What is Spirit and Spirituality?

Adirondacks, View from Snowy Peak
Recently I’ve used the words spirit and spirituality very freely in my writing. What do these words mean to me?

These thoughts are based on personal experience, but are certainly influenced by my interest in science, Buddhism and yoga philosophy. I wish to highlight an aspect of being human which is difficult to categorize or analyze.

The word spirit has many uses, and in fact is overused. This especially true in New Age culture, where I believe its meaning has been weakened by lack of focused thought, and in Christian culture, where it is implies something outside any empirical or tangible sense.

So why write more about “spirit”? My intention is to balance its use in favor of something both ancient and current at the same time. By ancient I mean pre-Christian, indicating its use by American Indian, Buddhist, Yoga and Pagan cultures, where spirit is something knowable and sensed through experience, yet mysterious and powerful. To give modern support for its meaning, I rely on knowledge of the human experience as described by scientific research, including physics, biology and astronomy.

The foundation of spirit is, I believe, based on personal experience and sense, “What do you feel spirit is?”, rather than what someone has told you it is.

In my twenties I often used the phrase “poetic moment”, meaning an experience where many factors contributed to a higher than average intensity of pleasure, understanding and connection. I mean something more meaningful than, for example, just sex, which is certainly intense and usually pleasurable. A poetic experience involves mind, body and something else, some out of body emotion or understanding. Things click in a big way. When I had these experiences, they didn’t last long, but always left a lasting impression on my memory.

For example, I listened to all 9 symphonies of Beethoven on day, beginning in the afternoon and continuing until late evening. As my fatigue accumulated from so much listening, my mind opened up to another level. I stopped thinking about the music and started just experiencing it. That’s when Beethoven came rushing deep into my being. The last three symphonies, Nos. 7, 8 and 9, were truly Spiritual experiences, poetic moments of connection to history, culture, music, myself and my muse. There was a connection to something and a liberation from something. Boundaries became less distinct. I felt as if I were in Beethoven’s head, hearing and writing them with all their meaning and depth and quality.

I’ve always appreciated the value of “subjective experience”. A lot of my poetry comes from what I feel rather than what I know or understand. In fact, sometimes the words just come to me, nagging to be heard. The personal experience of something, your version, has absolute validity for everyone. Beethoven is a great composer, but your subjective experience of his music will be completely different than mine. I can try to show you what I’m experiencing, but I can’t make you experience it. Your path is yours. In that way, your spirit is yours to acknowledge and develop.

So it is with the spirit of living. Spirit is the subjective (individual) experience of living, the consciousness of being alive. It is your coaxial cable connection to the universe, a direct link to all that is and is possible. I see this as the very basic, simple form of spirit, which needs to be cultivated and nurtured to grow. Animals have spirit, and so do plants. But we are able to be aware of much greater levels of spirit, our own and others. No ghosts, but a living, conscious spirit.

There is spirit in our experience of all things, from the beauty of a sea Anemone and also in its sting, to the magnificence of the Milky Way and its daunting void, in the magical flutter of a hummingbird’s wings, in a baby laughing or crying, a dog’s sadness and joy. There’s spirit in the act of eating, thinking, reading, cooking, painting, sculpture, poetic inspiration, hearing or making soulful music, roller coaster riding, mountain climbing, fixing cars, blogging, thinking, gardening, etc. And there’s spirit in just plain sitting.

The problem is, our natural spirit is often damaged, or at least obscured. The various trappings of life maintenance, physical distractions, ego, desire and self-deception cause myriad malfunctions and disconnections. It’s as if the “software” to life is damaged by various “viruses”. The usual suspects are judgment, self-deception, hubris, attachment, fear and ignorance. Add to that habits of unclear thinking and living, or the misfortune of traumatic experience, and one faced a veritable minefield of obstacles to experiencing pure spirit.

A damaged self-esteem is a symptom of a damaged spirit. The spirit still exists under these circumstances, but it is obscured, as if looking at life through a cracked or soiled lens. One could argue that a cracked lens may also act like a prism, offering a unique, poetic view of life. Perhaps. Ultimately, there is no objective good or bad spirit, just balance and clarity and flow of the point of view you inherit.

Beyond the personal experience of spirit, one can begin to appreciate the bigger picture, the recognition that we are not a multitude of separate spirits, but all part of a Great Spirit. My sense of this comes from reading about a variety of spiritual traditions, including American Indian, Asian Indian, Pagan, Christian and Jewish. I have also delved into scientific writing of human biology, psychology, history and culture.

All spiritual traditions refer to something which encompasses All. I prefer to call it Great Spirit because, I believe, it is an extension of our own individual spirits. With greater awareness, we begin to know that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves. We can sense and fathom the Great Spirit, a connection between all. We also know that we came from and will go back to the Great Spirit. So, we are from it and of it. Scientifically, the atoms are barely differentiated between earth, life and sky.

I propose, we are also the Great Spirit’s sense of itself, its consciousness. I don’t give this Spirit a sex or a personality. It is best described by science, which continues to reveal the magnificent complexity of the Great Spirit, as if It is getting to know Itself through us. Looking at it this way, our lives are precious purveyors of a grand consciousness, and we have good reason to nurture and respect our “voice” of the Great Spirit.

What I am searching for in life is a connection and balance of Spirit on all levels, a refinement of my experience of life down to its essence, without attachment, fear, or judgment. The ultimate goal is to break the illusion of separateness from the Great Spirit. This is easier said than done. We are often distracted or unbalanced by daily life so as not to have a strong connection to the natural Spirit of our living.

I recently saw a bumper sticker which said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience”. I love that. It makes me feel more human, more forgiving, to think of it that way.

So, Spirit is a flow of direct experience of your life in all its facets, all its poetic serendipity, good and bad. The goal of a “spiritual person” is to embrace Spirit in a focused and refined way, with a fearless directness of experience, a depth of awareness, a greater consciousness of our connection with all life through that Spirit.

It’s a poetic coming together of awareness and experience. Ideally, with a healthy Spirit, one may achieve a perfect balance of open consciousness, heart filled intention and good action.

It’s like being inside Beethoven’s music, except the music is your life.

PS After writing this, I found an article which states some of these same ideas, though in much more obscure language. It is a Theosophical view, written in 1966, and is included in a Theosophical website called WisdomWorld.

13 thoughts on “What is Spirit and Spirituality?

  1. “I listened to all 9 symphonies of Beethoven on day, beginning in the afternoon and continuing until late evening. As my fatigue encroached from so much listening, my mind opened up to another level”

    In martial arts there is a word for this. Im sorry, I will have to go look it up to tell you though.

    But, the word refers to a type of special training, which only occurs once or twice a year. The students are put through long hours, sometimes several days, of intense training with little time to recover.

    What happens is exactly what you described; an opening up to another level, a sense of going beyond.

    It is an experience that changes one forever.

    It is a nessessary type of training on the road to be a master. You have done it as a musician, I have done it as a martial artist, and I suppose all doctors do it when they go through those 17 hour shifts during their residencies.

  2. Yes, Kelley, that kind of training is crucial to becoming a master as something. Unfortunately, most “consumers” of a teacher of some art are ready to sue a teacher or trainer who pushes a student beyond even slight fatigue.

  3. The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

    The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be spiritual or peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be spiritual or peaceful if we destroy Nature.

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

    Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
    Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
    Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
    Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

    Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

    If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

    Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

    To read the complete article please follow either of these links :




  4. The two comments posted above are very interesting. The first comment refers to (and lists lots of info in the comment) sites with novel views on how body, mind, spirit, and social/world environment are connected.

    The second comment had some sensible articles on self-confidence, which I happened to need to see at the moment. Sychronicity.

    Though neither commenter seemed to have read my article or responded to the content, I am willing to let their useful links remain here for you to consider.

  5. David, I would like to say I had first hand experience of what you speak, but I don’t believe that I do. I would love to hear more of this insight, the color, sound, texture and taste so to speak.

    I’m neutral on the blog template change, which is to say, I liked the last one and I like this one too.

  6. Trée- I am rounding up a big picture of how I believe many people tick. I think there are different names for what I described, but most people feel a connection, or lack there of, to “truth” or “clarity” or “directness of experience” in life. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, but just don’t give it the same names.

    The new colors are intended to be easier on the eye. They are on mine. Though I loved the old garnet background, it bothered me in such contrast to the pale yellow text section. Also, since no one seemed to notice the quilt photo in the header, I decided to go with something more “glittery” and soothing and universal.

    Thanks for the feedback. You are always so gentle in what you say. I always learn.


  7. Garnet,
    Thank you for offering your powerful voice to the cause of personal growth and self knowledge. Which, is one path of enlightement that humanity keeps playing hide and seek with.
    Your listening experience seems to be nothing else but the triumph of letting go of your daily self (the one who celebrates basics like food and comfort religiously!), and the act of sinking into the bigger reality of… yourself. There lies the true fuel of your nature–the one that is often forgotten… in the darkness of rare use…always waiting to be found, and celebrated.

  8. David,

    Would love to learn more about your work as a professional musician bring mindfulness to the task of playing every day. What is it like to bring an individual instrument or voice into the larger whole…how does that theme play out in your life? Other themes: Remembering what you’re doing and then forgetting, the music over-riding, the pressures of performance, the seen, the unseen. How does all that work? What would it be like if an audience could not only hear the music but be privvy to all the chattering thoughts in each orchestra member’s head as the orchestra plays on? I find all of that quite fascinating.

  9. Amy, welcome. It’s funny you ask such detailed questions about the “chattering” of the musician’s mind. I plan to write about the orchestral backstage life on my other blog, Buzzing Reed.

    It is indeed a balancing act to perform music at high levels. Freedom vs. conformity, personal vs traditional, brining new energy to old styles. The toughest part is to avoid becoming jaded. Yes, when you play Beethoven all the time, it’s easy to beomce blinded by familiarity.

    thanks for stopping by,

  10. Dear Garnet,
    I like your new look. The only problem for me is not having the complete post immediately visible, because my computer is mysteriously slow today. I absolutely love the photo of the Adirondacks.


  11. Oh Garnet!
    I had had a bit too much wine..lol…just kidding.
    Your compliment pierced straight through my ego, into the deep “underground” of real feelings. Therefore I had no time to be flattered…I was too overcome by the beauty of your giving.
    I’d like to call that “instant spirituality”–let’s hope that P&G does not monopolize it though!

Comments are closed.