The essence of spirituality doesn’t require anything esoteric

There are many ideas about spirituality in our culture. Some see it as a refuge or something that will save them. Some see it as escapism, fantasies, and avoidance. Some see reaching the “goals” of spirituality as only for special people. In some situations, and in some ways, there is some truth to each of these.

And yet, the core of spirituality is pragmatic and secular. We don’t need to take anyones word for it. We don’t need to assume anything about the nature of existence. We don’t need to leave it to someone else. We can try it out for ourselves.

So what is this secular and pragmatic core of spirituality?

It takes two forms. One is the many effects of spiritual practices on our human life. The other is finding what we already are.

I have written articles about both so I’ll just give a brief summary here.

Finding what we are

This isn’t dependent on any philosophy or particular worldview. It’s just dependent on noticing what we already are to ourselves.

Even logically, we see that – to ourselves – we must be consciousness.

Consciousness is what’s aware of any experience at all, so that’s what we are to ourselves. Any sense of being something happens within and as this consciousness, any experience of anything at all happens within and as this consciousness. Even the idea of consciousness, the mental images and associations we have about it, happens within and as consciousness.

And we can find this for ourselves. Consciousness can notice itself as, to itself, all there is. We can find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. We can find ourselves as what the world, as it appears to us, happens within and as.

Our habitual identification is typically with this human self which appears within and as what we are. This is a kind of “trance” as many have pointed out, and is self-perpetuating unless something comes in to help us notice what we already are, or – more accurately – help what we are notice itself.

The most effective approach to notice what we are may be inquiry (headless experiments, Big Mind process). The most effective approach to stabilize this may be a combination of inquiry and basic meditation (notice + allow). The most effective approach to live from this includes heart-centered practices (tonglen, ho’oponopno) and regular emotional healing work. And training a more stable attention helps all of this and our life in general.

Is this the awakening spiritual traditions talks about? Yes, as far as I can tell it is. It’s what we are noticing itself, and noticing itself as all its experiences. It’s oneness. It’s a waking up from the trance of being this one separate self happening within and as what we are. It’s a noticing that what we are is love. After all, oneness noticing itself is expressed as love.

Helping who we are

Traditional spiritual practices, and modern versions of these, can also help us at a human level.

Training a more stable attention supports just about any activity in our life and our general well-being.

Basic meditation – notice and allow what’s here, and notice it’s already noticed and allowed – helps us release out of struggling with what’s here, our experience as it is.

Basic inquiry – finding ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us – also helps release us out of struggling with what is. It brings a lighter touch. It creates a space for us to act a little more from clarity and kindness.

Heart-centered practices helps us reorient in how we relate to ourselves, others, situations, and life in general. It helps shift us out of a struggle orientation to befriending what’s here. And this, in turn, helps our well being and allows us to act more from clarity.

The essence of spirituality doesn’t require anything esoteric

To me, this is the essence of spirituality, and it doesn’t require anything esoteric. It doesn’t require us to believe anything or go outside of our own experience. On the contrary, if we want to take it as far as it goes, it requires us to be ruthlessly honest about our own experience and find what’s already here.


  • the secular and pragmatic core of spirituality
    • culture & core
      • culture shapes spirituality
      • has a secular and pragmatic core
    • essence
      • what we are
        • what we are, to ourselves, is consciousness
        • all our experiences happen within and as consciousness
        • oneness
      • practices
        • meditation
          • notice + allow
          • notice what we are
        • practice stable attention
          • supports any activity
        • heart-centered
          • shift how we relate to our world – others, ourselves, situations etc.
          • tonglen, ho’o
          • prayer – open to the wholeness
          • devotion to our true nature, the apparent true nature of everything, all as what we are
        • body-centered
          • train stable attention
          • find the wholeness of who we are
        • life/community-centered
          • ethical guidelines – to reduce distractions, drama, problems in own life and community
        • inquiry
          • identify and question beliefs
          • explore how our mind creates its experience of anything in particular and the world
          • work w. projections
          • develop better communication – with others, with ourselves, within ourselves,
        • intellectual honesty
          • we are our own final authority (even if we pretend otherwise)
          • check it all out for ourselves
            • honest about what’s our experience, that it can be talked about in many different ways
            • and what’s second hand, in the maybe category, something to possibly explore for ourselves
          • small and big interpretation of awakening
            • my own true nature vs the true nature of existence / everything
        • awakening, healing, embodiment
          • awakening
            • notice what we are
            • conscious context
          • healing
            • emotional healing of our human self
              • any approach that works – inquiry, insight, shift how relate to oneself and others, somatic etc.
            • helps embodiment (clears out space for living from the awakening in situations that previously triggered an issue + identification with the issue – and reactivity)
          • embodiment
            • living from the awakening

Any approach to spirituality is colored and formed by the culture it happens within, and our current western approach to spirituality is no different.

Of course, there are many different approaches to spirituality here too. And one of these is the more pragmatic and even secular take on spirituality.

There is nothing in the way of presenting the essence of spirituality – the perennial philosophy – in a way that’s pragmatic and doesn’t rely on anything outside of what we can check for ourselves.

We can also mainly use a psychological interpretation of awakening and anything else within spirituality and, if we want, branch out from there.


Doesn’t the idea of awakening or enlightenment require something metaphysical?

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