What Even is “Spirituality”?
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Yadav was born and raised in Tamil Nadu, India. He had a Hindu upbringing, but when he moved to the United States to study he started to separate himself from his family’s belief system. He was comfortable not having specific religious involvement. He didn't feel a trite religion-shaped hole in his heart. He wasn't a subplot in God's Not Dead 5.
Running had always been one of his favorite ways to spend some time alone, but he started to feel as though something peculiar was happening when he ran. He couldn't think of anything that was different physically or mentally within him, so he tried to ignore the feeling. He did not succeed. He decided to see a spiritual director.
The spiritual director encouraged him to simply uncritically notice the thoughts that came to him and his physical state the next time he went on a run, however insignificant the details may seem. Over the course of subsequent meetings, the director helped Yadav discern and articulate that the muscle memory expressed in his legs coupled with the endorphins released as he ran made him feel strongly connected to his animal self. Running outdoors with this awareness also heightened his acknowledgement of his place within an ecological system. This perspective brought him a profound sense of harmony within himself and a sense of deep belonging within the world around him. This sense of belonging was especially helpful after leaving the familiarity of his home country—something he did not think was having any effect on him.
The spiritual director used the bare bones of Yadav’s lived experience to help him see for himself that something as mundane as daily exercise had the potential to amount to more. In this example we see the ways in which spiritual health interacts with the other dimensions of wellness. But what is “spiritual health"?
The 8 generally agreed upon dimensions of wellness are:
The spiritual dimension of health is the glue that holds the other dimensions together. It asks the question of why we even bother tending to the other dimensions in the first place.
In Yadav’s case, the spiritual practice of awareness encouraged thoughtful scientific analysis of his body, and this was beneficial to his intellectual and physical health. A stronger sense of connection to his surroundings called to mind the state of his environmental and social health, and the whole experience contributed to his overall emotional health. Yadav’s spiritual exploration also brought to mind some of the difficulties he had been facing regarding his lost sense of cultural identity. Up until that point, these suppressed feelings had invisibly inhibited his occupational health.
Spirituality has been defined and redefined throughout human history, and it is now my intention to shout yet another definition to the abyss:
spir·it·u·al·i·ty /spiriCHo͞oˈalədē/ n.: the practice of deriving any amount of meaning from any event, thought, or activity
Sound vague? It’s because it is.
Throughout my career as an interfaith spiritual director and a hospice chaplain, this definition is repeatedly reinforced in my mind. I can meet with any amount of people from militant atheists to militant fundamentalists, and the same question can be found at the tip of their tongues: What meaning can I derive from my life, experience, and surroundings? Even if their answer is “none,” they’ve still asked the question. For some reason the human mind deeply craves context. It is not enough for us to simply survive. We need to know we are a part of something greater, even if that “something greater” is simply our ecosystem, our families, or even, paradoxically, the understanding that we are a part of nothing greater.
So what is spiritual? Everything.
Need a spiritual health checkup? Meet with a spiritual director.
October 23, 2018 | Denver, Colorado
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