Portrait of an African American woman with open hands.

Spirituality is a quality of life and mind, as well as a practice to bring on that quality. Spirituality is often about religious experience, and it can also describe what many feel amidst the awe and wonder and power of nature, or when one is completely at ease with oneself and the world. The root word of “spirit” in English comes from a word for breath, so spirit can be seen in a nontheistic sense as what gives us life. Here are some musings on spirituality from a variety of thinkers, writers, and practitioners.

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To be a prophet or the lawgiver of a nation is not within your province and mine. For such a task hardly one among millions has the opportunity or the gifts. To be liberators of their country has been accorded in all the ages thus far covered by human history to so small a number of men that one might count them on the fingers of a single hand. Even to be philanthropists on a large scale is the restricted privilege of a very few. But to lead the spiritual life is possible to you and me if we choose to do so. The best is within the reach of all, or it would not be the best. Every one is permitted to share life’s highest good.

— Felix Adler

Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I accept relationship as my primary teacher about myself, other people, and the mysteries of the universe.

— Gay Hendricks

Developing the muscles of the soul demands no competitive spirit, no killer instinct, although it may erect pain barriers that the spiritual athlete must crash through.

— Germaine Greer

If I could give you one key, and one key only to more abundant life, I would give you a sense of your own worth, an unshakeable sense of your own dignity as one grounded in the source of the cosmic dance, as one who plays a unique part in the unfolding of the story of the world…

— Greta Crosby

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.

— Henry Miller

The smallest flower is a thought, a life answering to some feature of the Great Whole, of whom they have a persistent intuition.

— Honore De Balzac

In the spiritual life nowhere do our ideals meet the actual more truly than in how we relate to each other, in how we make, sustain and are friends.

— James Ishmael Ford

When one loses the deep intimate relationship with nature, then temples, mosques and churches become important.

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

For me, there is no separation between my spiritual and metaphysical beliefs and my ideological and political beliefs. When I’m trying to decide what direction to take in my life, for example, I go to a Quaker meeting and wait for direction — or perhaps it would be better to say search for direction.

— Joan Baez

Whether we grow more gross, more selfish, more grasping, more vulgar, more dishonorable, or whether we grow more delicate, more tender, more sympathetic, more aspiring, or more affectionate does not depend on whether we think the mind quantitative or qualitative. It depends on what we think of the values of those qualities. And I for one choose so-called spiritual qualities of mind and character because for me they contain the most enduring and highest joys of earth. Therefore, in this practical sense I am a firm believer in the spiritual life. And when I use the term as I frequently do, it is in this sense that I use it.

— John Dietrich

Energy conveys to us the idea of motion and activity. Inside a living organism we see a source of power, which by some manner is released in terms of movement…. Life is energy… it is the creator or initiator of movement change, development. We are different from moment to moment because the life principle is at work with us…. The spirit of humanity, like the forces of nature, and like the physical life, is at bottom energy…. Spiritual life, therefore, is just as much a development out of what has gone before in the evolutionary process as physical life is; which means that the origin of spiritual life is from within.

— John Dietrich

The human condition is that we are individuals in relationship, and there are tensions between individuality and relatedness. A humanist spirituality is not one of complete dependence, nor of complete independence — neither condition can be defended as primary. Rather, a humanist spirituality is one of interdependence.

— Jone Johnson Lewis

What religious conversion is not: if it serves us a bit too well, if it reinforces all our prejudices and allows us to call ourselves holy at the expense of others whom we can now judge to be unholy, it is probably not the real thing.

— Kathleen Norris

Learning how to love is the goal and the purpose of spiritual life — not learning how to develop psychic powers, not learning how to bow, chant, do yoga, or even meditate, but learning to love. Love is the truth. Love is the light.

— Lama Surya Das

Our lack of compassion stems from our inability to see deeply into the nature of things.

— Lama Surya Das

The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises.

— Leo Buscaglia

Although the act of nurturing another’s spiritual growth has the effect of nurturing one’s own, a major characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved.

— M. Scott Peck

I never lived, that I remember, what you call a common natural day. All my days are touched by the supernatural, for I feel the pressure of hidden causes, and the presence, sometimes the communion, of unseen powers. It needs not that I should ask the clairvoyant whether a spirit‐world projects into ours.

— Margaret Fuller, Free Hope

The especial genius of women I believe to be electrical in movement, intuitive in function, spiritual in tendency.

— Margaret Fuller

The kind of spirituality I value is one in which you get great joy out of contributing to life, not just sitting and meditating, although meditation is certainly valuable. But from the meditation, from the resulting consciousness, I would like to see people in action creating the world that they want to live in.

— Marshall Rosenberg

What I mean by spirituality is not theology, but attitude.

— Mary Oliver

Looking for and enjoying beauty is a way to nourish the soul. the universe is in the habit of making beauty. There are flowers and songs, snowflakes and smiles, acts of great courage, laughter between friends, a job well done, the smell of fresh-baked bread. Beauty is everywhere.

— Matthew Fox

To connect with the great river we all need a path, but when you get down there there’s only one river.

— Matthew Fox

We need to build millions of little moments of caring on an individual level. Indeed, as talk of a politics of meaning becomes more widespread, many people will feel it easier to publicly acknowledge their own spiritual and ethical aspirations and will allow themselves to give more space to their highest vision in their personal interactions with others. A politics of meaning is as much about these millions of small acts as it is about any larger change. The two necessarily go hand in hand.

— Michael Lerner

A spiritual sensibility encourages us to see ourselves as part of the fundamental unity of all being. If the thrust of the market ethos has been to foster a competitive individualism, a major thrust of many traditional religious and spiritual sensibilities has been to help us see our connection with all other human beings.

— Michael Lerner

The spiritual treasure is already there, with you, in your heart. But often you have to go somewhere else, to another teacher outside your tradition, to find the answer. To find yourself, you sometimes must go to a stranger.

— Mircea Eliade, in A Chosen Faith by John A. Buehrens

The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law, to the strength of the spirit.

— Mohandas K. Gandhi

Spirituality is not primarily about values and ethics, not about exhortations to do right or live well. The spiritual traditions are primarily about reality…an effort to penetrate the illusions of the external world and to name its underlying truth.

— Parker J. Palmer

I cannot imagine a spiritual pain deeper than dying with the thought that during my sojourn on earth, I had rarely, if ever, shown up as my true self. And I cannot imagine a spiritual comfort deeper than dying with the knowledge that I had spent my brief time on this planet doing the best I could to be present as myself to my family, my friends, my community, and my world.

— Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
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