Updated: Sep 13, 2022
photo by Rilind Modigliani
Spirituality. That word alone comes with a lot of stigma. Say it out loud to yourself and notice your body’s response. Is there a strong repulsion? For some people, this can be the case. Your guts churn as your mind is flooded with all that hokey, new-agey baloney. Your entire nervous system turns into that kid who plugs up his ears and sings “la, la, la, la, laaaaa” loud enough to not have to listen to what bullshit is about to get thrown their way.
Perhaps you are this person, or have been, or maybe you are reading this because your significant other or family are totally not spiritual people, and you are. Much like politics, it can be problematic when you are not on the same page about spirituality with your loved ones. Some swear by science, and some believe you can be healed by thinking good thoughts.
Having been both a totally-not-spiritual person as well as the one over here suggesting you trust in the universe’s plan for you, I can understand the position of each. Perhaps that’s my gemini brain seeing both sides of the coin, or if bringing up astrology makes you want to puke, let’s call it a strong disposition towards diplomacy. Either way, the child-like idealist in me has a desire to see everyone getting along nicely. So, you could say that my mission is to bridge the gap between the spiritual and the totally-not-spiritual person.
Let me start by saying that when I was in the shoes of the totally-not-spiritual person my resistance to spirituality was greatly fueled by two experiences related to my upbringing. The first was being dragged to this thing called “church” as a child. The second was as a teenager, being told by the same people, aka my parents, who tried to instill me with good Christian values, that we’re actually not going to church anymore. Instead of talking about God, we’ll be talking about Buddha and crystals. Instead of coming from Eden we are now suddenly from Atlantis. Oh and by the way, meanwhile, in school you’re learning about the big bang and evolution.
Now what the heck are you supposed to believe in if everyone keeps changing their minds? Even what was once scientifically proven turns out to be false a decade later. The only thing I learned from this is to not trust anything anyone tells you about what is right or wrong. Ironically, this was my first lesson in spirituality.
One of the biggest misconceptions about spirituality, that comes from situations like what I described above is that being spiritual means either having faith in God and embracing some kind of organized religion, or else replacing the term “God” with “source,” putting on your yoga pants, and getting your ass onto your mat for some “om-ing” and “namaste-ing,” while your teacher sprays essential oils above your head in savasana to clear your chakras. On top of that you’re either a science person or a spiritual one, but you can’t be both at the same time.
You can see why all this might create an aptitude for rejecting spirituality entirely. The funny thing is that this is where the gap between the spiritual and non-spiritual gets a little smaller. You see, rejection of spirituality is the first step to embracing it. Your spiritual path begins when you look inside and start asking yourself what is true for you.
Ah, isn’t that a bit of a relief to hear? Now if you are at that stage of your spiritual journey and instead of describing it as I have above, I phrased it as a quest for your true self to become one with all, you’d tell me to take my incense and chai tea somewhere else.
The gap between spiritual and non-spiritual people exists for the same reason that men and women often misunderstand each other. Communication style. In my humble opinion, the way that spirituality tends to be shared, including the language that is being used to talk about it or the timing of the message, is often incongruent with the language or experiences through which the totally-not-spiritual person interprets life. It’s as though the “enlightened,” or “more conscious” population has forgotten what it’s like to be a mere human with practical problems to solve like the holes in their wallets.
On the other hand, with the number of yoga practitioners rising up to over 300 million, you also get a lot of pseudo-spirituality in the mix. Words that actually have a very profound meaning for the more spiritually-inclined person have become diluted through their misuse or regurgitation. We might think we grasp their meaning simply because they’ve become a part of mainstream language. By the way I am totally not excluding myself from this. I’ve gone from saying terms like “Namaste” at the end of a yoga class solely because I heard other teachers saying it, to learning the actual meaning from my Indian friends and asking myself whether I should use it at all, to using it as long as I am aware of my reasons, to again feeling like it’s not ok. Honestly it’s still a little battle with myself over what feels most authentic.
To sum up, you either get introduced to spiritual language as something completely indecipherable, which quite frankly can have the effect of making you feel basic, and let’s not forget defensive, or through words that are essentially empty.
So now that we know how language can affect one’s perception of what spirituality is I’d like to choose a term that I think is a bit more neutral and that perhaps more people would be open to. I’d replace the word “spirituality” with the term self-awareness. Now who wouldn’t agree that the path of self-awareness can bring you closer to happiness, success, and fulfillment? Did you notice that again I chose adjectives that relate to almost everyone on this planet instead of saying “enlightenment”?
Alright, I’m glad we’ve gotten some of the misunderstanding out of the way. So let’s talk a little more about this word “self-awareness” now that we’re getting on the same page. Awareness of ourselves is the very reason we’re at the top of the food-chain. Because we have awareness we can reflect on our thoughts, actions, feelings and behaviors. We can tune into our desires and motives. We can also use all this knowledge to respond, instead of react, to our environment, thus shaping our reality a bit more to our liking.
This brings me to why anyone would want to develop their self-awareness in the first place, which is to assist you in perceiving reality so that you can improve it. The more self-aware we become, the more our perception of reality changes. What we thought was true yesterday no longer feels true today. The more versions of reality you filter through while you develop your self-awareness, the more open you become to believing in what was once incomprehensible to you.
At each stage of perception you encounter a different version of yourself, or should I say you update your findings, like a scientist who disproves outdated theories. You are still you, yet you notice that this upgraded version thinks differently, acts differently, and wants different things. In spiritual language this process of passing through different versions of yourself and experiencing reality in a new way is called “expansion.” Circling back to the language issue, if I had started this paragraph by dropping that term I may have lost some of you before you even heard me out.
If you commit yourself to developing your self-awareness, it is inevitable that at some point you reach a level of expansion which makes that younger, less aware version of you seem like a total stranger. If you look at the process you underwent from being that person to who you are today it can feel like lifetimes have passed by.
An interesting exercise at this point is to imagine your current self having a conversation with that younger, less aware version of you. What wisdom would you impart on her? And would she be able to grasp that wisdom without having gone through that entire process you have gone through? Or would you have to start by coming down to her level and only sharing what you think she might be able to hear at that point? Again, I will relate this back to science. Imagine traveling back into the Middle Ages and teaching people that bloodletting is not an effective practice. Would anyone be able to comprehend the reasons why, when it took humanity centuries to arrive at this conclusion?
Many spiritual teachers, who’ve likely dedicated a lifetime towards their internal inquiry, seem to arrive at the same simple truth that would appear to discard the years and years of their over-intellectualizing. That simple truth has been around for thousands of years and continues to be incomprehensible to the spiritual newbie, often resulting in rejection of spirituality altogether. Although many spiritual masters have attempted to impart the simplicity of this message, few students, if any, are able to bypass the process of spiritual awakening and grasp it immediately.
The ironic thing is that once you realize that the spiritual path is simply a search for the truth, that gap between science people and spiritual people continues to decrease. After-all, what is it that science attempts to discover? Is it not, in fact, the truth?
We live in a very exciting time in which science and spirituality are overlapping more than they ever have in the past. For example, there are a plethora of scientists studying the effects of meditation on the mind and body. Studies have proven that meditation literally changes your neurology and in many cases has miraculously healed illnesses where the patient was diagnosed with 6 months or less to live. If you are curious to learn more about this I suggest you follow the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza. Another example of science entering into the ethereal realm is the study of dreams and what happens to our consciousness while we are asleep.
With more and more examples like these, it is becoming far less taboo to use the power of modern technology to explain the metaphysical. More people are willing to embrace the idea that everything is energy and that we exist in a quantum field where our emotions emit a frequency that determines what is attracted into our experience of physical reality.
The physical world and our human experience are not something that is separate from the spiritual. Much like science, spirituality is nothing more than an attempt to explain our existence, to answer the big questions in life such as who we are and what we are doing here. It is a constant inquiry, a curiosity, a search for understanding the yet-to-be-comprehended. To put it as simply as I possibly can, it is a desire to make the unknown known.
According to many great spiritual masters, however, the only way to know the unknown is to surrender entirely to not knowing. Perhaps in spiritual terms this would be called faith or trust. Perhaps this is freedom. Or maybe this is enlightenment. Who knows? In any case, try telling someone on the verge of bankruptcy or homelessness to let go of everything they know to be true and trust that it will work out. That person, more than ever, will cling to some kind of “proven” path in order to solve the immediate threat to their survival.
This brings me to a very important and relevant issue that I see coming up often with my clients, and one that I myself have experienced. This is the inability to take a leap of faith in pursuit of their dreams, no matter how much they are suffering in their current situation. Take the example of someone who feels stuck in a job they hate. Rather than quitting their job right this second, most people feel the need to make a calculated change, based on investigating what’s out there and what others have done. In other words, based on what they know. The question that pops into most people’s heads before they even begin to dream is “how will I make money if I leave this job?”
This is extremely valid. It is human to want at least some level of security. I am by no means a missionary from the leap-of-faith academy, but I do want to make a point about security. There is only one path towards achieving it. Everything else is an illusion, a perception of what is true for you at any given moment of your journey. The house, the relationship, the car, the money in your bank account, the insurance, none of that is real security. It can be taken away from you in any number of ways, and in the past few years we’ve been seeing more threats that prove this including wildfires, flooding, a pandemic, etc.
The path to true security is this internal inquiry that eventually spits you out, many upgrades later, with the unexplainable ability to be at peace with not knowing, to have knowingness in the unknown, or to have faith, trust, inner freedom, or whatever word speaks to you. Once you achieve this state of being, where you let go of controlling your circumstances and instead surrender to the unfolding of life, your path gets lit right in front of your eyes. You do not have to figure anything out. Taking the right action aligned with your true purpose becomes effortless and obvious. For lack of a better phrase, it can feel as though the universe has your back all the time, or that every experience you go through has been sent to you with your best interests in mind.
Now I know firsthand how ludicrous that can sound. In my experience the only reason I feel as though I have somewhat deciphered this nonsensical, woo-woo-waa-waa approach is because I have exhausted all the other “proven” paths to achieving my dreams. All the hustling and doing what I’m supposed to do if I want to be this or that didn’t actually lead to feeling more secure or happy for that matter. The doorway into this spiritual approach towards fulfillment opened only after I hit a wall with all of my totally-not-spiritual beliefs.
So what exactly am I trying to say here? By no means am I trying to push spirituality on you or tell you that my way is the way. On the contrary, my intention is to encourage you to find the answers within yourself. To extract them from your personal inquiry into the way things work. Question and reflect on what you hear but then let your inner voice be the basis of how you make decisions. Hone your ability to let that voice speak to you, the one that is buried somewhere deep under all of your conditioning.
Alright, before my words begin to lose their significance by sounding overly-motivational or new-agey, I think it’s time I sum up a few of the major points about this thing called spirituality. Spirituality is self-awareness. Self-awareness is a search for the truth. The search for truth is a desire to make the unknown known. To make the unknown known is to surrender your need to know. Surrendering is becoming a component in the unfolding of your life, just as much as you are the one creating it.
Now regardless of where you are on the spectrum of spiritual and not-spiritual, my deepest wish for you is that you find whatever language or methods work for you in order to lead a life of passion and purpose.