A few months ago, I changed the tag line of my blog to reflect that I consider myself on a journey to reclaim spirituality. I’ve been meaning to explain how I define spirituality, and Paul Sunstone specifically requested such a definition in his comment on my post about why I still like religion, so here goes.
I don’t believe in spirits, be it the Holy Spirit or any others, but there’s an experience which as a Mormon I knew as “feeling the Spirit.” Words are tricky for describing it. Sometimes it was deep contentment. Sometimes it felt like a truth I already knew at my core was being brought to the level of conscious thought. Sometimes it was peaceful, an assurance that come what may, everything would be alright. Love, a feeling that I had tapped into a source of love that was beyond myself yet in myself, older than anything, and yet ever new. It felt like I was glimpsing another realm. Does this realm actually exist outside of human imagination? My personal opinion is, probably not, but I don’t think that diminishes the significance of those experiences. Calling those experiences an encounter with Divinity makes as much sense to me as any other description I’ve heard. A longing for more of those “feeling the Spirit” experiences is a major driving force in my pursuit of spirituality.
But I see spirituality as more than just sitting around feeling holy. It is both a state of mind and a way of life. Some of the key elements are love, compassion, happiness and peace.
Compassion is a hard one for me. Caring about other people does not come naturally to me. I am not often intentionally mean, but my default tendency is pretty self-centered and mostly indifferent to the rest of the world. (All you regular readers, how often do I write about something that isn’t directly related to me?) That’s not the kind of person I want to be. I would like to be more caring. I would like to really see people more, to appreciate and honor them as individuals. I think everyone in this world just wants to be loved, and I would like to be the kind of person who could be a source of love for others.
A desire to cultivate love and compassion in my own life is one of the main reasons I am engaging with religion. I need reminders to curtail my selfish tendencies and the rituals, stories and symbols of religion provide that for me. Yes, humanism is compassionate and you absolutely can be compassionate as a completely non-religious person, but I have not found a secular equivalent that works as well for cultivating love and compassion for me personally. Secularism obviously works better for others. I’ve known people who were kind and loving and people who were mean and rotten and whether or not they were religious didn’t seem to have anything to do with it.
Now happiness. This is also a tough one for me. I have a history of depression. I am much better than I was in my teens and early twenties, but because that groove is so well-worn and familiar, it is easy to fall back into during times of stress, and the last several months have been stressful for me. I’ve noticed those dark thoughts and feelings creeping up on me again. One of my coping strategies is gratitude, to focus on what’s going right. I’ve started praying again as a means to direct that. I’m not at all convinced that I’m doing anything more than talking to myself, but it helps. (I want to write a more detailed post about this, though my life is too chaotic right now to commit to any timeframe of when I might do so.)
To take joy in one’s existence, to embrace the experience of life, to me that’s an essential part of a spiritual journey.
I know full well that atheism makes perfect logical sense, yet I can’t shake the sense of a deeper, sublime Something beyond the realm of ordinary existence. A few weeks ago I was at a thrift store and picked up Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Volume Two.I’ve been reading that at bedtime where I used to read scripture, and can’t help but smile at how the poetry of a lesbian seems to be at least as effective a gateway into that sublime realm as the Book of Mormon was.
I’m trying to get into that realm more often. That’s where I find the peace that allows rest and renewal. That’s where I draw strength to be able to give to others. That’s where I learn more effective ways of living.
That is why I am spiritual.