Spirit:  a supernatural being or essence: as in holy spirit, soul, ghost, or a malevolent being that enters and possesses a human being

It is common to think of the spirit and/or soul as something beyond nature, something separate from our physical selves.  But if our spirit is our essence, can it truly be supernatural?  Even if it can exist separate from a body or within different bodies as necessary, does that mean it exists outside the realm of nature?

I think not.

Still, if we consider the spirit as something that isn’t tied to our physical being, something which can, indeed, exist after our bodies are gone, what does that mean for spirituality?  Does it necessarily shift the focus of spiritual life to our post-death future rather than our current existence?  

Again, I think not.  Even if there is a life beyond this one, we are still meant to live this one.  Truly live it, not just use it as time to wait and wonder about the next, not to throw it away in hopes that the next life is a second chance or a perfect reward.


Spirit:  an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms

If the spirit is what gives us life, then spirituality is really focused on what it means to be a living being.  What makes us alive?  What animates us?  What makes us do what we do, think the way we think, and feel the way we feel?

Using this definition, it would seem that spiritual pursuits should be those things which make us more alive, more vital, more animated.  Our spiritual life should be made up of those things which drive us, motivate us, and enrich our lives.  

And all of those things which life enables us to do then become sacred in a way.  Our spirit gives us capabilities as living beings, and to be spiritual is to celebrate and elevate those capabilities.  In fact, it could be argued that traditions which ask us to limit what we do, to avoid fully exploring and reveling fully in what life allows us to experience, is counter to spiritual development.

Spirit:  the nonphysical part of a person regarded as a person’s true self and as capable of surviving physical death or separation

(above definition from OxfordDictionaries.com)

In part one, it was posited that spirituality involved activities meant to shape the spirit and soul, building character and managing emotions.  Here, the definition adds two more elements: the idea of the true self, and the persistence of the soul or spirit apart from the body.

First, the idea of the spirit as the true self is interesting, especially paired with the concept that this true self can be shaped through spirituality.  Certainly science tells us that some parts of us are either unchangeable or very hard to change.   But undoubtedly we can’t claim that our personality and character is entirely unchangeable.  Therapists and psychiatrists would be out of work if that were true.

As for the persistence of the soul past death, the jury is still out on that.  But whether there is a part which remains in coherent form somewhere or not, the impact we have on those around us does last past our lifespan and is most definitely determined by how our spirit shapes our actions and interactions.  

Spirit: the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character; the soul

(above definition from OxfordDictionaries.com)

Essentially, by this definition the soul and the spirit are the same thing.  I think that is up for debate, but I think it is reasonable to bundle them together when it comes to defining the scope of spirituality.  If the spirit and soul are the parts of us which produce our emotions and character, spirituality therefore is a focus on those activities which develop our character and help us manage our emotions.  

Whether or not you believe that there is some supernatural element to existence, the activities included in one’s spiritual life invariably fit the above description.  We seek to develop our character, to shape our actions, to guide our decisions according to a purpose which reaches beyond our physical existence.  Part of spirituality is trying to figure out the rules and traditions which will shape us into virtuous and stable people.