For completeness, let’s look at a dictionary definition for spirituality as well. Doing so helped clarify religiosity; let’s see if it helps here too:
Spirituality: concern with things of the spirit, which is defined as: a fundamental emotional and activating principle determining one’s character; any incorporeal supernatural being that can become visible (or audible) to human beings [like god or angels theoretically can, for example]; the vital principle or animating force within living things
Clearly spirituality can exist anywhere someone is genuinely searching, and it encompasses personal integrity and building character. It lends itself well to individual exploration, even if you’re a member of a huge religion. Rituals of spirituality, from what I can tell, are honest and individual, even if the ritual is originally of an organized religion. We all find meaning in different ways as we seek an inner Truth, and we all take our own paths towards that goal.
Searching for understanding
For some, spiritual enlightenment can be found in the beauty of a sunset; for others in artistic creation; yet others find it embodied in a church or temple. What is important is we pursue our own individual integrity, not that we slavishly follow any particular ritual we’re told to follow.
These individually significant rituals take an infinite number of forms. Finding your personal rituals for seeking spiritual awakening will calm and center you, and help you deal sanely with life. Keep in mind, however, they’re the means, not the ends, to apotheosis; their purpose is to prepare your mind or Self to find your own personal enlightenment. Mine had to do with horseback riding, oddly enough:
[H]orse-back riding was where I found and claimed my particular spirit, where my personal soul or deity could be found. It was just myself and a large, friendly mammal to carry me effortlessly into the countryside, where I could find inner peace in my contemplation of the horse, the team the horse and I made, and the lovely scenery around me. And wasn’t a powerful part of this experience the ritual that led up to the actual ride?
True, sometimes I did not look forward to pulling on my boots, hiking out to catch the horse, cleaning and grooming it, tacking it up… but by the time I finally got out and was riding, didn’t I somehow feel more ‘right,’ more in tune with the world around me? And conversely, wasn’t the ritual of returning to the barn, untacking the horse, picking out its hooves and washing it down, a similarly slow but satisfying return to the concerns of the real world?
It was a surprising, pleasing realization — riding horses out in the country was where I felt most at peace, most integrally a vital, connected part of the world. I wonder how often we dedicate ourselves, perform, and perfect our rituals… and never even realize it?
That’s the difference between organized religion and spirituality, for me. The former justifies and maintains what are often cruelly damaging cultural hierarchies, by stifling free thought or any questioning of the status quo. They deny truth, trample the inherent dignity of the human spirit, and refuse personal growth or honesty.
The latter — spirituality — is a sincere and on-going quest for enlightenment, nirvana, one’s personal Light or Truth or Oneness with the All — which requires oppression of none, but rather ennobles and sometimes uplifts its seekers-of-truth.
Sounds a bit pie-in-the-sky, doesn’t it? ;-)
For the longest time I assumed an increase of reason and education would slowly but inevitably clear away the dusty, clinging cobwebs of stifling religious dogma. What I couldn’t figure out was why it wasn’t happening faster — did people really want to be fleeced and herded thoughtlessly about by manipulative clergy claiming they had the only One True Way? What was wrong with us? Why wouldn’t this pesky, short-sighted “god” concept just finally go away?
It took a long time for me to work out a personally acceptable, intelligible answer to those questions. First I had to realize the pleasure of mythic mystery, which could be appreciated on its own — the interesting “truth” of a good story lies in its allegorical applicability to life, not in scientific cause and effect.
Then I had to learn the difference between organized religion and spirituality, thanks to a wonderful, fascinating series of classes on the bible. I also eventually realized religions didn’t always have to stifle, thanks to the perceptive Bishop John Shelby Spong’s wonderful and intellectually challenging books — in particular Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism and Why Christianity Must Change or Die.
The final step was a book titled, appropriately, Why God Won’t Go Away to finally show me what was actually happening, and why it was a very good thing indeed. You should read it yourself, of course, but in a nutshell, the book postulates spirituality is bred into us as an unexpected side-effect of an evolutionarily beneficial, socializing trait. Spirituality is our desire to feel an honest Oneness with the All — and we can feel it by learning how to reach within ourselves.
So, in effect, our deities really are within. They always have been, waiting patiently for us to discover them and, through them, ourselves. The Greatest Journey Ever, the pursuit of the Magnificent Enlightenment, is still that most amazing, terrifying, confusing, wondrous, rewarding search of all — the quest to Know Yourself.
As was said in the final strip of the lovely Calvin & Hobbes comic, “Everything familiar has disappeared! It’s a magical world… let’s go exploring!”
I can’t wait to see what we find out.