Sunday, June 15, 2008

Defining Spirituality without the Spirit

It seems to me that the religious often try to claim a monopoly on spirituality and that anyone else is therefore heathen or pagan. Then there's another classification often termed "spiritual, but not religious". These folk are usually much easier to get along with, but still have no corner on spirituality. One thing that, in general, unites these two groups however is the belief in some god or gods or generic higher power that somehow guides or cares or does something or other for the universe. I think though, that it is possible to be spiritual, even from a completely secular viewpoint.

In order to do this, spirituality isn't defined by that magic sparkly thing that many people imagine to exist somewhere in their bodies or perhaps in another dimension. It's not that part of man that communes with the divine. No, the spirit is simply that part of a human that makes the ticking. Of course this can be boiled down to purely physical processes, but somewhere in all this, sentience and cognizance emerge and bring with them the spirit. This spirit is the driving force behind the human will and the human heart. It too is a metaphor - a thing that doesn't have a physical presence other than in the operation of the human brain. That is, it exists as a self-describing idea that travels the neural roads of the mind. The spirit is the resulting evaluation of our intellect, our emotions, our thoughts, and our desires. I'm just not sure on the exact formula - it probably involves integrals.

If then we are not to satisfy the spirit through communion with the divine, then how should we provide what it seeks? (This is left as an exercise for the reader [and the writer])

Taking care of our spiritual lives can then become a matter much different than religious experience, but perhaps similar to the spiritual who just don't like to go to church, or temple, or synagogue, or whatever. It comes from somewhere in our conscience not completely understood and therefore a little mysterious. The unknown and wondrous nature of our own being and this realization is worth quite the same to me as the sense of the divine felt by others. Discovering this anew each day and seeing it in others and in nature can make for a full spiritual life.

One thing missing here is that sense of continuation that all souls seem to desire. Too few people are willing to admit their own ephemerality and thus cling to stories told them to feel better about the unpleasant inevitability of death. Realizing and embracing this inevitability however, can make each day more precious and bring a new perception to the beauty of everything. When we see the fleeting nature of the world, we see that we must appreciate that we're here to enjoy it while we're still here. That's a bit of an anthropocentric view, but how else should I see the world? Can I honestly see it any other way? This is not, however, an argument about humanities' treatment of its environment. If it were however, I might mention that most religious types honor their places of worship. Perhaps I should be no different in this respect and regard the whole world my temple.

And of course, if it comes right down to it, spiritualism can be applied using another definition for spirit. Just so long as you don't drive while in the spirit.


Aurelius said...

Yeah, I dig that.

It was that sort of line of thinking that got me to abandon militant Atheism and blaze my trail into Reasonable Paganism. The deities might not be observable, but the spiritual experiences are.

What you didn't explore in this entry is the social aspects of these beliefs and experiences. A person who defines themselves by what they believe is very different from the sort of introspective, philosophical spirituality you describe. For many, questioning the belief structure is the same as imagining their utter alienation from the social groups that support them.

Stay groovy

Josh said...

Is there still a sense of spirituality when one removes the sense of self, or does spirituality arrive from an egocentric point of view? Most moments that I might label "spiritual" seem to occur when I'm thinking least about myself and either thinking about the nebulous "other" or not thinking about anything at all.