What Is Spirituality?


The racist shootings in Charleston, South Carolina last week have torn my heart. What motivates anyone to kill fellow human beings? I don’t know the answers, but in the wake of such horror I find myself searching for comfort in community. At my family gathering this past weekend I joined a small discussion entitled, “What is Spirituality?”









The following images that emerged summarize my favorite definitions:

1. The braided way
2. The universal picnic blanket
3. Beyond the windows

Each connotes something larger.

For me, “The braided way” represents many strands of practice, faith and ritual.

“The universal picnic blanket” invites us to sit together and spread out the fruits of our hearts.

Beyond the windows is another universal. Pretend you are in a square building with a courtyard in the center. If you see mountains from your room to the west, and I see a river to the east, while my friend sees a desert to the north and a stranger sees a vast plain to the south, each of us might assume that ours is the only view. If we gather in the building’s courtyard, we could argue about what the world looks like beyond. But, if we stand outside the building on the green grass, we can all see each other’s vista.


There are many different views of spirituality. When we move outside our windows and walls we can see the mountains, river, dessert and plain, all of us together in the green pastures of love. This is my prayer.

What does spirituality mean to you?

This entry was posted in Eileen's Armchair and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to What Is Spirituality?

  1. Very touching essay, Eileen–& very useful images or metaphors. We’ve all been devastated by the horrific murders of innocents in Charleston, & I’ve been writing a lot about faith confronting this deep national scourge of entrenched racial hatred/terrorism. Will share some correspondence; was privileged to attend a Sundsy memorial service at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain & it was a powerful service & sermon, indeed. There were many Caucasian people there ‘in solidarity’ & I could not help tears at the warm welcome to us all by the pastors & congregation, with the horror of what had just happened 4 days before still so raw. THAT is the best face & heart of ‘spirituality’. Take care, keep writing your wonderful short essays, xx Diana

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Dear Diana, I enjoyed reading about your own coming together with people at the Bethel African Methodist church. I’m sure it was very moving. The more of this kind of thing the better, and hopefully in time it won’t take the loss of lives for us to continue to hold hands.

  2. Darrel Huenergardt says:

    Spirituality is an attitude that drives action. It is inclusive rather than exclusive. Spirituality is individual, but is exhibited in community. It may or may not be religiously motivated, but requires a strong involvement of charity, but not just charitable giving of money, but a giving of self. Selfless giving requires the recognition of the value of others, no matter how diffrent they re from me or how diffrent their belief system is from mine. It is more than just feeling good, but will lead to good feeling.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Darrel I love your definition; specifically the aspect of community and the recognition of the value of others. I believe that much of our troubles come from the devaluation of self. If it gets bad enough we have trouble seeing value in the lives of others. Thank you for bringing this to the fore, and in acknowledging the value selfless giving to others, no matter how different they are from us.

  3. I like your prayer Eileen and would add that when we step outside we can truly SEE each other. I too am torn by the horrific events in Charleston and the confusion and hatred some are blinded by.
    Spirituality for me is having regard and respect for life itself and all of its inhabitants; I also believe in something beyond ourselves that links life itself together into an interconnected and beautiful tapestry. Thank your for today’s post–very important!

  4. Hi Eileen, It is impressive that someome organized a discussion about spirituality at your family gathering and that you emerged with images that helped provide definitions. While I “believe” that spirituality implies understanding good, evil, acceptance, understanding of human nature, etc.. One has to be versed in grasping moral complexities and the fuzziness of colloquialisms that damage people. “Hate” is a heavy word, when a gun is behind it. “Crazy” is another word that is damaging, especially for women who have slaved with injustices for so long.
    If “we the people” can help by taking care of our own life and our family, we have contributed to making society a better place. If “we” can help clothe, feed and care for those in need, we are with more strength than the average person who works for a living.The more people talk and help, the better life will be. SHAREHOLDERS have to be responsible to its employees, too–it works… I hurt too much from irresponsible SHAREHOLDERS–needless…

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Yes, we each hold a share of the value of life, whether it is in being financially responsible or socially or emotionally responsible. You set such a good example, Louise, with the many ways you give to others. May it be returned to you in spades.

  5. Tonja Ali says:

    I’ve never been a ritualistic or religious person. I remember my aunt Juanita teaching me to pray The Lord’s Prayer when I was little. Juanita was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 9. After brain surgery, doctors said she wouldn’t live past 16. She transitioned last year at the age of 58.

    I recall how long she would stay on her knees praying every night. She did this until her tumor resurfaced and caused her to be restricted to her bed and unable to speak or eat for the last two years of her life.

    But it was evident that there was something far beyond “religion” that kept my aunt alive.
    And it couldn’t have been just the Lord’s Prayer that kept her on her knees that long. (SMILE).

    At age 12, I stopped reciting the Lord’s Prayer and just started talking to God from the sincerity and pure intention of my heart. Then I would get silent and wait for Him to talk back from within me. I wanted more than what I felt religion could offer. I wanted what my aunt Juanita seemed to have: intimacy with THE SPIRIT & POWER.
    I think that’s what spirituality is – intimacy with the spirit that dwells within & without.
    Thank you for mindfulness!

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      It’s fascinating to me how many ways there are to connect to Spirit. Your Aunt Juanita must appears to have been a powerful influence in your life. You are lucky to have known her. May her example continue to shine through you.

  6. Phyll says:

    A temple
    Lives in our hearts.


    All included
    None refuted
    Bathed in harmony.

    Just Right.


    The world at peace.


    • eileenrockefeller says:

      I love this Phyll. Thank you for sharing your poetry. It is sweet and refreshing to read.

  7. May I suggest that we take a life of another out of fear: fear for our immediate physical safety, or fear that there is only one way to live, one way to look, one way to think. We cling to those beliefs like clutching the edge of a cliff with our fingers as our feet dangle below. For some, to accept any other way of being is to risk losing our grip and falling into the abyss.

    In his book, “The Faith Instinct,” Nicholas Wade posits that our ancient brain is wired for spirituality. The it was spirituality that assure our survival, that gave us “rules” to live by as we first came to live in community as hunter/gatherers. Natural selection assure that those who could be spiritual would survive, as without community, without rules to commune, we could not survive. Wade goes on to speak eloquently of spirituality/faith being a two edged sword: it can bring the world to together as we accept the universality of love, or it can be used to control with fear of “The Other,” often with unspeakable evil the result.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Thanks for sharing the Nicholas Wade book, “The Faith Instinct,” Randy. It sounds right on point. And yes, I do think that fear plays a large part in destructive behaviors. What would it be like to live without fear? To live in the present, as the past is behind us and the future has not yet come? I’m not talking about ignoring either, but noticing when they start to take over our minds, and intrude on the present moment. Example, if we are tired, don’t make a story up about how we shouldn’t be; just carve out some time to rest and see what happens next!

  8. De Azevedo Patricia. says:

    Pour moi la spiritualité n’est pas un système religieux ou une philosophie culturelle.
    Contrairement à ce que nous pensons, nous ne sommes pas constitués que de chair et d’os.
    Nous sommes avant tout vibration et énergie.
    Pour moi la terre est un être porteur de vie qui donne la vie et qui vie et cet être vivant souffre de tout le mal qu’on lui inflige et de nous en éloigner de plus en plus créer un déséquilibre et fait que notre mental notre physique et plan émotionnel ne sont plus alignés sur la fréquence vibratoire de la terre.
    De ce fait nous ressentons du stresse nous avons un mal être et une rupture qui qui nous fait perdre confiance et nous rendent malades.
    Aujourd’hui tout n’est que violence que ce soit dans les films la musique les jeux vidéo les informations on nous montre plus rien de positif et de beau de ce fait notre conscient ne voit plus que ça et dans notre subconscient tout s’imprime comme sur un disque dur et il finit que notre spiritualité est au plus bas et notre âme ne s’élève plus.
    En ce qui me concerne je trouve de la spiritualité dans la nature avec les animaux en particulier avec mes chiens qui sont les amours de ma vie en écoutent de la musique classique par exemple le messie de Haendel ou de passer des bons moments avec les personnes qui me sont chères.
    Je pense que beaucoup de gens s’éloignent de toutes ces valeurs fondamentales car pour ma part je pense qu’après la mort sur le plan divin il n’y a plus de différence de couleur de peau de religion et classe sociale donc je trouve très malheureux que de notre vivent il puisse y avoir autant de haine et de souffrance dans le monde cela est ma propre philosophie.

    For me, spirituality is not a religious system or a cultural philosophy.
    Contrary to what we think, we are not constituted as flesh and bone.
    We are primarily energy and vibration.
    For me the earth is a life-giving being who gives life and life and this living being suffers from all the evil inflicted on him and away we increasingly create an imbalance and that our mind our physical and emotionally are no longer aligned with the vibrational frequency of the earth.
    Therefore we feel the stress we have an evil being and a break that makes us lose confidence and make us sick.
    Today all is whether violence in movies music video games to the information we are shown nothing positive and good to do what our conscious does not see it and in our subconscious all prints as a hard disk and it ends that our spirituality is at its lowest and soul from rising more.
    As for me I find spirituality in nature with animals especially with my dogs that are the loves of my life in listening to classical music such as Handel’s Messiah or spend quality time with the people are dear to me.
    I think many people are moving away from these core values ​​because for my part I think that after the death of the divine plan there is no difference in skin color religion and social class so I find very unfortunate that we are living there may be as much hatred and suffering in the world this is my own philosophy.

  9. eileenrockefeller says:

    Thank you Patricia, for sharing your beautiful philosophy that we are all part of a Divine plan. I believe that our differences are a mirror of the beauty of diversity of life on Earth, given by the Divine. Our similarities are the great bridge of earth, water, air, and fire.

Comments are closed.