September 18, 2019

The Search For Meaning

Spirituality is one of those words and concepts that is interpreted differently by many of us. In fact, even defining the word can be daunting. A search on Google found over 330 million entries for the term spiritual meaning.


To some it means organized religion. To others, spirituality is a belief that everything in the word is somehow tied together. Love is what binds us together.  

Still others see a spiritual person as one engaged on a very private quest for answers of purpose and energy. Some think of meditation or contemplation as the path to increased spirituality. There is a whole community, based in Sedona, Arizona, that looks to energy vortexes and crystals as the way to heighten one's awareness.

For our purposes let's use this definition I found on a blog post: "it is a term which encompasses everything that we cannot see directly with our eyes, directly perceive by the other senses and know by our mere reason. That is spirituality in its basic meaning.

I did some research to find out what others were saying about the link between spirituality and a satisfying retirement. Is there a connection? Though I couldn't find specific statistics, there does seem to be a belief that as we age we do tend to become more spiritual. That may mean more religious in the commonly accepted sense, or a feeling of connectivity to nature and the universe in a more individual sense. 


The reasons are varied, but mostly revolve around the awareness of one's own mortality. We see our body decline, understand there is a loss of mental sharpness as we age, watch friends and relatives die, or lose frequent contact with our grown children who may live far away.

These factors naturally lead us to consider what our life has meant. We also may be looking for something to help us cope with the unimaginable: the end of our time on earth.: "Me, gone? No!"

There is a study I found that says religious retirees are happier, not only because of their beliefs, but for the social aspects of being with like-minded people. Research conducted over the years has found those who are Mormons or Amish  have much lower mortality rates than others. Could some of that be lifestyle-driven? Sure, but the shared experiences and tight-knit communities are likely factors, too.

Several years ago I wrote a post, The Hidden Piece of The Puzzle which provided a glimpse into the growth of my spirituality during my retirement. I made the statement that my life had caught on fire when I explored that side of myself and became more serious about its development.

At that time, I found my comfort in organized religion.Over the last few years that has changed. More attractive to me now is a concept that is sometimes called perennial spirituality, or the idea that everything on this planet, in fact, in the universe, is connected to whatever supreme force created it all.

Organized religions and different religious beliefs are attempts by humans to explain the unexplainable. They are an offshoot of the culture in which they flourish. They use stories, myths, exhortations, and spiritual underpinnings to create a structure that helps a believer feel comfortable and connected. Unfortunately, I believe they miss the fact that all of us share more in common than we do in differences. And, in those differences we end up with wars and hate for others.

Like finding one's passion or intense interest, developing and deepening relationships with others, or learning to live and thrive in situations that you didn't plan for or anticipate, it seems logical to me that we begin to take the time to ask the bigger questions of life.

The routine of a commute, a day spent at a desk or retail establishment, on a factory floor, or in front of a computer gives way to more free time to listen to your mind and emotions. I think it is entirely reasonable to begin to wonder about how everything fits together.

So, what should be your take away on this be? I don't know what is going on with you, though I'd love for you to leave some thoughts. I can only speak for me. As I age, whatever it is that is inside me that you may call a soul or a part of an urge for a universal connection, has been getting stronger and a more important part of my satisfying retirement.

As I move farther away from the standard, one-size-fits-all religious model of my upbringing, I am finding more openness, connection, and delight in people who are different from me, in the beauty of nature, and the call to do something to undo the harm that a rigid mindset might cause.

I may be deceiving myself, attempting to make sense in a world where nothing makes sense. I may be looking to give meaning to a life that, ultimately, has no meaning beyond the here and now. But, if I my beliefs are right I am connected to something that is so much more than just me, or people who look and think like I do.

God, or whatever name to you supply to the founder of everything, is inside me, not an old man in Heaven, waiting to judge. My "job" is simple: reflect his/her/its love and concern to everything and everybody, to the best of my abilities and circumstances. If I'm wrong, I will be dead and won't know the difference. In the meantime, I can feel more fulfilled.

I'm going with the spiritual approach. It makes my life so much richer today.

33 comments:

  1. "...it is a term which encompasses everything that we cannot see directly with our eyes, directly perceive by the other senses and know by our mere reason. That is spirituality in its basic meaning."

    The problem I have with that definition you quoted is it's too generic and could to applied to believing in evil as your guiding life force as well as good. I believe most people think of spirituality as a quest for finding the better part of ourselves and/or seeking a deeper meaning to our places in the universe. To me spirituality is a daily acknowledgement of the grace and beauty in all living things, connected on the continuum of time, and striving to remember that our lives are guided by two forces: choice and grace.

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    1. Unfortunately, any definition is likely to be rather generic, especially in this case. To your point, I am sure there are those who do believe in evil as a spiritual guiding force in life. For them, the definition works.

      Obviously, that is not my interpretation. My personal journey is ongoing as I try to keep those parts of my past tradition and my current interpretation working together toward what I hope will be a more inclusive view of my place in the universe.

      Spirituality is like nailing jello to the wall: just when you think you have it pinned down, parts slide away and force you to rethink something.

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  2. Hi Bob! I so agree that having an awareness of and a resonance with a spiritual understanding gives quality to a life. So yes, I do believe that I am more and more aware of that as I age. I think when we are younger it is so easy just to slip into whatever "faith" or tradition we are raised in and then either stay with that or reject it entirely. Then when we become adults we get so busy we often don't even question that earlier decision. Finally (and hopefully I might add) when we pass 50 or 60 we begin to pay attention and start thinking on our own. I too consider myself "spiritual" with the belief that that definition is as unique as I am. And even if my beliefs fall short of the Truth (with a capital T) they provide me great comfort as well as a compassionate and optimistic view of life and my world--so I'm okay with that uncertainty. I also strive to give others that "freedom" to decide. I guess you could even say my spirituality is "rightsized" (yep, there it is again!!!) because what works for one might not work for another--and that's okay with me. I only object when someone tries to insist that there's is the only one and then force that on me. And I can easily see how having our own understanding increases the quality of our lives as we move into retirement. ~Kathy

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    1. My struggle at the moment is respecting the beliefs of virtually everyone else in my family while not submerging my own thoughts. That means I continue to go to a church every Sunday so I can greet friends and sit with my family. I disagree with parts of what I hear from the pulpit each week, but keep that to myself (though sharing with Betty).

      It is not my role to raise doubts in my grandkids or alienate myself from others. I keep reminding myself that I may be wrong and they may be correct, so I have no right to draw any line in the sand. I do feel the quiet time in the service is good, some of what is said speaks to me, and the rest helps me confirm my own beliefs in a particular area.

      If the world followed your "I only object when someone tries to insist their's is the only one" we would be in a much better place.

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    2. I agree Bob. (especially about correcting my "their's :-) ) While I do write about it on my blog...how can our deeply held beliefs not color our life and our writing...I try to remember that my actions (and maybe my writing) is all that I need to do. Those who witness my example and resonate with it will follow along, others will find what they need.

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  3. I don't consider myself spiritual at all. I do know the Lord Jesus in the spirit rather in the flesh because St. Paul received the gospel of grace from the risen, glorified Lord. St Paul is our apostle. He told us to comfort each other with the blessed hope, that confident expectation that we will spend eternity in heaven with Him. This world is cursed but God tells us that His grace is sufficient for us. So we suffer here, because this is a cursed world but I am comforted in knowing that I will enjoy eternity with Him in heaven. All I have to do is believe what the bible tells me, i.e., that Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and arose the third day. It's a free gift. It the deal of a life time, even eternity. I never go to church because I know too much and I almost never discuss Christianity with anyone because we're not even close.

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    1. I applaud your convictions and firm beliefs. They bring you comfort and assuredness in a very unsettling world.

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  4. I grew up in a 'hellfire' and 'damnation' kind of church. Lots of yelling, pointing fingers, etc. I even remember one time when a visiting preacher was at my grandparents church and his voice and finger pointing kept ramping up until I hid behind my grandfather. There was also another time a step-grandmother took me to her church and it was a circus! People yelling in tongues and running around like aliens from another planet!
    When I met Dave, my husband, I went with his family to their church on Easter. It was so 'civilized' I was in awe! Since then that's been the only religion we
    follow. I do believe our faith is very personal and church isn't always necessary.
    b

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    1. Organized religion has a tendency to divide us into an "us" versus "them" world. I draw a distinction between church and religion, one being a gathering of like-minded people, and the other being a structured organization that is designed to perpetuate and grow itself.

      The type of approach from your past is so damaging to our ability to understand a loving God (or Supreme Being). I don't believe living in fear is his/her/it's goal at all. In fact, it is just the opposite.

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  5. Great post Bob - lots to ponder. I myself am Atheist but I often wonder about spirituality. I dont really buy into the concept of "a creator" though and I often struggle to understand if people mean God when they say that.
    The only thing I believe in, which might be close to spirituality, is treating others they way you'd like to be treated. Not saying that I always manage to do that but I strive to. Nothing worse than hearing some irate customer tearing a strip off of a store employee, or in a restaurant etc.

    Derek.

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    1. I think treating others with the same respect you want for yourself is spiritual, in a sense. It says we are all human beings, we are all connected somehow. It is the core of virtually every religious tradition. But, to live it and practice it does not require accepting any particular label. It must be something innate in the human animal.

      Thanks, Derek, for your contribution

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  6. I wasn't always a Christian. Came to that Faith in my 30's and I still believe. I have more issues with "other Christians" and certain aspects of the "church body" than I have about God. All I know is for me, it works.

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    ― Mahatma Gandhi

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    1. Gandhi identified the problem with many religions: the message gets lost in the trappings and additions put there by well-meaning souls.

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  7. Bob...brought up in the Catholic faith. Divorced. Felt totally rejected by my faith. I turned to th Episcopals but eventually left them as well. Being raised Catholic, it is difficult to be anything else. But they continue to disappoint me. We have the most intolerant bishop here in RI that says hateful, non inclusive statements that continue to turn me away from the faith of my birth. I just try to be a good person and find joy in nature.

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    1. That is unfortunate but, I'm afraid, is not uncommon. Jesus wouldn't recognize Christianity as practiced today by too many. He preached inclusiveness and love; obviously your bishop needs to reread the Bible.

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  8. Church I was attending became more and more politically oriented. Services were not meditative or prayerful, I was more upset about the state of the world when I LEFT the service.The minister also began another capital campaign to raise more money and make the church bigger.. he wants a really big congregation.. my own spiritual life deepens as I get older. Have always been a meditator, and I have strong beliefs that sustain me. Have stopped going to services.I miss the social aspect but just could not drive the 14 miles to get all riled up about the state of the world.I DO believe in volunteering,etc. and will help get voters out.. but at CHURCH I need a heavy dose of SPIRIT not politics.

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    1. Even though I have differences with my church's position on some key issues, politics and rants about the state of the world are never part of the minister's message. if they were, I'd join you on a long nature walk.

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  9. I am.one of those who remains grounded in the traditional church.i was born an Episcopalian explored many options and returned to where I was. I have been to a couple churches of my faith that I have left and in fact do not go to my neighborhood church as such. But my faith is well grounded and remains and as in most Episcopalian churches the goal as to do as Christ did. While can find God in the mountain, I believe we are meant to worship in groups..and that if you aren't happy in the faith or your parish, you should look further afield. Say "church shopping" like it's a good thing.

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    1. The original meaning of "church" is a gathering of like-minded people. Our shorthand has changed that to now mean the actual building, but that wasn't Jesus' intent.

      Like you, I believe we are stronger in our faith, whatever shape that may take, when we share time with others.

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    2. I should also add that there is rarely stuff from the pulpit that I disagree with as we are progressive church that goes about not judging others and who are supposed to be doing the work of christ ( something that I fail at more than i succeed). We also regularly discuss other Faith's including inviting the Iman into our church. I always though that if i left the church I would turn u universalist.

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  10. As an atheist I am in the minority in these comments, but as always I appreciate the civility of the discussion here on a topic which can be divisive and emotional. I was raised in a Christian home, going to church when none of my buddies did. I remained a Christian until about 6 or 8 years ago when I really started thinking more about it, and found it made less and less sense to me. While I can't 100% rule out something in the spiritual realm, I see very little evidence of it.

    As for happiness in retirement, I find that I am notably happier in life in general since since I lost my faith. I get far less angry when bad things happen to good people (or any people). I don't struggle with trying to figure out why a god would let those things happen - these things just happen and are often beyond anyone's control. Also, I used to say a little prayer before facing a difficult day or task. Now I no longer do, but get through them just as well, giving me more confidence and satisfaction in my own ability to deal with those situations.

    I do see the points about the social value of religion/spirituality to some degree though, and that can be important to retirees. My wife still attends church every week and I go with her, partly so she has some company and doesn't have to answer questions about where I am, and partly to connect with friends that we have made there over the years.

    Finally, while it is usually expressed in more colourful terms, I have often seen the philosophy of many atheists stated as, "don't be a jerk". I think that's a pretty good way to live.

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    1. I continue to attend my church for many of the same reasons you still go with your wife. That 90 minutes is worth the investment for me for the comfort it provides to others.

      One reason I continue to blog is the civil and caring community that seems to populate these pages. If I ever had to deal with lots of anger or finger-pointing I would find some other outlet for my need to write.

      The moment any one of us thinks he or she has all the correct answers you have lost me.

      Thank you, Dave, for expressing your thoughts. You may be in the minority in the comments, but you speak for many more who don't take the time to respond.

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  11. In retirement I am learning to reconnect with nature and in so doing the primeval within. For me, however, that level of connection and understanding, is the basis for extracting personal fulfilment from simply being. There are no religious connotations.

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    1. When I pay attention to the beauty, complexity, and inner-working of everything in nature, I cannot believe it all happened randomly. Some force had to have a guiding hand.

      That said, I really have no idea exactly what that force is or what it wants. All I can do is enjoy what has been created and do my small part to protect it.

      Does that make sense?

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    2. For me the laws of nature and physics are sufficient but I do understand that others seek and in many instances have found more.

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  12. Bob, Dave P's comment prompted me to do something I've been meaning to do for a while, and that is to let you know how highly I think of the community you've built here at Satisfying Retirement and how much I enjoy spending time on your blog. You make everyone feel welcome, and the members of your community are extremely respectful of others with different ideas, views and perspectives. So thank you for your efforts, and a round of applause for your readers who add to your posts in such interesting ways.

    As for spirituality, about ten years ago I traded the Catholic Church for Nature's Cathedral and couldn't be happier. The many facets of Nature do more to soothe my soul and restore my sense of balance than did the Church's many rules or my pastor's recounting of his weekly activities during the Holy Mass. I try to treat others as I would like to be treated, and work to improve my tolerance, patience and other shortcomings. I never thought I'd walk away from the Church but, surprisingly, I don't miss it.

    Thanks, again, for all you do!

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    1. Mary, your description about the Cathedral of Mother Nature really hit the nail on the head for me.. I find such comfort,wisdom,awe, and peace in Nature.. much more than in a church.I've tried a few congregations this past few years, including going back to Catholic church, and none were right for me.I miss the social factor of a spiritual community.. I meet with some women who enjoy meditation at the New Moon.. again,Mother Nature!! Enjoyed your post.

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    2. Thank you, Mary. With the folks who come to the blog, my continuing participation is really a labor of love.

      Madeline, I definitely see you and Ken as part of the Cathedral of Mother Nature. As I noted above, experiencing the complexity of the natural world without reacting in awe is impossible.

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    3. You make a good point, Madeline. I do miss seeing the members of my former congregation - and I never even knew the names of many of them. Still, I don't see myself returning.

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  13. Late to the party, but this is a great discussion. I just spent some time with my 87 yo mother planting perennials at two cemeteries because she is realizing she can't get there on Memorial Day anymore. She is/has been very religious and spiritual all my life, and I was raised in a pretty strict Catholic home. In the past 15-20 years, I've begun to look at this experience in a different light (due to a number of things, including the abuse crisis and my experience advocating for victims), and I no longer feel tied to the dogma as I once did. That said, my upbringing gave me a deep appreciation for spirituality and I continue to read and participate in women's inter-spiritual retreats, activities, etc. It's a life long study and I continue to evolve. I have really enjoyed reading the other comments. Thanks for another great post, Bob.

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    1. I think my life would be much less fulfilling and satisfying if I didn't feel connected to something bigger than myself. What that something is has evolved over the years (and continues to do so).


      But, where I am now was built on a solid foundation as a youth and young adult. I don't reject all I was taught, I just believe things are more interconnected and regardless of the path different cultures and teachings take, ultimately all point to the same force.

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  14. Hi Bob. I am an atheist. Although I can understand the social appeal of getting together with a community of people once a week and working with them on charitable projects, I simply cannot understand the appeal of religious doctrine. I don’t believe the tenets of Christianity (or any other religions I have studied); religion doesn’t make sense to me. However, I differentiate spirituality from religiosity. When I am out in nature, I feel a sense of great peace, joy, awe, and gratitude for the beautiful world and the interconnectedness of all things. There is an animating force to living things, a life force that seems to be more, somehow, than the sum of body and brain. In the wonder of what is, I can accept that there may be aspects that are not discoverable by reason or science or emotions - a spiritual component. In retirement, I have had more time and more interest in becoming open to this element, through meditation, yoga, and time in nature.

    Jude

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