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What is spirituality?: The quiet and unspoken question of existence

What is spirituality?

Spirituality is everyday life. it’s kindness is accepted It’s practical and it’s enlightenment, as well as the opposite of all this.

Spirituality is a redundant word because, like love, it has been overused. If we’re going to use it with any specificity, as I think we should, we need to pull together everything I’ve just said, along with the disparate definitions offered by others who care about so-called higher worlds, and undertake a cleanup, so we know what we’re talking about. If not, let’s think of a whole new word! –because the function of language is to communicate.

Today we have a situation of the Tower of Babel; just look around you at the wide variety of spiritual teachers, religious traditions, new and old spiritual philosophies that are sometimes confusing, vague or obtuse, but always confusing. If we want to truly communicate, I don’t think spirituality needs to be any different than cooking, medicine, or politics. Within these spheres of endeavor, if you are as confused as people in the spiritual realm seem to be, we would be speaking nonsense with devastating consequences.

So what is the definition we should use to inform ourselves?

Spirituality is the term that describes the higher functioning of human beings. Without a spiritual dimension, human beings dedicate themselves solely to animal concerns, such as group membership, mating and procreation, acquisition, and physical security. In the intermediate stages of human development we are concerned with identity, socialization, compassion for others, and individual responsibility. Philosophies and spiritual methodologies are the ones that surround all this and come to assume a higher aspiration than human fulfillment, an intrinsic need, felt by many, that we are more than what we appear to be and that the world of appearances is not all there is.

Like Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

Yes, like self-actualization and peak experiences in the Maslow model. But also like the insights of the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, the Course in Miracles, Zen Buddhism, mystical Christianity, Sufism, and so on through transpersonal systems and spiritual maps too numerous to mention. But what they have in common is that human beings strive for ultimate understanding in the belief that something elusive beyond the world of appearances gives meaning and meaning to life.

Why is spirituality a concern of relatively few people?

Spirituality is universal. It is everyone’s concern to discover who they really are, through the physical, psychological, mental, psychic and spiritual levels of the human situation. We can’t judge how individual people engage with this, but it could be said that whatever a person does—think, work, form relationships, vacation—is an attempt to balance, engage, and understand themselves and the world. It is an answer to the quiet and unspoken question of existence.

And that question is?

Who I am? No one is free from the consequences of this question. The only difference is in how we choose to answer it; in self-reference, self-definition or self-transcendence.

What about the etymological origin of the word? Spirit means breath, doesn’t it?

Spiritsmeans breath and spirit means the breath of God, which is the word from which we derive our term inspiration. So the spirit is about breath, divine breath prajna, the exchange with the universe that we experience when we inhale and exhale. When I inhale, the universe exhales or inspires me; when I exhale the universe inhales or I inspire it. Which is it? From the spiritual point of view there is no difference, because the universe and I are the same.

So, spirituality is about a relationship between the soul, the spirit and the body?

Spirituality is also associated with the search in the form of a journey. It seems that we have to go on a spiritual journey, a quest or some kind of test where we are somehow transformed through suffering. The progressive telling of that test, the active pursuit of that undertaking, has been key to notions of spirituality for centuries. Depending on where and when we were educated, it took the form of the Pilgrim’s Progress, the Ramayana, the legend of Siddhartha, Dante’s journey through the underworld, the Native American vision quest, etc. What each of these narratives have in common is the main theme of striving toward a spiritual goal through striving persistence, strong will, and determination.

Interestingly very few of these spiritual maps see beyond the effort. It’s like we get rewarded only when we try really hard. However, spiritual fulfillment itself is summed up in acceptance, receptivity, kindness and surrender, all very soft attributes. Reading these stories, you would think that the only way to heaven is through hell.

And it is not like that?

Heaven and hell are points of view. You enter any of them at any time through your predisposition, which depends on your attachment to the ego, or the separation from the rest of existence. As several examples, both Jacques Lusseyrian during his imprisonment in World War II and Saint John of the Cross in a Toledo prison in the 16th century experienced profound spiritual and divine epiphanies, despite enduring the most horrendous physical and mental abuse. Another example is Laurens van de Post, who taught thousands of prisoners of war in Java to resist bitterness and forgive their captors so that they survived the test psychologically and emotionally intact, by adopting a spiritual strategy.

Does spirituality imply disidentification from the body?

Rather, you spiritually relate to your body, as well as everything else. What this means is that you focus on the essence that is common to all that arises in awareness and you feel the source of all that arises.

Does everything that arises at some point also end?

But what has no end is the essence of spirituality. The spiritual quest is to discover and become one with the source of consciousness, the root of attention. Spirituality is found between what we call mysticism and transcendence; it is not an end in itself, our intention should not be merely to practice spirituality, but to delve as far as it leads. So our understanding of mysticism, or the self-directed mystical path (as opposed to a religious path), leads us on a spiritual journey towards self-transcendence and encounter with the Divine.

For some this is God, for others the Buddha Nature, the infinite, the Absolute or Brahman. But all these terms are intellectual constructions; they are mere ideas. There is only one appropriate response to an encounter with the Divine: an inspiring, mystical, and breathable silence, because in that great stillness one finally meets their true self, which is beyond the mind’s ideas, interpretation, and description.

Does spirituality lead to an encounter with the Divine?

Or an encounter with yourself; is the same. To know yourself, to find out who you really are, you have to use spiritual methods, stay consistent in a spiritual practice, but then you have to get rid of that practice, leave it completely to get to the place it has been taking you. This is one of the difficulties of the Modern Age, as well as of Antiquity. People hate to destroy; they prefer to build. Today we call it materialism. Chögyam Trungpaeven coined the term ‘spiritual materialism’ to describe how spiritual practitioners become attached to their achievements and practice.

Spirituality deals mainly with the internal aspects of the human being. It is true that a spiritual being displays certain traits, such as love, gentleness, compassion, and forgiveness. But none of these are worth anything unless they are genuine, truly experienced from the heart center of the person displaying them. To engage with the heart center, one of the insights we must experience is that we do not lack… anything! Nothing at all is missing from the human experience when it is fully felt, seen, touched and experienced. When this understanding has been fully realized, one has this experience of emptiness within; it is deeply receptive and resonant and allows you to engage authentically with the rest of the world. It is the state of beingness within you, without activity, restlessness of any kind, without disturbance, internal or external, it is solid, unbreakable; you wouldn’t even call it spiritual, it would be more accurate to actually call it one’s natural state.

Is this ‘natural state’ available to everyone?

OUI well south. But you have to want it, and you have to want it badly. You must also possess inner integrity, deep honesty about it, and accept no substitutes! Because the spiritual path is littered with such distractions, difficulties, seductions and pretense, ego impulses to drop everything and settle for some quasi-spiritual state that would be exalting from the point of view of the novice, the person who aspires to the spiritual rewards of the path.

What can you do in this quasi-spiritual state?

Set yourself up as a spiritual master! Play superior, tell people what to do, encourage others to act as followers or disciples, write a book about your ‘spiritual’ experiences, your enlightenment, all the while just grooming your ego. It is not unusual in this dark time; the period that the Hindus predicted we would be in now – the kali yuga.

But the interest in spirituality, meditation and yoga is surely growing.

Well, interest is not necessarily enough. The spiritual world is full of dilettantes and seekers of pleasure and self-aggrandizement. This is not to disparage the sincere, the dedicated practitioners, but even there you will see that you can run into an ego trap, because some people’s egos are kept alive by incentives like ‘I will never succeed’, ‘I’m not good enough’; it’s just the antithesis of ‘Look how good I am’, ‘I’ve been successful because I’m better than the rest’. Spiritually there is no difference between these two points of view; both serve the grooming of the ego state.

So what should we do? I’m beginning to see what you mean about the spiritual path being riddled with seductions.

Don’t be seduced, apply yourself diligently, don’t stop until you reach the end of your spiritual journey, choose a teaching and teacher that makes sense and don’t take anything at face value, rather question everything and don’t think for a minute that you can do it on your own.

Does everyone need a guru?

Everyone needs the guidance of someone who functions as a teacher in their life and on their spiritual path, to preside over their spiritual endeavor and correct and encourage and question and cajole and provide a model of a true human being in the world. This is how we keep faith, know that success is possible, and cultivate the commitment and courage to keep going.

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