Sunday, October 9, 2016

Spirituality is Hard.

            Spirituality is an amorphous word that means so much to so many people, it is hard to pin down, especially for those who have been spiritually abused. Because of this, the simple act of asking, “How is your spiritual life,” is such a loaded question it is nearly impossible to answer without first asking, “In what sense do you mean ‘spiritual?'”
        This has engendered in many ex-church people an avoidance of thinking about any spirituality. However, whether or not we care to think about it, we have an internal life that needs to be nurtured. Here at DLC, we take a more logical approach. As with all things that delve into our minds, there is a sense of freedom in figuring out how it actually works. Before we can move forward, it is important to take a glance at what we have been through.
          In the past, we were told that Spirituality is  “Access to a higher power or the metaphysical plane by way of a set of rituals or secret knowledge.” In other words, religion. Whether it be Christianity, New Age, Islam, Paganism, or Sikh the idea is that if we read the right book, believe the correct narratives, and or perform the correct rituals, the metaphysical agent in question will respond with a higher awareness or understanding. This is not a definition that wraps up the entire experience. For me, it leaves entire chunks out of the process. Yet, many people see spirituality only as a quest for gods. I dismiss this thought. There is more to it.
          Another prevalent definition is an experience or understanding that evokes emotional euphoria or “The chills" or an emotional response. “The feels.” Statements along these lines usually also include allusions to the metaphysical, “I was at retreat weekend at my church and I felt the Holy Spirit indwell me. I got chills and started to weep.” Or “I just felt so moved when I heard the guru speak it was as if he were imparting the ‘wisdom of the Universe’ into my mind!” These are powerful experiences and need careful treatment. Misappropriating them can lead to disappointment or frustration when the follower finds out that what they believed was incorrect or no longer evokes these chills. This can lead to a period of disillusionment during which the participant is “experiencing a dry spell,” or is “having a desert experience,” or “needs to perform one of the above rituals to restore balance.” 
           Saying that spirituality is a string of experiences or emotions that need manipulating is also missing the mark. I was raised with a combination of these two definitions all smashed up. I was taught that spirituality is only the quest for the metaphysical and you know you are on the right track when you have just the right emotional experiences. Again, an external search for confirmation that the unprovable is real just doesn't work anymore. 
          These common definitions are laden with confirmation bias. “I felt something so therefore it is my pet belief.” “Something amazing and good happened in my life, it must be God working.” Even without the belief or deity, these things may have happened in the believer’s life anyway. It may very well be just coincidence. Another shortcoming of these systems is that they put the strength outside of you. 
           I personally have come to the conclusion that the best way to look at it is the old saying, “The mind is the seat of the soul.” (If a soul even exists.) If we take it to mean that the mind is the center of our internal experience it becomes our highest calling to care for it. Seeking out mental health therapies, life coaching, and, if needed, medication are all requirements for a healthy spirituality. Our minds are physical and real. The best way to maintain our inner thought life is to protect mental health. 
           Meditation can become a very powerful way to connect our internal life with our outer reality making solutions to problems very clear. We can use ritual and practice to calm our emotional lives and help us to function in a more responsible way. Lighting candles and listening to quiet music can really help us to meditate. Also, great understanding about the way that we function best as humans can be had in the practice of centered meditation. Learning to be the master of our minds and emotions is the highest spiritual calling we have.
          I carry this calling out to making sure that those around me are mentally as strong as they can be and advocating for the homeless and downtrodden that may not have access to the expensive mental health care coverage. 
          On the topic of altruism, a healthy mind is one that understands our place on this earth. For me, speaking of spirituality cannot be done without speaking about the responses we have to these moments of enlightenment. If we are not reaching out to our fellow man at some capacity, even if only to help one person, I would question our emotional and mental health. Once we have the solid footing of a healthy mind, we can see and react to the needs around us.
            This is just a start. It is by no means a definitive answer. Having said that, it is where I will place my emphasis this week. A mind clouded by the baggage of too many hurts and destructive emotions is one that cannot reason clearly.

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