In other words:
Spirituality = Connectedness with a capital “C”
Connectedness is inherently desired (humans naturally long for Connectedness)
…and experienced (felt/encountered)
…by cultivating (making an active effort to establish and maintain)
…four types of relationships:
- Yourself (who you are as a person and/or spirit)
- Your community (family, friends, the human race)
- Your environment (nature, awe-inspiring architecture, the feeling of home)
- Your orientation with the transcendent (God, love, “something greater,” karma)
This research-based definition is a reminder that spirituality is a fundamental part of the human experience. Whether or not we are religious, humans have spiritual needs just like we have physical and emotional needs, and we fulfill these spiritual needs through cultivating the four relationships outlined above.
“In response to my definition over the years, people have said, “Wait, I don’t have to believe in God to be spiritual?” or “I never knew I was spiritual!” These questions bring me so much joy, not because I’m trying to convert people (believe in God, don’t believe in God, I don’t judge) but because I’ve learned that when we embrace the idea that we have spiritual needs that require attention just like we have emotional and physical needs, we open opportunities to lead more fulfilling and peaceful lives.”
– Sarah E. K. Lentz
if you want to learn more:
Why is this definition important?
No matter our religious affiliation—or resistance to religion—humans exhibit spiritual needs just like we have physical and emotional needs. Some of us fulfill these spiritual needs through traditional religions, and some of us fulfill our spiritual needs—often without realizing it—through nontraditional routes like family, sports, and/or music.
The problem is, not all of us are fulfilling our spiritual needs. In response, this definition of spirituality provides a framework for improving spiritual health. In addition, its broad focus on the human experience provides common language for discussing spirituality in public spaces where religion is not always a welcome topic. My hope is that someday my definition will be used in healthcare, education, and perhaps even politics to bridge divides and collectively increase spiritual well-being.
Where does religion fit in?
Spirituality is often associated with religion. For instance, a Christian may say they are deeply spiritual and mean this fully within the context of their religious life; in contrast, there are a growing number of individuals who say they are “spiritual but not religious” as a way of distancing themselves from religion. To make room for a variety of perspectives (both religious and non-religious), it useful to pair the definition of spirituality with the following definition of religion:
Spirituality is a feeling of connection to something greater, or simply, Connectedness, which is inherently desired and experienced by cultivating a relationship with oneself, one’s community, one’s environment, and one’s orientation with the transcendent.
Correspondingly, religion is a culturally-, historically-, and/or communally-situated system for responding to the inherent human desire for Connectedness and typically includes established doctrine, practices, and traditions, many of which cultivate Connectedness.
In other words, humans have an inherent desire for spirituality/ Connectedness, and it is often through religion that people cultivate this Connectedness.
if you still want to learn more:
Further examples of the four Connectedness relationships:
Oneself. This relationship is about knowing who you are as an individual and feeling connected to something personal. Perhaps it is a connection to a greater purpose or personal meaning in life. Maybe it’s about striving to live by a strong set of values. It may include cultivating personal awareness, or feeling a sense of having a spirit or soul. This relationship can also be about cultivating a healthy relationship with our physical body—treating it well with exercise and quality food, and coming to accept that it will eventually grow old and diminish.
One’s community. This is about cultivating relationships with other people. It may be close friends or family, particularly if spending time with them makes us feel part of something greater than ourselves. Some might belong to a religious community or a tight-knit neighborhood. Others might focus on a sports team or a musical group where the combined community effort creates something bigger than the individual parts. There are many levels of community from intimate partners to the entire human population, and we can foster Connectedness with all of them in different ways. Whatever the community, the common feeling is one of being part of something bigger than just you.
One’s environment. This is about cultivating Connectedness with one’s surroundings. For many, being out in nature can make us feel connected to something greater, like the trees producing our oxygen or the general life cycle of Earth. But this relationship can also be about human-made environments (one could argue these are also part of nature). For instance, we may feel a connection to something greater when we are standing in a large historical chapel in the same way that a large mountain range causes a sense of awe. Or perhaps a certain place makes us feel connected to a sense of “home.” Whatever the place, the common experiences include awe and/or comfort, and a general sense that we are part of something bigger than just us.
One’s orientation with the transcendent. This is our understanding of the abstract, the ineffable, and what we can’t see. This may be a relationship with God—it is for many people—or perhaps it is a belief in Karma or the all-powerful strength of Love. It could also be the mind-boggling idea that we are, as Carl Sagan suggests, made of “star stuff” because the atoms in our bodies come from deceased stars. Ultimately, this relationship is about our connection with something greater, more abstract, and beyond the scope of our physical experience on Earth.