I recognize and understand spirituality more easily in the context of traditional religious rituals or the quasi-solitary contemplation of Nature or fine art, as opposed to more secular pratices such as yoga (as exercise) and tea ceremony which I view mainly as an aesthetic experience.
So when a friend mentioned that people can be spiritual without being religious, I felt the need to transcend my vague understanding of these experiences as something subjective and ineffable by finding concrete descriptions that clearly eludcidate the characteristics of each.
After reading various articles on the Internet, I found the following article to be particularly helpful for distinguishing and understanding the two experiences:
A National Study of Spirituality in Higher Educatin: Students' Search for Meaning and Purpose- Key findings of the first national longitudinal study of undergraduates' spiritual growth http://spirituality.ucla.edu/findings/
FIVE SPIRITUAL QUALITIES: Equanimity, Spiritual Quest, Ethic of Caring, Charitable Involvement, Ecumenical World View
FIVE RELIGIOUS QUALITIES:Religious Commitment, Religious Engagement, Religious/Social Conservatism, Religious Skepticism, Religious Struggle
What I liked about this study is that it clearly differentiated the two attitudes, religious and spiritual, in terms of observable and measurable qualities (as shown above) instead of focusing on the subjective experiences bordering on the ineffable which tend to conflate the two experiences without addressing the wider social and communal aspects.
I have come to the tentative conclusion that experiences people tend to casually categorize as "spiritual" is mainly aesthetic in nature but also having a rarefied aspect that invites a special contemplation that could be elevated to a quasi-meditative state, which makes it possible for someone with appreciation for art to have a spiritual encounter with specific works of art in a museum. However, if search for meaning and purpose is essentially spiritual in nature, then spirituality can be found whenever an individual attempts to identify with something bigger than the self through self-reflection or engage in activities that lead to awareness of higher planes of existence. In this sense, a deep engagement with a profession can be a spiritual practice whether it is medecine, law, science, archeology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, education or writing.