I’ve learned over the years that when I feel a fluttering of fear when I consider writing about a topic, I should go there. So here I go.
I recently asked a bunch of you who subscribe here, “If you and I were meeting for tea, what would you want to talk about?”
One of you answered, simply, “the spiritual side of life.”
And that got me thinking. What does that phrase mean to me these days – “the spiritual side of life?”
My answer has changed over time.
There have been years of my life when the spiritual life was all about love – opening to that Great Love and doing my best to bring that (and not other stuff) into the world.
At other times, the spiritual life has been principally about surrender – about surrendering my life, my will, to a power greater than myself.
At other times it’s been about creativity, about the mysterious spiritual connection we can access when we create.
I don’t think that any of these are better notions than the others. They all represent different chapters in my own unfolding spiritual life.
These days? What comes mind, when I hear the phrase “the spiritual life” is this:
the vibrant, vibrating, messy, energy-dense life in front of us.
Noticing: slowing down to see the diverse, gorgeous manifestations of life in front of you: a child, an animal, a friendship, a forest, a community, an artistic creation.
Welcoming: greeting them, in your own mind and heart, with a positive receiving. With appreciation, with reverence, with respect.
Trusting: this one is the most difficult to express in words, but it has to do with, at a fundamental level, trusting the innate wisdom and sacredness of life.
This “trusting” part is tricky to explain, because I don’t mean that we go into denial about the darkness and dangers of the world and just trust everything is always for the good blah blah blah.
What I’m trying to express is a trust that is more like this:
Way of thinking #1 (which dominates our culture, education system, and which has driven traditional parenting practices) goes like this:
It looks at the raw materials and expressions of life (the body, emotion, nature, earth, people, children) and thinks: Uh-oh. There is a problem here. We need to fix this, control this, delete that part and add on this part. Out of fear and mistrust of what is, we start making stuff, making shoulds, making systems and rules, and as collateral damage, making judgment and self-hate.
The other way of thinking goes like this: It looks at the raw materials and expressions of life (the body, emotion, nature, earth, people, children) and sees them wholly as expressions of the divine. It perceives their radiance, their glory.
Then, from that place, we do stuff (create, build, achieve) not to compete with, exploit or control life, but to create a world worthy of the innocence and glory of all beings. We create out of love and out of a desire, a longing, to express ourselves and contribute to life. In touch with who we are, we find ourselves full of creative impulses –to build a beautiful new home for our family, or to make a beautiful meal, or to paint the view out the window, or to start an organization to solve a need in our community, or to build deep knowledge of a subject within ourselves. We create, create, create, but out of love for life, not out of fear of it.
Both states are very active, but the roots of the activity are very different.
Lately, this is how I’m thinking about spiritual life: that a part of living a spiritual life is living in that second state of being.
Does this resonate with you?
Take a moment to consider that question, “What does ‘the spiritual life’ mean to me these days. Articulate your answer and carry it with you through the day.
photo credit: Lisheng Chang
Join the discussion 39 Comments
I whole heatedly resonate with this. I particularly wanted to comment on the last part, I love the ‘ create, create, create, but out of love for life, not out of fear of it.’ I think it’s easy if you have patterns from childhood where you had to help/fix/improve things for family members to feel safer (or that life is ok) to apply that to your spiritual life, like there’s always a problem or a person to sort!! And on the spiritual journey, new un-healed aspects of the world, others and most certainly ourselves are always revealing themselves-like the layers of an onion. People say to me, it feels like it’s ever lasting, ongoing, there’s always something more to work on!! But I agree with and love your perspective, that can be the fear based approach, the feeling that its one problem after another and that unless we sort it, it’s like childhood perhaps was- fterrible if you don’t fix it now. That’s stressful! Instead of-things are truly beautiful as they are, in all their states and it’s just about, what do you want, where would you love to go from here?! What would be amazing to create? And create from a feeling of empowerment and abundance instead of deprivation and panic! Thanks for your beautiful words and energy. Théa xx
Thank you for this post, Tara. Everything about it resonates with me. So many times the “unlearning process”—of shedding everything that we seem to get programmed with in the standard educational and curriculum of popular culture—is very difficult to do. All that history merely serves more to keep the crowd on the same path and we miss all the inspirational and electric detail in the moments of our lives. By remaining in the present – with all that means – we dance with the Divine, and exercise the creative expressions which paint our days.
Again, thanks for the post!
Tara, you are truly a writer because you put into words what many (me included) are feeling but might not be able to articulate so beautifully. Noticing, welcoming, trusting sounds very contemplative to me, something that I am practicing and even teaching. I must say that the most difficult part for me is the trusting and I’m not sure why that is. Something to be aware of, for sure, and ask myself why not?
Tara, I can’t tell you how wonderful reading this post was! I just returned from Goblin Valley yesterday after spending three days there and I can’t tell you how awe-inspiring it was to be in a place like that where nature’s spirit is strong. I really was able to connect with my surroundings and the people that I traveled there with. Coming back and reading this was perfect. I love the way that you described the spiritual side of life because it very much matches the way that I express, or utilize my spirituality. Thank you for posting your thoughts despite the fears that come up with sharing deep and personal things like spirituality! I know that I appreciate it :).
I love this–a reminder to let things just be, to grow (on their own), and most importantly, to appreciate them–not to try to control them.
Hi Tara, I have always loved your work. I must say I’m a believer of Jesus Christ and the bible, that is plainly what is spirituality for me. The miracle and the inspiration that comes after reading His word and meditation is quite hard to explain of its beauty. But yes it has the same effect as how you mentioned, everything suddenly works well when our spiritual side is nurtured regardless maybe of what ones faith is. We women tend to be more spiritual and there is nothing wrong with it. I personally believe you are one of Gods instrument to let other people know His love. He has given you gift of words and wisdom. I want to thank you for always sharing it freely to us. Again, God bless you. 🙂
Grateful to see this topic, and your conclusion. After decades of pursuing Spirit, Truth, sometimes in secret, it’s finally come to me that your 2nd way is the only real way, since I believe all being is spiritual, whether we know it or not. The first way may be our standard operating procedure, but it has little to do with “reality” which takes the noticing, paying attention, not trying to change so much, but “see”, clear away the fog.
I knew a couple once, art lovers, who traveled the globe visiting art galleries. They practiced standing in front of art they “didn’t like” until they could see the beauty of it. (Working on a blog post about that). I wondered at the time why bother, just move to the next work? Now I understand, it means what you describe in the second method, i.e. look at everything I see, everything that disturbs me, and there’s a lot, until I see the divine, the beauty in it, the Presence that is Spirit. What a different world this would be if people stopped, paused before acting and allowed the view to change?
Thanks so much! 🙂
The spiritual side of life….
To me it is the part of life that seems to take control of itself. The part of your life that, no matter what your doing or how hard you are trying to achieve a goal, It seems as though the odds are stacked for/ or against you.
Have you ever had a day planned out and everyday that day
Its the series of freak events that happen just at the right moment to bring you to just the right/ or wrong place to take part in something (for the good or bad) that you never would have been involved in not for the events that unfolded.
As Tara staed, my ideals on spiritual life have evolved drastically through the ages, I am sure they will continue to evolve as time goes by.
This article is coming at just the right time for me. Just this past weekend I finally finished and published on my website an ebook I had been writing for a few weeks. I expected to be excited, to celebrate having finally put it up, being able to help people with my work. And, while I was happy that I finally had something more substantial to share with people and help with, the bigger joy was a much more subtle one. I was glad that today I could simply come home and work out, or relax. I was glad that I could take some time to meditate and wouldn’t be constantly thinking of the upcoming deadline – “I have to keep working on it so it is ready.” Finally, today I can just take a break and be spiritual. This means that I can get in touch with myself, see the “big picture” in my life, envision my dreams, and yet detach from the outcome.
To me, that is the biggest part of spirituality. It’s acceptance, gratitude – being able to put your desire out there but then detach from the outcome completely and say “I’m just going to go out there and be my best self.” That acceptance of life as it comes is the biggest mark of spirituality in my life. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always had such a strong and stubborn personality, but for me, that’s a daily sacrifice that brings great rewards in terms of inner peace.
“We create out of a love for life”…what a beautiful way to express the purpose of our existence…Thank you wonderful Artist with words:)
Thank you so much for sharing this, Tara. I have felt for a while that there is, at the core of it, somehow no distinction between this earthly life and spirituality. I mean, where is spirit? Everywhere I look. Embracing it all, including – or even starting with embracing my self(ves), seems to me to be the way I can truly find my way.
So timely and wholly nourishing,Tara. Thank you.
I feel like you have just written exactly what is in my own heart. We are spiritual beings in a physical experience, after all. I sometimes wonder why the most real part of us has to be so tentatively brought into conversation and generally kept a secret in society at large. What are people afraid of ? The truth – beyond religion – the spiritual truths as you have so lucidly expressed – are UNIVERSAL and resonate with each of us, because we are- after all -from the same source. We come from the same place and return to the same place. Our souls all speak the same language: LOVE.
Thank you again for being one of the brave one’s in expressing it so beautifully to a largely ‘unknown’ audience. The comments are a treat as well…
Lots of love to you all.
Yes, so well put – the trusting – as one spiritual mentor of mine often reminded me “all shall be well”. I interpreted the trusting as seeing the divine in everything and everyone trusting that this is all miraculous. Some of what’s ugly, I’ve read in Scripture to be birthpangs, as painful as they are, they move us forward. Thank you so much for often verbalizing what can be sensed, but difficult to put into words.
When you see the indescribable beauty of the tiniest blade of grass you know we are all here to express our beauty. When is comes to expressing that creative impulse – what has resonated with me over the last few years is a line that came to me in meditation – Sing your own beautiful note! How exquisite and fantastic -of course we are all here to sing our own note – sometimes we’re in harmony with others – sometimes not. But always the exquisite joy of creating something that is not work – it’s bliss. Your energy never wanes and your heart expands with every moment you allow yourself to do your true creative “work.”
Nice article. I enjoy any written word that makes me think…not only what the writer is thinking, but where my words begin to rattle in my head. And, I love the head rattling cause that is how I tell that I’ve been touched. Thanks!
Spirituality is so many things in my life. No doubt, it started when I was born, as I began teaching and learning at that instant. Over the many years, I’ve taught others without even being aware. At some level, the awareness was there but it wasn’t my intent, so I had to listen to hear it. Mostly, I can stop moving, do a bit of meditation, face what is really challenging me and then move forward knowing that whatever that is, is what I’m resistant–and THAT is the Spiritual Lesson I’m about to learn, like it or not.
More often, I don’t like it. Am afraid to face it. Resist with every fiber of my soul. Am then am stuck with facing and living it. The lesson is learned: I lived through it and it made me richer. Now, I’;m no spring chicken and one would think I’d stop learning. Not the case. I’m a week off from flying to WA for a weeks vacation. I’m truly scared. Have not flown in 15 years, have had a surgery every year during that time, am not independently able to move around but I AM going to fly. I am going to trust that the airline will give me the assistance I need, that no harm will come to me, that all the flight changes over the years will quickly absorb into my brain. And at the other end of my flight out of San Jose will be two smiling, loving and caring friends. To me, this is taking a lot of Spirituality. Trust. Self-confidence. Determination. Love. And, Tara, you started all of this without even knowing!
As a young woman “Spirituality” was a measure of how well I incorporated the values of the Church, or at my most introspective, the supernatural action of God in me. As I’ve matured and reconciled my relationship with religious spirituality, I’ve come to recognize that spirituality is internal, not external, my highest self. My challenge is to respect and nurture that.
Thank you for writing this post today. It really struck me as something I’ve been thinking about lately but just hadn’t been able to put into words as well as you did.
For me, the spiritual side of life is about the “core” of life: its simple, true meaning and the relationships and values that lift us up each morning. Nature, animals, sunshine, my husband, my parents – all of these are God’s gifts and manifestations of His love.
You put it beautifully, Amelia!
I can feel what a journey you’ve made with that Sarah. Stunning.
Wishing you a trip full of learnings and blessings – I love hearing how you recognize the gifts in front of you and the unique spiritual adventure life is bringing you each day.
Yes,yes, and yes.
Yes – that trusting is so hard to define/describe – especially in words and through the mind…
Leila – I love your question: “I sometimes wonder why the most real part of us has to be so tentatively brought into conversation and generally kept a secret in society at large.” – Very powerful.
Yes, and it’s so exciting to hear more and more people re-remembering this.
Thank you for once again being so generous in sharing yourself and your way with words so that others can relate.
Indeed it resonated… spirituality means many things to me ~ but lately I have felt disconnected. Having been brought up Catholic, I commonly associated religion with spiritualty. And then whenever I was not attending church regularly, I felt a sense of guilt, like I was ignoring my spiritual side. But spiritualty is so much more. I meditate (still working on making it a regular praxtice!) but practice and teach yoga, which I feel — and hoped! Still want to do it ‘right!’ —contributed to my spiritualty. But reading your words, that spiritualty can be able love, surrender, creativity, ‘noticing, welcoming, trusting’ is so freeing. Spirituality can, and should, be whatever it is to whoever you are.
thank you Susie!
I love that. Sounds like a blog post in the making Laura – I can feel your special understanding of acceptance. The rest of us need to hear more about that!
Thank you for listening to that voice inside who said to write this post. Wish I could “like” so many of the comments here too.
For mean spirituality IS life. It’s about connection and seeing the good as you described. It’s about being my most authentic self. The trust and surrender part has been easier at various times of my life.
It’s also about having gratitude for the people and things in life that make me think, touch my heart, and bring me joy. You’re one of those people.
Loved this post. I’ve been having this conversation a lot lately myself. So…can there really be a “spiritual SIDE of life”? I don’t really think so. Doesn’t it always comes down to balancing the inward with the outward…my friends and I talk about this and it often starts sounding like “inner life” vs. “real life”, but there’s no way for them to be separate.
So to me “LIVING a spiritual life” is what it’s about…about being spirit-centered, spirit-connected and spirit-active.
Spirit-centered–that inner space and voice–and spirit-connected–my choice of word instead of “surrender”.(I know what we all mean when we say “surrender”, but the definition has always seems a little too harsh and negative for what is meant…I think we need a new word…I think it’s possible to “let go”, but that is different from “surrender”, to me). And, especially, spirit-active–because “to live” is/has-to-be intention in action.
It’s really the challenge of taking integrating the inward with our walk out in the world. Mostly (for me) it comes back again and again to that awareness of thought and action needing an underpinning of joy and love, instead of fear. So much of the outward messages would have you think and act from fear…and, if you aren’t careful (aware) that fear can cause such a bad shift in the inner voice. But that OPENNESS you are talking about in this post…well, it’s something so many of us continue to strive for.
As always, thanks, Tara, for your thoughts today!
This was another thoughtful, compassionate, and timely post. On the weekend I took part in a flea market. After paying several quarters for a small item, one customer gave me an Indian Rupee as a gift. He explained that he had spent some time recently in India, and been moved both by its dazzling beauty and extreme poverty. But the climax of the trip, he said, came when he offered some alms to a group of children at a Buddhist temple, and they spontaneously sang a beautiful prayer/blessing in thanks. “It’s as if, having so little–despite being so poor–they were living in and appreciating the moment in a way we don’t,” he added.
I don’t mean, in relating this story, to make a superficial judgment of another culture, or (worse)to ennoble poverty. But having been compelled by circumstance to adopt and devise a much more frugal lifestyle, I suddenly realized there had been an opening to spiritual dignity, presence and grace in my experience of “deprivation.”
As you say so well, Tara, in our culture we are taught–and then driven by implanted fear–to seek security in criticizing, analyzing, fixing, judging, changing life. Money and what it can buy, especially, become the Big Fix for everything, and thus we so fill our cups to overflowing that no space remains to receive blessing, grace, opportunity, wisdom. I’ve gone through terrible scarcity fears and insecurities, I still get overwhelmed and give in to panic or self-pity or miserliness, but often I’m amazed at the resources the world and community offer me (both to give and receive),the moment I look clear-sightedly around me in the here and now. And, paradoxically, once many of the artificial needs and trappings of ambition and reward are removed, this clear-sighted receptivity is revived as our natural birthright, and much of the gift of age as well. As you realize, Tara, this is the foundation of human intelligence, empathy, and adaptability; it’s the basis of trust and care. Of soul, really.
Thank you for a wonderful post and the chance to share. I admit to having felt a little troubled or betrayed when you “dared” to “confess” some of your success a while back. Yet the abundance of life is ultimately spiritual; what costs most is the long unlearning and shedding of the layers upon layers of fear, envy, distraction, qualifications,and fixes we have come to believe we first need. Peace, grace, trust. Love you.
This absolutely resonates with me. Thank you, Tara.
Tara, this piece provided me with an “Aha” moment. All of a sudden it connected me with the essence of callings – earthy, rich, peaceful and right.
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[…] p.s. You all wrote so many beautiful, moving comments on Monday’s post about the spiritual life. You can read them HERE. […]
I read this yesterday and it was on my mind this morning. ” Noticing, welcoming and trusting” is a beautiful concept; it immediately focuses the mind on the present. Thanks for sharing this in your poetic voice.
LIVING (Life) is ‘happening’: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling. I’m noticing that as soon as I place a ‘label’ on anything – spiritual vs non-spiritual, or creative vs non-creative, it becomes ‘thoughts about’ LIFE. LIFE IS, I AM … and ‘anything; I ADD to that is a ‘thought’ about Life/Living. More and more, I’m seeing REALITY – Living is not in and of itself connected to any thoughts ‘about’… it’s less and less connected, it’s peeling back all the layers, conditioning, concepts, and as a result traveling much ‘lighter’ these days 🙂 And noticing it’s often very quiet inside, regardless of the outside ~~
Beautiful, beautiful sharings.
For me all of life is the spiritual life. Every action, every emotion every thought, and even every no-thought is an engagement with the sacred. Life provides us with constant feedback as to our ongoing expansion and constriction. In each moment whether we are emailing, meditating, cooking, chauffeuring kids, or praying we are being offered an exquisite opportunity to experience the Divine.
Deep love in the unfoldment,
Nice to meet you Tara. The two areas of trust I have been able to achieve is trust in myself to know what is right for me and trust in the universe that if I am paying attention (the tricky part for me) I am presented with possibility every day and offered exactly what I need to learn.
I could lament about discovering this late in life, but I much prefer to celebrate the knowing and using it create a life of design rather than default.
Tara, I love this thought: In the end, God will ask, “Did you become who I created you to be? Did you stay true to what I put in your heart?” I think of this and what you teach regarding one’s callings in Playing Big.