What is spirituality?

It is not unusual to find ourselves in a situation where we are searching for some ways forward to help us deal with a particular issue, problem or crisis that may be dogging our lives. We may feel stuck or bogged down – ‘unable to see the wood for the trees’ is how it is often described.

Sometimes there will be very practical, down-to-earth approaches that will enable us to move forward, but often the issues all of us have to cope with from time to time are much more complex and bewildering. They raise profound questions about our ability to cope; about how we see the world and our place within it; about what sort of meaning and purpose we have given to, or found for, our lives. And until we have a firm understanding of these aspects of our lives we are unlikely to unscramble some of the complex issues that challenge us and our well-being. Spirituality is a short-hand term – or a gateway word – that takes us into this territory.

Two motoring images come to mind. If we haven’t pre-programmed our sat nav to the destination we have already chosen, then the likelihood of a successful arrival at our destination is diminished. And, if we have neglected to fill up with fuel, then no matter how good our map reading is,if we chug forlornly into a lay-by with the fuel gauge blinking ‘empty’ at us, all hope of progress is dashed. In short, we need a sense of direction and purpose, and we need resources and resilience for the journey. These are key issues that are raised by an understanding of spirituality.

Direction, meaning and purpose

Neil Thompson talks helpfully about ‘helicopter vision’ (Thompson, N., 2012) and its importance in helping people who feel ‘stuck’ to move forward. We sometimes get bogged down in details and cannot see the wider picture. Yet it is this wider picture that we need in order to sustain us when the going gets tough. If we trust our business model to be firmly and soundly thought through, then we will be much better prepared to face setbacks and downturns because we know that basically we are on the right track. And, if we have built into our plan some realistic risk assessments, we will be even better prepared to be flexible to deal with setbacks. We almost expect these things to happen, and so we have made appropriate preparations to deal with them. It is when we are caught up in the ‘tyranny of the immediate’ and have no sense of where we are heading that confusion and dismay can overwhelm us.

Tricky, but important, question 1

How clear a picture do you have about where you, or your work or your business, or your life and relationships are going? Do you have a grand plan or a vision? If not, how might you go about engaging in some ‘helicopter vision’ and beginning to put a plan together? What are the incentives for you? What are the challenges you might face?

Resources, fuel and resilience

Mountain rescue teams are often deeply frustrated by having to rescue people who set out on perilous journeys without proper equipment; adequate clothing; and food and drink to sustain them. Such ill-prepared travellers are, to put it bluntly, asking for trouble; and (even more bluntly) are incredibly fortunate if others are willing to put themselves at risk to rescue them.

A similar set of issues arises for us when we move into the workplace, or into a variety of human relationships. Who we are matters as much as, if not more than, what we do. And who we are depends on our values, our character and the things we undertake to look after ourselves and to maintain our well-being (Thompson, S., 2012). We need good emotional and spiritual resources as well as good physical health in order to give of, and to be, our best. If we neglect such issues it will come as no surprise when we do not have the resilience to deal with challenging moments.

Tricky, but important, question 2

What sustains you when the going gets tough? What worldview have you chosen to make sense of what life is all about? What spiritual resources do you draw upon for your well-being?

Is there an answer?

There are probably as many responses/answers to the question ‘what is spirituality?’ as there are people who ask it.

Nevertheless, we suggest that spirituality takes us into the territory of what makes us tick; what sustains us; what helps to maintain and develop our well-being; and what worldview we choose to make sense of things.

For some this will be understood and experienced in secular terms, while for others who belong to a faith community there will be a wider context in which to find meaning, purpose, direction, and sustenance. Spirituality then widens out into a religious context.

In exploring these issues further, you may find it easier to sit down with a trusted friend or mentor to help you work through the tricky but important questions we have posed, rather than doing it by yourself, especially if you feel ‘stuck’. The dialogue that ensues may help you explore these complex issues in a safe environment.

If you find definitions helpful – and whole books have been written about how we might define this concept! – a good place to start, when seeking to answer this question, is the suggestion that ‘spirituality is what we do to give expression to our chosen worldview’ (Moss, 2005).
This definition invites us to think about how we understand the world, and what are the implications that follow from the worldview we have chosen. Our actions are important: and in all sorts of ways they highlight and help to define our values and our spirituality. So one way into the discussion is to take some examples of the things we do, and to ask ourselves why we do them and what motivates us to undertake them. The answers could be quite revealing!


Moss, B. ( 2005) Religion and Spirituality, Lyme Regis, Russell House Publishing.
Thompson, N. (2012) The People Solutions Sourcebook, 2nd edn, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
Thompson, S. (2012) Don’t Be Your Own Worst Enemy: Self-care for Busy People, Wrexham, Avenue Media Solutions

Bernard Moss was an Emeritus Professor at Staffordshire University and wrote widely on the theme of spirituality.

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