After trying to lead a spiritual life for most of my 60 years, I feel eminently qualified to make what may seem to be a radical suggestion: Let's do away with spirituality.
Not so much the actions people associate with being spiritual, but how the word is usually used -- and the divisiveness that comes with splitting reality into "spritual" and "material" spheres.
Actually, the problem with spirituality isn't that the word is meaningless. Rather, it has so many meanings, most of them aren't recognized by someone using the term in a particular sense.
"Spirit" and "soul" are closely connected. So are the ways these words are used. Listening to a talented jazz singer, a woman says "Wow, that was really soulful."
She doesn't mean immaterial or other-worldly. Just that the song touched her deeply, bringing out feelings not usually encountered in everyday life.
Similarly, I've come to feel that for me spirituality points toward the subtle, reflective, philosophical, mysterious, what's-it-all-about? side of life. It isn't opposed to the gross, unthinking, crude, obvious, it-is-what-it-is side -- just as heads isn't opposed to tails.
There's no such thing as a one-sided coin. Or a one-sided life.
First consider a topless pole dancer in a strip club. Now, a tutu clad ballet dancer in Swan Lake. Different words would be used to describe their performances and the feelings aroused in their audiences.
However, both dancers are doing their thing in the physical world. There's nothing metaphysical about either, though "spiritual" would be more likely to be used in one instance than the other (some guys would disagree, though).
Likewise, I've reached the point where it's tough for me to resonate with those who use "spirituality" as meaning a life disconnected from the physical.
I just don't get what they mean.
They talk about other-worldliness while they're in the world. They speak about existing without a body while being a body. They extol going beyond the brain and mind while using a brain and mind to do the extolling.
Maybe there's such a thing as spirit completely separate from matter.
But if so, there's no way for us material beings to know, because each of us connects with reality through a physical body and brain. As noted above, everyone who says "Our real self is spirit" does so speaking as a material entity.
My fondness for Taoism springs in large part from its non-dualistic understanding of spirituality. Here's how A Personal Tao looks upon "soul" and "spirit."
Soul is what we are. (click to enlarge)
Spirit is soul in motion. (click to enlarge)
So spirituality would be moving -- living, acting -- as what we are. A can't-miss proposition.
Tom Clark says it nicely in "The Case for Naturalistic Spirituality."
Because most folks are dualists, the idea of naturalistic spirituality still seems a contradiction in terms. Spirituality is generally thought to involve "higher planes," souls, spirits, and other supernatural phenomena. How can naturalists, including atheists, take spirituality seriously without violating a core tenet of their worldview, that no separate supernatural realm exists?
Clark is an admirer of Andre Comte-Sponville's "The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality," just as I am (see here and here).
When you subtract the supernatural from spirituality, you're left with something real -- though now there's little reason to use the word "spiritual."
I just read the first two paragraphs. I don't have time right now but I'll continue with the rest of the story later. Here's what I read:
"Let's do away with spirituality. Not so much the actions people associate with being spiritual, but how the word is usually used -- and the divisiveness that comes with splitting reality into "spiritual" and "material" spheres."
-- I agree.... and I always feel a little uncomfortable when I have to use the word "spiritual" or "spirituality". I almost never use it in my own personal life and thoughts. It just always seems that it becomes necessary to use the word, the idea, when talking to other people who do divide life in to spiritual versus mundane. I myself don't see life that way, but it is difficult to communicate with other people who do, without needing to use the word or concept. If I don't use it, then what I say makes no sense to people. I have even used it here occasionally. But I generally don't like what it connotes or communicates. That's all for now.
Posted by: tAo | February 19, 2009 at 06:56 PM
I too have gotten to where I don't even use the term because it really doesn't mean anything. I use to explain to people that I was spiritual yet non-religious; these days I don't even go THAT far. I'm simply a being tied to every being in this thing we call life.
Posted by: The Rambling Taoist | February 20, 2009 at 06:45 AM
tAo, Rambling, Brian,
Go points made. How about getting rid of the word atheist too? Who really needs that word.
Posted by: Roger | February 20, 2009 at 07:22 AM
I can't say that I agree that the word "spirituality" is meaningless - the word "materialistic" isn't meaningless, and it describes the physical aspects of this life; and despite the obviously honorable intentions of this site to "set people straight" on spiritual matters - I think the non-tanglible aspects of our lives deserves a word to describe them, as well. Just because you seem to have everything figured out, doesn't mean we should all discard the undefinable.
Posted by: LaRae | February 20, 2009 at 10:21 AM
LaRae, if you read more on this blog you'd find that I'm all for embracing the undefinable. There's plenty of mystery in the universe; it's all around us. And in fact, is us.
The way I see it, it actually is believers in the supernatural who claim to have everything (or lots of things) figured out. Scientists are happy to say "I don't know." Religious people usually aren't.
Where do you get the idea that this blog is about "setting people straight" on spiritual matters? All I try to do is share the way I see the world and allow others to express their own views.
Posted by: Brian | February 20, 2009 at 10:45 AM
I agree that the word spirituality is good to "keep" for the otherwise undefinable, but think Brian is right, I don't think anyone can be "set straight" by anyone else on spiritual matters.
I do agree that the term "spirituality" is inappropriately used. I think I still use it inappropriately myself but there does appear to be a valid distinction between the sublime and the gross mundane human conditions which is better expressed as with a poetic word such as "spirit" or "soul." Use of this word may be as defining as the words 'happiness' versus 'pleasure.' There appear to be so many wonderful states of human awareness that we shout, sing, dance, play, cry, hurt, anger, and participate in a whole range of poetic richness. For this reason, I would like to keep this word, just in case. :)
In regard to your comments [Posted by: Brian | February 20, 2009 at 10:45 AM] You likely know many more scientists than I do but it seems to me that many scientists will religiously cling happily to their favorite theory as if real. It becomes an ethos. For scientific transformation to occur, it is often required that a new generation of scientists come along to supplant embedded scientific dogma (theory) of the day. So the willinginess in science to say "I don't know" comes only to those without predisposed theories which attempt to explain the unknown.
I may be wrong but I think that many (if not most) of the best world transforming ideas have come from the young science students who don't "know" all the theories as to why something is the way it is. Maybe Einstein was a mathematician and not a scientist but Einstein couldn't reconcile that God may very well play dice with the universe as the then new quantum theory seemed to be implying.
It would be interesting to survey both non-religious scientists (agnostics), atheists, and religious people (scientists and laymen) with the question about what will happen to them upon their death. Since none are presumed dead at the time of the survey, I agree with your postulate and would add that agnostics would be inclined to say "I don't know;" atheists would be inclined to say "I will no longer exist and this body will decompose;" and the religious people would say "My spirit will continue on in an afterlife": going on to impose their own concept of what that after life is like and add such ideas as karma and reincarnation.
Assuming this hypothesis is correct, then your statement that the "believers" claim to have everything figured out, would, I think, produce the most richly divergent answers of the groups.
You excluded any scientist who might also be religious in your statement. In any case, I appreciate that you allow us to express our views here. Like the changing views of the passing scenery outside the car window, I don't think I'll keep them long but they are as real as it gets.
Posted by: Jayme | February 20, 2009 at 11:13 PM
"Spirituality" is a meaningless word---
---this is just the title for this post. Why the need to make a big deal out of it?
---while there are many different types of scientist, the scientific method is the method. I would keep the Scientific Method separated from the scientist types. However, the religious method is going to be whatever the particular religion is using.
---if I propose a new theory on a particular topic, I should at least take the time to read and understand, the current or old theories, that are present.
Posted by: Roger | February 21, 2009 at 08:13 AM
You are right, there is no need to make any deal out of words, including spirituality, but many (and I'd say probably most) do make a big deal which is why so much is written with excruciating care within legal contracts, law, and within an espoused scientific theories. Loop holes within rational thought leak the bile of division.
I agree that the method is very good. It is probably one of the most successful branches of reason because of its success in tying together diverse persepctives on this "prominent totality."
You are right in that it is important to know what one is talking about. Students are doing this all the time as they mature through school and acquire the theoretical science of the day. However, with the acute specializations that necessarily take place within the scientific community, it becomes almost impossible to defend the entire body of knowledge acquired by scientific reason from a singular individuated perspective. I may be wrong, but I think that science appears to be undergoing a fundamental change in the evolution of its method. The historical view of a scientist in the back room tinkering with laboratory equipment or observing nature to understand fundamental physical processes is transforming into a social method where entire teams of scientists must work together in order to grapple the elephant in the room. There is often no longer direct experience of the phenomena being observed. We are relying more and more on instruments to translate phenomena into our small field of awareness (congnitive or sensation). Relative reality is so diverse, any theory that appears to produce answers pops up with new questions. Wiki is great but how much understanding can an individual have about this totality? It is certainly beautifully mysterious and I think that science certainly adds to this beauty but it can never adequately describe this totality, except in the individual or scientist who says in wonder, "I don't know." There is no need for the words when we gaze in wonder.
I think that when Brian says "Likewise, I've reached the point where it's tough for me to resonate with those who use "spirituality" as meaning a life disconnected from the physical." He is getting to the wonder of it all, free of the need for words. The word "Spirituality" seems to be just another way of deadening the universe when used as replacement of object in itself. Poets can use tricks of cognitive thought to help break the dead conceptual perception of the word to open up the rock of our ego to the majesty of just being.
But, I don't know, just thoughts.
Posted by: Jayme | February 21, 2009 at 11:54 AM
Thanks for your reply.
"However, with the acute specializations that necessarily take place within the scientific community, it becomes almost impossible to defend the entire body of knowledge acquired by scientific reason from a singular individuated perspective."
---Next to the labs, where students and professors work, are conference rooms. Exchange and review of information (not answers) may and can occur. Key word is information. Information is information.
What we do with it, is what we do with it.
"There is often no longer direct experience of the phenomena being observed. We are relying more and more on instruments to translate phenomena into our small field of awareness (congnitive or sensation)."
---WOW, strange new world we live in. You're describing a technician, rather than a scientist. Instrumentaion plays a role, not sure why it would play a huge role.
"Likewise, I've reached the point where it's tough for me to resonate with those who use "spirituality" as meaning a life disconnected from the physical."
---Yes, very good point, I agree too.
Posted by: Roger | February 23, 2009 at 07:54 AM
I'm not sure how serious the issue is but there has been debate over whether technology drives science or science drives technology. (imo, they drive each other.)
Measuring the world is as much political and legal as it is scientific. The whole concept of weights and measures is another bumpy ride of reason that physicists tell us they can't quite pin down due to the fuzziness of matter. That ghost in the machine is very much spooking our physicists who throw out the concepts of multi-verses and string theory which some argue can't really be considered a theory at all because it can never be tested. Scientific theory requires physical facts as evidence to prove that string theory has any physically real meaning. This all gets too complex for me fast and based upon the number of quantum reality books that talk about "God," I think a great many scientists are steeped in "spirituality" over the whole assorted "physical" thing in itself.
At this point, the word "physical" becomes meaningless too and I'm back to "not knowing no-thing," but now in an even more perplexed state. (How do I make a perplexed face? :-S )
Sorry to those not familiar with the Uncertainty Principle but (if Brian approves) I proffer a spiritual principle called the Hines Uncertainty Principle which goes as follows:
"The spiritual nature of humans implies that we cannot know both the axis-mundi and karma of a human to an arbitrary degree of accuracy. If there is uncertainty in our knowledge of a human's axis-mundi and their karma, then the product is h. Where h is Brian’s constant of 'spirituality."
Check me on this.
Brian may wish to replace the term 'spirituality' with the term 'physicality.'
Posted by: Jayme | February 23, 2009 at 08:23 PM
Jayme, I very much like your principle, mainly (actually, entirely) because of its name. "Hines Uncertainty Principle" -- that has a wonderful ring to it, mainly (actually, entirely) because of the first word.
Next, perhaps you could come up with something like the "Hines Ego-loss Principle." I really like the sound of that!
Posted by: Brian | February 23, 2009 at 08:43 PM
The Scientific method should drive the Scientific method. True, other distractions do come into play.
From the internet, I like the description:
SCIENTIFIC METHOD refers to bodies of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methodologies of knowledge. Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. These steps must be repeatable in order to dependably predict any future results. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many hypotheses together in a coherent structure. This in turn may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.
Among other facets shared by the various fields of inquiry is the conviction that the process be objective to reduce a biased interpretation of the results. Another basic expectation is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, thereby allowing other researchers the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This practice, called full disclosure, also allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established.
Posted by: Roger | February 24, 2009 at 08:09 AM
That is a nice description of the scientific method Roger.
Brian -- I think there may very well be a "Hines Ego-loss Principle" (HELP) for all objective seekers. It may be related to information, entropy and the radiative evaporation of large egos at their event horizons. In a universe of the partially unified self, the order of an ego's decline is inversely proportional to its size. An ego extinction coefficient related to Brian's constant of spirituality h, would tell us exactly when HELP will lead to spiritual enlightenment.*
This needs a cartoon of you sitting in lotus posture just at the moment of ego extinction when you bust into the white lotus of enlightenment. :)
* Approximately 75 years with a 4-lifetime margin of error. Your results may vary.
Posted by: Jayme | February 24, 2009 at 10:43 PM
"They extol going beyond the brain and mind while using a brain and mind to do the extolling."
Those items are certainly involved, although what distinction they are making between brain and mind would be relevant also. But: are they _only_ using their brain and mind to do the extolling? If there is something else involved, how would you know? It seems like you are dismissing their argument without supporting evidence. Remember, these people can only communicate with you using media you understand in any case.
It is okay for you not to resonate with them. If they can access something which eludes you, it may yet still be worthwhile, at least to them.
Posted by: sean m | February 25, 2009 at 01:35 PM
Knowing that everything is one soul is spirituality.
Posted by: Rathnashikamani Bijja | December 15, 2010 at 06:15 PM