We often see descriptions of healthy living that delineate various domains, a common set being “mind, body, spirit.” Within Religious Naturalism, of course, we do not acknowledge the existence of a “spirit” needing tending. Although we do not have souls that need to be nurtured, it is certainly reasonable to talk about developing a healthy spiritual life.
Exactly what this looks like will be different for every individual, of course, but one might say that it essentially entails promoting meaning, fulfillment, and joy, perhaps from an explicitly religious perspective. By this I mean from an orientation that includes experiences such as gratitude, reverence, and a sense of deep connection with all things.
But if we agree that there is such a thing a spiritual life, it is not really separate from “mind” or “body”, but rather emerges from the total matrix of our biopsychosocial self. In this sense, one’s spiritual life is not unlike one’s sex life. As important as it is for adults to have a healthy sex life, few would list it as a primary domain, e.g. mind, body, sex (although many might list it as a primary interest, of course).
But what really sets spirituality apart is the degree to which it can potentially become infused with virtually all aspects of living. For this reason Sacred River delineates seven core areas of living, all of which can be profitably approached with a spiritual perspective:
- Self—fundamental functions of the self, including the biological, psychological, and characterological.
- Relational—personal friendships, romantic partners, family, and community (e.g. neighbors, colleagues, classmates, etc.).
- Work—labor in domestic, occupational, religious, and community settings.
- Epicurean—creative or enriching experiences, such as art, food, music, travel, sport, dance, theater, and so on.
- Intellectual—development of critical thinking and reason, education, research and analysis, and pedagogy.
- Sociocultural—interaction between the self and the larger culture; working to influence social change in some meaningful way.
- Natural—connection to and experience of the natural world, including and beyond human beings.
In reality, all these Spiritual Streams are interconnected via the body and mind; however, developing a spiritual life is not a metaphysical exercise, but ideally becomes an approach to living. In other words, this list is but a convenient way of focusing attention and implementing pragmatic action. At the same time, I am confident that it does a fairly good job of modeling, if not irreducible then at least well-demarcated domains of human life.
Some of these areas are not traditionally associated with spirituality, especially the Epicurean or Intellectual Streams. Pleasure is often seen in many religions as being the enemy of spiritual purity, with the latter often being the enemy of faith. We think it is time to change both sets of attitudes. I look forward to getting into specifics in another essay, but for now I will say that sacralizing both pleasure and knowledge is a vital step towards integrating spirituality with the goal of genuine human fulfillment.
The point of this brief note is to express the notion that spirituality isn’t something done alongside physical health, emotional well-being, or one’s job, family, or hobbies. While a life can certainly include explicit spiritual practices, such as ritual or meditation, spirituality ideally becomes infused within all activities, allowing for even the most mundane activity to become a source of meaning, fulfillment, and joy. This act of sanctification, of consecration is of living itself. No external authority is needed for this, only the power inherent in your being as a holy expression of Nature.