I like the idea of “spirituality”, but I often find the word “spiritual” irritating. I’m a spiritual person, but I hear it used so often by people I don’t like, that I refrain from using the word.
Somewhere along the way, the word “spiritual” has become synonymous with supernatural. And this is the problem with labelling experiences which are alive and vibrant, with words that are inanimate, dead and open to interpretation.
The concept of spirituality can narrow our thinking rather than extend it. All too often we make certain things spiritual, and other things “un-spiritual”. For instance, can reading be a spiritual experience? Can having a shower be a spiritual experience? Can giving birth to a baby, or dancing or eating be a spiritual experience? It’s not the experience that is innately spiritual – anything can be spiritual deep down. Rather, our perceptions and states of mind judge something as being spiritual or not.
WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY?
Being a “spiritual” person is commonly associated with being a “religious person” – but this isn’t always the case. Spirituality has no absolute definition, but generally it is perceived as having a great sensitivity to life, this includes: to other people, to nature, to animals and to our own existences.
Spirituality, the way I interpret it, is the search for meaning, purpose and direction; the journey of self-discovery and self-understanding. It is a desire to become your best possible self, and to transcend who you are, or who you think you are, through either a higher power or our interconnectedness as living beings.
ARE INTROVERTS MORE SPIRITUAL PEOPLE?
Moses was a painfully shy and quiet man. He needed the help of his more eloquent brother to share his ideas, as he was hesitant and fumbling in what he had to say.
Many spiritual masters were like Moses, they were quiet people who were attracted to solitude. Moses received his Ten Commandments after 40 days and nights of solitude in Mt Sinai. Jesus also spent 40 days of solitude in the desert. And Mohammed encountered Gabriel in the solitude of his cave of Hira.
Using the word “introvert” is another way of explaining, in our limited communication medium, the necessity for solitude, quietness and introspection in order to cultivate spirituality.
But are all spiritual people introverted? Not really.
Introversion provides the advantage of introspection, the enjoyment of solitude and the ability to resist the temptation of immediate stimulation and external distractions. But does that mean introverts are more spiritual people as a whole? Not at all.
The introverts special ability is, through introspection, the ability to enhance what’s already inside of them. This could be shallow stimulation-seeking, emotional reactivity, or self-absorption. However, introverts with a sensitivity to their spiritual needs such as the search for meaning, purpose and direction will find it much easier to enjoy the depths of their pursuits.
Spiritual journeys are predominantly solitary. Solitude is required to avoid external world distractions that interfere with your ability to be introspective, and to search for, and listen to, your inner voice that tells you who you are. For the extrovert this can be a very difficult task indeed. When you can cope so well with external stimulation and find immense pleasure in it, sitting down alone and doing nothing but being ‘trapped’ with your own thoughts can prove to be quite the odyssey. By nature, the extrovert has less time, or desire, to stop and listen.
But for the mind that seeks depth of understanding rather than stimulation, the value comes in choosing to see less superficially, in order to perceive life with more profundity. When we have less external distractions in solitude, whatever small internal distractions we are left with are magnified in their significance, increasing our inner awareness of ourselves. In every day life, however, these would just fade into the noise of the background.
WHERE DOES THE SPIRITUAL PATH LEAD?
If spirituality is to find purpose in life and to become the best possible people we can be, the first step is to figure out where we currently are. How can we go anywhere unless we first know where we are? This is why we so often find ourselves going around in circles, making the same mistakes over and over again.
Many people go through life without stopping, without questioning and without listening. We unconsciously go from one moment to the next without attempting to cultivate a new way of doing things, or a new way of looking at every experience we have in our fleeting lives.
But how do we find our own spiritual paths? There are several ways. For starters, we can keep an open mind to experience things we may have otherwise rejected with our ‘old’ perceptions of life. We can begin questioning our current belief systems, our current ambitions, dreams and ideas of who we think we are, or should be. And most importantly, we can enhance our awareness of life and of the present moment, by accepting moment to moment without any judgement, resistance or comparison to ideals or memories, that which is presented to us.
Awareness isn’t something very difficult to aspire to. Even eating can become a spiritual experience when we deliberately pay attention to our senses. The taste, the smell, the sight, and the consistency of a meal are all things that go unnoticed to us when we eat while being distracted by talking to someone, or watching the TV.
By being aware of such small things from time to time, we are much more in touch with what is happening in the ‘now’ internally and externally, and thus, we become much more clear about the path we are currently on, and whether we want to be taking the path or not. Spirituality is our Existential GPS.
To the unaware, “dreamlike” mind, the perception of life is one that jumps from one distraction to the next, always touching the surface and never quite feeling any solid ground of significance, or of meaningfulness and wholeness.
This background noise that is always somewhere in our heads can be calmed down in many different ways. For instance, exercise, getting lost in an artistic creation by submergence in the present moment, and meditation, all serve to dissect the concept we’ve built and called reality.
Meditation, for example, can slowly allow us to gain awareness by helping us to become an observer of our emotions and thoughts. It can change our perceptions of life from the subjectively unaware and reactive, to the objectively focused, in control, and aware. This awareness, this understanding of our inner minds, will remove obstacles, discover energies and consequently, help to create paths in our lives.