is about recognizing the interconnections between all humans and living things, past and present. It’s about acknowledging my ancestors and their role in shaping my experience even if they have passed on. It’s about understanding that, at the structural level, we are all alike. And so what I do to myself, I also do to you. And vice versa.
Second, being spiritual to me is about being in the present moment. Only then, I believe, can we understand the truth of who we are and what is real. When we are connected to our thoughts, and disconnected from what is happening right now, we split ourself into paths and falsely identify with our thoughts as who we are. I foster this through meditation and mindfulness.
Third, for me it’s about understanding that I am whole and complete just as I am. The teachings of Vedanta really enabled me to finally understand that our neuroses and anxieties are products of a false perception that we can achieve happiness through externalities. What is actually needed to get free, however, is to understand who we are at our deepest level. In this way, spirituality for me is about subtracting things rather than adding things to my life. I achieve this by shedding beliefs, material things and other baggage I have accumulated that prevent me from being my truest self.
Fourth, I understand that there are gateways to experience bliss and happiness surrounding me all the time. They do not come from buying things, from fitting into my jeans, or even from eating delectable treats. They come from being purely present. From appreciating that it’s my beliefs and my constructs that prevent me from loving my life. These experiences can come from looking at a butterfly landing on a tree. From seeing a child smile for the first time. From hearing a hair-raising choir performance. From feeling the soft warmth of grass under my toes and feeling the earth’s vibrant energy interacting with that of my own body. Spirituality is experienced, not learned. And these little gateways offer us a chance to pause and to hear what resonates deep within us. They are conversations between our soul and our environment of which we are merely witnesses.
Fifth, spirituality is about listening. Listening to the feedback that comes from my body and my mind when I try and do something that does not fit with who I am supposed to be, or my broader purpose in life. When I am on track – when I am doing something that is ‘right’ for my soul, I feel tingles all the way up my spine. I can feel energy moving within me in the subtlest, yet most delightful way. When I am off track, however, I feel my inner child
Sixth, spirituality is about faith. Not having faith in any god or religion, but believing that things will work out. Understanding that even if I don’t feel like I have the tools to cope, I will only experience what I am capable of learning from. There is, I believe, an order to the madness. The power of positivity has had a profound impact on my mental and physical health. And the spiritual practice of visualization has helped me to heal in ways I never dreamed possible.
Seventh, spirituality is about wholeness. It’s about not separating myself or my experiences into pieces. I am an intergrated whole. There is no difference between my body, my mind, my experience. Happiness is me because happiness is experienced in me. I achieve this union through yoga – not just the physical practice but striving toward understanding and practising all eight limbs.
Last, spirituality is about love. It’s about connecting with others on a deep level. It’s about smiling and laughing. It’s about acknowledging that feelings should be felt, even when they’re painful. It’s about loving it all – the good and the bad. Experiencing it all with no regrets. It’s about choosing to see the passing of a close friend not as the most bitter, unanswerable tragedy but as a reminder of how fiercely we can love.
The beautiful thing about acknowledging that we all have a spiritual side – that we all want to feel freedom and to understand why we are here – is that it opens up a tremendous, life-long journey. This is my understanding today. This is my experience today. Tomorrow, I could learn something new, or something could be unveiled to me that changes this completely. That’s OK.
There are no real spiritual teachers that can claim they know it all. They, too, are on a journey.
What I’d love to see is a world where we are encouraged to become self-aware. Where self-help is fostered rather than scoffed at. Where being spiritual is not synonomous with being religious, or a hippy. Where we use our spiritual practices to better the world for our children. Where we use our understanding of spirituality to connect with each other on the deepest, most profound level. Where, by understanding our selves, we are less inclined to hurt others.
Because when that happens, I think that freedom and happiness would be the norm rather than the exception.
So next time you hear someone speak about spirituality, or you are asked whether you yourself are, I encourage you to pause and ask yourself this question. Do I want to understand myself? If the answer is yes, then you may just have begun your greatest journey yet.