What Does it Mean to be Spiritual?

Contrary to popular belief, spirituality inherently is a vacuum. The word is as difficult to define as love, but once people are even somewhat familiar with related notions and ideas, such as the metaphysical, the sacred, or natural balance, we begin to grow an innate understanding of what this word means to refer to. Describing spirituality is definitely difficult, but I wouldn’t be much of a communicative philosopher if I didn’t try to find an explanation, no matter how complex or convoluted it might be. Thankfully though, I have already found my way of defining the infinite, and I think it’ll be interesting to test it out on such a concept as spirituality.

The word spirituality is defined by Google as “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things”, but this is quickly countered by the notion that the material and physical realm of existence is wholly necessary for spirituality because of its dual relationship with the immaterial and metaphysical. After all, you would never know of your soul or essence if it was never hidden by the illusions of material reality. Otherwise it would just be you.

The Myriam-Webster dictionary defines spirituality (in its most “meaningful” listed definition) as “sensitivity or attachment to religious values”, but this notion is also countered by the fact that the people who seem most spiritual do not associate it any aspect of religion. In fact, most people who understand spirituality are quick to say that spirituality is as closely related to religion as education is to a classroom. Sure it can be found there, but in Western society at least, that seems to be one of the last places it would actually be discoverable in. Much in the same sense that material existence does not keep one from spiritual enlightenment, religion does not keep one from spirituality, but dogma and alienation will, at best, skew — and at worst, persecute — any notion of sacredness or intrinsic meaning, especially in the aspects of existence, such as material existence, that some people find unholy or morally corrupt.

Other definitions, sufficiently defining but failing to describe spirituality, refer to it as something along the lines of “being related to the spiritual”, and they then define spiritual as relating to spirit. What a shame it is for a dictionary to become a guide on grammar. It seems that in order to best describe and understand spirituality, one does need some grounding context for the concept, though. In truth, I do not thinking definitions work. The word for a concept is meant to represent the concept in totality; that’s why there’s one word for it. But just like you cannot know the essence of existence by “looking at it”, you can’t know the essence of a word by its abstract definition either. So, to understand what it means to be spiritual, we first need to figure out just what we are referring to when we talk about spirit.

The word spirit as described by Hegel is somewhat synonymous and closely related to mind. Hegel wrote and spoke in German, so the word he used to reference this meaning was geist, which he describe as a phenomenon in which two things — he claimed they must be self-aware consciousnesses — fully recognize their mutual identity, and see each other as distinct from one another, but essentially the same as one another. In a more colloquial sense, we often refer to the spirit as the essence of a thing, the two words spirit and essence being practically synonymous. Within the “spiritual community”, it is sometimes said though that “the soul incarnates to experience the spirit”. I believe this understanding of spirit will show us what these definitions fail to illuminate.

Like how Hegel refers to geist as a phenomenon of mutual relation in a dualistic juxtaposition, the soul incarnating to experience the spirit is marked by a singularly fundamental characteristic: the illusory dual relation of Self to Other. It takes understanding spirituality to realize, and thus know, how this relation is illusory, but hold on, we’re getting there.

In this experience we call life, in which we feel as though we are souls bound to bodies wandering in the material realm of existence for some unclear purpose, we have a perfect representation of the hand-in-hand nature of this “singular” type of existence. Within the mind, we also find the blueprints of perception, and thus the framework of reality’s illusions. Just like how the definition of a word, an abstract combination of other concepts meant to refer to the same idea as another singular concept, does not actually mean the same thing as the word it defines, so too does our perception of reality’s existence redirect us from the nature and meaning of “reality’s existence”. The following statement is a fact: Everything is spiritual in nature. Spirituality is more closely related to the idea of things relating than to any practices, philosophies, or ideologies. It has as little and as much to do with the physical and it does the metaphysical, with theism as with atheism, with lies as with truth, with Self as with Other. The idea of This and That are consequences of our dualistic perception. It does not happen, that the truth of existence is hidden, as a result of some curse or malevolent force outside of our control. It’s just the way that things exist here. The true nature is hidden beneath the masks and superficial expression of the thing at heart. Even the phrase “thing at heart” tries to poetically refer to essence by referring to an organ that’s supposed to be essential to life, as if every other organ didn’t have its specific role to play.

Spirituality is about relation and connection, and the reason we tend to associate it with the things and ideas that we do is because for us, those things are what we most closely relate to. The idea of the essence of our existence. The expressions and arts we make that seize and compel people’s emotions. The life we share when we spend time with one another. All of these seem to be the essence of spirituality because they are the essence of our mutual existence. Even outside of the framework of society, outside of the speculations of what reality is, and outside of the conceptual understandings of anything at all, what’s most true is that we are together, sharing an experience that stems from our very existence. What it means to be spiritual, in my understanding, is to get that fact, and to know that everything is all just a piece of the puzzle, all just collective parts of a great balancing act.


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