“Spirituality for me means getting reacquainted with our true selves, with our knowing, our soul, our consciousness, our essence. It means believing that there is something bigger than us out there that is common to all of us. I call it the universe; others call it spirit, god, or the divine. It means that I have hope that I can heal myself and that a lifetime of dysfunctional ego-led thinking can be remedied.”Rewind 8 years and my view of spirituality was very different to now. It all seemed a bit airy-fairy. It conjured in my mind’s eye visions of folk sat cross-legged chanting, someone in a floaty white dress skipping down a beach and ethereal gatherings by candle light. Rewind further and I thought religion was spirituality. I had conflated the two. I believed one did not exist without the other. I think this truth lives on for many people.
My formative experience of religion was in the Church of England. For me, church was a rather uninspiring place. There were just two things I did enjoy there. I loved the responsibility and pride of being chosen to carry the Brownie flag to the altar as people entered the church and I embraced the chance to sing. The rest they could keep. I suppose what happened is that as I grew older, I felt a growing sense of not being included. Now, looking back it is clear to me that this was due to my gender. Women in the church were the ‘others’. Men ran the show. In fact, it wasn’t until 1994 that Angela Berners-Wilson became the first woman to be ordained into the Church of England. When that happened, my grandfather simply stopped going to church. I can remember sitting in my grandparents’ lounge discussing it, questioning his thinking. He felt it wasn’t the way things should be and so he cut off that part of his life. I could not find a counterargument powerful enough to sway him. Even when I challenged him with my best assault, asking what he would do if I became a Vicar, he could not be turned. He told me no. He would not come to watch me preach and knowing my grandfather as I do, I know that bond would have never been broken even if in an alternative reality I had become the Archbishop of Canterbury! Patriarchal forces may have been shifting in the world at large but there was no shift in that living room. To my knowledge, my grandfather has never been to church to pray again. At that point thinking religion was irreversibly allied to religion, I understandably decided the whole shebang was not for me.
Skip forward to today, you find me a spiritual creature, learning to embrace this way of being. To define what spirituality really is, I’m going to handover to one of my modern day goddesses, Brene Brown. She says “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practising spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” Today, I am fully on board with this explanation. Spirituality for me means getting reacquainted with our true selves, with our knowing, our soul, our consciousness, our essence. It means believing that there is something bigger than us out there that is common to all of us. I call it the universe; others call it spirit, god, or the divine. It means that I have hope that I can heal myself and that a lifetime of dysfunctional ego-led thinking can be remedied. It means that I have hope that deep down I am enough; despite a lifetime of self criticism. It means we’re all enough despite the outside world nudging us to feel lesser at every corner and it means we’re all in this together; that the community I believe is integral to wellness is actually more important than I ever could have bargained for. It all sounds rather gorgeous.
Religion, I now see, does not equal spirituality, nor vice versa. Spirituality is a way of being in the world. It is how humans connect with the greatness of the universe. No one else can decree what this should look like. Everyone will find their own way in their own time and some will never find it. Spirituality is an individual practice. Religion will absolutely provide some people with a way of finding God. Religion can provide instruction on how to awaken, how to connect with your human essence. Sadly, it appears that some religions have been corrupted from their true purpose and are filled with half-truths peddled by men as a way to gain control and hold power.
If they are not for you, there are many other ways to connect with your spirituality. Some find it possible to calm their egoic minds and connect with the Divine through meditation and mindfulness. For others, nature provides a focus to tune in, whilst others find their link to the universe flows whilst undertaking creative pursuits. In fact, you can do it however you choose. You are the author of your spiritual journey. There is no one way.
Over the last years, I have learnt from reading, talking to interested others, joining seminars, experimenting with mediation and yoga and the creative arts. There’s loads I still don’t know and still don’t understand but my curiosity has been sparked. The doctor in me has realised that modern medicine is missing a trick. Afterall, of all the things that have helped me to ward off the depressive feelings I carry, spirituality has become my most powerful tool. I believe we will struggle to support true wellness in our society until we see spirituality as a fundamental part of what it means to be human. An understanding of our spiritual nature allows us to step aside from the noisy workings of our minds and find space and understanding and learn to treat ourselves and others with kindness and compassion.