A friend recently asked me if I was “spiritual.” I recoiled from that word and had to figure out why. Here’s a rough sketch.

I don’t practice Judaism anymore, but one of the things I like most about it is the way that every mundane act can and must be done in a way that is consonant with your deepest values. Your actions in the world are not separate from your orientation to the universe. There is a place for the world, and your way of engaging with the world is, down to the smallest details, an expression of your “full self.”

New-age spirituality, at least the shallower versions that I hear about more often, seem to privilege your internal work, your personal relationship from the universe, and use this to either withdraw from the world or draw a clean separation between these two parts of your life. This seems to be one of the major things distinguishing, in this view, “spirituality” from “religion”. Spirituality is about how you feel.

To me this is unsatisfying, inadequate. What use is feeling at one with the universe if it doesn’t pervade everything you do? It it leads you away from digging in elbows-deep to the world’s pleasures and pains?