Is Spirituality Experienced or Learned?

Where do our spiritual beliefs come from – experience or study? The answer will likely evolve over time. As we have more spiritual experiences, our beliefs will naturally lean to the philosophy or religion that best reflects those experiences.

When we’re children, that doesn’t quite work. Children don’t often recognize spiritual experiences because they are so foreign to the beliefs they learn at home or at their family’s place of community worship. When I was a kid, I had a number of spiritual experiences that I didn’t recognize as spiritual. The experiences were alien to the Presbyterian church we attended. They were beyond everything I was taught.

Those childhood experiences seemed like a form of madness rather than spirituality. Many involved the natural world, though at the time, I didn’t realize the natural world was spiritual. I also had childhood experiences of being someone other than myself. That certainly didn’t seem spiritual. Looking back, it very much was.

As an adult, I’ve followed spiritual paths that felt warm and encouraging – Unity, Science of Mind, Self-Realization Fellowship. Those were positive learning centers that helped deepen my spiritual understanding.

In recent years, I have been drawn to Hinduism and Taoism, especially the teachings from The Upanishads and Lao Tzu. I am not attracted to these teachings just because they are beautiful – they are – but because they explain what I’ve been experiencing.

Spiritual experiences can be simple – life just showing us who we are. Or they can be a matter of noticing that the world appears quite different than it used to. The world I see now is more like the world I saw as young child – before I was taught that what I thought I was seeing was not there.


14 thoughts on “Is Spirituality Experienced or Learned?

  1. What you are describing is very similar to my experience, only I was brought up in an atheist family, and even, you can say, a rather atheist community. People laughed at me, and thought I had a too vivid imagination. I guess they still do. I was also drawn to Hinduism, and started pursuing that attraction when I was 14-15, I joined a spiritual new age community, but even though I received understanding and respect there, I found this community to be very self-centered and extreme, so I left it. I have met many spiritual teachers, along the way, and I have learned a lot, but I have come to the conclusion that my spirituality does not want to be institutionalized or put in a box with walls and limitations, it needs to be free! And I have started looking for answers more within than without. But, I do get immense amount of inspiration from reading philosophy and religious texts, specially vedic philosophy and books. But I have become better now at not trying so hard to find somewhere to belong. When I was younger I wanted that badly, to belong to a community. Now, I know, that it is enough to belong to the one we call God, and trust my own instincts and intuition when it comes to spiritual matters. I now live, from the inside out and not from the outside in 🙂 I live as a giver, not as a taker, meaning I source whatever I need from within and give it out, I do not source from without and let it stay inside. I love to think of religion, teachers, books, articles etc as inspiration, something to inspire movement, not something to assimilate and conform to, if you know what I mean. But this is only my personal journey and thoughts, everyone has their individual journeys. Just thought I’d share mine with you 🙂

  2. What an interesting topic! When I have tried to answer the question based on my spirituality, I find it difficult to answer. As a child, I had intuitions about God that some people would find perhaps a bit silly such as God is both feminine and masculine and neither. I think now, not a bad conclusion for a nine old. I later on had an experience that started me on a path with God and then afterwards got side-tracked by religion. Now, it is my pursuit of spirituality that draws me closer and closer to peace, bliss and Love. It feels to me that I know in my mind less than I thought I knew but understand more in my heart.

    • I understand what you mean about knowing the mind less. The mind is a tool, but it can be troublesome if left to its own devices. There is something else inside that can be trusted. I would guess that’s what you mean by your heart. Whatever it is inside that’s trustworthy — that’s who we really are.

  3. a very interesting exploration. I found myself wanting you to define what a ‘spiritual experience’ was, but you came back around to that at the end :). Reflecting on your post, it does seem a sortof melding – once you are ‘actively walking’ as I like to call it – or awakened, or whatever feels right – it seems you ‘find’ just the encouragement you need in the world around you (whether that is the natural world or the literate world). It can be incredibly nourishing and encouraging to read something that mirrors your own understanding and experience of being. Usually those readings both validate and broaden our understanding so there’s a dual benefit (at least, that has been my experience). I do love the Upanishads… they were a hallmark on the path for me… I am planning to re-read as part of a new series I’m working on for my blog. Right now I’m re-reading parts of Hero w/ a Thousand Faces and Huston Smith’s Hinduism Chapter in The World’s Religions which will feature in my next post which I hope to get out sometime this week :). Write on, Rob! 🙂

  4. It is unfortunate that many families do not support the spiritual experiences of their children. I was remembering other lifetimes, talking to spiritual beings, walking in and out of other dimensions as a child and, I, too, grew up in Presbyterian family that denied these things. Thankfully, many children are now being raised in more open minded and spiritually experienced families.

    • My parents wouldn’t have known how to support my spiritual experiences. When I was young teenager, I told my mom, “Whatever happens is OK. There is a high level where all of this that we’re living through is OK. We’ll be there when this is over.” She replied, “How do you know it’s high?” That kind of ended the conversation.

      I remember asking my kids when they were young, “Do you know God’s with you — present — all the time?” Each one of the three — I asked them individually — said, “Yes, I know.” So I asked, “How do you know that?” Each one said, “I don’t know.”

  5. Thank you Robert, Here area few questions.
    What do you mean by “spiritual” ?
    What qualifies an experience to be labeled as “spiritual” ?
    In life as we know it how can you differentiate ” spiritual ” from “Non-spiritual”?

    • Hi Hshmzaki7. I think the first two questions can really only be answered self-referentially. Your last question, though, is very interesting. More and more I think there isn’t anything that isn’t spiritual. Again, that shows the impossibility of answering your first two questions. However, I have spend most of my life unable to see the spirituality surrounding me.

  6. I don’t think we need to reason it all out….just feel our way….what feels right to each of us individually usually is…….By the way….I remember being able to FLY as a child….Thanks for the remembrance…..Blessings, Barb xxxx

  7. Hey Rob,

    As always an interesting and succinct post that removes the superfluous without detracting from the essence, and yet such a post throws the mind in to confrontation with personal definitions and perhaps unrecognised boundaries as well.

    For want of words, i’ll just leave the following comment instead…

    Spirituality is a uniquely individual and personal relationship with the numinous and unfathomable. It is no more and no less than intuition, insight, emotional feeling, and deep reflection on the natural Source of all things. It can neither be deduced nor confined to a system of symbols or words, or reduced at its essence by man-made words. It is all things to all people, and the absolute bliss of a transcendent soul.


    DN – 24/05/14

    • Nice comment, Dewin. I particularly enjoy this comment of your: “It is no more and no less than intuition, insight, emotional feeling, and deep reflection on the natural Source of all things.”

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