Emotions and Spirituality
What is spirituality? Is it different from religion? What if I don’t go to church or belong to a faith community?

Every person has spirituality. Whatever moves or expresses your spirit or inner energy is part of your spirituality. In some senses your spirituality is expressed in every aspect of your personal and public life. It is just part of who you are – woven into and expressed through every thought, feeling, and action.

There are many definitions of spirituality. Any of them can be helpful in understanding this important yet mysterious part of life. Ultimately, none of them captures the whole reality, but what becomes clear is that spirituality has these core elements:

  • Finding or making some kind of meaning in your life:
    Everyone deals with issues such as identity, suffering and hope. What makes such issues spiritual is that they raise questions about the meaning of life, life in general and your life in particular. Your spirituality is shaped by the answers you give these questions. This aspect of spirituality is examined further in this article:
    Finding Meaning and Purpose During a Health Crisis
  • Learning to live in relationships:
    Consider your relationship with yourself, with others, with the natural world, with the human-shaped world, and with the transcendent dimension (referred to in religions by such names as God, Allah, Universal Truth, Creator, or Holy One, but by others as Higher Power, Life Force, Life Energy, Web of Life, or simply The Sacred).

 

The way we express our spirituality is shaped by our personal, family, and cultural experiences.
Some people express their spirituality in a religious way. This usually includes religious language, beliefs and symbols. People maintain their religion through individual practices and participation in the rituals of their faith community. Religious people often turn to their religious faith and community for comfort and strength in difficult times.

Spirituality can also be expressed in ways not considered religious. These are just some of the ways in which people can nurture their spirits:

  • relating to friends, family, and neighbours in ways that give and receive love, support, kindness, guidance, loyalty, and forgiveness;
  • expressing themselves creatively or artistically (e.g., woodworking or sewing, writing poetry or making music, painting or sculpting);
  • appreciating visual or performing arts (e.g., attending a concert, visiting an art gallery, or going to a movie);
  • reading books and engaging in conversations about the meaning of life;
  • paying attention to the movements of their emotional lives, the stirrings of the spirit evident in sadness, longing, love, anxiety/fear, anger, joy, pride, hope, and compassion;
  • enjoying the natural world (e.g., gardening or hiking, watching songbirds or sunsets, travelling to scenic places, spending time at a cottage, savouring the first snowfall or spring buds);
  • connecting with their bodies through exercise, meditation, massage, dancing, eating and drinking, or sexuality;
  • enjoying comedy and humour (e.g., light-hearted banter in everyday conversation, the capacity to see the joke in life’s discouraging moments, or comedies on the stage or in books or movies);
  • trying to live ethically, by integrating justice and fairness, peace-making, or green practices into their lives.

 

Love, trust, and forgiveness are important in your search for meaning within relationships. You grow spiritually as you learn to do these things:

  • love and care for yourself, express compassion for others, delight in the natural and human-made worlds, and cherish your place and participation in the web of life;
  • trust your intuitions and conscience, develop trustworthy relationships, trust that meaning can be found in every moment and place of your life, discern whom you can trust, and trust that the universe (or higher entity) is friendly no matter what happens;
  • forgive yourself for failures and wrongdoing, seek justice when you have been abused or wronged, let go of the desire for revenge when you have been hurt, accept that in the big picture you are accepted and valued just as you are.

 

Healthy spirituality gives a sense of peace, wholeness and balance among the physical, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of our lives. However, for most people the path to such spirituality passes through struggles and suffering, and often includes experiences that are frightening and painful. In these experiences you may struggle with questions such as these:

  • What do people think of me?
  • Where do I belong?
  • How can I effectively express my love or anger?
  • What does it mean to be true to myself?
  • What does the future hold?
  • What does dying and death mean to me?

 

Most of the fears behind such questions are in one way or another rooted in a fear of the unknown, a fear about areas of life that you don’t seem to have control over. Facing your fears openly and honestly helps you to figure out where you actually do have control, and to surrender your futile efforts to control what is beyond your power. Spiritual struggles are described further in this article;
Spirituality and Life-Threatening Illness

Fears, and the suffering that accompanies them, will always be part of life because unknowns are also part of life. However, fears do not need to cause panic. They can be viewed as invitations to open yourself to the resources and depths of your spirit, to the support and love of others who are also struggling to live meaningfully and to the larger spiritual realm that is beyond you. Opening yourself in this way can help you to live with hope, meaning and purpose, and inner peace in the midst of whatever circumstances you find yourself.