I think most of us would say that having a spiritual life is essential for our physical, emotional and mental well-being. Through it we can let our soul breathe and express itself in our lives and in the world. But what exactly is a spiritual life?
I would suggest that broadly our spiritual life consists of two things: theory and practice. The theory is the worldview, philosophy, approach to life that we develop through study, through discussion with others and through personal experience. Each of us builds up this theory of life, out of more or less conscious beliefs about how life works, what the deeper purpose of it might be, and so on. This is the value of spiritual teachings and books, of browsing the internet and of discussion with friends deep into the night. Over time we can refine, test, change our beliefs to build the most satisfying philosophy or world view, and then I guess most of us ‘plateau’, having reached what we find is a workable and helpful way to see life: for example, for someone that might be a belief in the fundamentally spiritual nature of all life, the idea of different dimensions or planes of existence, a belief in reincarnation, and some sort of law of the harvest or karma. It can be interesting to take a while to ask yourself: What are the key ideas or precepts that inform my worldview, my philosophy of life?
Then ask yourself: where have these ideas come from? Just one source? Or from a number of different teachings, philosophies or religions? I reckon for most people reading or hearing this, the answer will be the latter not the former. But I may be wrong – do tell me! Is your worldview built from ideas drawn from just one viewpoint – say Buddhism or Christianity – or from a number? Do share with us the influences that have helped build your worldview, the theoretical basis that your spiritual life is built upon. And do you feel you are still building this viewpoint, or have you plateaued, and are satisfied with where you’ve got to?
There’s theory and then there’s practice. While it can be rewarding to read and study and develop our worldview and philosophy of life, to fully benefit from spirituality, and indeed to feel we have a ‘spiritual life’, we need to practice it too. And how we do this will vary from person to person and from life stage to life stage. A certain cult may want us all to engage in exactly the same practice, but a hallmark of a healthy spiritual path should be, I believe, that each of us is called to practice in the way that feels right for us – and that may change over time. This is why those systems that offer just one technique have their limitations – it may be true that a certain prayer or meditation or ritual if done often will create certain beneficial effects, but as Jung said: “The shoe that fits one person pinches another…”
It’s also true that like any skill you need to learn from others and follow practices that later you may grow out of, or adapt in various ways, like an artist who at first learns the basic skills of drawing and painting before developing their own unique form of expression.
In this video I mention my book ‘Seek Teachings Everywhere.’ You can find out more about it here.