What is spirituality? And what does it mean to be “Spiritual”?
We use these terms so often, and they’ve become very convenient, but what do they really mean?
The term “spiritual” refers to “spirit”, which is understood to be that life force which animates all organisms, but not only does spirit pervade all living beings, it also said to transcend all things. In modern terminology we call this life force “consciousness”. From the smallest bacteria to the tallest tree, all organisms are conscious to some degree. So whether we use the term “spiritual” or “conscious” we’re really referring to the same thing.
For those who find themselves completely repulsed by organized religion, with all of its corruption and hypocrisy, the word “spiritual” may have some uncomfortable connotations. For others, the term “spiritual” is preferred to “religious”, since religion implies organization and structure, whereas spirituality implies a very personal experience which is not confined to an institution. The term also tends to be associated with paranormal phenomena, which is outside the realms of conventional science, and therefore considered questionable by some, and nonsense by others. And I’m not suggesting that such phenomena nonexistent, nor am I suggesting it’s unscientific, but I take little interest in the subject.
For me, spirituality has much more to do with direct personal experience. And I can’t say I’ve experienced much in the way of paranormal activities, but I do experience consciousness. We all do. And in that sense there’s no distinction between someone who is spiritual and someone who isn’t, since all living beings are spiritual by nature. That is to say that all living beings are conscious.
But what is consciousness, and what does it mean to be conscious?
Can we define consciousness? Is it something that can be understood by the intellect? Many people have tried to explain it, but it remains a very mysterious force. I don’t think it’s something we can fully comprehend with the intellect alone; simply by thinking about it, discussing it or reading about it in books. And I don’t think that objective scientific research will ever offer a comprehensive explanation, because consciousness needs to be explored subjectively by the individual. And that is to say that even if one is able to understand it through direct experience, that experience cannot be adequately conveyed to another. So each individual who seeks to understand must take it upon himself to explore it, rather than rely upon the theories and explanations of others.
And I think we have to begin by asking who it is that wants to understand. Consciousness isn’t merely something we experience. It is the experiencer. I am consciousness experiencing. You are consciousness. We are consciousness. So if we want to understand consciousness, what we are really wanting to understand is the very nature of ourselves. We are consciousness exploring itself.
When we use the term “conscious” to describe our way of life, we’re not merely pointing out the fact that we’re conscious in the conventional sense. In the conventional sense, to be conscious simply means to have some basic awareness. Anything that has life is conscious to some degree. But that awareness is generally directed outwardly into the world.
When we talk about “conscious living,” “conscious relating,” and so on what were referring to is a deeper self-awareness which is not directed solely out into the external world, but is purposefully directed inward. It is consciousness looking back upon itself.
So, again, terms like “conscious” and “spiritual” can be used interchangeably. So when we use the term spiritual to describe ourselves, we’re not merely pointing to our essential nature. After all, every living being is spiritual in that every living being is animated by spirit. What we’re usually referring to is that there is an awareness, or a recognition of that nature and that there is a conscious intention to explore it, to uncover it, to express it.
So what it means to be “conscious” or “spiritual”, in this sense, is that we are bringing a greater sense of awareness into every aspect of our lives, not only in regard to what is occurring in the world around us, but more importantly what is occurring in the world within us, within the mind. And who is it that is observing all of this? Who is it that is beyond even the intellect? This is what we’re trying to understand.
We’re redirecting the focus back upon ourselves in order to understand who we truly are at the deepest essence of our being. And this means taking a journey into the psyche and going so deep as to make the unconscious conscious. To bring awareness into every corner of the mind, including the shadows.
Because of so much biological and social conditioning we have become very mechanical. We tend to be reactive, instinctual and impulsive. And its as if we have no control in our lives. We’re just on wild ride. The mind and the senses are doing all the driving, and we’re the hostage that is helplessly watching it all unfold.
To be conscious means to be reflective, to be self-aware. It means to look very deeply at the mechanism, at the entire process behind it. It means to observe the reactions and impulses, and to bring awareness to every level of those mechanisms. And the more we understand those mechanisms, the more we regain control of them.
When we look at the world we find that there is so much conflict and suffering. And when we look deeply into ourselves we find that there is so much conflict and suffering as well. And when we bring awareness to this, we begin to understand. We begin to see how the state of the external world is a reflection of our inner state, not just individually, but also collectively. And with awareness, looking deeply into ourselves, we can see what is at the root of all our behavior.
We all suffer in life, and everyone wants to be free of suffering, but so few are willing to look deeply into it, to understand what it is and how it arises. Without understanding this, one can never truly be free of it. We’ll simply go on suffering and creating more conflict in the world.
So this is what it means to be “spiritual”, to be “conscious”. It means to be aware of how all of this arises within us in order to better understand it, in order that we can transmute and transcend it. It means to bring awareness to all the mechanisms within us, so that rather than being manipulated by the machine, we can learn to steer it.
To be spiritual doesn’t mean that we adopt any particular beliefs or concepts. It’s about removing all the beliefs so that we can know the truth for ourselves in order that we don’t need to believe anything. It doesn’t require going to temples and engaging in rituals, or taking up any kind of external practice. It has nothing to do with dressing a certain way or wearing crystals or doing yoga. It’s not about changing your name or acting a particular way. It’s really about being deeply authentic, and fully acknowledging where you are in life. It’s about owning all of your bullshit, and allowing others to see you as you are without pretending to be anything otherwise. But more importantly it’s about being able to see yourself as you truly are, with non-judgment and non-resistance.
This is a very personal experience, and no one is going to give that to you. No one is going to do it for you. Only you can have that experience. If you really want to understand life, if you really want to be free of suffering, then you have to begin by taking responsibility for yourself and bringing awareness into every area of your life.