As a white, left-brained, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class, college-educated, able-bodied man born in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century, and raised by an atheist step-dad, the circumstances of my socialization were ideal for sewing doubt into my consciousness for anything spiritual, new-age, or “woo-woo.” That is perhaps why it wasn’t until my late 20s that I began to wonder what spirituality even meant to me.
A rationalist explanation for the existence of religion is that people need some way to explain the unexplainable, because it gives us a sense of control. And it’s certainly true that a defining feature of life on earth is that there’s a whole lot going on that is completely out of our control, so it makes sense that we’d want to have a reassuring story about the inherent goodness of the universe. However, I’ve come to understand that spirituality is actually different from religion in one key respect: it’s based on lived experience.
The year or so of Catholic Sunday school that I attended before meeting my step-dad taught me the basic story of Christ that most people are familiar with. By the end of my sixth grade world religions segment a few years later, my awareness of the sheer diversity of religious belief among human cultures all but convinced me that the truth must be more complicated than my younger self had been led to believe. That’s the problem with traditional religion based on handed down teachings. You’re playing a game of telephone with your ancestors and then getting mad at other people for not hearing the same thing you heard.
My introduction to meditation and breathwork through the Art of Living Foundation, when I was 28, opened me up to the world of spirituality through spiritual practices that enabled me to get in contact with an aspect of existence that I had previously been completely ignorant of. The experience was so much more impactful than the previous sentence could possibly convey that I’m reminded of a line spoken by Angelina Jolie’s character in the film Playing By Heart: “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.”
Given the personal nature of spiritual experience, our relationship with spirituality says a lot about our relationship with life itself. To say that you don’t believe in spiritual experiences is to say that you don’t believe the self-reports of countless people throughout human existence who speak of having spiritual experiences. This makes me wonder whether, under the weight of so much doubt, the avowed atheist can even have much belief in their own experiences.
Bottom line, spirituality is a hard concept to nail down, but speaking from my experience, it has brought me in closer relationship with myself, the world, and the life that it sustains, and it’s helped me overcome fears and doubts that were preventing me from fully living into my values. At this time in history, with the tasks ahead of us, it seems to me that we could do with a little spiritual reinforcement. To learn more about how spiritual growth can empower you to be the change that the world needs, check out my upcoming six-week course below.
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Nauser Bear is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California (LMFT#123099; licensed with the BBS as Nicholas Jon Reynolds). To work with Nauser, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, call (510) 394-5373, or schedule a free 20-minute consultation by clicking here.
Disclaimer: This blog and comments on it do not constitute medical or mental health advice. If you are in need of support and live in California, contact me to set up a consult to see if working together is a fit. Otherwise, seek mental health support in your area. If you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention hotline, which is available 24/7, at 800-273-8255.