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Go to: Spirituality: It’s only human

Seas of Bright Juice's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by Seas of Bright Juice

The dictionary hasn't caught up to all the ways the word is used, then. In convert/western Buddhist circles, for instance -- where large numbers are quite secular in orientation -- "spiritual" often gestures towards something like, "that arena of concerns which have a transcendent or liberating effect on human life, such as insight into non-self, insight into impermanence, realization of compassion, etc." In this case it doesn't refer to a god or soul (which would be true also of traditionally religious Buddhists) or supernaturalism or the dogmas of an established church.

I'm sure we can't resolve CATEGORICALLY for or against using the word, in any case. If I'm in the company of people who know my views enough not to misunderstand, then "spiritual" is still the readiest word for gesturing quickly and broadly toward certain categories of experience and inquiry. If I'm speaking to people who are likely to misunderstand, I might want to carefully qualify my use of the word, or find other ways..

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 04:49:29 UTC | #862028

Go to: Spirituality: It’s only human

Seas of Bright Juice's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Seas of Bright Juice

For the most part I heartily second everything Paula says. But I have a soft spot for reserving a special place for "spiritual" experience, albeit not a supernatural place. A quick and dirty distinction between spiritual well-being, in the sense I mean, and ordinary well-being (though there's no HARD boundary between the two), might run something like: spiritual well-being is substantially INDEPENDENT OF CONDITIONS -- conditions like success or failure, approval or censure, gain or loss, sickness or health, coffee or none. Also, spiritual experience (selon moi) is defined at least as much by the radical and more-than-verbal INSIGHT, the shift in perception or way of being, that LIBERATES good feeling, as it is by the good feeling itself.

The well-being provided by a glass of wine among loved ones is of one kind. It's rather a different variety of well-being that quietly suffuses everything when you dwell in nonreactivity to any thoughts and feelings -- perfectly open; letting them come and go vividly, but undetained by further elaboration.

Take another example of a radically different (though not distant) way of perceiving the world. Consider the well-being that makes itself felt when your whole phenomenal experience -- i.e. the whole WORLD of the present moment, as far as you're concerned -- feels equally intimately "me" or "not me": where there's no essential distinction between sensations and thoughts on the one hand -- "my body," "my mind" -- and external perceptions -- "the world," "other people" -- on the other. All are equally composed of one substance of knowingness, presence, awareness; with no inside or outside to it, no beholder and beheld, subject/object. No distance between the knower and the thing known or perceived.

Now mark me that this is an effortless and uncontrived way of perceiving -- merely the RELAXATION of the extra mental constructs that label things "me" and "not me." (With their attendant anxieties and machinations). As such, the commonsense distinctions that keep you out of the path of oncoming traffic can still operate just fine. But they needn't for a minute obscure the felt knowledge that all experience (tautologically, really!) is INSIDE or IS the flesh of your own awareness; nothing's alien.

This can become an easy and isntinctive feeling about the world, more instinctive than one's former ramshackle belief that oneself and the world were fundamentally separate. It can dissolve the hallucination of free will into a sensation of spontaneous action begun nowhere and everywhere. It can tremendously lower one's defenses and heighten one's appreciative response to others -- i.e., one's love. It can permit fluent, musical deep feeling for life, the odd tsunami of delicacy. It can even affectionately accommodate the humdrum, an ornery morning, tax season.

So that's my first attempt to articulate what's different about those perceptions which might be designated "spiritual" by e.g. Dzogchen practitioners, Advaita Vedantins, Rumi, Krishnamurti, Dogen Zenji. So yeah, by all means drive home that there's no necessary connection between subtle experience and belief in the unseen. But I submit that a well-being born of spacious intimacy with WHATEVER arises in awareness is different in kind from the more familiar well-being, born of a reaction to some particular transient object in the stream of awareness -- a glass of wine, a flirtatious smile.

Of course I wish there were a more precise word than "spiritual." But then too, I get a bit of a defiant thrill out of slumming with it. Spiritchool. Spiritchool.

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 23:49:40 UTC | #861965

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