What spiritual path or tradition do you follow (I’m including those who follow no path at all)? Why is that your path? Did you deliberately choose this path?
Not so long ago spirituality had very little to do with choice. We were socially expected to remain faithful and committed to the religious fold into which we were born. This expectation affected my own spiritual journey more than I realised—until the day it became clear to me.
A few years ago I was chatting informally with a few clergy colleagues about our personal news. One person expressed his curiosity about his children. “I can’t wait to see what faith choices they make,” he said. To my great surprise tears filled my eyes, as I realised that faith had never really been a choice for me. That day I promised to give myself the freedom to choose.
CHOOSING OUR SPIRITUAL PATH
Freedom of religion is a fundamental right in most countries, and that includes the freedom to choose what spiritual path, if any, to follow. But the freedom to choose does not guarantee that we choose well—and not all spiritualities are equal. Some would say that it doesn’t matter what we believe. To which I would reply, “Tell that to the followers of Jim Jones.”
So how do we choose well when it comes to our spirituality? We’re not talking about choosing one religion over another, or choosing a self-constructed spirituality over an institutional one. Any spiritual practice can become toxic with the right (or wrong) ingredients and most can become healthy if nurtured carefully.
In the last few weeks we have explored the positive transformation that spirituality, including three universal spiritual practices, can bring. Nothing in those reflections matters, though, unless it is placed within a context of healthy spirituality.
THE WHY OF SPIRITUALITY
The key question that shapes the nature of our spiritual practice and experience is: Why? The why question sets the PURPOSE for, and the trajectory of, our spirituality and keeps us mindfully on track. Not all answers to this question will lead us on a healthy path.
- For some spirituality is about gaining personal power to succeed in the world.
- For some it’s about being happy.
- For some it’s about learning to attract the people and things that we believe will make our lives richer.
These quests all have a place in healthy spirituality, but I’m not sure they lead us to health if we make them our why. Spirituality that is primarily about our own personal benefit can never be truly healthy. The best spiritual paths always lead us into a more just, loving, and generous way of being.
If the goal of our spirituality is to move us beyond our self-interest, into a deeper connectedness with others, these follow-up questions can help us measure the effectiveness our spiritual practice:
- Will my spiritual practice make me more whole? Will it empower me to nurture a healthy ego and integrate my shadow effectively?
- Will my spiritual practice make me a more compassionate person?
- Will my spiritual practice lead me into deeper connections with God, the cosmos, myself, and the human and non-human persons around me?
- Will my spiritual practice lead me to be more generous and intentional in making whatever contribution I can to the world?
IT COULD MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
If everyone were to embrace these questions, however imperfectly, to shape their spiritual practice, I believe the world would be a more compassionate, generous, connected, and healthy place.
- What is your why for your spirituality? How much does it align with what we’ve spoken about here?
- Is there anything you want to change in your spiritual path to embrace a healthier why for yourself?
- What can you do today to nurture a more life-giving spirituality?
Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments, and let’s learn from one another.
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