Thoughts on Spirituality

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yoga lifestyle womanPeople who make their living-either in dollars or in purpose-selling their brand of organized religion may take exception to this post, and, for that matter, this whole blog. For spirituality is not about passing the collection plate or winning converts.

Spirituality, to me, isn’t about the number of times I attend church or twelve step meeting or other organized devotional activities. Spirituality is about maintaining my spirit, that force within that gives me life, energy and power. My body, subject to time, is flawed and mortal. But I have always sensed that my spirit, my soul if you will, is made of that which stretches for eternity.

For many, talk of a soul raises the question of the existence of God. Am I animated simply though my own actions or is there a Higher Power that I can tap into? God or no God? My mind use to house a raging debating society.

Fueling this debate was my love of reading. I explored the Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and more. That can prove confusing. For example, having read the Bible from cover-to-cover, there are certainly some cringe-worthy passages. Especially in the Old Testament where a donkey talks, sinners are stoned and a prohibition is issued on the eating of raisins. But then within those same pages there is wisdom, beauty and examples of love. My monkey mind could debate this for eternity. To call truce in this debate about God or no God I refer often to the Latin expression ad uirumque paratus-“ready for either alternative” or “prepared for both.”

When I am in debate mode, I stall, I stagnate. But when I act as if there is a Higher Power I can tap into (knowing that I may not understand that power completely) my spirit is animated, I find internal guidance, life just flows. Spirituality, for me, is not a pursuit in winning favor of the gods, God, or some other deity. It’s about finding the strength to live a purposeful, authentic life.

Is God real or an Ideal that captures the essence of universal laws and spiritual principles? I have my private beliefs on this matter, but they are just that–beliefs. Certainty comes (or not) after we leave this mortal coil and I am in no rush to obtain certainty. But regardless of the definition, I will use the word “God” on occasion. Define it as you may. A personal god, universal laws, love, an eternal source, creator or what have you.

In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes the author writes “all is vanity” with vanity translated as “vapor” in the original Hebrew. Surely in a world that seems to only value fame, wealth and power, everything is just that: vapor. But in my quiet times, I suspect that all is not vanity. My thoughts and actions matter, the way I conduct myself in relation to others matters, seeking communion with the divine matters.

If all is vanity, the melancholy that creeps into my life from time to time might well become permanent. On the rare occasion that I tune into popular culture’s quasi-news broadcasts I am overwhelmed by all the vain chatter, sarcasm and snark trying to pass itself off as wit. There has to be more to life than who’s wearing what, who’s dating whom and what politically incorrect statement is stirring up faux outrage.

Spirituality should lead to the soul’s liberation from oppressive moods–hence all the Rastafarians-in- training at most of our college campuses. But unlike a quick high-with the inevitable let down-a spiritual experience may, and likely will, involve passing though challenging times. Trials in life are inevitable, what then is to be our attitude towards these trials?

I learned I must, to some extent, become sacrificial. Rather than seeking momentary escape-my modus operandi for over two decades-I learned to pass through trials while, at a higher level, maintaining a positive acceptance of the lessons the universe was teaching me.

Is spirituality the domain of a select few clergy members? Of course not. There is the need in the world for teachers to be sure, but all may enter the territory of spirituality if they take action. The religion of my youth … and this is all on me … was one of listening, not action. So I took a detour into the bottle and meandered through this thing called life for twenty some years.

Now I opt for action. If I were to characterize the personal quest I am on it would be learning to live in accordance with unseen, yet undeniable spiritual laws and principles. Spiritual in the sense that living harmoniously with these laws and principles lifts the sense of melancholy and dispiriting attitudes so prevalent when I was slave to my addictions and living an unprincipled life.

At times, while wallowing in debauchery, I felt a dying, quiet voice of conscience in my chest. I nursed the bottle eagerly, hoping to drown the restlessness and discontent within. Now I work to nurture that voice. In some ways I was blessed to experience a pointless, dreary and wasted life. I know first had that the trivial pursuits the world calls fun are empty gift boxes when compared to a life filled with love and service.

I’d rather feel spirituality than be skilled in the definition thereof. Yet in this blog I, through my first-hand experiences, will attempt to define the way of life that has freed me from years of darkness and oppression. Take from that what you will.

I do not preach a prescribed doctrine. I understand being spiritually barren, bankrupt if you will, and finding no peace and contentment in exploring organized religion. For many, and I support them fully, the fellowship and the preaching found in organized religion does uplift. But what about all the good souls who aren’t inclined to worship in an organized fashion? Can’t their spirits be uplifted by the adoption of spiritual practices, the expression in action of gratitude and the miracle of service to others?

It’s a mistake, I think, of so many institutionalized religions to focus on future, heavenly rewards. The spiritual life, for me has delivered so many actual, realized benefits here and now–freedom from addiction, freedom from resentments, and freedom for the bondage of fear. Heaven, for me, is peace of mind here and now. Not some far off habitat of fluffy clouds, wings, harps and halos.

I am less concerned with final judgment than I am with freeing myself from the self-imposed hell of addiction and insanity. As is oft repeated in the rooms of recovery, “religion is for those seeking to escape hell, spirituality is for those who have already been there.” We find heaven by backing away from hell.

Tapping into spiritual freedom, as will be discussed further in this blog, hinges on many principles–acceptance and surrender serving as the starting point.

In acceptance, I acknowledge that what is, is. I am to accept life as it happens, change what I can and learn from the entire experience. Acceptance can be active and enthusiastic or passive, wherein I am laden with a yoke. I prefer the active variety.

If my acceptance is heavy, if my desire to do good is forced, I will eventually wear down. Sometimes I am too tired. But if I accept enthusiastically I can go from tired to inspired.

Surrender is as simple as saying “God, I have done all I can, I leave the matter in your hands.” This is the key to a spiritual life, do the footwork and leaving, truly leaving, the results in God’s hands.

For too many years my spiritual energy was constrained by feelings of guilt, excessive wants and a sense of incompleteness. To rid myself of anger, worry, fear, despair, guilt and shame I must lay the whole picture out and then say to God, as I understand God,” just take it. Take it all. I give up. Turn it into something useful.”

In touching on acceptance and surrender there are those who might believe that everything that happens is God’s will. For example, if injury befalls them, it was God’s will. It is this kind of thinking, I believe, that has many turning away from the concept of God. What kind of God would will that the elderly to be mugged, the Twin Towers to fall or little children to be raped? If I believed that everything that happened in the world was God’s will, rather than imperfect, sometimes evil man acting out with his own free will, I think I would be rather cold and apathetic towards the concept of God. Yes we must learn from everything that befalls us, but it isn’t necessarily God’s will that it happened.

A belief in God does not make one immune to catastrophe and danger. For life is a classroom. I believe we came here knowing that our fellow man is imperfect, our physical bodies are imperfect and nature itself if imperfect. Calamities happen. Do I live life cowering in fear? Do I lash out angrily when all is not perfect? Of course not. Life, for me, is accepting all that comes my way–the seemingly good and the seemingly bad. Instead of reacting poorly I accept, review, learn and move forward … trusting that all will work for my betterment if I trust in a Higher Power and seek internal guidance.

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