I want to propose an approach to spirituality that is not based on an unverifiable belief. A quest in which we don’t make progress based on how strongly we believe in an external idea, but on the depth of our experiences. Because I believe the mystical aspect of spirituality is a consequence of our ignorance rather than one of its intrisic characteristics.
Let’s look at some definitions of spirituality. To make sure we can build a rational argumentation on them, I purposefully chose the ones that didn’t include religion.
‘Spirituality refers to certain kinds of activity through which a person seeks meaning, especially a “search for the sacred”. It may also refer to personal growth, blissful experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension.”‘ – Wikipedia
‘Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.’ – Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health
‘the spiritual dimension tries to be in harmony with the universe, and strives for answers about the infinite, and comes into focus when the person faces emotional stress, physical illness, or death.’ – Nurses Ruth Beckmann Murray and Judith Proctor Zenter
The spiritual questions we have today are largely answered by religion. We have also inappropriately relied on religion in the past to explain other things we didn’t understand ; scientific phenomenons, natural disasters, … The purpose was never to explain these events, but rather to help us cope with them. If a god was upset about our actions and didn’t send us any rain, ruining all our crops, there is something we can do. We can fix our behavior and ask for forgiveness. But if the absence of rain was just what it was : the absence of rain, then it means it can happen again anytime and we don’t have a say in the matter. That’s really scary.
We realized mainly during the last two centuries through planetary science, natural sciences and so on that natural disasters and other inexplicable facts were actually regular events, not magic. By doing so, we have gotten rid of their mystical characteristic. Today, science has replaced religion in explaining the reasons for a lot of the scary events, and they don’t seem magical anymore.
Religion now mostly exists to fulfill our quests for meaning, but for me, it feels vague. We just drop our interrogations onto a bigger entity, hoping ‘everything is going to work out in the end’. That is not a very practical plan. If we went from a fuzzy use of religion to a scientific understanding of most phenomenons, why wouldn’t that be possible for spirituality today ?
If that is the case, it means that we make that quest mystical, but the answers, freed from any belief, must be very rational, just like the explanations we found for the scientific events. Every question should then lose its mystical characteristic as soon as we get the corresponding answer.
Whether it is misused religion, fear or other feelings, we are attached to certain beliefs that have no rational ground. We then need this magical cement of mystic for our vision of the world to make sense. If we manage to let go of these impractical beliefs, we can get rid of the fuzzy screen they carry.
This process of getting rid of stories and beliefs not only leads to spiritual answers, but it also solves any problem whose cause is a story we tell ourselves. All problems are really one problem ; every mental suffering we may experience comes from our mind holding onto some belief. It might be more or less deep, but the cause is always the same, and it is even healthy to address these little problems as a foundation before tackling the big questions.
Let’s take for example the problems related to ego (property, pride, shame, relationships, …). When we get hurt because someone questioned our skills, we don’t see :
- That we want to be a good person in any circumstance whereas life is ever-changing.
- That we were born with some of our skills, and it makes no sense to be proud or ashamed of them.
- That the other person didn’t say we are a bad person altogether.
- That her opinion is a piece of feedback we can use to change, not a truth written in stone.
In this example, we rely on a belief as much as when we feel the need for a grand justice or a fate. The only difference is that in the case of a spiritual question, we really hope that the belief is real, an we therefore acknowledge it, whereas when we deal with an ego issue, we don’t want to see the belief, because it’s not flattering. Getting to know our mind to notice these beliefs is a complex practice.
Here is what the process of letting go of a belief looks like.
- Undefined magic. You start with a blurred vision of the problem ; its components are not very defined yet, and it would be easier to accept that a supernatural law could take care of it entirely.
- Glimpse. You briefly see that the reality might be different than what you believe in. But if you are able to rationally consider this possibility, you are far from embracing it fully.
- Identification. You determine what is preventing you from embracing the new idea you glimpsed. Is it fear ? If so, fear of what ? Is it that you misinterpreted a certain situation ? Then, what does your interpretation rely on, what are the facts you know to be real ?
- Roommates. You live both with the new vision and with the barrier (fear, misinterpretation, …) that is preventing you from accepting it. You observe the barrier and analyze it. This is the long part of the process. Most of this part happens unconsciously, or during day-to-day tasks.
- Realization. You realize this barrier is not based on anything substantial. The most common brake is fear, and it once you observe it rationally, it is quite obvious that it has no foundation. But it might sometimes be something more complex like misinterpreting signals, and you have to methodically go through what you know to be true without relying on any conclusion you drew beforehand.
- Constraint removal. You can fully embrace the new vision, free of your previous bias.
The rational mind is only able to learn from books or experience and to use this knowledge. Hence, as long as you rely on it, you operate within the limits of what it knows. It will never take you past this acquired knowledge, where true epiphanies happen. It is the one in charge of telling all the stories and beliefs that play in our heads. You know how something you have never done before seems so scary ? And 99% of the time, once you actually do it, it ends up not being the thing you were afraid of. We need to be free from these barriers to see things as they are, to find spiritual answers.
The mind allows us to think and get our body to do what we want. The body does anything the mind asks, without complaining, without judging. But if we let the mind rule our whole life and push the body too far, we get sick, tired, injured. That’s why we should consider the mind as a tool, not a master. When we need to perform a task that requires deep thinking, we should use it 100%, but there are other times during the day when we don’t need its assets. For anything that is not critical, for the daily errands, we are just fine without it.
Through my own spiritual quest, I have been able to witness the above process happen over and over. I don’t have all the answers, but I have definitely found some, and they have all resulted in letting go of some belief to accept what is there, what has obviously always been there.
While this goal is simple, it is definitely not easy to achieve, and, working on it day after day, one can naturally start to consider his endeavor as a quest, a process to better himself. That is not the case ; it is not about changing, it is not really a path. Indeed, once we get a glimpse of the state we can get into when freed of the beliefs of the mind, we realize that we are perfect. There is a ‘me’ in there that was always perfect, which is then limited by the fears and barriers of the mind.
So, you are already there, you are not trying to get better ; the progress you make is only about cutting the bullshit your mind makes up to get closer to accessing this ‘me’.
Recently, I have been experimenting with relaxing the mind most of the time, and allowing myself to be more intuitive about the decisions I make and the way I interact with the world. Anytime I am not working, I try to let my feelings dictate what I will do next and to shut down the mind.
This exercise is especially helpful in terms of energy ; I try to really follow the flow of my energy to dictate what I will do next. Every couple of years, I experience a period of low energy because I tend to push myself too hard. Now, with that practice, it is eye-opening to witness the mind trying to interfere with sentences like ‘I should really be moving this project forward !’, ‘What am I doing in bed ? I should get up right away’ or ‘If I have to take a nap, at least let’s make the most of it and use everything I have read online to fall asleep as soon as possible’. In most cases, I have discovered that listening to this voice would give me at best an extra 10 minutes of work, or would force me to write even though I am too tired to produce anything good. These inner dialogues don’t make any sense ; they are just a belief I have noticed and am trying to get rid of.
This is the whole challenge ; we need the amazing tool the mind is, but it prevents us to get deeper because of all the barriers it carries. We need to live part of our life without it and it’s hard to get rid of it, but it is not the enemy either.
I can only talk about this process because I have experienced it, and it is now part of the acquired knowledge of my mind. Before that, my mind wouldn’t have been able to really understand it. That’s why you can read a lot about this, and it will help pointing you in the right direction, but you can’t learn anything in this domain if you don’t experience it. You should not get lost in the intellectual experience, but shut down your rational mind and dive into practice to find answers for yourself.
That’s why I want you to take action in the next 48 hours. Here is a good exercise to start with. If you are not used to meditate, I know that 25 minutes seem like a lot, and I know making the time and having the patience to follow through is hard. But you don’t have to consider this as a meditation session. This is truly an exercise that, unlike most meditation practices, will leave you with immediate benefits. The goal for you here is not to commit to become a meditator for the rest of your life. It is to bring yourself to a place where you let go of your beliefs and experience something new.
So find a quiet room, where you can be alone (this is very important), and just do this one exercise. Here is the link (you can also download it from the SoundCloud page).