Do you have to be spiritual to meditate?

February 16, 2009

In a very interesting, enjoyable blog post, “K” describes her experience with our meditation podcast. Her post is fun to read, and it raises a lot of interesting questions. First of all, she begins by saying “I am not what you would call a spiritual person”. In view of this, she was surprised to find herself listening to the meditations. That raises the question as to whether only spiritual people meditate, or whether meditation is necessarily associated with spirituality. And then, of course, there’s the bigger question of what spirituality, or being spiritual, means. At one point K asks “Was I actually meditating?” (when listening to the podcast). This brings up yet another question — “what is meditation?” These are all interesting questions to explore. My feeling is that asking these kinds of questions can lead to worthwhile self-discovery.

One thing I loved about K’s post is that her bottom line was that whether or not meditation is spiritual and whether or not she is actually meditating — “there’s no way I’m giving it up”. For whatever reason, regardless of whether what she’s doing is spiritual (as a supposedly “non-spiritual” person) and regardless of whether what happens as she listens to the podcast is meditation, she likes it. And isn’t that what really matters? There are so many ideas about meditation and what it is to be spiritual. Often these ideas can become stumbling blocks that keep us from what we are really looking for. They can become “shoulds” that get in the way.

I’d love to hear from you — how do you define spirituality and meditation? Do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person, and if so, why? What makes you spiritual? Do you feel spirituality and religion are one and the same, or are they two different things? Do you feel you have to be spiritual to meditate? Do you feel that meditating makes you spiritual?


17 Responses to “Do you have to be spiritual to meditate?”

  1. HealingMindN on February 16th, 2009 6:36 pm

    Meditation is a discipline that requires passion like any discipline. Meditation can lead to spirituality depending on the intentions of the practitioner. Meditation can accomplish different goals depending on the intention of the person.

    Personally, I believe that all people are spiritual. When you have love and passion, that’s your spirit expressing its nature. When your body heals a wound, that’s your body expressing its nature.

    The spirit also has natural ways of healing itself through meditation.

  2. karthik on February 17th, 2009 2:17 am

    Hello Mary.. You have touched on my favorite topic!
    I think people who are new to spirituality, have a vague idea of it, and think it’s somehow related to religion, but in a good way!! Well, that’s what I think, people think.. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Here’s my definition of spiritual activity: Any activity that you pursue because it brings you joy or lifts your spirits. Plain and simple.
    Here’s the definition of a religious activity: Any activity that is pursued as a part of belonging to a religion.

    This doesn’t mean that spirituality and religion don’t intersect, it only means that you choose your spiritual activities and they or may not be religious activities.
    So based on my definition of spirituality, here are things that bring me joy:
    Running, hiking, meditation, music, etc.

    But, again, I think we are getting caught in labels here:
    ‘This is that old new age stuff’, as if it was something unfashionable, or ‘I am into self-development but not spirituality’. Again, define spirituality for me, and I would agree with you on that!

    I have actually written an entire post on this here:

  3. Mary on February 17th, 2009 10:55 am

    To HealingMindN — Thanks for contributing your thoughts. I love when you say “I believe that all people are spiritual. When you have love and passion, that’s your spirit expressing its nature.”

  4. Mary on February 17th, 2009 11:10 am

    To karthik —
    I do think people tend to relate spirituality to religion. It’s not surprising since religion concerns itself with spirituality. Many people, however, will say things like “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious”. I was once in a workshop where people were asked to assign words to “spirituality” and “religion” and for many, they were different. I was once in a workshop in which people were asked to say words that they associate with spirituality and religion. They were often very different. I know they are for more and it would make an interesting discussion in itself.

    Thanks for adding your voice!

  5. Lotus on February 17th, 2009 4:39 pm

    Hi Mary and everyone,

    Yes, this is very interesting and is a subject of my passion.

    I am really not good with terminology and often find the world is too overly covered up with it that we could not see the essence of the real thing anymore.

    To me, being spiritual mean to be in tune with one’s own spirit, our essence. Nothing else. Of course there are degree of that intunement.

    All Spiritual activities are suppose to bring us to that goal. Be it a religious activity or a spiritual one or a worldly one as long as it bring us to be in tune with our spirit – that’s it. Whatever we call it really does not matter.

    That intunement is the whole basis and our happiness and joy is based on that.

    “May all beings be blessed with this Deep Joy and Peace of being in tune with our spirit.”

  6. karthik on February 17th, 2009 8:04 pm

    “Many people, however, will say things like “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious”.” – I am one of them 😀
    I meditate, but the meditation is not related to any religion per se. I believe in God, but it’s unlike the definitions of God that goes around in most religions and I don’t go to a church or temple either. I am spiritual but not religious :)

  7. kyastrei on February 17th, 2009 8:55 pm

    Hi Mary,

    It’s really great to hear your and other people’s take on my post. I’ve been considering taking a class on meditation so that I would be able to use your podcasts for their “intended” purpose. Until then, I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing and use these meditations, in hopes of increasing my spirituality even just a little bit.


  8. Mary on February 18th, 2009 10:56 am

    To Lotus–
    You said —
    “I am really not good with terminology and often find the world is too overly covered up with it that we could not see the essence of the real thing anymore.”
    I couldn’t agree more!
    Thanks for your lovely, simple definition of spirituality. It’s refreshing to hear these different viewpoints.

  9. Mary on February 18th, 2009 11:11 am

    To kyastrei,

    It seems you’ve been enjoying listening to the podcast meditations and are getting something out of them. Beyond that, I don’t have an “intended purpose” for anyone who listens. Sounds to me like you’re doing just fine with the meditations! (We do have an online meditation course on this website if you want to go deeper into meditation, however.)

    I wonder why you feel you need to increase your spirituality? Maybe you are just as spiritual as the next person (whatever “spiritual” means) and just don’t call it that. If I do have a purpose for the meditations, it would be to help people accept themselves just as they are, right now. That’s certainly been a part of my journey with meditation.

    Thanks for stopping by. Your post really got some interesting discussion going!

  10. Lotus on February 18th, 2009 12:25 pm

    Hi Karthik,

    “Many people, however, will say things like “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious”.” – I am one of them.
    I meditate, but the meditation is not related to any religion per se. I believe in God, but it’s unlike the definitions of God that goes around in most religions and I don’t go to a church or temple either. I am spiritual but not religious ”

    I am exactly like you in that way, Karthik. The biggest hurdle comes when people ask me “Do you believe in God.” or “Do you have a religion?” I often says “No, I don’t have any religion but I believe in God. In fact I think I am in love with God (errh, no, I did not say that of course. :)

    In these day, even the word “spirituality” gets stuff with all sort of meaning you might not imagine. The line can get real thin. To some being spiritual mean you should be a teetotal or total abstinence from premarital sex or abortion, etc.

    Sometimes I just find don’t know how to carry on any conversation anymore. I rather spent time in the state of “BEING” than “DOING”.

    “May all Beings find Deep Peace and Joy”

  11. karthik on February 18th, 2009 9:23 pm

    To Lotus:
    Yep, I am starting to love god too.. Nothing wrong with that, once you define your god! Yeah, I have found that conversations on spirituality and religion tend to be a little uncomfortable, since I am sometimes not sure, how much the other person is into spirituality or what his/her definition of spirituality is or how open the other person is to having conversations on this topic.

    I echo your prayer on peace too.

  12. Rich on February 19th, 2009 4:38 pm

    Spirituality is a word. Nothing more (or less) than that. Meditation is a word. Nothing more (or less) than that.

    If we come to some agreement on what these words can (or should) mean then we have created a story about words. Aha! But they are still words, only now with a story attached. Each individual can then filter that story through their own experiences, prejudices, hopes, fears, etc. What remains? A word, a story and a person with the unique interpretation of what is said, felt and believed in. Does it bring you closer to being spiritual? Does it mean you are meditating?

    To meditate…to be spiritual? Or, to abandon these definitions and simply observe what is happening right now. That is the choice. Shall we make it then?

    Do we STILL hunger for concepts and meaning or can we NOW enter the direct experience of what is here? Before I meditate I must know….

    Do we really want to look? Are we finally ready to see? Or, shall we play another conceptualization game? I’m waiting for the answer….

  13. Lotus on February 22nd, 2009 4:04 pm

    I think you clearly got the point, Rich. I get drained out with too much conceptualization and avoid scenes like that. I just want to concentrate on BEING, nothing else.

  14. Doug on April 8th, 2009 10:46 pm

    It is a very interesting question. The way I see it it is, the answer is simple –yes.

    I say this because I believe we are spirit beings to begin with. Even though you may not be religious per say, you still possess a spirit. Meditation is getting in contact with your spirit being and looking at what is going on within you beyond your spirit, i.e., the mind.

    Your spirit is the real you, your mind is the ego trying to control the spirit. Christianity calls this the flesh person. There is a war between your spirit and your flesh. If you have been alive for very long, I am sure you are now aware of this war. It sucks, but we all have it.

    Now, do you have to go to church, the temple, or the synagogue to meditate, no, but by doing meditation you may find yourself connecting with God and wanting to seek Him at a place of worship as well.

    Good question.

    Peace and blessings

  15. Mary on April 9th, 2009 9:52 am

    Thank you, Doug, for adding your perspective. Your comment is so thoughtful and well-written and really adds to the discussion.

  16. Kwietman on May 15th, 2009 1:41 pm

    Hm. I find myself on the edge of this discussion, with an interesting perspective. I am an atheist, and have no belief whatsoever in the supernatural or “soul” or “spirit.” I find, however, that the practice of meditation is useful to me in addressing stress, ordering thought and quieting my brain. Many of my friends, most of whom are also atheist, participate in one form or another of meditation, and a few belong to local Buddhist organizations or temples.

    We are all probably exhibiting some form of what would be termed “spirituality,” and while we may not agree on the origin or definition of it, we do agree that there is benefit to centering our consciousness to improve our ability to reason and respond to those around us.

    An interesting discussion, and one much speculated upon in classical philosophy, particularly those who wonder as to the nature of consciousness itself, such as Spinoza and Hume. Thank you for the opportunity to share in the community.

  17. Mary on May 15th, 2009 2:31 pm

    You’re welcome, Kwietman. Seems like there are so many different ways of defining spirituality, and depending on how you define “atheism”, a person could consider themselves to be a “spiritual atheist”! I love exploring these ideas — thanks for your thoughtful comment!

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