I always get a fluttery little feeling when I think about where I came from. The memories, the faces, the long days and late nights spent with friends during some of our most formative years. We experienced the same world, at the same moments in time, and even though we came from unique backgrounds, we lived in a very similar reality in our day-to-day lives. This is one of the many special things about small towns: people easily develop a shared sense of community, interest, and understanding of the world. Even after childhood, in college for example, there is so much common experience with our peers. This made it easy to relate to the girl in the dorm a few doors down, or the guy next to you in a lecture hall. All of our shared experiences in our youth and beyond made it easier to understand each other, and easier to band together. But what happens when our stretches of common experience and growth start to fade? When we start crafting our own unique lifestyles and truly establishing our personalities in our convictions and beliefs, rather than in the experiences we share with those around us? How do we maintain the connections with the people we once aligned so clearly with when we have either stayed on or gone down a spiritual path that they might not be able to fully understand?
One of the most common ways we define our “belief system” is through our religion, or our spirituality. I grew up like most small town, Midwest kids – with religion as a fixture in daily life. I went to Catholic school, and held the assumption that most kids like me held the same values as my family. And as I look back and consider the fact that most of my friends had varying religious backgrounds, it’s interesting to note that, regardless of our individual religious alignments, most of us were indeed raised with the same values…honesty, compassion, empathy, commitment, accountability, and so on. Even when we were too young to articulate these concepts, we recognized others’ ability (or lack thereof) to keep these values at the forefront of their actions. We made friends on the playground because they were kind to us, or made us laugh. Because they made us feel joyful and happy. Most of us didn’t think about, ask about, and let alone care about each other’s rituals, or to whom our classmates prayed at night. We simply looked at our peers and subconsciously worked through the questions “is this person good?” and “do we have something in common?” And that was all we needed to know.
Relating and understanding one another becomes so much more complicated when we start making personal, adult decisions based on our spiritual convictions. Our choices are no longer credited to our parents, or figures of authority. Our path becomes completely ours. And sometimes, with that ownership over our choices, there is conflict with those who would have taken a different path if they were in your shoes. This can cause some dissonance in a relationship, and it can be uncomfortable and awkward and just plain painful.
Or, we can move beyond the discord. One of the most enlightening and fulfilling decisions I have ever made in my life has been to find the beauty in the spiritual path of my loved ones, no matter how different it may look from my own.
I have a handful of close friends who are incredibly fulfilled by a specific religion and faith. As they have grown and changed for the better as human beings, while simultaneously growing in their faith, I have been awed by the energy, joy, and love they exude. They are invigorated by their commitment to having a relationship with a higher power. It has been truly beautiful to witness their personal growth, reached through their chosen avenues of faith. I am continually impressed by the good they do in the world, their selfless choices, and the joy they bring to others; they are so clearly motivated by their relationship with a higher power. With this respect I have for them in mind, it may be surprising to learn that I personally do not share any of the specific religious values and beliefs of these individuals in my life.
I have another handful of friends who, like the ones described above, exude a nearly identical level of energy, joy, and love. They do good. They make the lives of others better. They continuously support and care for others. They are introspective, self-motivated, grounded, and again, it has been truly beautiful to watch them become these incredible people. And they, like me, do not have a specific religious alignment.
The common thread between these two very different groups is a deeply held sense of self-awareness and connection to the world around them. A level of spirituality. A recognition that we all have a responsibility to become the best versions of ourselves, and that how we act toward others truly does have an impact on the overall health and productivity of our communities and our world. Heightened awareness that the world is bigger than the self, and that our connections matter, is a type of spirituality, whether religious or secular. That spirituality leads to a sense of fulfillment; the soul feels complete, and full of purpose.
We will never live in a world where our religious or spiritual alignment is universal. At the individual level, we are too unique, too curious, too bold, to ever ascribe to a collective belief on higher powers. It is much easier, and much more realistic, to ascribe to a universal understanding of what is “good”. This is what bonds us as a community, regardless of our religious affiliations. It’s okay to stand firmly in our personal convictions – this is part of living your muse – but it’s not okay if we use those convictions to build walls, separating us from those who understand the world differently from us. Rather than fixating on spiritual differences, consider opening your heart to the beauty of the childlike perception of relationships: connect with and understand others based on shared experiences and shared values of goodness. Do good, celebrate good, and allow the good of others into your life. You can assess your relationships based on a spiritual label that you might not even fully understand, or you can assess them by looking into the heart of the individual. With the latter, you will likely find your circle to be more diverse, complex, and yes, at times more complicated to navigate. But, it will be a better catalyst for personal, social, and spiritual fulfillment.
Executive Brand Curator, Moderna Muse