What does spirituality mean to you?
Not everything has a precise definition. And that’s okay. So, what I offer is one perspective.
Spirituality has a connotation of spirits—angels, demons, souls, ghosts.
Or more generally, the unseen. And much is unseen. Concepts, thoughts, values, emotions.
All is not as it seems
I read a biography of John Lennon decades ago. He wasn’t who you think he was. A man of peace who abused his first wife. A man of love who abandon and terrified his first son.
What the hell?
Lennon’s parents abandoned him at a very young age. As a teenager he reconnected with his mother—only for her to die in a tragic accident. His father only reappeared after Lennon became famous.
Lennon knew who he wanted to be. He knew his ideal self. But he couldn’t get past his pain.
Eventually, though, he made progress. He was a better father to his second son. Only to be tragically murdered.
Getting down to particulars
Spirituality, in my view, is about focusing on something greater than yourself.
This could be God. Or it could be naturalistic, even denying God’s existence.
One December, many years ago, I was reading the Sunday paper. (Remember newspapers?—Gen Z rolls their eyes). There was a story about a family whose mobile home burned down, destroying everything they had (even the children’s Christmas presents).
There was another story about a woman who owned a decorating business, which included decorating your house like you see in Christmas movies. One customer remarked how “spiritual” the Christmas lights looked.
A few days later a letter to the editor said something important: Christmas lights are not spiritual. Giving your decorating money to a newly homeless family is spiritual.
It’s all about me
Buddhists say the ego is an illusion. It’s a grasping, desperate, tunnel vision disaster. Being one with everything—transcending the ego—is the ideal.
Christianity tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves—to be selfless, in other words.
The mythical Stoic sage no longer needs his ego. I could go on.
It’s an impossible ideal. But that’s what makes it so compelling.
An impossible ideal never fails to give us something to strive for.
How does this fit with religion? Well, religion is an organized system of belief and practice. So, spirituality is implied. But easily undermined, as religion often is used self-servingly.
Bad religion has forgotten spirituality.
But spirituality can exist without religion. The problem, however, is that spirituality of one quickly becomes self-absorbed. Then you have egotism parading as spirituality, which combined with lack of self-awareness is silly.
That’s why I think the “spiritual but not religious” trend could eventually implode. But neither do I think doctrinaire religion will have a resurgence.
What’s the appropriate balance?