Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What Is Spirituality?

What is spirituality? I am asked the question quite frequently, and my answer changes as I change. Which is to say, I don’t have one definitive response. But here is my answer for today:

“Spirituality” is best used as a verb rather than a noun. Spirituality is a practice, the cultivation of states of consciousness and traits of behavior that place the egoic “I” in the larger context of the transpersonal I AM. Spirituality is doing: meditating, chanting, praying, etc. The result of this doing is the maturation of “mochin d’gadlut,” spacious mind, that level of consciousness that knows all things to be part of the One Thing that is God, Tao, Allah, Adonai, etc.

Unfortunately most people use “spirituality” to refer to a feeling, though what that feeling is often differs from person to person. Regardless of the specific feeling to which one may refer, feelings themselves are fleeting. They come and go and are not directly controllable by the will. If they were you would choose to feel happy all the time, and the only people I know who are so happy are people who are ingesting products that are illegal. Since feelings are ever-changing, identifying spirituality with a fixed feeling set is setting yourself up for spiritual failure.

Luckily, spirituality is not about feeling one way or another. It is about cultivating that spaciousness of mind that allows you to feel your feelings (whatever they happen to be at the moment) without being blown away by them. When you are happy, be happy without wanting to be happy forever. When you are sad, be sad without worrying that you will be sad forever. Spirituality is cultivating the spaciousness of mind and heart that allows you to engage each moment with curiosity and compassion, seeking what is just and kind in any given situation, and doing it.

“I am spiritual but not religious” doesn’t tell me much; in fact I never really know what the person saying that really means, though I can’t help but suspect that the speaker is saying, “I would rather not do any serious practice, and am content to just grasp on to some vague feeling of something or other; but I don’t want to feel guilty about my inaction. Hence, I am spiritual but not religious.”

I don’t have a problem with people who don’t practice. I don’t have a problem with people who say they are spiritual but not religious. I just don’t expect too much from them. Of course I don’t expect too much from those who say they are religious either.

I do expect something from people who claim to engage in serious contemplative practice on a daily basis. I expect that they are continually growing in self-awareness and self-transcendence. I expect that they are continually glimpsing Self-awareness and embracing both Self and Other as the One and Only. I do expect that they are increasingly kind, just, humble, and engaged without the constrictive and conflictive baggage of a shadow-blind (and shadow projecting) ego. After all this is what spiritual practice is all about.

4 comments:

rbarenblat said...

At the Panim transdenominational rabbinic student retreat I just attended, I read an excerpt from Art Green's "These Are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life" on this subject. The excerpt was titled "Ruhaniyyut." Quite worth reading.

rbarenblat said...

At the Panim transdenominational rabbinic student retreat I just attended, I read an excerpt from Art Green's "These Are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life" on this subject. The excerpt was titled "Ruhaniyyut." Quite worth reading.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i like defining/explaining "spirituality" as looking at life through God-colored glasses

babe in the woods said...

The root word of spirituality is "spirit." Hence, spirituality is anything that constructively enriches, improves, and soothes one's spririt. That can be many different things for many different people.

For some the essence of spirituality exists in nature, or other people, animals, writing, or art. For others in music, in singing, or in dance.

Spirituality can be forests, gardens, oceans, mountain streams.

For others it's "God" by any other name or definition.

For others all of the above.

Spirituality is simply that which elevates one's spirit.