Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The meaning of the Word

The earth, the sky, the sea..

the bird, the ant, the you, the me...

the rock, the fruit, the tree..

it's all God....

it's called to Be.


I use the word Spiritual a lot.

I define myself as seeking to live a spiritual life.

Spiritual is the word which most seems to reflect my eclectic set of beliefs and philosophy of life.

It's a word which expresses the sacred without being religious. By that I mean a life where I have a lot of time for God and little or no time for religion.

Religion can of course be spiritual but often it is not. And spirituality can be religious but it does not need to be.

For me reacting to life from a spiritual perspective means that I see everything, and I mean everything, as having purpose and meaning as part of my spiritual growth. Nothing happens by chance and good can come out of everything. It is of course far more complex than that. And yet, at the same time, incredibly simple.

Having explored many religions in my life I finally decided to stick with God and stay away from religion. Hence I began to use the word spiritual a lot. So what do I mean? I have started to ask myself that question.

We need to understand what we mean when we use words to describe who we are or how we live. We need to understand what we are saying for our own sake. Dictionary definitions tend to link the religious with the spiritual and that is understandable but they can be, and often are, separate things. A Catholic priest, a wise and sensible man, said to me many years ago that there was nothing wrong with throwing away one's religion but unfortunately many people threw away their spirituality as well. His view was that one needed to discard the religion of childhood in order to return to it as an adult but that it was perfectly possible to reject religion and remain a spiritual being.

I thought about that for a long time and I did try to 'pick up' religion as an adult but, perhaps because I am a woman, there were just too many things I 'had to believe' ... in fact which I had to categorically state I believed ... which I knew I could, or would, never say.

I had enough trouble with the Lord's Prayer and always converted Father to Mother while wishing there was a gender neutral version. The problem with religion, despite the fact that within all of those I explored, it was clear there was a sound and beautiful spiritual foundation, was the overlay of misogyny and patriarchal prejudice. The closest I could come to a structure was the old Goddess religion, or Wiccan in it's modern form, but even that is a structure which defines God as feminine when any God worth having must be all; must be both masculine and feminine and neither.

And that left me with the spiritual which also has its complexities. For some spiritual 'means' ghostly visions; unexpected tappings and movements of furniture; inexplicable happenings ... and of course, spiritual encompasses all of those things. But such 'events' are the results or the manifestations of spiritual energies, not the substance of spiritual nor truly important in a spiritual life. Such things are often distractions from the real work of a Spiritual Life. Interesting distractions, and distractions worth understanding as much as one can, but distractions all the same.

At least for me. Everyone is different, every journey is different, every Soul is unique and that is why each and every spiritual journey is unique. We may learn from the experiences of others but we must always walk the spiritual path alone. Perhaps that is why spirituality and religion make such odd bed-fellows. A religious life demands that we obey rules, that we believe what others tell us, that we conform. While a spiritual life demands that we live by our own inner rules; that we question everything we are told by others and that we are guided by our own truth... a truth which emerges from our intuitive relationship with God.

With religion God is given to us - handed out on a patriarchal platter in the main. With a spiritual life we are called to search for God in every moment of our being. Religion hands God out in defined shapes and forms; spirituality offers God without shape or form.

A religious life is bounded and hounded by rules; a spiritual life has no boundaries and no urgency. A religious God is made in the image of man (mostly men with female support staff) while a spiritual God is in any and every image and yet without image for it is the source and being of all things.

It's interesting trying to define what one means by the use of a word and it makes me realise how inadequate words are to describe such things. No wonder the ancients decided that God was beyond words.

Carl Jung said, 'symbol is the lost language of the Soul,' and the spiritual journey is always symbolic. Within those images we find God without turning God into an image. It is not an easy journey because so much of it is solitary and their are no rules, except for the ones that you discover upon the way. But within that place of terror where you realise that at the end of the day, it is between you and God and your job is to do the hard work, there is freedom. When you depend upon others and the beliefs of others you remain dependent; when you depend upon yourself and your relationship with God, only then are you truly free.

And the beauty of the spiritual path is that you can find God in your own way. It requires a commitment to walk with open eyes ... most of the time anyway ... and to remain open to all that is, knowing that within any 'death' there is always 'rebirth.'

And there will be many 'deaths' along the path. It can be no other way. And that is why so few choose to walk the Spiritual Path for, as W.H. Auden so succintly wrote:

We would rather be ruined than changed.

We would rather die in our dread

than climb the cross of the moment

and let our illusions die.

This is actually the only quote I remember and I am sure there is a reason for that as well. Perhaps as a reminder of how hard it is to let our illusions die. And the most powerful illusion that we have and which most of us refuse to let die, is certainty. For it is such a comfortable illusion that we never cease striving to attain it. But illusion it is.

There is nothing wrong with thinking positive thoughts as opposed to negative thoughts - in fact it is wiser and more sensible to choose the positive - and we do have a choice. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and deciding what we want to achieve, whether it be physical, material, emotional, psychological or spiritual. There is nothing wrong with planning, wishing, wanting, pursueing ... desire is in fact an inherent and vital part of our human nature. Without 'desire' the human race would not survive. It is 'desire' which creates - whether the creation be life, love, food, nature, gardens, machines, sporting achievements, science, books, art or a better world. Before the creation of anything at all comes 'desire.'

When the Buddha warned against 'desire' he meant not a 'desire to bring forth' which is what we all do in every moment of our lives, but 'desire as demand.' When our desire becomes a demand we create unhappiness because we limit the expression of ourselves and our lives in the manifestation of that particular desire. When we need to 'have' something, as opposed to merely wanting or desiring we seek to control the creative process. Artists and athletes in particular know how important it is to train and prepare and then to let go. They may visualize an outcome, they may 'create' the desired result in their minds over and over again, but as soon as they begin to 'demand' the outcome they will put limitations not only on how the goal may be achieved, but if it will be achieved.

Letting go is very hard to do but it is the only way that we allow ourselves to be a part of the creative process and therefore open ourselves to all that may be possible and sometimes, miracles beyond imagining. It is within uncertainty that things are more easily born. The more you can live with uncertainty the more your life will flow. It may not go in the direction you expected but you will have a greater chance of reaching your goals and seeing your wishes realised than if you were demanding to be always in control.

We live in an ocean of energy and  we get where we want to go by understanding, respecting and working with that energy. In the same way that planes stay up in the air and fly safely around the world and ships sail across endless oceans because they work with the energetic environment in which they operate rather than demanding the environment obeys their commands. Some things are bigger than us and we come to grief when we fail to understand not only how this world works, but more importantly, how we work in this world.

The only thing which you will ever be able to control, albeit to varying degrees depending upon natures, is yourself. Life in all of its manifestations will continue to be unpredictable and uncertain but the better you understand and know yourself, the better you will be able to exert some control over your life.

Mastery is actually a better word than control. When we master something we learn a skill which we can then put into practice both consciously and unconsciously. Whether it is playing a sport or playing a piano we need to master the skill and then, if we are to do our very best, let go and 'allow' that skill to be as much expressed through us as by us. And for that to happen we must accept that certainly is only ever an illusion.

Living with uncertainty is the First Lesson on the Spiritual Path.

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