Spirituality and “Inner” Life

By Vinod Wadhawan

I have come across many scientists who say: “I do not subscribe to any religion, but I am a spiritual person.” What exactly is spirituality? Here are a couple of definitions:

The term “spirituality” lacks a definitive definition, although social scientists have defined spirituality as the search for “the sacred,” where “the sacred” is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration. The use of the term “spirituality” has changed throughout the ages. In modern times, spirituality is often separated from Abrahamic religions, and connotes a blend of humanistic psychology with mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions aimed at personal well-being and personal development. The notion of “spiritual experience” plays an important role in modern spirituality, but has a relatively recent origin. (Wikipedia)

Photo: Alice Popkorn / Flickr.com

Photo: Alice Popkorn / Flickr.com

Spirituality means something different to everyone. For some, it’s about participating in organized religion: going to church, synagogue, a mosque, etc. For others, it’s more personal: Some people get in touch with their spiritual side through private prayer, yoga, meditation, quiet reflection, or even long walks. Research shows that even skeptics can’t stifle the sense that there is something greater than the concrete world we see. As the brain processes sensory experiences, we naturally look for patterns, and then seek out meaning in those patterns. And the phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance” shows that once we believe in something, we will try to explain away anything that conflicts with it. Humans can’t help but ask big questions  –  the instinct seems wired in our minds.
(Psychology Today)

Shorn of the superfluous and logically untenable God concept (or the “some higher power” concept), spirituality is mainly about the so-perceived “enhancement” of the so-called “inner life”. Each person has his inner life, pertaining to what his mind perceives, or imagines, or aspires for, but so what? I think it is no different from idle reverie. My inner life is different from yours, and all that really matters is the “outer-life” expression or manifestation of the inner life, and this outer-life manifestation is a natural phenomenon like any other, amenable to scrutiny by science.

Our brain is a physical organ, subject to the laws of physics. And our mind is what our brain does. I subscribe to the view that there is nothing wrong or unscientific about any efforts to make one’s thinking more productive and innovative and original by meditation etc.; and there is nothing mystical about that. It is perfectly fine for a person to do meditation if that helps him achieve better mental health, and greater intuitive capabilities or originality.

Photo: Federico Coppola / Flickr.com

Photo: Federico Coppola / Flickr.com

One of the most innovative minds I know of is Ray Kurzweil (2012). Here is what he does for getting new, problem-solving ideas: “Relaxing professional taboos turns out to be useful for creative problem solving. I use a mental technique each night in which I think about a particular problem before I go to sleep. This triggers sequences of thoughts that will continue into my dreams. Once I am dreaming, I can think  –  dream  –  about solutions to the problem without the burden of the professional restraints I carry during the day. I can then access these dream thoughts in the morning while in an in-between state of dreaming and being awake, sometimes referred to as ‘lucid dreaming'”. Fine. And very impressive.

The mind-body relationship is a subject of great importance. There are so many unexplored examples of what the mind can make the body do or endure. Scientific researchers should be duly skeptical on one hand, and open-minded on the other, when it comes to accepting or rejecting outlandish-looking claims. Reproducible verification has to be the final arbiter, always.

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14 Responses to Spirituality and “Inner” Life

  1. David B says:

    Except that I have found the overwhelming number of people that call themselves “spirtual” do beleive in god albeit they are not comfotable with organized religion. It’s a copout answer to the religion question.

  2. Richard M. says:

    Spirituality to me means to believe in a spirit, that there something greater than the physical universe. The evidence we have to date is that this is a phyisical universe and not a spiritual universe. I agree that there is probably a need to belong to groups and a need to explain the the universe hard wired in to our being. In the past spiritual explanations were formulated in the absence of scientic explanation. It seems now that everyone must have had a dominant gullibility gene to have believed all of that bull, but back then that was all we had. Feelings of spirituality are just that; feelings, and nothing more.

  3. Robert Allen says:

    I have been an Atheist for over four decades. I also have a rich and deep spiritual life.

    When I listen to music – I get in touch with both the spirit of the music – and at times, believe that I get in touch with the spirit of the composer and the performers of the music. For me, listing to Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Shostakovitch, Stravinsky, Ives, Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, et. al. (literally hundreds of other composers) gives me a spiritual experience. And there is a qualitative spiritual difference between hearing these hundreds of works played by orchestras (such as the Berlin Philharmoniker) versus Podunk community orchestras. There is also a qualitative difference between the conductors (such as Maazel, or von Karajan) versus Joe Blow conducting the Podunk High School orchestra.

    These qualitative and quantitative differences are all spiritual in nature for me.

    Also, when I work with pastels – I am in spiritual contact with with both the medium and whatever picture that I am working on. When I go to Art Gallerias – I find myself frequently in spiritual contact with a great number of visual artists.

    When I write essays and the book that I am currently working on – I find myself in a spiritual place – with the words and word flow, reflecting my spiritual take on what I am writing about.

    Being a Systems Analyst and Computer Programmer, I am indeed familiar with some of the work of Ray Kurzweil – and, as with the above, I find a good deal of spiritualism within Kurzweil’s work. A good deal of Programming work is tedius, mundane work, however, I have also done a good deal of maintenance programming – and each individual programmer has a distinctive programming style – which, to my way of thinking, represents a spiritual attitude in solving various unique programming problems.

    In short – I am an Atheist – raised by a father who went to Bob Jones College (back in the day when it was only a college) with Cliff Barrows – who currently, at age 66, has a rich and deep spiritual life.

    By the by – I capitalize “Atheist” in the same way that I capitalize “Theist” with a hope that Theists will also capitalize “Atheist” – but I have rare found Theists willing to capitalize “Atheist”. I have also found that many Atheists also refuse to capitalize the word “Atheist”.

    Just sayin’

  4. Gary H says:

    Certain natural events produce in me an emotional response which I categorize as “spiritual” – such as beautiful vistas, storms, and sunsets. I do not, but many who experience such responses feel a need to ask “who did this?” I suspect that their question is actually rooted in unease with the emotions, and the question is actually “who is doing this to me?” Some deduce a super-natural answer, even though such emotions can also be provoked by certain works of static or performed art which are manifestly artificial.

  5. jon karmazin says:

    Its just a copout to say “I am Spiritual, not Religious”.
    Inherent in the statement is a rejection of the evils of
    Religion, yet embracing and identifying with, the good!
    The Burnings of the past, the Bombings of today are part
    of the ignorence of Superstious-Religious
    thinking. Unselfish acts of Charity, Service to Humanity, in the name
    of God, is part of its good side.
    It is humbling, and takes real courage, to say, “I see no evidence that proves the existance of God, therefore, I do not believe in God”. I like to follow that statement by saying, “I am open to such evidence”.
    One should do the right thing because it is right, not to try and
    please a God that may not exist. Should I find myself one day face to face
    with a God that I didnt believe in, I can honestly say, “Not only did I honestly
    see no evidence for your existance, but I did the right thing anyway!”
    That is not a copout, because it is the truth!

    • Robert Allen says:

      Jon – Just because you assert – Its just a copout to say “I am Spiritual, not Religious” – DOESN’T mean that your assertion is true. It’s just your assertion – and I strongly disagree with your assertion !!!!!

      See my earlier comment of 6/5/14 above.

      I’ve been am Atheist from well over 4 decades – and I have a deep and rich Spiritual Life.

      I Don’t believe in any Gods or Devils – and although folk have tried over these past 4 decades to “convince” me that there Are Gods and Devils – Every one of the various arguments presented to me – FAIL to pass the test of MY Human, OH so Human (as Fred Nietzsche would put it), Reasoning abilities!!!

      The remainder of your statement – follows your self-serving assertion in your opening sentence.

      Why, Jon, do you make your personal assertion – and then both fail to recognize the fragility of your assertion – and fail to recognize that Atheists, such as myself, can and do have – a rich Spiritual Like ???

  6. Rachael Ford says:

    While i understand what some atheists say here in defense of the term spirituality I think it is detrimental to use the term as it does associate experience with a spirit element whether godly or of our own when we’re advocating a naturalistic worldview devoid of the supernatural. I see no need to use terms created by and for the support of religion like spirit/spirituality. Any experience they might describe as spiritual i could as easily recategorise as deeply mental/emotional or transcending usual ego boundaries or as having a sense of communion with either nature/art/ideas or personalities of interest past or present. There is really no need to insert this “spirit” aspect to it, no ghost is mediating or creating these responses, its just a product of interaction of my brain with the exterior. If that happens to produce something that I perceive to be more deeply meaningful than mundane, even to the point of a sacred insight – well theres no god or ghost in that event. We dont say a spirit jumped in the frame when we had a meaningful experience of falling deeply in love, so why intimate that with any other deep state of consciousness. Its a human capacity, an animal capacity not some freak thing that requires some Latin name based on superstition.

  7. j says:

    I know why people cannot understand that people have different opinions. I feel you can be spiritual without be religious. I have been on both sides of the fence. It’s what each individual person believes and how they live their lives that matters in the end. We may never know or we may know more once this life is over.


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  11. Here it is 2023 and I’m just finding your blog. I am reading “Understanding Natural Phenomena” and like it. Well done and thank you for writing it.
    Regarding the concept of “spirituality,” I see that as humans seeking something beyond the material world that is above materiality and controls it. Of course it’s not there, but there is comfort in the seeking process. The process (prayer, meditation, etc) has health benefits (reduces anxiety, lower blood pressure, etc).

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