Monday, 22 August 2011

What is spirituality?

Spirituality has memorably been described by Lucy Bregman as "a glowing and useful term in search of a meaning".

So, what is it? Does it imply the existence of a spirit or a soul, or of deities? No, not necessarily. You can be spiritual without being religious (and you can be religious without being spiritual). Religion is often regarded as outward conformity to a particular religious system, its beliefs, practices and values, whereas spirituality is the inner sense of connection, a more instinctive and intuitive way of life.

I regard spirituality as a sense of mystical connection with the universe and all beings within it. It can be inspired by nature, science, art, poetry, liturgy and ritual. In feeling this sense of connection, we experience compassion for the sufferings of other beings, and empathy with their joys.

We can enhance this sense of connection by finding a community with whom we can practice compassion and mindfulness; if we don’t engage in spirituality in a community setting, it can become self-centred and shallow, disconnected from everyday reality. We need the experience of actually living and sharing with others to enable us to grow and become our authentic selves. This can be done by the creation of a community of shared values, which models in microcosm the desired qualities of human community. Of course there will be conflicts and tensions, but it is in how these are resolved that the real values of the community will be tested and refined. It is only by this kind of radical openness and humility that the spiritual community can become strong and genuinely inclusive.

Practising spirituality in community could be called religion (a word that simply means to reconnect, or to reinterpret). In liberal religion, where the "divine" is usually viewed as immanent in the world, or as so diffuse that it's not a person, the source of authority is viewed as the self (as in one's conscience) and not a "higher power". Adherents of liberal religions (such as Unitarians, Pagans, Quakers, Buddhists, Liberal Jews and many others) regard differences of belief as interesting and stimulating, challenging us to broaden our minds. Mysticism, spirituality and spiritual practices are encouraged in these traditions.

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