Spirit. Matter. Heaven. Hell. Soul. Body.
If they don't point to something real, they're interesting expressions of human cognition. But the mind can come up with all sorts of abstractions. If these aren't grounded in anything other than more concepts, clinging to them leads us into a airy-fairy world of our own imagining.
I love this quote from Thoreau's Walden.
No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at last as the truth. This alone wears well. For the most part, we are not where we are, but in a false position.
Through an infirmity of our natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence are in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult to get out.
In sane moments we regard only the facts, the case that is. Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.
Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked if he had anything to say. "Tell the tailors," said he, "to remember to make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch."
His companion's prayer is forgotten.
On this blog I probably often come across as sounding unduly skeptical about spirituality. That is true, insofar as "spirit" is viewed as something detached from everyday existence, opposed to materiality, formless and invisible.
For sure, I'm not nearly as attracted to abstractions as I used to be.
If something that's supposedly "spiritual" isn't directly experienced by the average person, and no one can supply convincing evidence that doing X, Y and Z will produce such an experience, then I'd rather embrace the truth that is right before me, rather than chase after truth down a winding road of "around the next corner" promises.
Understand: I'm not reducing reality to only what is observable.
Inner experiences known only to the experiencer also are eminently real. But if there is no way for other people to reliably experience those experiences, they can't be considered more than subjective one-of-a-kind sensations.
Last night my wife and I had a West Coast Swing lesson. I've done enough ballroom dancing to recognize the familiar trajectory of learning a new dance move.
First, clumsiness. Then, mechanical competence. Finally, relaxed fluidity that allows my wife and me to finally feel what a dance style is all about, rather than merely going through the motions of it.
"West Coast Swing" is an abstraction. Leading a sugar push is wonderfully concrete. When our instructor demonstrated how to do it a few lessons ago, within several minutes, I could.
I enjoy similarly practical descriptions of how to meditate, or engage in other practices that are generally considered "spiritual" (an increasingly meaningless word to me). Yet it's amazing how often writers or speakers on spirituality will never get down to the nitty-gritty sort of Thoreau'ian make a knot in the thread statement.
Or they hedge their instruction with all sorts of disclaimers. "Results may not be apparent in this lifetime." "It all depends on the guru's (or God's) grace." "Expecting to achieve something means you won't."
Every morning I meditate for about twenty minutes. I keep my meditation pretty darn simple. Few abstractions. As down to earth as possible.
Most of the day I'm doing things. So I like to start off my day with a contrast: doing as little as possible. Sitting still on my meditation cushion. Closing off my seeing and hearing with shut eyelids, a dark sleep mask, and noise-reducing headphones.
And then shutting down what usually goes on inside my head -- thoughts, emotions, and such -- by repeating a one-word mantra when my attention wanders into my usual sorts of doings.
I'm alive. I'm conscious. I exist.
Usually I'm performing actions in a lively fashion. There is a lot going on in my consciousness. I'm aware of many existing things. It's refreshing, and unfailingly intriguing, to see what happens when I come closer to life, consciousness, and existence absent much of my usual doing.
Which leaves, being.
Of course, I'm still doing something concrete. There's just considerably less doing than what occurs in the rest of my day, which is what I mean by "being."
I don't expect that anyone else would find my meditation practice as fulfilling as I do. There isn't any grand philosophical system connected with it. I can't claim that my meditation leads to any profound insights into the nature of the cosmos, or even me.
It's just real. I can describe what I do almost as clearly and distinctly as I could describe the six steps in a West Coast Swing sugar push.
And that makes it satisfying for me. I feel grounded in here-and-now truth, rather than fantasizing about flying off in a there-and-then flight to enlightenment.