What is spirituality and does it really matter?

By John Brant | 19th August 2019
buddha statue with plants in the background by the swimming pool. Explore spirituality and why it’s important at La Crisalida Retreats

One of the great human quests is to find meaning in our lives. It seems humans have an inner desire for our lives to mean something, for us to make a difference and to feel fulfilled. This is a void that “spirituality” aims to fill.

In this article we take you on a whistle stop tour. We go back to the very first evidence of spiritual practices and aim to provide an understanding of how and why religion has emerged. We explore the influence of science and explore some of the New Age spiritual belief systems that have emerged more recently. Finally, we relate all this back to how La Crisalida choses to answer this question – what is spirituality? – and how we embed some of the concepts within our core values.

What is spirituality and why does it matter?

In its essence, spirituality is not easy to define. When it is used in modern day, it is usually equated with something non-physical. Spirit and life are also often linked, and most definitions of spirituality imply that spirit is something that “animates the body”. It has also been adopted as something that gives rise to conscious beings, and as something that makes us or defines us as human.

Most of us will be familiar with the use of the word in the context of “mind, body and spirit” defining a human being. The body is the physical part. The mind is the part of us that can think and be aware of ourselves and our environment. The spirit is something that make makes us unique and is our “life force”.

Perhaps the greatest mystery of all is what happens to us when we die. There are plenty of people who have described the near-death experience of their consciousness exiting the body and having some type of spiritual experience involving tunnels of light. The important thing to understand is that whether we continue to live in spirit form and either get reincarnated or find ourselves in a “heaven or hell” is crucial to how we live in this lifetime. The question becomes one of: do I delay gratification for the benefits in an afterlife OR do I just do what I want to do now, in this lifetime?

Almost by definition, spirituality is inaccessible as an objective truth and is therefore at best open to interpretation and at worst open to manipulation.

Spirituality and religion

Anthropologists (these are people who study what makes us human) have studied in detail the development of human cultures, including religion.

Some of the evidence of spirituality in early man was thought to be expressed through the belief that objects, plants and animals possess a spiritual essence and therefore could be worshipped. We then have sites like Stonehenge in the UK, which demonstrate how man also moved towards a reverence for the patterns of the earth, sun, moon and stars.

Early spirituality was centred around aspects of life and the universe that were not well understood and mystifying. There is plenty of evidence (e.g. in Mayan cultures) that things that frighten humans and seem to have special powers were also worshipped.

As human civilisations evolved, the personification and humanisation of gods became common practice. For example, Greek and Egyptian mythology involve many different gods in human form.

At some point during this evolution the concept of spiritual authority was introduced and alongside this was the start of organised religion. The basic concept of a spiritual authority is that the link with god or spirit can only be made through a third party (e.g. a high priest or rabbi). Organised religion could be used to justify a central authority. Indeed, many cultures introduced joint political and spiritual leaders (political authority was justified by spiritual authority). Organised religion was also found to help keep the peace within states and nations.

Most religions have also been defined by sacred texts and instructions (rituals and/or commandments) on living a “spiritual” or moral life. Modern religions have also typically adopted an all-powerful being as an authority over humans.

Eastern spiritual traditions

In the east, many spiritual traditions, philosophies and religions have also emerged and developed over two to three thousand years including the traditions of Yoga, Buddhism, Tantra, Zen, Sufism and Taoism.

One of the key elements in these eastern traditions involves the human condition of suffering through “ignorance” and mastering the self, leading towards a state of insight, knowledge and liberation from desires (later in the west was taken to mean “spiritual enlightenment”). Many of these traditions are grounded in meditation practices.

Many of these traditions also include the concept of reincarnation (the wheel of life and death) and the balance of life demonstrated through the harmony of Yin and Yang complementary opposites. (Yin being more inwardly focussed energetically – calm and quiet – and Yang being more outwardly focussed energetically – more explosive and dynamic).

Science and spirituality

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have been studying the stars and planets for many thousands of years. Many of these observations have been built into religious constructs that were developed.

The Greeks and Egyptians (and before them the Babylonians) were the first known civilisations to develop a rigorous approach to mathematics, science and philosophy. Whilst spirituality and religion focussed on morality and the afterlife, early scientists were starting to put together the jigsaw puzzle of the structure of our physical universe.

Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish born mathematician. He is widely recognised as the first man to directly question the authority of the church through scientific means in the sixteenth century. He postulated that the solar system was centred around the sun, rather than the earth. He was persecuted by the spiritual authorities at the time, although his findings were generally accepted as self-evident a few years after his death.

Other key scientific principles have acted to weaken the authority of religion in more modern times including Darwin’s theory of evolution, the big bang theory, relativity (special and general), particle and quantum physics.

New-Age spirituality

During the 1970s a new-age spiritual philosophy was emerging in the western world. New-age philosophy largely rejects the assertions and texts of the traditional religions and is centred on a holistic structure of the universe, where divinity is not just represented by a all-powerful being (“God”) but that “God” is everywhere including within human beings themselves. The philosophy therefore includes the assertion that human beings are a spiritual authority to themselves.

Many of the concepts are consistent with eastern philosophies. Most embrace the concept of enlightenment as synonymous with self-realisation, the true self or the spiritual self.

Within the new-age approach to spirituality, self-healing and alternative medicine are prominent and the new-age approach typically takes an approach to science that seeks to unite science and spirituality. The modern nature of science (in particular quantum physics) is seen as evidence in New-Age philosophy that “everything is energy” and “everything is interconnected”.

New-age spirituality also embraces the concept of healing as holistic. This means that mind, body and spirit are all interconnected – and so a healing in the mind and/or spirit can heal the body. It views a human being as an energy system and opens the door to paranormal and psychic experiences.

New-age types of beliefs are centred on subjective or personal experiences and the power within to heal. Some belief systems include the possibility of people receiving messages or guidance from the universe and events being synchronous and our lives having destiny. Some more spiritually centred belief systems include people receiving messages from spiritual guides and even the possibility of “channelling” from a spiritual being.

A secondary philosophy that has emerged parallel to new-age spirituality is the idea of the empowerment of self-love and positive thinking. Life coaching has also emerged as a means of empowering people to live a life of their own choice.

What is La Crisalida’s philosophy?

At La Crisalida we are “all inclusive”. We understand that spirituality means different things to different people and we do believe that our guests are their own spiritual authority. This means that, as an individual, you choose your own path.

We operate as a holistic retreat, meaning we believe that mind-body-spirit are intimately interconnected. We aim to help people to reconnect at all levels by encouraging guests to slow down, tune in with themselves, and to return to their natural balance. We teach practical principles that are grounded in personal experience and we aim to empower guests to find their own answers. We try to avoid promoting speculative approaches and belief systems which only encourage one sided “positive” outcome, as we believe these are not balanced or realistic. We prefer to avoid too much ideology and keep things practical.

We offer a specialist health and wellbeing package, which adopts a “spirit” enriching combination of environment, food and activities. We use activities including yoga, meditation, time in nature, yoga-nidra and much more to allow our guests to reconnect with their hearts and inner guidance. Read more in our yoga article this month: how to connect with our spirit through yoga, and in our meditation article: how to practice loving kindness and the meditation practice of metta.

Our Life Makeover programme is designed to help you reconnect with yourself from the perspective of moving on and setting a fulfilling direction for you. We also offer life and transformational coaching to complement.

We find that our guests leave the retreat feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and reconnected to the meaning in their lives to help face the challenges ahead.

We hope you have enjoyed the subject and contents of our What is spirituality? article. If you would like to find out more about strengthening or enriching your “inner spirit” or just reconnecting to yourself at La Crisalida you can find out more about our Life Makeover Retreats here.

Headshot of John Brant - Retreat Founder at La Crisalida Retreats
John Brant

John is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. He leads our life makeover programme as well as overseeing the retreats.

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