Posted On 22 Sep 2009
Nothing is more natural than spirituality. We are all spiritual. There are degrees of awareness of our spirituality, but it’s impossible not to be spiritual.
The English word “spiritual” comes from the Latin word “spiritus” that denotes breathe or wind. To be spiritual is to be breathing.
A spiritual practice (training, meditation) is a natural activity based on awareness of the natural physical process of breathing.
It’s important not to confuse being spiritual with being religious. (See the post “What is a religion?”) It requires no beliefs whatsoever about anything supernatural. The only belief required is the belief that engaging in a spiritual practice might be of benefit. Otherwise, there’s be no reason to do it.
Nor does a spiritual practice require any conceptual thinking. To conceptualize is to sort (categorize, separate, divide). A spiritual practice is a deliberate attempt to overcome separation, to heal the mind/body bifurcation.
Spiritual practices are divisible into moving and stilling. A stilling practice, such as the distinctive Zen Buddhist practice of zazen, works by a process of concentration or focusing attention fully in the present moment, tranquility or stilling consciousness by noticing and letting go of attachment to thoughts, and insight or direct (nonconceptual) experience.
Spiritual practices aim at nothing less than mastery of life. Mastering anything requires disciplined effort that ultimately results in optimal or flow experiences. Mastering life, living well, is impossible without liberation, the freedom from the pervasive unsatisfactoriness that comes from egocentric attachments. All effective spiritual practices work by dissolving attachment to the ego/I.
Dissolution results in direct experience of reality unfiltered by conceptualization. An initial insight is usually just a glimpse, but it may be deepened or expanded by continued spiritual practice. It has various names such as “the unitive experience,” “enlightenment.” “kensho,” “satori,” “awakening,” or “nirvana.”
Since it is a direct experience of unity and since to conceptualize is to separate, it’s an experience that is impossible to conceptualize. It’s often characterized negatively, in terms of what it isn’t. For example, it has been called “the end of suffering.” If so, that doesn’t state what it is but what it isn’t. In fact, “nirvana” means “blowing out.”
So mastery of a spiritual practice results in a kind of extinction or annihilation. This leads naturally to the idea of Emptiness. To make Emptiness real, to actualize Emptiness, to enjoy ultimate freedom, is to be as full of being as possible.
If so, though spirituality is our birthright, we have to claim it by mastering a spiritual practice.