Seeing as I have lived the extreme version of religion and have turned my brain over to its leader’s to validate and direct (for a time) and then mustered up the courage to leave (stay tuned for the memoir), I have something to say regarding the differences between spirituality and religion. And they are most definitely not the same thing.
Here is a bit of what I have learned and five indications your spirituality could be in danger:
1. If you think filling a religious to do list will make you happy and/or more spiritual.
Your religious to-do lists could benefit your life, but they also have the potential for stress and anxiety. If you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others, instead of genuinely enjoying the task at hand, your spirituality is compromised.
Lists can help us achieve goals and fulfill dreams; but only when our ‘doing’ is infused with love and authenticity do they have power and a transformational effect.
To make spirituality (or the ‘how’ of doing things) a priority is to engage in a practice that is universal, classless, race-less – one that transcends every religion and political system. And if a religion (or our practice of it) does not support such transcendent qualities, then our spirituality is unsafe.
2. If you think you can save someone with your glorious words.
People learn what they need to know, when they need to know it. Just because they bump into you during that process doesn’t mean you did anything.
3. If you think you know more about the life of another (and their choices) than they do.
If you have the balls to assume you can possibly guess every thought that goes through another person’s head, including the full understanding and knowledge of their past experiences and the emotions wrapped up in ‘all of that’, well, you are either God or you are an arrogant ass.
4. If you think someone else knows more about your life and choices than you do.
We do not need the permission or sanction of another. Uncertainty is a gift. (Jonathan Fields explains this brilliantly in Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance)
Trust yourself. Trust your mistakes, that they lead you exactly where you are to be. Forgive. You have everything you need already.
5. If the functions of a religion and/or conversion of others take precedence over making authentic connections.
Giving approval and/or receiving sanction from others limits, slows, stagnates. It stupefies the mind and heart.
Religions, communities, political systems are only as good as the people occupying them. If members are more preoccupied with enrollment numbers and fulfilling the expectations of clergymen, leaders and other members, the collective weakens and will encounter unrest within the ranks.
Spiritual, social, and political structures have a lasting, powerful impact when the growth and best interest of the individual is made paramount; because secretly, we all want to believe (and be told) that we are the “super-heroes” of our own lives. And we are. Any thing else suppresses, oppresses and causes us to walk a line with the brain-washed mass.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely stated:
A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.
To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart, is true for all men – that is genius.
Spiritual self-reliance does not mean being unaffiliated with any religion or to abandon the one you are currently a member of. It simply means that you are unwilling to let others dictate your path or make decisions for you, even if those “others” are people you admire or are authority figures. It means you take complete accountability for your thoughts, choices, and actions.
It is scary as hell to be spiritually self-reliant – to blaze a trail into the unknown. It takes raw honesty. It twists your guts until you submit to that colossal sensation: Courage. It is a tough road. But it also makes you a stronger link in the chain of whatever community you belong (religious, social, or political), which benefits not only that particular group or organization, but the whole of mankind. And that is hot.
A few hot!practices, if you feel inclined:
hot!practice #1 Next time you are ‘doing’ anything… pause, take a breath, bring your attention to the quality of what you are engaged in, even if it is simply standing in line at the grocery story, listening to another, or spreading butter on toast. Less stress, less rush, less mistakes, less mishaps. Allow full and complete attention to the task at hand. Fill your religious (or any, for that matter) check-lists that way and you will infuse laser-like power into whatever you do.
When another person is talking, forget about what you want to say or need to say, what you think they need to hear and… listen. Find that internal place where you have no agenda, where you think of nothing and simply wait for their next word. Find it, because you genuinely care. And even if you don’t (genuinely care), this practice will not only allow you to deepen your quality and understanding, but it will transform the situation into one that benefits you both.
hot!practice #3 Find out what other people can teach you. They came into and are a part your life for a reason. If you ignore the signals to the lessons they bring, life will bring them back again and again, turned up in volume and dressed differently. Do whatever you can to find them and then say “thank you.”