This week, we’re going to look at a question that comes at least once a week in some form and we’re also going to talk about it a little bit differently:
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SPIRITUAL? WHAT MAKES A SPIRITUAL PERSON? HOW IS MY SPIRITUAL SIDE DIFFERENT FROM THE REST OF ME?
To answer this important question, I’m turning to one of my own favorite authors.
Liz Gilbert is my hero. I want to be her when I grow up. Oh wait, scratch that. I’m almost old enough to be her mother and I don’t want to grow up.
But I do love her perspective on so many things. Like what it means to be spiritual.
What Does It Mean to Be "Spiritual"?
Personally, I believe we are all "spiritual" simply by virtue of being spirits in skin suits. We don’t have a spiritual side and a non-spiritual side. It isn't about cleaning up our act and becoming a caricature of “spiritual" by anyone else's definition. It's about being our own "I AM" and embracing everything this chosen life brings our way in all its glorious messiness. It means I’m OK with F bombs, wine, junk food, health food, meditation, everything! Bring it on! It’s about finally recognizing the divine truth of exactly WHO we are right now in each and every moment whether we are warriors or peaceniks, mediators or rabble-rousers. Accepting our own I AM....now that's enlightenment in my book!
That also mean I get in trouble sometimes with well-meaning folks who have a much narrower definition of what being “spiritual” means, god love ‘em. And I love them, too. After all, we’re all just finding our way home to Love, each in our own way, by our own path. And all Yellow Brick Roads eventually lead to Oz.
Which brings us to Liz Gilbert and something she wrote on her Facebook page recently...
Here's what Liz said:
OK, so the other day I got in trouble again on the Internet.
Somebody yelled at me (again) for not being a spiritual person in the right way.
Usually, this happens when I swear. I will drop an F-bomb on social media, and invariably somebody will scold me, saying, "I can't believe that a so-called spiritual person like you would use such profane language!"
This makes me sad, because I really like swearing. In fact, I love it. For me, dropping a good F-bomb is actually a nostalgic act of heart-opening grace, because it reminds me of my father, my uncles, and my grandfather — all of whom I adored, and all of whom cursed beautifully, proficiently and (to my ears, even as a child) poetically.
But people get upset, and they say: "You claim to be a spiritual person! You shouldn't use language like that."
I also get scolded for doing other things that "spiritual people" apparently shouldn't do — like posting selfies of me and my friends making stupid faces, or singing karaoke late at night in cheap bars, or enjoying certain kinds of music that spiritual people should not enjoy. (Kanye and Nelly apparently, are not on the same level with hymns or sacred chanting…)
But the other day, I got in trouble on social media for making a funny (I thought) comment about drinking wine. And I got a LONG lecture from an outraged individual, who could not believe that Liz Gilbert, who alleges to be "a spiritual person," would make light-hearted jokes about alcohol, a substance which clouds our perceptions and which has poisoned so many people's lives...
And I was like: "Oh jeez, here we go again."
So here is my question, and it's an earnest one: What do you think a spiritual person IS?
When you google "spiritual person," sure enough, up comes this image, which I have posted below. Here we have the iconic image of the pristine and beautiful young yoga lady, thin and calm and perfectly balanced and totally healthy, fresh from her latest juice fast, meditating on the edge of an infinity pool — like nobody in history ever did, EVER.
Why is that perfect spiritual lady always depicted meditating on the edge of an infinity pool in absolute serenity, I wonder?
(No, I'm wrong — to be fair, that perfect yoga lady isn't always depicted meditating on the edge of an infinity pool; sometimes she's depicted sitting on a bolder at the top of a mountain, and sometimes she's sitting on a beach at sunset...but she is always shown in a state of graceful meditation, and she's always thin and lovely, and you just know she has a super hot vegetarian boyfriend, and her back doesn't hurt, and she has never taken anti-depressants or farted.)
I don't recognize that person. By which I mean — I've never met her.
Because that person in that picture doesn't exist. She is an icon — a holy relic, painted by our imaginations. (I don't mean that the model is not real, by the way; the model is absolutely a real human being with failings and desires and suffering and hope. I mean that the picture is not real.)
The spiritual icon in this picture has never had too much wine. She's never dropped an F-bomb at the wrong moment. She's never said something regretful on Twitter. She's never lost her temper. She's never acted like a total asshole. She's never been over-sensitive to criticism. She's never woken up ashamed at how much she gossiped the night before about a good friend. She's never judged anyone, she's never attacked herself, she's never cried in the middle of the night for no reason, she's never failed horribly, she's never let herself down. She's never stopped to eat at McDonald's on her way home from the health food store (I have!). And she's damn sure never tried to sing "Dead or Alive" at karaoke and realized halfway through the song that she actually can't sing "Dead or Alive" — but then decided to keep singing it anyway, EVEN LOUDER.
Yet this lady at the edge of the infinity pool is what we think of, I guess, when we think of "a spiritual person."
But that's not what I believe a spiritual person is. I believe a spiritual person is somebody who is aware of a larger divinity in the universe (a source of power that operates behind and beyond all that we can see) and who wants to get as close to that divine source as possible.
I think sometimes people get mad at me for doing "a spiritual person" wrong, because they have mistaken me for "a religious person." They believe that when I curse or drink wine that I am violating the code of conduct appropriate for a religious person — particularly for a prominent religious person, which (weirdly) people sometimes believe I am supposed to be.
But a spiritual person is not the same thing as a religious person.
Religion is about following certain rules regarding God; spirituality is about longing for certain experiences with God.
Religion is a way that you must behave; spirituality is a way that you long to feel.
Religion is about how we talk to God; spirituality is about how we listen.
I do think it's possible for people to be both religious and spiritual. My friend Brene Brown, for instance, defines herself as being both religious and spiritual, which is beautiful. She says that she goes to church every Sunday because she believes that it's important for a community to break bread together and pray together — that it's especially important to pray alongside your neighbors who vote differently than you — but that her spiritual experiences are something more private, more intimate, harder to put words to. I think Brene has found a wonderful way of living and worshipping, and that it works for her.
I myself have never been able to become a religious person, though, because I have not yet found the religious community whose formal rules and beliefs I can completely embrace — and yet I do believe in God, and I believe in majesty, and I believe in miracles, and I believe in our highest possible humanity, and I believe in transcendence, and I believe that my soul has meaning (and I believe that YOUR soul has meaning), and I believe in eternity...and I want to feel all those things in my life as much as possible.
So I pursue — as much as I can — the experiences that will bring me those spiritual sensations.
For me, spiritual sensations are those moments when the walls between the mundane and the divine get very thin — or sometimes vanish altogether — and I can feel in my bones a sensation of divinity and eternity.
For the most part, I have not been able to find those sensations while sitting on the edge of an infinity pool in lotus pose — but if you can find it there, awesome!
I have, however, sometimes felt sensations of spiritual transcendence while sitting in bars, or in bus stations, or in hospital rooms. I have felt it at the supermarket (just last week, in fact, when I watched a young girl take her elderly grandmother shopping, and I saw how she treated her grandmother with SUCH godly patience and love.)
I have felt it when I was swimming.
I have felt it at funerals, but I also felt it recently when a middle-aged male friend of mine tried to twerk, and we all died laughing.
I have felt it in churches and temples that I do not belong to (I feel the longing for divinity, I mean, and it touches me) — but I have also felt it while washing dishes with my mother after dinner, when she hands me the plates to dry them, as we have done 10,000 times.
I have felt it when I'm writing — and even sometimes when I'm editing.
I have felt it when I see a friend being brave.
I have felt it when I am forgiven, even though maybe I didn't deserve forgiveness.
I have felt it when I read Walt Whitman's poetry, but I have also felt it when I am driving alone at night in the summertime with the windows down, and that freaking Whitesnake song from 1987 comes on the radio, and all of the sudden time folds in half, and the universe bends around me, and my 45-year-old self is able to reach out and touch my 17-year-old self by the hand, and for a moment these two selves look at each other and burst into joyful laughter, and we say to each other, "How did we get here?! Who ARE we?!"
I have felt it on Facebook, when I watch you all make connections with each other across continents, and I see you lend each other such words of grace and kindness.
I have felt it when I collapse helplessly into a friend's arms, ugly crying, full of shame and fear, and that friend says, "It's all gonna be ok, baby."
I try to feel it as much as I can, because my job as a spiritual person is simply to look for divinity everywhere. That's what it means to me.
"Spiritual" is not how you talk, or what you eat, or what sort of yoga you practice, or what sort of music you listen to, or how much you weigh, or whether or not you want Botox, or whether you drink red wine or kombucha — or (like me) both.
"Spiritual" is believing in the innate divinity of every moment — and believing in the innate divinity of every moment is not something you can do WRONG. All you have to do is step off the edge of the infinity pool, and dive into the REAL infinity pool...which is all around us, sometimes within reach, sometimes out of reach.
I think sometimes people get frustrated with the term "spiritual" because they think it's too wishy-washy. They think you're lazy. They think you're undisciplined. They think you're unfaithful. They think you're trying to get away with something — that you are trying to believe in God without following any rules. (Whose rules, though?) People think you're cheating. People are always looking to catch you not being spiritual enough, or not appearing spiritual in the right ways.
Don't worry about it.
They don't know.
They don't know that there's nothing lazy whatsoever about this path.
They don't know that what you're looking for is nothing less than EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE and ALWAYS.
Being Spiritual Is Simply Who We Are By Virtue of Being Alive
And there you have it in Liz Gilbert’s own words. Sure, the details are her own, but the sensibility is right there with mine. And yours. And all of us souls walking around in skin suits.
We’re never going to get it “right” by anyone else’s definition because being spiritual isn’t really something that can be defined in human terms. It’s simply who we are.
So if eating a certain way or speaking a certain way or listening to certain kinds of music is important to you and makes you feel good, AKA feel god, go for it. That's what free will is all about. Just remember, free will is a universal gift for each of us to practice in our own way.
And once we realize that and begin seeing the divine in everything instead of looking for it as if it is hidden and mysterious, we will be One with who we already are – our own spiritual self.