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It is fairly common to hear people say things like “I’m not religious, just spiritual” but what does this really mean?

Let’s start with a bit of an exercise: Picture the last time and place where you felt elated. I choose that word specifically. Think of a moment in your life when you were at the right place, at the right time, and with the right people (or completely alone!). Why was that moment so powerful for you? Why does it stick out in your memory? Understanding that moment can help you grasp the concept of spirituality.

For example, you might have been on a hike by yourself. You marveled at the gentle sound of nature: the leaves rustling above your head, the faint pattering of a tiny woodland creature’s feet as it ran to safety, and the whisper of a roar from rapids in a stream. You took your shoes off, stepped lightly, yet assuredly into the flowing water, and acknowledged the cool stream between your toes, the smooth rocks beneath your feet. All at once you felt a peace, a connectedness with the Earth, and a sense of self.

I ask about such a moment because it gets to the heart of spirituality. As humans, we all share some experiences and values, but purpose and beliefs differ from person to person. Spirituality is no different. It is a personal and individualized discovery of a set of beliefs and practices that evolve as we do.

Spirituality Is About Trying to Find Purpose in Life

One of the main characteristics that all definitions of spirituality share is the idea of purpose. People who are spiritual are those who are asking “what is my meaning in life?” or wondering “what does this all mean?” Everyone’s meaning in life will be unique to them and their values. There is no single answer; no one size fits all. Some find meaning in religion, love of family members, charitable works, or ethical behavior. Instead, the search for meaning itself is spiritual.

People Use Spirituality to Understand Their Existence

People throughout space and time have had a natural inclination towards spirituality because it is instinctive for people to try to search for how they fit into the “big picture.” During stressful times like the death of a family member, a natural disaster, or physical illness, people can rely on spirituality to sustain them. This meaning of spirituality is essentially the subconscious trying to recognize patterns and find something beyond the basic observable facts. Being spiritual encourages people to try to look for a higher meaning or divine being that provides context and comfort during their struggles.

Spirituality Encourages Connections With Others

Spirituality is about more than just the way people view themselves, the universe, and their life. It also greatly affects the way people interact with each other. The instinct of spirituality tends to encourage harmonizing with other people, animals, and nature. It fosters a sense of connectivity that can promote empathy, kindness, and compassion. Though spirituality is not necessarily religious, it is a type of thinking that tends to make people consider ethics and morals when they spend time with others.

So, think back to that moment once more. Try to imagine yourself as being there and being present. What about that moment stirs you? When you figure out those answers, you can begin to disseminate your spirituality and begin to develop a regular spiritual practice that will energize and balance your heart, mind, and soul.