Thursday, May 10, 2007

This Idea Of 'Being Spiritual'

I can’t believe how many people ask me “Are you spiritual?” I’m thinking that when someone asks me that, what they’re really asking is “Are you a good person, an enlightened person, like I am?” And I often hear people reply, when asked if they’re religious, “no, I consider myself to be spiritual, but not religious”. The implication being the same. “I’m not a follower, I’m enlightened.” This is not really a new phenomena, but people have become more vocal about it, identifying as ‘spiritual’, wanting to think of themselves as special, rather than just as sheep in some religious flock.

And who can blame them? People have always wanted to regard themselves as ‘spiritual’, rather than ‘religious’, to set themselves apart, to identify themselves as free and independent souls. Nothing the matter with that. It’s human nature. But so is our nature to herd, which is what (in identifying as spiritual) we are actually doing. We are just identifying with a different flock, one without written doctrine, dogma, custom, accountability or externally imposed constraint.

But apart from that, is there really any difference? Yes, I think so, if you take into account that the spiritual herd tends to wander in and out of different belief systems, trying on different philosophies and theologies like old clothes in a thrift store. What might feel new, different and independent has actually been tried on, worn, washed and discarded by many who came before us. Then we come along and pick it up at the spiritual second hand store. We give it a new language, a different terminology, but it’s really just the same old clothes . There is nothing new under the sun. Many regard the ‘spiritual’ people as lost souls of sorts. And others think of them as saints in the making. Who knows which, or if either, is even close to being true. I guess that is a determination each individual has to make for, and about, themselves.

My one question is, “In defining oneself as spiritual, isn’t one contradicting the very nature of what spirituality actually is?” Many great theologians and philosophers would describe such a pronouncement as prideful, as having an inflated or exaggerated opinion of ones self. Self-aggrandizement at it’s finest. The antithesis of spiritual, I would think.
I’m just asking.

‘Religious’ is defined (by one dictionary) as “believing in, and showing devotion or reverence for, a deity or deities.” And “very thorough or conscientious.”
But while the word ‘spiritual’ is regarded as higher consciousness, the term ‘religious’ has been given, and taken on, an incredibly negative connotation. Even religious people have discarded the label in favor of the more ‘enlightened’ spiritual description. But I believe it to be a disservice to even their own intent. Religion implies a practice, a discipline, a way of living. A commitment to something, to someone. And that is a concept becoming increasingly rare in our lives and culture today. In every aspect of our lives and culture. I believe that reality is reflected in peoples need to be regarded as spiritual.

So then what does ‘spiritual’ really mean?

To me it means HOW we are, not WHAT we are. How we are in our relationship with God, with our parents, our children, our spouses, friends, casual acquaintances, and even strangers. It is how we are on our jobs, and in our personal lives when nobody’s looking. It is how we are in strength of commitment, in depth of character, and in a willingness to accept differences. It is how we are in our intent to love, not necessarily in our ability, but in our intent. It is in our compassion, in our service, and sometimes even in our righteous anger and indignation.

Being spiritual is how we are in our relationship with ourselves, and to the world around us. But is not a mantle one is able to bestow upon ones self.