Generally, we're taught that spirituality and religion are one and the same. It's my understanding, however, that religion deals with internal motivation in combination with outward group tradition while spirituality focuses on the inner life and it's affect on the outward life and visa versa. In religion spiritual practices are done in a special place or at a sacred time and involves connecting with the divine – quietly, reverently, and usually by ourselves.
Many people have trouble understanding or accepting that simply living life can be a spiritual practice due to the pernicious division of the world into separate realms of the sacred and the secular. People often want their spirituality to remove them from the corrupt world, almost like a drug, and help them transcend it. It may come as a surprise, but I can emphatically say that all divine revelations did not cease with the writing of the sacred texts of the world religions. The modern world holds no new insights for divine revelations. Moreover, ministers, priests, and other professional religious leaders are not the only people who are able to discern the presence of God in the everyday. No special training is required to know the difference between "Spirit" (assumed to be good) and "spirits" (assumed to be dangerous). All anyone needs to know in this regard is that you can and must trust yourself and be willing to approach life like a constant student.
Famed medical Doctor, Dr. Steve McPhee's Letter from the Abbey mentions four domains of life: cognitive, emotional, physical, and spiritual. I admit that it is sometimes useful to divide being into categories, truth is, we cannot fragment ourselves or our lives because when any part of life is neglected illness occurs in one, a few, or all other aspects: physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Integrating the many facets of our being allows us the freedom of sustaining like the self-renewing solar car. Paying homage to every aspect of ourself helps us become whole people -in my humble option this is the aim of life.
Given this concept of integration and wholeness -spirituality is a way of life. Thus, it cannot be separated from our everyday activities. John Shea, a contemporary Catholic theologian, puts it this way: "The spiritual life is, at root, a matter of seeing. It is all of life seen from a certain perspective. It is waking, sleeping, dreaming, eating, drinking, working, loving, relaxing, recreating, walking, sitting, standing, and breathing. Spirit suffuses everything; and so the spiritual life is simply life, wherever and whatever, seen from the vantage point of spirit."
In this way, Spirituality is the practice that animates our being. It is at the root of our innate longing to expresses ourselves and be in relationship with others, to serve others, and to search for something beyond ourselves. Denying or ignoring the drive for connection throws us out of balance with the whole of society, and with the whole of ourselves. Such an imbalance may leave us antisocial simply burnout. By not paying attention to our own deepest needs and nourishing those needs, we “run out of gas” in our relationships and service to others, whether they be patients, family, or friends. Being in balance not only helps us through our daily lives, but is vital in dealing with the kind of traumatic occurrences we all face—illness, death, loss.
Every happening great and small is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message. — Malcolm Muggeridge
With the constant exposure to digital news, ads and social media interaction, we’ve lost the valuable skill that our ancestors had of gathering information firsthand from our surroundings. All we have to work with is this day, everyday. So it is important to respond to the sacred through the ordinary things we do. Taking a walk, washing the dishes, caring for a pet, or talking with a neighbor can all be expressions of our spirituality. We finding spirituality in books, movies, art, and the popular culture. The key is to listen.
Sometimes this is difficult because most of us have lost the ability to perceive the deep interconnection between “self” and the outer world (in reality self and world are one and the same), and the different ways the world communicates with us. The easiest way to get in scan with the outer world and it's communication style is to take note of nature and patterns -the patterns of birds in flight, the blooming of trees in and out of season, the temperature of the ocean’s water, the invasion of ants or snails, etc. there are so many occurrences in nature sharing valuable information with us that so many people overlook. By first recognizing patterns you will learn to connect significance to them. All you have to do is start paying attention -you'll be rewarded with the gift of working and being in harmony with the web of life. Physicist's refer to this web as the unified field -astrologers call it the matrix.
Everything and everyone is in the matrix, connected to one universal force, but that doesn’t mean everything and everyone is flowing down the river of life. Once we begin listening with our heart, eyes, and inner voice signs and omens become apparent and consistent daily. Like breadcrumbs to follow, we can learn how connect to the traces of wisdom given to us through this subtle guidance. When we ignore the signs we miss out on fantastic opportunities for a fulfilling, exciting, and worth-while life.
There are a few ways signs and omens will present themselves. Examples include right or left ear ringing, stumbling across the same book multiple times, seeing repeated numbers or symbols and even circumstances that seem beyond pure serendipity or luck. (For example, wanting to find a new house, and being randomly offered a place to stay in the exact suburb you’re interested in.)
You’ll also find signs in nature and animals -as they are alive and directly driven by Spirit. The possibilities are endless. However, two common signs are listed below:
Nature: Of all the possible ways for spirit to communicate with me, nature is my favorite (given the absurd amount of times i've mentioned it -I'm sure you noticed). This is because it is so full of life, is ever-changing, and always vibrating with an endless variety of messages.
These messages could be reflected in a puddle, through an insect (maybe chirping too loud, or coming over to you specifically), the affirming way a tree sways in the wind, or the enlightening way the cloud’s part on an overcast day in response to a thought you’re having. These messages might also be expressed through death or decay, such as a fallen tree, or a carcass that reminds us of our short time here.
Dreams: These includes unusual dreams, or dreams that are difficult to distinguish from waking life. Dreams of paralysis, visits from old relatives, or prophetic dreams often inform us of things to come. These dreams are like epiphanies too soon to be realized.
It's important not to rely on dreams interpretation apps or books wholly. They can be helpful at first but keep in mind that they are very generalized ideas of what each image means to you. Dream symbology is a very personal thing. Some people might like horses and in their dream the horse could be a positive sign, while for others the horse might be a negative omen (i.e. like the horseman of the apocalypse). There are teachers that can help you understand the meaning behind your dreams but just like sacred writings, your dreams can have many levels of soulful meaning. The best advice I have here is to keep a notepad and pencil on the nightstand and write it down in the morning or in the middle of the night (if so compelled), be very descriptive in your writing, and be sure to date it. Don't kick yourself if you don't remember everything. Often you will find that a lapse of memory is a form of communication as well.
Is it a sign?
A valid sign will come soon after you’ve contemplated something, asked a meaningful question, or experienced something traumatic. In my experience trivial or superficial questions are ignored (e.g. Should I dye my hair? or How can I be famous). When a sign comes, it will be powerful, significant, and important to you. It will not only attract your attention, but it will invoke your imagination, and your emotions.
What do you do when you receive a sign?
I usually find a way to express my gratitude either through a simple “thank you” or a promise to sit in nature (or some other sacred space) for an allotted time. This practice gives the sign more meaning, gives spirit a chance to communicate further, and gives you a chance to fully absorb what's being communicated. You may want reflect on what inspired you to ask for guidance, and contemplate on the answer in days following.
Spirit loves symbols and images, so you have to ask yourself what that sign evokes in you. What is the first thought that came to mind? How did you emotionally react to it? Has it brought back any memories? Try to avoid imposing a mental answer onto the sign and instead, allow your intuition, your gut feeling, to be the translator of the sign.
The meaning might not be apparent right away, if it isn’t, let time pass and it will unveil itself when the moment is right. Very often the initial meaning grows over time and becomes a part of your ongoing relationship with spirit for months or years to come.
Once we start seeing signs in our everyday affairs GOD takes on an active role in our healing, our physical and mental growth, and our conscious evolution. Thus, life takes on a deeper meaning. Signs are given externally, but significance can only blossom from within.
Being spiritual and cultivating a close connection with the Divine does matter. People who do it are happier and have a sense of purpose. Some of my clients have asked me to help them cultivate their spirituality. It’s one of my favorite things. I can’t imagine life without spirituality, can you? It’s like the difference between watching an old black and white movie versus a movie in color on HDTV. You owe it to yourself to try it out. You won’t believe the big difference it makes.