In Defense of Spirituality (With or Without Religion)

Like most modern humans, I was scrolling through Facebook the other day, and I saw something in a friend’s status update that snagged my attention. My friend Carl is a self-described nihilist, an intelligent and well-read guy, and somebody I respect and like a lot. In this update, he was giving a shout-out to the form and function of religion and the structure and moral guidance it provides to people. He also said that he thought the word spiritual, in contrast, was a cop-out.   

As a person who checks the “spiritual, but not religious” box, I felt a pang when I read that. I logged off and tried to go about my day, but my mind kept flipping back to his update, and the pang persisted. I felt upset in the same way I might feel if a loved one came under attack—somebody who’d been there for me in every one of my darkest hours. But I also felt the insult personally.

I kept thinking back to something one of Carl’s friends said in the thread: “The whole ‘I’m not religious but I’m spiritual’ nonsense strikes me as not only disingenuous but also reminiscent of dowager duchesses with an affinity for seances, scented candles and Svengali boy-toys.”  

That’s not the first time I’ve heard spirituality dissed like that. This might have been the hundredth or indeed the thousandth time. There’s an assumption floating in certain circles that people who identify as spiritual are simple and gullible, that they’re not strong thinkers, and that they lack the courage or discipline to either jump with two feet into religion or make a clean, smart break into atheism.

I’ve heard all of that so much over the years that I’d internalized it. I thought the fact that I’m a spiritually-oriented person was something I should be ashamed of and hide to avoid people thinking less of me. For a long time, I kept this central part of my being closeted and only talked about spiritual matters with close friends—friends who either looked at things the same way or friends whose love and respect for me I knew wouldn’t shift even if our takes were very different.

Ironically, I’m pretty sure Carl falls into that last camp of people, but his update and the thread that followed were the last straw for something inside me.

I’m tired. Carl, everybody—I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling like I should be ashamed of my spiritual orientation. I was afraid to respond and defend spirituality in Carl’s thread. But now, more than anything, I’m tired of my own fear. It’s time to speak up for myself and for anyone else who’s been tiptoeing around keeping their spiritual orientation a secret for fear of ridicule. Enough is enough.

I have to start by saying that it feels a little ludicrous to have to defend my spiritual-but-not-religious status in the first place. My chief question to anyone who thinks it requires justifying is this: What do you care? What’s it to you how I find peace, inspiration, and stability in this difficult world? Why do you need an opinion on this? I’m not hurting anybody. I’m not launching any crusades, picketing funerals, or chopping any heads off in the name of my meditation cushion. My spirituality is between me, the quiet space inside me, and whatever loving force I sense or hope is out there, and nobody else.

That said, the idea that all of my spiritual searching and practice is somehow a cop-out boggles my mind. Because I can’t find a religion that rings sufficiently true for me, I should abandon belief altogether? Because I can’t prove the existence of God or anything else I can’t see with my own two eyes, I should ignore the tug in my heart that tells me to keep looking? Does that genuinely seem reasonable?

And for those who imagine that spirituality is nothing but an amorphous, fluffy way to comfort yourself in the face of the Great Unknown, one that’s missing both the rigor of religion and the face-the-void courage of atheism, let me tell you what it’s been for me over the years.

A word of warning: I’ll be touching briefly on some charged and possibly upsetting subject matter. There’s no way for me to convey the immeasurable value of spirituality in my life without stopping there for at least a moment, so bear with me.

I hadn’t been alive on this planet for very long before I was repeatedly sexually abused by a close family member. The details are not germane to this discussion, but the aftermath of sexual abuse is. When you undergo abuse, you lose some fundamental things for a while. You lose trust in others and by extension the world at large. But even more insidiously, you lose trust in yourself. It becomes difficult to be in your own body, and so you do whatever you have to do to numb yourself and skip out on being aware of your feelings, both physical and emotional. You abandon yourself like you would abandon a condemned building.  

Spirituality, for me, is the process of returning. I’m returning to myself. I’m returning to an innate wholeness at my core that never got lost. I don’t know where this core meets God or the divine or the big humming nothingness, but I believe it meets it somewhere. And when I return to this core and discover that I’m okay, I can enter the world more fully and fearlessly.

What does this look like in practice? I sit on my meditation cushion and bring my attention back to myself. I become aware of all the various pains I’ve been running from—both emotional and physical—and I sit with them. I don’t get up when they get tough. I let them expand, even, and become more intense. In doing all of this, I learn that I can handle it. I can handle being in my own body, and I can handle being with any and all of my emotions and the sensations they create. When they’ve been allowed to make all the noises they want to make, these old storehouses of emotion calm down and loosen their grip, and even some of the pain falls away entirely.

This is where I have to laugh at the idea that spirituality is a cop-out. The hours I’ve spent sitting resolutely on my meditation cushion while pain shot up my spine and tears rolled down my face say otherwise. I’ve found a lot of peace, strength, and calm in my spiritual practice that I’m able to draw on when circumstances get challenging, but I’ve practically had to pass through Mordor to get it.

But every minute I’ve spent in this practice has been worth it, and for every tough experience I’ve had on the cushion, I’ve had ten glorious ones there and elsewhere. I get a rush when I read Rumi’s poems, talk to my teacher, sit in my garden, or wrap my arms around my sons, kiss their fuzzy heads, and remember how fleeting our time on Earth is. I don’t know if there’s a word for that place where love and terror meet—the Germans probably have one—but the act of fully entering into the contemplation of that meeting place is spirituality in my eyes, and if you do that, nobody can say you’re copping out.

My spirituality has given me back the knowledge that I’m a whole, healthy, and happy creature with agency, who lives in a world that is far more benevolent and loving than I knew. It’s taken faith to get here, but it wasn’t faith in Jesus or the Buddha or Ganesha or the Bhagavad Gita, even though I appreciate all those things. It was faith in life itself as it moves in me and moves through the world. I don’t have a better definition for my spirituality than that, and I don’t need a better word than spirituality to describe it.

Share your thoughts.

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  • Karen Ann Leonard

    Thank you for your courage and incredible wisdom. Although my abuse was emotional rather than physical, I too, was left with distrust. Only in sobriety and with meditation and yoga, was I able to get back in to my body, feel what I didn’t want to feel and find a way to trust not only myself but something greater.

  • Taisha Rucker

    Thanks Tina for sharing this experience. I didn’t realize that spiritual was seen as a cop-out. I grew up as a Baptist, transitioned to an Eastern Mystic path, and I am now a student of the Ancient Wisdom. I considered myself spiritual throughout each of this evolutions of my practice of self-realization. Simply put, I think that religion offers us discipline for our practice from without; spirituality from within.

    In my personal evolution, the need for external discipline has simply weakened over time. This is the path for which every human being is designed—to find God within. The search is the same, it’s only the methods that may differ. I know this because I’ve had the pleasure of evolving through many! None was better than the other, only better for me at the time I chose it.

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  • Lou Pare-Lobinske

    Wow. That was awesome. Thank you.

  • Thank you, Tina, for having voiced in such clear words what is difficult for me and others to explain. I too have checked the “spiritual but not religious” box, both in the loneliness of my room and in front of other people, and every time I cannot help but feel a tinge of guilt because it is perceived as me being ‘flakey’. I suppose I feel this way because, at least in my circle of friends and acquaintances, ‘spirituality’ is often connected to new-agey, woo-woo beliefs which, in their opinion, do not lead a person to do good deeds everyday. (As if being religious were a requirement for being a decent human being.) No matter that daily kindness is one of the tenets of my own spirituality… so, thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions.

  • Sebastian Vaisov

    You don’t need subject or object to believe. You just need to believe.

    I personally think that most important is to believe in yourself. Religions are just objects (mostly with subjects) for those who don’t want or can’t believe in themselves. But if you truly believe in yourself you don’t need any names or idols. Because you’re strong enough to be on your own, to believe in your own power over your life and your destiny which you do create.

    I think that people who seek the belief in themselves are much stronger than those hiding behind names and/or idols. From my perspective – you’re going exactly in the right way. Because only you know what is happiness for you and you can answer yourself all your questions – not priests, not books, not gods.

    Let your inner power bless you and I wish you to find more answers and piece with yourself. There’s only one right path for you – the one you already go, only you know the right direction.

  • Ronald Hefner

    What am I missing here? Could someone in this discussion please help me? Where do these boxes appear that “ask” are you spiritual or religious? Are not there HIPPA restrictions that prevent such questions from being asked? It seems just as ambiguous as “asking” someone to check a box on whether you prefer dogs or cats. Can one not love both? Can one not be religious and spiritual? I personally am both, but in the cosmic order of things, I put my religion/faith in Jesus Christ to save me over the salvation qualities of a meditation cushion.

  • alma

    I love this, it is the best description of the importance of spirituality and the role it plays in our existence. The purpose of cultivating spirituality is to connect with YOU, not something outside of you, because without ourselves we have nothing. There are plenty of religious people who don’t have this true connection, and I feel sad for proclaimed atheists who don’t acknowledge this part of themselves. But this ability to find the divine within ourselves is what connects us all to each other and to the source of all creation–whatever you want to call it, it’s a beautiful thing and I’m so glad you’ve been able to find it in spite of your past trauma, Tina.

    • Tina Rowley

      I really appreciate that, Alma. Thank you.

  • Treena Joyo Davis

    I love this, thank you so much!!

    • Tina Rowley

      Thank *you*, Treena!

  • I read an excellent article today by Tina Rowley entitled “In
    Defense of Spirituality (With or Without Religion).” Ms. Rowley wrote,

    I’m tired. Carl, everybody—I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling like I should be ashamed
    of my spiritual orientation…I’m tired of my own fear. It’s time to speak up for myself and for
    anyone else who’s been tip toeing around, keeping their spiritual orientation a
    secret for fear of ridicule. Enough is
    enough.

    Wow! What a powerful
    stance. It’s one of those statements
    which one person simply stands up. Then
    a second, quietly follows. Then a third
    until hundreds form a sea of solidarity.
    Count me in!

    Tina Rowley you are a quiet revolutionary and you captured
    my mind, heart, and soul. For far too
    long we’ve sat silently at the table as the banter escalated. We retreated, thought about it, and
    returned. Now it is time to simply state
    “I have something to say” and then confidently interject our reason and
    resolute perspectives.

    We have answers, we have questions, but most of all we have
    a voice. So friends, stop your chaos,
    inhale, hold on to that breath, claim it as yours, then allow it to release
    from your body, tides of stress, anxiety, and attitude. Let it melt away. Your core is safe, it is solid, and you may
    put your fists down. Put them by your
    side and release the tension. There is
    another way. Not right. Not wrong.
    Just different. Let peace find
    you and wrap you in your knowing.

    Let that still, small voice whisper to you. We can get things done. Together—not apart. Let us unite and embrace, knowing a solution
    lies between us, only found in our synergy.
    Let us hold tight and let go—all at the same time.

    This moment, let it be ours—let us know that at this moment,
    we were true, we were brace, and we met with a great Being and Peace descended
    upon us all.

    • Tina Rowley

      Elizabeth, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much.

  • Amen

  • UNDERSTANDING JESUS

    John 4:48:

    “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,”
    Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

    In ancient times; before much was known about diseases and cures,
    just about every malady was on full display. The ancients were
    desperate for anyone who could be of assistance. Anyone who had any
    kind of higher reasoning, was considered a prophet. Prophets were
    expected to perform miracles, foretell the future, and heal people.

    Jesus really wanted to share about how unselfish love could
    transform the world, but the emphasis was pressed upon him to perform
    physical acts of amazement to a population that felt the need to
    gratify their immediate need for solutions to their longing to be
    made physically well. He never told anyone they were made well in a
    physical sense, but that they could be made whole by their faith in
    God. With this in mind we can understand his dilemma.

    Did Jesus actually multiply food for the masses? In ancient times,
    poor people made sure to take more than enough food and drink with
    them. Sharing all your food in the desert, could cost you your life,
    so when it was time to eat; the crowds were reluctant to eat in front
    of the large group; but were moved by the young man who brought out
    his loaf of bread and fish to be shared with Jesus.

    Suddenly everyone decided to share. The same goes with the water
    into wine. Unselfishness prevailed. He didn’t want to be known as a
    faith healer and asked his zealous followers to downplay them;
    because this was not what he was about.

    Was Lazarus actually brought back to life by Jesus after being
    dead for three days in the heat of the desert? Our spirit is born
    into this vessel we call our body at first breath, and leaves with
    the last breath. Breathing keeps the time our spirit is on this plane
    like clockwork. The body to be resurrected would have been in the
    depth of decaying.

    (Just as an aside, the early Christians (mostly Jews) had to go
    underground. They were slaughtered for their belief in the plan. Lit
    up as human torches at Roman parties…The leaders of Rome were
    afraid that their plan was to overthrow the government. If they were
    just asking God for forgiveness of syns, singing and passing the
    plate, I don’t think Rome would have seen them as a problem).

    Again, Jesus message was so revolutionary, people wanted to claim
    many things about him.

    Is it physically possible to walk on water?

    The Greek and Roman gods could. Gods like Possession, and Orion
    could according to lore. The people wanted to share that Jesus had
    this ability too; to prove to the ancients, that the Jewish God was
    as good or better than the Pantheon of gods they worshiped.

    How about the man who wandered the graveyard slashing his wrists?

    The story says Jesus told the man he was being influenced by dark
    spirits and that he would send them into a bunch of pigs and they ran
    into the water and drown. Only one problem; ghosts can’t be drown.
    Jesus was practicing psychology here as they ceremoniously drown the
    pig.

    As we already know, Jesus was most interested in preparing his
    followers for the continuation of their lives on the astral plane, as
    well as giving them the knowledge that would lead to “the kingdom
    of heaven on the earth”.

    This kingdom, would be nothing like an earthly kingdom. No one to
    be crowned king or deified but God; the source of all that we know,
    and all that we are. He would finally be given control of everything
    through the sheer power of mankind practicing love and forgiveness,
    and reconciliation.

    Jesus said the meek (representing all the everyday inhabitants of
    the known world) would act like “cells in one body”(my
    translation) to bring this about.

    He taught that mankind was given the spiritual image of the
    Creator, and that through the connectedness of everyone; the entire
    course of history of the known world would be transformed; as mankind
    was to be taken from the bloodbath of war and self serving greed and
    hatred, to a place of unselfishness, peace and plenty.

    A balanced planet.

    Mankind was to bypass corrupt governments, and act together to
    make this global transformation. This was a time when word of mouth
    was the only means of communicating the message; long before access
    to the kind of connectedness the digital age has brought us to. He
    asked his fisherman followers to start fishing for people who could
    spread his message. Jesus sensed that the government would be against
    him, even as he taught this.

    19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever
    you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on
    earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples
    not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. [6] – Matthew 16: 13-20.

    Several hundred years after Jesus passed; leaders of the day were
    afraid that this Christian idea might eventually take down
    traditional control, so they organized the famous council of Nicaea
    in 325 ad. This part of his teaching was obviously deleted from
    record. This ‘body of mankind’ idea survived the council but is only
    seen long after Jesus death, in the writings of the Apostle Paul.

    1 Corinthians 12

    Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts
    form one body, so it is with Christ. … And the head cannot say to
    the feet, “I don’t need you!”

    After all, was the reasoning; God gave us everything; and his
    teaching was that the responsibility of mankind was to take
    responsibility for the welfare of our planet, and all it’s
    inhabitants. He said only when we create the kingdom of heaven on
    earth; would we be able to experience it in the afterlife. Matthew
    18:18

    Also please see: THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Matthew 5.

    Jesus was a Jew. The Jewish religion was the first break out
    religion. Ancients were still making idols to a pantheon of gods;
    while Judaism laid claim realization that there was just one God,
    they called YHVH, witch means “The unutterable name.” For this
    they were called the chosen people. Maybe this is a mistaken word,
    because we are all part and parcel of God’s energy; but God had
    prepared this tribe of people to receive a messiah that they still
    wait for.

    Nevertheless, if Jesus’ teachings were the software, the Jewish
    people were also hard-wired to survive and thrive. As is normally the
    case with blessings, comes a curse. Jealousy of their odd worship to
    one God; bypassing the pantheon gods worshiped by the ancients;
    weren’t the only jealousy people held against them. They were also
    envious of their talent, and ability to create fortune. This led to
    the many atrocities instituted against them from early times.

    Not only did they have that understanding; they also taught about
    God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. Something Jesus picked up
    on. (See The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

    Jesus did a lot of talking about the light in you. He taught that
    only through manifesting God’s love in the world through
    unselfishness, could we grow the light in us. That it was important
    for everyone to become who they fully are in order to contribute to
    the ideal for which this was all created. Ancients knew that syn is a
    Greek archery term; predating Jesus; meaning “Missing the mark”;
    not being true to your best character.

    The ancient Jewish people had already figured out that God was
    unconditional and therefore non judgmental; but they still lived in
    an age where they felt the need to sacrifice animals to God for
    forgiveness. This practice though totally unnecessary, can be traced
    back to pagan religions.

    In actuality no matter your religion, or even lack of it; the
    practice of unselfish love to the people of the world, and respecting
    the planet is how we grow our light.

    There is no judgment day when you pass from this plane; only a
    life review. We will clearly be able to see the light in us or the
    lack of it.

    Our understanding and practice of these spiritually positive
    principles make us new people, and new people work together to create
    a new earth and therefore a new Heaven. If all of humanity were to be
    destroyed, there would be no hope for Heaven on the astral plane.
    “The light we bring here will always be the light we take there.
    ” In the beginning there was a plan; and the plan was with God,
    and the plan was God. Jesus was the first person to ‘flesh it out’.
    If everything we know is composed of Gods’ energy, all of humanity
    must bring it about.

    As God’s highest creation on this earth; it is left to all of
    mankind to turn the key.

    All that God left us to do is complete the picture. Jesus’ death
    was a tragedy; but his truth will still set us free. He was not the
    Creator, nor was he the author of this truth; but when we take in
    universal truth; and practice it; this truth is made flesh in us too.
    This is the power of belief. Alone we can do nothing, but together we
    can do anything.

  • SteveWatson

    Excellent.

  • This is one of the most powerful articles I’ve read in a long, long time. Thank you Tina for putting words to what I’ve always felt, but never had the courage to express. I too have lived with shame around my “spiritual but not religious” way of life. And am just beginning to shed that shame and learn to live full out – regardless of what the world, my family or friends think of me or my beliefs. I’m so grateful I stumbled upon this article and hope you know how deeply your words have touched me and undoubtedly, countless others. Thank you x thank you! xo

    • Tina Rowley

      That kind of response is all I could ask for as a writer. Thank you so much, Stephanie.

  • Thank you. I don’t even know where to begin with picking out a quote to
    share from this for others. I feel like I need to print it out and
    highlight 90% of the article – then hand it to a key person in my life
    and say ‘read this, it’s my truth that someone else wrote.’
    I am near to tears reading this and deeply, deeply appreciate for it.

    • Tina Rowley

      That means a ton, Kate. That’s huge. Thank you so much.

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  • diana

    I have been going deeper into a Buddhist practice for the past few years, though I see that I have been buying and reading books by Buddhists for the past 25 years (like Natalie Goldberg). The older I get, I become more committed to this. I am taking a wonderful virtual class that meets by conference call once a month by Sylvia Boorstein, of Spirit Rock, and I am seeing the fruits of my practice. Am I spiritual and religious (buddhist) or spiritual and not religious? I don’t know but I definitely value these buddhist teachings and the contemporary teachers who have transmitted this dharma in a way that reaches me, immeasurably.

    • Tina Rowley

      I think Buddhist practice is fantastic—my husband’s a Zen Buddhist—and I think it’s really true that experience trumps language here. Thanks, Diana.

  • Terry

    Well said!

    • Tina Rowley

      Thanks!

  • kelly

    yes

  • Cheryl Barron

    Thinking on your sentence that your faith comes not from Jesus,Budda,Ganesha etc. What is “spiritual”? Is it sitting under a starry skt totally amazed. Is it walkung on a beach,is it sitting quietly in the woods. What does it mean to be spiritual?I’m not trying to be mean-I really dont know what people mean .

    • Tina Rowley

      To sum it up as neatly as I can, for me the word “spiritual” refers to the idea that we don’t need a middleman to experience God or the divine or whatever a person likes to call it. (Some people, like me, can’t quite get with the word “God”, but it’s really just the word — I’m open to the idea of the loving, intelligent consciousness that the word “God” stands for.) So when I say spiritual, I mean I’m figuring out what I need to do to experience the divine for myself directly. It’s a matter of where I put my attention more than where I am. It can be on the meditation cushion getting quiet, or on a beach, sure, or even in the grocery store — it’s about getting out of my habitual, daily, worldly busy-ness and my mind running on about this or that, and paying a deep kind of attention to what’s inside or around me, and accessing a feeling of love/wonder/gratitude, etc. I guess I’d ask, by way of illustration, how do *you* experience God in your daily life when you’re not at church or directly thinking about Jesus or the bible? Do you experience God at other times? What’s the signature of that? What does the feeling feel like? However you experience God when you’re not putting words on the experience is possibly/probably a lot like how I experience spirituality. For me, with spirituality, the feeling is more important than the language around it. Whew. I hope that helps. 🙂

      • Donna Lawrence

        Tina, your essay is beautiful–thank you for this. I have always been quietly spiritual,
        and I don’t talk about it a lot, except to those who are very close. Something you say here, in this reply, is exactly right for me, something I have thought for years. It is that we don’t need a middleman to experience God or the divine. What a joy it is to be still and make that contact directly.

        • Tina Rowley

          Hey, I’m so glad, Donna. Thank you, and I’m with you there.

  • Michael Oder

    Thanks for sharing this. I have to admit I’m one of those people who can be biased against those who call themselves spiritual, but on some level I realize that is probably unfair. I actually practice mindfulness meditation myself, I just usually don’t use the word spiritual to describe it. I identify a lot with your experiences though, and in the end it’s futile and petty to get all worked up over the words we all use to describe our common experiences.

    • Tina Rowley

      I appreciate this, Michael. Thank you.

  • derek richardson

    i’m not spiritual, a little accident prone perhaps.

  • Cheryl Barron

    I think its in the book of Sirach where a one ply cord is easily broke but not so with a three ply cord. To illustrate this further:Mary Thomas,mother of former Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas once when her family was threatened gave each of her kids a match. Told them to break it and they did-easily. Then she held out a hand full of matches and showed the bundle couldn’t be broken.THAT IS RELIGION. We were never to go it alone. I kida agree with the cop out line but i wouldn’t discourage a seeker.It takes time.

    • Tina Rowley

      Hi Cheryl,

      I see the beauty in that illustration, and I think it’s great that you’ve got a religion that’s giving you what you need. It’s cool if you agree with the cop-out bit, too; there’s an old Greek philosopher that I really love (Epictetus was his name) who basically said that if people see things another way than you do, just let it be, and say to yourself, “It seems so to him.” It’s your right to see it how you see it! Thanks for reading and for giving your perspective. 🙂

      • Cheryl Barron

        Thanks

  • Laurie Buchberger

    Lol. I may have to check out the Star Wars movies. After all, I am in film school. I need to see George Lucas’ work.

    • Tina Rowley

      I love them. Call it homework and get in there! 🙂

  • Miguel Angel Ordoñez Silis

    What a beautiful reading. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Tina Rowley

      Thank you, Miguel!

  • Robert Lach

    Tina, you are WONDERFUL!! I do have a stance on “those people out there” that you mention. They are simply functioning from our very primitive Tribal Group Mentality. From their point of view, everyone must be able to be categorized, as it is always easier to get a handle on the world when everyone is labelled. They don’t like it when we have no label, or wear three or four.

    • Tina Rowley

      Aw, thank you, Robert! For me, I find that my projections about the people around me cause me more problems than anything else. You may be right but I know I’ll get myself in trouble if I start eyeballing everybody and wondering if that’s what’s going on, you know? But I appreciate the good word enormously. 🙂

    • Cheryl Barron

      Always love how hoity toitys look down their long noses at us. You accuse of of being judgemental well welcome to the party pal. You are too. And primative!priceless!

  • Alice Green

    Thank you Tina, for sharing your life, your inner light and your loving thoughts on this subject. I am also spiritual but no longer religious. I have no answers for the deep questions about how we got here, where we’re going or who started it all. But I do have many moments when I feel deeply loved, very blessed and cared for.. and when those moments happen I say with all my heart and soul, “Thank you, whoever it is who loves me and cares for me and makes me feel so one with all the universe, I am grateful and deeply touched, so, thank you!” And your sharing on this blog has made me feel one of those precious, loving moments. Thanks!!

    • Tina Rowley

      That delights me, Alice. Thank you so much!

  • alexandra

    This made me feel so close to you. Yes, this experience of faith. Of belief in life being kind. Of counting on the spirituality of others to keep our hope alive. I feel so fortunate to have that gift, of believing in things that have no explanation, other than coming from a place of a gift. Like this piece, the gift of this piece. Thank you, Tina.

    • Tina Rowley

      Dear, great Alexandra. Thank *you*. XO

  • Marina Haber

    I’m so relieved that I’m not the only one, relatively speaking, who is a closet spiritualist. I too need to come out and declare my spirituality openly regardless of what other people think or how they may perceive me. We all have free choice and consequently choose what feels right for us and resonates with us. However I do believe that spiritual people usually have to find the source, our God within, by searching for the truth themselves. We cannot rely on what we’re being taught through our religions, we cannot blindly follow their dogmas and doctrines. We search for answers that make us understand why this world is the way it is, why we are here, what got us here and how we get back to who we really are. It begins in simplicity by re-connecting, in meditation, to our God within, to go to our heart-center and fill it with light. That is our connection, our strength and our guidance which we then must share, or channel to the world to change our vibration to positive. Thank you for a great post.

    • Tina Rowley

      I can’t speak for all people who identify as spiritual, but what you say makes a lot of sense and is true for me, too. And I know I’ve always been relieved to note another presence in the old spiritual closet with me, so I hear that as well. Thank you, Marina!

  • Laurie Buchberger

    I know what you mean, Tina. It was the toughest for me, too, but definitely life changing. On another note, I was reading some of the later posts and just want to make a comment. I don’t believe religions “make” anyone do anything. I believe religions are vehicles for very small and petty people to manipulate others to do their bidding. They serve their purpose by creating a platform for people who have lessons to learn. Make sense? What a hot topic you chose to write about!! Good job. By the way, I have never seen a Star Wars movie but I do know that the Jedi reference is from the movies.

    • Tina Rowley

      I can imagine. And I think that small and petty people who wish to manipulate others to do their bidding will find all kinds of vehicles to do so, just as goodhearted, thoughtful humans will find vehicles to encourage and uplift others. Religion, like many things, makes a neat canvas for both. I don’t have any wish to put religion down, out of respect for the millions/billions of people who find comfort and guidance there. (I do recommend the Star Wars films, though!)

    • Tina Rowley

      I can imagine. And I think that small and petty people who wish to manipulate others to do their bidding will find all kinds of vehicles to do so, just as goodhearted, thoughtful humans will find vehicles to encourage and uplift others. Religion, like many things, makes a neat canvas for both. I don’t have any wish to put religion down, out of respect for the millions/billions of people who find comfort and guidance there. (I do recommend the Star Wars films, though!)

  • Giles Lascelle

    Thank you for these beautiful reflections. I empathise with the sense of spirituality being about connecting with what is true, trustworthy and totally secure within us – whether we call that our true self, our higher self, God, Buddha nature, the Christ in us. Having had a similarly tumultuous upbringing, I can testify that this form of open spirituality, and especially meditation has quite literally been a life-saver for me. Personally I identify as someone who follows Jesus, but I am very happy to meet and share truth with others of all faith traditions as we meet in the open spaces of spirituality, with our without religion.

    • Tina Rowley

      Thanks so much, Giles. Beautifully put, yourself, and I feel the same way about meeting others out in the field of the commonality of our search. So rewarding. (And I have nothing but respect/affection/gratitude for Jesus and the revolutionary love and wisdom he brought to this place. Big fan.)

  • Thank you, Tina, for your courage in your statements. I, too, check the “spiritual but not religious” box, and what I explain if given the chance is that I am indeed spiritual and I do not participate in an organized religion. When confronted or criticized about that, I say that I have no problem whatsoever with people who need man-made religious laws of an organized religion to help them follow sacred laws and be spiritual–if that helps them and works for them then by all means they should participate. Every organized religion has man-made laws at their center as well as general sacred-spiritual laws that nearly all religions and spiritual people agree on. For myself, I do better without those man-made laws.

    There are only two problems I have with any organized religion: 1) when a religion calls for its members to do harm to other people, and 2) when any religion espouses they are the one and only right way to be spiritual and religious, because that cannot be so–it seems obvious that five different religions who claim they are the only right spiritual way cannot all be, and that obviously they are each one of five different ways to be spiritual. Goodness and light is at the center of all spiritual tenets, and how one gets to that is as individual as humans are themselves. Again, I state that I do better getting to the center of goodness and light without man-made laws, but I have nothing at all against those who get there through the laws of their particular organized religion.

    And finally, I say: how can one be in the center of goodness and light while criticizing the paths others take to get there? While one criticizes the paths others take, that one is preventing him- or herself from being in the center of goodness and light. Criticism is not good and loving; one cannot be in the center of goodness and light while doing anything that is not good and loving. Accepting and loving others no matter their spiritual path is good, and allows one to be in the center of goodness and light, the centric tenet of spirituality and religion, whether conventionally or traditionally organized or not.

    • Tina Rowley

      This is just fantastic. Magnificently put on all counts, Glenda. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you.

    • Cheryl Barron

      The laws are not man made.

      • There are some man-made laws in every organized religion. For instance, in the 20th century (and even today) some of the individual Southern churches in the Baptist religion forbade their members from dancing, a rule or law allowed but not promoted by the Southern Baptist Convention, and a rule or law not promoted by Jesus Christ nor God nor the Holy Spirit, the Trinity whom they follow.

        Nearly every organized religion has writings or books they consider sacred and/or the one and only true book of writings that shows the one and only true path to goodness and light interpreted by a man who claims or claimed during his lifetime to have a unique connection to the one true God or one true Trinity or the only true several Gods or at least the only one true path to enlightenment. For Christians, their book of writings is The Bible, yet people in each organized Christian religion interpret The Bible teachings in different ways and set down in usually a second book the interpretations by those people agreeing to participate together in an organized Christian religion. Their interpretations of The Bible teachings become the laws of a particular organized Christian religion, and their interpretations also include man-made laws they feel help to promote the spirit of the teachings of The Christian Bible.

        If no organized religion had no man-made laws & interpretations of spirituality, there would be no organized religion. In that case, individuals might agree to assemble regularly or spontaneously to study and share ideas about paths to spiritual goodness and light, but no one could tell anyone else what they were required to do in order to be in the center of goodness and light, because there would be no organized religious interpretations and laws.

        • Cheryl Barron

          True. Thanks.

  • Most never experience the hidden plane beyond the world of calculation, exploitation and explanation. A corpse cannot hear, being deaf to all sound. Neither can a sense-bound person see, hear or taste the imprisoned splendor within, being insensate to all Wisdom. No need to defend what can only be scorned, but never taken from you. A moth doesn’t have to explain why it is attracted to the light, particularly (and especially) to creatures who reside in doubt, or thrive in darkness.

    • Tina Rowley

      “A moth doesn’t have to explain why it is attracted to the light” <— That's wonderful, and true. Thanks, Joe.

  • Marlana Sherman

    Thank you for writing this. I feel that I am spiritual but not religious. I’m glad that I am not alone.

    • Tina Rowley

      Thank *you*, Marlana. I’m really happy this hit for you, and you’re definitely not alone. 🙂

  • Monique van Meijeren

    I would say that your way of living spiritually is at the heart of every “official” main religion, so instead of feeling obliged to be assigned to one or the other, feel free to belong to all that are based on truth, love, compassion, connection and “coming home”.
    I’ve found it helpful in discussions on the matter to ask people to first define God, religion, etc. God is not the church (whichever), but people can tend to see them as one and the same, leading to God and religion and spirituality being rejected because of what people in and through churches have done. When you get the definitions clear, you al least know you’re not talking “chalk and cheese”.
    Your relationship with God is – again, my opinion – yours alone to form and experience. Every one is walking their own spiritual path in their own way, whatever they chose to call it – sometimes the only real difference is in the names you give to “things”. Once you can accept those differences, you can find what these teachings and ways of living have in common.
    Best wishes for your continued spiritual way of life.

    • Tina Rowley

      Thanks for this invitation, Monique. It’s a fine one. And best wishes to you on your path, too. 🙂

  • Barbara Mellor

    Hi Tina- keep going God is calling and He’s happy u r searching.All the best during ur quest, Barbara Mellor

    • Tina Rowley

      Thanks, Barbara!

  • Ellen Rebecca Frank

    You might think about posting this on Medium, if you haven’t already , , ,

  • Ellen Rebecca Frank

    I liked this piece a lot, and appreciated the depth it was willing to go to–even though (a) I am in Carl’s camp, and (b) think you sound very, very Christian–Catholic, specifically, in a Flannery O’Connor way. (Believers face the same void that atheists do). Continue your journey in peace!

    • Tina Rowley

      Thanks for this, Ellen, and I have to say that I loved the surprise feeling of being pinpointed as a possible secret Catholic! Maybe it’s the communion wafer I swallowed when I visited a friend’s church when I was very small and didn’t know to stay out of the communion line. Must still be giving something off. (And peace be with you, too!) 🙂

  • ian

    beautiful, Tina. you might actually be a Buddhist and just not know it: the practice you describe is very much the practice the Buddha advocated (along with other related practices including radiating compassion and lovingkindness to all beings (including those who have hurt us most deeply)). Buddhism as the Buddha taught it – as against the ways it’s commonly practiced in the West, which are popularly called “Buddhism” but for which that term is actually a misnomer – is not a religion and the only faith it requires is that the Buddha knew what he was talking about (this faith is useful when he speaks of things he could see from his enlightened state that those of us less far along the path are as yet unable to perceive). you might give a read or a listen to the Venerable Adrienne Howley’s masterful book, “The Naked Buddha” (if you haven’t already – i personally recommend the audiobook which is as masterfully-read as it is -written) and see if it doesn’t speak to you very loudly and very clearly.

    thank you for this piece. you’ve articulated some things that have lain unarticulated far too long.

    • Tina Rowley

      Much appreciated, Ian. And if I were to make it official and wear the mantle of any of the established religions/philosophies/schools (I grok that Buddhism is something other than a religion), it would be Buddhism. I have nothing but respect and affection for what the Buddha laid down, and as a larger group I think that Buddhists have conducted themselves very beautifully in the world, which speaks to the soundness of their philosophy. Something in me chafes at choosing an identification overall—I like a feeling of clean-slate-ness. But I pay lots of attention and take many cues from Buddhist teachings. Wonderful stuff. And I will check out “The Naked Buddha”, which I haven’t read.

      Thank you for the good word.

  • John Parker

    Nicely written.

    I played around with the notion of calling myself an atheist when I was younger, but I realized that I would also have to claim complete knowledge of reality to state that a “God” doesn’t exist. I am definitely non-religious, though I have looked at many forms of religion to see if any of them ring true me. I came to the conclusion that all religions started right (a group of people trying to figure out their place in the universe) but they all end up wrong when they try to lock “God” into a human defined set of rules, regulations, policies, and styles of worship. The thought is just plain silly to me.

    During meditation one day, I was enveloped by such a feeling of bliss and connectedness (non-drug related) to everything that I am now certain there is much more to reality than what we can perceive of as humans. I consider spirituality to encompass the whole subject of seeking to understand our place the world, and the role our consciousness plays.

    • Tina Rowley

      Thanks, John. I’m a fan of the sort of humility and openness that comes with recognizing that we’re not in possession of the final answer. Sets a person up so well, I think. And I cosign your definition of spirituality.

  • Wonderful, wonderful! The popular and over-used religion-spirituality dualism is limiting. I use contemplative or mystic for myself. I finally came to the conclusion that if I couldn’t find a religion that fit my beliefs, whose fault was that?

    • Tina Rowley

      Contemplative/mystic = excellent choices! Both of those hit the spot for me, too. Thanks very much, Landon.

  • Laurie Buchberger

    Dear Tina: I don’t know what to say, yet I have so much to say. I appreciated being judged (except for my family) because it gives me insight into those people, I get to ask them questions even though I don’t expect answers. Their answers are their own. Also, I get to learn many languages – each one of them for a different religion. Generally, I can identify what the judgement is by the language. Judgement is a hard practice to unlearn. When you hand it back to your judge, you are giving them a gift. Remember “The Four Agreements”? Don’t take anything personally. I’ve been working on my spirituality for 25 years. It is the hardest thing I have done or ever will do. However, it is a choice I have made and wouldn’t change it for anything. Welcome all who judge you. Maybe they just need a little more love and openness. Love you.

    • Tina Rowley

      What a wise way to work with judgement, Laurie. Your spiritual work sure seems to be paying off, because you’re describing a real spiritual Jedi move. And The Four Agreements is wonderful, agreed. The one you cite is the trickiest of the four for me, though I remind myself of it on a regular basis! 🙂

  • Merwin McCrady

    I feel that spirituality is such a personal experience that it is extremely close-minded of those who attack other religions simply because they do not understand or agree with it. I currently live in what is called the Bible Belt of America [the Southeastern states for those living outside the Unites States] and I have often had experiences where people will look down on those who are not self-proclaimed Christians or go to church every Sunday. But I have cultivated enough self-confidence in myself to know what best supports me. Those who attack others wrongfully for their own misunderstandings have a lot of spiritual and emotional growth to go through for themselves. Continue to do what is best for you in your terms of peace, support, and happiness.

    • Tina Rowley

      I’m with you, Merwin, and here’s wishing you all kinds of support (and no more of the opposite) with your spiritual path. And thanks for offering your support for mine. It’s appreciated!

  • Mo86

    “Because I can’t find a religion that rings sufficiently true for me,”

    One should follow a religion because they have investigated the evidence for it and found it to be true. I don’t know what “rings sufficiently true for me” even means. Something is either factually true, or it is not. If it is, then you follow it. If it isn’t, then it’s not worth the time.

    Pretty simple!

    • Tina Rowley

      Thanks for your input, Mo86, and I’m glad that you have an approach to the question that feels solid and works for you. I think people follow religions for all kinds of reasons, and very often those reasons are more emotional or intuitive, rather than purely intellectual, and that all seems legitimate to me. And there are different forms of truth: there’s factual truth and then there’s emotional truth (which you can’t pull up evidence for one way or another) and then I think there’s a deeper truth that defies containment in facts *or* feelings. When I say “rings sufficiently true”, I’m talking about the latter two sorts, which “ringing” I experience as a sense of, “Yes, come this way, something valuable is here for you.” Hope that clarifies things, and thanks again for your comment.

  • Tim Larison

    Tina I really like your definition of spirituality and how that works for you. I wish people would focus on their own spiritual growth rather than judging the practices of others (I have to remind myself of this, too, when I encounter religious fundamentalists!).

    • Tina Rowley

      I appreciate that, Tim, and I think that’s a solid policy. Eyes on our own work! (And I can stand some reminders there, too.)

  • Alison Wasik Watson

    This was a cool write up. I totally get what you’re saying here. I, too, call myself spiritual. I am not tied to any religion or organization, but I’ve been on a spiritual journey probably my whole life (as we all are) more so in the past 4 years. I certainly here your anger when feeling the judgement of people who don’t quite understand what it means. I’m now learning to let go of thoughts like that, and put aside the “anger”. It’s a hard journey for sure, but it’s freeing. They are entitled to an opinion, just as I am or you and if they see that spirituality is a cop-out that’s on them. That is where their journey has taken them. That is their truth, but we don’t have to accept it as our truth. If we our strong in our truth and confident that it is ours and ours alone, then nobody can touch that. They can argue and give reasons why THEY don’t think it’s real, but that can’t touch us because it’s not OUR reasons. It’s when we are not confident in who we are that they can affect us. Speak your truth, and you will always be a step ahead.

    • Tina Rowley

      You’re wise, Alison! Thank you for this. 🙂

  • I am both an atheist AND spiritual, and I love this piece, Tina. Love it.

    • Tina Rowley

      That makes me so happy, Elan. Thank you. I never hear from the spiritual atheists in the house, either, and so I love *that*.

  • bubbarayearl

    Well said! Personally I believe religion is the problem, God is the answer.

    • Tina Rowley

      Thanks! I have lots of respect for what religion can provide, and I’m even jealous of anyone who’s found one that hits the spot, but I’m with you that the moon is more important than the finger pointing to it, as it were.

  • Laurie Young

    held my breath reading the exacting way you describe what happened to both of us, being very young and sexually abused by a “close family member.” I’ve tried to write about it many times, but never got it so right as you have here. Wonderful writing (as they say, personal and universal.) : )

    • Tina Rowley

      Hi Laurie,

      I feel very glad that this expressed something for you, too, though of course I wish it didn’t need to. Many thanks!

  • Kirsty Hammond

    What a beautiful piece! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

    • Tina Rowley

      So appreciated, Kirsty.

  • What a fabulous piece! I’ve found it so difficult to describe my own spiritual philosophy, and I love your idea of spirituality as returning to yourself, and whatever divinity may be connected to that. Thank you for touching on this subject in such a beautiful manner.

    • Tina Rowley

      Thank you so much, Kerry. 🙂

  • First ^_^