I was asked a question the other day with which I am intimately acquainted but for which I had no answer. “What does it mean to lead a spiritual life?” It is not strictly true to say I have no answer. I have my own answers, but those I recognise to be subjective, not definitive. It is, I think, one of those questions to which there are as many answers as there are querents and all will hold at least part of the truth.
To begin with it begs the question of what we mean by ‘spirituality’ itself. In this day and age it is often a term held to be quite distinct from religious belief and many will say they are ‘spiritual, not religious’, yet I am not so sure you can really make that distinction. Religion is generally defined as a formalised and organised set of beliefs, where spirituality is usually seen as a personal relationship with the non-physical life. Yet a religious belief that seeks a personal relationship with God, whatever Name is used, surely, by that definition, is spiritual? For me the choice of path matters little, it is how we choose to walk it that makes the difference between whether we embrace a particular path or merely pay lip-service to an outer form; a spiritual life should be a personal journey towards understanding regardless of the route taken.
For some religion provides the structure and the guide that they need. For others that very structure is anathema. Many forget that the underlying message behind most paths that is not so dissimilar when stripped of doctrine and tradition. They can all be paths to the Light. That is up to the traveller.
If I were to seek to express an answer to that original question and say what I personally mean by living a spiritual life, I would have to say that it is to live without blinkers.
I would have to consider the blindness that can make us the last to see our faults and flaws, the last to see our personal, inner barriers and the excuses we make for ourselves and say that the spiritual life leaves us naked with nowhere to hide. It demands that we look at ourselves, both in our weakness and in our strength, recognising the problems and screwed-up bits equally with the gifts, glories and beauty we all possess; as a rule we are not very good at that, tending to see only one side or the other.
To live a spiritual life is to live, fully… and to live in the world, alive to the world, in the moment we are given; and through knowledge and experience to seek the understanding that can be born of them.
For me, it does not mean being a saint or becoming perfect. It is about living in awareness and harmony, both within ourselves and within the world. It means recognising the perfection that already exists within each of us… within each other… and within which we all exist. It means aligning ourselves, little by little with that greater perfection and with who we are in the world. It asks of us that we live in compassion and love, obeying that golden rule that transcends all the religious and spiritual barriers we have created; to treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated, and to do so in the knowledge of our ultimate kinship as part of a single stream of life.