Spirituality = ?

 

What is spirituality?

It’s a term used to mean many different things, as Ken Wilber has pointed out.

So what does it mean to me? How do I use it here?

To me, spirit = reality, and spirituality = exploring and aligning more consciously with reality.

In a Christian culture, this may seem a bit odd. Christianity came to create a dualistic worldview that sees spirit as mostly separate from this world. And that, in turn, meant that spirituality came to mean something impractical, mysterious, indefineable, and irrelevant to the daily lives of most of us. It became something we encountered briefly and occasionally in church and perhaps at Christmas, Easter, baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

For me, since spirit = reality, it means that spirituality is practical, relevant to daily life, and doesn’t have to be that mysterious. It’s something that can be understood and described in practical terms.

And what is reality? It’s our everyday reality, in addition to the aspects of reality we are not yet familiar with and haven’t explored or described yet (either individually or collectively). Our experience of life or reality is, obviously, very limited. And our interpretations and maps are tentative, only useful as pointers, and have no absolute or final truth in them.

There are many ways to explore reality. Everyday life and science are perhaps the most common ones in our culture. Spirituality is yet another way of exploring life and reality. And the tools of this particular approach happens to include prayer, meditation, body-mind practices, inquiry, energy work, transmissions, and more.

So science and spirituality are two ways to explore life and reality. They compliment each other. And they even use many of the same guidelines and methods. Scientific methods and guidelines very much apply to spiritual explorations.

And how do we use spirituality to consciously align more closely with reality? We do so through an honest exploration of what’s real. For instance, through inquiry I may see that thoughts or images I hold as real and true are not. They are created by my mind. Other thoughts and images about the same are equally or more valid. And none of them hold any final or absolute truth.

This is an ongoing process, and if I am honest with myself and have some basic skills, it will help my view and life gradually align more closely with life and reality.

How does that look? It looks very ordinary. It looks like normal clarity and sanity. It looks like living life as a more mature and sane human being, in a very ordinary sense.

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Images of God

 

Most of what I write about here is very basic. I often feel it’s just Life 101.

And yet, I keep seeing people speaking and acting as if it’s not, so I am drawn to writing a bit.

When people reject God as depicted in religion, as I did in elementary school, we are often just rejecting certain images of God. They don’t make sense to us, so we – often understandably – reject them.

For instance, if we have an image of God as a man with a gray beard sitting on a cloud, it will be seen as quite childish and ripe for rejection. In modern society, even images of God as a separate entity that helps and/or judges us is often seen as relatively immature and something best rejected.

I have to admit, most of the images of God presented by theistic mainstream religions seem a bit childish. So no wonder many reject these images, and in the process reject religion, God in general, and perhaps even spirituality. (Although in Norway, it seems that most reject religion but are open to spirituality and some ideas of God.)

It seems that the better our lives are in a society, the more likely we are to reject old-fashioned theistic images of God. And in places where there is more inequality and larger portions of us live in poverty and under difficult situations, we are more likely to adopt these images. (And that’s fine. It helps us, and it’s very understandable.)

I have two favorite images of God, both of which seem to work a bit better in modern society, and both of which are non-theistic.

God = reality. God = what is, whatever that may be. This includes our physical universe as described by science and perhaps more. We know only parts of reality so we cannot assume we know God as a whole.

God = Big Mind. The consciousness that everything (universe+) happens within and as, and which makes up this consciousness here that my local experience happens within and as.

A benefit of these two is that we can equally well say it, she, or he about God. I tend to it or she since he has been used so much in our culture. Or I may choose one depending on which aspect of reality we talk about.

Another benefit is that we are free to find the validity, helpfulness, and potential shortcomings of any religion or spiritual tradition. They all have some validity to them. They all may be helpful for some people, in some situations, in some ways. And they all have shortcoming and pitfalls.

So if someone asks me if I believe in God, I may say “yes” or “no” depending on who I talk to. I may explain which images roughly apply in my case. I may mention that it’s not really a “belief” but more a pointer and something to explore. Or I may ask which image of God do you mean?

Note: The painting is by Harmonia Rosales. If God can be depicted – mainly by white men – as an older white guy with a beard, so why not also as a black woman? We tend to create God in our own image.

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Born into a religion

 

Many people adopt whatever religion (or lack thereof) they are born into. It’s very understandable and natural. We adopt the religion we are born into because it’s familiar, because there is something of value in it (as there is in just about all of them), and for social reasons (to have a community, to fit in, for support).

And yet, if we say that the religion we happen to be born into is the “only true religion”, then there is some lack of intellectual honesty. How can we know? How can we know unless we seriously explore and experience all of them? How can we know even then?

Of course, if we say it’s the only true one, that’s OK as well. It comes from conditioning. That too is natural and understandable. I do the same in many areas of life, including in ways I am not aware of (yet). And it does come with some inherent discomfort and suffering. It can create discomfort for ourselves since we know – somewhere – we can’t know for sure, and when we see things of value in other traditions. And it can create discomfort and suffering for those around us who do not belong to our particular religion.

I became an atheist in elementary school on my own accord, partly for this reason. It didn’t make any sense to me that people happened to be born into this traditionally Christian culture, adopted that religion without questioning it much, and then saw it as the only true religion and the only path to salvation. To me, even at that age, it smacked of intellectual dishonesty.

I am still an atheist in a conventional sense. I don’t “believe” in any religion, and I don’t “believe in God” in a usual sense.

For me, “God” is a name for reality, life, existence. I don’t pretend I know exactly what that is. I have my own experience, and I am familiar with maps and frameworks that make sense to me based on my own experience and intellectually. And I know very well that those maps are just maps. They are questions about life, myself, and reality. And as maps, they are very much provisional.

I also appreciate the wisdom and guidance offered by the major religions. They often start from real insights and realizations, and individuals through the ages infuse the religions with fresh impulses from their own insights and awakenings.

At the same time, I know that religions…..

  • Are structures that at best initially came from real insights. Have other functions than guiding people to spiritual insights and realizations, and that these are often more important. These may include social regulation, comfort, and a sense of community and fellowship.
  • Have as their main purpose to perpetuate themselves. Although individuals within the traditions may have other priorities, including functioning as experienced spiritual guides for those interested in that approach.
  • Use a “lowest common denominator” approach and at best recommend what tends to work for most people. The suggested practices and paths are often not so much tailored to the individual unless you find a more flexible and experienced guide.

The reality is that few people are interested in a spiritual path, and that’s fine. And that’s also reflected in how most or all religions are set up and function, including Buddhism. There is nothing at all wrong with this.

But it does mean that if we are seriously interested in a spiritual path, we may need to find free spirits within the traditions, or guides who function outside of them.

That’s why I – from the start in my teens – have sought out people like Jes Bertelsen (Danish spiritual teacher), Ken Wilber (for the framework), and later Adyashanti (who does have a solid grounding in one of the traditions).

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Chronic fatigue and spirituality

 

I have wondered about CFS and spirituality. It does seem that more people with CFS are into spirituality than average. It may be that people with CFS get into spirituality as a way to deal with it. Or that there is another connection. For instance, it’s possible that both CFS and getting into spirituality has to do with a wish to find refuge or escape from this world. That may be part of it for me as well. (And that doesn’t mean that spirituality can be reduced to wishing to finding refuge or escaping.)

From a previous post.

In my case, I got CFS at age 15 a few months after mononucleosis. There was a sense of the world becoming very far away, my head felt filled with cotton, I was severely fatigued, my brain didn’t work properly. (I didn’t think of it as CFS then, but looking back the label fits.) After about a year, there was a spontaneous opening or awakening where everything without exception was revealed as God, Spirit, consciousness, love. And that opening never really closed down. The CFS continued, although I learned to regulate it more following high school, and it was compensation for by my passion for what I did.

I then got severe CFS again some years ago, and a few months after pneumonia. (I was bedridden for 3 weeks and terribly sick. My doctor called it “walking pneumonia”! I normally don’t like to take medicines, but at that time I strongly felt I needed it, but my doctor didn’t agree.)

In both of those phases of my life, I felt quite lost and off track. Initially, combined with or because of typical teenage angst. More recently because I found myself in a situation that didn’t feel right at all, and it felt difficult to get out of it. (Getting out of it in a real way meant I had to go against or confront some very core beliefs and fears.)

So it may be that CFS is connected with feeling off track. Or seeking refuge from a difficult situation or world. Or there may be personality characteristics – such as being highly sensitivie – that makes us both interested in spirituality and susceptible to CFS. Or that may just be the mind trying to make sense of things.

What’s more real is that CFS and other illnesses does bring up our fears, beliefs, and identifications, and we can look at these. It tends to bring up what’s unfelt, unloved, and unquestioned in us, with an invitation to us to feel it, find love for it, and question the stories behind or associated with it.

Enlightenment is….

 

In my mind, enlightenment can be defined quite simply:

Seeing images as images. Words as words. Sensations as sensations.

It sounds so simple – and perhaps ordinary – that many will probably reject that definition. That’s understandable. And yet, it’s the simplest, most clear, and most accurate pointer I can come up with now. It’s the one closest to my own immediate experience.

This means that we can, as Byron Katie points out, be enlightened to the thought that’s here or not. It’s clear that we can tend to be enlightened to thoughts to different degrees. And yet, what really matters is how enlightened I am to the thought that’s here and now.

Some side notes:

As so many point out, it’s not that a person is enlightened or not enlightened. It’s the thought of a person that “we” are enlightened to. We recognize the images, words, and sensations creating the appearance of a particular self as images, words, and sensations. (And “we” here means…. what a thought may call consciousness, presence, that which images, words, and sensations happen within and as.)

As implied above, I am suspicious of the idea of “being enlightened” in general. Obviously, there is a tendency to see images, words and sensations as images, words and sensations (or not), and this tendency may be relatively stable (or not), and may deepen over time (or not). And yet, even if there is such as tendency, it’s still possible – and sometimes inevitable – to get caught in the apparent reality of the creations of our own mind. We may still be mesmerized by our own imaginations. That especially seems to happen when traumas are triggered. Deficient selves that we haven’t yet thoroughly examined.

This is all much simpler and more ordinary than how many spiritual traditions presents it. I don’t really know why they present it in a way that seems more extraordinary, mystical, and unachievable. Is it to get more followers? Because many people in the traditions didn’t quite get it themselves, and created fantasies about it? Because the main role of traditions is to maintain themselves, and they are not primarily about reality and truth? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a combination of these things and more.

Also, saying that I am enlightened (or not) to the thought that’s here and now, makes it sound a bit simpler than it is. Right now, there may be several thoughts and beliefs operating in me, and I am aware of only one or a few. Many of the unquestioned thoughts I operate from are partly or completely outside of my conscious awareness. And yet, through inquiry, they do tend to come to the surface. They seek the light, when it’s available to them. It just requires some attention, intention, and sincerity. And it’s ongoing. It’s an ongoing exploration.

Spirituality as a strategy to be loved, acceptable, good enough

 

For some of us, spirituality can be a strategy to be good enough.

We feel deficient in some ways. Not good enough. Unlovable. Unloved. Unacceptable.

We think that if we engage in spirituality, we’ll finally be acceptable. We strive to be good, we wish for enlightenment, we hope to come to heaven.

And when that happens, we’ll be good enough. We’ll be lovable. We’ll be accepted – by ourselves, others, life, God.

So why not question those assumptions? I am not good enough, is it true? I’ll be more acceptable in the future, is that true?

Can I find someone who is not good enough? Unlovable? Unloved? Can I find that person, outside of my images, words, and sensations? Can I find acceptance? Love? Enlightenment? A good person? Heaven? (Living Inquiries.)

Maybe it was all created by my own mind in the first place. The sense of being deficient, and the idea that spirituality – or anything else – will finally make us whole and good enough. And it doesn’t help to “know” or think that, or attach to that idea. I really need to look. Leave no stone unturned.

Spiritual ideas: helpful and not

 

There are many “spiritual” ideas floating around these days, including the following ones.

We are here to learn, mature, awaken.

We chose this life in order to have the experiences we need to mature, grow, learn, awaken.

We chose these people to be in our life, these situations, these experiences.

It’s all happening for a reason. It’s part of the plan.

These ideas can be helpful. They can help us reframe what’s happened in our life and see it in a different perspective. They can offer some comfort. And they can help us look for ways to learn, grow and mature from our experiences.

Any idea can also be limiting, and so also these. They can be used more compulsively as a comfort, as an escape, and can be pacifying. We can use them as a “should” and as yet another way we are not getting it and not measuring up. They can limit how we look at life, and make us reject other views that can be as or more helpful.

We can investigate these ideas:

Is it true? Can I know for certain?

What would I have to feel if I didn’t have these ideas? If I couldn’t think them? (Then feel that.)

What do I fear would happen if it wasn’t true? What do I fear would happen if I didn’t have these ideas? (Then look for the threat.)

Can I find X or someone who is or isn’t X? Can I find a plan? Learning? Maturing? Someone whose life is planned? Someone who needs to learn?

This is not about taking away something that works for us, or having us “face reality” in a cruel and heartless way. It’s about finding a deeper reality and peace. There can be a great relief through inquiring into these types of ideas, if we have held them as real and true.

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Alan Watts: the dream of life

 

One of my favorite thought experiments.

Imagine you can control your dreams. The first night, you may decide to dream that you have everything that you have ever wanted. It’s very pleasurable, and you may repeat it for several nights.

Then, maybe you decide to forget that it’s a dream, while you are dreaming it. That makes it more interesting.

You may also decide to include some challenges in the dream, to spice it up. Maybe even some that seem a matter of life and death.

Eventually, you arrive at the life you have now. You have forgotten it’s a dream, and there is a mix of pleasant experiences and challenges.

After some more nights, you may decide to add another wrinkle to your dreams. Within the dream, you add hints that it’s a dream – perhaps through synchronicities or direct glimpses. These may cause you, the dreamer, to be curious about waking up within the dream. You may even actively wish for it, and work at waking up. That becomes another adventure within the dream.

And that too, may be the life you are living right now.

Sprituality as a way to avoid feeling what’s here

 

Spirituality can be used as an attempt to avoid or compensate for discomfort.

That’s very understandable, and very human.

We experience pain and suffering, and see spirituality as a way to avoid it, find relief from it, or compensate for it.

And that’s true, in a way. We can use spirituality to try to avoid the pain for a while. We may try to land in bliss and peacefulness, to avoid feeling the pain and suffering.

We may wish for love, bliss, and peace to compensate for the parts of us that are in pain and suffering.

That may work for a while, but life doesn’t seem to allow us to do that for very long. Life want us to be more real. (Yes, I know life doesn’t really “want” anything, but we can put that story on it. Another way to say it is that life invites us to be more real.)

And what’s more real is to rest with the pain, suffering, discomfort and contractions. To notice and allow it. To meet it with love. To ask simple question to see more clearly what’s already there.

To see that what’s there is not what we thought it was. It’s not really scary. It’s innocent. It’s from deep caring. It’s from love. It is love. It’s awareness. It’s what I already am. It’s OK as it is. It doesn’t need to go away. (And yet it often does, when we arrive at this.)

Future of spirituality

 

It can be fun to wonder about the future of spirituality. Or, really, how I imagine it can be, based on what I am currently familiar with and interested in, and what I would like to see.

I am in the Bay Area now, and I imagine that what’s happening here does say something about the future of spirituality. What’s happening here is what we may see in some other places in the relatively near future.

It’s a more grounded and practical approach to spirituality, one that’s closely connected to human healing and growth, social engagement, and even spirituality. To me, those cannot really be separated in lived life. They are expressions of a recognition of oneness – in immediate experience (all as awareness Spirit), through science (astronomy, Big History, ecology, systems views), and even through the “paranormal” (ESP, synchronicities etc.).

Since it’s a practical approach to spirituality, it’s compatible with most worldviews – including most or all religions and even atheism.

Also, since it’s a practical approach, it can be applied to many areas of life, including schools, health care, hospitals, prisons, workplaces, and more.

Since it’s a practical approach, it’s also subject of research. What are the effects of different practices, for different groups of people? (Physiologically, psychologically, health wise, socially etc.). What mediates these changes? What works best for whom and when? What are the risks? How do we minimize these risks?

Since it’s a practical approach, it’s also more widely accepted and respected by mainstream society.

And since it’s a practical approach, teachers are – as Adyashanti suggests – more like coaches. They share their experience, and give practical suggestions. That’s about it. (There will inevitably be some projections, as in any human relationships, but a practical emphasis may typically reduce this.)

We already see all of this.

I also imagine more organizations, businesses, and centers where they explore the intersection of practical spirituality with a range of other areas, including business, education, healthcare, science, ecology, city and regional planning, sustainability and more.

I imagine more centers where people can devote themselves to exploring this area of themselves and life. (Often not affiliated with existing traditions, although drawing upon their experience and wisdom.)

And I imagine centers where people who are going through spiritual emergencies can find rest, guidance, and support. (I have sometimes wished for that for myself, especially during the initial phase of the awakening, where there were intense energies and I felt quite alone at a human level, and my current dark night phase. This is, and has been, especially close to my heart. It’s something I can see myself working with, if life goes in that direction for me.

Spiritual practice?

 

I sometimes use the words “spiritual practice”.

It’s a convenient shorthand. Most people have a general idea of what it means.

At the same time, I can’t say I like either of the words very much.

The word spiritual can refer to many different things, and be understood in many different ways.  (Most of which are different from the way I intend it.) It may sound special or something out of the ordinary. While for me, it’s more synonymous with life or existence. It’s ordinary. Simple. It’s what all already is. It’s all already Spirit. We cannot escape it, even if we try.

I also see that the word spirituality does point to a certain orientation to life, so in that sense it’s useful.

The word practice sounds a bit heavy handed to me. It may bring to mind drudgery, or something that’s overly disciplined. While what it really means, at least for me, is something that’s just part of everyday life. It’s a resting with what’s here. Finding love for what’s here. Occasionally asking some simple questions, to shift out of habitual views.

It’s very simple. Even ordinary. A part of everyday life. Ongoing. Restful.

This too is about slightly different orientations, and perhaps phases of our process. Initially, both spiritual and practice can be helpful and meaningful words. They hint at a different orientation than what we perhaps were used to, and the discipline we initially may need to shift to that orientation. After a while, as we become more familiar with the terrain, the word spiritual may hint at something that seems too extraordinary, and practice doesn’t fit either since what it refers to is just part of ordinary everyday life – a resting with what’s here, finding love for it, an inherent curiosity.

Liberation from “spiritual” ideas

 

I have written about this before, as with so much here.

“Spiritual” ideas may be helpful stepping stones for some. They may function as a carrot, something that captures the initial interest.

And after a while, they may reveal themselves as something else. Perhaps as a hindrance, if solidified and held as real and true. Any story has its drawbacks and unfortunate consequences when held as real and true, even the most (apparently) beautiful ones.

So here, we become more interested in seeing them for what they are.

We may look for the spiritual idea, whether it’s reincarnation, emptiness, awareness, heaven, hell, insight, light, identification, non -identification, no-self, awakening humanity, or whatever it may be. Can I find it, outside of words, images, and sensations? How is it to look at the images, listen to the words, and feel the sensations, and ask some simple clarifying questions about them? How is it to rest with each of them?

It can be hugely liberating to see that I cannot really find any of these as anything concrete, or real, or tangible. In my direct experience, they are made up of images, words, and sensations.

We can also ask ourselves some simple questions: What do I get out of holding this idea as true? What am I afraid would happen if I didn’t? What would I have to feel if I didn’t find comfort in this spiritual idea? (Whichever idea it may be.)

Some of these ideas may still be helpful, as shorthands for communication, or pointers for exploration, or a bridge to communicate with people who hold them as solid and real. And yet, to the extent they are recognized as composed of words, images, and sensations, there is a freedom there. A freedom from holding them as real, solid, or tangible.

When I wrote “Liberation from spiritual ideas” as the headline for this post, what I mean is just that: Freedom from holding them as real, solid, or tangible.

There is another aspect to this. Some of the spiritual ideas may be subject to scientific research. For instance, is there something that looks like reincarnation? If so, what is the range of possible explanations we can think of that fits the data? (Traditional reincarnation is just one of them, there are other possibilities.)

We can also explore these ideas in a more sober way. For instance, some think humanity is in an awakening process. It may seem that way to some, because they happen to live in a where more people are into those things, or they connect with similar minded people through workshops, centers, or online. A sober look at the world will perhaps reveal a different picture. Reality is also that some people at all times have thought that we are the threshold of something good. We don’t need to look further than the history of Christians. It’s a common projection, and a comforting idea.

It’s also an idea that many tend to hold onto early in our process, and then later on recognize as an idea, a projection, that we don’t really know, and that it’s more liberating, honest, and comfortable to not know.

Science and spirituality

 

Science and spirituality. That’s a topic that comes up now and then in popular media.

Unfortunately, the debate or discussion is usually at a quite superficial level.

There are perhaps two main ways of looking at the relationship between science and spirituality.

One is that they are separate. This means that they can either co-exist (religious scientists often take this view), or that they are mutually exclusive (atheists sometimes take this view). This is often the level of the public discourse on this topic.

Another view is that science and spirituality point to and explore the same reality. Reality is seamless and one, and can be explored in a variety of ways, including through different forms of science, and through spirituality. Ken Wilber is perhaps one of the most sophisticated writers on this topic today. (Although I am sure that even his writings will seem hopelessly old fashioned in one or two or three generations.)

Needless to say, the last view resonates the most with me. I am fascinated with science, and have been since childhood. (Especially astronomy, ecology, zoology, biology.) And I am fascinated by spirituality too, or rather the spiritual exploration.

Both describe facets of the same reality, and how it looks when you use “external” or “internal” methods for exploration.

Both use many of the same methods:

Learning from what’s been done before. Maintaining a questioning approach. Testing it out for yourself. Placing direct experience and data over theory. Recognizing that the terrain is not the same as the map. (Or a meal is not the same as the menu.) Being mentored by people who have gone the path before you. And eventually reporting your findings to the benefit of the community, so others can test it out for themselves and perhaps go further. (Yes, I know that this is an idealized view, and that reality is often much more messy, and sometimes less pretty in a superficial sense.)

P.S. I am intentionally ignoring religion here. Spirituality – in the sense I am using it here – can certainly exist within religion. A sincere spiritual exploration of reality can and does happen among some who belong to a certain religion. Religion itself is more of a mix of ritual (which can be very helpful), theology (which can include valuable practical pointers), genuine reports that may either become an official “truth” or more hidden within the tradition, and institutions (necessary to maintain the religion). Although it’s often not said explicitly, the main aim of religion is often – and necessarily – to perpetuate itself.

Seeking as a way to avoid pain

 

One reason for seeking – whether it’s seeking enlightenment, money, love, insights, the perfect partner, sex – is to avoid pain.

Or rather, to avoid the experience of pain. We are, at least in our culture, trained to avoid the experience of pain. We are in the habit of avoiding pain, and teach that to our children through our example. We teach that that’s how we live here.

And one of the ways we avoid pain is to medicate it with….. any number of things, including seeking insights, clarity, and enlightenment. It’s all innocent. It’s worried love.

There are a few ways of exploring this. Here are some I find helpful:

Meeting the pain, and the part of me wanting to escape it, with love. Ho’oponopono can be helpful here. I can also hold satsang with it. (You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. I love you. What would satisfy you forever? What are you really?)

Looking for the pain. The seeking. What I am seeking. The one in pain. The seeker. Can I find it, outside of images, words and sensations? How is it to look at each image and word that comes up around this, and feel the sensations?

When we examine this, meet what’s here with love, and feel what’s here, something shifts. We see it’s possible to experience what’s here without escaping it. And it’s actually more satisfying. Far more satisfying. And if we can do this individually, it’s at least conceivable that we can create a culture where this is the norm, and this is what we teach – through the way we live our life – our children.

Why do spiritual teachers get sick?

 

Some seem surprised that spiritual teachers get sick.

Why would they get sick?

They are human, and humans get sick.

Their bodies may get worn out through high levels of energies running through (aka kundalini).

They may have asked to be shown what’s left, and to find peace/ease with what’s here (whatever it is), and life gives them an opportunity to find just that.

We can get sick even if we do everything “right”, and teachers – as anyone else – don’t even do everything “right” (in terms of health). It’s a matter of genetics, environment, lifestyle and more.

All of these fit my own experience. My system certainly got burnt through high levels of energies running through it for several years (with a following “collapse”). I did ask for “full awakening” no matter the cost (a year or two before the dark night) and to be shown what’s left (a couple of weeks before the darkest period of the dark night). And there are weaknesses in my genetics (although pretty good overall), toxins in my environment, lack of nutrients in much of my food (due to modern agricultural (mis)practices), and sometimes poor food and health choices on my part.

The question “why do spiritual teachers get sick” may also come from a confusion between two different things. One is a a health and fitness focus as who we are, at the the human and energetic levels. This can include a focus on diet, exercise, breath, chi, “inner work”, and so on. The other is finding ease with – or as – what is, as it is. A shift in what we take ourselves to be. This one is independent of the health focus. It may include it or not, but doesn’t depend on it. And spirituality, at least as I use the term, is about the second one. The emphasis is on finding ease with what is, through inquiry and seeing what’s really here, and less – or secondarily if at all – on health. (Of course, a wise approach is to include both, with an emphasis on consciously recognizing the “true nature” of ourselves and what’s here.)

There is another aspect to this. When spiritual teachers get sick, it’s an opportunity for them to explore how to relate to it which in turn may benefit others. It may help them mature and deepen as human beings, and clarify what’s really there – in contrast to what at first appears to be there (which may include recognizing it as love, and finding genuine love for it). That’s not “why” they get sick, but it’s a possible outcome.

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Joey Lott: Spiritual Speciesism

 

Normally, what we mean by saying that one is spiritually awake is that such a person no longer identifies in some sort of exclusive manner with any particular form. Instead, such a person knows herself or himself to be unbounded. Which is fine. This is a perfectly sane discovery, in my opinion.

And, I might add, it’s nothing special. In fact, although I cannot know this for certain, I highly suspect that this is the effortless, natural experience of all wild living beings. Frogs. Rivers. Trees. Mountains. The reason I suspect this is that it seems to me that these beings have no reason to suspect otherwise. Without the stories and concepts that we believe then it seems to me that the unbounded connectedness of all apparent forms, the timeless nature of all that is, is perfectly self-evident.

I see no reason to call this “spiritual”. Because to call it spiritual suggests that it is somehow special or apart from something else. But by nature of the unbounded nature of what is there is no possibility of special. There is only what is.

– from Spiritual Specisim by Joey Lott (it’s worth reading the full article)

What he says resonates with me. Living within nonidentification is natural. It’s what plants and animals – and the rest of life – does effortlessly.

And yet, humans are unique, just as any other species is. Our strength is a certain form of cognitive ability, where other species have other strengths. And none is inherently any “better” or “worse” than those of any other species. They are just different.

We humans are very young in learning how to use our cognitive abilities, which is why we tend to create a lot of problems for ourselves at individual (suffering, confusion, beliefs) and collective (wars, injustice, ecological harm) levels. Our cognitive abilities are themselves very young, and our familiarity with it – and attempts to learn how to live with and from it with more wisdom – is also very young.

These cognitive abilities flavor the expression of life in a unique way. A way that sometimes includes identification, and sometimes nonidentification. And all species, and all individuals, gives their unique flavor to life’s expression. It’s all life exploring, expressing and experiencing itself in a myriad of ways. None inherently any better or worse than any other.

In general, I really like what Joey Lott writes. And I also see that I feel more comfortable adding a few things, making it a slightly “more complex simplicity” as he calls is.

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Spiritual statements

 

There is nothing wrong with the mind “landing” somewhere – on an idea.

It may be painful. It may be out of alignment with reality. It may be from unexamined fear. It may be from trying to protect the imagined self. It may be from love.

It may distract from the validity of the reversals of the initial idea, and that an idea is a pointer and not an absolute or final truth.

And there is nothing wrong with it.

And yet, at some point, we may be drawn to examine it.

One set of ideas the mind can “land” on are spiritual statements. It’s the usual ones many of us are familiar with….

It’s all one. It’s all awareness. All is Spirit. All is love.

There is no-one here. No ideas are true.

Life is just happening. There is no doer. There is no observer.

In the world but not of it.

And so on.

These too can be a landing place for the mind. Held as real and true. Held as “how it is”. And that too may be out of fear, and a wish to protect the imagined (“non-existent”!) self, and out of love.

And these too can be examined to see what’s there. Can I find awareness? (As an object, a thing?) Can I find Spirit? Can I find love? Can I find a thought? Can I find an identity? Can I find identification? Can I find life? Can I find “no observer”? Can I find these when I try to find them?

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Spirituality and the political spectrum

 

Why do westerners into spirituality tend to be on the left end (liberal, progressive) of the political spectrum?

I see a few possible reasons:

There is an historical reason. Modern western spirituality was “born” on the US west coast (especially the Bay Area), partly because of it’s large Asian influence, and this is also a center for a liberal and progressive orientation. This connection is then perpetuated.

More liberal people tend to be more open to new experiences, new cultures etc., which may also give an openness to spirituality outside of traditional religion.

People into spirituality tend to be more concerned about the health and well-being of all life, which fits a more liberal/progressive orientation.

For westerners, I also assume that most of those with an interest in spirituality would land in the bottom left quadrant of the political compass. That is, to the left and less authoritarian. (I ended up to the left of and somewhat less authoritarian than Dalai Lama.) Where spirituality is combined with religion, and traditional religious structures, it’s possible that more people will end up in the more authoritarian quadrant. And if we did a survey of people into spirituality in the west, we would probably find dots everywhere in each quadrant (even if there is possibly an emphasis on the bottom left).

And, I assume that as people into spirituality mature, they tend to arrive at a more integral approach to politics, appreciating the value of approaches from the whole political spectrum, and finding more freedom to apply any political tool depending on what seems most helpful in the situation.

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Spiritual teachings as medicine

 

Spiritual teachings are medicine.

The general spiritual teachings are aimed at meeting most people where they are, and nudge them in the direction of love and reality.

And specific spiritual teachings are aimed at a particular person, with the intention of correcting hangups and one-sidedness of that person.

If most people were very familiar with Big Mind but not their human self, reverse of how it tends to be today, then the teachings would tend to be reverse as well. Mainstream spiritual teachings would say: “Look, you have this human self, and a world, and it’s important you take care of this human self and your life and your world. It’s not all about basking as Big Mind and Big Heart (and Big Belly). It’s also about how you live it through this human self.” And, of course, some teachings do say that, because some people are at that place. It’s one of the typical phases of a spiritual development or awakening to be temporarily identified more as Big Mind and Big Heart, and less as the human self.

In general, spiritual teachings can be grouped in a few different categories. (a) Living according to certain guidelines (morals), and developing and living from love. (a) Inviting Big Mind/Heart/Belly to recognize itself. (c) Recognize all life as Big Mind/Heart/Belly. And (d) how to live from and as Big Mind/Heart/Belly through this human life in the world. Each of these is a medicine for people at specific phases on the path.

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Spirituality, or just human?

 

I don’t like the word “spirituality” so much. In our culture, it has some unfortunate connotations.

It can be seen as airy fairy. Escapist. Elevated. Elitist. And probably much more, depending on who you ask.

I like to think of it as just human, for many reasons:

It seems that an awakening can happen through anyone, sometimes out of the blue

Awakening seems to be a natural part of our developmental and perhaps evolutionary process. (As individuals and a species.)

An awakening process often feels very human. It includes a quite deep healing, maturing and reorganizing as a human being.

Living from an awakened context is also very human. It’s still an ordinary human life, only within a different conscious context.

When I use the word “awakening” here, I mean the process of (a) spirit awakening to itself as all there is, and (b) our human self reorganizing and realigning within this new context. The first can be sudden, and the latter often takes time.

I would like to use the word “human” more often, just as I tend to use the word “life” instead of Spirit or God. I probably will, when the context makes it clear what I am referring to.

The word fits, since we are talking about life (or reality, or Spirit) awake to itself through this human self, so it is all very human.

The word also has its drawbacks since spirituality is about reality itself, expressed through and as everything in the universe, and life can awaken to itself through many possible beings, not just humans. (Does a dog have Buddha nature? Woof!) For instance, if there is life throughout the universe, life can awaken to itself through them too, and will be expressed through their unique psychology and physiology. Spirit will still awaken to itself as all there is, just be expressed through a quite different type of being.

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Spirituality as escape, and coming home

 

Spirituality can be an escape, and it can be a way home. Often, and for a while, it may be both.

Spirituality can be an escape. The stories of spirituality may be held as true, in a attempt to find a sense of safety. Spirituality can be an attempt to protect who we take ourselves to be. Mind innocently identifies as a being, there is fear, and this brings us to try to hold onto spiritual ideas to find safety for this being. There is also a sense of lack, we try to hold onto spiritual ideas to fill up the hole in us. It’s all innocent, it all comes from love, and it’s all slightly misguided.

Spirituality can also be our way “home“. It can be our way home as who we are, in the sense of finding healing and a sense of wholeness as a human being in the world. And it can be our way home as what we are, in the sense of what we are noticing itself and becoming a more conscious context for our human life. This coming home often happens through finding and living from love, clarity and authenticity.

I see both of these in myself, and I also see that the way through is to be as authentic as possible, meet the fear with love, and inquire into my stories creating fear and a sense of having to find safety through spirituality or anything else. Also, what do I fear about living from love, clarity and authenticity, and what do I find when I look into this?

Some spiritual ideas it can be helpful to look at:

Awareness. Consciousness. Love. God. Spirit. Christ. Enlightenment. A future stable state. (Can I find any of these, outside of words, images, sensations?)

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God and science

 

Since childhood I have thought that the discussion about God and science has been a bit silly.

Initially, it was because I identified myself as an atheist and saw the idea of God as irrelevant. I saw it as something people used for comfort.

In mid- to late-teens, I still recognized the idea of God as an idea, and could see that if God=reality, then there is no conflict between spirituality and science. They are both approaches to explore reality, and we can use scientific principles in both areas.

It’s interesting how it hasn’t changed that much for me. I see God as an idea. I see God as equal to reality, and as something to explore through science and spirituality. And I also see how people – including myself – sometimes use the image or idea of God as a comfort, as a crutch until it’s not needed anymore.

How can we explore God using scientific principles? There are many answers to this. One is to explore it mapping out the descriptions of reality found in the different spiritual traditions, as Ken Wilber and some others do. Another is to follow the guidelines for explorations found in one or more traditions – whether it’s meditation, prayer, inquiry, ethics or something else – and see what happens. Each of these is an experiment. What happens if I do this particular meditation over time? What happens if I engage in the heart prayer over time? What do I find if I engage in a particular form of inquiry? Does it match what others report? How is it different?

Calling etc.

 

There are many ways of approaching “spirituality”.

It can be a calling, a deep and sincere wish to see beyond the veils created by images and thoughts taken as true.

This may come from curiosity. What happens if I do these practices, follow these pointers? What do I find?

It may come from love. A love for existence, God, life, truth, reality.

It may come from remembering, and a wish to return home.

It may come from a wish to be a good student, a good boy or girl. If I do the right thing, God (life, reality) will reward me.

It may come from a wish to build a certain image, and perhaps impress oneself and others.

It may come from a wish to find something to take refuge in. In this case, the images and thoughts about spirituality. (A form of escape.)

And more.

There are perhaps just two main approaches. One is a sincere wish – a draw, pull, calling – for reality to recognize itself and for this human self to live within that context. The other is whatever comes from taking images and thoughts as true – using spirituality for image-building, being a good boy/girl, finding refuge in something – images, thoughts – we cannot take refuge in etc.

And for all of us, I assume both are at play. There is nothing wrong in that. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful innocence.

Freedom

 

I sometimes hear people talk about freedom in connection with spirituality.

It makes sense, from one perspective. As long as we take ourselves to be a separate being in the world, it’s easy to also experience a lack of freedom and desire for freedom, and spirituality may seem to offer a hope of that freedom.

And yet, that’s not really how it is, in my experience.

Here are some ways of using the word freedom, and also where the word doesn’t make sense anymore.

There may be a relative freedom as a human being in the world, for instance freedom of speech and religion, political freedom, the freedom that comes from access to opportunities and money, and so on.

There is a sense of “freedom” that comes from realizing (more of) the nature of reality and the nature of illusion. A freedom from being blindly caught in certain beliefs. At least, it may be experienced as a form of freedom in the early honeymoon phase.

There may also be a sense of lack of freedom from being bound to God’s will (aligning with reality, what’s here) and God’s guidance (the quiet inner voice, the guidance of the heart, the guidance of the soul). There may be a struggle with this, and it’s also a sweet “lack of freedom”.

There is also, as Adyashanti points out, freedom to. Freedom to welcome what’s here, to be with it, to meet it. A freedom to that comes from noticing that what’s here is already allowed, that it’s already awakeness, presence, love, that it’s what “I” am. And that may be supported by inquiry, prayer, meditation, contemplation etc.

And yet, if all is Spirit the word freedom doesn’t make sense. The me that seeks freedom is the dream that reality wakes up from.

So does spirituality have to do with freedom? In a very limited sense, yes.

And yet, if anything, a process of reality waking up to itself is humbling. It’s a process of this human self aligning with Spirit, with the will of God – as what’s here, and as guidance of the heart and soul. It’s a process of Spirit recognizing itself as all there is, and this human self functioning within that recognition.

Understanding spirituality from a psychological perspective

 

This is another thing I keep coming back to. It’s fully possible to understand basic spirituality from an intuitive and simple psychological framework. It’s all about discovering what’s already here in immediate awareness. Here are some of these basics:

(a) As mind is identified with images and thoughts, these seem real, true and substantial, and I see, feel and act as if they are true. This is uncomfortable, and also not aligned with reality. These images and thoughts include the basic ones of a human being, a being in the world, and I with others, time, space, and so on.

(b) Supported by inquiry, meditation, prayer, or happening “out of the blue” awareness may awaken to itself. It finds that what “I” am is awareness, and the whole field of experience is awareness – including any appearances of a me and an I, a world, time, space, etc.

(c) At some point, there may also be a noticing of capacity of all of this, eventually followed by a shift of the center of gravity here.

This can all be understood from a simple psychological perspective. No special assumptions need to be made.

It doesn’t take much to notice that my whole world of experience is awareness. My whole world of appearances is awareness, including any sense of a me and I, any identification and non- identification, and so on. Even what appears as most real and solid is awareness itself. Sense field inquiries may be especially helpful here.

From here, it’s not such a big leap to notice that “I” am this awareness. The center of gravity may shift here, first in glimpses and perhaps later more stably.

And any images and thoughts of a “me” here supporting or creating this awareness (materialistic explanation) and of a material world somehow translated into this field of experience are also recognized as innocent questions, as images and thoughts, and something I cannot know for certain.

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Sobering process

 

I usually don’t use the word spirituality, and I see that most of what I explore and write about here can be given that label.

Spirituality as an escape. Spirituality – as anything else – can be used to find comfort or as an escape, and I do that sometimes. I find comfort in “spiritual” images of reality or the future. I distract myself from uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and situations through “spiritual” things such as prayer, meditation, inquiry or writing here. And there is nothing wrong there. It’s innocent. It’s confused love. And what I can do is notice my stressful thoughts, inquire into them, and find what’s more true for me.

Spirituality as sobering. Spirituality can also be quite sobering. If I see Spirit as reality, then spirituality is a conscious alignment with reality. It’s an exploration of what’s honest for me in an ordinary human sense, and in my immediate experience.

The Work is often quite sobering. It helps me see how I have lived my life from believing a thought, how may life may be without it, and I find my own practical advice for how to live my life. All of it is sobering.

It’s sobering to meet and open to certain experiences, such as physical pain or uncomfortable emotions. I may have avoided these for most or all of my life, and now there is a 180 degree turn to opening to them. That too is often quite sobering. I get to see my tendency to avoid certain experiences, how I have lived my live by avoiding them, and what’s there to feel and experience.

It’s sobering to find love for my “enemies”, for people, situations and experiences I believe my thoughts about, and wish were not there. I may find love through ho’o, prayer, tonglen, the Big Mind/Heart process, and other approaches, and may also notice it’s all already love. I get to see how I have lived and live from confused love (resentment, anger, frustration, grief). I get to see how it’s to live from a more clear love, and perhaps from recognizing myself and all as already love. And I get to see my fears and beliefs in shifting from the former to the latter, and can take these to inquiry.

It’s sobering that experiences – states, emotions, situations – always change. It brings my fears and thoughts to the surface. I get to see thoughts telling me some things as good and desirable, and other things as bad and undesirable, and the struggle I create for myself when I believe those thoughts.

It’s sobering that people, situations and life itself appears to “require” something of me. Again, I get to see what’s left. I get to see my own wounds, fears and beliefs. I get to see which thoughts I still hold as true, even if it’s mainly at an emotional level.

It’s sobering that reality already allows it all – this situation, these emotions, this pain, these images and thoughts, this identification. Seeing this, I get to see where I am not consciously or emotionally aligned with reality. I get to see what’s left for me. I get to see my wounds, fears and beliefs. The thoughts I hold onto as true, which makes me think that what’s here is wrong, it’s not good, it’s not Spirit.

If spirituality is a more conscious alignment with reality – with all as Spirit – then spirituality is, by definition, sobering.

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Continuing institutions

 

Here is something that was brought more to the foreground during my time at the Zen center:

The main purpose and function of institutions is to keep themselves going, and that also goes for religious or spiritual organizations, including Zen and Buddhism.

That’s of course very good. It provides continuity and stability, and makes the resources, experience, and knowledge in these institutions available to new generations.

The drawbacks are equally obvious: It means that those who are willing to play the game (follow the rules) tend to be promoted and will eventually lead the institutions. And change tends to be slow. There is a certain inflexibility and slowness in taking up new approaches and insights, and adapting to or aligning with current needs and worldviews.

For some, institutions feel a bit confining for a variety of reasons. And one of these is that truth may be more important than institutions or traditions. The teachers I am most drawn to belong to this category. Adyashanti struck out on his own after his traditional Zen training, and Byron Katie was tradition-free from the beginning.  The value in this approach is the ease of drawing from any tradition and teacher, there is freedom to follow what seems most true independent of traditions, and some new perspectives and insights can come out of it – which may even feed back into the traditions. The drawback is of course a possible lack of guidance from traditions.

And although I may have set it up that way here, there is of course no inherent opposition between institutions and truth. Some fit into and continue institutions in an excellent way, and are also sincere in exploring what’s (sometimes more) true for them.

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Fascination with scary stories

 

Why are we – some of us – fascinated by scary stories?

I find a few different ways of looking at it.

Evolution

In an evolutionary context, it makes sense that we are drawn to explore scary things through stories. It helps us mentally prepare for similar situations in our own life. We get more familiar with the possible situations and how we may react, we get a bit desensitized to these types of situations so we may be more calm if or when something similar happens in our own life, and we get a chance to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it.

Beliefs

When I take a story about something scary as true, my attention tends to be drawn to these beliefs and what they are about. Again, it’s an invitation to mentally explore these situations in a safe setting, and how I may deal with it if something similar should happen in the real world. It’s also an invitation to explore these beliefs in themselves. Are they realistic? What’s more realistic? What’s more true for me? 

An impulse to wholeness as who I am, this human self

What I see in the wider world is a reflection of what’s here. So far, I have found how each one of my stories of the wider world – including anything scary – equally well applies to me. As long as I think some human quality or characteristic is only out there in the world, or only in me, it’s painful and uncomfortable. When I find it both in the wider world and in me, there is a sense of coming home and it’s much more comfortable. In this sense, being drawn to scary stories in an invitation for me to use it as a mirror, to find in myself what I see out there in the world, and whether the scary story is from “real life” or made up doesn’t matter much.

Finding a characteristic both in the wider world and myself, I can also relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner, so this impulse to find wholeness also makes sense in an evolutionary perspective.

An impulse to clarity as what I am 

There is also an invitation to find clarity here. When I take a story as true, it’s uncomfortable. And finding more clarity on the story, it’s more comfortable. So when I am drawn to what I think of as scary stories, there is an invitation for me to identify and investigate any stressful belief that may come up. Through this, what I am – clarity and love, that which any experience and image happens within and as – notices itself more easily.

I also see that when I take a story as true I tend to get caught up in reactive emotions and one-sided views, and finding more clarity helps me function in a more healthy, kind and informed way in the world.

Summary: Evolution, and who and what I am

It makes evolutionary sense for me to be drawn to scary stories in all of these ways. (a) I become more familiar with the different scenarios of what may happen and how I desensitize to scary situations to some extent, so I can be more calm if or when something similar happens in my own life. I get to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it, in a safe setting and before it happens. (b) I am invited to investigate my beliefs about it and find what’s more realistic and true for me. (c) I am invited to find in myself what I see in the wider world, which helps me relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner. (d) And there is no end to the stories I can investigate, including my most basic assumptions about myself and the world, which helps me function in the world from more clarity, kindness and wisdom. Each of these support my survival and ability to reproduce and raise offspring.

All of these also make psychological sense. It helps me function in the world, and find a sense of wholeness as who I am.

It all makes spiritual sense. It helps this human self – the infinite experiencing itself as finite – survive and function in the world. It’s an invitation for what I am to more easily notice itself.

And all of these perspectives – evolution, psychology and spirituality – converge in one sense, and are the same in another.

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Quantum physics and inquiry

 

In my teens and early twenties, I was quite interested in quantum physics and especially it’s connection with spirituality. I read just about any book published on it at the time – by Fritjof Capra and others. Most writers seem to present the connection between quantum physics and spirituality (typically Taoism and Buddhism) in a more theoretical way. And it can also be presented in the context of inquiry.

For instance, in some quantum physics experiments, time and space doesn’t seem to function the way we are used to in conventional experience. This suggests that time and space may not “really” be as we typically perceive it. It’s perhaps not inherent in the world as we perceive it. I can find the same by exploring the sense fields, and notice how time and space only appears due to my overlay of images of time and space on my sense fields. There is no time or space found outside of these images. There is no evidence for time or space existing “out there” or being inherent in the world or reality.

The same is the case with causality. Some quantum physics experiments throws our conventional ideas of causality into question. The way we typically experience causality may not be inherent in the world “all the way down and all the way up”. Exploring my everyday experience of causality through the sense fields, I find the same.

So referring to quantum physics in this context may invite or inspire to own investigation, and this may be very helpful. It may inspire more scientifically minded folks to investigate their own immediate experience of reality.

The potential drawback is that it makes it all sound more abstract and foreign that it needs to be. And it’s also likely that our current understanding of quantum physics and it’s experiments will change over time, and we don’t know how, so it may be a bit unfortunate to create too strong of a mental connection between quantum physics and spirituality (as Ken Wilber has pointed out).

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