Some of you will feel immediately turned off by the expression “a spiritual life”. The word “spiritual”, for many, conjures up something new-age, hippy, other-worldly − almost a belief in magic. I confess here that for some years I felt that way. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe −a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. Albert Einstein
Unfortunately, the word spiritual has also become overused. It means different things to different people. Spiritual is often confused with being “religious” or belonging to an organised religion. I have the privilege of knowing religious people who are very spiritual. However, it is possible to be religious without being the least bit spiritual. Sadly, you do not have to look very far to see examples of this: people who observe all the forms but use their religion to pump up their ego, abuse others, increase power and control for themselves or their religion; to belittle others or to create hate and suffering. We also have the “snake-oil salesmen” who lead or would love to lead a cult, who claim to be more spiritually advanced than others or somehow special in a mystical way. This is not spirituality; it is about ego and self-aggrandisement.
So what is spirituality?
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Albert Einstein
It is not about escaping reality; in fact, it is exactly the opposite. The most powerful spiritual experiences occur when we are fully present in our lives.
Spirituality as I write about it here is both an experience which gives context to your life and a context which also gives meaning to your experience.
There are many elements present: awe, wonder, immense gratitude, a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life; a sense of acceptance and a sense of wholeness.
For me, the most important thing has been a fundamental change in perception. From the quite usual unexamined egocentric “me and the rest” perception which creates the illusion of separation (there is “me” and then there is everything else that is “not me”) to a sense of simply being fortunate, of experiencing this miracle of life, of understanding yourself as being a marvellous, temporary and impermanent manifestation of the universe − a manifestation with consciousness, and the ability to appreciate.
We are the way the Universe appreciates itself.
So how does this make us more resilient?
The society in which we live is all about money and the material. It is a consumer society in which the motto could easily be: “take something” or “buy something” − all made worse by the attention-thief that we carry around with us − our mobile phone. Our problems are developed-world problems: of excess, too much choice, image, worship of the ego and ever- shorter attention spans. Whilst providing the illusion of temporary relief, its effect is the same as addiction; it leaves us feeling ever emptier and dissatisfied. By contrast, a spiritual path develops the following: a clearer sense of who you are, an expanded capacity for facing grief, loss and the inevitable pain of life.
So how do we go about this?
Adopt an attitude of open curiosity, kindness to yourself and others, and always a touch of good humour and practice the following:
- Mindful meditation (formal and informal)
- Compassion and self-compassion
- Interconnection and inter-being
My students already know about these things, you can also find more information by looking through our blog.
Illustration:Hugh Kretschmer Photography