What does it mean to be spiritual?

“silhouette of man standing in front of fence” by Facundo Aranda on Unsplash

One of the most interesting questions we’ve tried to answer since starting Vennly is how to clearly and succinctly define “spirituality”. Formal definitions of “spiritual” tend to be connected to sacred, ecclesiastical, and religious matters, yet in contemporary culture, the word is being used quite differently (you’ve seen those “Spiritual Gangster” shirts, right?).

Of course, for many, spirituality and religion go hand in hand. But it’s also true that more and more Americans are defining themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. With religion, there are markers of observance. Do you attend religious services at a place of worship? Do you pray? Are there dietary restrictions that you observe? But spirituality doesn’t have universal markers in the same way.

To better understand what it means to be spiritual, we conducted a survey on the topic and overwhelmingly we heard that spirituality is a highly personal and individualized experience, to be defined for oneself. From there, we began to think about, “How do you become spiritual?”

For Rabbi Joshua Stanton, a Vennly contributor, becoming spiritual requires a willingness to be curious about yourself and the world around you. “People should first examine for themselves why they want to explore their spirituality. Usually, the underlying motivation itself yields a meaningful path to pursue.”

For me, a negative professional experience helped to provide clarity on what I really wanted out of my career and forced me to look inward and take stock of my spiritual health. But as Rabbi Stanton notes, arriving at this realization was a gradual process and it required that I be introspective in a way I hadn’t done in the past in my professional life.

Vennly contributor Rev. Malik Hokyu Walker, a Zen Buddhist monk, tells us that “spirituality requires a certain self-discipline associated with the ongoing practice of self-knowledge and cultivating intuitive wisdom. In other words, spirituality involves a conscious choice to pursue a path, no matter how varied or unclear it may be.”

So whether you’ve chosen a path or want to take steps to begin to explore your spirituality, there are a few things that Vennly contributor Reverend Doctor Chris Davies wants you to consider: “Draw from what draws you…Lean into the edge between what you know you know, and what makes you a touch uncomfortable. Discomfort is where the learning lives.”

As we’ve set out to build Vennly, I’ve found that the advice from Rabbi Stanton, Reverend Malik Hokyu Walker, and Reverend Davies has been prescient and in so many ways, symbiotic even though they bring a different spiritual backgrounds and perspectives to bear. For me, creating Vennly has been a spiritual experience — one that has required me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and channel that emotion into learning and productivity.

Ultimately, whether you consider yourself to be religious, spiritual, both, or nothing at all, our hope is that our amazing network of Vennly contributors will help you take a step back, think, and reflect in a way you haven’t before. They have already done this for me and we hope they can serve as a powerful source of wisdom, guidance, and perspective for you too.