The best definition of spirituality I’ve seen is from an old Swedish lexicon where it says “spirituality is nature in its higher development”. What this mean is, that when we look beyond the basics of nature and natural needs, we are confronted with questions that deal with things like transcendence. Questions like “what is the meaning with my life”, “is there more to reality than what we can see or measure with science”, and so on.
When people hear the word “spiritual” they often think of it in three frameworks. Either they think about it in the context of the rigid compounds of various religions, they think about it in the ridiculous style of Hollywood like with Harry Potter and similar movies, or they think about westerners LARPing as Indians, trying to summon some other peoples ancestors, or taking pictures of their auras in some newage-store. Im not saying that there isnt spiritual elements in these examples, but I believe there are much more tangible examples.
One of my favorite modern books of philosophy is “Why Beauty Matter” by Roger Scrutton. In this book he argues that beauty is not something subjective but a form of truth. Beauty is something most sane people can identify in a classic painting, in a flower or a majestic mountain. Science have proven that classical music can improve our thinking and even improve the health of plants. But why is this? Nature could might as well have made things we consider ugly to be beneficial and pleasing to us.
Many times beauty has no practical value to our lives, but still we value it so much. Beauty seem to be one of those aspects of our world that point to a higher truth of our existence. Therefor I consider, appreciating and to be grateful for the beauty in our life a spiritual practice. The french writer, and I would argue, philosopher Marcel Proust, once said that if he had one day left to live, he would spend it appreciating art, nature and beautiful women among other things, that is to me a spiritual approach to life and death.
Wonder and awe.
I don’t know if other animals experience wonder or awe, but none the less, I consider it to be another transcendent (spiritual) experience. When we ponder the wastness of the universe and the infinity of time and space, we can be filled with a feeling of wonder. Or when we visit the ancient cave paintings in France, and gaze upon some of the oldest artwork of our people, I think most of us are filled with a sense of awe. Again, these are feelings that seem to have nothing to do with our basic human needs.
The longing to, and sense of wonder toward, what is beyond our comprehension is what some call our Faustian spirit, that seem to be especially prevalent in Western peoples, is one of our most tangible experiences we can have of a higher spiritual realm. Therefor I believe that another spiritual practice would be trying to find as many experiences that result in a sense of awe and wonder as possible. To lay in a field at night and gaze upon the stars, to visit a local rune stone and consider the amazing link between yourself and your ancestors, or if you wish to be more active; to skydive, climb a high mountain or try to live self-sufficient in nature for a longer period of time.
I think it was the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who were one of the more prevalent latest thinkers, in pointing to the transcendent meaning of sacrifice. An atheist like Richard Dawkins would explain most humans sacrifices for others as a biological trait for the survival of our genes, and there is a point in that. But since humans have the ability to reflect before we take decisions we can always take in consideration, the atheist belief, that we will never experience any benefit of making something that only will help those who will come into this earth after we are gone, but still so many do this.
Why do so many people get upset about decisions that will not have any affect on us while we are still alive? Is this only a biologically inclined gut-reaction? I don’t think even the atheists believe this, they would propably point toward their good consciousness as their main reason. But why would anyone sacrifice their reputation, their standard of life, or even their own life to secure a good life for those who will live when we are gone? Joseph Campbell pointed out in his “The power of myth” that most of the social activists he met among his students seemed to have a more transcendent view of life then most religious people.
I believe that deep down we all have a sense that this life on earth is not all there is. We don’t know how or why, but somehow we are connected to those who have gone before us, and those who will come after us, and this might be the strongest and most tangible connection we have to spirituality. So my final suggestion to practice your spirituality is to remember and celebrate your ancestors as much as possible. And another way is to do something that in someway will contribute to our descendants, because like the former leader of Asatru Folk Assembly says “We are all ancestors in training”.