General Question

toleostoy's avatar

What does it mean to say one is "spiritual"?

Asked by toleostoy (282points) March 19th, 2009

I think I understand being spiritual but not religious. I want to know how being “spiritual” affects your life, what you do to be spiritual, and under what circumstances you would say that you are religious.

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27 Answers

MrKnowItAll's avatar

Being spiritual generally means that you don’t buy into any of the crap that the various ‘religions’ spew out as morality, but you still want to feel morally superior, without being an outright asshole.

Jamspoon's avatar

I don’t think labeling oneself as being spiritual has anything to do with moral superiority – I mean maybe for some people it does but that would be missing the point – I would suppose that certainty in one’s morality comes from within as does one’s feelings about the world around them and their understanding of it.

If a person feels that there is something beyond them that isn’t observable and that eludes concrete description then they might consider themselves spiritual, as opposed to religious where by religions describe that which is beyond us as relating to God , multiple deities and ideas like or similar to creationism.

Mr_M's avatar

I believe it means (ex.) that you believe in God but don’t go to church.

fundevogel's avatar

I’m not spiritual or religious, so maybe I’m completely missing the nuance of spiritualism. But my understanding of it is that people who consider themselves spiritual don’t follow any particular organized religion, but they have there own supernatural views of the world. It’s like the ultimate spiritual fantasy, you get the peace of mind delivered by a sense purposefulness, justice and interconnectedness that religion provides, but without anything unpleasant bits bundled up with it like in an existing religion.

It’s like if you could put together your beliefs like an ikea storage solution. You can pass on wire basket hell drawers, pick up a past life organizer and put the whole thing together all by yourself with an alan wrench.

Spiritual people seem to be more accepting of other others and their beliefs, but as far as I can tell their actual beliefs aren’t any more likely than those held by followers of organized religions.

Alternately, spiritual seems to be used sometimes by people who are members of an organized religion, but for whatever reason don’t consider themselves religious. Maybe they’re not that active it the church, or they attached a stigma to the word and don’t want to associate themselves with it or they disagree with enough of their churches teachings that they don’t consider themselves conventional members of their faith.

SeventhSense's avatar

You said,
“It’s like the ultimate spiritual fantasy.. but without anything unpleasant…It’s like if you could put together your beliefs like an ikea storage solution. You can pass on wire basket hell drawers, pick up a past life organizer and put the whole thing together all by yourself with an alan wrench.”
That was a perfect example of a religious dogmatic and polarizing mindset.
And since we’re speaking for each other, let me give it a go:

Wow, let’s see if we can describe the atheist:
A type of creature who denies the existence of anything greater than himself or organizing intelligence. Imagining himself to be the center of a vast cosmos he understands that life has no other purpose than to sustain his existence whereas all probability points that he should be snuffed like an amoeba in a petri dish. Yet somehow the laws of the universe allow his continued existence based solely on the enormity of his gigantic inflated head. Passing IKEA to pick up organizing storage solutions for his poorly informed “Spiritualfriends”, he realizes that he also can pick up some things of his own. Of course to fragment the entire existence into neat categories that describe his various sciences of which he has decided the world is fragmented. And of those scientists who speak of God-the Einsteins, The Sagans, The Asimov’s. Well, they were just using some pet references for the poor huddled masses inebriated in their fantastical imaginations.

Let’s try to imagine a world where we’re all doing our best.

Jack79's avatar

what I understand from this is basically what I am.

I could say “agnostic” which for me is the correct defition, since I don’t know for a fact that God exists, but I’m willing to believe in him. Yet the word “agnostic” carries a negative connotation (partly because it starts with the negative “a-” but also because of the way it’s used in everyday English). A lot of people therefore consider it to be close to “atheist”.

On the other hand, I could say “deist”, which is a 19th century term which over the years has also lost its original meaning. People feel the need to define what exact divine power they believe in, and to do that you have to start by defining “divine”.

So “spiritual” is one of these useful, politically correct neutral words that can be vague enough to not insult anyone but still give you the general idea of where one is leaning. To me it means that the person generally believes that there is a higher Being somewhere that may or may not have created the Universe, but in any case we are not just stardust. At the same time, most organised religions have probably got it wrong, so there’s not much point in sticking to things like the Bible or the Quran, and one may even like to mix and match between various elements from different approaches to divinity.

Blondesjon's avatar

@SeventhSense…If you truly meant all that you say then your answer would have simply been, “Let’s try to imagine a world where we’re all doing our best.”

“Spiritual” is a label that people apply to themselves when they feel they need to give a non-offensive description of their beliefs to either some one religious or an atheist.

I am not religious, atheist, spiritual, agnostic, or other. I’m just Blondesjon.

and maybe just a bit of an anti-labeltarian

SeventhSense's avatar

It begged an answer…there’s nothing worse than a pompous..

SeventhSense's avatar

No, I disagree with your definition of spirituality.
And as per the athesist and agnostics:
I don’t feel the need to explain what an atheist or an agnostic is so why would someone feel the need to describe something that is not their own experience?

Blondesjon's avatar

@SeventhSense…Why let it bother you?

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

fundevogel's avatar

I admitted I was coming from an outsider view, so if (when) someone disagreed with me they would provide their own view, point out my misconceptions, if only for their own brand of spiritualism. I appreciate your dissent, but you haven’t explained your position to me.

But since you decided to return the favor and some up my atheism, I figured I go ahead clear up a little thing first. While I agree that I don’t believe in any supernatural being higher than myself (the definition of atheism), that does not in any way elevate myself or center the world around me. I’m just one of many billions of creatures in a huge universe, it’s hardly a grandiose position to be in. If anything it’s less grandiose than a conventional religious perspective since I don’t think any god went out of his way to make little ol’ me. I’m not part of some special chosen people, or the holder of any mystical truths. I’m animal that will one day die and then I will just be gross. Believe me, it is not a self-aggrandizing position. I don’t really see how learning science can be compared to choosing supernatural beliefs. Science is an element of education, which I might add, is subject to continued evaluation and criticism. I’m not picking it because I like how it feels, but because it is the product of intensive study and investigation.

You said at the end of your response to me “Let’s try to imagine a world where we’re all doing our best.”

I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that. But I will say this. In the course of my continuing evaluation of the world and religion and god, I was never trying to imagine the world, not any sort of world, good or bad. I’ve always just tried to understand the world that living in.

So I have explained my views and my perspective, since you disagree with my assumption that spiritual people construct personal mythologies to their own tastes, could you explain what you see happening in the development in your own personal spiritualism. Where does it come from? Why have you accepted the things you believe and discarded those you don’t? Are you still sorting out your spiritual views or have they stabilized? Why is your form of spiritual belief/practice preferable to those used by organized religion?

Blondesjon's avatar

@SeventhSense…Hakuna Matata, Que Sera Sera, Let go and Let God, Don’t Worry Be Happy, Tune In Turn On And Drop Out…

SeventhSense's avatar

Ok well that’s different than a series of assumptions on either part. So I will attempt to answer. From my viewpoint we are all operating from a standpoint of imagination or ideation based on a compilation of facts, experiences and beliefs about the whole picture. And since no one has of yet come up with a unified theory of everything, that is the best that we can do. My idea of spirituality is a continued exploration of consciousness that is evolving and is not stagnant. My ideas about a higher intelligence is a collective consciousness that is comprised of the sum total of all intelligence and that is inseparable of any of its inherent components. The idea that I am here and you are there is itself a misnomer because there would be no here without the there. I know not what to respond to without the echo because they are both dependent,interdependent and have their “existence” as a mutual coarising. As such all things are essentially empty since the nature of a thing has all to do with myriad interactive aspects. Is a tree wood at the subatomic level and at what point is at also H2O and the overlaping of free oxygen and part of the carbon in the soil etc.
The only thing that seems to defy this interdependent existence is consciousness or most decidedly consciousness of a self. And consciousness is evolving from my perspective to “let go” of this attachment and take its place within the framework of which it has never truly left. And life by it’s sustenance of itself and the reammerging of itself through cycles of death and decay seems to have a benevolent nature on our particular planet. Or else it would have fallen into a cycle infinitely more likely to occcur-such as the case on more hostile planets like Saturn, Jupiter or Mars. I believe that our existence here is the experience of a limited field of awareness compared to our inherent nature which is itself original mind without limitation. God is a poor name for that so I accept spirituality to be a blanket term

tabbycat's avatar

I think being “spiritual” means a lot of things to different people, though it usually involves not going to church or belonging to an organized religion. When I hear the word applied to a person, I ususally take it with a grain of salt and question the person who has used the term about what he means when he uses it.

I’ve known it to apply to someone who is into astrology or pantheism—or an atheist of agnostic who has a strong moral sense. So, I generally don’t assume anything.

tabbycat's avatar

P.S. I’ve known a devout Catholic to use it to describe her atheist husband. I always thought she was being hopeful that he believed in something—which, based upon my many conversations with him, he did not. But perhaps she really saw a different side of him.

fundevogel's avatar



I suppose the most fundamental difference between our methodology is that your spiritual views are aimed at explaining the complete nature of the life and the universe. And I’m only investigating the material world with what is available to me here and now. I really don’t ever expect to understand everything. If I manage to double the faction of a faction of the percent I know about the world (minus what mistakenly I think I know ) by the time I die I think I will have done a good job engaging this world. One I could be proud of.

You’ve given yourself a much bigger job, but I don’t think you have any more tools to achieve your goal than I do. Perhaps you use them differently than I do, but I can’t help but feel like with such a herculean goal you don’t have much to work with in cracking the mysteries of the universe. And with your philosophy you add an immaterial element that is, at this point, entirely theoretical and thus beyond proving. I say this because it is impossible to make quantifiable improvements to your understanding of it, if you can’t first at least demonstrate it’s existence. It’s an awful lot of material and immaterial stuff to sort through. Like moving a beach one grain of sand at a time.

Does the scale of these questions of life and the world daunt you? How important is it that your spiritual philosophy achieve a perfect understanding of the universe. Is perfect understanding second to the role of your philosophy in guiding how you engage the world?

SeventhSense's avatar

“but I can’t help but feel like with such a herculean goal you don’t have much to work with in cracking the mysteries of the universe”

But that’s just it, I don’t think of it as something to crack inasmuch as it something to remember. Does a dog have to crack the code of being a dog? No it’s just a dog. We are the only creature who have a distinct imagination of separateness. Like the material world and the imaginative world. This is a construct. Does antimatter figure into the material world? explore any aspect of the “material” world at the sub atomic level, the sub sub atomic level and beyond. Where is the material? It’s a never ending splitting into infinity. It’s fields of energy and atoms.

prasad's avatar

Spiritual is usually compared with material. Material relates to physical world. Spiritual relates to soul or vital principle that gives life to physical organisms.
When a person dies, the spirit leaves the material body.
Religion forms the guiding rules so as one can elevate spiritually.
The ultimate goal of life is to merge into the Holy spirit, the God (like a river that originates from a source and flows to ultimately meet the sea).

Harp's avatar

I use the word “spiritual” rarely and with great reluctance, because it conjures up all kinds of associations in other people’s minds that I really don’t want to be associated with. It evokes belief in some hidden or arcane reality that’s on some different plane from our sensory experience, and I don’t subscribe to this at all. As soon as you throw the word “spiritual” out there, you seem to be drawing a distinction between the sacred and the profane, the ordinary and the exalted; a distinction that I don’t support.

But I do recognize that we have choices in how we relate to this ordinary world, and I think it’s here that the word “spiritual” can have some legitimate meaning.

We can, and usually do, parse our experience out according to the analytical, conceptual rules of the intellect. This approach gives us the familiar world of discreet objects, of self and other, a world amenable to science and reason.

But there’s another way to understand experience, and that is to not parse it at all, but to leave it whole and undivided. This is a world of no-thing, no-self, no-other. I must stress that this is not a different world than the world of things. The only difference is in how we choose to relate to it. In effect, we can either remove ourselves from the world and so gain a perspective on it that allows us to study it, analyze it, think about it; or we can be dissolved in the world, freely mingling with its fluid nature.

But this dissolved, unformed experience is not one in which science and reason have a place. That does not mean that it is not real, and here I think is where strict materialists would draw the line. I would assert that both ways of understanding experience are equally real and, in fact, owe their reality to each other.

SeventhSense's avatar

Thanks for giving voice to that which is so hard to describe or categorize.
“But this dissolved, unformed experience is not one in which science and reason have a place. That does not mean that it is not real, and here I think is where strict materialists would draw the line. I would assert that both ways of understanding experience are equally real and, in fact, owe their reality to each other.”

And that to me is a major distinction. True spirituality and science have no conflict in my estimation. It’s just that it’s all science fiction at first.
Think of the these statements 150 years ago
1. Man will be able to remotely transmit information-the written word from any location on earth to any other point within seconds, the information passing through the ether.
2. The average person will be transported through the air while listening to a symphony which has been perfectly captured in a tiny box. This music will be directly transferred to his ears by apparatus on his head
3. A reality will be transported through the ether complete with real people that will represent real events and be received at any other point on earth where people can capture these people and through a magic box view their activities.

But simply -
1. A fax machine
2. An airplane while listening to a MP3 or CD
3. A television

hearkat's avatar

When I say it, I mean that I am not an atheist, I do not follow any organized religion, and I do not necessarily believe that there is an all-powerful deity. Yet I sense that there is more to our existence than just ashes to ashes and random chance, and that there is something greater than us that guides us and connects us.

I don’t like using the term because I don’t want to sound like a total flake, like some New-Agey people do. My personal beliefs and theories evolve constantly, because with each experience I learn something new about myself, humanity, our world, and life itself. But it’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that there will never be proof, that no matter what anyone believes, we won’t know who’s right until our bodies die.

We can only work with what feels right to us. And I believe we should accept that one size does not fit all, and no one should try to force their beliefs on another. It saddens me to think how much violence has been done in the name of religion or moral righteousness. We are all flawed and have no grounds from which to judge another.

essieness's avatar

I’m totally not reading anyone’s answers…

For me, being spiritual means that I believe in God, feel close to God, I try to be a good person (honest, loving…). I try to find beauty in the every day. I do not follow a particular religion. In fact, I basically disagree with the idea of organized religion, but I don’t let that get in the way of being one with God. That might not work for everyone, but it works for me. I guess if I had to describe my personal spirituality, it would come closest to what Eckhart Tolle teaches or somewhat similar to Buddhist ideals. Anyway, long story short, I have found my own way to appreciate God and find God in myself, and I don’t feel the need for a particular religion to tell me how to do that.

kess's avatar

Spirituality is God’s standard not men.

Therefore the reality of a mans spirituality will always be highly debatable by men.

But all who knows the Spirit of God are spiritual, their works are the evidence.

SeventhSense's avatar

I think the nature of spirituality is the nature of love. It will always have inherent within it some aspect of foolishness and innocence. And if you would be a lover you accept that.
As Gibran said On Love

….But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

SABOTEUR's avatar

For me, it means the ongoing endeavor to master spiritual principles and to apply them into one’s everyday living.

MadMadMax's avatar

Stepping in to a question with a lot of answers and I don’t want to read them all so I’ll give it a try in the dark:

Once when I was in my late teens I stood in front of a painting on exhibition at the Frick Collection in NYC. I couldn’t move and I began to cry silently. I felt it.

A guard came over and handed me a Kleenex and said: You’re a spiritual little girl aren’t you?

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