illustration by @katyauspenskaya

A Yogi’s Journey to Finding Spiritual Well-Being: Wading Through the 9 Spiritual Temperaments

There is an interesting dichotomy happening in the modern world, where we both swear by science yet question facts the way we do opinions. Going to church, synagogue, or the mosque seems outdated to many, and with our modern world praising urbanization over natural environments and our relationship with them, many that were born into monotheist religions haven’t found ways to replace the spaces where we used to cultivate our spirituality.

Religion is still the institution most of us link to spirituality, and it seems to be such a clash against scientific advancement. How can we still abide by religious rules in the 21st century? We know about the big bang and that rain is a natural part of the water cycle; we know diseases aren’t plagues inflicted upon us for bad behavior or as a way to release people from the shackles of slavery. We understand how babies are made and that humans came from primates.

Now that we know about what used to be the mysteries of life, we are missing our container for spiritual exploration.

Yet humans are meant to question the world. We are meant to have open conversations, where not knowing is welcome and where not having all the answers is recognized as a key part of the learning process. Where asking questions is an integral part of our personal and collective well-being.

For me, this missing link is why we have debates over things that shouldn’t be debated: ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ (it is a fact that women’s health is at higher risk of infections and even death when they get abortions illegally), vaccine or no vaccine (it is a fact that vaccines have eradicated diseases over time), climate crisis or no climate crisis (it is a fact that we are over-exploiting and destroying the natural equilibrium of our earth which will lead to a decline in agricultural yield and marine submersion of entire cities), racism or no racism (it is a fact that we live in systems that oppress and marginalize certain people in favor of others). We think the goal of our questions is to have the last word, to prove we have understood everything.

Yet humans are meant to not understand, to not know better. We are meant to process facts on an emotional level, to find safe spaces to process our fear and our despair, to imagine a better world, to hope. But most importantly we are meant to have the space to explore, to stumble, to ask questions, and be left with our thoughts swimming freely, albeit clumsily, in our minds, without fear or righteousness stopping them from shifting us and evolving.

Holding on to what we can

Every year come September or October (depending on the year), wherever I am in the world, I join Yom Kippur prayers at the nearest local synagogue. Yom Kippur is supposed to be the Day of Atonement where you are in deep conversation with God, asking Him to forgive you for your past mistakes, and asking that He keeps you in the Book of Life.

Scientifically speaking, I know it is not possible to die at the end of the day because God won’t forgive my mistakes. I know I will make it into the Book of Life. Imagine that process could happen, can one person really be the one deciding whether or not I am meant to stay on planet Earth for a little longer? Reading the prayers, I also wonder, is God really He, or is it Her, Them, It? That’s how it’s translated from Hebrew, yet if there is a God, can anyone ever really know what gender they identify with, if any? Is God a human form, or is it something else? Is it just one entity, or a whole lot of various energies and archetypes like we see in other wisdom traditions, including pagan rites?

After reading and singing the first prayers, for a moment, I feel uneasy. My brain reminds me of everything that science has discovered, and I even hear myself thinking that God cannot possibly exist. That everything can be explained with facts. I am tricked into thinking that there are more important things than being kind and having good ethics—what my religion has taught me. That spirituality isn’t necessary, that once Yom Kippur is over, I’ll just go back to focusing on being ‘successful,’ planning a nice holiday, or writing a good caption for my next Instagram post—what modern societies praise.

The next prayer comes on, this one is my favorite, and in an instant, it brings me back to why I came here and why I come every year. I don’t really need my questions answered; I can put them in the back of my mind, like heavy files downloading on my computer, and get back to them when I feel ready again. I come because it creates the space I need to ask without feeling pressure to have the right answer. I come because I feel connected to my ancestors and the well of resources and wisdom they left for me to explore. I come because singing with everyone fills my heart with an energy I can’t describe. I come because I feel connected to myself, to my roots. I come because for a day I forget about my petty worries and my to-do lists. I come because I get to focus on what truly matters; the kind of things that we remember when someone they love is on the verge of death or when they get sick. Being good and kind to others and myself, being alive and well, belonging; those things matter.

I come, quite simply, because it nourishes my soul.

Depending on who you are and what your life journey has been up to now, some questions will come more easily to you, and some questions you will want to be answered. For some, the singing and the cultural aspect of religion won’t be enough, or the religion you were born into won’t feel like it fits. That’s how, in many ways, religions are failing us today. They feel prescriptive and, well, old. They don’t acknowledge the many ways we can reconnect to our spiritual selves, to who we are deep down, to the values we want to cultivate and see in the world.

That’s why the Yoga practice has been so life-changing for so many of us. I feel something bigger than me when I chant a mantra over and over again during meditation. I experience a deep connection to myself and my inner power when I put my hands in a mudra. I am left with space in my mind and ideas bubbling after reading a passage from the Bhagavad Gita. I get to experience that container, that safe space to explore bigger realms of experience and to simply be with myself and my mind. I get reacquainted with silence the way my ancestors used to find it in synagogues and other sacred places. My curiosity is piqued and awakened by this world of ancient scriptures, chants, symbolism, and cultural heritage. Every day, I can explore kindness, generosity, non-violence, and other universal values that nourish my mind deeply.

Until, maybe, I slip into my scientific shoes again. I put my detective goggles on and I decide that having several lives is impossible, that everything can be explained with probability rather than karma. I know I’m not the only one.

So how do we reconcile the two? How do we let science be science—the area of study that finds facts for us to think with, not against—while keeping that sense of spiritual connection? How do we embrace open-ended questions about the divine? Where do we go to have conversations about destiny and enlightenment when we find it difficult to ascribe to one religion, to one practice?

Religion versus spirituality

Unsurprisingly, I don’t have the answers to those questions. I do, however, have some ideas—but most importantly, I know I am not the only one asking them. This is what Anjali Kumar explores in her fascinating TED talk (here). She talks about being ‘spiritually homeless’ and explores the differences yet similarities between supposedly opposite spiritual practices (and religions).

I’ll add to Kumar’s points on the irrelevance of being godless yet the importance of being spiritual. The answer for me lies in accepting that, in an increasingly complex world, we will die ignorant. We must understand that this, in itself, is the beginning of a spiritual practice. It is opening our minds up to the mystery of our world and releasing the urge to get it all ‘right.’ Suddenly, we create more space for mistakes (aka learning experiences) and for questions. We stop focusing on the end result and instead concentrate on exploring new, bigger, scarier questions.

The 9 Spiritual Temperaments

A while ago, I found the concept of spiritual temperaments and how all of us have our unique ways of diving into deep matters. Below, you’ll find that list with some accompanying questions and signs that you might be disconnected from your spiritual self. Chances are that you resonate with more than one temperament, and those temperaments are likely to evolve over the course of your life.

1. Activist

Most asked question: If there is an all-mighty God, why are there wars? And violence? And hate?

The activist, much like Arjuna following his Dharma in The Bhagavad Gita, feels that his duty lies in defending those who experience hardships and difficult circumstances. In many philosophies and religious traditions, the idea that we should defend the human race in the name of God is prevalent. Activists, then, feel more closely connected to the divine when fighting for gender and race equality, or dismantling systems that hurt our human condition.

Activists may find spirituality while asking for systems change / Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash

Opposites: Sensate and Naturalist

Potential associated emotions and signs of disconnection: Powerlessness and frustration. It’s in the question itself—if there is a higher power, why can’t it/she/he/they make sure everyone feels safe and loved?

2. Ascetic

Most asked question: How can I create more silence and peace?

The ascetic, as the name indicates, needs to lead a simple life in order to connect with higher powers. When we think about ascetics, we might picture monks, sisters, or priests, hidden away in their monasteries. But they’re also among us modern-world dwellers. They work hard at maintaining a peaceful house, keeping their living space organized, and finding free time in their schedule to soak in the silence. They often opt for a minimalist lifestyle. If all else fails, they rely on their savasana or journaling practice to create softness from the inside out.

Opposites: Contemplative and Enthusiast

Potential associated emotions and signs of disconnection: Overwhelm. Since we live in a world of distractions and high stimulation, it can be difficult to find these moments of quiet connection.

3. Caregiver

Most asked question: Do I get more than one life so I can find the time to look after all who need me?

The caregiver is a little similar to the activist, but instead of speaking up for a cause, they’re found down in the trenches. They feel most connected to their purpose when helping others in need, showing acts of service and kindness. They are in tune with their purpose and higher power when devoting their time and energy to making a difference in others’ lives. To stay connected to that, they might opt for careers as nurses, yoga teachers, or homemakers.

Spiritual wellbeing for caregivers might be found in looking after others / Photo by Viki Mohamad on Unsplash

Opposites: Traditionalist and Sensate

Potential associated emotions and signs of disconnection: Powerlessness and hopelessness. So many people need help in our world, and the caregiver has a hard time connecting to a higher power when they feel they lack the time and resources to continue helping.

4. Contemplative

Most asked question: I wonder what language the divine speaks? If it were sitting next to me in human form, what would we talk about?

The contemplative connects to their spirituality through experiencing the reality, or simply being in the moment. The focus is placed on feeling the world in an introspective way. They are god, and they’re often the ones to remind us to just be. They seem to move in the world at a different pace. That’s why prayer, poetry, journaling, and general daydreaming are a contemplative’s most valuable tools. Any activity that takes them through the paths of curiosity and mind exploration brings them closer to the divine.

Opposites: Ascetic and Intellectual

Potential associated emotions and signs of disconnection: Feeling locked in, like a fish in a net—which can be a constant emotional weight if the contemplative was born and raised in a community where being spiritual involves following a certain checklist. It is difficult for contemplatives to feel connected to a higher meaning when they are told what to think and do.

5. Enthusiast

Most asked question: What else could we potentially find on the calendar to celebrate?

The enthusiast connects to the divine by rejoicing in all that our world, Earth, universe, and humanity have to offer. They create colorful altars, chant, and get ready for every single celebration they can possibly take part in. They enjoy throwing parties, dancing, and jumping around to honor the miracle it is to be alive in such a wonderful time.

The enthusiast fills their spiritual tank through celebration / Photo by Prashant Gupta on Unsplash

Opposites: Ascetic and Traditionalist

Potential associated emotions and signs of disconnection: Disappointment and self-consciousness. It can be hard for the enthusiast to get in touch with their spirituality because not everyone understands them, and some tend to judge.

6. Intellectual

Most asked question: Is there a God? If so, is it human? Or maybe it’s a soul without a body? What is the soul? Who was the person that wrote these scriptures, when, and in what context?

The intellectual has many questions about the divine, religion, and the cosmos. They feel connected when learning something new, exploring the mysteries of the divine through different lenses and schools of thought, and developing their understanding of spirituality from a theoretical standpoint. Their exploration of the divine is somewhat meta, geared toward figuring out its cogs before, or as a way to, embodying the experience. They might also find meaning and connection through visiting religious landmarks and spots of historical relevance.

Opposites: Naturalist and Contemplative

Potential associated emotions and signs of disconnection: Frustration and overwhelm. It can be difficult for the intellectual to get their hands on all the things they want to read and study, and it can be daunting to see the infinite path one must walk in order to even glance over everything written about spirituality.

7. Naturalist

Most asked question: How could such a wonderful natural ecosystem be created?

The naturalist is in tune with their spirituality through nature and their own bodies. They love walking, nature-swimming, dancing, trekking. They might feel a deep connection with animals, plants, and all sorts of living beings. You might see them tending to their garden, taking long nature walks on a regular basis, or picking holiday destinations where the scenery has been (mostly) left untouched by humans.

The wilderness is a source of spiritual wellbeing for naturalists / Image by Linda Sondergaard on Unsplash

Opposites: Intellectual and Activist

Potential associated emotions and signs of disconnection: Mental and emotional tiredness. While this is a sign that can point to a wide array of factors, the lack of nature for a naturalist can feel tremendously draining. If they live in the city, spending a week without putting their feet in the grass can be heart-breaking.

8. Sensate

Most asked question: How can one connect to the divine with their senses? What is the meaning behind having six senses?

The sensate connects with the divine through the senses. The more, the merrier! Their sacred space, whether it’s a kitchen windowsill or a specific corner of their garden, might have incense, scented candles, flowers, art on the walls, music, and sound. They might find a concert, a visit to the florist, a gourmet meal, or a long walk through an art museum to be a truly spiritual experience.

Opposites: Caregiver and Activist

Potential associated emotions and signs of disconnection: Boredom and restlessness. The sensate has to create the conditions for spiritual connection through many senses, and they might feel bored or fidgety when deprived of sensory stimulation.

9. Traditionalist

Most asked question: How can I best honor my ancestors’ and community’s habits and traditions?

The traditionalist loves, well, traditions. They like rituals that repeat themselves every day, week, month, and year. Knowing what to do at specific times can be a source of peace. Using celebrations or prayer to remember those who practiced the same rituals before them, and those who will after them, can be awe-inspiring and reassuring. Symbols like a cross, a triskele, or a hamsa carry tremendous meaning for the traditionalist and help them connect to higher powers.

Spirituality can be found in age-old traditions, religious and otherwise / Photo by Sergey Norkov on Unsplash

Opposites: Caregiver and Enthusiast

Potential associated emotions and signs of disconnection: Fear and instability. The traditionalist might feel lost when a new routine or the hectic pace of modern life doesn’t leave space for rituals.

Take some time to reflect on those and see which ones you recognize in yourself the most. Keep in mind that based on the seasons—of the year, and of life—your spiritual temperament might evolve and shift. May these help you make space for spirituality in your life in your own way, and may they lead you to wonderful discoveries.

Happy exploring!

If you’d like associated practices with each of the temperaments, you can find them in Chapter 7 of Ely’s book, The Modern Yogi’s Guide to Self-exploration: A Creative Journey through the 7 Chakra System. Chapter 7 invites you to explore spirituality and your relationship with it through personal stories, thinking prompts, and everyday practices using the lens of the Crown Chakra. Get your copy here and learn more about the contents of the book here.


→ The science of vaccines and their long-term impact on diseases

[1] The Side Effects of Vaccines – How High is the Risk? by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell (all sources listed under in their info bar). From 4’48, they compare effects of getting the disease versus getting vaccinated against it

[2] Vaccines 101: Origin of Vaccines by Youreka Science. It explains how the first vaccine was created and how smallpox disappeared thanks to it

PLEASE NOTE that this is general information about vaccines, not the latest ones. Everyone has the right to do their own research and make decisions based on risks.

→ How legal abortion keeps women safe
TW: the videos below contain emotionally difficult stories. Please take care of your own safety before/after watching.

[3] The Impact of Illegal Abortions – data collected by Our Bodies Ourselves

[4] The reality of unsafe abortion – Catherine’s story

[5] Complications from Unsafe Abortions Are A Daily Emergency – Doctors Without Borders

[6] When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories – documentary gathering stories from people who either had or provided abortions when it was illegal in the US until the mid-1800s abortions were legal in the US, both state and Church permitted it. 2nd half of the 19th century, the society started to condemn it

→ The climate crisis and its impact on agricultural yields:

[7] Climate, Agriculture, and the Challenges Ahead by Planet Forward

[8] Agriculture and climate change in the US by WiFarmersUnion

[9] Causes and consequences of climate Change by National Geographic

[10] How climate change is making food insecurities worse

Edited by Jordan Reed

Illustration by Katya Uspenskaya

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