I’m formally taking the position that spirituality is physical, biological, the most basic of concepts and entirely felt -- no theological content. No organizations. No moral content Can happen anyplace, can be culturally defined as evil or blessed, and is not felt by everyone. (Not missing -- just not activated.) From one time and place to another it is defined differently and offered different places in the culture. Often it is displaced or reduced or expanded because of other ideas about what human is. The concept grows when times are tough. It diminishes when "rationality" dominates.
Right now both are the case. We are still in growing “enlightenment” times based on science, which is growing in part because of expanding technology that allows us access to so much more. Science claims a dimension that offers a supra-cultural mathematical strategy for avoiding some kinds of conflict: the scientific method. Science is, of course, accompanied by a lot of clutter -- bad claims, counter-claims, corrupt results. “Spirituality,” defined as an individual pre-conscious biological response to the world, is a way of escaping all that by going to meaning of a different kind, farther back in the head, closer to the spine. I am defining it as awareness of the meaning offered by participation, wovenness, continuousness with the galaxies.
The Wiki entry about spirituality is an extensive checklist that’s helpful, but I wish I knew who wrote it and who altered it or edited it, since I’m finding that point of view is crucial. For instance, they didn’t get Unitarian Universalism quite right. Still, if a person wanted to really study spirituality, this might be a good place to start. It would not give you a spiritual experience (a Wiki entry is just anonymous words) nor would it tell you where you fit but you’d have some vocabulary to throw around.
These overviews always surprise me in two ways: the first is how many versions there are and the second is how far back the historical discussion can reach -- in this case, mostly to the Greek/Roman foundation of Euro-thought. Contemporary understandings are always intriguing. Can we reach into pre-history?
“During the twentieth century the relationship between science and spirituality has been influenced both by Freudian psychology, which has accentuated the boundaries between the two areas by accentuating individualism and secularism, and by developments in particle physics, which reopened the debate about complementarity between scientific and religious discourse and rekindled for many an interest in holistic conceptions of reality. These holistic conceptions were championed by New Age spiritualists in a type of quantum mysticism that they claim justifies their spiritual beliefs, though quantum physicists themselves on the whole reject such attempts as being pseudoscientific.
My view is that core spirituality cannot be discussed, programmed, owned, sold or acquired at workshops and seminars. It’s possible to trigger some related experiences by exposing parts of the brain to magnets or ingesting what are now called “entheogens”, drugs that offer a blissful experience. In my view it’s like that exercise called “bicycling” in which one holds one’s feet in the air and imitates pedaling. It’s supposedly good for the body, but when you stop, you actually had gone nowhere.
Nevertheless, sometimes the spirit can be called and I’ve always been curious about what the effective trigger or “bait” might be. After reading a bunch of saints’ accounts of their beatific or horrendous experiences, it appeared that binaries of experience that were internally contradictory had something to do with it. Current research suggests that sensory experience (not the five senses but the constant hurricane of electrochemical information tracking the world both outside and inside the skin in hundreds of ways) is what the brain sorts and acts upon. If that great clamor of particles falls into a relatively resolved state, then the experience might be what we call “spiritual.”
Most thinking about spirituality/religion is confined to the English-speaking world, esp. in Europe and Asia. It simply ignores African, American, or indigenous Australian notions. Australia is particularly intriguing since the culture (like the geology) is extremely old and pretty much self-contained, characteristics that seem to relate to spirituality. Except for the Americas and Mediterranean Africa, there have not been the bureaucratic, hierophantic, city-like, empire-craving organizations of “religion.” Religion is always wanting to combine with government and power.
Today spirituality as a characteristic of the individual is often considered a marker of superiority, as a kind of intelligence in a world that thinks “smart people” are better than others, but this has to be covert and unspoken because the consensus through the ages has been that spirituality is a force for unity, the reconciliation of differences. People who try to make spirituality trump science are playing with superstition and magic.
Another humanities realm that interacts with spirituality is arts that can capture the unspoken, the felt meaning of life. Probably one of the most powerful of the arts today is photography, since that’s what gives us visual access to both the star nurseries of space and the busy mitochondrias of the cells, plus startling face-to-face confrontations of so many other creatures and their vegetal world. Even minerals photographed can be stunning. It is good to be stunned, esp. if it results in humility, a key to spirituality.
It is not good to use spirituality as a scourge to punish organized religion or secular government. That’s the work of rationality and justice.
Compassion is often seen as an element of spirituality, but my severe (Scots?) temperament and experience in the world -- possibly out of arrogance -- sees deep spirituality as ignoring that dimension, though it is a key to the meaning and value of human beings. Suffering cannot touch the depths of spirituality. For a while there was an understanding of God as that great power and meaning that comes to suffer WITH humans in the most literal way, so that if one is tortured, God is right there also being suffered. This is one element of the idea of Jesus, to show that a deity cannot really care about us if they are so exalted that they never feel anything. But it never struck me as very comforting.
Modern physics is about sharing, but not about feeling. It is not about God the Creator but about existence as co-creating itself, unfolding and unfolding in complexity that has only one meaning: survival. Not of the individual, but of the cosmos itself. All the emotion is on the part of the witnesses, which are us. It’s our specialty, more important than just talking about spirituality or even admiring it.
When we calm down enough to really pay attention, what we see is that everything is connected, everything is moving, and we can’t stop it, so we might as well join it.