OK, I’ll raise my hand. Spiritual independent would describe me pretty well. I’m more spiritually eclectic than anything else, though. Comes from my love of all things mythological since childhood. I must have read D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths about fifteen times since I was ten, along with a number of other books on mythology and religion, including the Bible, of course (all of it, mind you—American Standard edition).
Just saw a reference to this term in a newsletter by Jacob Nordby (highly recommended spiritual transformation storyteller and blessed weirdian), wherein he connected me to Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat and their blog on spiritual independents (read their article here).
Seems like a new thing on first blush, but spiritual independence looks a lot like my experience with Unitarian Universalism (UU) in the 1990s. UU is a cool way to explore different spiritual systems in an open-minded community. UUs (they’ve been around a very long time, the Unitarians since the Renaissance, and the Universalists since at least the 19thC) are not so much concerned with what you call your god as much as how you behave toward your fellow humans. You can even be a secular humanist and have no deity in the mix and be very welcome as a UU. So I’d class UUs as spiritual independents for sure, although many have chosen a path of some sort (everything from Christian to Wiccan). From my observations of the group, though, most folks dabble in different belief systems and often choose the UU community for its social connectiveness and broad-based approach to religious education for their children than anything else.
So, the thing I’m noticing about spiritual independents is not so much that they have a variety of spiritual practices or are interdisciplinary in their living out of their soul selves; it’s that they don’t belong to organizations. 🙂 As Frederic and Mary Ann wrote, though, we need to put a positive spin on this. I don’t want to be defined as a “not.” I think spiritual independents do connect with others of like mind and heart, but not in a traditional church organization-type of way. In this case, smaller is better.
The Power of the Small Group
One of the things I learned as a UU was the power of the small group (we’re talkin’ about ten people here). Most if not all of the real work I did to identify and begin to practice my own spirituality came from being part of small face-to-face groups within the UU community. It wasn’t the Sunday services as much, but the little meditation group I joined for about a year that really made a difference for me. And outside of the UU community, I’ve been part of a small group studying New Age books and ideas for about ten years now. The participation shifts and changes over time, but the small group maintains cohesiveness. The costs of meeting in the real world are minimal, and yet we can also connect with the wider world through online networking communities if we want to. The in-depth connection and personal transformation come from being in the local face-to-face group. Hugs are hard to translate to virtual reality, folks. 🙂
For those of you with a spiritual message you are sharing through books, workshops, coaching, etc., I really want to advocate the use of the small local group as a node in your overall network. There’s a tendency now to think that the best way to expand your network is through online virtual connection, and that is useful, but a series of informally connected local face-to-face groups will give your message the depth of impact that you may be looking for. If you build workshop structures based on your message content that people can use in these local groups, you will see powerful transformations occur, and they will be more likely to last for people in their daily lives. You can also have your own face-to-face workshops and courses, but you are one person and can’t be everywhere or at everyone’s price point. Providing a framework for local groups will really increase both your reach and your real transformative effect.
OK, so now I have to go work up a sample framework, don’t I? 😉 See you next week!
And in the meantime, let me know in the comments what your ideas for a small group framework for your spiritual message might look like.