YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — From senior leadership to our newest recruits, many of our Airmen today struggle with the concept of spirituality and how it influences their thoughts and behaviors.
For many, the word spirituality is merely a synonym for religion or a metaphysical conception that has no real bearing on their lives. However, as the Air Force has chosen to include spirituality as one of the four pillars in the Comprehensive Airman Fitness Model, perhaps a closer look is warranted.
Before continuing, it is important to note that while religion is a practice, spirituality is a concept. That is to say, while spirituality incorporates religion, it is not defined by it. Thereby while one person may have a religious faith that facilitates the existence of an all-knowing God who is ultimately in control, another may view life from the perspective that there is no omnipotent force and it is up to us to make sense of the chaotic nature of the universe. Either way, both individuals still have spirituality in their lives and are empowered by their beliefs.
As you are reading this, you may be asking what spirituality really is. One definition Merriam-Webster provides is, “the quality or state of being spiritual” further defining spiritual as, “of or relating to a person’s spirit.” Taking this into account, by definition spirituality is an intangible and subjective concept that is open to individual interpretation. However, while the term may mean different things to different people, everyone’s spirituality is comprised of some common core elements.
Our spirituality includes our sense of purpose and meaning; it is what drives us through adversities. It incorporates our beliefs, principles, and values that ultimately guide our thought processes and how we conduct ourselves. In reality, our spirituality is the driving force behind what we think and do; just often we are unaware of its presence. When we take all of this into consideration and honestly consider what spirituality means to us, we can reap some very real and tangible benefits.
Being more in touch with our spirituality empowers us to face and overcome challenges. By realizing what it is that we really believe in, whether it be God and/or our friendships, or whatever it is that motivates us to face another day, we gain a strength that we can draw from when times get tough. Additionally, by taking a mature, hands-on approach to spirituality, we better appreciate what inspires us and seek more opportunities to cultivate what makes us feel good.
For example, take a couple of minutes and write out a list of what you consider to be special to you, the things and ideas that make you feel worthwhile and good about yourself. Your list might include your family, your faith, even your love of barbecues with good friends. Now take a moment and review what you have listed. By appreciating the concepts that really motivate us, we tend to look for more ways to incorporate them into our life. When we talk about spiritual fitness, these are the elements that not only enhance our individual spirits, they also better equip us to deal with stress, help us to relax, and raise the esprit de corps within our respective units.
Personally, as a Master Resiliency Instructor, covering spirituality in my classrooms is one of my favorite topics. Getting students to the point where they can see beyond the religious connotation of the concept is a real joy for me. When an Airman seems particularly challenged by the word “spirituality”, I ask them to replace it with “What drives me?” Sometimes all it takes is substituting terminology to look at a concept in a different light, whereby we are better enabled to appreciate and understand it. I highly encourage you to take some private time and really ponder what spirituality means to you, because once you begin to appreciate what really matters to you, the more enriched and dynamic your life will become.