Let’s Get Together

I think an oft-ignored aspect of our spiritual lives is how our beliefs shape our choices, especially when it comes to careers or important hobbies.  And it’s not just that our beliefs preclude or encourage certain activities, though that is usually a factor.  It’s also a matter of groups of people with similar convictions spending time together and aligning themselves.  The more time you spend with a group of people, the more likely you are to begin doing and believing similar things.

I actually think that, for me, that pattern has occurred in reverse (which is also probably fairly common).  As someone with a decidedly solitary spiritual practice, it is my social circle which has helped expose me to spiritual ideas and, therefore, influenced the direction my path has taken.

Interestingly enough, I think this has occurred more since I stopped participating in organized religion than it ever did before.  Perhaps it’s an indicator of how deeply your spiritual life has become part of your existence, how deeply those beliefs resonate with you at a soul level.

Or maybe it’s just because we have a need for community, for connection.  If our practice is solitary, perhaps we are more likely to seek like-minded companionship in other areas of our lives.  In other words, maybe the extent to which we find ourselves gravitating to activities and pastimes shared by others with similar beliefs is a matter of needing that community support but not wanting the interference of others in our spirituality.



All By Myself

One of the biggest challenges about being on an undefined spiritual path is that you end up essentially alone on that path.  While I have a lot of people in my life who I consider like-minded and extremely knowledgable, their paths are not precisely the same as mine.  When I’m down to the real substantive part of my spiritual life, I’m in it alone.  

Because of that, I would say this particular path isn’t for everyone.  That’s not because it’s particularly lonely or difficult to practice alone — most spiritual traditions encompass some element of personal observance and practice.  Solitary prayer and study are parts of just about every religious tradition out there.  

But most traditions also have the social elements, the public roles to play for those who wish to play them.  There are gatherings and services, leaders and those who contribute as featured participants in rituals.  When I was in the church with my family as a kid, I was expected to attend two services on Sunday and one on Wednesday, plus summer events and special holiday services.  I chose to sing in choirs and play the organ.  My siblings led groups and taught Sunday School classes.  Those events and roles are important parts of spiritual expression and development to a lot of people, and when you’re going off the beaten path they simply don’t exist.

On the other hand, for some people this solitary, off-the-beaten-path form of spirituality is enticing.  Where there are events and roles to play there is also pressure to participate.  Not everything asked of you in an established, community-based spiritual practice will be within your personal comfort zone.  I remember being asked to lead prayers without warning, which was definitely beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone.  Practicing alone allows you to build your spiritual traditions well within your comfortable boundaries. 

I admit, I do sometimes miss that opportunity to be a valued participant in a spiritual community.  On the other hand, without a well-defined spiritual tradition, the idea of a spiritual community can be extended to include a lot of things.  For instance, although I don’t share specific practices and beliefs with everyone there, participating in a pagan discussion group fills part of that missing space for me.  Finding extensions of my practice in the form of charitable work or community activities which are expressions of my spiritual goals and values also result in finding roles to play within groups.  

At the same time, the freedom to write my own practice, to do my own study and come to my own conclusions is immensely more spiritually satisfying than my previous spiritual lives have ever been.  

In the end, if our spirituality is really all about nurturing that part of ourselves which seeks to understand and create and connect, the extent to which we balance communal practice with solitary practice is a matter of personal determination.  We don’t all need the same things, and we don’t all thrive in the same environments.  Our minds and hearts aren’t inspired by the same experiences, and it is those experiences we should be seeking in our spiritual lives.