“What does Spirituality Mean to You?”
- Kamran Mofid
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I was recently at a conference, where I delivered a paper on spirituality and education, economics, business and management. After the presentation and during the Q&A session, a young lady in the audience asked me a question: “What does Spirituality Mean to You?”
I thought that was a very good question. For years I have been using the term “Spirituality” and relating it to different topics and issues, such as the ones noted above. Now I was put on the spot and I was asked to explain what spirituality means to me. You know, it is not always easy to answer profound questions during the Q&A sessions adequately, when you only got a couple of minutes for each answer.
However, I tried to do my best, given the time constraint. I recall saying things like these:
“Spirituality refers to aspects of human existence beyond material concerns. These aspects lie in an inside world - the soul - and an outside world - the universe. Spiritual beliefs are often grounded in a core concept that unifies all existence and connects all people to each other. People have many names for this concept - God, gods, a Higher Power, Truth, the Absolute, the One, the Ineffable, the Great Mysterious. For me spirituality also means to be grateful and give thanks for all the beauty and mystery of life itself: the sun rise, the sun set, the moon and stars, butterflies dancing in the sky, the morning walk and the birds’ chorus, seeing “A host of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze”, the smile of my wife and love of my children, my friends and the wonders of friendship, my love, commitment and dream of the GCGI.”
I also remember saying that ”Spirituality also involves the search for existential meaning - the questions we ask about the purpose of human existence, to help us all cultivate heart, passion, joy, personal transformation, and renewed devotion. Questions such as:
Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going to? Why are we here? What happens after we die? Why do we suffer? Why do we die? What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? What is nature? What is religion? What is philosophy? What is knowledge? What is joy? What is pain? What is happiness? What is life? Am I a good person?”
Anyway, the above was the extent of my dialogue, my answer to that very good question: “What does Spirituality Mean to You?”
The conference ended. I packed my bags and headed back home, all the way thinking about the question “What does Spirituality Mean to You?” I also knew that I had to answer that young lady and thus, myself, more fully. So I began to reflect more, to think more about “Spirituality& I”. Below is a brief note on the fruit of that journey and dialogue.
First, there is no doubt that, the wisdom of spirituality has become an important issue in everyday life. A lot of articles and academic papers have been published in recent years highlighting the role of this variable in enhancing our lives and well-being, physically and emotionally.
Definition of Spirituality
As noted in different studies, the term ‘spirituality’ means many things to different people. For many people, spirituality means a search for personal meaning and a relation to the Supreme Being that many of us call God. Other definitions include “the unique and personal inner experience of and search for the fullest personal development through participation in the transcendent mystery. The experience and development always involve a sense of belonging to a greater whole, and a sense of longing for a more complete fulfilment through touching the greater mystery, which in many traditions is referred to as God.”
A relatively more understandable opinion on the definition of spirituality is that spirituality is a state or experience that can provide individuals with direction or meaning, or provide feelings of understanding, support, inner wholeness or connectedness. Connectedness can be to themselves, other people, nature, the universe, God, or some other supernatural power.
Besides having many definitions, understanding spirituality becomes more complicated as this term is commonly used interchangeably with the term “religiosity”. However, here, I am only going to discuss spirituality. I will turn to "religiosity" at a later date.
In short, while the definition of spirituality is different for everyone, here are some common themes associated with spirituality which can assist us in formulating what we mean by spirituality:
- The idea of a process or journey of self-discovery and of learning not only who you are, but who you want to be.
- The challenge of reaching beyond your current limits. This can include keeping an open mind, questioning current beliefs, or trying to better understand others' beliefs.
- A connectedness to yourself and to others. Spirituality is personal, but it is also rooted in being connected with others and with the world around you. This connection can facilitate you finding "your place in the world."
- Meaning, purpose, and direction. Spirituality, while it doesn't necessarily solve or reach conclusions, often embraces the concept of searching and moving forward in the direction of meaning, purpose, and direction for your life.
- A higher power, whether rooted in a religion, nature, or some kind of unknown essence.
Furthermore, our spirituality can be evoked by actions, ideas and paths such as:
- Volunteering- Public Service in the interest of the common good. This can broaden your understanding of how you fit in with the world, as well as see how others' circumstances differ from your own.
- Spiritual Questions - See above (the questions I had asked at the beginning of this article) for a list of possible questions you can ask yourself alone or discuss with a group of friends. The questions are meant to challenge your current beliefs, reveal gaps in your knowledge, stretch your mind in thinking beyond the normal, and create dialogue.
- Dialogue - Use the questions above or any other topic, and talk to friends, family, or peers about them. Dialogue can help you figure out what you may not be able to figure out alone. You can bounce ideas or thoughts off of each other for support.
- Yoga - Yoga can create a peace within you and set up your mind for stimulation.
- Walk in the woods, engaging with nature, birds and butterflies,… “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
- Challenge yourself to be a better person and think about what that means.
- Pray - If you do subscribe to the belief in a higher power, prayer can help you feel connected and at-peace.
- Be grateful. Give thanks. Forgive. “Reflect upon your present blessings -- of which every man has many -- not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings
- Time for reflection, contemplation and meditation. Reflection, contemplation or meditation are powerful methods for deepening our understanding, and advancing our learning. Reflection and contemplation in this context have similar meanings: calm, lengthy, intense consideration of any object of attention, often in relationship to other objects. Similarly, meditation is generally defined as sustained focus on an object of attention. A more powerful definition asserts that meditation is a sustained focus on a virtuous object of attention, e.g. the thought “I am determined to become a doctor so that I can help others lead long, healthy lives.”
And whilst remembering the above, I would also like to recall the Welsh poet and writer, William Henry Davies that has so wisely reminded us of:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
In all, by spirituallity I also mean when we come together and all share a common belief in the potential of each one of us to become self-directed, empowered, and active in defining this time in the world as an opportunity for positive change and healing, and for the true formation of a culture of peace by giving thanks, spreading joy, sharing love, seeing miracles, discovering goodness, embracing kindness, practicing patience, teaching tolerance, encouraging laughter, celebrating diversity, showing compassion, turning from hatred, practicing forgiveness, peacefully resolving conflicts, communicating non-violently, choosing happiness and enjoying life.
In conclusion, it is my firm belief that spirituality can offer many benefits to our life, both emotionally and physically. Developing our spiritual life can give us a sense of purpose and help us figure out where we are most passionate in our professional, social, and personal life. Some studies show that positive beliefs can comfort us and improve our health.
Finally, I wish to thank that young lady asking me ““What does Spirituality Mean to You?” Because of her I have discovered more of my spirituality. This is why I wish to give her a gift from my heart, in the form of a great Celtic blessing:
The Warmth of the sun to you
The Light of the moon to you
The Silver of the stars to you
The Breath of the wind to you
And the Peace of the Peace to you
Further Reading and additional information:
The University of Maryland Medical System on “Spirituality”
The Ohio State University – Student Wellness Center on “Spirituality”
Why Love, Trust, Respect and Gratitude Trumps Economics: Together for the Common Good
A Path to a Spiritual Education for the Common Good: Education for a Just and Sustainable World
“The Value of Values: Spiritual Wisdom in Everyday Life”
Waterperry House, Oxford
Sunday 31 August- Thursday 4 September, 2014