My faith was really put to the test and deepened when I was deployed to Iraq. There was a big sign over the gate at our camp that read “IS TODAY THE DAY.” I fell asleep most nights to the sound of mortar attacks and woke up to the heart-wrenching task of going through a list name by name of every American casualty the day before.

I knew with little doubt that any day could be my last. So every night before I went to sleep, I would rest my heart and my mind in contemplating on verses about the eternality of the soul. I would reflect on the fact that we are only here for a certain length of time and nobody knows how long. Is today going to be the day?…

I found great comfort in recognizing that I’m not this temporary body—that’s not my real identity. My true identity is that I am the spirit soul, servant of the Supreme Soul, temporarily in this body, using this body as a vehicle.

When many people think of religion, they think about externals: what group, sect, or denomination you belong to; what church/temple you attend; who your pastor, rabbi, or guru is; when/why did you “convert”; etc. But to me, the essence of “religion” is not about these externals. Rather, it’s about my personal relationship with God, others, and the planet. In short, my “religion” is my loving relationship with God and the motivation that springs from that relationship to try my best to use my life in the service of humanity and the planet.

Perhaps, therefore, rather than saying I’m “religious,” it would be more accurate to say that I am a very spiritual person, and yoga and meditation are the focus of my spiritual practices. Every day I spend time alone to meditate, resting my heart and mind in God’s unconditional love, which is manifest in God’s countless Holy Names. This is my refuge from stress, worry, and fear; my source of strength, courage, and happiness. It is what drives, directs, and motivates me. It is my manna, the food which sustains me.

This spirit of putting love into action (karma yoga) is also the essence of what is called “aloha”. Karma yoga (aloha) is central to the teachings of both the Bhagavad-Gita and the New Testament. Love isn’t inactive: it’s not just a sentiment. Love is a motivating force that propels you into action.

That’s why I have made aloha a central focus of my campaign. Our campaign is motivated by aloha, rooted in aloha, and is an expression of aloha. Aloha is the spirit of deep respect and love for all of God’s children—regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or level of education.

Tulsi Gabbard