In a thoughtful interview with Sam Mowe, The Sixth Extinction‘s Pulizer-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert responds to a question about spirituality. She speaks of spirituality in a broad sense, as meaning thoughtfulness and restraint.
I have had to think about my response to the word spirituality because people ask me, too, about it. I was raised Catholic by non-devout parents, became “spiritual” in my teens, then became secular (non-theist).
“Spirituality” is usually thought of as a religious thing, especially as a sense of connection to God or disembodied existence. Because I am secular and because many people clearly feel deeply spiritual (as I feel, say, at night on the ocean), I’ve had to ask myself: What, in the absence of a god, is that feeling of spirituality that our minds create? This seems a murky question but the answer I came up with is simple. In how I see and feel it, spirituality is our emotional connection to what is larger than ourselves. It’s invoked by our sense of connection to the vastness of space, the depth and breadth of past and future time, the things bigger than us. It’s that perspective-setting apprehension (a word I like for its double-duty as perception and uncertainty) of our place in vast continua. Our sense of the beautiful time-tuned wisdom of nature, the sacred improbability of Life, the mysterious beauty of music and our love for people—all these sorts of things qualify, to me, as spiritual. And that is how they feel to me.