The picture at left expresses perfectly what I have come to believe about spirituality, which is close to Deepak Chopra’s statement, “Religion is belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience.”
The men in this picture are Muslim (and in countries where this type of prayer is practiced in public, every single person pictured is most likely a man), doing one of the required five-times-daily prayers to remember God and seek God’s guidance. The boy in the picture is very likely of an age where he is not yet expected to participate in the daily prayer ritual. It is clear that the child is being raised Muslim, and he is probably not actually breaking away from the religion of his upbringing. Still, the image of being in a crowd of people all doing the same thing and distancing oneself from the crowd long enough to some independent thinking is a powerful one.
These days any number of people will tell you that they are “spiritual, but not religious,” regardless of whether or not they attend worship services in any type of church, synagogue, or temple. Mostly, what they mean is that they want to experience God for themselves. They want to do their own thinking, rather than be told what to believe. They wonder if they can have spiritual experiences as powerful as the ones had by the person who originated their faith. They want to prove the reality of God for themselves.
People who have stepped onto the spiritual path as individuals often describe it as “waking up” from sleep. It is a process of learning to perceive life without cultural biases, religious dogma, and societal norms and taboos. It means looking beyond the illusions that have been put in place to trap Soul in the treadmill of birth and rebirth in the physical world. This process can be can be very frightening, because it sometimes involves going against the grain, or entertaining ideas that may be uncomfortable.
Some people on the spiritual path will tell you that they have never been satisfied with answers to their questions about life. Others report a traumatic experience that jarred them loose enough from their moorings in the cultural milieu to awaken and seek the meaning of life. These people read widely and seek out teachers or gurus. Often they go from one teacher to another until they find the answers they are looking for. If they do find an organized religion that suits their level of consciousness, it is generally one that encourages individuals to hone their own individual beliefs by means of direct experience. Some people are able to enjoy individual enlightenment while staying within the religion of their upbringing. Among these are authors and inspirational speakers whose books fill the shelves in the Spirituality, Self-Help, and New Age sections of our bookstores.
As in other areas of life, there are people in the “spiritual” and “New Age” movements whose aim is to take advantage of others. There is no shortage of weirdos and false teachers. (And, as a reminder, there are plenty of nut jobs and con artists among the major “mainline” religions, as well.) The point is that it behooves all of us, whether we are on an individual path or a member of a mainline religion, to learn to discern Truth for ourselves. There are really no shortcuts for this. The spiritually strong are the ones who can avoid being taken advantage of.
I started reading so-called “New Age” books in my mid-thirties, just after coming back to the United States from a 10-year stint in Japan. About that time, I also attended my first “psychic fairs.” There were definitely a few loopy ideas going around, but in the main, the information seemed to hang together nicely and to make sense of a seemingly senseless world. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there evil in the world? What happens after you die? If God is perfect, why isn’t his Creation perfect, too? These and other basic questions of mine were answered in surprisingly simple fashion, but I had to get out of my comfort zone to accept some of the answers that I got.
A point of general agreement among those on the spiritual path is that we are Soul, spiritual beings of Divine origin. We are composed of the same essence as the Creator, just as a drop of water is the same, in essence, as the mighty ocean. The drop of water, in and of itself, cannot ever be the whole ocean. In the same way, one Soul can never be God, in and of Itself.
All physical life is spiritual in origin, and exists for a reason. Each of us has experienced life in mineral, plant, animal and human form, and we are trying to learn how to connect consciously with Divine Spirit in order to bring Divine wisdom to bear on our lives in human physical bodies. (Souls who are animals are doing this, too, but they can’t read this blog, so I’m talking to Souls in human form right now.)
The idea is to figure out our purpose for being here. What do we have to learn? What do we have to teach others? How can we best serve life? How can we live our lives in such a way that we continue to grow, spiritually?
Another point of agreement for those on the spiritual path is that the answers we need come from within. What does this mean? It doesn’t mean that we don’t need God. If we recognize ourselves as Soul, we realize that in some way that we may not be able to explain, we are part of the Creator. As Soul, we have a connection with Divine Spirit which is like the connection one single computer has with the Internet. If we can maintain this connection, we can bring into our daily lives here on earth the wisdom that we gain by means of our connection with the heavenly realms, where we have the help and support not only of God Almighty, but of many Souls who are not embodied at the present time. There are those among discarnate Souls whose Life Purpose is to assist Souls who are currently embodied. Some of these discarnate Souls are known as angels, while others function as personal spiritual guides.
Those who have learned to achieve this connection on a daily basis find that they are guided to whatever information they seek. It seems crazy, but the fact is that most of us have to learn how to ask for the information we need – and then recognize and act on the answer, when it comes. Guidance is provided in every facet of life, no matter how small, and yet those on the spiritual path realize that at some point they must make their own decisions and learn from the results of those decisions.
One “standard” of spirituality is that each of us creates our own reality. We do this through our thoughts, words and actions, as well as our attitudes and our reactions to our surroundings and to other people. The situations that we find ourselves in are like textbooks from which we can learn about life. Other people in our lives function as mirrors to allow ourselves to see our qualities manifested in others. As well, others in our lives are there so that we can learn to get along and exercise unconditional love with respect to other Souls. Each life is unique, and offers individually-tailored lessons for our benefit.
Much of what we learn on the spiritual path cannot be “proven” by science, with its distinctly physical bias. A point of proof in science is that phenomena must be observable to more than one person, given exactly the same circumstances. This just doesn’t work in the spiritual realm. In fact, it’s just the opposite. While science depends on a shared reality, the spiritual realm actually runs on individual reality. If God is “all there is,” then how could it not?
Food for thought, a zen koan, if you will: How does God know ITS Creation is real? 🙂