What do you mean by spirituality? Well, let’s start with a few definitions. These are my own definitions. They’re not from the dictionary. I don’t have one handy. I’m typing this on a picnic table in the Eastern Sierras. Yeah nature!

Spiritual (adjective or noun). This label applies to anyone interested in tapping into that which isn’t physical, emotional, or intellectual. I use it the same way I use Christian, Muslim, or atheist. (FWIW, members of a major religion can be spiritual. They’re not mutually exclusive.)

Spiritual practice (noun). This is a set of activities in which one engages to stay on the path. Christians may attend a Sunday church service. Jews may adhere to a Kosher diet. Atheists may watch Bill Maher every Friday and worship the flying spaghetti monster.

Spirituality (noun). This is the experience of being spiritual. Note the suffix -ity. Christianity is the experience of being Christian. Serenity is the experience of being serene. Shitty is the experience of being (or feeling like) shit.

I’ve identified four core experiences that define my personal idea of spirituality. They are:

  1. A sense of interconnectedness with people and planet,
  2. A desire for self-awareness and growth,
  3. An embrace of the present, and
  4. A belief in a power greater than myself.

I’m not a theologian or philosopher, so I’m not going to dive too deeply on the spiritual experiences themselves. Instead, I’ll focus on the practices that I pursue to strengthen my spiritual experience. And awaaaaay we go …

1. Defining spirituality: Interconnectedness

I believe that we’re all in this together. There is no difference between you and me. We’re all the same stuff. We’re just each currently packaged up in different physical forms.

I believe this stuff is also present in every living thing, the planet as a whole, and all the empty air in between. I believe this is called Panentheism. It’s known by some as the Force.

As Yoda says it, “You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”

(I reached adulthood with a pretty blank spiritual slate. I’ve often wondered how much repeat childhood viewings of Empire Strikes Back laid the groundwork for my spiritual beliefs as an adult.)

I strengthen my sense of interconnectedness with people by providing service work (as a mentor or simply as someone who brings folks together), engaging in my community (through Tempe Leadership and #yesphx), and be investing in intimate relationships with my closest confidantes.

I connect with the planet and animals by gardening, going green, living minimally, eating vegetarian, embracing seasonality, and (of course) playing outside as often as possible.

2. Defining spirituality: Self-awareness and growth

I don’t believe that the path is somewhere to sit and just chill. Sure, there are benches along the path in front of some of the prettier views. However, for the most part, the path implies forward movement.

And forward movement requires action.

First, it’s best to know your current location on the path. That’s the awareness piece. For me, this requires journaling, daily prayer, and meditation or reflection through yoga, hiking, and morning coffee on the patio.

Then comes action, and from action stems growth. For me, action includes seeking out new ideas (reading, listening, etc.), putting myself in uncomfortable positions (I could do a whole post on the discomfort of meandering), and pursuing an actual plan of action.

I’ve been thinking about is not a plan of action. You can’t think your way down the spiritual path. It’s not an intellectual exercise.

There’s a third piece to awareness and growth and that’s accountability. Accountability comes from your mentor, your peers, and your spiritual community. You need a Gandalf or a Yoda, a Samwise or some droids, and a fellowship or rebel alliance.

The Hero’s Journey, ya’ll.

3. Defining spirituality: Living in the now

In life, there is no destination. There’s just the journey. I mean, what’s the endgame here? There is none. It’s all about the present moment.

When things were hardest back in the day, living in the absolute now was just about all I could do. I couldn’t mope around regretting the past. I couldn’t lock up in fear of the future. I had to just be.

Other than the higher power stuff (we’ll get to that next), this was the hardest one for me. And it’s still pretty tough. After all, I’m an Enneagram type 8. I’m goal-oriented. I’m a builder.

So, I focus on the journey as best I can – even if it means sitting in pain and waiting for a more comfortable now to arrive tomorrow. The whole concept behind the first Meander was to learn to live while putting career and romance on hold.

No girl. No gig. Just the road. Get it?

4. Defining spirituality: A higher power

If I haven’t lost you yet, I may lose you now. This is the trickiest one because of our personal hang-ups with various words.

Hey, I’ve been there. I used to loathe the word God. I occasionally use it now to get my point across, but I’m not referring to Zeus or Yahweh or any other sky dude with a bitchin’ beard.

At SWIHA, they use GUSS, as in God Universe Spirit Source. I usually use Higher Power. Don’t get caught up in the word.

Instead, focus on the idea that there is power out there that’s greater than any individual. Even the most militant atheist would probably agree that the Redwoods will outlive him, that the Sierra Nevada will still be standing centuries from now, that gravity will prevent him from reaching the Moon.

See? My self isn’t all that powerful. Neither is yours.

I remind myself that I’m not the almighty by surrendering and accepting current conditions, by believing in abundance and the power of positivity, by practicing gratitude and humility for what good comes to me, and by exploring the world around me with a sense of awe and wonder.

It is a pretty special place after all and I had nothing to do with creating it. Thanks HP!

Now, let’s connect!

If any of this resonates with you, I want to have coffee or a Skype date or something. I’d love to have more seekers in my life, whether you label yourself atheist, Christian, or spiritual not religious. (Damn you, Match.com!)

Email me at mattmeanders@gmail.com.

Spiritual gangster at Cathedral Lake

Spiritual gangster at Cathedral Lake.