What is the purpose of spirituality? For some people, it’s finding a sense of purpose. For others, the truth. Some connect with the community surrounding their chosen branch of spirituality. And some seek to connect with spiritual energies as they learn and grow. But what is the nature of these interests, independent of the external ways people pursue them?
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Where the external falls short
Internally, we feel compelled to seek certain things. And rest assured in life, there are plenty of people telling us how we can satisfy those cravings. All of them have their individual strategies, and some can have quite underhanded or hidden motivations for trying to involve you. And while some people can be quite well-intentioned and informed about what they advise, there are plenty of people who might just not know, be blinded by their own belief, or who are purposefully looking to manipulate you for their own self-interest.
So where do we turn to? And how can we tell whether the way we’re seeking truly satisfies our deepest cravings and interests? How can we tell if we’re being true to ourselves? For that, we have to consider our feelings.
The power of feelings
Feelings are the barometer by which we can gauge whether or not something is truly satisfying to us. And I’m not talking about the feelings we feel safe to feel in front of other people, but the feelings that are persistent with us even when we’re all on our own, isolated from all external phenomena. Is the way we’re acting in life truly something we feel confident in, or are there cracks in the surface?
Maybe we feel a sense of tiredness from the way we live our lives. Maybe obligation, guilt, and fear rule our decisions and plague us at every turn. Maybe we feel like we’re living a lie, and that we’re being inauthentic to our sense of what really matters.
Exploring your authentic being
When we let go of the external world, what remains? When it is only us, what can we observe about our wordless being? To be alone is an intense and personal thing, but it can also be extremely illuminating. What we want, what drives us, what we don’t know – all these things can be brought into focus. And how does one bring solace to the self, when it is alone? How do we feel empowered?
Focused only on ourselves, we can notice things about how we feel: if we’re tired, calm, unsatisfied, encouraged, lost, steady, full of unrest, or blissful. Our natural curiosity can surface then, prompting us to wonder why we feel as we do. With concern, we can start to allow ourselves to express feelings within our awareness, such that we begin to learn about ourselves: what we have to express, and why. And we don’t have to learn this from a book, or through some teaching, no. It comes directly from the source of this knowledge: ourselves.
Our inner influences – the negative and the uplifting
What is influencing this inner us, then? We can begin to understand this, too, by sensing our inner surroundings. Perhaps you see dark chains binding you, or you’re in a dark pit, or in a long, never-ending cave. Maybe you’re lost, tired, within a foggy forest, or maybe you’re alone in a boat at sea. Maybe you’re among people, but no one seems to listen to or connect with you, and you feel alone.
But it doesn’t always have to be so troubling. Maybe a bright-eyed someone comes by and beckons you away by the hand. Maybe there’s a light, however dull, in the place you’re trapped in. Maybe the change is in you, and you find the determination to handle your circumstances in some new way. Perhaps you engage in a battle, break your chains, or climb to the top of a tree and spot your destination.
Transforming yourself with awareness, intuition, and understanding
In our own personal world of feelings, symbolism can come naturally, as well as ways of responding to this symbolism. We can create and act with respect to these expressed inner forces with great ease, utilizing abilities such as our intention, purposefulness, spontaneous thinking, and intuition. No matter what the situation in our personal world of feelings – our inner world – we can find a way to respond. And this experience, of being able to transform ourselves – our feelings, our emotional state, our outlook, and more – can be empowering, moving, inspiring, and life-changing.
An inner spirituality
The spiritual life of an individual, then, can start to break away from the external. It is no longer about learning from teachings and more about taking charge of your own internal transformation and connecting with yourself as you really are. After all, throughout your life, how have you ever known if advice is applicable or not? It’s always returned to your feelings, which gives you a sense of the truth, all on its own. The light in the darkness is something we experience within. Our “saving grace” can be ourselves. Our understanding of virtue, confidence, trust, and purpose can come from self-connection, rather than from estimation and externally-focused reasoning. We can see our value, without anyone ever having to grant it to us.
Realizing your own value
Relying on something beyond you for a sense of self-worth is incredibly flimsy. A trusted person’s favor can be taken away in an instant, and we can become easy targets for manipulation, purposeful or not. If we’re always looking for external confirmation, someone is bound to turn us down, and send us spiraling into self-doubt.
Imagine though that you see yourself at some point in a vulnerable state, and it inspires you to uplift, encourage, and work with your honest feelings till you’re feeling better. This is you grasping your self-worth. And once you can, the external attacks have much less of an effect on you. You can be centered in the understanding that for anyone who attacks or undermines your worth, you simply know better. That you deserve care, sensitive treatment, respect, and love. This knowing can grant you a deep sense of peace, as well as the ability to weather many things that would’ve otherwise brought you low or manipulated you.
Caring for and growing through your inner self
So what is the purpose of spirituality? I think the many concepts of spirituality can at best point the way back toward yourself. The experience of connecting with the reality of your own in-the-moment experience is ultimately what is going to bring you the gifts you’re looking for. After all, if you are lost or searching, and you feel out the direction you need, then the path you take is going to be in truer harmony with your entire self. Ideas from others can be disconnected from your inner truth, and so may easily diminish you or exacerbate negative feelings. But by listening to your inner self, you can empower and enrich your life.
This inner world of feelings, in which we ourselves exist, is one where we can grasp the reality of our own experience and live it with expressiveness and purposeful connection. And through expressing, feeling, and learning, we begin to transform. Inner understanding continues to unfold, and we can grow and flourish as a result. And I don’t mean to say that our external lives will flourish, or that we’ll grow in ways that can be quantified or listed on a resume, though those things certainly may happen.
But rather, we can find growth and abundance where it really matters: in ourselves. Where we can feel its reality. Our in-the-moment living becomes more and more sacred, transformable, and emboldened. What we feel carries greater weight than what we have, because we realize that all we really have is the self we have right here and now. A self that can connect, can feel and can express. And it is a self we can care for.
Exercise: Connect with your inner self
Here is a little exercise you can try to help give you an experience of inner awareness and (potentially) transformation. You can try it out with eyes open or closed, with pure visualization or by writing out what you see, feel, and notice.
- Take a few moments, and relax. Breathe out as your eagerness or tension calms down, and let yourself find deeper and deeper relaxation over a few breaths.
- Imagine yourself, completely alone, apart from everyone, in a colorless void. Let the reality come to your mind. There’s no external world here, no friends, no family, no job, no obligations. Just you. Let your sense of yourself stabilize. What do you notice about yourself? What kind of behaviors are you exhibiting? What feelings are you expressing?
- Ask yourself: why? Why are you like this right now? Why are you feeling this way? Let yourself respond. It may not be in words. Maybe, instead, images come to mind. What comes up? What’s around you?
- Consider some element that just came up, and feel out the feelings there. If you are chained, maybe the chains are negative, or judgmental. If only words came up, look into the feelings behind those words. You might let emotionally-charged scenes come to mind. Let whatever comes up, come up, remaining as patient and calm as you can, taking one step at a time.
- Keep trying to understand the situation. If this is primarily visual, feel out what each symbol or scene means, and what each is trying to tell you. If it’s mostly verbal, keep expressing feelings, exploring every aspect of the issue that’s coming up.
- What kind of response is appropriate here? Once an action makes sense, then go ahead and act! Or, perhaps inaction is what is called for, or even the choice to let go of something you were holding onto too tightly. Whatever you do, make sure it’s done with understanding. Even if this is you working things out verbally, you may find that you need to make certain decisions for yourself, or engage certain points that were brought up.
- There may be a period of action and reaction, and one response alone is not appropriate. Keep letting things unfold, still looking primarily to understand, and only then make the appropriate, informed choices. At some point, perhaps after an important change or realization, you’ll find a sense of peace and resolution. Make sure that you only use this endpoint as a signal that your exercise is done. Before that, just keep working to understand and find informed choices. That’s how you can get to this resolution.
Hopefully, this exercise gave you a positive experience for yourself and taught you a little bit more about who you are, even if it’s only within the context of today. Through connecting, you can learn more and more about what’s important to you, and truly begin to take care of yourself in ways you never thought could be so thorough and affirming. And it works because, specifically, it’s about you and your feelings. The living, real you is always included in the process, as you are learning directly from yourself.
And with that, I hope you all enjoy this more direct, experiential learning, and find something that can be a deep, personal part of your spiritual life.