Sunday, December 14, 2014

what is spirituality?

What is spirituality?

I’ve heard so many people say they don’t like that word. I used to think spirituality was other worldly, but now I think that can be escapism, or spiritual bypassism. Still, I want to use the word. I feel like I opened up a file in my head when I found Buddhism, and filled it in with something that wasn’t there before. Maybe that’s an illusion. I’m not sure donating time to the local sangha is somehow inherently more spiritual than doing other things.

A part of spirituality is about striving for equanimity and not getting flustered and flummoxed so easily. There is a kind of emotional transcendence, not numb, still present and feeling, but somehow not fully embroiled and overwhelmed with horrified anxiety. The half-smile. I can do the facial expression, but are there corresponding thoughts? The guys that serve me food at the Sri Chimnoy restaurants have a goofy smile that feels forced. I’m very concerned about aping spirituality, pretending to be spiritually evolved. And yet, even trying is a good thing I think sometimes. It’s a balance. Authenticity is very important.

One sense in which spirituality makes sense to me, is that it’s non-materialistic, it’s not about your personal gain. But then again, people like to brag about how giving they are. There is nothing wrong with being proud about helping others. So doing things for others because that makes you feel good and proud of yourself is OK. But is there anything inherently “spiritual” about that. Is spirituality just not being egotistical? Thinking about others? Realizing our interconnectivity? I’m inclined to say that’s a piece of it, but it’s in conjunction with clarity of mind, with deep insight.

I would say there is an inner/outer journey to connect to something larger, a higher power. That includes being less egotistical and having equanimity, but it’s also true and authentic, not pretend. Does it matter what your higher power is? People will tell you absolutely, and fight wars over it, but that feels very worldly, materialistic, exploitative, and egotistical. I’m not prepared to say any spirituality is OK, cults are bad by definition, and you hear of religious practices that you don’t feel like they will stand the test of time. People could go on a journey, and not just join a group to enhance status. Secular humanism is a fine higher power, in my opinion.

Can I drive to work in a spiritual way? I don’t know. When I listened to talks all the time, I felt a little more spiritual. But now I don’t listen to those talks or read the books so much. I do feel less spiritual, but I also feel more independent, and filled with stuff. I think spirituality sometimes is about unfilling, emptying.

I still want to somehow progress. What does progress mean? You can get ordained, that makes people feel like they have achieved something. You can work for your community, build community, build a building. You can reach deeper states of meditation. You can be less ethically messy. You can be kinder. You can relate to people better. You can communicate better. You can feel a continuity of purpose, feel certain kinds of confusion less. Does the number of blog posts make me more spiritual. I think not, but I am at that moment trying to do something spiritual, so in a way it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Being spiritual depends on what you mean by it, but if you’re not clear about what it means. People say they know it when they see it.

The religions will tell you what to do if that’s what you’re looking for. I find connecting and giving to others very fulfilling. I like to read and learn. I’m curious about psychology and how people work. I like to study great people, I liked watching a documentary on Thomas Merton and reading his books and journals, I like spiritual giants. I feel like some people throw themselves at spirituality, but they’re not very spiritual. There have been times in my life when I felt very reverential towards the Buddha, the Dharma and the community. There were times when my gung ho attitude pushed people away.

The people standing on the street just waiting to talk to you about something, the evangelists are really trying hard. I feel like they’re also pushing some rigidity, so I don’t like to engage, I feel like helping them, and that feels presumptuous, so I just don’t.

What about the dark night of the soul when you don’t get any reinforcement for being spiritual? Is that the true test, or is just how people open others up to manipulation? That’s the other thing. With so much exploitation through religion, you really have to watch out for that. Nobody sees being exploited as being spiritual. Sacrifice yes, but exploited, no.

I like the phrase “open handed generosity” because it conveys giving that has no regret or qualms, but is not just indifference or aping behaviors. I remember after my first retreat, I just felt like putting money in the dana bowl. I wonder if it was exuberance that was misplaced, but I was just so grateful and I wanted to try it out.

The complications of an organization can be confusing, the human and non-spiritual motives. Giving without regrets and qualms can sometimes be a hard ideal to reach. I think there are spiritual ideals that guide people, but what are the best ones for you? That’s to be discovered, I wouldn’t say there were necessarily universal ones for each religion. I find the differences between the many kinds of Buddhists in the word pretty amazing. There is something of an extreme in some spiritual approaches, but I think balance can be very spiritual.

So balance, generosity, energy, community, relationship, equanimity. The answers I tried to just pour forth could easily be put into the 7 noble truths. How would I know if I’m aping another’s ideas? Is originality important? I don't think in this case. Authenticity is important, “start where you are,” and all that. Becoming an individual, personal development seems an important aspect of it, regardless of spiritual development.

Religious organizations will give you a format to understand your spiritual experience. The Buddha is notorious for saying, "check it out in your experience." I believe in experience, that is non-denominational. The advice to Bahiya is about putting your experience into the right place, and thinking into the thinking category. Thinking is wonderful, I often have quite a lot of joy with my thoughts. But Keats' negative capability, not hankering after facts and theories, helps one to keep open to the information instead of quickly categorizing and taming it by boxing it. A better program for assimilating experience into the whole. I believe in experience, including the thinking that tries to make sense of it, and the negative capability that allows things to flower without quickly trying to control it.

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