“Enlightenment is not separate from washing dishes or growing lettuce. Learning to live each moment of our daily life deeply, in mindfulness and concentration, is the practice.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh
In my last blog post, I shared my two cents on religions, beliefs, science and spirituality and why I would describe myself as a spiritual person; not following any religion. Some of you who are reading this blog regularly (thank YOU!) have already assumed this. I guess, it wasn’t very difficult …
And some of you asked me “now what is spirituality really?”
It sounds like a simple question. But it isn’t that simple to express in words what has to be experienced on various levels to really understand it. However, the question is useful and important at the same time; and it deserves a thoughtful answer.
When I began my spiritual work more than fifteen years ago, I had no idea what it was. I didn’t even realize that the course I signed up for, would be the beginning of my spiritual journey. To be precise, it was the beginning of understanding that I am a spiritual being with a human experience. But that’s what I only learned years later.
Let me share a few criteria based on my experiences, what spirituality means to me. What I share here is entirely based on my experience. So, feel free to chime in and to add your perspectives and your experiences.
Spirituality is a discovery journey to your soul, not a belief system
Spirituality is a journey to your soul. This journey often includes restoring lost or suppressed parts of your soul. Spirituality allows you to live from your head to your heart. This journey leads you to your life’s meaning and purpose, and it allows you to adjust your life in this direction, step by step. A spiritual journey should help you to live your life in more wholeness with the body, mind, and soul on the same page.
Every person’s spiritual journey is different even if most people seek answers to similar questions. And that’s because every person has different challenges and a different point of departure when they begin to do the work.
Spiritual journeys usually have many curves and iterations until you can reach the next level. And life will present you exactly the challenges you need to go through until you learn what you need to learn.
Spirituality is definitely not a belief system. Spirituality is not something you can read, learn and apply. There are no given rules to follow (as opposed to religion). Instead, you have to develop your set of values, principles and standards you want to live by.
Spirituality is based on connectedness, and that’s science you can experience
I have written on connectedness many times here on this blog, also here and here. For me, it’s the fundamental principle to understand. No, I should say, it’s the core principle to experience, to feel, and to process by the body, mind, and soul. Connectedness is exactly some of the things you cannot learn from a book. Of course, you can understand the facts, but not how connectedness feels, and not what it means to you and your life going forward. Connectedness is science; physics, to be precise.
In a nutshell, connectedness means that we as living beings are all connected: to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically (click here for more details and sources). That means: we are Earth. Earth is within us. And the same applies to the universe. Now that means that we don’t live “on” Earth. Earth is within us. Earth is not separate from us. This experience alone has the power to completely transform how you live your life going forward. Furthermore, it allows you to break through one of the biggest misconceptions of the (Western) mind: separateness and fragmentation.
Example: Once I heard a dairy cow crying and mourning because humans have taken her newborn calf away from her and put it in a veal crate just to ensure that humans can consume her breast milk (which her body only produced because of her calf), I couldn’t stop crying for hours. My compassion reached out to every single dairy cow and from that moment, I couldn’t consume any dairy “product” any longer. I have thrown away every remaining item in my fridge and went vegan (click here for the entire story). And that was by far one of the best decisions I ever made. Being vegan is my daily spiritual practice, ensuring that I don’t cause any animal suffering. Promoting the vegan movement is an additional spiritual practice for me, powered by Peaceful Soulfood, a blog that provides thoughts, facts and recipes how to treat your body as the temple of your soul.
Spiritual work is the key to personal growth; to be processed by body, mind, and soul
Spiritual work is mostly working with yourself. That doesn’t mean that the work is always done alone. Based on my experience, the compassionate, caring and energetic presence of a group of like-minded people (even if distributed all over the world), a tribe if you will, is an essential part of the journey, and one of the biggest and most precious gifts I ever experienced in my life. Working together is an enormous enrichment for your spiritual journey. And then, it’s absolutely beautiful, that there is an “ark” of people that will always hold and support you whatever it is you are currently going through – in love. That’s compassion in action; my “Ark” is where my soul is always at home. It’s my soul family.
Example: You may feel inclined to click on the first blog post back in October 2012. Read this blog post, and you will see that this website called Sand Hearts is the result of a spiritual group work that’s called „Sādhanās“. This experience in August 2012 was for me the trigger that opened a space for me to reconnect with my playfulness, my creativity, my passion for writing; outside of my profession. During this year, I could reintegrate parts of my soul that were lost during my childhood. My “gurus” in this exercise pushed me into this adventure which is today one of my most loved creative work: writing from my heart, here for Sand Hearts. Furthermore, this process helped me to figure out what my purpose in this life should be: the first idea of my role as a gatekeeper between assumed different worlds was born with this project, Sand Hearts, inspired by a „Sādhanās“.
Spirituality opens your heart to experience the strongest energy that’s out there in the infinite: Love
Many of us were raised to fit into a system of school, education, work, family, retirement, and death. Children had to learn how to “function.” What the soul wanted was often not addressed and not discussed. Instead, the focus was on tangible achievements, ignoring the needs of the soul. Often, the soul got lost along the way, due to emotional, physical or even sexual abuse. Children have learned early on to build a wall around their hearts, not to be hurt anymore.
Spiritual work allows you to recognize all these patterns and to get rid of them as they don’t serve you anymore. Step by step. This is so incredibly important because a closed heart cannot love and it cannot trust. A closed heart means not to live without the gifts we were born with. Furthermore, a closed heart cannot receive love, but it is actually crying for love. The only way is to break through these barriers, by taking down the walls around your heart, step by step. Many different ways are out there in many cultures, how to do that. Examples are, for instance, guided group work as mentioned above, shamanic journeying, soul retrievals, breath work sessions, firewalks or sweat lodges (if you ever had the chance to be part of a Native American sweat lodge, you are one of the most blessed persons on Earth; there is no ritual that connects you deeper with Mother Earth than a sweat lodge; just my experience in a nutshell). Each of these rituals has their specific energy, but every ritual will allow you to make the connection, to feel hold, to feel the strongest energy that’s out there in the universe: love. Unconditional love. Deep in your heart.
Once your heart has opened up and you have discovered the power of love that’s within your heart (yes, you were born this way!), you will also feel the universal, the divine (you name it) power within this energy. Love is the quality of the infinite. Love is the essence of the universe. This essence called love flows through you. Once you feel that love flows through you, you are on the best way to get rid of attachments you may have connected to the term “love” in your previous life. And so it goes: once you learn one thing, the next thing to learn is already waiting for you.
Spirituality requires trusting the process
I have described spirituality in the context of a journey. Now, what happens along such a journey? You follow a process. It’s not a process you may know from your business. It’s a process with lots of iterations, curves, and bends. You always follow your process, which is unique to you. And the most important thing here is: trust the process. Trusting the process is for many people from a Western culture the most challenging thing ever:
In this culture, people consider process steps and activities as directly connected to certain goals and outcomes and defined in the beginning. None of this is true for your spiritual journey. Because the universe doesn’t work this way. Because life doesn’t work this way (if we are honest with ourselves). And therefore, spirituality doesn’t work this way.
Trust the process. Yes, trust the process even if you don’t know what will happen after the next curve. That’s good. That’s perfect. Trust the process even if you have to go through similar challenges again and again. If so, then there is still something you have to learn. Believe me; I know what I’m talking about here… Seek for the lesson to learn, don’t develop anger and negativity because of the situation and the people that are involved, etc.). Invest all your energy in figuring out what it is you have to learn. Now, you are on your soul’s journey. Once your heart opens up, you develop trust at the same time. Only then, you can trust the process, this process, your spiritual journey. Things will change. Because you change.
Spirituality requires spiritual practice to grow
Whatever the practices are you follow, find your way. Every method that helps you to experience this connection, oneness, wholeness to the Earth, the infinite, to all living beings, is a good practice. Every practice that connects you to the love in your heart that enables you to act in a more compassionate way every single day counts as a spiritual practice. Whatever sets you in a state of awareness and mindfulness is a spiritual practice. That why I have chosen Tich Nhat Hanh’s quotation: washing dishes, or growing lettuce, if done in awareness, mindfulness, experiencing connectedness, you are on your way, on your spiritual way!
Example: For me, spiritual practices are, for instance, my yoga practice, caring for my cats and playing with them, meditating, writing, creating peaceful soul food and many more things, such as spending time with friends I feel a deep connection on a soul level.
That’s it for now. This is what I learned along my journey so far. If you ask me “what is spirituality?” next year, I will probably have additional thoughts and ideas because I may have learned new things along my journey. Because throughout your spiritual journey you are always confronted with new situations that may challenge you to the core – simply to help you to grow.
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times