Thanks to a regular Church of the Churchless visitor, I was turned on to a short interesting piece in The Guardian, "Spiritual but not religious? You're not alone."
Oliver Burkeman wrote the piece. Though he has mixed feelings about Sam Harris (I do also), he approvingly observes:
What Harris means by spirituality stems from the realisation that the feeling of being a distinct self – “the sense of being perched somewhere behind your eyes, looking out at a world that is separate from you” – is an illusion, and can be altered, even extinguished.
Meditation and magic mushrooms are among the ways of achieving that. But why bother? Because not realising this truth is what keeps us trapped in the endless quest to acquire the things we think will make us happy: relationships, money, power.
That quest locates happiness in the future, yet “the reality of your life is always now”. Step out of the self, even briefly, and you step into the present – and a kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on certain criteria being met. “Is it possible to be happy before anything happens, before one’s desires are gratified‚ in the very midst of physical pain, old age, disease and death?” Harris’s answer is yes.
After reading Harris' new book, "Waking Up," I wrote a blog post along this same line, Real spirituality is realizing you aren't a soul, or self. Excerpt:
So it sure seems like those who claim that this world is an illusion, with soul-realms being true reality, are the ones who have gotten it wrong.
There is no enduring soul or self to be liberated. As Harris says in his book, genuine spirituality is realizing this. Thus a belief in the existence of soul leads one farther away from the truth, not closer. This is basic Buddhism, yet even many Buddhists still harbor fantasies of living on after death as... something or other.
This view of spirituality is, of course, far removed from the faith-based, dogmatic, supernatural religious conception. It's more akin to something that might be termed, "truly human." Burkeman says:
Yet Harris is equally firm that he’s not using “spirituality” as a fancy synonym for wonder – for “awe at the beauty of the night sky”, as some scientists do. It’s a far more basic shift in one’s experience of reality. And meditation needn’t be thought of as some far-out practice; it’s just a way of being present. You could even argue it’s not meditating that’s weird.
I agree, though more and more I think it isn't really possible to realize that the self is an illusion. Because, it isn't.
The "self," as noted here, definitely exists. But not as an independent, eternal, immaterial entity. Evan Thomspon says it is just the feeling that we are the subject of our experience and an agent of action.
So if spirituality is recognizing that the separateness of the self is the illusion, fine. This is just a recognition of how reality really is. Whether this deserves to be termed "spiritual," I don't know.