Sunday, January 8, 2012

Spirituality What it Means to me

It's difficult for me sometimes coming up with ideas out of thin air. Most of what I write about is inspired from something else, whether it is a book, an observation, or an idea proposed elsewhere, often something that pissed me off, or that I feel needs expanding upon. Never underestimate the value of anger and conflict as a catalyst for initiating constructive change and growth. Since people tend to not like 1000 word comments left on their blogs, I've decided to do so here.

So, here's a response to some of the ideas brought up in Brandon's latest post about Spirituality and Nature, excerpt below:
"I'm interested in the religions on an intellectual level, but I'm not the spiritual type and never have been. While I believe there is much about the world I don't know or understand, and am fully open to your more spiritual notions, when it comes right down to it, I don't experience life on that level.

I'm realizing that I've almost never had any kind of spiritual experience while meditating or pondering spiritual matters. I've been deeply impressed by the ideas presented... but the only time I feel truly peaceful, connected, present and awake is when I'm on nature walks."

Reading this I'm asked what it means to experience life on a spiritual level, and in what way is spirituality absent from the natural world?

1. The Meaning of Spirituality.

I'm someone who is not religious, but who has always from a very early age identified as being spiritual. So I'm wondering to myself what does it mean to be the spiritual type? What does being spiritual mean? What is meant by a spiritual experience? Visions of Gods and Angels, and supernatural beings? Does spirituality have one universal definition applicable to all, despite any individual differences in religious belief? Or does it mean different things to different people? Does a Christian's idea of being spiritual differ from that of a Muslim, or a Buddhist, an Atheist, or an Agnostic?

I'll tell you what it means to me, a self-avowed agnostic.

To me, spirituality is based on a recognition of the great mystery of both life and death, and about standing in awe of this mystery, in a spirit of humility and reverence for the natural world and the greater cosmos in which we live.

For everything that we learn, through trial and error, through theory and speculation, describing how life works, its origins and evolution, we can never be positively certain of why anything exists and why anything happens at all. We may know that specific actions have specific effects, but we do not know what set the original wheels in motion and for what purpose things are the way they are. Does life have an original creator? Who or what is doing the creating? Is the creation of life random, working according to the mechanical laws of nature? Who wrote the DNA code of life? Who created the original laws of nature? Why are we here? Is the world of our senses an accurate depiction of reality? If we cannot see or hear something, does that mean it doesn't exist?

We can speculate, we can describe what we see, but at the root of it all, there lies an ever pervading mystery. To believe in spirit is to suggest that there is something more to life than what our material senses suggest. Matter is what we see, spirit is the mysterious element underlying all of reality.

To be spiritual is to recognize that there is more to this life, to this universe, than what we currently know, or are capable of ever knowing in its entirety; that our human knowledge is incomplete. That there is a world bigger than ourselves, that defies comprehension, that we must be respectful of it and humble, recognizing that for all that we know about anything, is very little indeed within the grand scheme of life.

So the two fundamental components of spirituality involve a recognition of the great mystery at the root of life, and beholding this great mystery with a spirit of humility and reverence.

2. The purpose of meditation.

Who says meditation is all about sitting still, doing nothing? There are different forms of meditation with different purposes in mind, but isn't meditation at its most basic root all about concentration, paying attention, being more immersed in the experience of whatever it is you are doing, whether it is sitting, breathing, walking, seeing? The emphasis on inactivity is because you see and hear more when you are still, more as in quality, rather than quantity. For instance, if you are outside tracking an animal, while you are in movement you don't rush along, you start and stop and listen, paying close attention to your surroundings, looking for clues leading to the animal. Whether you are walking or sitting, stilling the waters of your mind helps filter away thoughts, images, and sounds that distract from your point of focus. There is no reason why you can't practice meditation of this kind while on the move and in nature.

3. Spirituality is not absent from nature.

As a spiritual being in a material world, you are a part of nature, as nature is a part of you, reflecting the great spirit within the essential heart of our being. To suggest that you do not experience life on a spiritual level, is to close your eyes to the magic and mystery and wonder at the very basis of life. Spirit is the mystery, and the source of wonder, out of which all new ideas and things emerge. But what is spirit? I'm referring to it as a mysterious element; a symbol representing the magic and mystery underlying all things. All the information that lies outside your current body of knowledge and understanding, undiscovered potentialities, all that which is unknown or unknowable, is represented by spirit. It's a placeholder. Whether or not it has an actual material basis, is unimportant to an understanding of its basic nature, that of mystery.

4. Reconnecting with the redeeming soul of nature.

I think the reason why some of us feel more alive in nature, away from the objects of civilization, is that there is less interference from man-made creations that are out of harmony with the essential blueprint of life. Life in the city can sometimes be oppressive; stuck at a job you hate, living arrangements you hate, in an ugly polluted violent city you hate, can suck all the joy and wonder out of living. Nature, even with its merciless death and destruction, not always rainbows, butterflies, and flowers, seems more authentic, its proportions more harmonic, its sacred geometry an embodiment of the effortless perfection of shibumi. That is why those of us sensitive to these things feel a sense of rejuvenation, mental clarity, and relaxation whenever we are in its presence.

If that's not a spiritual experience, I don't know what is. But if the only time you feel truly peaceful, connected, present and awake is when you're on nature walks, and you spend most of your life elsewhere, indoors, at a job, in the city, how do you come to terms with that? Does that mean that most of your life is spent asleep, disconnected, and in a state of inner conflict, always striving to be some place else, never really here, until you are there? Or is there a way to find peace, to find the redeeming soul of nature, invoking a state of reverence and recognition of the magic and mystery of life wherever you are? Or are these just cheap words, that sing a sweet tune, but ultimately mean nothing?