We can define spirituality in several different ways.
I’ll here focus on two very general orientations – indulging in fantasies vs exploring reality.
INDULGING IN FANTASIES
One broad category is the type of spirituality where people indulge in fantasies.
We imagine all sorts of things – about nonembodied beings, spiritual teachers, life after death, karma, and so on. We may even try to pretend it’s true even if we don’t know for certain and cannot check it out for ourselves.
This pretending is not completely successful since we know, somewhere, what we are doing. We know we are trying to trick ourselves, and it doesn’t really work.
And this is also why many view religions and spirituality with – well deserved – skepticism.
Another broad category is spirituality as a sincere and honest exploration of reality.
What am I, most fundamentally, in my own first-person experience? What do I find? How is it to explore living from this noticing?
What do I find when I explore how my sense fields combine to create my experience of the world?
What do I find when I explore any mental representation – in words or mental images – I hold as true?
Can I know anything for certain?
THEY BOTH SERVE A FUNCTION
Both orientations serve a function.
The upside of fantasies is that they can serve as a carrot for us. Although they may not be grounded in reality and our own direct noticing, they can give us motivation and a sense of direction. They are also projections, showing us something about ourselves and what’s already in ourselves.
The downside is that they are fantasies. Somewhere in us, we know that we cannot know for certain, so they are not completely fulfilling to us. Something is missing.
So the fantasy approach can be helpful in the beginning of our exploration and tends to thin out as we go along.
The upside of the reality orientation is that it keeps us more grounded and focused on our immediate experience and noticing. It’s more real to us, so it’s also more fulfilling. Especially as we start noticing and living from a noticing of our nature.
OFTEN A MIX
In practice, there is often a mix of the two.
We may indulge in some fantasies, and also engage in sincere practice and exploration of our relationship with the divine, or our nature.
And if we have a sincere orientation, I assume we tend to move away from initial fantasies to a more dedicated exploration of reality.
THE ROLE OF RELIGION AND SPIRITUAL TRADITIONS
Religions and most spiritual traditions inevitably have an element of fantasy, and often a strong element of fantasy. They encourage fantasies.
That’s why, if we have a sincere interest in exploring reality, we have to – at least internally – be willing to question and examine it all and hold it all lightly and place our own immediate exploration and noticing first.
THE ROLE OF SCIENCE
Science has a particular content which reflects our place in time and culture and changes over time, and it also has a methodology that is more universal.
The methodology of science is a kind of systematization of common sense and can be a great support in our spiritual explorations. Learning about the history and methods of science, logic and logical fallacies, and so on, can all be valuable. It can help us avoid some of the pitfalls on the way.
The fantasies come in a couple of different forms.
There are the ones mentioned above.
They are the typical spiritual fantasies – mental representations of something we cannot check for ourselves or cannot know for certain. For instance, what happens after life, karma, angels, avatars, heaven and hell, and so on. It may be ideas of what awakening means and how it will change our life, that it’s a kind of permanent state. It may be ideas about spiritual teachers and how they are and what they can or cannot do for us. It may be ideas about what actions or practices will do for us in the future, or won’t do for us. And much more.
These are often a kind of wishful or fearful thinking. We use them to feel better about ourselves and life, or to scare ourselves. And what they refer to may or may not be real in a conventional sense.
In a more basic sense, these fantasies include any mental representation. For instance, of space and time, past and future, who and what we are, and so on.
These mental representations help us orient and function in the world and test out possibilities.
TWO WAYS OF RELATING TO THESE FANTASIES
We can relate to these fantasies and mental representations in a couple of general ways.
We may mistake them for reality. We don’t recognize them as mental representations and assume they are how reality is.
When that happens, they often have a charge for us. They mean something special to us and we feel something related to them. And as mentioned above, we use them to feel better or worse about ourselves, and they often become wishful or fearful thinking.
We use them to feel safer by telling ourselves we know, whether that is something we see as desirable or undesirable.
We can also recognize them for what they are. We can recognize them as mental representations. We can recognize what these mental representations can and can’t do for us.
They help us orient and function in the world. We cannot know for certain how accurate they are in a conventional sense. And they cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth.
We can notice that we cannot know for certain how accurate they are in a conventonal sense.
We can notice that we cannot find safety in mental representations. It’s not in their nature.
TYPICAL FANTASIES OF THE REALITY-ORIENTED APPROACH
There are some common fantasies in the reality-oriented approach.
For instance, as we begin to notice our nature, we will inevitably form mental representations of our nature. We have mental representations of oneness, consciousness, love, and so on, and ourselves as that.
That’s not wrong or inherently problematic. It’s natural and helps us navigate and talk about it.
And yet, it’s also easy to mistake our mental representations for a direct noticing, and it’s good to examine this and learn to recognize the mental representations for what they are.
I inevitably have a mix of the two as well, although I have a strong affinity for the more reality-oriented approach.
This is likely influenced by the culture and family I grew up in. (A culture that is secular and largely non-religious, and a family that was focused on science and art and the practical.) And likely because I, before the initial awakening shift, was deeply fascinated by science and a self-proclaimed atheist since I saw religion and spirituality as indulging in fantasies. (Not wrong since most who are into spirituality do that to some extent, in some phases of their process, and in some areas of life.)
Note: This article is an example of what happens when I have stronger brain fog and when my energy goes more into the physical than the mental. It has little flow and is not nearly as succint as it could be.Read More