When I moved to California in 1981, spiritual exploration was still in my future. I had my first astrological reading that year, and the astrologer, who twelve years later would provide a reading that helped redirect my life during my awakening, referred several times to “spirituality.” She recorded the session, and on the recording you hear me asking in a perplexed tone, “What’s spirituality? Is that like religion?”
I needed to live my own spiritual journey before I understood. The terms can be synonymous, but often they are not.
The Difference Between Spirituality and Religion
The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist community, has said, “My religion is kindness.”
The word religion derives from the Latin religare, which means “to tie fast” or “to bind together.” One dictionary definition of religion is, “a set of beliefs, values and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” This would seem to suggest that religion is a subset of a larger rubric called spirituality.
Yet defining spirituality is a bit like describing color to one who has never known sight. Perception will vary according to your beliefs. Of the myriad online resources attempting to answer the inquiry, “What is Spirituality?” a Unitarian Universalist minister offers this view:
Spirituality is being concerned with things of the spirit — the big questions of meaning, metaphysics, existence. Being spiritual is thinking about, wondering about, and exploring the deepest aspects of reality, values, morals, and meanings.
Spirituality is mis-defined if it is equated with super-naturalism, which tends to be the mistake I find when I hear people object to the word. Nothing about a search for values, morals, and meanings implies faith instead of reason, or emotion instead of intelligence. Spirituality can be all those things, and it is to some people, but not exclusively so. After all, ‘spirit’ simply means ‘breath,’ as in ‘inspire’, ‘expire’ or ‘inspiration.’ Spirit is about being filled with life. It’s about all the ways that we try to make sense of our living, and our attempts to make good from our lives.
Thus, the Dalai Lama’s statement, like his work in the world, broadens the scope of religion to embrace its spiritual essence: both begin with how we think, feel and behave.
How What We Believe Affects Our Health
In recent years, scientists have demonstrated in the lab what mystics and spiritual teachers have been saying for centuries: consciousness creates reality. Renowned neuroscientist Candace Pert, featured in What the Bleep Do We Know!? and author of Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel, established that emotional communication begins at the cellular level, with tiny proteins called peptides.
Breakthrough cell biologist Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief, confirms that our attitudes and thoughts create our physical bodies. He writes, “Cells respond to perception by activating either growth or protection behavior programs. If our perceptions are accurate, the resulting behavior will be life enhancing. If we operate from ‘misperceptions,’ our behavior will be inappropriate and will jeopardize our vitality by compromising our health.”
In a nutshell: think negative, create warped DNA. Change your mind, change your body!
During the past few decades, medical science has also begun documenting the “faith factor” in healing. Physician Larry Dossey, a pioneer in exploring the role of prayer in healing, says, “I used to believe that we must choose between science and reason on one hand, and spirituality on the other, in how we lead our lives. Now I consider this a false choice. We can recover the sense of sacredness, not just in science, but in perhaps every area of life.”
Stepping Onto the Path
So, how does spirituality “happen”? Awakening is a journey, and just as with literal travel, this metaphorical passage is different for everyone. For many people, the call to embark on a spiritual path is preceded by a period of questioning or difficulty, when one or more aspects of your life no longer flow smoothly. This was what my summons looked like.
Being willing to surrender into the unknown is a huge, scary — and necessary — initial step, because you can’t “figure out” spirituality in a linear fashion. You might begin a spiritual exploration by reading about the world’s religions, or sampling various types of spiritual services. Some people seek out a teacher or guru. Some learn to meditate. Others go on retreat in the wilderness. There are as many ways to claim your spiritual truth as there are people. A formal practice isn’t required, although this can be a useful way to “get out of your head” in the early stages.
Ultimately, the journey to Spirit will be unique to you.
Spiritual vs. Material
Of course, it’s important to balance spirituality with the 3-D world. You don’t need to take a vow of poverty in order to live a spiritual life! This is a frequent misconception among both spiritual and religious aspirants: that a dedication to spiritual service requires one to renounce worldly possessions.
People often find that committing to a spiritual path dramatically changes their lives. Material resources may fall away, but this usually has little to do with religious or spiritual doctrine. It’s more likely a result of a desire to pare down possessions in an attempt to discover what’s necessary and valued, to release aspects of one’s life that no longer serve, or a deep-seated belief that it’s somehow “more spiritual” to be poor. Role models from Jesus to Gandhi to Mother Teresa have ingrained an unintentional link between spiritual service and self-sacrifice in our collective consciousness.
Those who possess spiritual wealth know that love and compassion are the true sources of sustenance. As the Dalai Lama so eloquently expressed, the most devout religious belief can be embodied as kindness. A person overflowing with goodwill towards others is incalculably richer than someone with a big bank account and a stingy spirit.
Fourteen years after wondering aloud what spirituality was, I was discussing my personal growth odyssey with my Dad. After I’d shared passionately for a while, he said, “You know, honey, when you say ‘spirituality’, I have no idea what you mean.”
My heart swelled with recognition. I took a thoughtful breath, and began to frame my reply.
Copyright © 2009 – 2016 by Amara Rose. All rights reserved.
About the author:
Amara Rose is a “midwife” for our global rebirth. Her services include transformational guidance, talks, e-courses, a digital download CD, and an inspirational monthly newsletter. She is widely published in health, business and new thought magazines, both digital and print. Learn more: http://www.liveyourlight.com