Meaning, Purpose, Connection: what does spiritual mean to you?

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I know the word spiritual is hard for some people. Replace it with inspirational if you prefer. I’m persisting with it because I believe that spiritual aspects of life and resilience will become more vital for most of us in the years ahead as turbulence grows. I’ve chosen three qualities which define spiritual for me:

  • Meaning: our sense of meaning in our own life, and the world in general, is badly eroded by the power of fake news and social media. To find meaning, we have to use our intention and seek meaning at a higher, non-material level: and this includes the meaning of suffering.
  • Purpose: in a market economy, it’s sadly understandable that we’re constantly exposed to messages persuading us that we and our lives are pointless unless we buy Brand X. The best antidote is to find a higher purpose, one which inspires you and serves more than material needs.
  • Connection: consider how your ways of connecting have changed in the past 5-10 years: probably more online shopping and messaging, and less face-to-face contacts. Probably your life is more full of technical connections, information, stuff, but maybe less connections with people, Nature, purpose and meaning? For me, a main part of my spiritual life is intentionally feeling the connections between life of all kinds, a sense of fellowship which I find very nourishing and meaningful.

William Bloom is one of the best UK teachers in this field. His books include The Power of Modern Spirituality. In 2015 he started an educational charity, Spiritual Companions Trust, which now has the first fully accredited UK course in this area: a Diploma in practical spirituality and wellness. This course is being delivered in seven venues across the UK in 2018. SCT’s website lists a number of spiritual companions who can help to support individuals on their spiritual journey. The website also lists a number of resources, with some useful videos and a booklist. See more at www.spiritualcompanions.org.

William believes, as I do, that one’s spiritual beliefs need not have any connection with organised religion. He describes three behaviours at the heart of all spiritual paths, whether or not these fit within a named tradition:
- Connection – with the wonder and energy of life.
- Reflection – on one’s life and actions, and how to change and improve.
- Service – a clear sense of what is right and what is wrong, and acting so as to do good for others.

There are plenty of role models and teachers of spiritual resilience. For example, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu have lived through repeated traumas both personally and in their homelands, but meet life hopefully, as in their Book of Joy. Malala Yousafzai, the Afghan girl shot by Taliban is another inspiring example.

If you’d like to explore further the spiritual dimension of resilience and life generally, here are three more sources which have helped me:

  1. The writings of American eco-philosopher Thomas Berry, who highlights the importance of dreams (visions of hope), and of changing our myths or prevailing beliefs. He highlights the amazing creative wisdom of Gaia, Planet Earth, in evolving through repeated crises, and the need for humans to align and connect with this. See more at www.thomasberry.org.
  2. Deep ecology, a process created by Joanna Macy, drawing from Native American and Buddhist sources. She believes that most people are pushed into denial and inertia because they can’t process their pain and despair about the state of the Earth. Deep ecology is a powerful way to do this, and involves the support of a group as a key element. See more at www.workthatreconnects.org.
  3. Using deeper ways to learn from Nature, and in Nature. Processes connecting us with the wildness and wisdom of Nature can be a powerful source of new insights and motivation. See more at www.naturalhappiness.net.

My intention for 2018 to be more open about the spiritual aspects of my approach to life, will in some way be reflected in all my events next year, but particularly in the first one: Spiritual Stewardship, February 2-4 at Hazel Hill Wood. I will also be exploring this in a 10-day holiday retreat day in Morocco in November: see more here...

For me, spiritual stewardship means pledging and caring for places, people and other resources in order to serve the highest good for all life, as best we can discern it. A crucial part of this approach is seeking to understand the needs, wisdom and growth path of the resources involved: for me, this is just as true for the wood and its wildlife as for people.

Much of my experience of spiritual stewardship has grown through Hazel Hill Wood, the 70-acre conservation woodland and retreat centre which I have helped to create since 1987. Most people who visit the wood feel that it has a really special, magical, atmosphere, more so than most woods. What they are feeling is, I believe, a result of the conscious spiritual stewardship of this place for over 20 years, which has mainly been led by myself and Agatha Manouche.

Agatha and I are both now at an age where we want to share our experience with others, and this weekend will be the first time that we have talked so openly about our approach. Our aim is to enable other people to develop their own spiritual stewardship for other places, teams or projects. To learn more about the weekend and how to book, click here...