The importance of spirituality

What is spirituality?

In the past, any definition of spirituality would have been very tightly correlated with certain religious beliefs that focus on the godliness or spirit within people. In other words, spiritual people would have been seen as devout, pious and concentrated more on sacred or metaphysical matters than earthly ones. These days, however, a more extensive definition of spirituality is accepted, which includes broader traditions that lead to personal growth. Examples of this could be, the sort of inner journey that many people take from meditative practices and non-religious activities like transcendentalism and perennial philosophy.

 How does spirituality affect daily life?

 For some people, spirituality is woven into their daily lives. Sometimes, people will pray to a higher being on a daily basis, and others will take part in other activities, such as mindfulness, which help them during their normal lives. Most people who feel that they are spiritual in some way and take part in activities that reinforce this, whether collectively or on their own, report that they have better well-being as a result. Suffering, illness and poor mental health can all diminish as a result of being more spiritual.

Are spirituality and religion the same?

It is essential to make a distinction between spirituality and religion. Of course, spirituality is an important aspect of religious faith in most of the world's big religions, but it is not something which belongs to religion only. Indeed, some parts of a religion can be said to have nothing to do with spirituality at all, even if it has a devotional aspect. The rise of humanism and even psychology offers explanations of the desire for greater spirituality among people even when religious faith is not present.

Can spirituality be taught?

There is little doubt that vast numbers of spiritual people believe that it is something that can be taught. However, there is also a sense in which spirituality is a personal journey of discovery which means that only certain aspects of it are possible to learn. In other words, there is no single set of skills or practices that you can be taught, which will necessarily lead to a greater spiritual existence. What is needed is a commitment to one's own spiritual journey. In this regard, Buddhists, for example, tend to explain their disciplines as practices that lead onwards on a path towards greater spiritual awareness rather than presenting them as a set of instructions which can be followed like a recipe.

Why is spirituality important?

Many psychologists and religious leaders agree that spirituality is important for people in several ways. The more spiritual an individual is, then the more likely he or she is to be optimistic and feel that they have a purpose in their life. It is known to have positive outcomes in terms of recovery from illness and usually means a higher overall level of self-esteem and the ability to empathise with others.

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    For some Western philosophers, notably Kant, enlightenment is a greater understanding of humanity derived from observations rather than superstitions. The Age of Enlightenment is often referred to as a flowering of scientific understanding in 17th and 18th-century Europe. That said, spiritual enlightenment has its roots in Buddhism and the teachings of established religions, especially, Hinduism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. Although related concepts – because they both really mean a deeper knowledge – the Western and Eastern versions should not be conflated with one another. Spiritual enlightenment is known as bodhi by Buddhists and moksha in Hinduism. These words roughly translate as either awakening or liberation. As such, spiritually enlightened thought should be considered to be as something akin to a revelation - what Christians might call an epiphany by way of comparison.
    To put it simply, religion is a social practice which uses multiple methods to explain humanity, the spiritual side of people, the universe and – in most cases – divinity. That said, there is no consensus as to what religion truly is. Some people take it to mean only organised religion where worship is conducted through ritual. Others see it as something that is bound up with their personal identity and which could not be shared even if they wanted it to. In the main, religions state moral positions that followers ought to stick to. Many religions also promote certain practices that are encouraged. These are often referred to as observances. Many types of religion have world views that cover all aspects of humanity, including the afterlife. Critics of organised religion usually point out how it has been used throughout history as a form of social control.
    In short, mindfulness is the ability to pay proper attention to the here and now. Psychologists usually describe it as living in the present moment, with less emotional energy being expended on things that have passed or which may – or may not – occur in the future. Various techniques are used by people to achieve a greater level of present-moment living. In most cases, modern methods for achieving mindfulness are based on Buddhist concepts, such as sati. In large numbers, people practise mindfulness by meditating and paying more attention to positive things in their lives to reduce stress. These mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques which have a proven scientific effect.
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