Saturday, 27 February 2016

The meaning of Spirituality

This has been one of the hardest posts I've tried to write yet, but the inner voice compelling me to write it is strong enough that I have persisted in my efforts to find inspiration about how to  write about this topic.

Perhaps the first difficulty with writing about spirituality is that ultimately I don't see it as a concept, nor an idea, but rather a personal experience with... something. Something subtle, intangible, immaterial, but far from inert. Words do not flow easily when thinking about this topic, but I will attempt to explain it as well as I can.

I would start by saying that spirituality is a mosaic of several different experiences, and yet somehow more than the 'sum of its parts'. Thus far I can identify spiritual belief, spiritual practice, spiritual insight, and most elusively of all, spiritual experience. I shall try to explain these one by one and see where it gets me.

Spiritual belief

I would start by explaining that spiritual belief, for me, means revering the Earth, and Nature, as profoundly powerful, living beings or entities, and then turning my attention outward, to the Moon, the Sun, the planets and indeed the Universe, in cherishing the great creation that we find ourselves living in, and wishing to protect the health and vitality of the planet I was born on and live on, despairing at its destruction and ill-treatment by profit interests, while also acknowledging that I too am part of the problem of the Earth's ill-treatment.

I can differentiate spiritual belief from religious belief in that I feel spiritual belief does not require an organised set of beliefs, and does not need to be handed down through any authority (though it certainly can be, in the experience of another). Most religions do prescribe or encourage spirituality as a method for followers to adopt.

At the age of sixteen, I found myself growing rapidly disenchanted with the rule-bound, authoritarian approach of the way the Christian religion was taught to me, having never much followed it to begin with and certainly not from the age of twelve, I began to see the destructive side of religion, or rather, the less than peaceful ways in which many people practice their religion.

My mistake, however, was to throw spirituality out along with religion, believing the two to be too intimately intertwined. Perhaps one of the biggest indignities thrust upon people is the notion that religion can have a monopoly on spirituality. I was not yet free of this assumption at seventeen, and it took me another six years, until the late stage of my 23rd year of life, to find my innate spirituality once again.

During this period I also found myself taking on an anti-spiritualist, 'rationalist', objective, overly scientific and logical, and arguably even cynical, view of the world. It was like my world had lost its magic, and I could no longer believe in miracles, astrology, the occult, supernormal abilities such as telepathy and clairvoyance, or indeed, the impossible. I believed that only possible things could happen. This led to a less enchanted, less special, less personal view of the world and why I was alive, and an estrangement from my purpose.

Towards the age of 23 I began to rediscover the joy of spirituality. I don't believe that I was 'converted' at any specific moment, or through the efforts of any specific person, but rather that it was a slow rediscovery, in which I woke up one day and began to see the magic of the world again. I definitely attribute some of the rediscovery to my decision to permanently cease taking any antidepressive, antianxiety or antipsychotic medication.

Studying permaculture in September 2013  helped me deepen my spiritual belief, and it was here that I saw the undeniable truth, that a deep love for Nature and a belief that all things are connected, would be an essential part of my journey in helping to make the world a better place.

Spiritual practice

I would define spiritual practice as the act of deliberately setting aside time to look inwards, connect with oneself, others and the Earth, in a mindful or sensitive way, while focusing to avoid distraction from the intention of connection.

In this way, spiritual practice can be organised, or disorganised. It can be through praying, meditation, yoga, or just enjoying a hobby that one has a passion for. It can be looking at a candle flame, humming, singing, chanting or having sex.. or through sitting in complete silence for  minutes, hours or days at a time.

Another way to practice spirituality

Basically, for me, there is no one right way to practice spirituality. It is your wish or intention to connect, and your decision to take time to do it, that makes it spiritual.

Since spirituality can be practiced, that also means that one can become more skillful or fit at it. It means that the more time is spent, the more frequently, it means that the benefits of spirituality can be achieved more strongly or thoroughly!

While I had what can be described as a slow ascent into spirituality, others have experienced much more sudden transitions, which can lead to the phenomenon of feeling 'new' to spiritual practice. Sometimes this can lead to quite a sudden fright, of feeling spiritual overload. While I haven't experienced this overload myself yet, I have seen it manifest in others. The way I would suggest managing it is to take some time to do physical exercise, e.g. running, swimming, yoga, and mental exercise, such as reading and writing, while pausing to reflect about the influence of spirituality on life.

Spiritual insight

I would delineate spiritual insight from cognitive insight, in that cognitive insight would tend to come from reading, thinking, planning or using logic. However, spiritual insight is similar to creativity in that it seldom comes from focused thinking about something, but rather seems to take you by surprise, when you're least expecting it. That is, don't practice meditation for the purpose of gaining insight - for the very nature of meditation is that it is done for its own sake, and the benefits are then seen as extras - extras that are reasonably certain to occur, but not with any predictability, regularity or pattern of depth.

This can be transcended somewhat through the use of spiritual practice.

I would feel spiritual insight relates to a kind of 'inner knowing', in which you look inwards, to the instinctual knowledge innate in your body's ancient, inherited wisdom, courtesy of four billion years of evolution, and to the embodied knowledge of the Earth, the moon, sun and the stars. Spiritual insight, I feel, is when I feel encouraged to write a blog about something. Indeed, I feel that spiritual insight is a kind of engine that drives creativity. Its two main sources that I can presently identify, are curiosity and intent. I felt the curiosity of the ecovillage Findhorn, wondering how they manage to run and enjoy their ecovillage while simultaneously benefiting the planet. And my intent, thus, is to learn from the experience of being here.

Spiritual experience

I would say that spiritual experience is thus the overall feeling of being spiritual, gaining the wisdom and insight, with the attitudes and beliefs involved in the intention to create a better world, of not allowing ourselves to become disconnected. It thus has a profound connection to our lives and their purposes! My own life's purpose, in general, is to make the world a better place by being here, especially on three fronts: social justice, ecological connection and spiritual fulfillment.
Thus far, I have seen that ecovillages and permaculture provide one of the best canvases on which to learn and create, in the words of Charles Eisenstein, the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

Findhorn is a deeply spiritual place. It was founded by Eileen and Peter Caddy, and Dorothy Maclean. They all had strong links to the spiritual world, in their personal lives, much through the Christian religion. Yet Findhorn is in no way a Christian, nor indeed a religious ecovillage. All faiths are welcome here, and I would dare say, so is no faith at all.

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In the preceding paragraphs, I have attempted to describe spirituality as best I know how. Yet somehow, and I knew all along that this was coming, the description is not enough. It is definitely something else, something more. Something that can't be put into words.

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