23 Oct What an office and solo dancing have to do with spirituality
So here is something that is slightly outside of my comfort zone to talk about. I want to share something with you that that lies very close to my heart and has had a huge impact in my life. Spirituality.
It’s easy to say that religion separates us. But historically, and still for many, religion is also a reason for humans to gather. It makes large groups of people share common beliefs about the world. Through celebrations and rites, religion provides opportunities for us to mark important transitions in life and to connect with ourselves, one another and that which is bigger than us. In a way, religion can give people a sense of meaning or purpose – it can provide answers to difficult questions and give a sense of being part of something bigger.
Today many people call themselves agnostics or atheists, especially where I live in Scandinavia. As science has become a new way to answer difficult questions and explain reality, why believe in a god?
And at the same time, I believe that the lack of religion has left a huge vacuum in our lives and in society. When there’s no higher powers to look after us and no heaven to long for – what the heck should we do with our lives?! But more importantly, how could we possibly feel a deep sense of meaning and belonging in society when there’s no space for us to explore and connect spiritually?
Science doesn’t give us answers the same way religion used to do. All of a sudden, we are left on our own to answer deep existential questions.
Replaced meaning with money?
I’ve heard countless of stories from people who worked for years and years, just to make enough money to “finally be happy”, to feel that they are worthy. Just to realise that it wasn’t about money or success at all. That in fact, when all you care about is money and material things like expensive clothing, cars or luxurious travels, life feels so empty.
Today spirituality is a very rare consideration within politics, hospitals, workplaces… but I believe that the lack of healthy forms of spirituality is a big reason why we destroy our planet, treat people like machines in hospitals or burn out at work.
As we started leaving religion behind and moved more towards individualism and science, we gained more freedom. A necessary step in order to take us to where we are today. But as we left religion behind, we also left behind a sense of belonging, connection and meaning. It’s almost as if we replaced spirituality with capitalism and money.
Non-religious ways of spiritual practice
I don’t think that we need to go back to church or believing in things that many would say don’t match with science in order to reconnect with a sense of meaning and belonging in our lives. There’s reasons why people choose to leave religion behind.
But as we’re moving towards a more secular society, I do believe that we need to have a look at the functions that religion used to serve.
As I see it, religion was, and still is for many, a way of meeting a human need of spirituality. But religion is just one way of spiritual practice. When we’re stepping away from religion, we’re also stepping away from the way we used to practice spirituality.
Are there non-religious ways that we can gather and feel part of a community that values not only the material world but also what lies beyond it? Can we design traditions and rites that anyone can take part of, no matter religious beliefs, to mark important transitions in life that feel deeply meaningful to us? Can we create space in society (for instance in schools or at work) for people to connect with their inner compass and reflect on what’s meaningful to them? Can we find ways that make sense scientifically to see that we are still part of something bigger than ourselves?
What is spirituality?
So what is spirituality? I find it hard to put words to it. Maybe because in a way, spirituality is that which lies beyond what we experience as just the physical world. Or maybe, because there are as many ways of seeing and practicing spirituality as there are living beings. Perhaps it’s not something that anyone can define for anyone else. But let’s explore it together for a little while.
I think this definition from vocabulary.com at least gives us somewhere to start: “Spirituality has to do with the spirit, not as in ghosts, but as in the essence of being human — your soul or your inner life. Spirituality often has to do with religion, but it doesn’t have to.” However, I don’t even think you need to believe in souls in order to practice spirituality.
I can’t tell you what spirituality is to you, but here’s what I think spirituality can be, or at least what it is to me:
For me, spirituality is a way to feel connected; to my inner world, to others and to that which is bigger than me. I find it’s a practice much more than it’s just a philosophical idea. It’s something that deepens with experience.
Feeling connected with oneself
It’s exploring the universe that lies inside me. It’s when I meditate and notice what goes on inside me, when I learn to listen to and take ownership of my emotions, when I listen to my intuition, honour my boundaries and when I find new ways of being kind to myself. It’s when I dare to enter silence, to spend time alone and get to know myself. It’s when I dance by myself and let my body explore its emotions to really sensual, corny or crazy music! It makes me feel such a sense of joy and gratefulness to be alive!
Feeling connected with community
It’s also when I feel a deep sense of connection with others (which I believe is a lot easier once I’m connected with myself). When I look into someone’s eyes and we meet beyond words, or when I’m in a group conversation where we all share our deep emotions, fears and dreams.
It’s the experiences I’ve had at participatory gatherings and festivals where everyone who attends is part of creating the event by contributing with what they want to give. There’s no leader who tells people what to do, but somehow, every time, it turns into the most magical experience, built on people’s free will to give from a place of love and exploration. It’s a feeling of being not just me as a separate individual, but a node in a network – one part of a greater whole.
Even at my office, The Castle – a participatory co-working space for entrepreneurs, I’ve had these kind of experiences of interconnectedness during workshops, group meditations or just a beautiful conversation by the coffee machine.
Feeling connected to nature and the universe
It’s also a feeling of being connected to nature and the universe. It’s when I take a walk in nature and admire its beauty, or when I watch the ocean’s waves move like breaths. It’s when I hear Alan Watts say that I was not born into this world, I am made out of this world. And if I were to leave earth I would simply have to bring a piece of this planet with me in order to survive.
It’s dancing through life with the deep belief that the universe is in every consciousness. That everyone I meet, including myself, in fact are the universe experiencing itself. It’s when I draw and I feel that what comes out isn’t entirely my idea but something that the universe expresses through me.
This sense of connectedness gives me a feeling of meaning or purpose. It gives room for me to experience more depth within myself and the rest of the world. It provides opportunity for me to experience states of consciousness that I didn’t know of before. It makes my life colourful and I feel that how I live my life matters because it affects not only me but also everyone around me, including the planet. It doesn’t make me happy all the time – rather, it makes me able to deal with and accept reality as it is.
Spirituality doesn’t have to be supernatural
Sadly, I know that not everyone gets to experience this sense of connectedness, depth or new states of consciousness. A few years back, I didn’t have this. My way of relating to “spirituality” was to think that it basically meant believing in ghosts, magic or healing. I thought, since I don’t believe in any of that, how can I be spiritual? Luckily, I came in contact with people and contexts that showed me something different. That spirituality doesn’t have to be supernatural at all. That in fact, life in itself, just as it is, is enough. I mean, how insane is’t life when we really think about it?! Imagine that nature has created everything on this planet, including your consciousness and your experience of this world?
But I also know that I was lucky. I know that to many people in Sweden and the Western world today, spirituality is associated with humbug. If we want to be spiritual, it’s something that many of us keep for ourselves. Hence, the part of spirituality which includes connecting with others on a deeper level is lost.
Healthy spaces for spirituality?
I understand that spirituality can be frightening. And for good reasons – it can indeed be a slippery slope. Already, there are many non-religious spiritual communities growing in and outside of Scandinavia. The yogis, the meditators and even the people deeply engaged in political ideologies can in a way be seen as spiritual for some. But perhaps due to our programming, we fall into traps of competition, guru-worshipping, manipulation or dogmatic preaching. “I am more spiritual than you are”, or “My ideology is better than yours”.
Yet, I believe that Scandinavian society is not only ready, but in deep need of making space for spirituality.
I believe we need to start honouring our deep need as human beings to connect, to explore the unknown and to get fascinated by the great miracle we call life. I believe that we are ready to design healthy spaces for spirituality where we don’t compete and where we’re not trying to tell anyone else what spirituality should be for them.
Spaces that can hold many perspectives at once; spaces of self-reliance and self-responsibility, yet also spaces of communion, inclusion and support. Spaces that encourage personal growth and self-awareness. Spaces that, rather than worshipping a guru or an almighty power, are participatory. (Learn more about participatory culture by checking out Teal organizations or the Burning Man movement.) Spaces where science is welcomed in order to go further in our exploration of spirituality, well being and consciousness. It doesn’t have to be spaces merely focused on spirituality. Spaces of art, exercise, philosophy or even offices can hold space for spirituality as well.
This change will not wait for politicians to realise its importance. It has already started and it comes from those who have had or are longing for some kind of spiritual experience (like I said, it could be something as simple as watching the ocean) and understood or at least grasped what impact it has in their life. In other words, if you’re reading this text and at least some parts of it resonate with you, this change can come from you.
I deeply believe that there are so many beautiful ways one can live a spiritual life yet be agnostic or atheist and I believe that the world needs to see more examples of that.
That’s why I wrote this post. Inspired by Amalia is a channel where I share my perspectives and my way of practicing spirituality; through admiration of nature and life’s beauty and through all kinds of creative endeavours like writing, videos and especially through my art. It’s a place where I learn at the same time as I share.
For a long time I was doubting whether to share this post with you. After all, I’m just a curious amateur speaking from my own experience; exploring and learning in this writing moment. But I think it’s important that we start giving spirituality the space it deserves in society.
Spirituality isn’t my field of expertise. It’s only for the past two or three years that I’ve really started to explore what it means to me and how I can practice it. And I think that if more amateurs like me dared to explore spirituality and have conversations as they learned, magic would happen. Not supernatural Disney magic. Just amazing stuff. (And Santa Clause would return!!) So I’m taking a step outside of my comfort zone to explore this together with you.
What is spirituality to you? How do you practice it in your life? What do you think are ways we could create healthy spaces for spirituality in society?
If you like what you’ve read and want to join me in this exploration, sign up here and I’ll email you next time I’ve written something down. (Don’t worry – I’m not a fast writer so you won’t be spammed 😉 )