I subscribe to several psychological news and discovery newsletters to stay current with the constant flow of new discoveries applicable to human well-being. We, as humans, have dissected life into tiny, definable bits. We can track the path of activity from body and brain regions. Some ancient philosophies have died in the face of refuting evidence, while other discoveries, amazingly, have proven correct. The sparse and fragmented knowledge from millenniums long gone left the curios minds of our ancestors crying for meanings that science couldn’t provide. Spiritual practices filled these crevices of the unknown, granted security, and calmed nerves.
We are an inquisitive species. Our drive for knowledge serves us well. We are driven to discover. However, new knowledge isn’t always welcomed. Scientists and thinkers were routinely rebuked, censored, and even murdered for rocking the boat, by teaching alternatives to culturally accepted beliefs.
Religions formed to reassure anxious people, giving purpose, and providing spiritual purposes to explain the unexplainable. Many practices customary in a religion provided hope and security. Religions, often dwelling in the unknown, attracted leaders that used their influence for evil, conspiring men manipulated, controlled, and subjugated entire nations and empires. In the name of religion, murders, rapes and enslavements have dotted our human history.
“Religions formed to reassure anxious people, giving purpose, and providing spiritual purposes to explain the unexplainable.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Losing Spirituality Through Structure
Instead of the intended spiritual practice to bridge the gap between the known and unknown, many belief systems integrated human bias, projecting their fear of others on unknown higher powers, to justify evil, and limit enlightenment. The use of spiritual explanations, when abused, widens the gap rather than resolve our fears.
Today, in the age of science, we still need spiritual practices. The more we discover, the more we realize we don’t know. We need hope and faith to guide us through a murky unknown future. We need reassurance that our wisdom is applicable in predicting how actions will benefit or harm our development. In the fog of unknowns, we need practices that soothe our systems, recharges our resolves, and prepares our souls for the courageous journey of living.
Spirituality and Organized Religion
Can we be non-religious, or even atheist, and still enjoy spirituality?
Spirituality is concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. Spirituality extends the confined borders of self, reaching further into the universe and seeing life through a much wider lens. Religion aptly provides this dimension of living; but many practices outside of religion also tend to our souls and nourish the entire being, transcending physical knowns and giving depth to our existence.
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”~Thomas Merton
We need spiritual practices to reduce the anxiety of living. Life can be stressful. We can only pine over what needs to be done, what could have been done, and what we are doing for so long. Our thoughts eventually lose usefulness, and quickly begin to agitate rather than resolve.
Spiritual practices also can be complex and structured. Religions offer very complex spiritual practices. Among the religious, we find many that overlook spirituality. They attend church, they serve, but neglect the spiritual elements of worship–wider meaning, and deeper purpose. It is not uncommon for church groups to get lost in disrupting pettiness or destructive bias. We can find structured spirituality in meditation, exercise, or hobbies. Each capable of providing a spiritual escape.
A recent study, although the methods are highly suspect, suggested yoga, contrary to its touted benefits, encouraged more judgment. Attendees were found to be more critical of other yoga practitioners immediately following a class. Perhaps, just normal humanity. We tend to be more critical of others just after confined contact whether it be an exercise class, a board meeting, or a bible study. But the opportunity for spirituality still exists.
“We have a world that is searching for answers, that is searching for a way back to spirituality.”~Moira Kelly
Beyond Structure and Rules
In Yoga, a practitioner that moves beyond the poses, feels the air entering and escaping their bodies, the warmth of stimulated muscle fibers, and elevated heart beats gains the benefits of spiritual practice. They enjoy a ninety-minute escape from wanderings of the mind, regain a sense of purpose, and a belonging to a greater universe.
Deeper spirituality extends beyond lonely practices of escape. Our spirituality should be integrative and permeating of all that is in life. Life itself, when viewed with breath taking awe, creates momentary rushes of spirituality.
Ksenija Napan wrote this about spirituality:
Spirituality is a pillar of well-being. We don’t escape into an imaginary world of fantasy, but a respectful acknowledgement of the unknown, saying “yes,” to life with all its twists and tangles. We balance psychological health, and constructive action; but also, a healthy, “yes,” to the unknowns, faithfully submitting to those things we will never know (2002)..
Spirituality is the glue holding many aspects of our life together. It creates whole person wellness, fusing the mind and body together in a magnificent and wonderful way.
Eckart Tolle explains it this way:
As a spiritually mature person, we are not lost in the highness of our own consciousness, but intimately connected to the whole. If our religious practices (or yoga class), encourage biases and harsh judgments, we are missing the most important aspect—spirituality. Instead of standing in awe of our insignificance in a much larger universe, we are separating and defining the self as special and isolated. True spirituality engenders more contributions to the world, less egotistical comparisons, and more peaceful acceptance of the world for what it is.
A Few Closing Words by Psychology Fanatic
I’m guilty. I often lose sight of the whole, delving deeply into the structured weeds of living. Yet, some of my greatest life energy charged moments come when I close my books, turn off the computer, and sit in peaceful awe in the backyard, listening to the birds, watching the squirrels steal fruit from my plum tree and feeling the warmth of the sun on my face.
Napan, Ksenija (2002). Being, Loving and Contributing. In Spirituality and Social Care: Contributing to Personal and Community Well-Being. Editors: Nash, M., & Stewart. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Tolle, Eckart. (2008). A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Penguin.