Buddha once compared spirituality being as inherent to humanity as light is to a candle.
Spiritual may be one of humanity’s oldest and most ingrained instincts. Being spiritual is something we just do. It seems to be an inherent drive, helping us to give order, structure, and meaning to this beautiful, perplexing world.
So what is spirituality, exactly? Perhaps no other subject has had so much written, over such an awesome amount of time.
Let’s take a quick look! Even if you don’t find an answer, you’ll at least find a trailhead for the beginning of your own spiritual journey.
What Is Spirituality?
You could fill several large libraries with these three words alone – what is spirituality? A manga about the life of Gautama Buddha from The Father of Manga Tezuka Osamu is over 3000 pages long. It would be impossible to calculate how many words have been generated over the Torah, the Bible, or The Qu’ran in the last 4000 years.
A Definition of Spirituality
It’s hard to put our finger on something if we can’t narrow down what it is, though. Even though it’s not the most likely source to start with, let’s see a dictionary definition of spirituality.
One definition refers to “ecclesiastical law.” Another talks about “the quality of being spiritual.”
These short definitions shed some light on why it’s so hard to pin a concrete definition. If we look closely, these definitions boil down to two separate outlooks. The first would be better described as religious.
The second, though, is more of an abstract definition. They seem to be saying ‘spirituality is the act of being spiritual.’ Which isn’t exactly clear or helpful.
If we were to translate these terms into more traditional terms, we might better describe these two outlooks as ‘theology’ and ‘metaphysics’.
Theology would be the study and interest in the world’s great religions. Metaphysics, on the other hand, would be more like being attuned to the subtle and mysterious energies that surround us.
Say someone lives far outside of society and begins to see colorful lights around people they occasionally encounter. They may even develop their own understanding of what those symbols mean. They might come up with their own definition for a red aura meaning without ever having set foot inside of a church.
They might not know how to read at all, even.
One does not need to be religious to be spiritual. Nor do you have to be educated. It’s like Jesus reminds us in Matthew 3:2, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
How Spirituality Works
As you might’ve noticed in the examples we gave, spirituality tends to be a much more personal spiritual journey than one rooted in established religions. This can make it seems at times confusing or hard to navigate. It’s hard to know how you’re doing if you’re not even sure what you’re trying to do.
To help clarify how to be spiritual in your day-to-day life, it might be helpful to borrow an example from yoga. In the West, we tend to think of yoga as the bent-back, yoga mat variety. That’s just one type of yoga, however.
There are at least 10 others.
If we look at some of the common kinds of yoga, we can break them down into three main types – mind, body, and spirit. Each one has its own way of being spiritual with its accompanying spiritual practice.
Let’s see how these different types of spirituality might look in practice.
Seeing as how it’s so popular, yoga is probably the best example of what a physical-spiritual practice might look like in action. What we often call just yoga, in the West, is actually one branch specifically – hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga places an emphasis on physical health and strength. In many ways, it’s not that different from other exercise regimes.
Restorative yoga, on the other hand, is more focused on clearing and calming the mind. Some forms of yoga have a lot in common of other spiritual disciplines like meditation.
A physical-spiritual practice is simply trying to strengthen your connection to the spirit through your body. This could involve doing yoga, regular exercise, going for a walk or paying attention to what you eat.
Any of these things will help clarify your mind and spirit, and improve your life along the way.
Earlier we mentioned the 3000+ page biography of Buddha, which takes up almost a whole bookshelf by itself. It’s a good representation of ‘mental spirituality’, which is simply approaching spirituality with your mind.
This is commonly done through studying the world’s great religious texts. Think of bible studies or religious exegesis, for example.
Those of a more theological bent may get a great deal out of a mental-spiritual practice. Philosophy is just as effective a route to the Universe as the heart or body. It’s also endlessly fascinating with a deep, rich history you can spend lifetimes delving into.
It’s not the easiest to put our third category into words. “Spiritual spirituality?” you might be asking. “Isn’t that a bit redundant?”
Capital S Spirituality is most closely related to the metaphysics, of the three branches we mentioned earlier. It often involves somewhat mystical states or experiences that can be difficult to define with words, which is one of the reasons for the prevalence of symbolism and iconography.
Transcendental meditation or Kundalini Yoga would both be examples of spirit-focused spirituality.
We offer these definitions as a template to get you started on your spiritual journey. Remember, this is Spirituality, not a spiritual religion. There’s no one way to do it right or wrong. It’s about your particular connection to the Universe and its endless magnificent mysteries.
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We most assuredly are living in interesting times. On one hand, we are faced with countless challenges as we seek a happy life for ourselves, our loved ones, and the planet. On the other, we’ve never had more resources to tackle these hurdles.
Whether you’re wanting to know “What is spirituality?” or tips for cooking healthy meals when you’re short on time, you’ll find something here to inspire, inform, and enlighten. Browse the rest of our Healthy Living articles for even more inspiration!