What is the difference between spirituality and religion? What is the difference between spiritually and Christianity? What is the difference between finding God and finding yourself?
These are all questions that have the same answer. They are one. There is no difference at all.
When people try to overcomplicate or turn these questions into political debates, creating walls between friendships and wars between boarders, my heart is in turmoil. Why do we live in a world where we accept the answers to things we do not fully understand for ourselves? Why don't we investigate who we really are and how we relate to the world around us before judging ourselves or one another? Have we accepted false truths into our hearts because someone else said it was so?
When I really starting diving into the worlds of spirituality and Christianity this year I became increasingly aware of how separate people wanted them to remain. After studying reiki, yoga, and Catholism, it appeared bizarre to me that some people within each of these communities had a big problem with the others. There is the belief that 'spirituality' and 'Christianity' are on two very separate planes of existence. There was great irony in the fact that many of the individuals who claimed to be 'extremely spiritual' or 'devote Christians or Catholics' were consciously judging and holding prejudice against those that were different then them. By not being open to the world and the differences of those around us, we have actually moved further away from God then coming closer to understanding Him. Yes, there are demons and sources of evil within every community, but why does spiritually and Christ have to remain separate?
This year I had a fellow parishioner warn me about the practice of yoga and reiki being 'demonic' and 'dishonoring God'. I wanted to tell this person directly that the reason I had come back to the church in the first place was because I had been so moved by God and Holy Spirit through meditative yoga and reiki treatment that it transformed my faith. I had an extreme conversation in heart. I also noticed great discomfort in some of my yogi friends when I decided to go through with my teacher training and mentioned that I wanted to bring back yoga to the states with a Christian focus. I couldn't understand how many yogis could claim to be 'spiritual', yet not contribute their overall peace and enlightenment to a source greater then themselves. It absolutely stumped me.
I cannot speak for the experiences of others, but I want to share with you one story that bridged the gap for me.
To preface, when I was a child I collected hundreds of sea shells on a beach I visited every summer. I used to pick up all the sea shells I could find, including the broken pieces. I never got very far down the beach as I'm sure you can imagine. The plastic bucket I carried would often grow heavy and overflow with all sorts of washed up debris. When my father noticed this silly tendency, he gently encouraged me to pick up only the sea shells that were whole. I told him that I couldn't do that because no one else wanted the broken pieces and they deserved to feel loved too. More then 15 years later, my Dad still has boxes of broken sea shells in our attic.
So, this year I starting attending yoga Nedra classes. A yoga Nedra class is a guided meditation that is lead by the teacher who reads a script and helps bring students into a relaxed state of awareness. When I first started attending classes, I was at a place in my life with a lot of confusion and heartache. My self-worth and confidence had plummeted to an all time low, and going to yoga was one of my 'happy places'. So there I was laying on the floor in this yoga Nedra class in savasana, (although fully awake and present) and in a deep mediation. The teacher's voice faded in the background and suddenly I felt like I had left my body. I experienced something that some might consider a 'vision'. I like to call it a direct conversation with God.
In this vision, I was on a beach, alone. I saw a small girl in the distance. Everything felt so tangible. The ocean breeze, the salty air, and the soft glow of the sun behind the clouds. The girl had long, dirty blonde hair and was wearing a red dress. I couldn't see her face and she quickly disappeared from my line of vision like a cloud dissolving into thin air. When I turned around to see if I had imagined her, she was standing directly behind me. I came face-to-face with my six year old self. She had bright eyes and a smile that stretched widely across her face. She had both her hands behind her back and giggled as if she had a secret to tell me. I bent down on my knees and asked her what she was hiding. She stretched out her arms and presented a beautiful, white, bay scallop-sea shell. I learned this year that sea shells are considered a symbol of divinity and perfection due to their perfect symmetry. If you look up the San Damiano crucifix that spoke to St. Francis, there are shells that boarder the cross for this reason. The little girl said to me, "You are whole. Don't you know, you were never broken to begin with?" and then smiled. Tears streamed down my face as I took the sea shell and held it to my heart. She disappeared and so did my meditative state of higher consciousness. I remember recognizing that I was still in the room and had landed back in my body. Whatever my yoga teacher had said I completely missed, and wasn't sure what I had just experienced. It didn't make any sense at the time, yet I felt perfect and complete in that moment. I had encountered an experience with God and with myself. Because God is in me, God is also in you. We are not separate from one another; we are one. And when we come to the realization we are all one with God, we can begin to tap into what God wants us to realize about ourselves. That we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And every person who is one with God is capable of harnessing the Holy Spirit and experiencing God in every moment we choose to see Him. We are perfect in His eyes. We are whole and divine like sea shells, regardless of the brokenness we may feel inside.
How do I know this is real? Because this is only one of several experiences I've had throughout my healing journey. I have never shared them openly with others because they are personal and unique to me and my individual relationship with God. I don't need to tell you what I have or have not experienced to convince you that God is real. Because you yourself have to make up your mind about whether or not that is true. When we start wrongly searching for tangible 'wonders and signs' outside of ourselves we will never encounter God. When we have true faith and do not need to see to believe that He is real, that is when we begin to uncover Truth.
So the thing that really struck me after this experience was trying to understand why there was an enormous gap between the communities of Christianity (or religion) and spirituality. Why weren't they one in the same? What is the difference between honoring God with the intention of Christ in my heart in a yoga studio versus in a church? I do attend mass every Sunday (which in Spain has been four weeks of Catalan dialect), but my point is that when you are 'truly enlightened' or growing in your faith, there is no reason to discredit one or the other. One can use both to grow in spirit, mind, and body.
I pray the rosary every day and whenever I do so, I am in a state of meditation. Depending on how focused I am in scripture or prayer that day, the deepness of the meditative state can vary. When I pray, I can feel the sensation of reiki flowing through me. My hands feel like they are on fire. Although reiki is a practice described as 'healing energy medicine' that originated in Japan, I think it can also be described as the Holy Spirit moving through people.
I have noticed that while religion tends to exclude people, yoga tends to be all inclusive or secular. Let me expand on these thoughts:
Reasons why religion tends to exclude:
- Because 'I' as the individual want to have authority in the church community.
- It is easier to judge others then open our perspective to the things we do not understand or haven't discerned for ourselves in the name of Christ.
- The ego becomes bigger then God and we lose site of the fact that to truly act in a godly way, we must act in love (therefore not judging our brothers and sisters as being 'incorrect' but rather finding a way to lead them closer to God and to Christ).
Reasons why yoga tends to be too inclusive:
- Because our society has moved towards a secular approach to life.
- It is easier to be 'all-inclusive' then to speak truth, out of fear of offending someone.
- 'We' as the society have put a higher importance on material goods, celebrities, & status, making us blind to our spirituality and direct connection to God. By honoring these things we give them power, and therefore search externally in other people (like gurus) or false sources of happiness.
- Tying a specific religion or idea to yoga doesn't sell yoga business.
I have a real issue with all of these approaches. Both yoga and religion can be used in amazing, structured ways that allow individuals to grow stronger in both their personal development and spiritual well-being. They are both purification tools to help us grow deeper in our spirituality. It is normal to want to be a part of a community of like-minded individuals who believe the same things that you do, but when choose to accept answers to the things we haven't take the time to explore for ourselves, we loose site of the true divinity within us.
It is my dream to own a yoga studio one day that has God and Christ at the center of all of these things. There is no reason for anyone to look outside of themselves to find God or something greater then the good we are all inherently born with. We are one with Creation. We are equals. We are children of God.
If you want to truly know God, get to know yourself. Open you heart up to the possibility that we are not separate. When you really look from within and have only pure love in your heart towards others, things start to make sense. It starts with you. If you want to know the true difference between spiritually and Christianity, there's only one way to find out.