Ok it’s about time somebody said it. There is way too much stupid, weird and wishy-washy language banded about in spiritual circles. So much in fact that I don’t like to use the term ‘spirituality’ at all. Its useless to me. Wasted. Irrelevant.
It’s so easily associated with so much stuff that is lacking in critical thinking, removed from reality and alienating to people not participating in the ‘spiritual’ arena, what ever the hell that is.
Yet, at the same time, we also understand the term ‘spiritual’ to indicate the highest of human qualities. It implies wisdom, depth, and compassion. A commitment to something larger than oneself. The great men and women of our time are often said to have these qualities.
I lament the fact that the word ‘spiritual’ has so many uses and meanings. I’m sure many people who would benefit from engaging with practical teachings about the mind and how to live a meaningful life are put off by a weird world of tarot, angels, mediums and astral realms.
Walk in to a bookshop and go to the ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ section and you’ll see what I mean.
That’s not to say that some of these things might have some value, and could be really interesting to explore but can’t we just use another name for them please? ‘Spiritual’ language, while perhaps sometimes inspiring, often just isn’t applicable to the reality of our daily lives, and frankly it’s often embarrassing to use the ‘S’ word.
Frequently its vocabulary serves to reinforce a framework and perspective of the world that is akin to religion: long on preaching, short on relevance, and all too often requiring belief in something that may or may not exist.
Of course spirituality in its broadest sense is about many things, and many interpretations of these many things. For me though, what I wish the core of spirituality came down to is this: developing compassion for ourselves and others through gaining insight into the nature of our minds.
I think it is important to define spirituality in these terms because in doing so we get down to what is most universally applicable and important. We make it secular in nature and more relevant to those who might benefit from its insights but have no time or interest in fluff. We strip away all the indulgent and seductive aspects of spirit and make it human again. Apposite and of use, right now.
What greater ideal could there be than to be at peace with our experience of the world? And what is it that filters our experience of the world and determines the quality of our mood and perception of ourselves and the world? Mind. So it strikes me that if what we truly want is to be content and live well, we have to start with our mind.
This definition of spirituality is essentially an enquiry in to the nature of who we are and how we work at the most practical level. It’s a secular definition that should alienate less people and could apply to everyone.
It brings us together, ‘spiritual’ and ‘not spiritual’ folk alike, demonstrating that these definitions do not really exist: we all want to make the best of our minds and our experience of reality.
It’s all spirit and no fluff. It requires no belief in anything you can’t see or can’t prove and it’s concerned with our real lives, right now.
You know when the mask begins to crack. The mask you’ve worn for so long no longer feels comfortable. Not that it ever truly did, but now for some reason you cannot pretend it’s okay. Once the mask has cracked things cannot and will not remain the same. Though for a while you may resist, inevitably, change is coming.
The cracking of the mask occurs when it is no longer possible or desirable to conceal the true nature of who and what you are. It happens when you realise your old ways of being, thinking and doing belong in the past. It comes when you acknowledge that who you’ve been so far is a relic of your old, limited and conditioned self, and that it is time for change. To paraphrase those oft quoted words of Anaïs Nin, the day comes when the risk to remain tight in the bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.
And when that time for change comes, you will not be able to rest easy until you’ve taken action. Though there may be those around you who do not understand the path you’ve chosen, or who are threatened by your new disregard for convention, do not be perturbed. Remember that fortune favours the brave, that on your deathbed you want to look back and know you had the conviction to follow what was right and true.
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of passively accepting a lack of fulfilment in our lives. It’s the path that rarely brought anyone a deep sense of meaning, but it is what is expected of us, and it’s reinforced by the cultural narratives we are surrounded by. No one warns of it’s pitfalls. For those of us not clear enough in our minds about how we want to live, or not strong or confident enough to do anything about it, the path of mediocrity sucks us in like a black hole consumes whatever has the misfortune of straying too close.
Do not fear the cracking of the mask. Though change is afoot, what you lose you won’t miss, and what you gain will be immeasurable. Have courage, believe in your values, and remember you will not only be doing yourself a favour by embracing a new mode of being. By choosing this path of authenticity you will inspire others to do the same. You will be a more positive presence in the lives of those you know. Though challenges await, know that nothing of worth was ever gained easily.
Do not fear the cracking of the mask.
You and I live on a giant rock hurtling through space. We used to be apes, and before that we were fish. Before that, we were tiny little gooey things that you can’t even see. And before that, we were stars. Isn’t all of this just a little bit strange? Aren’t I, and you, and all of us, and the fact that we are here at all, just the weirdest thing ever?
Contemplating this mystery does funny things to me. I don’t know whether to despair at the apparent meaningless of it all, or to marvel at the evolutionary thrust towards ever more complex and ingenious ways the universe has found to realise and understand itself.
It’s the same with my personal journey through this life; simultaneously a painful, existentially agonising, pointless, lonely existence to be endured until that sweet final breath, and yet somehow profound with meaning, connection, purpose, teleology, laughter, love, friendship, kindred spirits and divinity.
It seems this paradoxical nature of existence is woven in to the fabric of everything we know. It makes me question if we can ever know anything with certainty at all, or indeed if all so called ‘knowledge’ is merely the play of the mind, which through meditation is found out to be illusory in nature; an ever-changing and endlessly morphing cacophony of thoughts that are born into existence, fleetingly occupying our attention before dissolving into the nothingness from which they arrived.
Life is a mystery. Awakening to this mystery is at once deeply profound yet simultaneously disturbing. Take this hurtling through space lark. I mean what the hell is that about? Cause for a party or a reason to despair about what any of this is for? Is meaning inherent in all of this or is it completely devoid from the nature of existence, freeing us to create our own meaning in a maelstrom of competing and destructive perspectives that eschews the notion of anything absolute that could anchor us in stability or guide us through this maze.
Our predominating societal narrative attempts to create meaning for us, imposing a patronising, insulting and superficial set of values on us which surprisingly we tend to swallow whole in a gross act of violation we somehow gain extreme pleasure from. When I feel lost, I prefer, if it’s possible at the time, to remind myself that this crazy world is the play of mind, a projection on a massive scale of our personal and collective dreams, fears and unconscious motivations and desires. It is not however, what is truly real.
When we meditate, contemplate, are moved by music or art, ingest entheogens or somehow connect with something larger and deeper than ourselves we recognise and become free of that illusory play of mind. We realise that meaning was indeed inherent in everything all along after all, and—to quote Charles Eisenstein—that ‘more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible’ is here for us now and in the future if only we begin to enact it in our lives, and to live from that premise.
So this giant rock that we’re on, as ludicrous as it is, indicates that even the most unimaginable things do happen. So always have faith in the highest values you hold, and never settle for the mediocre unless it’s what you truly deeply desire. Because if the universe was interested in being mediocre we never would have had dinosaurs, infinite time and space, black holes, amoebas that one day turned in to Nobel prize winning scientists, and mushrooms that allow you to commune with God.
Contemplating the absurdity of existence invites us to attempt the impossible. Think about it, and do something amazing.