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What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual? (5)


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I don't agree with much of this article, but am posting it as part of the ongoing commitment to post from Phil's Blog.  My main objection here is the suggestion that we need to stick it out a particular religion for a long period to benefit from it.  Personally, I don't think spirituality should ever be that hard.  Like Phil says in his article:  "spirituality is like true love".  Personally I think anybody who has found true love knows it when they find it and they don't have to stick it out for years to realize it.  In a sense, you either have it or you don't.  Any manner of 'work' so to speak to 'get there', only smacks of bias and indoctrination to me.  That said, I do think he is onto something if he means taking the time to allow genuine reflection and contemplation on matters and giving theory a chance to be put into practice before expecting results.  Maybe you will read Phil differently though?

Over to Phil:

I have a friend I’ve known about 10 years. I only see him once a year when he returns to the area. I met him at a talk I was giving, but then he moved shortly afterwards, and we’ve managed to stay in touch through email and the occasional phone call. Once every summer, he returns to see his family and friends and we meet for lunch. When I first met him, he was a Methodist, dabbling in Quakerism. Then he became enchanted with Buddhism, so poked around in that for a few years, before taking a dip in the waters of Unitarian-Universalism. When I saw him this past summer, he was exploring Hinduism. “After all,” he told me, “1.2 billion Hindus can’t be wrong.” But that was eight months ago, and since then he had sent in a sample of his DNA and discovered he was 10% Native American, so is now smoking peyote and communing with the Great Spirit.

His interest in spirituality expresses itself in a fascination with the most recent thing he’s learned. Sometime in the next year, he’ll read an article about the latest trend in religion and pronounce himself a devotee of that faith.  Like many people, he has assumed spiritual depth comes by leaping from one religion to another, so has never stayed in any one faith long enough to reap its benefits. He’s like a man I know who’s married six different women in search of true love. For God’s sake, I once told him, that isn’t long enough to learn their favorite toothpaste. True love takes at least 20 years.

I love that scene in the movie Moonstruck when Olympia Dukakis, who plays the mother, asks her daughter Loretta, played by Cher, if she loves Ronnie Cammareri, and Loretta says, “Ma, I love him awful,” and the mother says, “Oh, God, that’s too bad.” I knew exactly what her mother meant. True love takes at least 20 years.

Spirituality is like true love. It isn’t found by leaping from one fad to another. It is more often deeply rooted in a spiritual tradition someone has engaged for many years, often for a lifetime. This past January 22nd, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, passed away at the age of 95, having practiced Buddhism his entire life. He was exiled from Vietnam in 1966 after voicing his opposition to the war, then moved to southern France where he began the Plum Village Monastery. Known as the “Father of Mindfulness,” he wrote and traveled the world part of the year, spending the remainder of the year in contemplation. Rather than sampling a menu of religious traditions, he immersed himself deeply in one, reminding us that spirituality is not a smorgasbord in which we sample whatever catches our eye. It is a profound commitment to the riches of a single love.

While spirituality is in conversation with other religious expressions, it remains rooted in its single love. The Dalai Lama didn’t become profound and compassionate by his stints as a Baptist or Scientologist. He became the Dalai Lama by wringing all he could from Tibetan Buddhism.

Similarly, Mother Teresa didn’t learn compassion by attending a lecture on reincarnation as a teenager. Her compassion was rooted in an almost 50-year journey with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Spirituality is a consequence, a product, of our profound commitment to the riches of a single love. This is why it is possible to find deeply spiritual people in almost every religious tradition. They are the ones who have mined deeply the very best a religion has to offer. And that always takes time.

Back when I pastored up in the city, this was in the early ‘90s, a women interested in Quakerism began attending our meeting. Within a month she was arguing with everyone in the Meeting about peace. We weren’t doing enough, we weren’t marching enough, weren’t boycotting enough, weren’t writing the president enough, weren’t teaching our children enough. Then the Bosnian War broke out in the former Yugoslavia, and she announced she was no longer a pacifist, that America needed to bomb the Serbs. I felt this kind of existential whiplash. In the space of a month, she’d gone from Mahatma Gandhi to General MacArthur, because she hadn’t invested the necessary time to plumb the depths of our peace testimony.  Spirituality is about depth, not impulsive or volatile passions. It is rooted in our commitment to a set of beliefs we have reflected upon, embraced, and persisted with long enough to shape us. It isn’t predicated on our fickle devotion to the latest religious fad.

Joan and I are coming up on our 39th anniversary. We’ve been with one another nearly 2/3 of our lives and I’m still learning new things about her. Just this past week, I discovered she really doesn’t like fried chicken, but has allowed me to drag her all over the Midwest to various fried chicken establishments, indulging my culinary passion without a word of complaint. You can imagine my shock! But other than questioning my wife’s judgment, my point is this: There is always something to learn when one has made a profound commitment to a single love. We must live with someone or something long enough to reap the wheat of their witness, and not just the chaff.

This pattern of persisting with a single love raises an important question for us. Do we persist in our spiritual commitments and relational commitments long enough to be positively shaped by them? Or are we too easily distracted by something or someone more alluring, more exciting, more exotic?

There is a saying I’m sure all of you have heard, which originated with our Buddhist brothers and sisters. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. So if this were a Quaker query, I would ask, “Are my commitments of long enough duration to learn all I am able to learn?”

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I agree with you Paul ... though I would express it a bit more strongly.

In previous articles he says you find spirituality in your own way and here he is saying it's got to be done in this prescribed way. It's pablum.

And then to dispense that nonsense about Mother Teresa ... While Christopher Hitchens is not a completely disinterested observer, he is not completely jaundiced either:

While people were donating to the terminally ill in Calcutta, Bojaxhiu opened 500 convents. To be fair to Phil, a lot people were taken in.

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16 hours ago, PaulS said:

In a sense, you either have it or you don't.

Perhaps, but I am far from sure I know what it is.  I don't even know if it matters. I am not religious in the everyday sense of the word. But I could argue I am religious in the semantic literalist sense of the word. 

What if someone claims they are not spiritual, what they have seen of it is hokum, and have no intent chasing after this ephemeral state of mind. Does this in any way decrease the 'value' of this person's being? Is someone who is seen as or feels spiritual, better than someone who isn't? Perhaps being indifferent to spirituality is the root of spirituality. Maybe it is like enlightenment, knowing you have not found it is the enlightenment. 

It might be like Joseph's acceptance and my understanding. Perhaps Joseph might not be accepting of everything and I don't understand everything, but that too is OK.

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18 hours ago, PaulS said:

[I] am posting it as part of the ongoing commitment to post from Phil's Blog

Is Phil aware you are reposting his blog? Either way a link to it would be in order? Perhaps an invite to Phil, to participate, would be in order also?

 

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1 hour ago, romansh said:

Is Phil aware you are reposting his blog? Either way a link to it would be in order? Perhaps an invite to Phil, to participate, would be in order also?

 

Yes, Phil has provided his permission.  I captured this in the original post under the "Philip Gulley Discussion Forum" I created - see "Philip's Bio" here: 

Which is where I thought I had captured a link to these essays.  I see that I hadn't, but have now corrected it.  Thanks.

I let Phil know he was welcome to participate when I first sought his permission to share his newsletter sermons.  But maybe he'd like to hear from another from the TCPC Forum?

 

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7 hours ago, romansh said:

And then to dispense that nonsense about Mother Teresa ... While Christopher Hitchens is not a completely disinterested observer, he is not completely jaundiced either:

While people were donating to the terminally ill in Calcutta, Bojaxhiu opened 500 convents. To be fair to Phil, a lot people were taken in.

I was surprised how many people are totally unaware of 'the dark side' of Mother Teresa and her fanatical ideology limiting much compassion.  So yes, to be fair to Phil, he may have never heard the counter story.

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3 hours ago, romansh said:

Perhaps, but I am far from sure I know what it is.  I don't even know if it matters. I am not religious in the everyday sense of the word. But I could argue I am religious in the semantic literalist sense of the word. 

What if someone claims they are not spiritual, what they have seen of it is hokum, and have no intent chasing after this ephemeral state of mind. Does this in any way decrease the 'value' of this person's being? Is someone who is seen as or feels spiritual, better than someone who isn't? Perhaps being indifferent to spirituality is the root of spirituality. Maybe it is like enlightenment, knowing you have not found it is the enlightenment. 

It might be like Joseph's acceptance and my understanding. Perhaps Joseph might not be accepting of everything and I don't understand everything, but that too is OK.

Indeed, what 'is' spirituality? (Phil has got several more sermons to come but I'm not holding out a lot of hope at this point :) ).  And even if it can be defined, you're right to ask "does it matter or not if we have it". 

I think maybe, spirituality is connectedness to existence.  And I think what makes us feel connected to our existence is different for everybody, hence the difficulty in defining it precisely.  So in that regard, I think spirituality/connectedness is important for our lives.  I don't mean that you have to be a social person, but I think to live well one benefits from being connected to our very existence - whether that be people, nature, philosophy, etc, or a combination of things.  Otherwise, I wonder what we really are?  

But taken a step further, after 70-90 or so years of existing, if we actually cease to exist, what does it really matter as to how we lived?

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14 hours ago, PaulS said:

I think maybe, spirituality is connectedness to existence.  And I think what makes us feel connected to our existence is different for everybody, hence the difficulty in defining it precisely. 

For me this "connectedness" is a matter of physics and logic. While it might be nice to feel this "connectedness" I don't have the need. Some people (Harris and Pollan in their books) have recommended entheogens (psychedelics) to obtain this feeling. Again I don't feel the need and so far have not. But I am sort of curious.  Having said that, I think consciousness is the great trip of a lifetime and I am always suspicious of wanting "more". ;) 

Anyway ... physics and logic tells us we are connected to the universe, never mind one another, whether we like it or not and whether we are aware of it or not. 

14 hours ago, PaulS said:

So in that regard, I think spirituality/connectedness is important for our lives.  I don't mean that you have to be a social person, but I think to live well one benefits from being connected to our very existence - whether that be people, nature, philosophy, etc, or a combination of things.

We can't define articulate spirituality and yet it is important in our lives? Is it important in the sense of getting a report out on time otherwise there might be consequences we don't like? You just iterated my point of Is it important that we are spiritual or not? For me, if a person is oblivious to this connectedness (don't like the term) that is fine, that is how the universe unfolded. That I might proselytize for connectedness, akay for Islam and you for a progressive Christianity that too is fine.

14 hours ago, PaulS said:

But taken a step further, after 70-90 or so years of existing, if we actually cease to exist, what does it really matter as to how we lived?

Does the concept of mattering exist beyond the human mind (perhaps some other minds)?

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9 hours ago, romansh said:

For me this "connectedness" is a matter of physics and logic. While it might be nice to feel this "connectedness" I don't have the need. Some people (Harris and Pollan in their books) have recommended entheogens (psychedelics) to obtain this feeling. Again I don't feel the need and so far have not. But I am sort of curious.  Having said that, I think consciousness is the great trip of a lifetime and I am always suspicious of wanting "more". ;) 

I think you give me more credit for a 'hocus pocus' connectedness that what I intended to convey.  To me 'connectedness' is feeling that you are part of the universe unfolding, or the feeling you get when you 'connect' with other people, or the feeling some get when confronted by the awesomeness of nature.  We cannot help but be connected - perhaps it's just 'depths' of feeling/acknowledging it.

So perhaps like  Joseph's acceptance and your understanding, our connectedness exists whether we like it or not, but maybe spirituality is better defined as awareness of that connectedness.  Everything that exists come from the same source so we cannot be anything other than connected, but awareness of that connectedness perhaps helps us lead more pleasant, fulfilling and beneficial lives?

9 hours ago, romansh said:

Anyway ... physics and logic tells us we are connected to the universe, never mind one another, whether we like it or not and whether we are aware of it or not. 

Absolutely, that's what I am trying to say.  And we all experience this connectedness, or awareness of it, at different levels.  We even have many different ways of explaining it without accurately capturing it in a single definition that suits all.

9 hours ago, romansh said:

We can't define articulate spirituality and yet it is important in our lives? Is it important in the sense of getting a report out on time otherwise there might be consequences we don't like? You just iterated my point of Is it important that we are spiritual or not? For me, if a person is oblivious to this connectedness (don't like the term) that is fine, that is how the universe unfolded. That I might proselytize for connectedness, akay for Islam and you for a progressive Christianity that too is fine.

I think connectedness/spirituality is important to our lives in the sense that it gives us meaning or reason to live.  Ultimately, does that matter, I'm not sure.  But for this life, I think people who feel more connected to it have better outcomes both for themselves and for others.  For instance, people who feel somewhat connected to nature are less likely to abuse it, a win for everyone else.  People who feel connected to others are less likely to hurt others or make their lives hard.  Perhaps the opposite to connectedness is selfishness.

9 hours ago, romansh said:

Does the concept of mattering exist beyond the human mind (perhaps some other minds)?

A good question.

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23 hours ago, Jim Wright said:

Hello from Sparks NV, just a few thoughts for the season Grace brings us Easter, Easter does not bring us grace. Life the universe and everything is 100% physical and 0% spiritual. Here's my shout out to you zero percenters: you are the salt that makes the meat savory, the yeast that rises the bread, the light in the very darkest night, don't ever let your light go out.

Before claiming zero percent, I would like to get a sense what spiritual means, to whoever is using the word. Welcome back by the way. You described awhile back the question do you believe in god as meaningless. This concept is close to Ignosticism, we having theological discussions without well defined terms as meaningless. So overall I agree. 

I have seen churchgoers sing themselves into a sort of a euphoria. This may well be a spiritual event for them. Definitely not me. I can remember seeing the Milky Way for the first time. That was a kind euphoric awe for me ... if that is spiritual I can't claim zero percent.

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21 hours ago, PaulS said:

I think you give me more credit for a 'hocus pocus' connectedness that what I intended to convey.

My reply was not particularly aimed at you, but more hammering home my position.

21 hours ago, PaulS said:

but maybe spirituality is better defined as awareness of that connectedness.

I am aware in a cold analytical sort of way. I don't think you mean that though. Pollan and Harris extoll a drug induced awareness or perhaps a regular euphoric state of awareness induced at looking at the night sky will do?

21 hours ago, PaulS said:

But for this life, I think people who feel more connected to it have better outcomes both for themselves and for others.

I look at some of the oligarchs' yachts that have been sequestered. Up until that point their outcomes had looked pretty good. 

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3 hours ago, romansh said:

I am aware in a cold analytical sort of way. I don't think you mean that though. Pollan and Harris extoll a drug induced awareness or perhaps a regular euphoric state of awareness induced at looking at the night sky will do?

No, more of an 'appreciation' for that connectedness.  An understanding that it exists.  I think you might 'live' an appreciation of it even if you actually think you are just being cold and analytical.  I'm not talking about being all goo goo and ga ga over spirituality/connectedness, but rather that we have a sense that we are connected to everything.  You are certainly aware that everything is connected - does it influence your life at all?

3 hours ago, romansh said:

I look at some of the oligarchs' yachts that have been sequestered. Up until that point their outcomes had looked pretty good. 

I know it's cliche, but even rich people experience unhappiness, I am confident even those oligarchs with superyachts.  Not that being poor makes one happy either, and I don't believe in any romance about not being rich making anybody happier than a rich person.  What I am thinking is those who are rich or poor (or anywhere in between) possibly lead happier more fulfilled lives if they feel 'connected' to their existence.  Perhaps a superyacht can help that, but I suspect it is not required.

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