I should really subtitle this post "Spirituality for Dummies," because really, for most of my life, I have felt like a spiritual idiot. Religion -- what appeared to be the source of all spirituality -- was complex, contradictory, and confusing.
I was outside looking in on religion: I was a child raised without religion. My parents both come from a Catholic background; my mother has become a Unitarian, and my father lives as an atheist. We celebrated Christian holidays, but Christmas was more about the presents and Easter was centered on the bunny (and the chocolate). During my pre-teen summers, I attended a fundamentalist church camp; my mother sent me there because the camp offered horseback riding lessons. For me, the hymns and prayer were secondary.
I bounced between many different religious identifications: As a tween, I would just shrug my shoulders and say, “I dunno” when asked my religion. I went to temple with my Jewish friends and stared off into space. I attended church with my Christian friends and wondered when we’d get to eat lunch. I’d check hotel dressers for The Bible and test myself to see if I still remembered all the names of the books in order –- I always did. But as a surly teen, I declared myself an atheist, stating that it was more reasonable to believe in no religion at all.
As I grew older, I felt something gnawing in my heart. Perhaps spirituality had nothing to do with being reasonable at all, I mused. Perhaps it just had to do with what I felt deep inside. I looked around at the world and thought, “This cannot be all there is ... right?” All those "right place, right time" coincidences started to add up. I considered the complexities of human emotion, biology, the skies and seas, and just knew –- I knew! –- that there was something more.
Since I felt no obligation to any particular creed, I learned as much as I could about all religions and spiritual viewpoints. I loved –- and still enjoy –- openly discussing different religious practices and creeds. To me, religion is just part of the story. A person’s own interpretation of and embodiment of that belief is what makes spirituality a truly beautiful thing. As a result of these discussions, I now identify myself as "spiritual agnostic." I pray. I meditate. I put faith in a higher power. I no longer feel like quite the spiritual idiot that I once did -– but in many ways, I’m still making it up as I go along.
On a walk last week, a friend and I were talking about how it feels to date someone of a different religious background. The issue for my friend was plain and simple: “How can you discuss religion if all you do is argue about the basic truths?” At first glance, it might seem like the religions of the world are so very different. Our world’s religions are constantly at odds –- both metaphorically and literally, and the idea of two people from different religions falling in love and raising children is enough to give most people heartburn. An even more pressing issue is how can one partner explore their own spirituality within their own religion if they can’t talk about it to their beloved? What if the conversation never gets past, “You’re wrong, and I’m right”?
But if you look closer, our spirituality is all one and the same in many, many beautiful ways. One thing I have always believed is that religious truths can conflict; spiritual truths are universal. There is always a common spiritual ground between two people, even people from the most polar opposite of religious views. To me, this common ground may include: a basic respect for human life and the environment, the complexities of human relationships and feelings, the intense personal satisfaction we derive from volunteering or helping others, and even just the wonder of a new day. Feelings like compassion, generosity, and love are spiritual expressions.
I firmly believe what this world needs is a heavy dose of open-mindedness. To have an open conversation about spirituality -– a conversation that truly goes both ways –- is how we each grow spiritually as individuals. A person who holds different views than your own has so much to offer you; a different viewpoint is not a personal attack. How can one grow and mature in their beliefs if they only discuss their spirituality with people who believe the exact same thing? Growth comes from respectful discussion.
So often we look for meaning in a book, a church, a shrine, but I’ve come to believe that meaning is everywhere. It is within us. In simple, everyday ways, we’re connected not only to something greater than ourselves, but also to each other. I see spirituality as a simple surrender to the fact that we are all one and the same. We are all beautiful.
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Own Your Beauty is a groundbreaking, year-long movement bringing women together to change the conversation about what beauty means. Our mission: to encourage and remind grown women that it is never too late to learn to love one's self and influence the lives of those around us - our mothers, friends, children, neighbors. We can shift our minds and hearts and change the path we follow in the pursuit of authentic beauty.
Caitlin blogs at Operation Beautiful.