Redefining “Spiritual”

Michael McAlister Blog 1 Comment

As I’ve led groups of meditators over the years, I’ve gotten used to hearing that people are looking for something in their lives that is “spiritual but not religious.” This is understandable since so many feel like they’ve evolved past the traditions they grew up with and yet they’re largely unclear as to what a better option might be. More often than not they choose not to bother looking and thus negate a part of themselves that they secretly know could be valuable.

This is a false choice. People often come to spirituality aching for ways to feel connected both to life’s great mysteries and to communities that celebrate them. They are also anxious to find ways of integrating the depth that tradition can potentially offer while going past all of the dogma. The good news, I tell them, is that this is possible. The path I articulate, as I repeatedly say, isn’t anything original but rather a tried and true approach that can lead any of us toward a rich, spiritual life that won’t necessarily negate the profound beauty that traditions can offer. We just have to be clear about choosing the kind of spiritual path we are interested in following: one that is shallow, or one that is deep.

For example, if someone chooses to seek the shallow version of spirituality, they will be able to use it as an escape. Shallow spirituality asks only that we believe and have faith, which works to stabilize our experience in the face of life’s inherent chaos, at least temporarily. Shallow spirituality is familiar and consistent. It’s about some future salvation that involves a faith built around “God.” But it’s undemanding simplicity can become superficial and fundamental in its approach. It may help us feel connected to others who think like we do, but it can also make us feel disconnected and in opposition with those who don’t.

Deep spirituality is about something that doesn’t even offer its seekers safety, let alone salvation. Rather, it leads those few, intrepid seekers toward a freedom beyond both my version of God and yours. It is a path that takes us beyond fundamentalism and extends itself as an invitation to explore the recesses of our hearts and minds. This kind of practice elicits questions as we climb, summit and descend the Mountain of Spirit and offers a way to live lives of meaning and peace in the face of everything that life throws our way.

The gift for those deciding to approach deep spirituality is a beautiful one. Deep spirituality allows for them to face their lives from a grounded place of stillness. This stillness helps an unflinching authenticity to show itself in our experience, and as we practice becoming intimate with this authenticity, we find that we can live lives integrated with the very wisdom and compassion that nearly every religious tradition has at the core of its most sacred, indeed most deeply “spiritual” teachings.

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