Classical, medieval and early modern periods
Words translatable as ‘spirituality’ first began to arise in the 5th century and only entered common use toward the end of the Middle Ages. In a Biblical context the term means being animated by God, to be driven by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to a life which rejects this influence.
In the 11th century this meaning changed. Spirituality began to denote the mental aspect of life, as opposed to the material and sensual aspects of life, “the ecclesiastical sphere of light against the dark world of matter”. In the 13th century “spirituality” acquired a social and psychological meaning. Socially it denoted the territory of the clergy: “The ecclesiastical against the temporary possessions, the ecclesiastical against the secular authority, the clerical class against the secular class”. Psychologically, it denoted the realm of the inner life: “The purity of motives, affections, intentions, inner dispositions, the psychology of the spiritual life, the analysis of the feelings”.
In the 17th and 18th century a distinction was made between higher and lower forms of spirituality: “A spiritual man is one who is Christian ‘more abundantly and deeper than others’.” The word was also associated with mysticism and quietism, and acquired a negative meaning.
Make the Connection
Taking the path less traveled by exploring your spirituality can lead to a clearer life purpose, better personal relationships and enhanced stress management skills.
Some stress relief tools are very tangible: exercising more, eating healthy foods and talking with friends. A less tangible – but no less useful – way to find stress relief is through spirituality.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality has many definitions, but at its core spirituality helps to give our lives context. It’s not necessarily connected to a specific belief system or even religious worship. Instead, it arises from your connection with yourself and with others, the development of your personal value system, and your search for meaning in life.
For many, spirituality takes the form of religious observance, prayer, meditation or a belief in a higher power. For others, it can be found in nature, music, art or a secular community. Spirituality is different for everyone.
How can spirituality help with stress relief?
Spirituality has many benefits for stress relief and overall mental health. It can help you:
- Feel a sense of purpose. Cultivating your spirituality may help uncover what’s most meaningful in your life. By clarifying what’s most important, you can focus less on the unimportant things and eliminate stress.
- Connect to the world. The more you feel you have a purpose in the world, the less solitary you feel – even when you’re alone. This can lead to a valuable inner peace during difficult times.
- Release control. When you feel part of a greater whole, you realize that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life. You can share the burden of tough times as well as the joys of life’s blessings with those around you.
- Expand your support network. Whether you find spirituality in a church, mosque or synagogue, in your family, or in nature walks with a friend, this sharing of spiritual expression can help build relationships.
- Lead a healthier life. People who consider themselves spiritual appear to be better able to cope with stress and heal from illness or addiction faster.
Discovering your Spirituality
Uncovering your spirituality may take some self-discovery. Here are some questions to ask yourself to discover what experiences and values define you:
- What are your important relationships?
- What do you value most in your life?
- What people give you a sense of community?
- What inspires you and gives you hope?
- What brings you joy?
- What are your proudest achievements?
The answers to such questions help you identify the most important people and experiences in your life. With this information, you can focus your search for spirituality on the relationships and activities in life that have helped define you as a person and those that continue to inspire your personal growth.
There is no single, widely-agreed definition of spirituality. Surveys of the definition of the term, as used in scholarly research, show a broad range of definitions, with very limited similitude.
According to Waaijman, the traditional meaning of spirituality is a process of re-formation which “aims to recover the original shape of man, the image of God. To accomplish this, the re-formation is oriented at a mold, which represents the original shape: in Judaism the Torah, in Christianity Christ, in Buddhism Buddha, in the Islam Muhammad.”
In modern times the emphasis is on subjective experience. It may denote almost any kind of meaningful activity or blissful experience. It still denotes a process of transformation, but in a context separate from organized religious institutions, termed “spiritual but not religious”. Houtman and Aupers suggest that modern spirituality is a blend of humanistic psychology, mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions.
Waaijman points out that “spirituality” is only one term of a range of words which denote the praxis of spirituality. Some other terms are “Hasidism, contemplation, kabbala, asceticism, mysticism, perfection, devotion and piety”.
The term spirit means “animating or vital principle in man and animals”. It is derived from the Old French espirit which comes from the Latin word spiritus (soul, courage, vigor, breath) and is related to spirare (to breathe). In the Vulgate the Latin word spiritus is used to translate the Greek pneuma and Hebrew ruah.
The term “spiritual”, matters “concerning the spirit”, is derived from Old French spirituel, which is derived from Latin spiritualis, which comes from spiritus or “spirit”.
The term “spirituality” is derived from Middle French spiritualité, from Late Latin “spiritualitatem” (nominative spiritualitas), which is also derived from Latin spiritualis.
There is no single, agreed-upon definition of spirituality. Surveys of the definition of the term, as used in scholarly research, show a broad range of definitions, with very limited similitude.
It may denote almost any kind of meaningful activity or blissful experience. It denotes a process of transformation, but in a context separate from organized religious institutions, termed “spiritual but not religious”. In modern times the emphasis is on subjective experience. Houtman and Aupers suggest that modern spirituality is a blend of humanistic psychology, mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions.