Reflections on the meaning of “spiritual”

When I was starting this blog, a friend counseled me to avoid “fuzziness and vagueness” about spirituality. Good advice! Although spirituality has had a tangible, practical effect on my life for many years, I am still discovering more of what it means!

So, what is spirituality to me? I believe it’s the essence of our being, the fundamental nature of each one of us. In my experience, spirituality enables us to perceive and to act on our inherent goodness and to see the good in others. I can express spiritual qualities that uplift and inspire and see these qualities in others.

My dog, Jubi, for example, expresses these qualities in spades, and she brings them out in people who stop in their tracks to engage with her and find joy, loveliness, innocence, friendliness, openness. Yesterday, Jubi and I were in the local stationery store buying a birthday card for a friend. (The store also has dog treats.) A little girl spotted Jubi and immediately slid onto her knees and sidled up to pet the soft white fluff ball.

Jubi’s learned that her mission is to let everyone, especially children, approach and fondle her. She’ll see a 2 year old and become still, letting them brush their hands along her soft white back, run their fingers through her whispery tail, or lift up her ear pads to find an ear under her puffy hair.

On this particular day, the child’s dad stood by patiently for over 15 minutes while his daughter, in the middle of the stationery aisle showered Jubi with gentle caressing.

When the store clerk noticed this, she exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! That’s the cutest dog. I don’t like dogs. I’ve never pet a dog. But…can I pet her?” Around from behind the counter she scurried. First hesitating then squealing with delight, she reached out an affectionate hand. In the few moments of conversation that followed the young woman said she’d grown up in a Middle Eastern country where dogs weren’t part of family life. Now, almost in spite of herself, something switched on within her – delight, wonder, surprise, joy – evoked by encountering sweet love.

These qualities of patience and joy and gentle caring – these spiritual qualities – I have come to believe are natural to all of us. This is what I hope to explore in these blogs: how tangible is spirituality? What is its source? Is it a gift? Can we cultivate it? What practical difference can it make? How does it connect us with one another?

Meanwhile, the clerk ventures to feed her first-ever treat to Jubi. The little girl and her father walk out into the afternoon sunshine. And I buy a birthday card for a friend.

11 thoughts on “Reflections on the meaning of “spiritual”

  1. Thank you. Being a great lover of dogs, myself, I have this post-it at my desk: “Dear God – please make me into the person my dog thinks I am” !

  2. I believe you have struck upon a necessary cultural difference between here and the middle east as regards human interactions with dogs. When we visited Egypt last Fall–thank goodness we got to go there before we’d have been afraid to–adults didn’t need to take the rabies vaccination unless they got bitten by a dog while there. All dogs in Egypt are presumed to be carrying and able to transmit rabies, and adults are felt to be smart enough to leave them alone. However, rabies vaccine is recommended for children that travel to Egypt because children automatically run to pet the dogs, just as you described. So, the woman’s reluctance to pet dogs probably represents an internalization of admonitions she received throughout her childhood, not just paranoia.

  3. Hi Karyn,
    Finally catching up, especially on your blog, er, post. I like what you’re doing here, it’s a tricky topic or can be. I think the link between love and spirituality is so strong there is a oneness. Spirituality, of course, has not much to do with religiosity, so atheists can be as spiritual as anyone else – much to the chagrin of clerics, I am sure. Dogs are naturally friendly around people, unless taught otherwise, and are free to express unconditional love – a notion humans have trouble with. I don’t think there is a lesson to that, or much of one, we are not dogs nor dog like but must use all our faculties to fight against the memory of insults and injuries. Dogs learn over time and react instinctively, humans learn quickly (usually) and then need time to overcome fear, anger, jealousy….

    You’re on to something good!


    • Dale,
      Spirituality=love. I like that! Dog’s (or at least many of them) express unconditional love, and I think that humans naturally want to express it too! Thanks for your insights.

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