This step is bringing us into the final stretch on our journey to living free. Spirituality, as I perceive it, is a very personal thing. I was raised in a Baptist Church aligned with the American Baptist Convention and in my early thirties, transferred to another Baptist Church aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention. Through the years I have come to define religion and spirituality as different things. Of course, while religious beliefs encompass certain aspects of spirituality, religions are typically an organized system of doctrines and beliefs embraced by a group (of any size) of like-minded followers. Spirituality, on the other hand, doesn’t require you conform to a specific doctrine or belief system that necessarily involves any kind of organization or group of like-minded individuals. Spirituality can be as individual as each person is and that’s what makes it personal.
Now, before you, who may embrace any specific religion, whether one of the many Christian Protestants denominations, any of the several Catholic divisions of Christianity, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, Wickens or other organized religions of the world, decide to challenge me, please don’t! Living free isn’t about religion, though you may, and you certainly have the natural, human right to, embrace your chosen religious beliefs as part of your personal spirituality and definition of freedom. It is my firm belief that every human embraces some kind of spirituality, though it may not be consciously displayed or even acknowledged. I don’t include such belief systems as Buddhism, Scientology and numerous other philosophical thought groups as religions, though they have been characterized and even legally recognized by various governments as religious organizations. In my way of thinking, these belief systems are more realistically philosophical approaches to spirituality, each with its basis in some original founding leader’s philosophy, while not necessarily aligned with any form of deity of god-like spiritual embodiment. Those who read this and practice any of these other belief systems are certainly within their rights to believe they are religions if you so choose to define them as such for yourself.
The reason I believe that spirituality is a natural step in the progression of living free is because it is virtually impossible in our civilized (and surely in less developed) societies to deny some kind of connectedness between other humans such as family and friends. Additionally, there is a connection and dependence on lower animals through the domestication of pets and work animals. We also rely on many animals as a food source. Many cultures worship various animals. Additionally, there is a connection between humans and the Earth in the form of the flora that we enjoy in its natural state, cultivate as a food source and also find creative outlet in the personal beauty and pleasure derived from gardening and landscaping. Finally, there is a connection with the universe. We, as humans have always been fascinated with the stars and what’s “out there.” Are we the only living beings who think and reason in the entire universe? We now know the universe is ever expanding since the “Big Bang,” the theory believed by the scientific community to have occurred some five billion years ago and commonly accepted as the author of the universe.
Of course, there is also a certain internal spirituality. As humans, we are the most remarkable living things on the Earth. We are split between two basic schools of thought on how humans came to inhabit the Earth. First are those people with religious beliefs defining the creation of human existence as the work of a divine being/intelligence. The second are those who believe that somehow all the right circumstances came together at a precise moment in time to become the spark of life that evolved over millions of years into homo erectus and ultimately homo sapiens and here we are. Of course, science has proven that there were other forms of human like beings that evolved, but didn’t survive. We know, scientifically that is true of other animal forms as well.
There is also a third less widely held belief that may provide a bridge between the other two explanations of human development. This embraces the idea that there is human life in other parts of the universe and some visitors from another world, far more advanced then we are, even today, came here and left behind early humans to inhabit and colonize the Earth. This is certainly a stretch, but is it any more or less believable then a deity molding the world in six days from the raw materials of the universe and creating humans in its own image or that a “Big Bang” occurred billions of years ago and created the universe and set up the conditions over billions of years for life to germinate and evolve on this rock floating in space?
So, how does spirituality become a step to embrace for living free? I see this as a very simple concept. Whether you like it or not, you are part of this planet and the universe. Sure, you’re one of over seven billion other human beings (as of October 31st, 2011) co-existing on this piece of space rock we call Earth, our home. There is so much about yourself and nature that you have questions about. No, you probably don’t dwell on them. Frankly, most of nature and everything about the nature of your existence is way beyond both your ability to comprehend and your pay grade that you have to find some way to narrow your focus to a much more intimate life that you may be able to have a modicum of control over. All the rest of it is what I define as spirituality.
If you have chosen to accept and practice some form of organized religion, you are given certain doctrine and belief systems to use in living a meaningful life. One of the concepts in most Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious doctrine is that you must accept on faith what you cannot humanly see or comprehend. You must choose to believe that what you are taught, by the theology of the various religions, is true and has been communicated to humans through those chosen as prophets and religious leaders, by God. This is, of course, a simplification of the entire idea of a living God. This is certainly a way to deal with the immensity of the question – what is the meaning of life? And, if this works for you, then carry on and practice your religious beliefs as deeply and seriously as you feel comfortable in doing.
Perhaps organized religion is not the answer for you, whether you have experienced some degree of religious education and experience or not. This doesn’t necessarily define you as an atheist or a non-believer in some kind of divine or superior intelligence with a plan for the universe. It simply says that you don’t find personal comfort, solace, intellectual or spiritual fulfillment in the organized religions that you have any experience with or knowledge of. This may be a point where you might look into such eastern philosophies as Buddhism. Since Buddhism appears to be more of a philosophy then an organized religious institution, there is no way of knowing how many practicing or even fringe Buddhists there are in the world. A low estimate is in the range of 350 to 500 million people, which, while not as large as the body of Christian or Islamic believers, is certainly not a trifle, either.
Personally, I still characterize myself as a Christian because my moral and ethical world-view was largely formed through my religious learning as a child and teenager. While there are those who would consider me a non-practicing Christian, I still embrace and live by much of that early learning. Through my six plus decades of living experience my personal world-view has expanded and changed in many ways, thus, I view my life, my spirituality and the world differently then I did as a child and teenager. You may be in a similar place and that’s as it should be.
Other interesting aspects of spirituality include meditation and prayer. Both of these are practiced by billions of people on this planet and it is a very personal experience for each person. While most commonly identified with organized religions, prayer has been studied and researched on a secular level as well. In studies conducted by Harvard, Duke and other universities from a secular perspective and often involving health and medical matters, including life and death issues, there have been conclusive, published findings that people who have been the target of prayer in specific, controlled, test groups have recovered and or survived at a much higher rate compared to those who were not the focus of prayers from around the world. The medical professionals have not been able to explain this scientifically. And, to make the matter more interesting, the prayers emanated from diverse groups of people practicing (or in some cases not practicing) different forms of religion. I am not suggesting that you believe me or accept this as fact in your own belief system. I’m simply reporting substantiated facts that have been published by scholarly sources. Even the American Medical Association has made some concessions in their consideration of prayer, this from a group that is typically very scientifically biased.
So, we are all connected. As you read these 12 Steps for Living Free, you are connected with me in some manner. It doesn’t matter whether you live in the U.S., Russia, Japan, China, Brazil, Morocco, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the U.K. or any of the other dozens of countries where the analytics indicate that readers of this 12 Step program are located. There is something that connects us. My choice of the two words “living” and “free” as a phrase is most likely the spiritual bond between us. As humans, no matter what country or culture or society we reside in, by nature (there’s that word again) we want to “live free.” And, to reiterate what I stated at the outset of this treatise, I do not mean living free as without cost or paying for things we need and want. I mean living free of as many limitations, restrictions, laws, rules, regulations and other encumbrances.
As long as we live on this planet we have to live within the rules of nature. And as long as we live in any kind of organized group of other people whether it’s a family unit, a tribe, a village, a neighborhood or community, a city or town, a state or province or a country, there will be laws, rules, regulations, codes and so on that we much abide by. However, in choosing to live free you will seek out ways to free yourself from being limited or restricted as much as possible. There are many considerations you’ll have to make in order to implement this kind of living free lifestyle, as you define it, possible. And, of course, the other part of living free is to find joy and be happy, which are state-of-mind choices.
How you choose to experience and express your spirituality is, like everything else in these 12 Steps, entirely up to you. The reality is that your spirituality is a continually evolving process. What you believed as a child, a teenager, a young adult, a middle-age adult and a senior adult will, most likely, be different. Each phase of your spiritual growth will, of course, use everything you believed previously as the foundation and steps to the next phase. In the end, you may go full-circle and return to where you began. But, then again, you may end up with a completely different set of beliefs and philosophies. So far as I can figure, whatever path you choose to follow is the right one for you.
There will be those who will do their best to convince you that their way is the truth and the only way. They certainly have every right to believe that. But, they don’t have the right to condemn nor make you feel that your spiritual belief system is any less then theirs. Your spiritual belief system will bring you comfort and help you understand why you are on this Earth for the short time you’ll be here. Though each of us is a mere speck of space dust in the universe, each of us will, in some manner, leave behind an imprint of some kind, whether we believe it or not.