The Varieties of Spiritual Life

July 1, 2022

If you are reading this essay, I can only imagine that you feel drawn to live a spiritual life, and I would be willing to bet that you would agree with me when I say that the purpose of a spiritual life is to live in alignment with the mysterious source of our being.

Most of us pursuing an alternative form of spirituality would probably identify with that definition, but as soon as we want to be more specific as to what exactly constitutes a spiritual life we would likely run into differences of opinion.

It would be convenient in some ways if there was only one correct form of spiritual life and all we needed to do was conform to that, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead there seems to be many different ways that we can live a life sourced from the mystery of spirit. Perhaps there are as many different forms of spiritual life as there are people living them. No two of us have exactly the same path, – each of us must take responsibility for discovering the form of spiritual life that we were meant to live.

It is natural for those of us who aspire to live a spiritual life to seek the support of like-minded groups or communities, as our modern secular culture offers us little guidance in this domain.

I believe it is true that in the end, and in the minutest details, every spiritual life is unique. That being said, in more broad ways there do seem to be categories and types of spiritual lives that we might identify with.

As I see it in the broadest sense people seem to be drawn to one of three types of spiritual life.

  1. A life of spiritual activism: In a world so full of suffering and with problems that threaten the very sustainability of the planet, it is natural for some of us to feel compelled to dedicate our lives to alleviating suffering and actively solving the world’s ills.
  2. A life of spiritual virtue: In spite of the overwhelming problems of the world some people feel drawn to living a spiritual life by being an expression of wholesome compassion in simple and ordinary ways.
  3. A life of spiritual devotion: There are also those who feel a calling to live with their energy and attention focused on maintaining and strengthening a felt connection to divinity, in whatever forms bring them closer to that mysterious source.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list and I am aware that no one fits entirely and exclusively in any one of these categories. A spiritual life will always be composed of some mixture of all three. At the same time, I believe that most of us will feel that one of these is probably more dominant.

I believe that it is important for all of us to hold deep respect and even reverence for all of the beautiful expressions that a spiritual life can take. In the end there is not one right way to live, there is only the way that you are uniquely called to live. The process of finding the spiritual life that the divine is uniquely calling you to, involves courage and receptivity.

We must learn to listen for the guidance that comes to us in our spiritual revelations, the voices that speak to us in our quiet hours, or move us when we feel open and spacious. Of all the voices we hear, we must learn to discern those that are guiding us in the direction of greater wholeness.

The voices of fear and doubt will often feel like forces of contraction and separation. I long ago decided to do my best not to make choices based on these. The voice of clarity and conviction may be harder to hear. We have been conditioned to listen to our anxieties and ignore the often quieter voice of divine guidance.

As we learn to listen deeply to the guidance that is given to us, we begin to realize that this unassuming inner voice is the source of our strength and power. If we have the courage to listen to it, and also act upon it, we will find ourselves moving, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but ultimately unerringly toward the spiritual life that we were meant to live.

Our spiritual work is in large part an opportunity to refine our ability to hear the voice of spirit and build the faith that will give us the courage to act on what we hear. If you are inspired to live a spiritual life, you can be certain that the divine is talking to you. She is always offering all the guidance you need to shape your life.

Are you listening? How well can you hear?

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