What’s that smell? It might be the spiritual.
“No, I am not religious, but I do consider myself a very spiritual person.”
What does that mean?
What is the difference between religious and spiritual?
Where being religious is connected to the belief and worship of a superhuman controlling power, being spiritual gets a bit more shimmery and vague.
Often times what is deemed as “spiritual” is linked to practices that can incline one to puff up their chest and rustle their tail feathers with self-importance: meditation, yoga, chakra cleansing, reiki, kirtan, vision quests, juicing, coffee enemas, infrared saunas, and whether you should be vegan or vegetarian.
There is nothing wrong with any of these practices, but when they are all stitched together to create a self-righteous umbrella to huddle under so that nontraditional (nonreligious) individuals can have their own exclusive group in the sandbox, it can become problematic.
Spirituality becomes something for people who deem themselves too cool for religion.
Anne Lamott says, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
There is a viral video of a four-year-old girl on a couch, waxing poetic on her visit to the gym with her mother, with all of the eye rolling and exasperation of a jaded woman in her seventies. “All of these people running, and not going anywhere?” If a gym produces beefcakes, she claims she is a vegetarian. The teacher says yoga is a spiritual practice, to which she sighs and replies, “I can smell the spiritual.”
I quit teaching yoga partially because of the smell of the spiritual, and I am more than willing to admit I contributed to the odor in my own way.
I have never had the perma-smile, glazed-eyed preciousness of someone who drank the yoga Kool-Aid, but I was an earnest zealot in my love of the practice, and really wanted my students to have my experience. I was disgruntled if they saw it as exercise or a workout. There is certainly a culture within the spiritual community of eyebrow raising at people who don’t “get it”—even if they think it with a smile and deny the idea that they judge. “If there was a better way to think or behave, don’t you think I would be doing that?!” Duh.
It seems crucial at this juncture (with the way things are in the world) to not lord over others our personal choices in how we find our sense of internal well-being and meaning in our lives.
- Are you spiritual?
- Are you religious?
- Do you believe in God?
- Do you believe in the right God?
- What kind of yoga do you practice?
- Do you practice it the right way?
It can be pretty divisive even if it is well-meaning.
The Dalai Lama defines spirituality as being “concerned with those qualities of the human spirit—such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony—which bring happiness to both self and others.”
He also says, “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” That sounds like an ideology that can clear the air for all of us.