What Is the Point of Spirituality – Free Ebook

The word spirituality has a capacity to divide
people like few others. For some, it’s an

innately beautiful touchstone, the designator
of a special kind of experience that is so

valuable, it is best left reverentially unexplored
and pure, lest one disturb its ethereal mysteries

with the cold hand of reason. For others,
it’s nonsensical bunkum of appeal only to

adolescent dreamers, the underemployed and
the weak minded. But precisely because ‘spiritual

experiences’ are so often either worshiped
or derided, it pays to try to submit them

to dispassionate and sober examination, not
in order a priori to crush them or honour

them, but so as to make them more intelligible,
to friend and foe alike. Whatever our suspicions,

spiritual moments are capable of being pinned
down, split into their constituent elements

and assessed with due regard. One should – and
can – get respectfully rational about spirituality.

Spiritual moments’ belong to a mood that most of us

will only ever irregularly and perhaps haphazardly
access, a mood in which practical concerns

are, for a time, kept entirely at bay and
we accede to a slightly unnerving yet also

thrillingly oblique perspective on existence.
During these moments, the ordinary world and

its pressures are kept at a distance from
us. Perhaps it’s very early morning or late

at night. We might be driving down a deserted
motorway or looking down at the earth from

a plane tracing its way across Greenland.
It might be high summer or a deep-winter evening.

We don’t have to be anywhere or do anything,
there are no immediate threats or passions

and we are liberated to consider the world
from a new and unfamiliar angle.The essential

element is that we are able to look ‘beyond
the ego’. Our customary state is – more

than we are generally even aware – to be
heavily invested in ourselves: we aggressively

defend our interests, we strive for esteem,
we obsess about our pleasures. It is exhausting

and pretty much all consuming. But in a spiritual
moment, maybe helped along by the sound of

flowing water or the call of a distant owl,
the habitual struggle ceases, we are freed

from our customary egoistic vigilance and we can do a properly extraordinary thing:

look at life as if we were not ourselves,
as if we were a roaming eye that could inhabit

the perspective of anyone or anything else, a foreigner or a child, a crab on a seashore

or cloud on the hazy horizon. In our spiritual state, the ‘I’, the vessel that we are

usually supremely and exhaustively loyal to, ceases to be our primary responsibility. We

can take our leave and become a roaming vagabond promiscuous thing, a visitor of other mentalities

and modalities, as concerned with all that
is not us as we are normally obsessed by what is.

As a result, a range of
emotions that we would typically feel only

in relation to us can be experienced around other elements too. We might feel the pain

of someone we hardly know; or be gratified by the success of a stranger. We could take

pride in a beauty or intelligence to which
we were wholly unconnected. We can be imaginative

participants in the entire cosmic drama. There might, in all this, be a particular emphasis

on love. That could sound odd, because we’re used to thinking of love in a very particular

context, that of the circumscribed affection that one person might have for a very accomplished

and desirable other.But understood spiritually, love involves a care and concern for anything

at all. We might find ourselves loving – that is, appreciating and delighting, understanding

and sympathising – with a family of dung
beetles or a moss covered tundra, someone

else’s child or the birth of a faraway star.
An intensity of enthusiasm that we usually

restrict to only one other nearby ego is now distributed more erratically and generously

across the entire universe and all its life
forms. Spiritually-minded

people might at this point say that they can feel the presence of God inside them. This

may be a particularly enraging remark for
atheists, but it is more explicable than it

sounds. What they may be trying to say is
that, in certain states, they are able to

experience some of the generosity, nobility of feeling, and selflessness traditionally

associated with the divine. It isn’t that
they promptly imagine themselves as bearded

men on clouds, it means that the objectivity and tenderness we might ascribe to a divine

force now seems, momentarily, to be within their grasp. Spiritual moods may

usher in especially anxiety-free states. No
longer so closely wedded to ourselves, we

can cease to worry overly about what might happen to our puny and vulnerable selves in

the always uncertain future. We may be readier to give up on some of our ego-driven, jealously

guarded and pedantically-held goals. We may never get to quite where we want to go, but

we are readier to bob on the eddies of life,
content to let events buffet us as they may.

We make our peace with the laws of entropy. We may never be properly loved or appropriately

appreciated. We’ll die – and that will
be just fine. And yet at the same time, a

particular gaiety might descend on us, for
a huge amount of our energy is normally directed

towards nursing our ego’s wounds and coping with what we deep down suspect is the utter

indifference of others. But that no longer
seems like a spectre we have to ward off and

we can start to raise our eyes and notice
life in a way we never otherwise do. Our invisibility

and meaninglessness is a given we now joyfully
accept, rather than angrily or fearfully rage

against. We don’t quake in fear we might
not be a somebody, we delight and embrace

the full knowledge of our eternal nullity
– and delight that, right now, the blossom

looks truly enchanting in the field opposite. We cannot persist at a spiritually elevated plane

at all times, there will inevitably be bills
to be paid and children to be picked up. But

the claims of the ordinary world do not invalidate or mock our occasional access to a more elevated

and disinterested zone. Spirituality has perhaps for too long been abandoned to its more overzealous

defenders who have done it a disservice. It deserves to be explored most particularly

by those who are by instinct most suspicious of it. A spiritual experience is neither ineffable

nor absurd; the term refers rather to a deeply sustaining interval of relief from the burdens

and blindness of being us.

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