What the Heck is Spirituality?

Am I the only person who thinks spirituality is an overused word? I love the English language, so I hate to see when a word is applied so frequently it becomes vague and meaningless. Second, I dislike the connotation that spirituality is universally good.

Spirituality, according to Wikipedia, the most infallible of sources, is:

Spirituality is matters of the spirit, a concept tied to a spirit world, a multidimensional reality and one or more deities. … Spirituality implies the mind-body dichotomy, which indicates a separation between the body and soul.

However, the word spirituality is used frequently to mean: life purpose, meaning, a personal philosophy, ethics, deeper relationships and connection with nature. Often it is used without illustrating something specific, as a feel-good word.

Life Purpose and Laundry


One reason I dislike the concept of spirituality is that it creates an artificial division between so-called higher and lower pursuits in life. I don’t separate my life purpose from doing the laundry. Either everything works together or it doesn’t, so I object to creating an artificial category in your life where things are deemed more worthwhile than necessities of life.

For me, making money, folding laundry and consuming food are just as important to deriving meaning in my life as anything else. Without them, I would starve to death, broke and covered in dirty laundry. How is that supposed to contribute to the meaning I draw from life?

You can’t separate ends from means. That means you can’t be a spiritual person one day of the week and a greedy liar on the other six. If you don’t like how you make money, you can’t compensate for that by meditating in your off hours.

Either everything works together or it doesn’t. If it does work together, why use the category of spirituality at all, since every component is of a perfect machine? If it doesn’t work together, then creating a separate category only hides this fact.

Ghosts, Fairies and Other Beliefs

Spirituality implies a mind-body dichotomy, often implying forces and entities that exist outside the realm of scientific speculation. I’m not here to comment on those beliefs. Frankly, if you believe in them, my article isn’t going to change your mind, so I won’t try.

I simply dislike that belief in improbable entities is somehow more noble than disbelief. The word spirituality has positive connotation, which implies that strict materialists who believe Descartes was soundly defeated on the issue over 300 years ago, have a negative connotation. I completely disagree.

As I’ve tried arguing: atheism is not a life philosophy devoid of meaning or intrinsic rewards. It’s simply a different philosophy. The word spirituality has become tied in with concepts of life meaning, appreciation of nature and staying present in the moment. However, all of those things are still available even if you don’t believe in angels and a collective consciousness.

Being Completely Unspiritual

If you do consider yourself a spiritual person, then do what works for you. I’m not really out to convert anyone, both because I think it’s a waste of time, and because I’m not arrogant enough to believe my life philosophy is for everyone.

However, if you’re like me, surrounded by people telling you to be more “spiritual” and it doesn’t feel right, just say no. Don’t apologize for a lack of faith. There are many approaches to life so don’t be bullied by a word with so many meanings it has become meaningless.

  • Miki

    Spirituality is overused – it’s one of those buzz words we hear so often. However, my view on spirituality does differs from yours…

    To me, spirituality is our connection with our soul, our higher self (God for many) and yes, humanity as a whole. Does that sound vague? Perhaps, and perhaps not. It’s a feeling, a way of being. It’s doesn’t necessarily imply spirits and angels, although it could. Sprirituality can mean different things to different people.

    You have an interesting mind Scott. Have I said that before? You commented that everything either works together or doesn’t – very insightful. It’s true but many don’t recognize that.

    It’s refreshing to see an open dialogue with different opinions.

  • Kris

    “I simply dislike that belief in improbable entities is somehow more noble than disbelief.”

    Exactly. Maybe “spiritual” people want more company? I’m all for meditation (previously called “thinking” or “relaxing”), but I don’t think people have to have faith in any unknowable/invisible thing to be worthy. Actually, I think it often makes people more superstitious and dangerous.

    The speaker in this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v… says people say they’re religious when they believe in Jesus because they don’t want to go to hell, and they say they’re spiritual when they believe in Jesus because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy.

  • Positively Present

    I’m totally on the same page as you — everything has to work together and if you aren’t super spiritual you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. It doesn’t mean you are any less than those who consider themselves extremely spiritual.

  • Felicity

    I see your point.
    I don’t think being spiritual is inherently better than not being spiritual. To me, it is a vague word that describes an interest in things that we may not know about, maybe outside the physical plane, or within the physical plane but sort of… a meta thing, involving life meaning and philosophy and all that stuff.
    I describe myself as sometimes spiritual. It’s just sort of how I am. I like to say I have “suspicions” about the universe.
    I do see it used a lot to mean “I’m religious but not super dogmatic about it.” Which may or may not be true, depending on your definition of dogmatic. 🙂 I like to use it to mean, I’m interested in certain questions religion addresses, but I am definitely outside the trappings of organized religion.

  • TessM

    Fabulous and well-stated. Couldn’t agree more with your article and especially the parts that Kris highlighted. Also I like your point that pushing one’s own spiritual view onto others is arrogant, which I have always felt is true.

  • sansrid

    Yeah. Even I had my share of uncertainty in the meaning about the word!

    Your post enriched my perspective about the understanding of the word.

    My take on it now:

    If one is working in congruence with Mind (Intelligence & Intuition), Body & Soul, then that person is a spiritual person. Be it a small task or small chunk of a bigger task!

    This cover many other [spiritual :)] concepts like – being in the moment, being at peace, doing what you desire, learning & sharing ideas to enrich yourself and others, etc.

    The way I see it, all of us are trying to be spiritual and no one is truly spiritual. May be there are some times in life where we take action which is in total congruence and at that time, we are spiritual.

    Thanks scott!! Your blogs have been my knowledge source, motivation & inspiration for many weeks now!!

  • Anthony

    Interesting post.

  • Brenton

    Personally I believe being spirituality has NOTHING to do with being religious – the two are mutually exclusive. To me to be spiritual is to be more in touch with yourself, your ideals and the world around you or like Scott once said, to be “Arete” and completely in the NOW.

    I kind of drifted away from mainstream religions and what I believe now would probably have gotten me burned at the stake – or worse castrated, if it was the 1600’s. Anyway, everybody has the right to believe what they want I would say.

    Just a minor note however Scott, there are many things science can’t explain (yet), which is why they make up theories to explain it. We can’t physical measure or detect gravity (but we can calculate it – calculate and physically measure is two different things however), does that make it not exist either? Also current science says that nothing can go faster than light, but we sped up light using magnetic fields so it exits a crystal before it enters it! Just a thought…

    Btw Scott, what do you believe about death? Is it the end or maybe just a change of pace? I’m not talking about the Heaven and Hell crap, but some extension of the mind beyond death since right now our minds are just sparks of electricity anyway.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments guys!


    I’m open to the possibility that death won’t be the end. However, I operate my life with the assumption that it is.


  • John

    I don’t know if I am spiritual or not… The definition is just too vague for me … I guess I am not spiritual, but perhaps I am but I don’t know it.

  • Aurooba Ahmed

    Funny you should post this the very day I listen to Steve Pavlina’s podcast ‘Beyond Religion’, if you haven’t already heard it, I definitely recommend that you do. You could say that he was being spiritual. I completely agree with you that everything has to be congruent and aligned. Mind, body, heart, and spirit. I also agree with many of the commenters on the fact that to me spirituality is about getting in touch with yourself and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with deities, angels and other such thing. Spirituality is one of those words that everyone defines differently. So you may call yourself unspiritual, but perhaps another person may take a look at your lifestyle, your beliefs, and opinions, and conclude quite the opposite. Just a thought. =) Cheers!

  • Steve Calm

    i believe that wikipedia is overated… Osho used to say on lectures about meditation that trying to force yourself into it by several positions is what separates the mind body connection and makes you nearly a schizo… of course i agree with most of your article but in my humble opinion collective unconsciousness maybe just a matter of science which hasn’t been on any paper yet and doesn’t require any belief to an Almighty God. Thanx for all your writing, it’s really inspiring and i hope that you dont misunderstand my “criticism”..

    yours etc..

  • Mark Lapierre

    It seems to me that many people use the word spirituality to describe experiences and phenomena which they don’t have the language or (self)awareness to describe more accurately. Or don’t have any interest in doing so (which is fine). Spiritual experiences are often simply diffuse physical sensations imbued with emotion and a sense of meaning.

    The vagueness of the term lets us apply it to anything. Everyone is always spiritual in some form. That universality renders it objectively meaningless, as you said, Scott. It’s interesting to listen to people discuss spiritual concepts and to parcel out the claims which have relevance to anyone but the speaker. Invariably almost nothing of substance is found, except stories. That’s not a bad thing, except where the stories distort reality in a way which is harmful.

  • Scott Young


    Apparently nobody is picking up on my mild sarcasm, re wikipedia…


  • Darin

    “One reason I dislike the concept of spirituality is that it creates an artificial division between so-called higher and lower pursuits in life. I don’t separate my life purpose from doing the laundry.”

    I don’t think you believe that. You don’t really believe pursuing laundry has the same value as pursuing virtue. If you did then I don’t understand the reason this blog exists. Your sub title “Get More From Life” seems to imply certain things offer more than others. I realize you could argue that you get more by putting all the things, supposed lower and higher, in proper balance. However, by the very nature of suggesting a proper balance you are saying there are things that are essential.

    For instance, what if I want to do laundry, eat, sleep, and then watch TV with all my remaining hours, can that get me “more from life” if its what I find valuable. Based on your quest for personal improvement that doesn’t seem to be a take you would agree with. So that would imply you believe certain areas of personal virtue are critical to getting more from life and they are things you must undertake yourself. I doubt you would argue that doing your laundry personally would be essential if you could afford to pay someone else to do it. Yet paying someone else to do your “virtue” doesn’t provide you any “more from life” because its a higher pursuit.

  • Brenton

    Good point Scott.

    We all should live life for the now and not an uncertain here-after because the now is all we really control over.

    I wouldn’t say the overuse of a word makes it meaningless, but the misuse of it. Like for example many people use “sarcastic” when they actually mean “ironic” and vice versa. Going on the definition, I’ve been misusing spirituality myself, but I personally blame Oprah 😛

    Btw Darin, I believe we’re all free to decide what is valuable in our lives or what is of higher or lower pursuit in our lives. There is no real guidelines on this and it’s all down to what we decide. I think that is what Scott was trying to say. That in the end it’s up to us to decide, not something ‘outside’ of us. If it’s important to you, do it. If not, don’t.

  • Valentino

    Hi Scott, I’m curious: what do you think about the bright movement?
    It something like a re-formulation of the atheism in a positive way.


  • Krishna

    Hi Steve

    I have been downloading and reading your articles for some time now. YOu are very well read and have a bright Mind, and for a very young person with so much achievement you are still very humble, these are rare qualities in a human being. All this indicates to a soul looking for the meaning of life or something more to do in life.

    You Mention “For me, making money, folding laundry and consuming food are just as important to deriving meaning in my life as anything else. Without them, I would starve to death, broke and covered in dirty laundry. How is that supposed to contribute to the meaning I draw from life?”

    To answer this I would suggest you read some of the writings of the Indian Saint – Ramana Maharashi – who simplified spirituality by asking only one Simple Question – “Who Am I ” – Am I a son of so & so, Am i the Husband of my wife, am I the ego self or this human body which is born and will die, Am I the generator of my thoughts, where do these thoughts come from, am i creating, destroying or protecting the concepts, am i the actor or the director. Who am I?

    As we go deeper into our source of our thoughts we will find that we can do without a lot of things which lets us escape this give and take relationship that we have with life where we give our life and time to make money or do our laundry etc which is again done to fulfil some of our never ending needs and finally when we ask how much money do i need – we may put a figure there but managing that and protecting that from misuse or loss will become the main purpose of our life instead of enjoying the money. Hence money is a tool and to live a life but do we need it & can we live without it ?.

    If you can sincerely start asking the question “Who am I” and why am i born into this world, what learning should i get & where do i go from here i am sure you will find a more fulfilling life.

    None of This is Spirituality but only Self Enquiry which we do any way.
    I believe we are what we think and we think what we experience and we experience what we were supposed to or destined to go thru and as this chain goes on it comes back to the same question Who or What Am I?

    Do give this some thought, I am no expert in these matters but only a seeker looking for answers just as you are.

    All the best – Enjoy your Europe Trip.

    Best regards

  • sonya

    hi, just i want to notice that ,the way your guys call spiritual is :the meaning of word is divided in two human been and spiritual ,those spiritual people they have a possibility to go into human been inside them , they live a same life like us,they have a possibility to fly,they lissen god conversation with angels.please read about religions books every think is there .we are not alone in this planet .human been we are a stonges .
    thank you.

  • Matt

    The only reason I, an atheist, ever tell anyone I am ‘spiritual’ is to shut up religious people/hippies/spiritual people who think I am evil.

  • Nasreen

    I’m curious as to which philosophy courses you’ve taken. By that I don’t mean to imply that you aren’t educated in the matter, I just don’t know whose definitions you’re going by.

    Philosophy seems to be what you do on this website, so I curious as to which system of thought you follow. That’s basically what I’m asking.