The term “spirituality” isn’t widely understood. Many people automatically align the concept of spirituality with religion, crystals, meditation, or an “alternative” lifestyle. However, the reality is that for most people, the meaning of “spirituality” is quite variable. How one person practices spirituality could be very different from the next, but in the right context, becoming a spiritual person can be very positive and life-changing.
So, how do we define spirituality? According to the Oxford dictionary, spirituality is “The quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.”
In other words, anyone with a belief in the power of the universe or a belief in something larger than their physical self or possessions can be a “spiritual” person. While some people do use spirituality as a connection with a “higher power”, others believe spirituality is more about a mindset, a holistic connection to others, and a special connection with the world around them.
Let’s explore the various interpretations of spirituality, and what it means to be a spiritual person.
Defining Spirituality: What Does Spirituality Mean?
Part of the confusion around spirituality is that people interpret it in many different ways. The concept of what is “spiritual” isn’t easy to define, as spirit isn’t a tangible thing. Often, definitions of spirituality are defined by a person’s experiences, upbringing, and exposure to external factors.
How you interpret spirituality may not be the same as how a Buddhist views spirituality. The connection you have to the spiritual world is defined by you. All you really need to be “spiritual”, is a belief in something greater. Many spiritual individuals believe the universe has their back, and they’re able to trust in what the universe has in store for them.
Director of George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, Christina Puchalski, explains, “Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.”
Brené Brown published in her book “Gifts of Imperfection” that: “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.”
Denyse O’Leary and Mario Beauregard contend in “The Spiritual Brain” that: “Spirituality means any experience that is thought to bring the experiencer into contact with the divine.”
There are various practices associated with spirituality, such as:
- New Age Spirituality
What Does it Mean to be a Spiritual Person?
Similar to religion, spirituality has been a source of comfort and relief from stress for a large number of people who practice this way of life. But what does it mean to be a spiritual person?
If spirituality involves being connected with something beyond the material world, being a spiritual person means cultivating a connectedness with the world around you and believing in a greater purpose or in the greatness that lies within you. Many people believe spirituality is about understanding how to love yourself and others, by realizing we’re all connected and aligned in the same global experience.
There are many different ways to practice spirituality. It’s typically quite different from religion. You can go to church every day but not necessarily be a spiritual person, and you can practice no religion, nor belong to any specific religious group, yet still be a highly spiritual person. Spirituality isn’t a single path or belief system, but a way of opening your heart and mind in a way that is meaningful to you.
Some signs that you’re starting to practice spirituality might include:
- Asking deeper questions about the world, your understanding of life, and your connections with other people.
- Working on strengthening your connections with others and experiencing much more compassion and empathy for others.
- Feeling love, compassion, and understanding for yourself, as well as faith in your future.
- Experiencing awe, wonder, and amazement by enjoying the world around you.
- Seeking meaning, purpose, and happiness beyond material possessions.
- Wanting to make the world a better place.
Some people look for spiritual moments in every aspect of their lives, and others are more likely to have these feelings only in specific conditions and locations (such as temples or churches).
Why Do People Practice Spirituality?
There are various reasons why people may turn to spirituality. Some people became spiritual after experiencing trauma, and spirituality was part of their post-traumatic growth as individuals. Spirituality often makes you a better person.
Many people also use spiritual practices to help them find purpose and meaning in life. Exploring spirituality can help us to find answers to questions such as, “what is the meaning of life?”
Other uses for spirituality include:
- Community: Sharing the same spiritual beliefs and insights as others can be excellent for connecting with a wider community of people. Spiritual traditions often lead to the culmination of organized groups which offer social support.
- Hope: Spirituality can remind us to look beyond the smaller negative experiences we might have in life and look towards a more hopeful future.
- Mental Health: Many people find spirituality helpful when coping with various mental health issues, including stress, anxiety, and depression.
Interestingly, while specific views and practices of spirituality focus primarily on faith and certain mindsets, research has demonstrated potential benefits associated to spiritual activities.
Research shows religion and spirituality can scientifically provide support in dealing with feelings of everyday stress. One study found regular experiences of spirituality assisted older adults to cope more effectively with negative feelings.
Studies also indicate that those with intrinsic religious or spiritual orientation exhibit fewer physiological reactions toward stress than those with extrinsic religious orientation. The studies suggest there could be genuine advantages to investing in spiritual communities and practices.
It’s also worth noting that practicing spirituality is frequently linked to feelings of gratitude, which can improve emotional regulation, increase feelings of a positive mood, and improve sleep quality.
Tips for Practicing Spirituality
Whether you’re rediscovering a spiritual path left behind in your youth, reinforcing a commitment to an established spiritual community, or seeking a new source of fulfillment, spirituality could improve your wellbeing. While there are various potential benefits to living a more “spiritual” life, there don’t appear to be many negative side effects, provided spirituality is practiced correctly.
Spirituality is a very personal experience, so your spiritual path may not be the same as that of your peers and other people in your life. However, research shows some spiritual stress relief strategies are considered very helpful to maintaining good health, regardless of your specific faith.
Here are some tips for practicing spirituality in your day-to-day life:
- Practice mindfulness: Many people believe spirituality is about cultivating a feeling of “connectedness”. To feel more connected to yourself and the world around you, it’s helpful to pay more attention, or behave “mindfully”. Open your mind to experiencing your thoughts, and emotions on a deeper level. Mindfulness can help you to cultivate a deeper appreciation of the world and your place in it.
- Be empathetic: For some spiritual people, the most important part of being spiritual is embracing a love for others. Opening your heart, feeling empathy, and helping other people are all important aspects of being connected to a higher power.
- Meditate: You don’t have to meditate to be a spiritual person, but a lot of people find this practice helpful. Meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness and reconnect to your experience of your body and the world around you. There are various forms of guided meditation available for beginners.
- Practice gratitude: Start a gratitude journal and record what you feel grateful for. Gratitude reminds you to be aware of the positive things happening in the world around you. This practice can also help with cultivating hope and general good moods.
- Be open-minded: Be open to the idea of exploring different religions, cultures, and communities. An open-minded approach is a great way to understand and appreciate the various ways of life you’re exposed to.
Common Mistakes to Avoid with Spirituality
While there’s no one-size-fits-all-strategy for successfully practicing spirituality, there are some practices which could reduce your chances of having a positive experience. One potential pitfall is known as “spiritual bypassing” which involves using spirituality as a way to sidestep emotions, problems, or conflicts.
People who practice spiritual bypassing wouldn’t apologize if they ended up hurting someone else’s feelings, but instead say, “everything happens for a reason”. Other common mistakes to avoid include:
- Focusing on material possessions: If you form a connection with religious icons, crystals, and similar physical items as part of your spiritual experience, it can be easy to start hoarding these possessions. However, spirituality is not about material possessions.
- Dismissing other spiritual practices: While everyone approaches spirituality differently, dismissing the behaviors of others can separate you from the connectedness crucial to a positive spiritual experience.
- Ignoring your own feelings: Being spiritual doesn’t mean following a specific selection of rules or guidelines given by someone else. It’s important to be aware of your own feelings and be true to yourself.
Adopting a spiritual mindset and pracitcing spirituality can be a wonderful way to add more depth and meaning to your life. It can also be extremely useful for improving mental health, growing your character, and fighting back against feelings of stress and anxiety.
Many people find that once they start practicing spirituality, they become more positive, less fearful, more hopeful and have more faith in the good that’s coming their way.