Much debate about the nature of spirituality has occurred for centuries. Spirituality can mean many things in popular usage, and is often understood differently by different people. In general, the term appears to denote approaches to discovering, experiencing, and living out the implications of an authentic human life.
Let us now consider the different aspects of spirituality –
#1. Spirituality is innate
Consensus is reported in the literature for spirituality being posited at the heart of human experience, and it being experienced by everyone. Not only is it believed that “each individual has spiritual needs”, but also it is claimed that “human spirituality in a very real sense…unifies the whole person” and is “an inbuilt feature of the human species that develops from the beginning of an individual‟s life (or not) depending on [prevailing] conditions”. Spirituality can thus be seen as a fundamental, vital component of being human.
#2. Spirituality is emotive
The notion of spirituality is emotive. It touches people’s hearts because it deals with the very essence of being. It is important for people in positions of influence to remember that they cannot be neutral, or value-free, but must try to be objective in examining the concepts of spirituality and spiritual health, especially as they relate to young people.
#3. Spirituality and religion
A variety of opinion prevails on the nature of any relationship between spirituality and religion. Some people equate spirituality with religious activity, or use the words interchangeably whereas others believe this assumption is not valid. Some people discuss commonalities between spirituality and religion, as well as differences. This is another way of saying that although spirituality and religiosity are often used interchangeably, they are distinct, if overlapping, constructs. Three polarizations between views are held by behavioral scientists, differentiating spirituality and religion. Some people argue that spirituality is subsumed by religion, whereas others see religion as one dimension of spirituality. The view that “religiosity can but does not necessarily include spirituality”, is countered by one that claims, “Outstanding spiritual leaders developed most religions”. Rather simplistically speaking, Horsburgh maintains that religion focuses on ideology and rules (of faith and belief systems), whereas spirituality focuses on experience and relationships which go beyond religion. “A relationship to the sacred or transcendent” is included in one definition of spirituality. Taking this broader view, Seaward asserts that spirituality involves “connection to a divine source whatever we call it”.
A number of authors have followed a humanistic line of thinking by providing attempts at defining secular spirituality as spirituality without any need for a religious/God component. Many supporters of the notion of evolutionary psychology fail to distinguish between “spiritual awareness as a natural phenomenon [i.e., innate] and religion as a belief system”, which is enculturated through family, education and community. This kaleidoscope of viewpoints illustrates how people‟s worldviews and beliefs can influence their understanding of spirituality.
#4. Subjectivity of spirituality
Spirituality has been seen as personal, or subjective, lacking much of the objective nature considered necessary for its investigation via the scientific method. But, science can neither affirm nor deny metaphysical issues, such as spirituality, any more than it can aesthetics. Proponents of science, those who exalt the scientific method to the unholy status of “science = truth”, tend to dismiss spirituality, claiming it cannot be studied through current scientific methodology. However, “If we can accept concepts such as self-worth, self-esteem, and self-actualization, then it should be legitimate to explore…spirituality, for these concepts are equally as intangible as spirituality”. If the view is taken that the use of the five physical senses and the empirical way of knowing is the only true science, then much of logic, mathematics, reason and psychology have no place in science. To focus too much on the sensory realm, and, from a spiritual perspective, to reduce a person to mere matter, is a classic example of mistaking substance for essence. In order to balance an over-emphasis on the subjectivity of spirituality, Thatcher argued that there is a “crippling price to pay for misidentification of spirituality as inwardness” and we need to go beyond the inner search to fully understand spirituality.
#5. Spirituality is dynamic
“The spirit is dynamic. It must be felt before it can be conceptualized”. In keeping with this view, terms like “spiritual growth‟ and “development‟ are used to express the vibrant nature of spirituality. A person’s spiritual health can be perceived to be high or low. If it is static, there is neither growth nor development, nor spiritual life. The spiritual quest is like being on a journey: If you think you’ve arrived, you haven’t yet begun, or you are dead.