Lately I have been trying to work out the distinction between spirituality and emotional experience. Maybe I don’t need to and maybe there is little difference, but I think there should be. When we talk of emotions we envisage sensory

feelings – tears, joy, depression, excitement, outrage and so many more expressions of emotional experience. But they seem to be linked to what we feel and those feelings have both internal or mental, and physical expression in body language and sensation.

When we talk of spirituality, there is something else going on.  Emotions are definitely involved, but there is more. A secular definition will touch on who we are and how we relate to the rest of the universe. What is our place? What is life about? And here we start to respond with reason and science. If we speak of spirituality in relation to religion or faith, then we sense a deep connection with ourselves and with our God. And that connection relates to the spirit, in a Christian religious sense, this must be the Holy Spirit.

Teresa of Avila, a famous Carmelite nun and Spanish mystic in the sixteenth century, spoke of four stages of the ascent of the soul: mental prayer, the prayer of quiet, the devotion of union and the devotion of ecstasy. These are strange words to relate to the twenty-first century but they help me to see a difference between the sensory states of emotion and the meditative states of spirituality.

I have been starting to follow St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises  and in the meditations which are guided, the intense focus on passages from Scripture very easily move to an altered state. A sense that all is left behind except the flow of ideas which come from the passage – a mental but deep connection with the ideas within scripture. A feeling of flying towards new insight. But this is still largely mental focus, perhaps relating simply to what St Teresa of Avila refers to as mental prayer.l

Beyond that the sense of peace which seems to pervade the whole being after such a meditation is marked. Something beyond the physical reality of sitting down to read and pray.