What is Spirituality?

 

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere”  – Agnes Repplier

It’s interesting to see how much misunderstanding of the word “spirituality” there is in Western culture. And, I believe that same reasons that people are not truly happy are the same reasons that there is a misunderstanding of the word.

To give the simplest definition possible: spirituality is about happiness. It is about knowing who you are, and what reality is. It is living with facts instead of abstractions and projections (thinking and imagining).
This serves as a good definition because what we learn from the culture is how to be unhappy and how to be something we are not.

Indeed, we are born into this world open and innocent, naturally loving and free, and through socialization we learn how to be unhappy. And so spirituality could be said to be an unlearning: a finding out who we are instead of who we *think* we are, or are supposed to be. What we learn, see, pickup from socialization, the formula that we learn from parents, schooling, friends, the church, the culture, and so forth, are like a misdirection: a pointing away from our natural selves, our innate intelligence, freedom and love. This is not a call to become childish again, but a reminder of what one can find anew: that fresh and alive essence of what we already are.

You could call this misdirection by the culture “materialism”, but that word is so easily misinterpreted: it can be heard as anti-materialism, or as anti-consumerism, or as some kind of philosophical stance about matter. Materialism and spirituality are not in opposition but two sides of the same reality. In my definition for the purposes of this essay, materialism simply means the belief that objects in consciousness are what make us happy. By objects is meant not material objects out there, but what one is aware of in one’s experience as not being oneself. For example, you are sitting in a chair in your livingroom. You see a chair across the room. Most of us usually think of that chair as being a separate object “out there”. Or, we see an image in our imagination of a chair (such as you might be imagining right now). Or you see an chair in your dream at night. That image in all three scenarios is what I am calling an object in consciousness. Your awareness of the object occurred in your experience within your consciousness: the livingroom chair as an experience in consciousness as a perception of a chair (projected into the living room), then as an image in your mind as an imagined chair, then as an image in a dream. In all three scenarios there was a perception of a chair but in three seemingly different locations. I’m simply pointing out the location was the same all three times: in consciousness. Slow down and read the paragraph again if you don’t understand.

We do the same thing when we think of who or what we are as a person. We have an image of ourselves in the mind, based on what we see in the mirror, and on concepts and imagination, and what people have said, and what we would like ourselves to be. So we are an object, or are defined by objects of consciousness as an idea of “person” or “human being”. And therefore this naturally plays into how happy we are. Not only do we feel what we think, but since nothing in this perception of the world is fixed or unchanging, and we are holding an imagined image of who we are and what would make us happy, feel free, or safe, there is bound to be a disharmony between reality and our imagination that is experienced: either a discomfort, a confusion, a wanting, a seeking, or things not going our way. Why? Because we can’t hold into it but want to. We think we are the doer, want to be the doer of our lives but it constantly gets away from us and we feel frustrated.

True spirituality in fact it doesn’t say anything about what we should do or have, or not do or not have. In fact you could say spirituality is about living according to facts instead of theory.

Religions and cults (religion is a cult, as is materialism) says “We know what’s going on and what’s real, so you should love like this, you should do this…”. But true spirituality says “OK, you came here and are asking how to be happy. So investigate yourself, and see what actually and truly know, what makes you happy and who you are. No one can find it for you.” It says, be open to the possibility that what you are is universal and you are not who you think you are. Don’t be afraid of the unknown and unexpected. Religions claim they know. Spirituality is being happily adrift on an ocean, alone but not lonely. It is a friendly universe: you may discover it’s not out to get you.

So you can see spirituality has nothing to do with religion, but that religions grew up around spiritual insights, trying to claim them as their own, and dispense them, control them and people, and get paid for what they supposedly give the seekers.

On Materialism

You could be a billionaire and not believe in materialism, and you can be an impoverished poet living in a shed and be a materialist. The billionaire who knows who he is, is unattached to what’s happening in the contents of his consciousness, and could walk away from his millions and not be affected in his happiness, because he knows what he is (there are examples of men like this, such as Lester Levenson). The poet on the other hand, when a single cloud passes in front of the sun, could get depressed because he sees his circumstances, surroundings as being who he is and where his happiness comes from. Dropping his pencil could trigger a cascade of depressing thoughts (about himself, his life, his past and future) which he might not recover from for weeks. Or, you could have a billionaire, in fine health, who is terrified of losing his fortune and his health, and worries day and night about it, and pursues more and more money trying to fill the emptiness that lurks in his psyche or the dread just around the corner, the fear of dream of absolute disappearance. He gets a brief hit of excitement and “happiness” when a new check comes in, but then he has to set another object of acquisition or achievement, as the underlying dissatisfaction covers any new thing. He could be paranoid that enemies are after him and his money. Or, our poet in the shed could be blissfully happy, even when it’s raining and he can’t find his pencil, and his body in in pain, or whatever is happening. You get the idea.

It’s very interesting also to meet people who are judgmental or presumptuous when they find out you are into what they are calling “spirituality”. Or what they think “spirituality” is when I use the word, or that you go to a meditation group or satsang. They assume there is something wrong that started you doing that, or that you are weird or a loser or whatever – but you look at their life and they are not happy. They may claim they are happy, they may hold onto a  happy idea or image of themselves, or say that to themselves,  but if they stop doing what they are addicted to – be it working as a real estate agent and being busy busy every minute, or retired and chasing after one pleasure or another, or having to be fully engaged with family or social activity, with periods of depression cured by some kind of stimulation – their claims to be happy are seen to be hollow, or very shallow at best. Underlying it is a fear, and/or a sadness, or an anger, or a need to control. They need something outside themselves to be “happy”.

The other common interpretations I hear is that it has to do with ethics, or with religion, or with spirits, or with New Age beliefs and practices. 
I frankly think we need another word.

However, the path or practice of self-enquiry I also see as synonymous with spirituality, as long as it is bearing fruit and is not just a practice. 

If I could be happy just sitting in my living room in a chair, and looking at whatever there is, seeing the play of light, or closing one’s eyes, listening to the sounds the ears hear, or from the ears (if they are buzzing slightly) or the sounds of one’s thoughts… if one were to feel bliss or joy or happiness doing that, it’s not the usual definition of happiness. In fact some people might think you are crazy. If one could feel and see, or simply sense the perfection of all things, the totality, sitting in a chair, or just lying in a bed, the wonderful aliveness of being, that’s not the usual American definition of happiness.

Going a hundred miles an hour in a sports car, or making love to a beautiful babe or winning a huge contract and making a million dollars are more the usual definitions. I am not saying those aren’t happiness, but rather that those can be experienced in different ways. The excitement or pleasure can be experienced as happiness to different degrees by different people and will fade or might be followed by depression or let down to different degrees also. Someone who is genuinely happy, will be happy doing those things, and also happy afterwards not doing those things.

My definition of spiritual is a happiness that doesn’t go way, because it is innate, it is knowing what you are. It’s very simple, but oddly, seemingly very radical.

For most people, the body and the mind are all there are (to them, to being a human). And the material world is real, is a material thing out there. Made of matter. And spirituality often seems to mean being good or ethical, or has to do with religion, or with some separate immaterial spirits or essence … there are all kinds of ideas. But religion has to do with beliefs and old knowledge, old ideas, and social conformity to those ideas, or various schools of traditions and practices, rites and activities in the world.

But a few who start to dig into spirituality deeply realize it’s about reality. In a way genuine spirituality is more like a kind of science that looks at the ultimate nature of what is, form the inside-out. Or like a kind of philosophical journey in the search for true wisdom. But instead of being speculative like philosophy in the West, it’s is based in experience.

It’s about who you are, not as a person, but as an experience. It’s taking a look from the inside-out instead of the outside-in, the way we are taught to look.

So how is spirituality (what I’m calling it in my book) different from psychology? Well it depends on the psychology, as there are some edge-cases of psychology that are turning in a different direction from the mainstream (Three Principles Psychology for example), so for the purposes of this piece, we’ll call psychology the traditional mainstream form of it. Psychology focuses on the mind or the brain, as well as behavior. So in psychology one is examining the contents of the mind: one’s thinking, motivations, emotions, feelings, and the world of relationships, and the dynamics thereof. One could be looking at skills, and coping. One could dig into the past, into memories, family, friendships, sexual relationships, and so forth. It’s an endless game. The mind can always create new things (it doesn’t actually create, it’s just a tool for consciouness) or has an endless store of nooks and crannies.

It’s also useful for some readers (and interesting to me) to look at how spirituality is different from self-help as well as the large industry of various kinds of seminars, services and products out there. This is a large space, so it’s difficult to sum up, but we will look at patterns. Among the largest defining characteristics of these are techniques and motivation.

Why not go directly for happiness? It could save a lot of energy and heartache…

Notes on Psychological “Boundaries”

Boundaries are often talked about in behavioral terms: don’t cross this boundary, or I feel like my boundaries have been violated, or the respect for boundaries must be enforced or known for oneself so as to stop or remove oneself from a situation. But there is another dimension, an inner or psychological dynamic that I’ve seen in my experience.

I will share my experience with the boundary issue and how I perceive it as having to do with what we call the ego and expansion of falsity, meaning a false sense of self. About 30 years ago I rescued a friend from an abusive relationship with her husband, only to fall into a relationship with her, in which some of the same dynamics came out. Looking back this was an opportunity to see this dynamic. I’ve also had people and whom I did business and in my family of origin with that were extremely dominating and controlling, that gave me further practice in seeing beyond illusion and finding love within.

It is because the suffering, fearful ego-ic sense of self feels so severely a sense of separation and lack that it thus perceives boundaries or limitations of others – in reality there are no others but otherness is felt so strongly – that they must force or manipulate themselves through or over to overcome these boundaries, this alienation. You could see it as living a far deviation from one’s divinity, out on a limb in delusion, blind to it. This ego can even be a spiritual ego, in ordinary seekers or in the most extreme cases being some gurus who take advantage of there position to get sex, money, to abuse and belittle others and so on.

Unconsciousness or self-blindness or lack of insight is another way to put it: at-effect rather than at-choice, even though at some level it is a choice that knowingness knows about in the depths of oneself.

What I saw was an inflated and brittle false self that needed propping up with a sense of control and dominance, covering an extreme insecurity, and a compensation by this constant effort to be what one is not, but think one should be. The lack of respect of boundaries had to do with seeing another person as an extension of one’s own ego, one’s own sense of separation and lack, such that if a perceived other does or is perceived to do something contrary to what the enforce rigid rules and feeling of control dictated, a reaction ensued arising out of this old inherited mechanism: fear, judgement, jealousy, anger… and a sense of unworthiness that is projected outward and blamed on some cause out there, even though it is not out there.

Yet that reaction that created drama also fed the unstable false self, because that which is unreal needs constant energizing since it is fundamentally a lie. That false self projects onto other selves, and if the other self is vulnerable to taking it on, that feeds the loop. This dynamic can also be seen in other forms, such as the politician or actor who needs the “love” of an audience to feel a sense of worth, yet privately collapses into despair, depression, drug use, has trouble in relationships, etc. It is an addictive process, a self-reinforcing loop.

Truth needs no support outside itself and is effortless power. But what is not real has to be a maintained through effort. So it’s a magnification of the usual false self-ing process. TO see it in a more innocent way, consider how we have evolved from animals, and how animals have a mind, alert and active, seeking food, pleasure, fearing and protecting, but also reactive, automatically. This same reactive mind has evolved into a more sophisticated form in the human ego. But we can evolve further than that…

What can you do? The mind may not have the answers, but can be pointed towards what does have the answer. Bring consciousness to whatever is perceived, whether it is within oneself or an “other”, and expand to what surrounds it. It may sound simplistic, but the consciousness that we are knows no boundaries or limits, contains all experience, and holds within it an intelligence far beyond the intellectual machine or the automatic reactions. It is in fact what you are, beyond beliefs and past, which is only memory now. This benevolent observer, this awake awareness is always present, always secure, always available, beyond the mind, merely covered over by personal filters (habits of thinking). It is unattached to any situation or outcome because it is beyond time and place, personal meaning, value and significance, yet contains all in it’s embrace. Perfection knows no limits. Always new, always fresh, clean of the past, happy and free.

You can love them (as a friend) and still leave the situation if they don’t change (and more often than not they won’t) – at least you will feel better. By love I mean in a detached benevolent way, see that they are fearful and suffering – it is more objective and understanding, and automatically loving yourself – difficult to describe but you are in touch with your true self, which is free. The whole dynamic changes all by itself then. They are still, or may be at times, bound up in their false self and reactions, controlled by inner unconscious demons. But at minimum your situation will change once you free yourself. Don’t focus on them (I can’t emphasize that enough), or what they did, or the past. Work on yourself. The only freedom you have is now, to choose, within. This is not selfish but benefits the totality. If you see yourself truly now, you can see others truly now. The whole game is about finding out who you are, now, and freeing yourself. That’s it.

Note: I would suggest something experiential to bolster all this theory and talk. My friend Laura Lucille recently published a new meditation about experiential (direct) knowledge. Sit quietly and listen:
Exploring Experiential Knowledge – Meditation

Notes On Personal and Impersonal Love

Love of a person is not love, it is a projection onto an appearance.

There is no person in reality – no person or persons – so love of a person is love of an illusion.

Yet behind that illusion is reality – the reality of the true Self. So the love is both real and unreal. If e are aware of this, here it is coming from, it can help keep us out of trouble.

Love of an illusion a projection and temporary. An illusion by nature is something that comes and goes and had no substantial reality.

If you have an image of a person in your mind, is that the person? The image is constantly shifting, fading in and out, morphing. When you see the person, they are always looking different, depending on endless factors. So both the appearance when you meet them and the appearance in your imagination are changing all the time.

How can you know them or know their true nature by this appearance?

If a human being were an object like other objects, treating them as such would be unproblematic. But we are of two natures: objective and non-objective. Likewise, one cannot treat or think of oneself as an object, for who or what is perceiving the object?

There is a sense in which life is both real and unreal. We must come to grip with this. It’s a mistake to see it as just one or the other. It would be delusional to say life is totally unreal. Obviously, we are having an experience. The experience is real. At least we know that for certain! Even if this were a dream, it is a real dream: there is a reality to even a dream, in that there is an experiencer experiencing it. There is a someone or something having the dream. There is a dreamer.

However we would not want to say the persons, places and objects of the dream are real. If someone in the dream gives us a diamond, and we place it in our pocket, we do not wake up with a diamond in our pocket, unless that diamond already happened to be there by coincidence.

Likewise, we meet a person, talk to them, encounter them, have an experience of them: it would not be entirely true to say they are a complete illusion. Nor would it be entirely true to say are absolutely real, when we have no idea what that means. Even if we were some super scientist with a mind like a god that could divine the state of every quantum wave in their body, and read their encephalogram, would that be their real nature: quantum states in a space? Or the sum of their conditioning and genetics playing out in the moment? Is that what’s “real”? Or is what’s real the sound of their voice, the appearance of their body and movement, gestures and the complete impressions and feeling you get? How much of that is your subjective projection and interpretation. How much is an idea you have of the person from previous encounters: in other words memories of opinions, thoughts, evaluations, concepts, summaries, judgements etc., *about* them. Is that them? Do you see where this line of inquiry is going? You have no objective basis of knowing someone.

And what is a person? Is it a body (there are bodies in morgues), a name, a profession, a place they live, where they have been or where they are going in time and space? A family (living or dead? how distant a relative?), a set of friends (current? what is a “friend”?), a set of posessions, constantly changing, a bank account and a paper record, a education and a set of clothes, a thousand other things… we could say it’s a sum of that, but if you put all that together there is still no living separate entity called a person, and no unhanging substantial reality. It is all concepts, without Life…

This is the outward form of applying the same process of investigating ourselves, and finding there is no unchanging thing, other than the experiencer – whatever that is – so we see that other’s nature must be the same. This opens the possibility of meeting in un-knowing.

Love for the other is love for the Self, in disguise. In other words, it’s hidden form of only one true love, which is Love itself, the un-manifested Being-ness of time, timeless…

Transform a Difficult Relationship By Seeing Yourself

Seeing from the eyes of love and understanding, rather than judgement and fear, we can see someone anew. This is not a technique, but something that happens spontaneously, in the moment.

I’m not in a romantic or intimate relationship at the moment, but I’ve seen an amazing transformation in at least one “relationship” with someone in my life who was very problematic before. I perceived them to be egotistical, dominating, type-A, and saw their behavior as often manipulative, coming from an agenda, not straightforward.

Instead of seeing what was wrong with them,  I started to look from eyes of happiness and love. Things changed in an instant, then transformed over time. We are now on terms of ease and generally great cooperation, etc. Instead of me feeling an underlying fear and tension, I saw *her* fear, the insecurity that was driving her behavior– not intellectually as before but more compassionately, in the moment – as an ordinary human being, not from a critical standpoint. She no longer seems a threat.

I was looking at her ego.  What I needed to see was mine!

It’s so easy to identify other people’s “problems” – what’s that saying about the sliver in their eye and the two-by-four in your own?

So it’s not a matter of being critical of ourselves, but focusing on our own happiness, having an insight that we are indeed really the same: what I see in you is what I am seeing in myself, literally, because you only exist as thought in this “eye” …

It’s easy to fall into the trap of other people existing as something other than a thought in our selves. Another way of saying this is, we are all part of the same reality, which is one reality.

You think you know what’s wrong with someone, what makes them trigger your frustration in “dealing with them”.

I heard the psychologist Mark Howard say once that if you find yourself trying to teach a loved one some psychological understanding, you aren’t *listening*. If you have experienced this – seen the humor in the situation when they don’t exactly take kindly to you pointing out something like “It’s all in your thinking” – you know what I’m talking about.

In psychology, we come to this truth from inside thinking (thinking-feeling and perceiving), transcending it from the inside-out. In some spiritual circles, this is transcended directly, by looking at the experience of awareness of the “I am” and seeing that is the same as the reality of oneness, then looking back or down and transforming all the details of one’s life, such as thinking about others and oneself as separate entities, and feeling in the body, and so forth.

Change and learning and growing never stop, even for so-called enlightened folk…

Western Philosophy of Mind and the Problem of Life

Turning Western Philosophy of Mind on It’s Head

Is life a problem to be solved? The philosophers and scientists who are trying to figure out how the mind works are basing their models on an orientation towards problems solving.
They look for example, at animals in the world surviving, and see them solving problems: how to hunt for prey, how to build a nest, how to navigate through space and so forth. Then they try and build machines to do tasks. And this is all very interesting and useful. But does it tell us anything if applied more broadly?
When I was towards the end of the years of studying philosophy in academia, I was listening to a professor’s lectures who was talking about some theory about the mind based on models of the brain. That was their schtick, their career. It was very clever. And it was very fascinating, but something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. For years I’d been digging. I dug and I dug and I dug, trying to figure out, trying to understand how the mind works and what the relation was between the mind and a program, or in her case, a brain, the material and the physical. How do you get a mind from matter, from some machine or brain thing or pieces. How do you put the pieces together, the parts. It was a fun game but oh so frustrating because it was so elusive. It was hard to even know what you were chasing, what to solution would look like, what the definition or outlines were. We were using language to try and understand what was going on and get to a solution.

They were working with what they call “representations”, which is basically a fancy term for models, or what we use to build a model of the world and use it, the thinking structures or schemes.

But the models you come up with, invent, imagine, are based on what you think the mind is, what is valuable, what the mind is for – even what reality is, what life is. If you are using problem-solving and analysis and thinks that what counts or is real, then your models will be about that.

Then one day, at the end of my rope, it hit me. I had an intuition that intuition was the way to go. What!?
That this capacity to just “see” a solution was the main capacity we have, the main power. Not problem solving, but a creative light.
Life was not a process of converging on a solution, but one of creating divergent solutions, some for no purpose at all but the pure fun or joy or energy of living. Like art.

This blew my mind because there was no way to present it. I tried talking about there are no representations, but that was a flop, and the professor was embarrassed for me. And I had trouble articulation it because it was so intuitive. But I knew I was onto something. But it seemed to put me beyond the pale of academia (at least as far as the philosophy department went). I was elated…in a sense, but my philosophy career ground to a halt. I could draw pictures, but what to say?

If you figure out that there’s nothing to figure out, and the game is figuring out, where does it leave you? With no leg to stand on. So I focused on just graduating, playing the game, get the degree, and get the hell out. I needed my freedom.
So you go off and create. And meditate. meditate and create. So that’s what I did. I studied Zen Buddhism, went to a Zen school for a bit, and started taking art classes and making art.

You’ve heard the saying, which is perhaps a cliche now “Life is not problem to be solved but a gift to be opened” which is a good clue.

Have fun and enjoy life.

But that way of thinking hung with me: analyze, criticize, argue, think think think and overthink. Process, research, analyze. It goes beyond what they do in academia. It’s a habit, a way of using this beautiful brain and power to create. It helps to solve problems. But then we apply it too much, in areas that just need awareness, letting the feeling be a guide to where the thinking is at and navigate.

This is where having a guide and the support of others who have followed clues and found answers, helps. We seek spiritual solutions or insights. We go to psychologists or therapists. We read books, talk to friends.

But a lot of those solutions, those pointers, are also based on a misunderstanding. They are trying to apply a medical model, or a problem-solving model, focusing on a problem and hitting it with tools. But it’s the wrong tool. You’ve heard the “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail?” Well there’s a lot of hammering going on.

Let’s quiet down the hammering.

The other things I learned was that being smart and being happy are two different things. It’s obvious, but yet we think being smart would somehow lead to happiness. Like you could apply that smartness to the problem. Solve the problem, hammer on the nail. Or use it to get something that will make you happy. Like money or a relationship or fame. Then you will be happy, Because those things will make you happy. Out there. Conditions.

But that is all after the fact. Of life. Of being alive. Now.