“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” -Lao Tzu
I’ve noticed that nowadays, a lot of people when asked whether they are religious or not answer by simply stating that they aren’t but that they are “spiritual”. It’s almost become the predictable cool kid answer. It seems like more and more people that I know personally are embracing a mix and match approach to fulfill their spiritual wants and needs.
I myself, for years identified with what most would refer to as a 'Cafeteria Catholic'-- stuck somewhere between the notion of a being a devout believer and a pragmatist with no desire to be a part of a 'church' as it has been defined by modern day society. I believe in God, lead what most would consider a Christian life morally speaking and I am well aware of what it takes to be considered a good practicing member of the faith that I was baptized into. Problem is, I just don’t buy it all. In my mind, there are too many generations of power struggles, senseless violence, scandals, and too few women in key positions for me to see that as my truth. But I digress…. Seeing that I’m not alone in my nonconformity with organized religion, this leads me to wonder:
What does it mean then, to be spiritual?
Merriam Webster defines spiritualism as: “the view that spirit is a prime element of reality.” George Vaillant, a world-renowned psychiatrist defines it as “the amalgam of the positive emotions that bind us to other human beings – and to our experience of “God” as we may understand Him/Her”. I believe that both definitions imply the existence of faith seeing as neither “spirit” nor “God” can be empirically proven but seem to be concepts that draw people closer together regardless. I also happen to agree with both definitions.
You see, most forms of Spiritualism that I’ve encountered teach detachment from our physical world--material objects, our bodies, all the things that you can see, touch, hear, smell, etc. and places utmost importance to the things that can only be identified by genuine feeling and are therefore the product of faith in something you “know” is there but intangible. We are, after all, just conscious energy.
Because of this, I’ve come to the conclusion that the methodical study and understanding of feelings is the single most important component in anyone’s path to real spiritual enlightenment. It seems almost oxymoronic to want to apply logical thought to the very things that make us irrational but I’ve found that in practice, it is a very useful exercise because it makes us at the very minimum conscious of our most valuable asset—our psyche. (Which also happens to be in my point of view God’s manifestation of him/herself inside of us and Vaillant’s definition.) By being conscious of, and constantly evaluating our feelings, their roots, their expressions, their consequences, we can develop an awareness of our deeper self and only then advance in our spiritual path.
Being spiritual then, has a much looser definition than being or belonging to any other conventional religion does. It implies no rituals, traditions, and dogmas... It just is.
Most people I’ve spoken to about this topic all have a general idea of what it would take for them to move forward in their spiritual path. They know exactly which behaviors, habits, and feelings get in the way of their knowing themselves better and in a sense, get over themselves.
Why is it so damn hard to do so then?
In my opinion, true freedom comes through acceptance. Acceptance comes with true faith. And no, I don’t mean faith in just a traditional religious sense… I mean faith in an uncategorizable higher order, a system that is in constant motion and searches for balance just like we do. Some people call it God; others call it the Universe, while others rely of the laws of physics and chemistry to explain it. Whatever “it” is, it’s there. All we have to do is channel our inner George Michael and have a little faith in “faith” to find it.
Donald Miller said it best in Blue Like Jazz, “The trouble with deep belief is that it costs something. And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them. It is so, so cumbersome to believe anything. And it isn’t cool. I mean, it’s cool in a Reality Bites, Welcome to Sarajevo, Amnesty International sense. Chicks dig it up to a point, but you can’t be all about it; you also have to want a big house and expensive clothes, because in the end, even our beliefs have become trend statements. We don’t believe things because we believe them anymore. We only believe things because they are cool things to believe."
When we feel inadequate, outside of the mold, or better yet not “cool”, we feel insecure. Needless to say because of this, insecurity is very prevalent in our society. Precisely because it’s so prevalent, we have conditioned ourselves to believe that we are all in one way or another insecure and have thus indirectly made it socially acceptable to the point where we don't question whether or not it's good for us. Like spirituality it just "is". But should it be?
What we don’t really see is that people’s insecurities lead them to “want” and “wanting” is the opposite of “accepting”… and isn’t the whole point of spiritual growth to find true acceptance? The type of acceptance that doesn’t come from others but from within?
I feel like we find shelter in our insecurity and therefore allow it to hinder our spiritual growth. If we know the difference between our current life path and the “right” way spiritually, is making the decision only to embrace certain aspects of this more “righteous” path a reflection of a lack of effort or is making excuses for yourself to not do so okay? Better yet, is it possible to see this situation completely removing the notions of “right” and “wrong”? Is it then simply a question of preparation? Is not doing what you “know” you need to do a bad thing if you’re not ready or open to it? More importantly, will we as a human race ever be ready for it?
I honestly don’t know… but I sure hope being “spiritual” stays cool for long enough so that we can one day collectively have the cojones to take the road less traveled and eventually find ourselves and the answer to that question.