I’m spiritual, but not religious.
I say that quite often and it’s also something I hear quite often, typically when I’m getting to know a new friend or an acquaintance and the topic turns to spirituality, meaning-making, defining a sense of purpose, or just pondering the mysteries of a vast and mysterious universe.
Whether it’s stated or implied, the “I’m spiritual, but not religious” statement just bubbles up naturally and, in my experience, this mutual disclosure usually marks a deepening of understanding between me and the person I’m engaging with. Why? I’m not really sure. But I’ve found that this disclosure’s a roundabout way of saying, “Hey, like you, I don’t know what makes things tick in the grand scheme of things, but I just know and feel there’s something greater out there,” and the conversation evolves from there.
It’s a sort of mutual acknowledgement that has a connecting factor because of the authenticity involved—you are, after all, sharing a deeply-held, personal belief that may (or may not) jive with the other person’s ingrained dogmas. It’s high-risk sharing that invites openness, receptivity, and a willingness to learn and feel harmonious with another amid the ambiguity of what may (or may not) exist out there in the cosmos.
Not a lot of people get that. And CNN contributor Alan Miller appears to be one of those people.
In an opinion piece titled, “My Take: ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ is a cop-out,” published Saturday on CNN.com, Miller wrote, “The increasingly common refrain that ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious,’ represents some of the most retrogressive aspects of contemporary society… [and] highlights the implosion of belief that has struck at the heart of Western society.”
He continued, “…The spiritual but not religious reflect the ‘me’ generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking, where big, historic, demanding institutions that have expectations about behavior, attitudes and observance and rules are jettisoned yet nothing positive is put in replacement. …The spiritual-but-not-religious outlook sees the human as one that simply wants to experience ‘nice things’ and ‘feel better.’ There is little of transformation here and nothing that points to any kind of project that can inspire or transform us.”
Miller points to a growing trend that more and more people are developing a greater awareness of self in connection to something larger than themselves—be it God, divine source, Mother Nature, or whatever name you’d like to ascribe to that feeling of unifying oneness that’s tied to pure spirituality (no religion). So, it seems, more people are choosing to think and feel and define spirituality for themselves by adopting and incorporating Buddhist philosophy, Yoga, and Christian prayer, for example, into their daily lives.
Miller called this mixture “a smorgasbord of pick-and-mix choices.”
I call it self-guided learning through the integration of spiritual thought and practice that rings true to the self. It’s self-cultivation, not self-obsessiveness. It’s learning to allow happiness to grow and thrive from within and letting that be a guiding factor in relation to others. When you learn to “feel better” from within and encourage that feeling through spiritual beliefs and practices that help you maintain that positive feeling, you can help others feel better more effectively through simple acts, like making them laugh or listening to them when they need to talk.
To me, being “spiritual, but not religious” involves fostering an authentic, healthy relationship with the self—yourself—so that you can have authentic relationships with others. In that ebb-and-flow engagement, which echoes the writings of Martin Buber, transformation occurs and it occurs constantly as the self you project to others is constantly being reflected back on you.
Your goal? Be the kindest, most loving person you can be to yourself and to others—and mean it in every word and every action. It has a greater impact than most people think.
“That attitude,” Miller wrote, “fits with the message we are receiving more and more that ‘feeling’ something somehow is more pure and perhaps, more ‘true’ than having to fit in with the doctrine, practices, rules and observations of a formal institution that are handed down to us.”