spiritual language

a while ago we talked about the lack of scripts for talking about mental illness (at least in “polite society”), and before that we had a conversation about how uncomfortable it can be to engage in peaceful communication.  and now evan took up the topic the other day and asked how can we talk about our spiritual experience?

“i find it hard to talk about spirituality,” he says.  which is interesting: spirituality is a much talked-about topic, especially on the internet.  so what’s the problem?  let me attempt to summarize evan’s ideas:

we don’t share a widely understood language, notwithstanding the fact that many different religions are represented, from christian to buddhist to new age.  in the media, these languages appear side by side, almost as flavours to go shopping for.  this is very different from the experience of spirituality, which, to name but a few,  can go to the depths of who we are, can mean “waking up” or “dying and being re-born”, or can have a feeling of inevitability – very different from shopping.

the wide variety of languages that can be found can also be beneficial; we now have the opportunity to talk to people from many spiritual traditions, even those who have none.

we need to represent our spiritual experiences, with poetic and academic words, with images, with sound – and we will probably be telling our spiritual stories for a long while before we will start understanding the language.  we will need to become sympathetic and respectful listeners and viewers and doers. our language will need to stay close to our experience.

this is different from religion, which has often been presented in terms of intellectual belief. this leaves out much of our experience: the delights of the senses, the connecting with others through emotion, moments of transcendence and intimacy …

evan finishes the post with this:

this post i hope is just a preliminary. i would like to hear about your spiritual experiences and whether these experiences have led you to any particular tradition; have you drawn on various different traditions, or even formulated your own? what aspects of your life do you regard as spiritual? are there some parts of your life that you don’t see as spiritual?

i am curious about that, too.  before we go on to exploring this, i thought it would also be interesting to go back to the two posts i mentioned at the beginning and see whether some of the commenters have ideas that may apply to spirituality.

make it positive

alexander zoltai suggested framing things in positive terms.  so perhaps rather than saying “it’s difficult to talk about spirituality” we could say “discussing spirituality is new for me and i’m excited about experimenting with different ways of talking about it.”

avoid labels

evan himself had the idea of avoiding labels.  instead of mentioning the catch word spirituality or words like god, church, prayer, etc. one could describe the actual experience.  “the other day i went for this beautiful walk; the leaves were of all conceivable shades of red, gold and brown, the sky was blue, the air was fresh and clean; it just made me so happy and grateful to be there right at that moment!”

do we really need to talk?  how about listening?

listening is something that ian from quantum learning said is important: “listen for what sits under the words of others”.  talking is about communication.  communication is as much, or more, about listening as it is about speaking.  listening closely to what the other has to say, or wants to say, may give us clues about how to engage with them regarding spirituality.  or it may just end up being that listening to them will be our spiritual experience.

choose who you talk to

sandy said that in connection with talking about mental illness it “takes quite a bit of getting to know someone before they’ll own that their life has a problem.”  in my experience, they same holds true regarding spirituality.  maybe that takes us back to listening again.  through listening we form relationships, relationships that may then be ripe for a discussion of spiritual experiences.

yet another commenter wrote that it feels good to share such experiences with others who have been there themselves.

using the written word

marie said “having a blog that brazenly describes what is going on with me ‘in secret’ is helpful. i write under a pen name; but when i want to share that side of me with someone in my 3D world, i can simply point them to my blog.”  this reminds me of a minister i was once friends with.  we could talk about a gazillion things but not about spiritual matters – for that we needed the framework of the pulpit, from which he spoke most movingly.

just keep talking

another commenter recounted that the only way he achieved a well enough state to have nice conversation as well s complete wellness was by continuously talking.  so here the advice would be to just keep on talking, no matter what.  this goes with what another commenter mentioned, namely that it’s important to remember that when we are afraid of judgment by others for talking about “strange” subjects, it often comes from being afraid to be judged my ourselves.   not everyone will understand, and that’s ok.

what do you think?  how can we talk about spirituality?


  1. Hi, Isabella –

    I really like your last point — that, often, our uncomfortable-ness about speaking about religion and spirituality comes from the fact we are afraid of being judged. Maybe this is the crux of the difference in religion and spirituality . . .

    Let me borrow from something I wrote in response to a comment left on my blog:

    “For me, I believe that religion is more about a group of people bringing their beliefs in alignment with each others’ and with some instrument of record (like the Bible) – it seems to be more about the community. I believe that spirituality is more about the unique experience of the individual – something that is more private.

    “I would have to say that, in childhood, I was dogmatically religious. Then, when I entered adulthood, I moved away from that and became more spiritually aware – I defined (and am still defining) my concept of and relationship with my higher power – and it is something I do in private . . . and it often involves studying the path others have taken while on the same type of journey.

    “In this quest, I don’t feel like I have to justify or bring my beliefs in alignment with anyone else’s beliefs – I feel like it is between only me and my higher power.”

    So . . . I’m wondering . . . if I feel fear of being judged (by others or by myself), is it because I am not yet confident of the validity of my own belief system and feel it will not stand up to the scrutiny of others. In other words, if I am confident in my own belief system, I will likely not care if others agree with me or not. (Spirituality)

    However, if I feel pressure to conform to the belief system of a community, then it is reasonable to fear judgment from the members of that community. It becomes about how well I fit into the community rather than how confident I am in my own belief system. (Religion)

    Maybe it serves me well to only look to myself and to my higher power for approval. And, in that context, I do not need to concern myself about the alignment of others’ beliefs with mine because it is none of my business – which makes it easier for me to listen with an open mind as others speak of their beliefs. I can have an open mind because I have no reason to judge the other person’s beliefs as “in alignment” or “out of alignment” with mine, and no reason to pressure the other person to change his or her beliefs.

    So . . . there is my two cents worth . . . LOL

    – Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)
    .-= Marie´s last blog ..Reader Input: Trigger warnings =-.

  2. This is a really great post, I agree with all that you said Isabella, and Evan. I actually wrote a longer reply on my views in addressing the issue, but realised it was just the same as what you and all the others have said!

    Words/ labels are highly subjective and can be interpreted by people in many different ways, it is the experience which needs to be brought to the people, of spiritual upliftment.. then they can find their own ways of accessing this emotion in them once they experience it..

    I keep a pen name as well, as the person who commented on marie’s blog.. and the main reason is because I belong to a certain religion with followers who have rigid beliefs – and though I believe the beliefs are all true, it’s just that some people see them with a very limited perspective, and anyone who steps out of the dominant thought pattern and sees them in a new Light, may be considered as deviant.. Thus I was in fear of being judged, mainly by people I know.

    Glad I came across this post! Peace to all =)..
    .-= mystic´s last blog ..Remember… =-.

  3. @marie, thanks for your thoughtful comment. what arises for me as i read this is the question of community as a spiritual place, a sacred place. in buddhism we have the concept of “sangha” (a buddhist community) as one of the “three jewels” (the other two being buddha and dharma, the latter being the buddhist teachings). i guess the problem is that community consists of people, and people will almost invariably bring not only love, compassion and warmth but also competition, fears and judgment. is being a solitary practitioner the answer? hard to say.

    @mystic thanks for your comment! what you said about words being subjective is so important. if we could just always keep that in mind …
    .-= isabella mori´s last blog ..swans on a wordless wednesday =-.

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