In a previous article, I defined ‘interspirituality’ as the “exploration of the immaterial or sentient parts of our being using methods and ideas that are shared by and/or exist between the world’s wisdom traditions.”
Spirituality is a personal exploration.
Interspirituality is a multi-perspective exploration.
A Buffet of Likes and Dislikes
Okay. Let me start gathering ideas and methods. I’ll take Buddhist meditation, the occasional Native American sweat lodge, yogic poses and cleansing techniques, a belief in a good and loving God (from my version of Christianity), inspiration from the soulful poetry of Rumi, and the Vedantic description of nonduality.
Some will say yes, others no.
And while there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach of choosing based on likes and dislikes, I think it wise to put a little more planning and thinking into the process.
Goldilocks Approach to Choosing
Since I finished my interfaith studies and published my thesis, Experifaith, in 2017, I’ve been thinking about what an interspiritual framework might look like.
I’ve concluded that a Goldilocks approach is probably most prudent.
We can’t have too many rules or guidelines (we are explorers, after all), but a few broad guidelines are needed.
I’ve created six guidelines that should help you get started.
They are by no means exhaustive.
Use the ones that suit you and leave the rest.
1. Exist in More Than One Tradition
I love using the term ‘wisdom traditions.’ It encompasses all of the world’s major religions, mystical paths, and first nations’ belief systems. That gives us quite a buffet to choose from. Too much, perhaps? That’s why we need a way to narrow it down. Despite many differences, there are several important similarities that we should focus on.
Naturally, you can make exceptions when something that only exists in one tradition speaks to you. It is your spiritual path, after all. But look for the overlaps wherever possible.
I find it helpful to ask: Does this idea/practice exist in more than one tradition?
2. Include These Categories of Practice and Thought
What do all the wisdom traditions have in common? They are all practiced by humans. As such, they attempt to fulfill similar needs. That is why an interspiritual practice should include something from each of the following categories.
a) Personal Practice: Every tradition includes forms of prayer and meditation. That makes those practices important. Think about other practices and rituals that fit into the personal practice category.
b) Contemplation: Each philosophy or worldview makes a tradition a tradition. Still, all of them have made room for contemplatives. Even the most literal traditions have included groups of men and women whose primary purpose was to contemplate and offer insights, which makes contemplation another cross-traditional category of importance.
c) Service and compassion: Walk into any church, synagogue, temple, or spiritual center, and you will find an emphasis on service and compassion. That is why they belong in every interspiritual practice.
d) Morality: Huston Smith used to say that anthropologists had yet to find a human tribe or civilization that did not impose some restrictions on its members. In the context of interspirituality, two types of morality are worth noting. One is meant to establish rules of engagement within a group. The other is to help individuals deal with their animal instincts. Because spirituality is a personal exploration, the second definition probably applies in this context. Personal morality reduces inner battles.
e) Aspiration: Whether it’s enlightenment, compassion, or entry into Heaven, each tradition is embedded with aspirational ideas. Hope and betterment appear to be what tie those aspirations together. Therefore, aspiration is an important category to include.
3. Think About Original Intent
This helps you avoid cultural appropriation.
Let me give you an example. When I started practicing and teaching yoga in the nineties, I went through a brief period where I clumped my yoga practice together with Indian culture. To be a better yogi, I wore Indian clothing and religious symbols, cooked Indian food, and listened to Indian music. It took me a few years to realize that I was outwardly expressing a culture that was not mine and, more importantly, doing so did not contribute to my spiritual practice. Being able to distinguish between the two is important.
Focusing on the original intent will help you tease the spiritual essence and outward expression apart.
Therefore, before you adopt anything from another tradition, ask yourself this simple question: What is the original intent behind this idea/practice?
4. Resolve Contradicting Philosophies
There is no way around it. Practicing interspirituality can become confusing. You will be exposed to contradicting ideas and philosophies, especially if you follow self-titled gurus or spiritual teachers online.
For the sake of sanity, you need to have a way to resolve those contradicting philosophies. You need to create a way to discern for yourself.
Rabbi Harold Kushner decided to believe in a God that was all-good rather than an all-powerful God that was only good to a select few. I created the Experifaith model for myself to explain the contradiction between oneness and goodness, nonduality and moral living.
What process will you use to resolve contradictions when you get confused?
5. Seek Personal Experiences
The primary purpose of interspirituality is personal exploration. Once you’ve studied and chosen, take the ideas and practices from the theoretical realm to the experiential. Use them. Have experiences.
Then think about what you’ve learned about yourself. What have you gained? Are you ready to let go of something that no longer serves you? Have you discovered something of value?
Spirituality is synonymous with self-discovery, self-compassion, and self-realization, to name a few, all of which require active engagement on your part.
6. Seek Community, Guidance, or Both
Here’s the stark truth. You are the only one who can walk down the road less traveled. No one can do it for you. After all, this is your spiritual journey. And it can get lonely. That is why I urge you to seek out a community or a coach to support you in your approach. Preferably both.
Yes, the path is lonely. But you don’t have to be alone.
I Wish I’d Gotten Similar Guidelines
I’ve been on this path for decades and wish I’d had access to similar guidelines earlier in my journey. It would have been helpful. While this list of guidelines is by no means exhaustive, I hope you found them useful.
Author and Mindfulness Teacher
Amazon Author Profile
- Monk of All Faiths: Inspired by The Prophet (fiction)
- Spiritual in My Own Way (memoir)
- Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides (nonfiction)
- Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion (nonfiction)
- Premature Holiness: Five Weeks at the Ashram (novel)
- The Meditating Psychiatrist Who Tried to Kill Himself (novel)
Picture: CC0 License
Related article: What is Interspirituality?