What does it mean to live a spiritual life?
Myth vs. Reality
Several years ago, I went to my first ayahuasca retreat. It was a week-long trip in the middle of beautiful Costa Rica, and I desperately needed the break. My life was a mess, my head was chaotic, and I had abandoned most of the spiritual practices I had taken up that were once so helpful to me. When I got to the retreat, I noticed quickly that I was surrounded by healing; there was yoga, meditation, plant medicines, and other participants on their own healing journey to talk to. In only a day or two, I felt calmer and more peaceful than I had in months, maybe years. I remember thinking to myself, “THIS. This is what I need. I need to be surrounded by stuff like this all the time to live the spiritual life that will fulfill me.”
Then, the retreat ended. My surroundings of beautiful weather, constant talks of life’s purpose, and the smell of burning sage were replaced with an endless to-do list, tense relationships, and the smell of me burning dinner because I have too much going on. I was pretty convinced at this point that my problem was my surroundings, that my unhappiness stemmed from my circumstances. It took me several years (and several more retreats) to learn that my suffering had always come from within, and so does the solution. I wasn’t unhappy because of my circumstances. I had created my circumstances. As the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” If I’m allowing chaos to manifest in my life here, I’ll bring it with me wherever I go, and into everything I do.
Don’t get me wrong: Being immersed in things of a spiritual nature will no doubt help anyone stay on track with their journey. If I’m meditating, walking around in nature, and listening to Bob Marley all day I’ll probably feel more spiritually connected than if I’m staring at numbers on a computer screen for eight hours and cleaning up messes from my son for the rest of the night. The real challenge of living a spiritual life is to incorporate our spirituality into our reality. It’s applying what we learn in times of reflection to the challenges we face in everyday life and owning our power to take control of situations that are causing us stress.
A spiritual life should translate to a more peaceful life, regardless of circumstances.
In this post, we’ll discuss what it means to live a spiritual life and try to separate myth from reality. We will learn that living a spiritual life does not look the same for anyone, and everyone’s path will be unique. Spirituality is a very personal endeavor, and the only prerequisite to living a spiritual life……is to want to.
What is Spirituality?
To thoroughly discuss what it means to live a spiritual life, we must define what we mean by ‘spiritual’. A lot of times we associate spirituality with religion; Christianity, Buddhism, whatever. But spirituality is a much broader term that involves exploring the purpose of our life, the meaning of existence, and a meaningful connection with something higher than ourselves. It is about looking beyond what we see with our physical eyes to gain a more fulfilling understanding of the life we live. This understanding can help us appreciate our life experience and be more accepting of the unique life experiences of others. Living a spiritual life then, means living according to the truths and guidance we feel from connection with our Source. It is guided by a deep trust in oneself, and in the Universe.
What Does a Spiritual Life Look Like?
Living a spiritual life doesn’t mean you have to become a monk and retreat to a cave to meditate for the next decade (unless that sounds good to you, in which case, go for it!). It doesn’t mean you have to go to church on Sundays. A spiritual life can be the little things; the times we let someone in front of us at the grocery line because we feel compassion for strangers, or when we take a minute to breathe before reacting to a conflict because we know it will help us respond better. It can be how we parent, or what we do for a living. We don’t have to change our lives to become more spiritual. The real challenge and reward of divine connection is taking what we experience when we feel spiritually full and applying it right where we are.
“The true task of spiritual life is not found in faraway places….It is here in the present. It asks of us a welcoming spirit to greet all that life presents to us with a wise, respectful, and kindly heart.” - Jack Kornfield; After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
It’s a common occurrence to identify less and less with the world as one becomes more in tune with their spirituality. A phrase I like is, ‘wearing the world as a loose garment’. It describes a level of detachment that comes from a spiritual connection that allows us to greet life’s challenges with less fear and resistance. A spiritual life is lived with the understanding that facing and going through those challenges brings growth, fulfillment, and wisdom. Therefore, our daily problems become less catastrophic and major obstacles become opportunities. Our perception widens to a bigger-picture perspective, where we see events in our lives as pieces of a mosaic. Each piece, or section by itself, might not make sense. It might even look ridiculous. But together, they create a masterpiece.
For many of us, it can seem as though it is a fantasy, far away from our realistic grasp. With that thought comes a misunderstanding of spirituality altogether. Living a spiritual life does not mean we need to change where we live, our job, or what we do for fun. Divine connection is experienced internally. A spiritual life is lived from within, rooted in trust and constant surrender to the peaks and valleys we experience. Our spiritual endeavors may expand or change our horizons to include new people, places, and things, but they are only manifestations of the guided life we live. The real desire, motivation, and work are always internal.
Now that we have a better understanding of what a spiritual life is and what it is not, how do we get started? Maybe you’ve never taken up a spiritual practice before, or maybe you have but you’ve fallen off the wagon like I did. Either way, the first step is the same. When we’re trying to live a spiritual life, we need to be in tune with our intuition and the only way for that to happen is to have clarity of mind. When we quiet our minds and temporarily remove ourselves from our daily ‘stuff’, we’re better able to discern the voice in our minds that comes from our Source, the voice that guides us down the most peaceful and fulfilling path. Find out what it is that quiets your mind, and you have taken the first step toward your spiritual life.
“We live in disordered times, complicated, distracted, and demanding, yet to sustain a spiritual practice demands our steady attention. The first task, then, in almost any spiritual voyage, is to quiet ourselves enough to listen to the voices of our hearts, to listen to that which is beyond our daily affairs. Whether in prayer or meditation, in visualization, fasting, or song, we need to step out of our usual roles, out of the busy days on automatic pilot.” - Jack Kornfield