What is Spirituality?
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.
I'm sure all of us at some point in our lives have pondered incredibly existential questions like: Where did this world come from? Why are we here? Who are we? Is this even real? Whatever the circumstances were when we had these higher thoughts, these questions make us wonder and deliberate our existence on a deeper level. These are probably some of the most difficult questions that life has to offer. This entire thing that we are sitting in right now is a phenomenon that no one can fully comprehend. So, if it seems like we will never know, why are we talking about this?
I'm not trying to trigger your existential crisis, instead, I want to bring to light the immense relevance of spirituality especially for young people right now. Spirituality can be incredibly useful and something to hold on to when nothing makes sense. By attempting to understand the bigger picture we can make sense of immediate situations and things around us. It can help us put things into perspective.
How can we define spirituality?
The word "spirituality" itself has very mystical connotations, because it is associated with faith, religion and somewhat intangible concepts like spirits, souls, and even ghosts. This has caused many to turn away from it and it's easy to overlook this concept as something else. So, what is it? Spirituality is an exploration into something beyond our physical self and this physical world. It's trying to uncover and feel this vastness that exists that is much greater than who we are just as human beings. It involves an exploration into higher ideals and possibilities. (A little vague, I know, but there's more coming.)
Wanting to know more and understand this world is human instinct. As soon as we see something new or different, our mouths spurt out "What is that?" before the thought is even completely formed in our heads. The way we find out more about this world right now is through scientific research. Science is essentially the study of the physical world around us. The main distinction between spirituality and science is that spirituality looks inwards as opposed to science which looks outwards. Spirituality involves looking at our personalities, who we are inside and trying to become better as a result of this introspection.
What's the difference between spirituality and religion?
Religion is like a club that you join or were born into. Kind of like the passport you hold or the football team you support. There are lots of cultural aspects to it and it is more about doing things as part of a larger community. For example, there are so many schools out there with different mascots, but the underlying motive is the same, which is to gain knowledge. Spirituality is the basis for all religion. So, even though there isn't a single definition for spirituality, there are themes and messages that are still common amongst these different groups.
Why is spirituality relevant?
The biggest relevance it has for us today is that it's a tool that can keep us resilient and grounded in the face of adversity. It's not a coincidence that meditation and mindfulness techniques have been adopted at an accelerating speed this past year in light of the Covid situation. This virus had the ability to halt all our daily activities and bring a huge element of uncertainty in our lives. Most of us aren't equipped with the knowledge to cope with such unexpectedness. Spirituality is a way to make our mind stronger and rooted with the things that matter.
It essentially puts life into focus. We are constantly wanting to be something more. Whether it's more money, more power, or more fame. Despite having or having not achieved these things, our wellbeing is still never determined by those things. We have so much proof of that. People worldwide are struggling more than ever with their mental health despite our standard of living being the highest it has ever been in history. It's really easy to feel alone even with people around, easy to feel depressed even though everything is seemingly perfect, and during bad days or moments when you feel stuck it's easy to feel anxious wondering if it's ever going to get any better. These are all things that we routinely struggle with and spirituality is something that can help us deal with these issues better.
Where do we start?
The truth is, we've already started. Our "spiritual journey" started long before we know.
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."
Aptly summarised by a French philosopher (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.) in the early 1900s.
If we assume that we are already spiritual beings, what do we have to do? This is the best part, spirituality is not about doing. It's about simply seeing things the way that they are. The simple act of breathing consciously is spiritual. Our problem is that we do too much. We think too much. We complicate our lives by doing so. All you really have to do is breathe and experience the world as it is. Most spiritual practices like meditation, feeling gratitude and spending time with nature don't actually involve any action. It's just about being and seeing things as they are. Being present, conscious and acutely aware of everything (especially yourself) is a huge part of spirituality. Before we do anything we have to see things for the way that they are.
To illustrate why this is important, say we have an important exam coming up and we studied a lot for it, but the material we were studying was all completely wrong. Everything else that we do with it is wrong. Every question that we answer will be wrong. This realization of ourselves as part of this huge cosmic universe sets the foundation for anything that we do.
A bit hard to digest? Everything sounds so elusive. What does all of this mean? Do I do nothing? How do I know if I'm being spiritual? It's okay if nothing really makes sense right now. The explanations are not entirely based on logic as these are things that can't just be understood but need to be felt.
Instead of adding a call to action at the end of my post, this is my call to inaction: just breathe and relax for the next minute if you can. All of these words are just something to think about.