By Patrick Meninga
What does it mean to live a spiritual life? Most of us probably have an idea of what we would be like if we could just be more spiritual…we picture our ideal “self” doing respectable things and acting in a respectable way. Not all of us want to know how to become a yoga teacher. But how can we define the spiritual life, and what steps can we take to get there?
First, we must sharpen our definition of the term “spiritual”. Vague definitions are poisonous to our spiritual growth.
Think about it. You probably have a vague notion of what “spirituality” means to you, but the lack of any specific qualifiers really limits your growth as far as any actions you can take. So let’s pin down all of the things that a spiritual life should entail:
1) Deep connections with others
2) Seeking wisdom
3) Striving for growth
4) Drawing closer to a higher power or nature
5) Tolerance and forgiveness of others
When we think of someone who is really spiritual, we might picture a man meditating in a cave, completely isolated from his fellows. In real life, we get deep meaning from our interactions with others. All of the great spiritual teachers would agree with this–for example, take Jesus, Ghandi, or Mother Teresa. All of them advocated working with others, even the sick and suffering. In particular, helping others is critical, as is carrying a message of hope to them. While many will attach religious connotations to this, it simply isn’t necessary, because we connect with others at a human level. In other words, keep it simple and just reach out and offer help. Most people would agree that those living a spiritual life connect with others in a helpful, meaningful way.
Seeking wisdom implies that a person is on the path to wisdom. They have some wisdom; they are seeking to gain more. This is not a mad rush for knowledge. Instead, the idea of seeking wisdom is about making genuine growth and gaining real insight into our lives. People who claim to know it all or have superior knowledge are generally not regarded as being spiritual–they are instead preaching in arrogance. Seeking wisdom necessitates some degree of humility. The spiritual life is one of exploration.
The spiritual life is a fallacy if someone has stagnated and is no longer growing. Spirituality is growth. This speaks of discipline; of demanding progress of ourselves. The great spiritual leaders always pushed themselves. If you want to feel like you are living the best life that you can, then you will need to push yourself in much the same way.
Drawing closer to a higher power or nature
Whatever your source of strength is, drawing closer to it will only make you stronger in your recovery. This is because your connection with a higher power is an internal mechanism–something that you have control over and can develop and cultivate.
Tolerance and forgiveness of others
Someone who is living a spiritual life does not hold deep grudges and resentments against others. They do not harbor anger in this way. Instead, we need tolerance and patience with others, and this comes from a genuine humility–knowing that we have probably acted out in the same way that others might be doing. We forgive ourselves and others around us. We hold our own behavior to a high standard, and grant leniency to others who are trying to grow.
Anger and fear are the enemies here, the only difference is in how we classify these destructive emotions. Resentment towards others is a huge block against our spiritual growth, so we must actively work to eliminate those ill feelings. Self pity can be just as destructive, and overcoming that is critical as well.
Anyone who is full of hate and negativity can block us from the spiritual life if we spend enough time around them. The real challenge is not only in avoiding people like this, but helping them to grow and change as well. Stay away from constant negativity if you can help it.
These would be questions such as: “Can I still be spiritual if I never pray to a higher power?” Sometimes our preconceived notion of what represents “spiritual” can block us from taking positive action. The whole point of this article is to motivate people to take specific actions in a couple of general areas (prayer and meditation, improving our relationships, mindfulness, etc.) so that they can grow spiritually. Don’t let a certain idea or hang-up about something stop you from making progress. Find your own path, do your own thing.
This can occur often with recovering addicts and alcoholics. We can sabotage ourselves and our own recovery, seemingly for no apparent reason. Sometimes it seems like self-destruction is just built into us. This is most likely due to low self esteem, with the idea being that we don’t deserve a rewarding life in recovery.
If self sabotage stems from low self esteem, then the solution would obviously be to rebuild self-worth. While that is whole other topic unto itself, my philosophy leans less towards the positive affirmations and more towards the positive action route. There is plenty of potential for support and relationship-building within the 12 step fellowships, with ample opportunity for rebuilding self esteem through the connections made there.
This one surprises most people, but I have seen it over and over again, all around me, while living in recovery. People who have been maintaining sobriety and growing spiritually have occasionally fallen ill, and suddenly everything goes to you-know-where. When people become seriously ill in recovery, bad things seem to happen. Sometimes this happens as a result of seemingly necessary medication, other times, the sickness simply incapacitates them from making those important connections with others.
There is a saying around the tables of AA: “You can’t think your way into good living…..you have to live your way into good thinking.”
This quote explains how we achieve the spiritual life–through living the principles on an everyday basis. This is not a case where we can simply change our thinking overnight and suddenly wake up the next morning as a spiritual guru. Instead, we achieve a spiritual life by living this thing. It’s not as much about our thoughts and opinions as it is about our behaviors and our lifestyle. It’s less about our beliefs and more about what we actually did today. The spiritual life is about action.
Ask yourself: What is my perception of “the spiritual life?”