Updated: Apr 7, 2019
The term 'spiritual' gets used a lot these days. We frequently hear words and phrases such as, 'I'm a spiritual person', 'I'm religious', 'I believe in God', 'The Universe', 'Namaste', 'love & light' and 'Amen' scattered throughout conversations. When we hear people quote passages from scripture or spiritual books and literature, it's easy to find ourselves convinced that they must be more worthy, more righteous or more enlightened than we are.
However, some of the kindest people I have ever met aren't religious at all and certainly don't consider themselves to be even the slightest bit spiritual. Yet they act in ways that bring incredible joy, hope, peace and love to the world, and in many cases, more so than people who claim to be spiritual or religious. This has forced me to ask, 'What does it really mean to be 'spiritual'? Is it what we preach? Is it what we believe? Is it what we look like? Or could it be something entirely different?' How do we spot a truly spiritual person?
If you want to know whether someone is a 'spiritual' person, it's important not to take them at face value. Quoting scripture, using 'spiritual' terminology, displaying 'qualifications' or boasting about their 'experience' can all be very appealing and influence your opinion of them. However, how many tattoos someone has, how often they swear, whether they attend church on a Sunday, the color of their skin or what happened in their past, often means some people quickly discount them as 'not being very spiritual'.
So before you put your trust in someone who outwardly displays the most obvious signs of a spiritual person, or dismiss someone whose outward impression doesn't radiate a preconceived idea that you recognize as 'spiritual', to effectively establish someone's intentions, it's necessary to take a closer look at their motivations. Here are some important questions to help you delve a little deeper:
1) Do their actions match their words?
It's all very well preaching to others about how they should live, but is it one rule for you and another rule for them?
2) Do they act out of selflessness and kindness for others?
Who stands to benefit from the good that they do? Do they put themselves out for you with no expectation of you paying them back or is there always something you must do in return?
3) Are they acting from their ego or inflated sense of self-importance?
You can usually tell if someone is acting from the ego. Are they humble? Or do they like to boast about how important they are? If they need to prove their worth by name-dropping or continually listing all of their achievements, perhaps they're using their status to make themselves feel important and boost their ego. Most spiritual teachers actually detest being called a 'spiritual teacher' or 'guru' because they understand that ultimately, YOU are your own best teacher and we are all learners. There is no hierarchy.
4) Do they use spiritual knowledge to empower themselves at the expense of others?
Do they withhold spiritual knowledge or make it inaccessible to others? Spiritual knowledge can be used for so much good, but if they fear that by sharing this knowledge they will reduce their status or lessen their power over you, they aren't using their spiritual knowledge responsibly or for the good of humankind.
5) Do they tell you their way is the only way or try to control you?
If someone tells you that their way is the only way... run. This is a sign of controlling and manipulative behavior. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book and is designed to keep you in line. In extreme cases they will punish those who disobey their orders and even humiliate them in front of people or hold them up as an example of how not to do what they told you to do. This creates a fear of looking stupid or 'evil' in front of your peers and helps to reinforce their control over the whole group. This also prevents you from exploring what spirituality means to you and building your own intimate relationship with God, the Universe, Creation or whatever label you choose to give to the Source of all things. Because if you start building your own confidence and experiencing your own meaning, who needs them? Right?
6) Do they exclude or isolate others?
If you notice that someone is always being excluded, left out of conversations or used as a scapegoat when things don't go to plan, this is another sign of a manipulative person using spirituality to control you.
7) Are they expressing unconditional love and compassion?
The mark of a truly spiritual person is unconditional love and compassion for everyone. Perfect examples of this include Jesus who touched the sick and associated with people who were considered undesirable at the time.
The Four Immeasurables, also known as the Brahma Viharas, are found in one brief and beautiful Buddhist prayer. For me, it perfectly describes what true unconditional love means.
"May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes. May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes. May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering. May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger."
When we can recite this prayer and truly mean it when we say 'all', that is true unconditional love.
8) Do they make judgements about others?
If they are quick to make a judgement based on prejudices, they are not acting from a place of unconditional love, they are acting out of ignorance and lack of experience. A spiritual person does not judge somebody's spiritual prowess by their physical appearance or the number of swear words they use. The wisest and kindest people instinctively show great care and love for others, but just because they swear in front of you or have tattoos across their body doesn't make them any less spiritual.
9) Are they using religion or spirituality as a form of spiritual one-upmanship?
If they tell you that only when you take their course or gain their qualification, will you be a better or more enlightened person, they are trying to structure your spirituality in such a way that it fits with their own formula. True spirituality is different for everyone and the minute you start categorizing spirituality or designating levels and qualifications to it, you take away that person's free will and choices to discover their own personal relationship with spirituality. Providing guidance is one thing, but being labeled as 'more spiritual' or 'less spiritual' depending upon their criteria stifles a persons spiritual growth.
10) Are they trying to lure you by tempting you with material gain, financial wealth or elevated status?
If someone tries to bribe you into into following their belief system, such as with the promise of fame or fortune, be careful. There is nothing wrong with material possessions or having money, but if that is the main focus or reason for following them, are your motives, or the motives of the person offering material gain, truly spiritual ones?
The real test of a spiritual person is not how loudly they proclaim to believe in God, the spiritual terminology they use or the promises they make. It is not their outward appearance, their past or even the language they use. The real test is whether they genuinely come from a place of kindness, love and compassion.
Whether we consider ourselves spiritual or not, LOVE, COMPASSION, KINDNESS and JOY is the only language the Creator speaks when He expresses Himself through our deeds. We are each unique beings, so God's light shines through the filter of our own personalities and expresses itself in our own individual ways. Ultimately, the feelings expressed by a genuinely spiritual person, and the actions they take, can be the only measure of someone's true spiritual nature.
So the next time you want to test whether someone is truly spiritual, don't accept that just because they say something that sounds 'spiritual', that this is in itself makes them a spiritual person. Even more importantly, never assume that just because someone tells you they don't believe in God or have tattoos and swear, that they aren't spiritual either. The true test, is not what people tell you they believe, it is whether God is expressing Himself through their deeds and the feelings they express.
When we open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds, we often find that God is working through some very unexpected people, sometimes in subtle ways that aren't always immediately obvious. So never take anything on face value and never be afraid to delve deeper.
What a person tells you is not the indicator of how to spot a spiritual person. If God is working through them, you'll see it in their behavior and the deeds they do for others. To put it simply, they will be expressing God's language of...
...Love, Compassion, Kindness and Joy.
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