An Interfaith Exploration of What It Means to Be Spiritual
Not everyone cares about being spiritual. The fact that you have clicked on this article suggests that you are one of the ones who do. People like you (and me) would like to believe that we are spiritual people — but are we, really? How can we tell? After all, if you believe in the spirit at all, you know that we are all spiritual — that is, we are all spiritual beings operating through physical bodies. It’s just that some people are more aware of this fact than others.
When we first become aware of our spiritual nature, it can be an amazing awakening. Suddenly the world is a different place than it was when we saw everything in purely material and mechanical terms. Still, once that initial sense of wonder wore off, we were faced with the fact that there is a difference between knowing that you are a spiritual being, and living a spiritual life.
If you will walk with me for a little while, I’d like to reflect on some of the different ways of understanding the “life of the spirit” and what it means to be “spiritual.” It might help you clarify your path and help you choose a community of fellow travelers to support you along the way.
When people say that they are “into spirituality” they generally mean that they are focusing their attention on one of five very different approaches to life. All of these approaches are related to spirituality, but they lead in very different directions. “Different directions” doesn’t necessarily mean towards different religions. You will find people in almost every congregation of every religion who have chosen one of these points of focus. Nevertheless, your focus will have a strong influence on the religion you identify with and the people you are attracted to, so think carefully about what is truly meaningful to you.
The first approach to spirituality
is the use of rituals, practices or techniques to generate “spiritual sensations” such as peacefulness, joy or ecstasy. Some form of these practices can be found in almost every religion, and include activities such as meditation, repetitive prayer, fasting, dancing, chanting, speaking in tongues, and even simply singing in a choir. At the extreme end of this approach, people explore the use of drugs, hypnosis, or sensory deprivation to generate powerful sensations. The more mainstream version can involve candles, incense, or simply the feelings of love and belonging that come from forming close-knit communities.
The sensations these practices generate can include feelings of peacefulness, serenity, ecstasy, oneness, harmony and love, to name just a few. Who can argue with the beauty of these sensations? They are the stuff of poetry and prayer. After all, if our first experiences with spirituality made us feel bad, we probably wouldn’t continue, so it is a good thing that many spiritual practices feel good.
These “spiritual highs” can be likened to a “runner’s high.” They have both an emotional and a physical component. They feel good in the heart and in the body, and there is nothing wrong with that. Many of these practices, when incorporated as one part of a full spiritual life, are both inspiring and rewarding.
But here is the question: Are people who feel peace, joy and detachment when they pray, for example, more spiritual than people who feel restless or agitated while praying? Or is spirituality defined by what we do after we finish praying?
Put another way, should positive sensations be considered the goal of a spiritual life, or are they best understood as byproducts of spirituality?
Our answer to this question makes a difference.
If the focus of your spiritual effort is the generation of positive sensations, then you run the risk of doing things that feel good, even if they are not particularly spiritual. People have used “spiritual exploration” as an excuse for all sorts of unhealthy activities, such as taking drugs or abandoning a family to go on a spiritual “quest.”
At the same time, if your goal is positive sensations, then you may also resist doing things that are spiritual if they don’t give you that euphoric, positive feeling. If you pray, for example, because it makes you feel peaceful and loved, will you continue to pray if those feelings go away? Or if you meditate, fast, sing in a choir or work with a group because it feels good, will you stop doing these things if you get bored or hungry, or if there is conflict in your group? Will you feel unspiritual if the good feelings go away?
This brings up another problem with focusing on sensations as the sign of being spiritual – the fact that good sensations often do go away. In fact, the stronger the sensation is, the less time you will probably be able to maintain it. Because of this, the desire for spiritual sensations can turn you into a kind of “spiritual junkie,” hopping from one activity or practice to another – trying to hold onto that spiritual “buzz” that tells you that you really are a spiritual person. The impulse to try to regenerate that “buzz” will often involve finding a new way to meditate, or a new way to pray, or joining a new community of fellow believers that still see you as new and fresh and exciting, and spiritual.
If spirituality isn’t about feeling good – indeed, if it isn’t about feelings at all, then the sensations generated by these spiritual practices are more or less irrelevant. They are a pleasant by-product of a spiritual life, but should not be the thing that motivates our actions. If they motivate us to start upon a spiritual path, then they have served a valuable purpose, but if they keep us on a spiritual treadmill, always reaching for one more “warm & fuzzy” sensation, then they have become a trap and we are better off ignoring them. They are not at the heart of spirituality.
The Second Approach to Spirituality
Once you realize that there is a spiritual reality that is not the same as the physical world, it is only natural to wonder if the material world can be influenced or controlled by spiritual means. The second approach to spirituality, then, focuses on trying to control one’s material health, wealth and relationships through spiritual means.
There are three ways to use the spirit world to control your material circumstances – the indirect, the direct, and the very direct.
The indirect approach is to ask God for assistance. When we humbly ask God for assistance with the affairs of our lives, we know that whatever happens will be what God knows is best for us. The most pure prayer is simply “let me understand what You want for me and let me be content with it.” As long as we ask with humility and are open to God’s Will, this is the safest, surest way to use the spirit to influence our lives.
Unfortunately, for some, prayer becomes something more than a humble request. It is one thing to make prayers of petition a tool for your spiritual growth, and another to make prayers for material goods the focus of your spiritual life. God is not an ATM machine or your personal assistant. There are no “special” prayers that God or the universe is obligated to answer in the affirmative. “Being spiritual” is not about being extra good at getting God to do what you want. Healing, money, romance – no matter how much you think you deserve them, you don’t get to control what God brings you.
For that reason and others, some choose a more direct approach to using the spiritual to control their material lives.
The Danger of “Spiritual Power”
When we feel poor, weak and helpless, we often turn to the spiritual realm for assistance through prayer. Some, however, do not just pray for miracles, they demand them. For them, being “spiritual” is about developing their “spiritual powers” by tapping into non-physical sources of energy. They may call these sources of energy metaphysical, supernatural, paranormal or even The Holy Spirit, but the goal is the same. By learning to control these “spiritual powers” they believe they will be able to improve and control their material life. One version of this approach to spirituality focuses on such gifts of the spirit as speaking in tongues, interpreting dreams, faith healing, charming snakes and prophesying. It can also involve “special” prayers that God is “required” to answer.
An alternative approach encourages people to explore ESP, telekinesis, fortune telling, levitating, speaking with aliens, channeling the dead, seeing auras, working with crystals, psychic healing, studying pyramids, “manifesting reality” bending the universe to their will, creating miracles, exploring “The Secret” and lots of other things.
While the vast majority of Americans believe that at least one of these spiritual powers exist, most do not make it the focus of their spiritual lives. Those who do, find that it gives them a sense of destiny and control. Foretelling the future or listening to the guidance of a channeled Master makes life seem less chaotic and dangerous. But the attraction of spiritualism goes beyond that.
As the title of the book The Secret suggests, belief in one or more supernatural power makes you an “insider” who is both more knowledgeable and more spiritual than the skeptics who don’t believe. It is hard to resist the boost to one’s self-esteem that comes with belief.
Do these spiritual powers really exist? Like most Americans, I believe that some do. I also suspect that many don’t. The more important question, in my mind, is whether they have anything to do with being spiritual.
People who pursue these powers would like to believe that if they have special spiritual powers, then they must be especially spiritual. After all, they reason, Jesus was the most spiritual person ever, and he performed miracles. Therefore, if they can perform miracles, they must be spiritual too. Surely if you can levitate, you share a spiritual brotherhood with the Man who walked on water. Right?
I’m afraid not.
Unfortunately, spirituality and tangible earthly power rarely have anything to do with one another. Using your spirit to gain power over your friends, your future, or your finances does not make you more spiritual, it just makes you power-hungry. That’s not a good thing.
You see, it is not the amount of power you have, but what you DO with the powers you were given that defines your spirituality. A person who is physically strong can use his or her strength to lift people up or tear people down. The same is true of spiritual strength. A weight lifter is not inherently better than a weakling, and neither is a miracle worker.
If I can read your mind, tell you your future and work miracles, and I use these powers to make myself feel better or more important than you, then I am damaging my own soul in the process. My spiritual power has made me spiritually weak.
If a faith healer, for example, is arrogant and rude, while a medical doctor is humble and kind, which of them is the more spiritual? Both heal. What determines their spirituality— the method they use to heal, or the spirit in which they heal?
One might assume that an arrogant and rude person would never be given the gift of healing in the first place, but there is no evidence for this belief. Consider this observation from the New Testament:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13)
This doesn’t say that if you don’t have love you won’t be able to perform miracles. It says that even if you can perform miracles, you are nothing if you don’t also have love. If talking with angels, predicting the future and moving mountains doesn’t make you spiritual, then levitating and seeing auras certainly won’t either.
This still leaves a question. Though having spiritual powers does not make you spiritual, is it possible to pursue the development of spiritual powers and remain spiritual? I don’t know. Here is my concern:
Because the pursuit of spiritual power is, at its core, a pursuit of power, not spirituality, it attracts people who like power — and people who like power often like to abuse it. The phrase “power corrupts” takes on special meaning when applied to people who claim special powers.
Right now there are thousands of books, workshops, gurus and organizations that offer to share a special power or teach a secret knowledge … for a price.
If I may, I would like to share two of these secrets with you for free.
The first is that it is easy to appear to perform miracles. Ask any magician. Between misdirection, hidden technology, planted assistants and the placebo effect, it is easy to make people see what they want to see and even experience what they want to experience. The more you want spiritual powers, the easier it is to demonstrate them to you.
The second secret is that it is easy to offer to teach people how to perform miracles themselves…as long as the path to mastery is long enough and expensive enough that students will be forced to give up before they achieve their goal, or they can be convinced that it is their lack of spiritual worthiness that caused their failure.
Does this mean that I don’t believe in the possibility of miracles? No, I am not that jaded. There are some powers, such as communication between souls, that I am fairly certain do exist, but I have never seen anyone achieve it by an act of will. When it happens, it comes as a gift.
I’ve pondered why this might be. My thought is that it may be because these powers might only be intended for the use of our souls after we leave our bodies. Trying to practice them now might do more harm than good. It could be like a fetus trying to explore the world outside the womb by poking holes in its placenta.
Those powers that we are meant to practice in this life don’t need to be pursued. They will come to us when we need them. If you have a dream that gives you an insight, or serendipitous good fortune comes your way, those are gifts. You can benefit from them without trying to control them.
The Third Approach to Spirituality
For some people, the realization that they have an immortal soul brings with it a concern about what the next life will bring. For them, a spiritual life is a life spent following the rules that will guarantee them salvation. For some, salvation means getting into heaven. For others, it means attaining Nirvana, reaching Cosmic Consciousness, or avoiding rebirth. This view of spirituality is very concrete, and the path it takes is usually equally specific. There are things to believe, words to say, rituals and sacraments to observe, mantras to chant, and actions to be avoided. Some aspects of this approach may resemble an attempt to generate positive sensations because it can include some of the same ritual behaviors. But these rituals are not about the sensation, only about the desire to be obedient and win Divine approval.
This approach to spirituality is very popular and has a long history. A famous French philosopher described what is known as “Pascal’s Wager.” He said that if there is no God and we act as though there were, then when we die, we have lost nothing. But if there is a God and we act as though there weren’t, then when we die, we lose everything. Therefore, it is a better bet to believe in God. This idea has guided the thinking of so-called religious people for centuries since. It can be summarized by the billboards you may have seen along the road: “Avoid Hell – Trust Jesus Today!”
I have three concerns with this approach to spirituality. The first is that it turns spiritual life into a process of following lists of rules rather than being moved by the spirit. The second is that it envisions some kind of arbitrary line that one has to cross in order to get on the “right side” of God. Either you are in heaven or you are out; you reach Nirvana, or you don’t; your consciousness is Cosmic or pedestrian. Somehow I don’t think of my spiritual progress in such black and white terms.
Finally, if we obey God just so we can get into heaven, then we’ve really made heaven our God, and belief in God is just a means to an end. We need to ask ourselves, if we could get to Heaven, Nirvana, or whatever, just by snapping our fingers, would we still make the effort to pray, meditate, follow our religion’s teachings or try to be good people?
Put another way, if we got to heaven and found out that God was in Hell serving iced tea to the suffering sinners, would we stay in Heaven where it was pleasant, or go to Hell to be near to God? After all, what does it mean to “be near to God?”
Answering that question will point us towards what it really means to be spiritual.
If you kind of liked the idea of going to Hell to serve iced tea, then you will identify with the fourth approach to being spiritual. It is not the last, but it is getting close.
The Fourth Approach to Spirituality
The fourth approach to spirituality is to follow a path of service. It is based on the idea that “spiritual” is not defined by how you feel, what your powers are or where you go when you die, but rather “spiritual is as spiritual does.” A spiritual person serves humanity. Therefore, to be spiritual, you must serve others. This truth is expressed in many beautiful quotations, starting with this one from the New Testament:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:34-40
Here are some others:
- Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve… You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity. Buddha
- The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Mohandas Gandhi
- There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed. Woodrow Wilson
- The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
So if a spiritual person serves others, does that mean that service to others is my definition of what it means to be spiritual?
Like positive sensations, power and heaven, I believe that service is a by-product of spirituality, not its essence. I say this because it is possible to serve without love. One can serve for many reasons, including ego gratification, financial gain, to get to heaven, and even as a distraction from doing necessary personal spiritual work. Service, by itself, is not an expression of spirituality. It is the motive behind the service that matters.
As Mother Teresa said: “It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.”
Having said this, I also believe that it is not possible to be spiritual if you don’t also serve others. The two are inextricably linked. To understand why this is true, you have to understand what the true heart of spirituality is.
What, Then, Is The Heart Of Spirituality?
The essence of spirituality is the love of service.
But that is not all.
It is also the love of kindness, compassion, courage, creativity, patience, integrity, forgiveness, and faith.
It is an attraction towards justice, humility, beauty, wonder, reverence and a host of other spiritual qualities. These spiritual qualities, also known as virtues or character traits, can also be thought of as the Attributes of God that have been placed within the human soul. Therefore, loving these qualities is another way of saying “loving God” and expressing these qualities is another way of saying “being near unto God.”
Because we are all created in the image of God, loving God and being near to God also involves loving and expressing our own highest nature. This intertwining of love and expression of Divine qualities in the human soul means that there are many different ways to talk about the condition that I am calling the heart of spirituality.
At different times and in various religions, people have called this spiritual condition:
- Love of God
- Nearness to God
- Love of virtue
- Love of the Names and Attributes of God
- Being Filled with the Spirit of Faith
- Attraction to our highest Human Potential
- Reflecting the Light
- Heaven, The Kingdom of God and Nirvana
- Being drawn to the light
- Being Born Again
- Seeing virtue as its own reward
- Living with Integrity
- Becoming your True Self
Whatever words resonate for you, I am describing a spirit, a driving motivation and underlying intention that is based on a love of doing what is right, true and beautiful — regardless of whether it feels good, generates prestige or power, or promises any external reward. This is the heart of spirituality.
If more people were motivated by this love, the world would be a very different place.
Choosing to Become More Spiritual
If you are not sure whether or not you really, truly love practicing spiritual virtues such as service, humility or patience — don’t despair.
While it only takes a moment to recognize the fact that we have a spirit, training our spirits to love the good and let go of the rest is a lifelong process. It starts with an initial desire to be “good” for its own sake. Even just the desire to be “better” may be all it takes to set the soul on the path to true spirituality. That is the first step, and it is often the hardest. The fact that you have read this far suggests that you have taken this step and are ready for what comes next.
Once you decide that you want to do more than just go through the motions of being spiritual — that you want to develop your natural love for virtues so that you can put them into practice — the next steps become fairly obvious.
You see, if virtues were ugly things – a burden to be suffered in silence – then we would really have to work hard to learn how to love them. But virtues aren’t ugly. It is not painful to practice them. It is freeing. It is beautiful. It is rewarding.
If we knew them better, we would already know that.
So the obvious next step is to get to know them better.
The more you know about virtues, the more you will love them — and in loving them, you will love both yourself and your Creator even more.
Many people say they love God.
But everything we can ever know about God is shown to us through His attributes, and every one of His attributes is reflected in our own souls. If we really understood what it means to love God, we would spend our days searching for His attributes within ourselves so that we could bring them out into the world of humanity.
If we love the God of Love, then we must love serving His children. If we love the God of Creation, we must love being creative. If we love the God of Justice, we must love being honest and fair. When we truly understand what it means to love God, then we will know what it means to love virtues
Integrating Knowing and Loving
This link between knowing and loving means that “being spiritual” cannot be thought of as the opposite of “being rational.” Nor is it the opposite of “being physical.” It is not about choosing emotions over logic, or faith over facts, or spiritual desires over physical needs. True spirituality integrates all aspect of the human experience. It is holistic, involving the mind, heart and body working together. The mind must learn to recognize the nature and purpose of the soul’s many virtues. The heart exercises its capacity for attraction, and the body follows the guidance of the Will as it puts the virtues into practice in daily activities. Knowledge, attraction and action – mind heart and body – all have to work together and in harmony for true spiritual growth to take place.
Getting to Know Virtues
How do we get to know virtues? How do we learn to recognize them when they are there, and identify which are missing when they are absent? By using the three tools we were given – mind, heart and body – to explore, experience and practice the virtues that we were created to develop.
Using Our Minds
Our minds can be used to read scripture, study the lives of Saints and Prophets, study philosophy and great literature, and observe the people around us. From these, we learn the names of the virtues that God wants us to develop. We see them expressed by others and develop our own understandings of how they look in practice. With the help of prayer and meditation, we can make decisions as to how to behave based on this acquired wisdom combined with our own experience.
Using Our Hearts
Our (spiritual) hearts (not the physical ones that pump blood, but the ones where the Spirit dwells) do two things for us. First, they are attracted towards God – which, as I’ve explained, means they are attracted towards virtues. Just as we naturally lean down to smell the fragrance of a rose, our hearts naturally lean towards the good and want to experience it. But the heart can do more than just register the presence of virtues. Just as we can tell the difference between the smell of a rose and the smell of a lilac, our hearts can tell the difference between kindness and courage, between love and loyalty. Different virtues generate different feelings, and those feelings are called emotions. We feel generous. We feel peaceful. We feel reverent. We feel love. The absence of virtues can also generate feelings – feelings of sadness, anger or shame.
This means we can use our hearts to identify the virtues around us. Our own actions and those of others will generate emotional responses. If we are paying attention, we can find correlations between the feelings we feel and the virtues our minds tell us are present. Neither the heart nor the mind can do this alone. We can tell the difference between the scent of a rose and a lilac because we were taught the difference. We must train our hearts in the same way, by paying attention to the subtleties of our feelings and holding them up to the light of Scripture and the example of people of character.
Using Our Bodies
When we think we understand the virtues around us – both those that are present and those that are absent and in need of expression – then we act. It is in acting that we discover whether our understandings are accurate or not. Every problem is caused by the absence of a virtue. When we know virtues and love virtues, then we can find the right virtue to add to any situation to make it better.
Contemplating virtues will not change the world. Feeling good about virtues will not make you a better person. It is only by practicing virtues – applying them to real life situations – that we live a spiritual life.
But wait! Didn’t I just say that service was not the essence of spirituality; that love of virtue was? Yes. But you can’t love virtue without wanting to practice it. It is as the New Testament says. We are saved by faith, not by deeds, but faith without deeds is dead. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:26)
Faith is an attraction to the invisible Attributes of God. We believe they exist, even though we can’t see them. We prove they exist by expressing them in action. This is why faith precedes works, and why love of virtues precedes service. They go hand-in-hand.
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy. Poet Rabindranath Tagore
Loving God is not some abstract, go-into-a-trance-and-become-one-with-the-universe kind of activity. It is loving the purest expressions of virtues that we can imagine, and modeling our behavior after that ideal. We do this, not on a mountain top, not in a retreat center, not in a community of people who all look and think like we do, but in the real world, surrounded by real people.
The Role of Religion
If spirituality is about developing our virtues, then why do we need religion at all? The Founders of the world’s great religions—often called Prophets, Divine Messengers or Enlightened Ones—aid our spiritual development in three ways. First, through their teachings we learn about the virtues that God wants us to develop—virtues like meekness, peacefulness and compassion. These are virtues that most societies would otherwise fail to recognize as valuable. What political leader, for example, would encourage people to “turn the other cheek?”
Second, and equally important, They make these invisible virtues visible through the example of their lives and actions. In demonstrating virtues, they inspire our love for them, and because of our love for them, we become open to even more virtues that we might otherwise resist developing.
Third, They become the focal points of communities of people who are committed to supporting one another in practicing these same Divine virtues. It is much easier to develop your character when you have the support and encouragement of those around you.
Finding a Spiritual Community
Unfortunately, over time, these communities often begin to break into smaller pieces as the original purpose gets forgotten. Some begin to focus on feeling good, some on power, some on following rules in order to get to heaven, a handful on service, and very few on loving and practicing all of their virtues. Even so, there have always been, and will always be a few people in every religious community that intuitively understand the true nature of spirituality and try to practice it in their lives. These people see past the superficial activities of their groups and focus instead on the meaning behind them. These are probably not the people sitting at the front of the room shaking their fingers, giving directions or being bowed down to. They are the ones in the back, teaching the children or cleaning the kitchen. Look for them in any gathering.
If you don’t find them in your community, don’t be afraid to try joining a different group to see if more of its members seem to be filled with a spirit of love—love of God, love for each other, and love of the virtues they were given to develop. You might start with the person who gave you this booklet. Do they talk about loving God, or are they loving? Do they talk about unity, or are they unifying? Listen to their deeds, not just their words.
And if you find that in your entire circle of friends or even your entire city there are only one or two people who are truly loving and dedicated to being kind and honest, then consider yourself lucky to have found them, and treasure their company. Be glad that your heart can recognize the qualities they possess. Strive to be that kind of person for someone else.
Becoming one’s True Self by exercising virtues sometimes feels good, and sometimes it hurts like hell. Sometimes it reveals wondrous “spiritual powers” and sometimes it leaves us exhausted. Sometimes it seems the surest path to heaven, and sometimes it feels like we are taking two steps back for every step forward. Sometimes it leads us out into the world of service, and sometimes it leads us back to a deeper exploration of ourselves. Being spiritual will not guarantee that the angels will always put the wind at our backs. Quite the contrary, being spiritual is a conscious choice to take the hard road, to love the seemingly unlovable, to persevere in the face of a thousand obstacles, and to simply do “what is good” when no one else will.
This fifth approach to spirituality is deceptively simple, but it is not very easy. This makes it the least attractive of the five. There is no secret here. No one has been hiding some deep, profound truth from you. There is no one to blame if you haven’t tried it, and it is unlikely anyone will give you brownie points if you do. You don’t need to pay anyone for the password that will get you into heaven or the mantra that will unlock your soul. Levitating will not get you a single inch closer to God. Reading minds, telling the future, talking to plants – none of these things would make you a bit more spiritual unless you were to use them as a tool for loving and serving people.
The only “ego boost” this approach can possibly give you is the humble satisfaction of knowing that you have reconnected with the same definition of spirituality that we’ve had for at least three-thousand years.
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8)
This truth was reiterated by Jesus when He said:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew22:37-39
If you are not sure whether your religion supports this approach to spirituality, I encourage you to read your scriptures while looking for references that relate loving God to practicing virtues, as well as references to our ability to reflect God’s qualities or find the Divine within ourselves. Here are just a few from different religions to get you started.
- Conform yourselves to the character of God. Islam.
- The Superior man reflects in his person [Heaven’s] virtue. Taoism.
- Father, O mighty Force, That Force which is in everything,
Come down between us, fill us, Until we become like Thee,
Until we become like Thee. African Traditional Religions
- Religion is basically virtue, which is grounded ultimately in the spiritual nature of man. Jainism.
- “What is the purpose of our lives?” “To acquire virtues.” Bahá’í
- The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, “Lo, here it is!” or “There!” for behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Christianity
- The believers whose faith is most perfect are those who have the best character.” Islam.
- The spiritual love of God maketh man pure and holy and clotheth him with the garment of virtue and purity. Bahá’í
 I met someone who used hypnotism to generate feelings of euphoria every time they prayed. This increased their desire to talk to God, but did it increase their willingness to listen?
 A favorite hook for attracting students is to offer to teach them how to see “auras.” What they are really shown is an optical illusion created by “retina burn” which is produced by staring at a high-contrast silhouette.
 This is another reason why focusing on spiritual sensations as a path to spirituality is ineffective. Each situation calls for a different virtue and every virtue feels different. No matter how wonderful a particular virtue is and how pleasant the sensation it generates, it won’t meet every need. If you dedicate yourself to feeling peaceful, for example, then you will be less open to developing your creativity, and you might even resist developing your enthusiasm and courage because they might interrupt your serenity.