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The Meaning of Spirituality

by Carol Orsborn

Part of me wants to go for success in the world in a big way, but part of me wants to take as much time and space as I need to develop myself spiritually. Which is better?

There is no universal answer. The real question is not, “Which is better?” But rather, “How do I define spirituality?” When you’ve answered this question for yourself, you will know what is right for you. The superior man can soar to the heights and play an important part in the worldor he can withdraw into solitude and develop himself.

We are taught by the I Ching that each one must make a free choice according to the inner law of his being: If the individual acts consistently and is true to himself, he will find the way that is appropriate for him. This way is right for him and without blame.

What does spirituality mean to me? After several years pondering this question for myself, I came to the heartfelt realization that spirituality is simply that part of me that longs for fulfillment.

I experience the emotional color of spirituality as a free-floating longinga bittersweet yearning that I have come to value even more than what I used to call happiness. When my primary purpose was to be happy, I invested much of my vital energy in protecting my fragile well-being from outside influences. I isolated myself from the dangers of intimate relationships by confining my interest in others to what they could do for me. I gleaned entertainment value from gossipa competitive affirmation of my standing in the world by comparing success.

I worked hard, often to my ultimate detriment, to get the things in life that I thought would make me happythings like houses, jobs, prestigious appointments. But since the happiness I got came to me from outside myself, it could also be taken away from outside. The happiness I once prized so highly turned out to be a fickle friend, present when the sun was shining, gone with the first sign of rain.

By tempering my happiness with spirituality, my relationship to others and to the world around me has deepened. I’ve expanded my emotional range to include a feeling of compassion and empathy for others. In short, I spend more time feeling pain; not only my own but also that of the world outside myself. It is a state that I have come to think of as “fully alive.”

Given that this is my experience of spirituality, I have now taken the path of self-development by throwing myself into, rather than retreating from, the mainstream of life. While I am often still pulled emotionally toward withdrawal from daily life, I have come to realize that for me, such a stance has an element of escapism to it. I may always have the urge to protect myself; I must stay on my toes to make sure I do not misuse my spiritual pursuits in this way.

Although my fantasy is no less than to float freely in the nectar of connectedness to the universe with no concerns, no obligations, no responsibilities other than to experience the love of the universe coursing through my veins, at present I have two children growing up in my charge, plus a husband, friends, and family who challenge me to grow spiritually by translating my universal compassion into acts of kindness here and now.

For the present I know that my job is to forage as best and as often as I can on the edges of my spiritual consciousness, bring back the goodies I unearth for application in my life, and hopefully the lives of those I touch. While I do spend a fair amount of my time journaling, meditating, walking in nature, reading philosophical literature, I now do so from the perspective of developing myself in order to bring more of myself to the world. In short, I have discovered that there need be no discrepancy between playing an active part in the world and developing myself spiritually.

And although I often comment upon the fact that if and when one brings spirituality into the marketplace, his or her career will blossom, the inverse is also true: Give yourself permission to bring your spirituality into the marketplace and your spirituality will blossom as well.

Carol Orsborn is the author of Inner Excellence At Work: The Path to Meaning, Spirit and Success (Amacom Books, Fall ‘99) and How Would Confucius Ask for a Raise?, from which this column is excerpted. She may be reached at 615-321-8890, e-mail [email protected] and visit her website at

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