Let’s look at spirituality, what spirituality means and how to find yours.
What is Spirituality?
There are 3 Elements usually present in Spirituality.
- A belief in something bigger, or greater than ourselves. This could be God, Creation, a Group Consciousness, the Divine, Source, All that Is or whatever/however an individual thinks/feels about it.
- The True Self. The idea that we are much more than the apparent sum of our parts. A concept that includes some notion of our ultimately coming from that Creation etc. mentioned above.
- The idea that because we come from that original Creation, we are an integral and permanent part of it. Therefore, we are always connected to it. The concept of some form of Higher Self, by or through which we can connect and still feel a part of that from where we ultimately came.
Why it’s difficult to know how spiritually experienced you are.
There is a mysterious nature to spiritual and esoteric learning, such that all that you do not know, remains unknown to you until you know it. Essentially, your spiritual journey is an individual one and all your learning happens on an inner personal level, so what you don’t know, you can’t find out until you arrive spiritually in that place where the understanding comes. It’s your personal process of discovery, on your personal spiritual journey.
The Effects of Organised Religion on Spirituality.
Three features of Abrahamic religions that reveal where the power lies:
- They are monotheistic religions and by their nature external to us. They look outward for answers rather than inward. Others, those who don’t follow our path, are our enemy and must be enlightened or suppressed.
- We are all sinners in need of a saviour, always conveniently provided by the religion. This world and our existence in it represent a test. The final examination of our lives comes in the form of judgement at death, when it is decided whether we ascend or descend within that religion’s perspective of heaven/hell etc.
- We are discouraged from knowing ourselves, from looking inward for answers rather than outward, lest we connect with our true spiritual nature and come to realise the lie we have been living. The price of finding personal empowerment is high and has historically led to extreme suffering for those who seek to escape the religions hold and influence.
How religious or spiritual leaders approach belief in their work with followers.
Religious or spiritual leaders are often though not always, part of a dogmatic hierarchical structure. Those who aren’t part of a dogmatic structure typically set themselves up as self-styled gurus or spiritual leaders. They purport to know all the fundamental life and universal truths their followers need to know to live their lives. They then impart this knowledge of truths onto their followers.
Their followers are then expected to accept these truths into their reality as being absolute and live by them. These truths will typically take the form of dogmatic interpretations of scripture, although the extent to which followers are expected to adhere can vary. Followers may find themselves excluded or subject to sanctions if they don’t fully adhere. In some cases, there can be serious even dangerous, repercussions on followers who do not fully adhere to scripture as taught by their religious or spiritual leaders.
How a religious leader may inhibit personal growth and empowerment.
A religious leader comes generally from a place of “I represent the Truth according to my/this belief system or religion’s scripture and doctrine.” Within this, there is an implied teacher/student relationship where the religious leader expects to effectively indoctrinate their belief system upon their followers, and for their followers to accept, integrate and adopt these “truths” into their lives.
This effectively transfers power from the individual over to the religious leader. The follower is therefore dis-empowered from being able to find their own truth. Their spiritual path has been usurped by the religious teacher, who now has control over what the follower believes.
The religious leader thereby expands the number of followers adopting their doctrine, to the exclusion of what is best for any individual follower. The follower, in turn, has their personal growth stunted by the decision to adopt a scripture/doctrine designed more to further the aims of its originators/leaders, than it is to encourage personal growth in their followers.
Issues of authority with religious and spiritual leaders.
Religious and spiritual leaders assume and impose authority from above. Often, they assume this authority in the name of or representing the scriptures of God as written within their own sacred texts. Any follower wishing to remain a part of the religious community is expected to follow this authority. All interactions between the religious or spiritual leader and the follower happen within the confines of that imposed authority.
Finding your own answers.
Cognitive dissonance happens when we are exposed to new information that contradicts a held belief. This results in discomfort and resistance. A sense of self-doubt can also manifest where the apparent contradictions are significant in importance. In a spiritual sense and where beliefs are strongly held, such feelings can lead to a person feeling like they’re being asked to question their spiritual identity.
Cognitive dissonance is prevalent nowhere more so than within organised religion when members are confronted with an alternative belief system. Another obvious example worth briefly mentioning is within politics, especially in countries where a two-party system prevails. The more polarised opinions become, the more difficult it becomes to combat cognitive dissonance within ourselves.
Cognitive dissonance is a universal phenomenon from a human perspective, meaning we all experience it, and all must manage our response to it when it occurs.
Our awareness of it within ourselves empowers us to deal with it within ourselves.
When you do the internal work needed to clear away cognitive dissonance, you are effectively clearing away any prejudices you may have around alternative mindsets, belief systems, religions and different forms of spirituality. This allowing of alternative points of view doesn’t mean agreeing with them. It means accepting the validity of other points of view and opening yourself up to different learning experiences, should you wish to pursue them. This allows you to form your own view of life and spirituality over time, based not on the doctrines of others, but on what feels right within yourself.
Confronting your Shadow.
Psychologist Carl Jung first coined the term “shadow”. The shadow refers to the deepest part of us, our deepest wounds, often stemming from negative childhood experiences. Shadow wounds can also come from experiences later in life. Being bullied or other traumatic events can create a wound. Wounds can also have societal or cultural roots, such as in the way that financial and other forms of abundance can be tied to concepts of self-worth.
These wounds cause us to believe that we are flawed, undeserving and unlovable.
Our ego denies the shadow, for we fear it greatly, lest we must confront that part of ourselves of which we feel most ashamed. Confronting our own shadow is essential to our spiritual development and emotional health. Without this work, we deny ourselves healing and perpetuate the power our shadow has to affect us.
When you confront your shadow side, you confront that which disturbs you the most. What aspects of you angers you, disgusts you, shames you or otherwise unbalances you? They exist as your shadow. They are that part of us we don’t share. We keep that to ourselves. We’re so good at doing that, we also don’t acknowledge them to ourselves. This is what denial is.
To confront your shadow and allow what comes up for you to be, this allows you also to release the pain while keeping the learning. This leads to forgiveness and healing. When you do this, you can look at all aspects of yourself with unconditional love and without judgement.
Avoiding Cultural Appropriation.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas etc of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” It should be remembered, however, that a minority group within a larger more dominant group will feel cultural pressure to assimilate and will integrate if their survival is dependent on conformity.
Spiritual cultural appropriation is prevalent within white western society and manifests in a variety of ways. Here, I use a Western white person adopting the Rastafarian religion as an example:
Example of a culturally appropriating white Rastafarian:
- Instantly decide to get dreadlocks and stop shaving.
- Get and stay high on weed and claim it’s allowed by your religion.
- Buy a Bob Marley t-shirt and start listening to reggae music even though it never interested you before. Claim that you always wanted to get into it and always loved the culture.
- Don’t bother learning about the Rastafarian religion or culture. After all, you already know all about it and are eager to teach your newfound wisdom to anyone who will listen.
In this example, the white Rastafarian clearly doesn’t give recognition to the rich culture and tradition of the Rastafarian religion. Below is an example of a better way to go about integrating Rastafarian culture into your life if you are a white western person.
Culturally appreciating white Rastafarian:
- Do solid research on the Rastafarian culture and religion. Search out legitimate African sources and study the history of Rasta.
- Contact a modern contemporary Rastafari sect such as the Twelve Tribes, where white Rastas are welcomed. Ask for support and information about how best to go about becoming involved.
- Accept that you are a novice in the field. Offer appropriate respect to the culture and religion of Rasta.
- Consider lifestyle changes associated with Rastafarian culture carefully, to respect Rastafarian traditions. Don’t make such changes lightly or on a whim.
While the above is an example to help understand the effect of ‘white privilege’ in western culture, it should be remembered that as I stated above, it is the dominant culture which enjoys such privilege. Therefore the same argument can apply within any dominant culture where a sub-culture is present.
This is essentially a mess of bits from different religions, traditions and cultures, without any significant study or appreciation of those cultures. We live the lie, remain in ignorance, deprive ourselves of the immense possibilities that come from truly learning about and appreciating many rich and diverse cultures. We disrespect that which could be our ultimate saviour, that which teaches and reminds us to look inward for our power, not outward.
Being careful about New Age.
The New Age movement partially sprang forth from the counterculture of the 1960s and grew in popularity throughout the 70s and 80s. New Age now incorporates many belief systems and practices including Spiritualism, New Thought, Paganism and Wicca, UFOs and mysticisms surrounding alleged alien visitations and psychically channelled information. New Age has also in more recent years been heavily influenced by the vegan movement. The New Age movement now represents a wide variety of sometimes conflicting belief systems. It seems impossible now to separate good information from bad.
It’s also important to remember with respect to channelled information, that regardless of the purported source, who is to say that what lies within you isn’t more accurate? We take allot on faith in New Age when the source could be just the imagination of the author.
One final point on New Age. There is a conspiracy theory around the possible use of secret technologies by the CIA/NSA within what is called Project MKUltra. It’s suggested that what’s become known as “voice of god” technology is used to remotely communicate directly into the mind of victims, who then believe they are the recipient of genuine channelled information. That information is then shared as if really channelled from a UFO entity or deity, angel etc. The motive for this is said to be deep state-sponsored miss-information and or controlled opposition.
Here is an area where your cognitive dissonance will again be challenged if you venture in. Most people engaged within the New Age movement in one form or another, are only doing what you are doing since you’re reading this post. They’ve become disenchanted with organised religion and are looking for answers, just like you. I’m suggesting that while remaining open to new ideas, it’s also important to use discernment and have awareness of the possible pitfalls when looking into different New Age practices.
The Learning Never Ends.
When deciding whether to adopt an alternative cultural or religious belief, it’s important to do so from a place of honesty and integrity. Have you done the inner work and confronted your shadow? Do you know how you truly feel inside and whether this is right for you? Does your deep intuitive knowing make you feel that this is right or wrong for you? Trust this, as this is where your answer lies.
Balancing an understanding of your own cognitive dissonance with a healthy discernment about every new idea you encounter is crucial when dealing with external influences and the ideas of others. Becoming intimate with our shadow selves is crucial to our personal healing, allowing us to look inward without judgement, but rather with unconditional love. Learning to truly know ourselves in this way helps us learn to trust ourselves also. We learn to trust our natural intuitive responses.
It was French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who said:
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
We learn to trust the answers that come from within. That is where our ultimate truth lies. Not with any external religion, political ideology, faith or spirituality.
When you embark on the adventure of finding your own spirituality, the learning will never end. Every time you learn something new, it adds to your experience and your growth continues. Our ultimate truth lies deep within all of us, just waiting for us to look deep enough to find it.