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Spirituality Can Mean Different Things to Different People—But What is it Exactly?

Updated: Jul 16, 2022

“Spirituality” is one of those notions that’s hard to wrap your head around, never mind define. Is spirituality an idea? A concept? An event? Trying to come up with an all-encompassing definition for spirituality is like trying to figure out what an elephant is while you’re blindfolded. You might recall the Buddhist Parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant from several thousand years ago in which six learned men come upon a pachyderm. They each take hold of a different part of the animal and, since they not only can’t see but are “learned” to boot, they come up with different ideas about what it is that stands before them—and begin to argue with each other as to whose explanation is correct!

So, does the meaning of spirituality change from person to person, depending on where they find themselves on their spiritual journey? Are there meaningful differences between “common” spiritual experiences and “religious” ones? Some suggest that religious experiences are bound by rules: doctrinal constraint, ritualistic tradition, etc. Others say that spiritual experiences are more free form, constrained only by one’s heart.

Who has not been awestruck at hearing some fresh new talent whose approach to song and story connects to the soul? Who has not been captured by an engaging work of art, on the street or hanging out alone in a gallery? Or even become mesmerized by a sunset over the mountains or a thunderstorm lingering offshore, silent and menacing, waiting to make its move on the land? Who has not been touched to the depths by these and other personally “contemplative” experiences? But are these spiritual experiences? The answer simply may lie in the heart of the beholder.

These days, “spirituality” can also refer to worlds hidden from our five senses – spirit beings, other dimensions, non-local communication and other extra-normal phenomena that seem to stretch reality beyond the constraints of classical physics. For some, spirituality also includes the understanding that we ourselves are spirit beings on a journey with other spirit beings who struggle to love and serve one another in a world too often focused on self. In short, it may be just shy of impossible to define the term with any consistency.

So, it may be helpful (perhaps as a point of grace) to realize that we all walk the spiritual path at the same time, each lingering at a different place along the way. It also may be helpful to acknowledge that, to some degree, we, too, are both “learned” and blind and thus in need of others’ understanding, even if they describe the elephant differently than we do.

How Religion and Spirituality are Defined in Earth’s Hidden Reality

The book defines religion as an external expression of an individual's search for higher meaning, including its symbols, belief systems and traditions. This includes the study of scripture, by oneself or in a group, as well as participation in sacred rituals and acts of service to others. Participating in a religion develops one’s intellectual understanding of spirituality, which is designed to bring one closer to God.

The book defines spirituality as the inner expression of an individual’s search for higher meaning, which may occur along with or separately from an organized religion. It includes such practices as prayer, quiet concentration, contemplation and meditation. A spiritual life also may result from a person's near-death, out-of-body or some other mystical experience that profoundly affects their worldview.

A strong spiritual belief system is created when there’s a match between what one intellectually understands and what they have experienced in their life, whether it happens inside or outside organized religion. A growing, maturing spiritual life can go a long way toward creating awareness about one’s life here on earth as well as in the afterlife and should greatly reduce fear of both the unknown and the unknowable.

The end of the spiritual development process is the achievement of spiritual self-awareness, an awareness that one is a spiritual being. In contrast, “physical self-awareness” occurs when a human or an animal recognizes itself in a mirror. Animals that feel threatened or attack their mirror-image are not physically self-aware, but it can be developed over time. Similarly, people who lack spiritual self-awareness may feel threatened or fearful if they have a spiritual experience, but it can be developed over time.

Spiritual self-awareness is a prerequisite to humanity’s continued spiritual development.


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