What is the Difference between Spirituality and Religion?
An Inner World Exploration
Consider this: Religion is taught and interpreted through the limitations of the human mind. Spirituality is discovered through the soul.
Religion is taught and interpreted by mankind in accordance with the prevalent group consciousness. Spirituality is discovered through your individual and unique awareness of the whole.
Your spirituality continually unfolds
Your spiritual awareness and experience will expand and contract and shift directions as you get to know yourself, define and clarify your personal values and make self-aware, aligned choices that create your life experience. These all lead to individual choices in what to believe and how to apply it.
We have choices in evolving our spirituality. We can mindfully take time to question the religious beliefs we have been exposed to since childhood to see if they still resonate. We can look around at what we’re experiencing, choose the values we want to live by and forge not only our own life path but a spiritual path that supports our journey. We do that by exploring our inner world.
There are three phases in developing your own spirituality:
– question your core beliefs
– explore unfamiliar spiritual expressions to see what resonates
– create your own unique spiritual practice.
Question your core beliefs
Because our core beliefs have been around so long, they’re familiar and comfortable and seldom called into question. But we should periodically examine and define these beliefs to see if they still resonate with what we’ve learned and what we believe.
For instance, there are a great many things we believe because that’s what our parents taught us or reflected back to us. Now, this can range from good to bad. A drug-addicted parent gives us one view of life, a conservative parent another, a free-floating explorer of life another. Stop for a moment and put your parents in a general category. Also reflect on the cultural climate they grew up in, how it restricted or motivated them. Then see how their life experience differed from your present one and what that means about the choices you should/could make today about your core values and beliefs. Question what you believe and why you believe it and re-choose based on who you are today.
There’s a difference between a taught-from-childhood religious education dictated by the beliefs and backgrounds and choices of your parents and an experiential discovery process of your own unique, individualized spiritual expression. You may have to look closely to see what you inherited and what you consciously chose.
Like the core values we learn as children from the belief systems of our parents, it’s probable that our specific religious training, or lack of one, was also dictated by them.
My mother was Presbyterian. My father Morman, which my mother actively didn’t like as a religion. I got a strong message there.
As a young divorced woman, I was drawn to the low Episcopal church but could not enter a second marriage through that church because I had been divorced. So I felt rejected by a religion I was drawn to. I went back to the Presbyterian church to get married. Then back to the Episcopal church for the ceremony and structure that appealed to me at the time. I had begun my own spiritual exploration by noticing what called to me and taking steps to go exploring.
My first major discovery or what truly called to me, what I truly believed, all by myself, for myself, came from one book, The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson. I was a wife and mother living in the conservative mid-west. That book told me about people all over the country (particularly on both coasts) who were doing and thinking and being like I wanted to be. I had not even known they existed.
I made a major life decision to go exploring for myself and that’s when I recognized the difference between the handed down religious beliefs I had been indoctrinated in and the very personal spiritual exploration and discoveries I embarked on in my forties. I became a metaphysician!
I continue to explore. And choose. And modify. I have not stayed with any one form of spirituality or one religious practice. My spiritual core is based on metaphysics that includes New Thought, many forms of energy healing, Taoism and Shamanism. I see myself as spiritual, not religious. Eclectically spiritual, for my spiritual beliefs come from my exploration as a human on this planet. I have chosen what calls to me. What resonates with me. What is effective for me. It’s never the whole system, simply the parts and pieces that resonate.
Religion to me is a formal, handed down doctrine that’s taught and interpreted by people steeped in the beliefs and prejudices of their own time. Spirituality is what you evolve for yourself. It comes from many sources and is chosen because it resonates deeply with you. And you take only the parts that feel aligned with your own spiritual path.
Be aware of your unique spiritual path
Instead of seeing yourself as a member of a congregation, you are now aware that you have an individual spiritual responsibility, a path of service that’s yours alone to walk. And you set about selecting the beliefs and concepts and ideas that support you in making that individual journey.
As our life evolves, and we learn about and understand ourselves more intimately, we need to question our beliefs, whether they come from a particular discipline or have become an eclectic mix of spiritual principles that call to us. Do you have the courage to do that? Do you trust your own inner wisdom to discern what’s currently for your highest good?
Even if we’ve explored and taken parts and pieces of various forms of spiritual expression, we still need to periodically examine and evaluate to see if those ideas and practices still serve us.
Explore unfamiliar spiritual expressions
The first time I had a clue about anything other than my Presbyterian upbringing was in a Comparative Religion course in college. I had no idea all those spiritual approaches existed. My question to myself was, “If there are all these different religions, how do I know mine is ‘right’?” Right in the sense that it gets me closer to a higher energy? Right in that it makes me a kinder, more thoughtful person? Right in that it answers my need to feel connected to a greater energy?
What is right for you?
Here’s my problem – all of these religions have been interpreted by humans and are filled with the limitations of being a human.
Spirituality is of the unseen world. There are no boundaries, no limitations. The core is Oneness. The oneness of all things. If each of us could live our lives as if we were all one energy –which we are – can you even begin to imagine how our world would change?
So I went exploring over the years. Becoming a metaphysician took me exploring in energy techniques like reiki, transcendental meditation, yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Bach flowers, herbalism and Ayurvedic principles.
When I left New York City for Santa Rosa, California, I found the Center for Spiritual Living and spent five years becoming a licensed practitioner. That is New Thought with a lot of Emerson influences and has elements of all the world’s great religions.
But I moved on. Poets like Rumi and Gibran spoke deeply to me. I was steadily drawn into Taoism, which seems more free-wheeling to me than Buddhism. As I explored, I took what resonated and left the rest.
A few years ago, I began to immerse myself in shamanism, learning its powerful form of meditation called “journeying”. I have developed an exceedingly strong and active inner life connecting with my helping spirits for their guidance and wisdom. Is it religion? – No. Is it spirituality? – Totally.
I studied the work of a past-life regressionist Michael Newton, who, by leading his patients into descriptions of their lives between lives on earth has opened a whole realm of possibilities for me. It’s part of my personal spiritual exploration and what I have come to believe about it is very aligned with being 85. There is a great “next” waiting.
And that’s the point. Take what works for you and leave the rest behind.
Understand and periodically redefine your core values
What are your core values? If you are like most of us, you don’t even know where to begin.
Core values are our fundamental beliefs. Our guiding principles. They help us understand the difference between what we see as right and wrong. They are our guideposts, our measuring sticks, to help us find our way on our chosen path. And they may prioritize themselves differently as we move through life.
“Spiritual exploration” is at the top of my list of core values. Finding my place of illumined service is right next to it. Learning is near the top. I value life (I’m a vegan – “do no harm”). I value inclusiveness. Honesty is high but it’s so ingrained as a core value I almost forget to list it. You get the picture. Make a list of a few of your core values, those guidelines, and guideposts, the choices you make on your life path.
What concepts offer you the most comfort, the most strength, the most “whatever you need right now” in your life? Pick and choose and add the elements that support your personal spiritual practice.
I begin my day with a personalized ceremony that’s eclectic and open to change. It includes sound healing, chi gong intention setting, gratitude and blessings for the day to come. I deepen my inner awareness by taking a shamanic journey every day. I do mindful breathing. I pause in my day to meditate with nature. My spiritual practice is eclectic and totally nurturing to me. It’s also open to adding, subtracting and rearranging all of the elements.
What forms of spiritual expression have you explored? Have you given yourself permission to pick and choose the practices that call to you?
Create and evolve your own expression of your spirituality
Because spirituality is individual, because it’s made up of elements that resonate with your current needs, you can let the form evolve. You can add things and drop things. The point is to have your spiritual practice, your spiritual exploration, expand your awareness, deepen your connection with All-That-Is and make you a better person.
I don’t like to be restricted. I don’t like rules. I don’t like to be told what to do. Formal religion feels constricting. It has too many rules, too much conformity. Even after five years of training to become a practitioner in the New Thought Center for Spiritual Living, I formally practiced only a few years before I moved on to my own more eclectic version of spiritual expression. I had grown spiritually and the format was too rigid for me. And that’s a pretty relaxed church.
As I explored I moved to terms like the All-That-Is, and the Nowhere That We Came From, (Rumi) the Web of Life, and one I made up: The Emptiness that Holds Everything. That frees me from a limiting human, male, dominating father-figure and frees me to feel and be and explore my core essence, which I feel is light”.
Whatever beliefs are at our spiritual core, we base our lives on them and make our choices from them. Everyone’s spiritual path is different. We must learn to honor that. We must allow that. And we must not try to make others think the way we do or condemn them if they don’t. Each person is on their own spiritual path with their own version created by them alone to guide them on their path.
Just work on your own spiritual path. There’s enough there to keep you busy. Each person has their own version. Our personal experience of religion/spirituality is all up to interpretation. Whether you’re looking at the doctrine of an organized religion or an oral, generationally developed spiritual tradition like shamanism, the individual interpretation and application is up to each of us. Even what looks the same on the outside is going to be seen and experienced differently on the inside depending on our personal viewpoints and cultivation of our own spiritual experience.
At the core, nearly everyone believes in something greater than they are
But from there the journey and the beliefs are as varied as we are. It may be seen as a force “out there” or “in here”. It may be described in many metaphors, but it is actually indescribable. It is felt. It is known. It cannot be described.
Our spirituality is also so fundamentally vital in our life that whatever version we’ve defined for ourselves is seldom questioned and seldom changed.
Therefore, human-based differences based on our core religion/spirituality will continue to be the source of discord – until we all can see ourselves as One Light, One Interconnected Web of Life and know that our strand in this Web of Life strongly affects others. The focus and depth of our inner light as reflected in our own life has a ripple effect that shapes our world and our life experiences.
How is your light doing?
Does your life reflect your current beliefs or have you changed a bit? Do you need to become kinder, more inclusive, offer more unconditional love? Can you feel the connection of your inner light with others? Do you feel like we are all part of one Light Community?
In order to expand your spiritual experience, do you need to look around at other spiritual philosophies? I love the Taoist concepts of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching. I find shamanism gives me the most direct spiritual experience I’ve had so far. I love the Buddhist concepts of mindfulness and the messages of nature that life is always unfolding.
Question your core beliefs
The first step in exploring this difference between religion and spirituality is to be willing to go exploring. To be willing to identify your core beliefs and let your inner voice guide you into your personal expression of spirituality.
Look around. Talk to people of different belief systems. Read the authors who describe different forms of spiritual expression. See if they’re repeating the dogma they have been taught or if they are actively thinking about and exploring certain facets of their religion. Go exploring.
Evolve your own spiritual experience
Begin to create your own expression of your spirituality. Be eclectic. Be selective. Take what speaks to you and adapt it into your own spiritual path.
Then walk your spiritual path, with openness, expectation, and a willingness to change.
Have you questioned your spiritual foundation recently? Will you? I wonder what you will discover…
To Sing a Deeper Song, Consider:
Abide at the Center of Your Being
What Does Spiritual Friendship Look Like?
How Your Spiritual Life Changes You
The Path of Supportive Service