Saturday, 8 October 2011

Understanding what we mean when we use the word spiritual

 What's in a word? Quite a lot actually. There is a common understanding of what a word means but many words, if not most, will also have extended or greater meaning which , if we do not understand them or know what they are, will lead to misunderstandings.

It is where the phrase, 'divided by a common language comes from.' We assume if we share a common language that we understand each other well but that is not the case. Just as an example, we all know what a cat is and when we use the word 'cat' we recognise, at least as English speakers, the animal which we call cat.

However, beyond the literal meaning of the word, cat can mean many things. For one person it may be delightful companion and gracious pet; for another it may be dirty animal and ungrateful pet and for someone else it can be the source of allergy, asthma, suffering and fear. But the thing about a cat or a dog or a horse or a rose is that it is easier to fully explain what these things mean to us in particular. Not so with a word like spirituality!

A cat or dog is a material thing. We can look at it, study it, take it apart and gain great understanding of it even though we may never experience its 'catness' as a shaman or seer might. We can't do that with Love however. That is an intangible thing. Love is like gravity; we know it exists because we can see its effects but we don't understand what it is and we can't prove its existence in any empirical way.

And that is the same with spirituality. More so with spirituality because it is a word like 'God' which has negative connotations for many. Not only is it misunderstood by those who would embrace it but it is also misunderstood by those who would reject it. Many people would put 'spirituality' in the same category as 'religion' or something equating with God. It can be associated with those things but it does not need to be and that is not what it really is. At least not to me. It may very well be all of those things to someone else.

When I pick up a book or decide to read an article which contains the word 'spirituality' I am expecting to find explorations and explanations emanating from a perspective of connectedness, holism and a capacity to see this world, human beings and our lives as being about more than the material - as being part of something greater, more complex, more connected than most believe.

Living my life as a spiritual and material being means that I believe everything has meaning, even though I may not understand what the meaning is and everything works just as it should even though I may not like it.... it is weaving a tapestry of the tangible and the intangible. We do not understand gravity; but we know its effects and we do not understand spirituality; but we know its effects ... or at least we do if we choose to look, explore and experiment.

Spirituality can be a part of religion but it does not need to be although religion benefits. Spirituality can be a part of science although it does not need to be, although science benefits. Spirituality embraces everything, even that which we do not understand and draws upon the rational and the intuitive; the known and the unknown; the 'certain' and the uncertain; the mythical and the mathematical; the logical and the illogical... you get the picture... and it does so with reverence, awe, curiosity and enjoyment.

All of which would probably have those who choke on the word 'spirituality' recoiling in horror anyway. So how can I more simply explain what spirituality means to me? Let me try to apply it to one of my great loves, cooking.

Taking a spiritual view of this I don't just need the knowledge of cooking... the scientific aspect.... I also need the ingredients ... the material ... and I need the spiritual which includes the art, the intuition, the reverence for the ingredients and the recipe .... both need to be of the best quality and all need to be respected and a belief that the honouring and respecting of the ingredients, the process and the end result, the eating, adds another ingredient... love.... which will not only influence the quality of the end result but which will also be offered to and received by those who eat it.

Seeing life from a spiritual perspective also means that I believe the food has its own energy; the act of creating a dish has its own energy and the appreciation, honour, reverence, attention etc., which I put into the process also has its own energy. And all of these energy sources come together to create the final dish and contribute to its flavour, it's texture and its nutritional value. 

I suspect that the materialists would find it easier if I used the word 'art' to describe spirituality but that is missing the point. The best art is deeply spiritual and materially excellent; the spiritual does not need art but art needs the spiritual. 

Living a spiritual life is seeing the world as one; a connectedness of consciousness whether it is you, me, a cake, a cow, a skyscraper, a stone, a tree, a television set.... everything which exists at the material level is sourced in the spiritual. And in that belief there is wonder, awe, fascination and delight. The world is a truly wonderful place and even more so when we see it through spiritual 'eyes.'

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A life well lived

How quickly we forget.

I suspect it is part of our survival mechanism but I am once again conscious of how quickly we forget. I wrote a poem today called, How Short This Life.... no doubt the impetus came from inner thoughts or ponderings but, as is the way with creativity, it popped out.

And it reminded me of my time huddled in the wardrobe in Angola as bullets flew around the house and the realisation I had when the terror ended and I was safe, as to how important it was to 'do the work' and deal with things on a daily basis. I know that is hard but it is a worthy goal.

None of us know how long we have on this earth and few of us are prepared, or would choose, to leave it with regrets of things left undone. Not everyone has a choice of course but we have more choice than perhaps we realise or utilise. The saying, 'never go to sleep on an argument' is in the same vein and while not all arguments can be resolved, or perhaps the foundation of the argument, in an instant, there is no doubt that one can lay the groundwork for resolution sooner not later.

What stops us doing it is often ego, and sometimes fear. Ego demands one is right instead of being gracious. Fear demands the same thing, but more from a horror of looking foolish, or of feeling disempowered. In reality, at the point of death, they are both irrelevant.

I crawled out of that cupboard thinking, if I had died, what would I have regretted not doing... what wounded relationship lay unhealed? There was only one and I immediately set to say what I would have said if I had known my life would be over in an instant... as it might have been.

In reality, there can be no pain, no hate, no fear, no rage without love and at that moment of death there is no pain, no hate, no fear, no rage.... there is only love.

So it seems to me that saying sorry, even if you don't believe it is your fault; offering an olive branch even if you think it might not be accepted; acting with graciousness no matter the outcome and simply realising that most of the things which tie us up in knots are trivial in the face of what really matters: we are born, we share our lives with people we love and we die. The only bit over which we have any control is the middle bit and we get to choose how we share.

More laughter, more grace, more compassion, more understanding, more hope, more tolerance.... these are the ingredients which make for a life well lived and at the end of the day the only thing which matters is that a life is well lived. All the rest is dross and dregs.

If you believe there is nothing beyond this world and you happen to be right,  then a life well lived is all you have to experience and to offer and if  you believe and you happen to be right, that this world is merely one step on a long path of learning and becoming, then a life well lived is invaluable; both for the here and now and for the hereafter.