I Used to Hate the Word ‘Spiritual’, Until I Learned What It Really Means

A spiritual path is necessary for personal growth, but it doesn’t look like what most people think it does

Woman wearing a black veil with eyes closed
Woman wearing a black veil with eyes closed

What do you think of when you hear the word spiritual?

Do you see visions of immaculately arranged Instagram posts of people practicing yoga or calmly sitting with their eyes closed in an upscale loft? Do you hear the ramblings of someone ‘finding their bliss’ or seeking ‘inner peace’? Do those things seem totally unrelated to the battles you’re fighting every day in your life? Do you get turned off by just hearing the word ‘spiritual’?

You’re not alone. I too used to routinely dismiss anything labeled ‘spiritual’. The spiritual talk I heard for most of my life seemed to be just another kind of B.S. wrapped up neatly for gullible folks to consume — like any other sketchy product.

But I’ve come to realize that I was wrong. I was throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And it stifled my growth for a long time.

What I’ve come to find out is that spirituality isn’t something beyond and separate from day to day life. It’s right there in front of us.

But it is up to us to embrace it in our own way. And until we do, we end up limiting our personal growth to mostly superficial areas of progress.

Everything Is Spiritual

There is no separation between the spiritual and everything else. Replying to emails is spiritual. Washing the dishes is spiritual. Changing a dirty diaper is spiritual. Your failure to treat them that way is the only determining factor.

You can do any of the things I mentioned above mindlessly; and we often do. You can also do these things mindfully — in the sense of being aware that you’re doing them. But you can also go a bit deeper than that. And that’s what I’m talking about.

You can change diapers, reply to emails, and clean the dishes — but do them while acknowledging that they’re an expression of you, of your commitments and values. You can do them as a way of connecting more deeply with yourself, and with reality.

The email you’re replying to is an act of connecting to someone that you felt it’s important enough to connect with. If it’s someone you dislike, you’re probably walking a fine line your reply to be civil. If it’s someone you’re trying to help, you’re probably digging deep to provide them with that help in the email, and lift them up a bit.

The dirty diaper is your child’s, who you love in a way you don’t love anyone else. Changing it is an act of loving service — despite how badly it smells.

In the cases of the email and the diaper, you’re tapping into a deeper part of yourself. It’s the part that connects with what matters to you, what moves you, and what colors your life. We all have that part — but we so often neglect it.

It’s a deeper part of us — one that picks up on the fact that though we may swim in the shallow end of the pool for most of the hours of our day, there is a deeper end of the pool.

Spirituality is simply the awareness that there is a deep end of the pool, and a willingness to swim in it. Spirituality is the recognition of that part of ourselves that runs deeper than the superficial things in our lives. Actually, it’s the recognition that even the seemingly superficial things in our lives can be — if we allow them to be — deeply meaningful.

Just like anything else, spirituality is something we can hone in ourselves — and doing so can enrich our daily lives dramatically. But we have to let go of all the preconceived notions we have about what spirituality is and should be. Spirituality is uniquely individual, and the most effective way to do it is to build your own path.

Make Spirituality Practical

For years, I had done all of the surface-level work of writing down goals, projects, and tasks. I did mindfulness meditation because scientific studies said it would help my brain. And it all helped in its own way. But there was always a lack of depth.

Something was missing for me.

So I started digging deeper. Rather than meditating because science told me it would help, I began sitting quietly in order to tap into something a bit deeper. I allowed myself to entertain the possibility that by striking a reverential pose, like bowing, I could experience something more than just rest or awareness of my body.

I started constructing my own spiritual practice.

I practiced different types of meditation, and began experimenting with them. I incorporated chanting. I explored prayer — imported from the Christian and Muslim traditions. I tried Magick, esoteric mysticism, and New Thought. I went forest bathing, and practiced grounding. It’s all on the table. And I’m taking something helpful from each thing I try.

I’m still discovering and trying new things. Whatever spiritual system I build, it will never be complete; it will always be a work in progress.

When the goal is to tap into the deepest, most profound part of yourself and this life, leave no stone unturned.

That is all there is to it: build yourself a practice that deepens your experience of daily life, and energizes you. Build a refuge and a source of strength and peace. Whatever that looks like for you, that is your spiritual practice.

Your practice could include a walk around your yard, listening to birds. It could be running, and appreciating the rush you feel as you push yourself. It could be watching your child play with blocks. As long as your involvement int it goes deeper than just observing — into appreciating and experiencing — that’s spiritual practice.

You Are the Only Real Guru

The most important thing I learned about a spiritual path is that it only really works if you build it yourself. You can start with an existing belief system and set of rituals, but it is your job to establish their meaning. It is your job to place them in your life as important pieces of your worldview and approach to daily life. That cannot come from anyone else.

Your spiritual system and practice should have nothing to do with following anyone else. Those who claim to be your master or guru, and those who claim to have a unique access to some truth that you do not, or an ability to save you, should be avoided. Advisors, mentors, and people to walk with you on your spiritual path are highly recommended. But the moment they claim that you should follow them, and put your faith in their words alone — run far and fast.

Your spiritual practice should not allow for any intermediary between you and an experience of the deeper truths of your existence. This is your existence to experience and make sense of; don’t allow someone else to do that for you — they will get it wrong.

If there is one thing I want to scream at the top of my lungs about building yourself a spiritual path, it’s this: don’t walk the path someone else laid out for you. Your spiritual experience of life is too important to take a path other than the one that you have forged yourself.

We are all walking through the same dense and scary forest, and in the end, our journeys will all end in it. All we have are the unique paths we forged as we made our way through it. So make your path as much your own as you can.

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

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