What is Spirituality? Not what we were taught.


This coming Friday, February 9th, I will be speaking with Dr. Joel Ying about “Shamanic Wisdom of the Ancient Maya” on his program Living the Present Moment.

When I first spoke to Joel about the possibility of being on his show, he mentioned he had been giving a lot of thought recently to what ‘spirituality’ means.

After our call, I began reflecting on the profound difference between the view of spirituality I grew up with how spirituality is viewed by the North American and Maya Indian elders, medicine men and shamans who have been my teachers, mentors, and guides for the past 35 years.

Most of us were first introduced to spirituality through the perspective of the Judeo-Christian religious traditions so prevalent in our culture. We were exposed to the beliefs that:

  • A transcendent God exists in a heavenly realm that is separate and apart from our physical world
  • A non-material aspect of us, our soul, survives after death
  • If we are 'believers' and faithfully follow the tenets of our religious traditions our souls will join God in Heaven

We also learned in school that we live in a physical / material world governed by the laws of science. From this perspective, the only world that is ‘real’ is the world of the senses we can see, touch or measure.  In our culture we accept this is the only true reality. The world of spirit is either ‘out-there-somewhere else’ or doesn’t exist at all. 

The Spirituality Conundrum

Many of us longed for an experience of a higher spiritual realm or a transcendent reality. But we found traditional Judeo-Christian religious teachings did not provide the spiritual tools and experiences we were looking for. Because our culture maintains that the material world and the realm of spirit are fundamentally at odds, our search for spirituality constantly forced us to look outside of ourselves and our everyday world.

As we found ourselves on a spiritual search we were asked -- or we may have asked others:

  • Are you interested in spirituality?
  • Do you have a spiritual practice?
  • Are you on a spiritual path?
  • Are you a spiritual person?  

The nature of these questions demonstrates the prevalent perspective in our culture that spirituality is something we pursue (a path), something we do (a practice), or something we strive toward. In each case, spirituality is seen as something that exists outside of ourselves or somehow apart from our ordinary every-day lives.

The Spiritual Unity and Oneness of the Indigenous World

When I began my studies with North American and Maya Indian teachers, I discovered they had a fundamentally different way of experiencing the world and thinking about spirituality. 

Indigenous cultures (as well as other Eastern spiritual traditions), share our belief in a non-physical realm of spirit and in a supreme transcendent presence -- God, the Divine, Source, the Ultimate Reality. But they have a profoundly different view of the world we live in. For them:

  • The realm of Spirit permeates the material world - there is no separation, no distinction. They exist as one unified realm.
  • The Divine is present with us in the physical world - everything in the physical world is alive and filled with Spirit.
  • Ancestors, guides, and helpers from the "other side" are also with us and available to us in the material world.

Indigenous cultures recognize we are already living in a material/spiritual world and there is nowhere else to go or nothing else to seek. For them, the numinous Divine presence is within all things, including ourselves -- there is nothing else we need other than to open to this experience of the transcendent. We are already where we need to be and already have all the necessary spiritual resources.

From this perspective, we don’t need to find a spiritual path or start a spiritual practice -- our life is our path and our practice. We need to be present to the Spirit-filled world within and around us. We need to allow ourselves to be guided by Spirit and filled with gratitude for a life infused with the Divine presence.

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Here are three things you can do to begin experiencing greater spiritual unity in your life:

  1. Give yourself time to reflect on the concept of the spiritual realm being available to us here and now (‘heaven on earth’) and look for this teaching in Jewish and Christian mystical/Gnostic traditions as well as Hindu, Buddhist, and other Eastern spiritual traditions.
  2. Be open to the possibility of God / the Divine being present in the world (and within us) and invite this presence to make itself known to you however you imagine it. The presence of Spirit in the world is often easier to experience when you’re out in nature and receptive to the fullness, richness and beauty of your natural surroundings.   
  3. Spend a little time, daily if possible, expressing your gratitude for the many blessings in your life and all the ways the Divine guides, supports, and assists us throughout our lives.

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Please join me for my interview, via teleconference, with Dr. Joel Ying this Friday, February 9th.      

Time: 12:30pm to 1:30pm EST

Free Teleconference Number: 641-715-3580 – code 481288