Spirituality is often mistakenly equated with profound religiosity. However, people with this attitude of mind need not be believers or even pious. The only thing that shapes the thinking and acting of all spiritual people equally is the effort to fully exploit one’s own potential and to recognize the true nature of one’s own consciousness. This can be done through the application of spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer as well as in moments of intellectual recollection of the inner connection with the world.
What is spirituality?
To define the term spirituality uniformly is difficult in view of the innumerable interpretations and practical implementation possibilities. The word derives from the Latin name “spiritus” for “spirit” and the verb “spirare” for “breathing”. In this context, the concept of spirituality refers to different attitudes and perceptions, which can be different.
Primarily, spirituality is associated with religiosity, whereby a spiritually thinking or feeling person by no means must belong to an established religion or obediently implement the dogmas of a church community in their daily lives. Spirituality refers more to a world view that can be shaped by religious ideas but can also be seen as a person’s individual search for the meaning of life.
Spirituality, in general, is based on the basic need of a human to explain the earthly and supernatural existence. Every human being carries, to a certain extent, spiritual thought that can manifest itself in different understandings and actions. Spiritually oriented people ask themselves fundamental questions about life that go far beyond the ordinary. Spirituality is not about reflecting on activities such as work, food or recreational activities, but everything that is hidden in everyday life or belongs to a higher reality.
Historical foundations of spirituality
As already mentioned, spiritual thinking is to some extent part of human existence, inborn to man. This becomes particularly clear in the historical context. For our ancestors, spirituality was an integral part of everyday life. Before religious currents emerged as universal guiding principles, there was hardly any separation between the spiritual and the real world in human existence.
Even in the early cultures, humans had a basic need to intuitively classify inexplicable processes in nature and thereby to formulate a satisfactory understanding for them. This was accompanied by the desire to put one’s own existence in the context of supposedly inexplicable phenomena such as weather, biological processes or movements of celestial bodies. Various spiritual acts and attitudes served this purpose, manifesting themselves primarily in the form of mystical and magical thinking in early cultures.
Spirituality in the religious sense
With the development of denominations and organized denominations, the role of spirituality changed. Because people belonged to a particular religion, their spiritual side was also directly related to their religious beliefs. As a result, spirituality has long been equated with the concept of piety, and to this day it has not necessarily been positively connoted. Pious people are regarded as those who uncritically recognize the dogmas and stipulations of their denomination and put them into practice in everyday life, without attaching value to their individuality.
Basically, spiritual life in a religious context means above all to have a personal and direct relationship with a deity, god-like form, or higher power, without being experienced in reality. This relationship presupposes in religious spirituality a more or less unconditional faith, the expression of which is strongly dependent on the respective denomination.
Some of the world religions, such as Buddhism or Hinduism, are much more open-minded than Christianity or Islam, for example, because of their foundations and interpretations of spirituality. In the latter beliefs, religious institutions take on the role of mediator or bridge in the relationship between believers and the respective deity. In this context, it is problematic that many established religions impose on their member’s preconceived rules and rituals which they should transfer as supposedly spiritual people to their everyday life.
Prayers and worship, the conception of sin and hell, and strict sexual morality that can severely curtail or even adversely affect family and social life are in contrast to what spirituality should actually be – self-knowledge, the authentic search for the sense of one’s own and therefore unique ego. Therefore, the spiritual potential inherent in religion per se is often ignored and even banned in some denominations. It is therefore not surprising that many spiritual-feeling and thinking people turn to an alternative: esotericism.
Esoteric as a spiritual path?
Anyone who, as a spiritually interested person, turns away from religion for the above-mentioned reasons, finds possibilities in esotericism that stand in stark contrast to the strict requirements of many religious communities. In esotericism, spirituality seems to play a central role and, at first glance, has a lively counterpart through the great variety of different rituals. Card reading, reincarnation, horoscopes or dream interpretation seem to offer countless opportunities to advance one’s own personality development or to formulate big questions about the earthly and supernatural existence and to find answers to it.
Even if esotericism in many aspects can correspond to the spiritual interests of a human being compared to many world religions, many basic ideas still have no effect. This is due to the fact that the esoteric on closer inspection turns out to be an undefined mix of self-deception, any basis-dispensing with future predictions and sensations without content. As a result, esotericism stands in the way of many people with spiritual demands more than that it can serve as inspiration and guidance on an individual path to self-knowledge.
Spirituality as a philosophical concept
A human being does not have to belong to a religious community and be subject to a deity, nor should he turn to esotericism in order to integrate spiritual impulses and thoughts into everyday life. Even atheists and even agnostics can formulate spiritually-based thought processes and let them lead them on the path to self-knowledge.
Already in antiquity, philosophical currents emerged which, apart from religious conceptions and their requirements, dealt intensively with the possibilities of a search for the meaning of human existence. Especially the Epicureans and the Stoics continue to characterize the intellectual confrontation with the finiteness of life and the resulting motivation to fill the earthly existence with the implementation of ethical values. A non-ecclesiastical and at the same time authentic spirituality finds its equivalent in philosophy.
In modern times, the reflections of the philosophers of antiquity in the form of humanistic ideas developed further. This philosophical current has something in common with spiritual values, such as those actively practiced in Buddhism. Humanism is able to unite all people who deal with everyday spirituality on an intellectual and emotional level. It is based on a world view that puts emotion and mind in harmonious interaction. The focus is on the truthfulness and sincerity towards one’s own self as well as the claim to place human rights, democracy, compassion, and justice as ethical values at the center of social interaction. Many philosophers, therefore, understand humanism as atheistic, secular, or religion-distant spirituality, but it could well be reconciled with the values of many established denominations if there were a will to do so.
Living spiritually – the common harmonious development of self and self
Whether with or without God, with esoteric influences or in the sense of an enlightened world view – Spirituality knows no strict guidelines and can, therefore, be actively practiced by every human being. To be spiritual is to ask questions whose answers help define one’s own identity and relate it to one’s fellow man. Those who actively deal with their own origin, their role and their tasks in life, lay the foundation for a harmonious development of his ego.
A spiritual person has internalized that he can only find the answers to the big questions about the meaning of life in himself. It does not matter if the access to knowledge about the spiritual, the enlightened intellectual or the religious is laid. What is essential is only the individual attitude of a person who is not oriented primarily to the outside world, but to his own inner life.
Lived spirituality is the consciously brought about human development, which goes beyond the ego-becoming and has the self-becoming as the goal. These terms were first formulated by the Swiss psychoanalyst CG Jung. A person who has undergone legalization knows exactly his role in society and has realized many of his plans.
Spirituality only comes into play when it comes to self-becoming. Self-becoming is an individuation process that awakens awareness in a person of being something unique. Central aspects of this development are the claim to freedom and the formulation of questions about an individually considered higher meaning in life.
Closely linked to this intellectual self-development is the recognition of those illusions that suggest happiness. Spiritual people have realized that happiness does not depend on external factors, but can only be found inside one’s own personality. Living spirituality, religious or spiritual, is the ability to ignore short moments of happiness. Anyone who understands that neither recognition and success, nor material wealth or temporary satisfaction of desires brings happiness, can give up the restless search for the superficial meaning in life. It is replaced by inner spiritual purity, a dynamic exploration of one’s own potential as well as consciously designed moments in order to turn away from the fast-paced worldly order again and again and find peace.
Spirituality therefore primarily means power over one’s own feelings and perceptions. The recognition of true needs enables only the things in life that truly and sustainably make happy. At the same time, a spiritual person also has the ability to experience pure love. He continually and intensively deals with all relationships with his fellow human beings. However, spirituality can also find its equivalent in the respectful treatment of nature.
Whether the spiritual self-becoming is linked to meditation, magical rituals, religious customs or intellectual soliloquy, ultimately has no great significance and is only a question of individual preferences and interests. The only thing that matters is always to remain open to all those little things that are not obviously visible to the naked eye in everyday life, yet capable of widening or transforming consciousness.