It is pretty common for us to think of some people as ‘spiritual’ and others as not. But we all seek to understand the big questions of our lives and world in some way – which means that we are all spiritual. We’re just not all spiritual on purpose. We don’t all practice an intentional spirituality and we don’t all include spirituality as a significant feature of our lives. But when we realise that we need something to wake us up so that we can show up fully, authentically, and courageously in our lives and relationships, we inevitably and unavoidably find ourselves dealing with spirituality.
In this episode, I want to talk about why everyone is spiritual and why that matters. I also want to explore what you can do to be more mindful and intentional about your own inherently spiritual nature.
There is no human being on the planet who does not try to make meaning of the world and their place in it. As the the pandemic has shown, we are all by nature meaning-making creatures. So many of the ways we respond to events in our lives and world are related to meaning. We say things like: “Everything happens for a reason”; “This was meant to happen”. Our debates about climate change, the origins of the earth, and whether there is a God or not are about how we make meaning of our world and our place in it. Even conspiracy theories are really just ways to try and make sense of a world that feels out of control.
And if we are all creatures who seek to make meaning of our universe and our place in the universe, then everyone is spiritual. Even people who want nothing to do with spirituality, people who claim not to believe in anything, and those whom we might be tempted to think of as evil are spiritual. Because everyone engages, in some way and on some level, with the big questions of meaning: Why are we here? What is life about? Where did the universe come from? Where is it all going? What really matters? What is a good life?
It’s important that we recognise that we are all spiritual. When we recognise that spirituality—in the sense of seeking some understanding of the mysterious big questions of existence—it shows how important spirituality is for our well-being and for building a more just and compassionate world. And how we approach our spirituality matters too.
It’s important to acknowledge that everyone is spiritual, but not everyone is spiritual on purpose. Not everyone is spiritual thoughtfully. Not everyone practices a spiritual life or way of being. Many of us live lives of ‘quiet desperation’ and many of us go through our whole lives half-asleep, unaware of the depth and mystery and beauty and sacredness of ourselves, others, and the universe.
And when we are half asleep, then life happens to us. We are at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We are unable to show up fully, authentically, and courageously in our lives because we don’t even know that it’s possible. And when we do begin to suspect that it is possible to truly show up, we don’t know how to begin. We skip along the surface, missing much of what gives life meaning, joy, wonder, awe, and a sense of deep connection and aliveness. Perhaps many people are quite happy and even fulfilled living like this. And that’s great. If it works for you and does no harm, then far be it from me to judge it.
But for many of us living half-asleep and not truly showing up doesn’t work. We have this nagging sense that there is more. We can’t shake the feeling that the world could be kinder and that it should be possible for all people—all creatures—to have the basics for a comfortable and reasonably happy and meaningful life. We may not be able to find the words to express it, but we feel deeply that the world should be better for everyone. That life can be more than just existing from day to day until we die.
Some of us thought we would find that in a religious community, but we have been disappointed. Some of us do find it to some extent, maybe even to a great and satisfying extent, in our religion. And again, that’s great. The point is that when we are no longer able to wander through life without questioning or challenging how things are, we will automatically begin to seek a way to find meaning, to live well, to wake up, and to show up fully, authentically and courageously.
But regardless of whether we wake up or stay asleep, our response to life and to what happens to us flows out of whatever meaning we make—intentionally or by accident. Because, everyone is spiritual.
Ok, so let’s say you accept my premise that we are all spiritual in some way, by default or by design. So what? What difference does that make? What are we supposed to do with it? In a moment I’m going to offer some thoughts on that.
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So here are some thoughts about what we do with this inherently spiritual nature within all of us human creatures.
Firstly, it begins within ourselves. Part of waking up is recognising our inherent need to wake up. Life changes when we start to look inside ourselves and ask: how are we seeking to make or find meaning in our lives and world? And when we can identify our own specific meaning-making process, or lack of process, we can begin to make choices. We can choose to keep going the way we are, or we can choose to become more mindful and intentional about our life’s journey. We can choose the sources we will turn to for wisdom. And we can choose what practices we want to adopt to nourish our souls and what habits or routines we want to change. Without this self-awareness and intentionality, we will never really feel that we have any autonomy in our own lives.
And then, secondly, we can begin to look around us. We can begin to envision what we want our lives to look like, and what we long for the world to be. We can begin to imagine what a just and compassionate world looks like from our perspective. And we can become clearer and more intentional about how we will go about seeking a good life for ourselves, our families, our society, our country, and our world. The big questions will begin to move more to the centre of our lives, and we will be able to make choices about how and where we will seek understanding of these questions.
When we recognise our inherent human spirituality, it can be disorienting and frustrating. Religion, in itself, stops being enough. We find ourselves no longer able to just accept what we are told to believe. We’re no longer satisfied to simply do what we are instructed, or to relate only to the people we are told we should. We will start to cross lines and try new things. It can become quite disturbing when we suddenly realise that things we have taken for granted no longer hold the same value for us. And when the way we have lived is no longer acceptable for us.
But this deconstructing of our belief systems and ways of being—which can happen to religious and non-religious people—is healthy and important. It’s the first step toward a new depth, richness, and experience of life. And it brings about a whole new level of clarity about why we’re here, what we’re here to do, and why our lives matter. Which leads us into a whole new vision of the good life—along with a whole new motivation to live toward that vision.
So what does it mean for you to consider that you are inherently, unavoidably spiritual—whether you’ve always believed it or not? What would it mean for you to embrace your spiritual nature more intentionally and mindfully?
In the next episode I’m going to explore in more detail what it looks like to live awake. I’m going to ask what we mean when we talk about ‘the good life.’ And I’m going to share some thoughts about what it means to live with mindfulness and meaning, to live a life that matters, that counts, and that is actually worth the effort?
But that’s it for this episode. Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. And I’ll catch you next time!
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