Ask the following question: What is spirituality? You will typically get as many answers as the number of people you ask. Some might wax poetic about a beautiful sunset or the ocean as it spans from the shore to infinity. Some might talk about reaching nirvana or some mystical meditative state. Some people might say that they don’t believe in it. Google has this to say about the definition of spirituality: “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” (I’m not particularly inspired) Many will launch into a discussion of God, yet still struggle to arrive at a good working definition of spirituality. I myself have to admit that though I received a religious education, and spiritually was spoken about often, I can’t claim that I actually could have offered you a good working definition of spirituality. Worse still, I was teaching about spirituality and, unbeknownst to me, I had no grasp of it. I was teaching around it… but not actually “it”.
So then, what is it?
I have come to learn that spirituality is about a deep personal and authentic connection with another. In that regard, we are all practicing spirituality to some extent. Some people however are more spiritually healthy than others. Those people who have honest and authentic relationships are living on a more spiritual basis. Those who, unfortunately, have only superficial relationships and surface friendships are not living within a spiritual framework; and that is true whether they seem to be living a religious lifestyle or not. Spirituality is all about a real connection. It is probably the most enriching and life giving experience that you will encounter. And like all things of great value and worth, hard work and courage are required to overcome the natural obstacles to spirituality. The advantages however are clear.
What’s in it for me?
The many benefits of living within a spiritual framework are well know to all those who actively practice it in their daily lives. Several years ago, the medical community took note and scientific research now provides empirical evidence that spirituality has a measurable impact on health and a clear and practical contribution to healthy living. Psychology Today lists some of the benefits of spirituality noting that spiritual people are “gracious, optimistic, compassionate, and self-actualized.” Research indicates the many health related benefits to spirituality including longer mortality, greater success in coping with illness, pain, and life stresses, and superior recovery from illness and surgery.
How do I strengthen my spirituality?
Now that we know that spirituality is about connectivity, we can then look for ways to connect better. Meditation can help us better connect to ourselves. Prayer and good moral decision making can help us better connect with God. Community service and involvement can help us better connect with purpose and meaning. Practicing authenticity can help us better connect with others. It is important to keep in mind that spirituality is not an endpoint; it is a journey. One does not arrive at spirituality, but rather one walks a spiritual path of inter and outer connectedness. And consistency is key.
Is there a downside?
If we consider that spirituality is about connection, then we have to appreciate that connection is a two way street and we need to be safe drivers. People often attempt to connect with things that are not necessarily beneficial to their spiritual health. Regrettably, many people today attempt to connect with drugs and alcohol. They confuse spirituality with magic and mysticism; spirituality is real, magic and mysticism are fantasy. Sometimes people attempt to connect with an unhealthy partner; dysfunctional relationships often have their roots in magical and enchanted thinking that may continue to persist for years in spite of the negative consequences. Sometimes people will connect with unhealthy aspects of their own personality. Other times, people attempt to connect with a false concept of a Higher Power. I say “attempt to connect” because, ironically, all of the above only serve to disconnect. Unfortunately, spirituality is misunderstood partly because people mistake fantasy for reality.
How can psychotherapy help my spirituality?
Therapy is a space where you can learn and practice how to connect to someone else in an authentic and real way. You learn to identify, navigate, and overcome the obstacles that interfere with connectivity and vulnerability. In fact, learning how to connect genuinely in the therapeutic alliance is one of the greatest, if not subtlest, benefits to psychotherapy. For many, it is the first and sometimes only safe place where they can feel comfortable to be their authentic and real self, without judgement, prejudice, or harm. The therapeutic relationship is a powerful tool to grow and nurture spirituality in your life. Moreover, in psychoanalysis, you can also learn to connect with different facets of your own self. There are powerful aspects of you that are waiting to be discovered and have not yet been accessed for want of healthy integration and interconnectedness; this too is a spiritual endeavor and experience. Spirituality can be effectively nurtured and practiced in the intimate experience of the therapeutic relationship.