What it Really Means to Be Spiritual

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

What do you think of when you hear the word spiritual?

To many, ancient spiritual practices such as Yoga and Meditation give this word meaning. To others, the word spiritual may represent detaching from the challenges of the world to find a more peaceful existence.

One of the primary misconceptions that seems to turn a lot of people away from spirituality is that it’s always connected with religion.

Another misconception is that to lead a spiritual life, you have to forsake materialism and worldly desires. 

Living isolated in a cave doesn’t necessarily make you spiritual. 

In fact, the ultimate test for a spiritual life is the ability to cultivate that life in the midst of a society full of challenges. And each one of us can learn to live a more spiritual life.

It’s easy to retreat to the Himalayan mountains, meditate daily to center yourself and be (mostly) kind to the people around you. But can you maintain a sense of calm and inner quietude in the midst of morning traffic on your way to work or with a difficult friend or relative?

If the answer to that question is yes – at least more often than not  – then you’re living a spiritual life. And even if you can’t keep your cool but you’re aware of it and consciously trying to better yourself, you’re living a spiritual life.

The spiritual life challenges us each and every day. Can you look someone  in the eyes who’s yelling at you and feel a sense of compassion for him or her? Or do you take things personally and attack back? 

Dedication to a spiritual practice means nothing if you’re not implementing the teachings of those practices in your daily life.

A rise in our consciousness comes from the ability to be present in the moment and fully feel a sense of connection to our environment and others. Spirituality allows us to have a sense of connectedness with the soul, the spirit—our own as well as that of others. 

Kindness, compassion, presence, understanding—these are the pillars of spirituality. 

You can practice Yoga, Qi Gong and meditation every morning or pray in church, synagogue, mosque or temple weekly, but if you come home and yell at your spouse or kids every time you get triggered you’re in no way more spiritually cultivated than the person who doesn’t even believe in God, but can listen and be present with others unconditionally without reacting harshly or imposing their beliefs authoritatively on others. 

Of course, spiritual practices such as Yoga, Qi Gong, Meditation and prayer are powerful tools with which we can deepen our consciousness and sense of presence. 

When we sit quietly and tune into the rhythm of our bodies and minds, we cultivate a deeper sense of connectedness to our own needs, which then allows us to feel into and be present with others.

My father is one of the most spiritual people I’ve ever met. He also happens to be an atheist and is one of the least religious people I know. 

Having grown up in Iran in a very religious family, my father did a prayer ritual known as namaz up to five times a day until he went to college. He used to tell us the story of how things changed for him when he advanced his education and starting reading more. He came to the conclusion that religion was the underlying cause of most of the war and corruption throughout history. So, he stopped praying, gave up religion and became a political activist hoping to change the world, starting with his birth country in Iran through political consciousness.

Unfortunately, the 1979 Revolution in Iran only made matters worse by fully establishing an Islamic Republic that forged the country into a deeper struggle and religious oppression, endangering my family and forcing us to leave as political refugees.

Not only did the new government take away many of the people's basic human rights, but they also executed people who stood up for these rights, including several of my parents' closest friends.

You'd think that with such a traumatic experience my father would become angry, resentful and bitter. But the truth is that my father is one of the most peaceful, loving and selfless people I know.

His sense of compassion and nonjudgmental presence are inspiring and a true testament of what it really means to be spiritual.

When my husband Salvador first met my father, he saw right away how unconditional, kind and loving he authentically is, and immediately admired how my father embodies the spirit of deep patience. After 7 years, my husband's view of my father has never wavered. 

We all can learn to weave more conscious patterns into our lives. Here are 3 simple suggestions:

  1. Listen authentically with a full sense of presence - turn off cell phones, computers and TVs and be there fully when someone is talking to you.

  2. Take a moment at least every hour to breathe deeply and come into the moment - you can set a timer on your watch or cell phone to remind you to pause during every hour throughout the day.

  3. Read ancient texts and philosophical books such as the Tao Te Ching or the writings of Chuang Tze. For a more modern Christian orientation, you can try reading A Course in Miracles. To cultivate living in the moment, the popular book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is quite helpful. Other influential authors that have written spiritually uplifting books include Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Don Miguel Ruiz. These writers cover a variety of traditions and spiritual ideologies that provide wonderful spiritual food for the soul. Reading these synthesized ideas can help you cultivate living in the moment and connect you to the deeper meaning of life every day.

Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com