Redefining Spirituality

Redefining Spirituality
By: Jason M.A. Walter

(As written for and lol rejected by the LA Times Op-Ed section)

I dislike the word spirituality. Though I would consider myself a spiritual person, the term spirituality is too often blurred with religion and as a result, much of the value of incorporating spirituality in our lives can be lost.

Let us begin by first saying that religion should not be confused with spirituality. While the two could happily stroll through a park holding hands, spirituality is not limited to religion nor does being religious make one spiritual. A person with no affiliation to any religion can be very spiritual just as some religious figures seem to be devoid of spirituality (i.e. abusive clergy, extremists of any denominations, etc.).

It is my view that each person has a need to be filled on a deep intrinsic level. Many have already argued that the excessive materialism of our culture seems to be evidence of this lack of satisfying our inner needs. That is exactly why spirituality needs to be redefined. Traditional religions are just not cutting it for the masses and we have been driven to look outside (again see excessive materialism) to fill that which lies within.

The beauty of it all is that the answer is quite simple. Spirituality can be whatever we want it to be. Let’s use transportation as an example, albeit a very figurative one. Some people like to drive, catch a bus/subway, bike, or walk. Imagine you weren’t in a rush and it’s not about how fast you travel, but about how you get from Point A to Point B. I believe that the journey to fill this deeper spiritual need for each person is the same. Some people do this through meditation, prayer, going to church, and/or volunteering. Others are into tarot reading, surfing, hiking, whatever.

I would say it lies somewhere between doing what we are passionate about and striving to live in the moment. Over the course of the last three years (my Saturn Return for you Astrology types), I have strived to live a balanced life in this unbalanced time and by golly, it has worked. But first…

30 years ago on an island in the middle of the Pacific (Cue suspenseful/dramatic music).

I grew up believing that following your heart was important though societal norms indicated otherwise. As result, I was in deep conflict throughout my life because I was trying to fit in with what society told me. At 26, I found myself young, unhealthy, and miserable. It was not until I realized the shackles that were holding me back were invisible and of my own creation.

I began to incorporate healthier practices in my life. It can be a lengthy story but I’ll spare you the drama (though I know people love drama) and get to the part where I was empowered by my passion, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and how it all culminated in competing in the Pan-American Jiu-Jitsu Tournament, the second largest tournament in the world in California in April of this year.

Dot dot dot (the plot thickens)…

Leading up to the event, I trained very hard in the gym, and spent just as much time and energy outside visualizing to prepare myself for this leg of the adventure. I did everything that I could. Come tournament time, I truly did not feel nervous. If anything I felt more alive than ever. I felt this deep sense of gratitude for my life and all that I had been through and was on the verge of tears. I had finally experienced what it was to be in the Now, to go with the flow (or flow with the go as the Brazilians say).

They called my name and any lingering butterflies were eliminated as I was almost disqualified for a tear in my gi. I spent the next few minutes running around the Bren Event Center at UC-Irvine looking for my teammates. I finally found them and stripped bare-ass in the middle of competitors, spectators, coaches, Professors, etc. I ran back to face my destiny, got ready, went out there, and got smoked.

I fought hard, I did all that I could, and I lost. But that’s the thing. I didn’t lose. I won in so many ways it would take me longer than the Sunday1200 word limit that I have for this submission (ironically in Jiu-Jitsu one can lose via submission).

Let me sum it all up by stressing that following my passion helped me to grow exponentially as a person and allowed me to experience what being in the moment/truly being alive was. A whole bunch of awesomeness and I lost. I point out the loss because in our material, results-oriented culture, we sometimes forget that growth comes from facing the challenges in our lives and how we carry ourselves in the aftermath of adversity.

So right about now (assuming this even gets published) you are probably wondering how this made it to the LA Times or why or what the (expletive). I have always wanted to give to others and I share this experience because in some ways, California, you gave me this empowerment. In Hawaii, we have a saying called “talk stories” which is kind a cool way to say conversation. So here I am today just trying say thank you by talking stories with you. I know that following your heart will open up doors in weird ways and fill you inside. I surely didn’t have the Hollywood ending but I came out a winner in so many ways.

One could argue that the only absolutes are taxes and death. While you might be able to avoid the former, you surely cannot escape the latter. Wouldn’t you rather your story be about doing what you love and overcoming challenges versus living to work and letting fears guide you? Start to take the time to enjoy your life, you know, the movie that you star in.

Shoots and thank you Cali. Thank you so much.

Jason M.A. Walter, or JMAW, is a spirit sojourner in this human experience. He loves trying to understand life, himself, people in general, Jiu-Jitsu, giving tarot readings, and spending time with his JB. Oh yeah, he writes as well. You can find JMAW’s commentary, poetry, and thoughts at

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