Spirituality is a word used in an abundance of contexts that means different things for different people at different times in different cultures. Although expressed through religions, art, nature and the built environment for centuries, recent expressions of spirituality have become more varied and diffuse.
This is reflected in the range of language used to describe spirituality. Some of the more common themes describe it using one or more of the following elements:
- a sense of purpose
- a sense of ‘connectedness’ – to self, others, nature, ‘God’ or Other
- a quest for wholeness
- a search for hope or harmony
- a belief in a higher being or beings
- some level of transcendence, or the sense that there is more to life than the material or practical, and
- those activities that give meaning and value to people’s lives.
Underlying many of those themes is an assumption that an intrinsic (often sub-conscious) human activity is one of trying to make sense of the world around us and of our meaning and place within it.
In this context, “spirituality” becomes the way through which that meaning is sought, and can vary according to age, gender, culture, political ideology, physical or mental health and myriad other factors.
For some, that way is religion. For example the most recent Census states that the UK population includes approximately 42 million people who describe themselves (nominally or otherwise) as
- Christian, 1.5 million
- Muslims, over 500,000
- Hindus, 340,000 Sikhs,
- over 250,000 Jews and
- a significant number of smaller religious communities.
Within each of these groups, there is a vast range of traditions and practices through which spirituality is experienced or expressed.
These people express their religion in various ways, such as
- attendance at church, temple, mosque or synagogue, or
- time spent in prayer/ meditation.
However, for others – including the 9 million UK citizens who say they don’t have a religion – spirituality takes many other forms.
It is recognised that spirituality has broadened in meaning into a more diffuse human need that can be met quite apart from institutionalised religious structures. It is identified as the outward expression of the inner workings of the human spirit and a definition of spirituality such as this:
- Spirituality is that aspect of human existence that gives it its ‘humanness’. It concerns the structures of significance that give meaning and direction to a person’s life and helps them deal with the variations of existence.
As such it includes such vital dimensions as the
- quest for meaning,
- self-transcending knowledge,
- meaningful relationships,
- love and commitment, as well as [for some]
- a sense of the Holy amongst us.
This description supports the view that humans are
- physical and
- spiritual beings and
- any understanding of the relationship between spirituality and mental health exists within that context.