The Spirit of Spirituality Part II: The Return to Original Wholeness

by Brandon Nappi

The promise of vibrant spirituality is the return to an original wholeness in harmonious relationship to other beings and the earth. A coherent way of living that honors the interconnectivity of all things, the spiritual life invites care for everything that exists. The fruit of a thriving spirituality includes courage, love, resilience, gratitude, and wonder manifest in the simple experience of feeling at home in yourself. A life-long cultivation of both love and presence, I use the word spirituality to mean an embodied path of wisdom that leads to equanimity and a flourishing life.

For some, spirituality is synonymous with formal religious practice. Along this path, the relationship to the divine is nested within the official rituals of a particular religion and belief in God (I’ll say more about this mysterious three-letter word in a moment). In this approach, a central authority maintains the integrity of spiritual practice with particular doctrines that insulate against error. Throughout most of history, this predominant form of official spirituality has been an organizing force in culture and instrumental in crafting an overarching cohesive worldview.

For others, spirituality expresses a personal awareness of the divine outside any formal organized religion. Those who embrace this approach often grew up without formal religious practice or experienced their parents’ religious tradition as lacking in some fundamental way; this community, therefore, seeks to name and connect with the divine outside of religious institutions. Because this path does not honor a lone central authority that governs spiritual practice, there is a high degree of experimentation, creativity, and variability in this approach.

For a third community, spirituality is less an expression of belief in God, but rather a way of life guided by foundational values. Ethical ideals such as compassion, kindness, love, environmental stewardship, and awareness become the lasting and transcendent elements around which life is organized. This form of spirituality may be held by those who do not believe in God or who are unsure about the existence of the divine.

Each of these approaches to spirituality offers an important and unique insight into the world. Each path describes the good life and its impediments, articulates what is ultimately true and names how humans can thrive while growing in wisdom. At the same time, each approach has a unique blind spot and an inability to see things clearly as they are. Every path will tend to miss certain fundamental aspects of truth and cast a particular shadow in the world. One of the basic propositions of the spiritual life is that everything that casts light also casts a shadow. Therefore, awaiting us along each of these three paths will be powerful insights to support our journey, and along each path will also lurk harmful pitfalls which can ensnare the soul if we are not careful.

While there are striking differences in these three distinct approaches, a common longing for wisdom and peace lives within all of them. In the end, all truth is one; wisdom belongs to every heart. Spirituality, in its broadest sense, represents the cultivation and embodiment of enduring universal principles that support human flourishing. To become fully alive is the promise of each human life. With steadfast intention and gentle care, spirituality offers a way for all people to nourish those sacred values to create a life of richness, resilience, joy, and connection.

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Writing to inspire mindfulness, contemplation and wholesome living, by Copper Beech master teachers, students and contributors.

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