I’m Spiritual–not Religious

Photo Credit: Roberto-Nickson

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“Spirituality does not come from religion. It comes from our soul. No one is born with religion. Everyone is born with spirituality.” ~ Anthony Douglas Williams, Inside the Divine Pattern

“Is it true that you’re not religious and don’t believe in God?” My daughter asked me when she was just eleven.

I didn’t know how to answer her, so I made a joke and avoided the question.

It took me a few more years to truly define my beliefs. My parents are devout Muslims, and I saw how well it served them. However, I felt conflicted about the value of faith.

I lived all my life in an open, diverse environment that accepted other systems of belief.

I’ve always spent much time reading and learning about different ideologies and conceptions of spirituality.

Today, some seven years later, I’m finally answering my daughter’s question.

In short, I am spiritual—and I believe in God. I respect Islam—and all other religions. However, I define spirituality differently from those other religious viewpoints.

I believe spirituality traditionally describes people practicing their religion, meditating, or otherwise trying to reach higher levels of consciousness. More recently, it’s become very much in vogue to say, “I’m spiritual” to explain one’s non-materialistic or non-superficial worldview.

However, the origin of the word “spiritual” is Latin. It comes from the word “spiritus,” meaning “breath.”Other words that share this root include inspire, aspire and conspire, which suggests togetherness.

It’s when we connect to our souls and the souls around us that we feel inspired—or in spirit.

Spirituality, to me, means connecting to something bigger than ourselves, to some universal divine matrix in which we are all connected in some way.

We come to earth in a human body to have a physical experience, but we quickly forget that there is another unseen, and often forgotten, part of us—our soul.

We remember and access that forgotten side of ourselves through spiritual practice. Spirituality refers to the process of building a bridge to our souls, making sure that this bridge is passable in both directions.

I believe we are born spiritual, but somehow lose our innocent connection to our souls as we grow up and conform to social norms.

This lost connection is hard to explain. It’s often fleeting, but we all know it and have felt it before. It’s a combination of joy and inner peace. It’s a feeling of complete love where we feel safe, worthy and abundant.

Most of all, we feel whole; our highest priority is love. We become, if you will allow the term, part of God.

Religion works for many, and I’m all for that. However, I personally find dogmatic rules and regulations rather off-putting, stifling even. It’s like teaching a student the final solution to a mathematical problem without allowing them time to learn how and why the equation works.

In a BBC interview in the 1940s, Carl Jung famously stated, “I don’t believe in God. I know God.” By this, he meant he had seen a power greater than himself at work in his life. He had no need for blind faith. He experienced “God” on a daily basis and knew how to connect with that force.

Most of us need this spiritual power, as it gives our life and our pain deeper meaning. It turns setbacks into lessons for growth—not just defeating end points.

Here are seven non-religious ways that I connect to my soul.I hope they may be of benefit on your journey, too:

1) Mindful moments with nature.

Whether it’s watching seagulls fly in unison, enjoying a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean sea, or taking a walk in a dense forest brimming with tall oak trees, moments in nature can give us a wonderful feeling of awe.

We lose ourselves to the power and beauty of the present, where both time and space collapse as one. In front of us is the soulful path to God.

2) Solitude.

There is something special, almost ethereal, about being in solitude. There’s just me, my thoughts and the vastness that surrounds me. I feel my mind, still and at peace, vibrating within me. All the noise from the day before settles down, just as coffee residue goes to the bottom of the cup.

Solitude is not loneliness. We’re not isolated, and we don’t feel something is missing. It’s our choice to sit and be alone–a positive and constructive one.

3) Reading poetry.

There is something both calming and reassuring about reading great works of poetry. Something stirs within me when Rumi writes:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing

and right doing there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.”

Or when Kahlil Gibran writes:

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”

Poets’ words strike deep into my core, taking me immediately to that other part of myself I keep forgetting. I find myself transported to another world, a magical place where the real is unreal, and the unreal is real. My heart ignites, a smile lights up my face, and I’m dancing on air, if only for a few moments.

4) Humility.

There are many waves in an ocean. There are many oceans on this planet. There are many planets in the galaxy. There are billions of galaxies. That thought alone makes all my small human problems pale into nothingness.

We truly are nothing in the grand scheme of things, and the less importance we give ourselves, the more we connect to our spiritual side and enjoy our short time in this physical life.

5) Compassion.

We are all compassionate. The only obstacles to our kindness are the walls we have built around our hearts. When the walls start dropping away, we see the humanity in the stories around us and feel them viscerally; we move toward our true selves.

I saw Adam Braun speak a few years ago and couldn’t stop myself from crying as he explained how he set up the Pencils of Promise Foundation to build 350 schools now serving over 35,000 children from developing countries.

He inspired me to set up my own foundation in Ghana to help some 45 children further their education, the only tool they have to achieve a better life. I have a dashboard on my computer that tracks these students, and I can’t explain the power of feeling that I’m serving in some small way.

6) Creativity.

It’s in creativity that we express ourselves, making our voices heard. Whether it’s through playing the saxophone, writing short haiku poems or painting on canvas, the soul needs to share itself.

Souls can’t talk, so creativity is their medium. The more we allow our soul to express itself thus, the stronger its voice becomes.

I can spend a few minutes writing a poem or a few hours writing a blog post. Again, time and space collapse, and I journey to a place where true magic happens. When I’m done, it’s like joy pervades my entire body—like I’ve just climbed my Everest.

7) Connection.

We are all interconnected. Introvert or extrovert, we need to connect to one another. We just differ on the how. I love having powerful, intimate conversations fuelled by wit and humour.

When we connect to one another, be it through conversation, song, dance or laughter, we acknowledge our shared humanity. We give away parts of ourselves. We say, “I get you, I’ve got your back, and we are all one. We come from the same celestial place, no matter our colour, race or religion, and we are going back there.”

Whether we pray in religious houses, meditate at home, read poetry before we sleep, or spend our time in creative self-expression, we can reach the same destination.

The only thing that differs is the path we take to get there.

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