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Everything is Not OK

credit: Kristine Kisky

credit: Kristine Kisky

 

The tendency to see spirituality as separate from other domains, like economics, politics, and culture, is the very thing that keeps it neutered and inauthentic.

To speak of spiritual concerns (i.e. matters of deep and ultimate meaning) in a truthful way, it’s necessary to get into these other messy areas of human activity. For society is where and how our collective fears and desires are expressed.

What this inevitably generates is a critique, because all is not well with our way of life. This sort of thing can make people in spiritual circles uncomfortable. There’s an attitude that spirituality is all sweetness and light, and its purpose is to soothe, uplift, and improve us as individuals.

So much in the way that spirituality is presented these days is personalized. Practice is personal. Beliefs are personal. Progress on the path is personal. This individualization of experience is a very strong pattern in our culture. And it’s part of the problem. It keeps us isolated in our little bubbles and narcissistically focused on ourselves. This is the dominant way that our culture teaches us to be, in every aspect of life. Spirituality is no exception.

And this is a big part of what needs to change: our isolation, narcissism, and learned obliviousness. I believe that anything that helps us shift towards connection, humility, and a critical understanding of the social, political, and economic structures of our world is helpful, and ultimately spiritual. This must include connection with nature, and taking responsibility for our actions in the context of this larger organic reality.

Spirituality is nothing more than a comforting escapism if it fails to motivate us to change our world for the better.

 

 

8 Comments

  1. Yes, I agree. Good post!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment! 🙂

  2. Important stuff! I agree with your view and analysis, and the need for a visceral, emotional re-attachment to our surroundings. An ethos of gardening, perhaps.
    But there are some things very difficult to untangle. First, what is the nature of spirituality? The conceptual division between material and spiritual is a deep thread through most belief systems, as is the desire to ‘get out’ of ‘here’ into a better (spiritual) ‘there’. Even sophisticated philosophies like Buddhism easily fall into this dualist paradigm.
    ‘Spirituality’ has, of necessity, become internalised and subjectivised, because it is only in that personal ghetto where it is (grudgingly) allowed ( as an aberation) to exist in a dominant world-view where only the measurable objective, ‘real’, ‘scientific’, ‘rational’ is sanctioned and accorded (monetary and social) value.
    What do those who regularly use the term ‘spiritual’ now mean by that term? An ‘interest in spirituality’ seems to denote, usually, an eclectic fascination with non-physical phenomena and beliefs regarding non-physical influences on us.

    More sloppily, it is used as a synonym for ‘good’, ‘ethical’, ‘religious’, ‘unworldly’, ‘philosophical’, ‘conscientious’, and (God forbid!), ‘holy’. It is a term of general approval used for those who feel uncomfortable with urban Western materialism, but who live within and still adhere to that comfortable, technological existence. It is very often implied to be intrinsically different from being ‘religious’, or to be able to be separated from ‘established (establishment) religion’.

    There seems to be an artificial compartmentalising. It begins with ‘visible’ (tangible) and ‘invisible’ (intangible), thus becoming ‘known’ and ‘unknown’,
    ‘here’ and ‘there’, ‘material’ and ‘spiritual’, ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ and latterly, ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’…….

    As you say, there is a perception of ‘spiritual’ behaviour as equating with benevolent inaction ( in the old days ‘accepting God’s Will’), in the same way that there is a tendency to conceive of ‘there’ (heaven etc.) as a continuum of passive goodness, (rest from worldly strife and suffering). Both have serious PR issues. The lack of doing, the concept of (unchanging) perfection, just seems, not just unimaginable, but also really boring! …..

    Our many psychic predicaments, our human predelictions, our social structures regarding the ‘spiritual’ have probably been most succinctly catalogued in “The Life of Brian”……..

    • Brilliant comment, Simon. Yes, it’s very hard to define something as diverse as spirituality. A very basic description that I use is that it has to do with our beliefs, attitudes, and practices vis-a-vis ultimate reality and the deepest meaning of existence. Where religion is a subset.

      I agree that part of the internalization of spirituality is related to its invalidation and marginalization by the dominant culture of scientism and progress which cannot recognize the domain of spirit. But there’s another aspect to this. The dominant paradigm also marginalizes visceral-emotional embodiment as well as social connection. Our culture would have us remain forever in our individual mental bubbles watching television or maybe liking things on facebook. If we venture out, it’s to go sit in a cubicle or perhaps to the mall. So pretty much anything outside the world of the practical, of consumption and economic production, is relegated to the personal ghetto.

      What would it be like to bring spirituality out of the personal ghetto? Particularly challenging for non-religious forms that don’t have the benefit of traditional institutions or established practices.

      But I really like what you’ve said about compartmentalization. Given the way the human brain operates, it’s hard to get around this. The search for something better seems inherent, growing out of the critical faculty of discernment and perhaps some basic evolutionary impulse. There’s a restlessness, a scanning for the next thing. I’m not sure it’s a problem per se, though when it gets tangled up with modern, linear notions of progress I think it gets into trouble. However, the divisions that we make between the sensory world and what lies beyond it do seem very artificial and limiting. Also the separation we make between the human world of ideas and symbols, and the rest of reality.

      Thanks very much for your insightful comment. Lots to reflect on here.

      • Music and dance, so often demonised in fundamental levels of religion, may be the closest we are able to come to non-verbal, non-conceptual spirituality – both as individuals and as a collective. The power of music ( and all the arts), are these days underestimated.

        If one has a little paranoia, one might even suspect an intentional subversion or suppression of the arts, especially given the clear evidence that they stimulate intelligence and brain coherence…..

        Bring back the monasteries, the chants, the communities of service, the covens, the festivals, the orchestrated rituals of goodness and offering, somehow without dogma, without cultism, without elitism….

        • Amen. Yes, the arts are absolutely vital to help us find our way back to ourselves and each other. And I think of these spiritual rites, expressions, and gatherings that you list as a special kind of art, gestures and metaphors honoring that which can never be fully named… the truest, deepest poetry of our species… the song we’re here to sing…

  3. I really enjoyed this post and the comments and your responses as well. Thank you for articulating a concern I have had for some time. My understanding is that all the major traditions were originally concerned with compassion expressed for one’s community, and while that compassion may be individuated, the goal is the worth of the community as whole. So, the individual self is compassionate in order to contribute to the whole of the community. Fascinating post.
    Karen

    • Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Karen. It does seem like there’s been a strange shift in the west over the last few centuries toward me-centeredness. I think we used to be more we-centered. It’s challenging to move towards community, especially a sense of community that extends beyond the human bubble. It’s like everything in our culture conspires against this. Yet I think we’re left with a rather abstract, arid kind of spirituality if we do not come home to a sense of the greater earth community. It’s difficult, but we must at least make the attempt.

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