Spirituality is one of the most misused words out there. The word ‘spirituality’ is like a closet in a teenager’s room: Anything goes in there, but nothing ever comes out. For example, according to Wikipedia, the term spirituality can be used when dealing with any of the following:
- Immaterial reality
- Inner path leading to essence of a person
- Deepest value and meaning by which people live
- A person’s inner life
- Larger reality
- A more comprehensive self
- Joining with other human beings
- Joining with nature, cosmos and/or define
- Source of inspiration/orientation for life
- Going beyond the worldly experience
You can stretch spirituality to fit it on everything or nothing. You and me can be talking about spirituality, but we may be talking two very different things. I think the confusions is caused by the limitation of the English language. Sanskrit, on the other hand, has much more specific terms for each of the above. It is unfortunate that we are letting this knowledge die. But we are digressing.
Regardless of what anyone means about spirituality, whenever they use this word, I think they are talking about something bigger than themselves of which they are a sub-set. The super-set may be a group of people, a set of social rules, some guiding principal, nature, cosmos, divine, etc.
This 18 minute long TED video talks eloquently about the evolutionary basis of spirituality. As the speaker Jonathan Heidt points out, at times we all experience a powerful dissolution of the self and a sense of merging with something much bigger than us. When we encounter one of these perception warps, it is usually a life changing (or life ending) experience. We call these transcendental experience a spiritual experience.
Only hitch with spiritual feelings is this: The purpose of these powerful emotions lie deep in our evolutionary past. In the past, the humans who put their community above the self survived and the ones who put self above community perished. So, all of us today happily merge into something bigger. Since the reason for this transcendental and powerful feelings are not obvious, we tend to attribute all kind of reasons to explain them, ranging from merging with a soul mate to merging with the God.
For an agnostic like me, spirituality is the “anything related to my super-set“. Simple. It works regardless of whichever context I see that word coming up in.