Regular and longtime readers of this space have probably figured out by now there is at least one thing in my life I am passionate about.
Admittedly, this term can be confusing for many, and create all kinds of misunderstandings. When the question arises whether someone is spiritual or religious, many people see it in dualistic terms – like you must be one or the other, but you can’t be both.
This is just not true.
In fact, after reading about and studying spirituality for 25 years, I would propose that before religion comes into one’s life, one is already, by birthright, a “spiritual” person.
Although it has been attributed to various people over the years, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is credited with originating this statement: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
This implies, that just by being born, each human is a “spiritual being.” Indeed, some would include in that “spiritual being” category, all living things – animals, plants, trees…
Before I sat down at the keyboard this week, I looked up the term “spirituality” to try to get a grasp on a generally accepted definition of what it means to be “spiritual.”
There are, of course, many factors that go into determining this, but probably the most basic answer is this, which appeared when I googled the word. This definition is from Oxford Languages:
the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
I might elaborate on that just a bit, to say that spirituality is an effort to find meaning, in one’s own life, in others’ lives, in the world around them, and in the events that take place in their lives.
Another description of what it means to be a “spiritual person” came from an article on HuffPost in 2015. This one is more detailed than the above definition, but overall (and as in anything, there are exceptions), this definition better encapsulates what it means to be “spiritual” in these days in which we live:
Being a spiritual person is synonymous with being a person whose highest priority is to be loving to yourself and others. A spiritual person cares about people, animals and the planet. A spiritual person knows that we are all One, and consciously attempts to honor this Oneness. A spiritual person is a kind person.
Now, in reading this definition, we can see that it does not preclude “spiritual” people from also being “religious.” For some people, they don’t have a spiritual awakening for years, even though they have practiced a religion for their entire life. In fact, most world religions, in one way or another, teach the highest priority of human life is “to be loving to yourself and others.”
As we all know, not all “religious” peoples’ lives reflect this, however. In fact, sadly, religions can be divisive, when seen as the be all and end all of existence.
Anyway, the reason I decided to write about this topic this week, is because I was thinking about 2020 and what an unusually, pardon my language, hellish year it has been. Honestly, humanity has been blindsided this year in more ways than we ever thought possible, at least in modern times. At least that is how it seems to those of us living it out. Now.
And I know for almost everyone – scratch that – everyone, adjusting to these new realities has been mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually challenging – scratch that word challenging – exhausting.
I know and have heard of many people with heightened anxiety and other mental health issues that are directly related to the extreme uncertainty we live with now.
Each day we awaken, we wonder what life is going to throw at us today.
It cannot possibly get any worse than it is already, we think.
But then it does.
So – as someone who is passionate about spirituality, I look at it this way:
In many ways, there is not a lot we can do hands-on, at least not immediately, to resolve the circumstances we find ourselves in. Many of them, especially those more medically related, take time to research and find solutions to.
Others – which are more systemically related with deep, thick, sprawling roots – must be addressed with much dialogue and mutual respect. No easy answers here.
At the foundation of all these attempts to find a solution, however, is the need for each one of us to tap into that spiritual side of us, that is our birthright.
For months, millions of people have been at home, afraid to go out into public; many of them elderly with few family or friends to check on them.
Others have watched helplessly as nearly 200,000 Americans have succumbed to Covid-19, or complications from the virus. They have watched as dear family and friends have died painful, awful deaths, alone in a hospital room, without anyone even being able to physically touch their skin, or say goodbye. They have grieved their losses relatively alone, without the human support they so desperately need.
Hostilities related to all kinds of situations have boiled up and exploded in recent months, and only seem to be getting worse with each passing day.
As I write this today, I do so without, GOD FORBID, any intention of stirring up yet another political debate. Life is not all about politics. It is about so much more than that.
That is where this idea of spirituality comes in.
I believe that these terrible months we have all endured, if looked at in a positive light, have been an opportunity for every single one of us to get in touch with that spiritual side with which we were born.
That doesn’t mean necessarily going to church. Many people can’t go to church right now.
It is something more basic than that.
It is getting in touch with a loving Reality that undergirds all the pain and alienation so many of us feel – from life, from each other, from ourselves…
It is sitting still, quiet, and reaching out to that loving Reality to try to find out more about that Reality, and to find some way to make sense of it all.
Not that we will make sense of it all.
I have found in my life that when we go looking for answers as to “why” something happened, we might as well be beating our heads against a wall.
We just cannot be assured we will get an answer as to why something happened.
We can find meaning in it….often after much time has elapsed.
We can find ways to get grounded in this loving Reality that is eternal – the beginning and the end of all things.
We can find ways to acknowledge that we are not isolated beings…we are connected to one another in ways we cannot imagine or explain.
And what happens to one of us, impacts the rest of us.
We can find ways to be the spiritual beings we are….those whose highest priority is to be loving to ourselves and others….those who care about people, animals and the planet….those who know that we are all One, and consciously attempt to honor this Oneness….
…those who are kind…
SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality in The Times' readership area. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at email@example.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and in your community.