Some people consider themselves religious; and then there are others who consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. What’s the difference here? First, it’s important to think about what religion and spirituality are.

A religion is an institution that practices a particular system of beliefs and rituals. Each religion has its own sets of belief systems and practices that are unique from other religions, though often there are similarities between different religions. Religion is something that one can practice: attend weekly gatherings for rituals, pray in specific ways, or to specific figureheads for that religion, and follow codes of conduct for daily life.

Spirituality, on the other hand, is closer to a state of being or feeling than an actual concrete thing. It is a much more difficult term to define because it is far more nuanced than religion. It is the quality of self reflection and mindfulness towards non-physical (or metaphysical) beings, both the self and the other. Be it the soul, or simply the mind and intellect of an individual, a spiritual person’s goal is often to know oneself. Similarly, whether one is pursuing an ultimate being, or simply the unity in everything; this too is spirituality. It is deeply personal, and if you were to ask spiritual people to define their spirituality you would get many different answers to the question; though it would probably trend towards knowing oneself, knowing spirit, and knowing ultimate beings.

Given those two definitions, some people will see the difference clearly, yet others will still not see any difference between the two. This is because religion and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. One can be both religious and spiritual, and indeed the religious path can be a spiritual one. Many people are drawn to religion because it gives structure to their quest for spirituality. Religion can provide a framework for seeking self-knowledge, as well as the nature of one’s spirit, morality, ultimate beings and realities, and so on. For many, religion becomes their spirituality, and so they may have a difficult time separating the two ideas from each other. It can be helpful, however, to become aware that the two are indeed different things. Spirituality is a very personal and unique feeling that one has about the metaphysical, while religion is an organized system of seeking it.

For those who seek their spirituality by using an already established structure, they may refer to themselves as “religious”. One can have a deep and powerful spirituality without religions, though. Remember, spirituality is a state of being, much like a feeling that one has about the metaphysical. It can be entirely separated out from religious institutions, as can morality. Religious folks may struggle to understand why someone would not choose and follow a religion. Perhaps the religious structures that a person was presented did not fit them well, and did not help them in seeking their spirituality. Perhaps they found their own paths to spirituality, and created their own rituals and belief systems for themselves outside of religion. Or perhaps they became disillusioned to religions and the belief systems that they perceived within them. Regardless, choosing and joining a religious institution would be about as effective for them as it would be for a religious person to switch to a religion that they didn’t believe in; it would not be fulfilling or useful for them.

It’s important to remember that each individual’s experiences and beliefs are equally valid, even if they contradict one another. Just because someone decided to use the ladder that they were given doesn’t make that path any more valid than climbing up a cliff side using the holds in the rocks. The ladder may seem easier, but to a rock climber it would make the journey pointless. Similarly, the ladder isn’t any less valid than scaling the cliff. It can feel more secure, and is a more structured way to discover a higher perspective. It comes down to this: What kind of journey do you want to make, and how do you want it to feel? The goal would be to find a practice, be it your own or an established structure, that matches your spirituality. For many, this is forging a unique path through life. For many others, this means a religious community with history and established rituals. Both are valid so long as they respect other people’s’ personhood, beliefs, and rights.

~ A Guest Post by my friend Auryn

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