What is interspirituality? I’ve studied the pioneers in this field, including Brother Wayne Teasdale (a Catholic turned Swami), Aldous Huxley (author of The Perennial Philosophy), Huston Smith (religion scholar and author of The World’s Religions), and Ken Wilber (the philosopher who created the integral model) for years. While they provided tremendous insights, they failed to do one thing: Define interspirituality concisely.
The Need for a Definition
I believe that the better we define a term, the less room there is for misunderstanding, especially when the term does not point to something tangible in the real world.
If someone asks, “What is a tire?” I can simply point to a tire.
If, however, someone asks, “What is a thought?” I will need to give a clear definition and some examples.
To define the term interspirituality, I will attempt to do both.
Let me begin by splitting the term in two.
Inter: Shared By and Existing Between
According to the dictionary, ‘inter’ can mean; ‘between, among, in the midst’ (interagency); ‘reciprocal’ (interrelated); ‘located between’ (interstation); ‘carried between’ (international); ‘shared by’ (interfaith), and ‘existing between’ (intercommunal).
In the context of interspirituality, ‘inter’ means shared by and existing between.
Spirituality: Exploration of the Immaterial or Sentient Part
Spirituality is a little bit harder to define.
According to the dictionary, ‘spirit’ is defined as; ‘an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms’ and ‘the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person.’
‘Spirituality,’ on the other hand, is defined as; ‘relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit’ and ‘relating to sacred matters and concerned with religious values.’
Several years ago, I wrote an article that defined spirituality as the exploration of oneness and goodness in various forms. Having been in spiritual circles most of my adult life, I’ve grown to appreciate spirituality as just that, a personal exploration of the inner dimensions.
Therefore, in the context of interspirituality, the word ‘spirituality’ means the exploration of the immaterial or sentient parts of our being.
Interspirituality = Interexploration
Put together, interspirituality means:
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.
Why Having a Clear Definition Matters
Ever since I was exposed to the openness of the New Age movement back in the 90s, I’ve noticed that some people’s definition of ‘spirituality’ is ‘to do what they want or what they feel like.’ This approach often ends in a narcissistic buffet of random spiritual practices and superstitions.
It’s like when someone with no sense of balanced nutrition only eats ice cream at Golden Corral and thinks that all their nutritional needs have been satisfied.
It’s also one of the main reasons I think having a clear definition is important. It serves as a compass on the road less traveled.
The Discerning Explorer
There are no clear maps for interspiritual explorers. The territory is wide open. We live in an unprecedented era and have access to all the world’s wisdom traditions and previously guarded knowledge. Explorers must learn how to discern for themselves, to think clearly.
The definition gives us two primary questions to ask.
1. Do the practices and/or methods I am using exist among/between the world’s wisdom traditions?
2. Am I exploring the immaterial or sentient part of my being?
The first question encourages us to look and see whether the ideas or methods are shared. They don’t need to be shared by all, but to be genuinely interspiritual, I’d say they need to exist in two or more traditions.
The second question raises our level of awareness. Trying to fulfill our basic physical needs or trying to be happy would hardly count as spiritual in this context. The question encourages us to explore the sentient, conscious, and immaterial.
Helping a Fellow Traveler
As I have written many times, interspirituality is for the few, not the many. Most people will be completely satisfied staying within the confines of their tradition and exploring their spiritual life from that vantage point.
But for those of us who hunger for the bigger picture, to see the interconnectedness of it all, interspirituality is a worthwhile path to travel, even if it remains partially hidden.
I hope that by offering a concise definition, I am helping my fellow travelers.
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: How to Practice Interspirituality