Key Points: Spirituality vs religion is a hotly debated topic. Regarding spirituality, not everybody has the same notion about what it is and what it is not.1Check out this article on spirituality by the University of Minnesota for a different take on this question. Whether you are just starting with spirituality or have already gained extensive experience, looking for new impulses is always helpful in extending, upgrading, and improving our views. So, let’s jump right in!
Spirituality and Religion in our Modern Society
If you are only just beginning your spiritual journey, you might be confused about what spirituality is. Many people grow up believing that being spiritual means being religious and that you should go to church, to the mosque or the temple regularly, say your prayers daily and follow the rules (especially institutionalized) religion has set up for you. Yet, religious people are not necessarily spiritual, and not all spiritual people are religious.
Religions are concepts invented by people, emergent from spiritual ideas. Unfortunately, religious leaders have often used religion to exert power over people. Many people do what religion asks of them because they are afraid of the consequences if they don’t do what they are told. Being scared of going to hell is one of these fears. Others stick to their religion’s guidelines only because they feel obliged to do so. They believe it is what their family or community expects of them. However, they aren’t convinced what they are doing is the right thing.
Many religions share spiritual elements, yet the emphasis is often on their differences instead of what they have in common. Instead of creating a greater community, religious dogma sometimes creates separation and sometimes even violence between religious groups.
I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.
How We Lost Our Spirituality
So, if religion is following a system established by other people, then what is spirituality? Spirituality is not what you practice. It is what you are. Instead of labelling people, spirituality recognizes there is only one truth but several paths that lead to it. Spirituality is what you were born with.
As babies and children, we feel an innate connection to nature and the universe. We act based on intuition and follow our gut feeling instead of making rational decisions. We trust our parents because we feel a connection to them. Labels such as skin colour, religion, political views, or job titles don’t matter to us. We appreciate other people for who they are: Fellow spiritual beings. As we grow up, our parents, teachers, friends, our whole environment start to imprint themselves upon us. As children, we are naturally curious and susceptible to new ideas. We absorb any information that comes our way and learn something from it, for better or worse. At such a young age, we cannot analyze the input that enters our minds, and if it comes from sources we trust, we have no reason to doubt its validity.
This is how our spiritual qualities are, bit by bit, replaced by what society wants us to think and believe. Children who grow up in a racist environment have a higher risk of becoming racists themselves. Children with success-oriented parents probably grow up to value status and money more than deep relationships.
The same happens with our connection to nature. When I was about three years old, I was standing on my great-grandparents’ balcony, together with their dog, Max, and I remember watching the largest garden-spider crawling across the tiles. I can still see it in front of me as I saw it back then. I was even kneeling to get a better look at it, trying to be like Max and get my nose as close to it as possible. It didn’t scare me. I was simply fascinated. But later, and I can’t tell you when it happened, I developed an immense fear of spiders. Why? Because everyone around me was either scared of them and called other people for help to get rid of them or killed them on their own. So in my mind manifested: Spiders are evil, ugly, scary, and need to be killed. Today I know, of course, this isn’t true, but they still disgust me, and I still need my husband’s help to carry them out of the house.
How to Recognize Spirituality for What it is
Then, is spirituality to start liking spiders? Well, in a way, it is. Spirituality means valuing all life, feeling connected to every being on the planet, or rather in the universe and the universe itself, and it means finding back to who you really are, not what society has made you. As a spiritual being, you trust your intuition instead of trusting what society tells you. You don’t believe in putting labels on people, and you don’t inflict suffering on other beings, neither directly nor indirectly. Spiritual beings have a strong connection to their true self without being egocentric because they understand that everyone is their own reflection. Hurting others means hurting yourself, and being good to others is the same as being good to yourself. Spirituality is not about religion but compassion, love, understanding, connecting to every other entity and being one with the universe. Spirituality is about realizing that it is not the materialistic goods companies try to sell you that matters, but that real wealth can be found only inside yourself. If it feels good to you to follow a specific religious path, then sure, go for it. Everybody has to find their own way to the one truth. But be prepared that, at some point, your view may transcend the religious veil to discover that everything boils down to universal, spiritual concepts and that religion is not necessary to be spiritual.2Check out Sadhguru’s view on spirituality in this interview. And what about enlightenment? We will address this another time, so check back!
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