On the Meaning of the word Spiritual

Many words appear to have multiple, hence somewhat imprecise, meanings. This ambiguity is compounded by their being used in different ways by speakers and writers, and being interpreted variously by listeners and readers. Hence it can be of significant benefit to those who think of themselves as being on a "spiritual path" to clarify the essential meaning of such excessively defined words. Perhaps no word suffers from such a wide range of usage with such confusing consequences as the word "spiritual" itself.

Webster's dictionary gives 11 different definitions of "spiritual." Primary among them is "of spirit," which on its own receives 25 various meanings from that source, beginning with "the breath of life" and ending with "God." So a direct, etymological examination might not be the most fruitful way of gaining a better understanding. Perhaps an exploration of what it means to be a spiritual being might yield more insight into this seemingly vague term.

We can all readily recognize and acknowledge that, as individuals, our lives are largely determined by our spirits, by the positive or negative quality of our consciousness, by the degree of optimism or pessimism that we perceive and express. Most of the time, however, we tend to judge the quality of our lives by our moods, by how we feel. How does this differ from an individual who is described as being "spiritually-minded?"

One who is so identified considers the state of his or her consciousness to be the most important priority in life. As a result, in such an individual, that faculty of consciousness which is capable of being aware of and scrutinizing the thoughts that are encountered is most highly esteemed and developed. Mindfulness is not only cultivated as a desirable habit; it is appreciated as the only way to verify that one is involved in existentially healthy values. The beneficial, healing properties of these qualities, values and ideas must be discovered by each individual. They cannot be taught.

How one feels, the language of the body, is understood to reveal thoughts that have slipped beneath the contemplative radar such that they must be organismically perceived. The body then, rightly known, can tell us much about our tropisms of thought, showing us what is being paid attention to and valued.

Spiritual-mindedness implies not merely mindfulness but also a consistent, active interest in certain qualities of consciousness so definite that it constitutes a way of life. Those states of mind are characterized as joy, love, gratitude, integrity, intelligence, enthusiasm, vitality, harmony, assurance, beauty, peace, humor, etc. In order to manifest such values we must be genuinely interested in and committed to them to the exclusion of more corporeal, self-assertive values like feeling good, influencing others or being excited.

Spiritual-mindedness, then, consists of an overriding appreciation of spiritual values and a dedication to the discipline of mindfulness as a tool to help one discern where one's commitment lies. The consciousness of the spiritually engaged individual is involved in elevating thoughts to a level of evaluative awareness, for it is there that a measure of what the Bible calls "dominion" is attained. While meditation has been cited as a method of achieving a state of "choiceless awareness," which can itself be quite liberating, when assessment is added to the contemplative focus, the embrace of spiritual values is facilitated. It is important to note that it is love of such a quality of being, and not desire, that enables the individual to dwell in this consciousness, and that constant vigilance is required to sustain it while one's interest is still distractible by worldly lures.