A PERSONAL FORM OF SPIRITUALITY
We know so little about spirituality, however, that this new frontier is contested territory. For instance, spirituality is often dismissed as ignorance or fantasy -- but that’s because the very nature of spirit transcends rational logic. I'd like to clarify this controversy by focusing on the “human spirit,” although later I'll try to explain the connection to “universal spirit.” Let's start by thinking of “human spirit” as that state of mind we all experience daily. Webster's Dictionary defines "spirit" as "Will, consciousness, frame of mind, disposition, mood. As in high spirits."
This prosaic form of spirituality constantly changes as we pass through varying states of consciousness every day. It’s the shifting mood created by interacting with people, major news events and intellectual ideas, the high produced by alcohol and drugs, meditation and prayer, psychotherapy, social rituals and ceremonies, powerful symbols like the flag, the impact of art and music, dreams, the influence of weather and seasons, physical activity like jogging, bodily rhythms – almost anything, really, that can affect the mind.
I experienced a good example of how ordinary events can alter the human spirit when visiting London. Strolling through Berkeley Square, I was struck by the moving inscriptions on plaques attached to 50 or so benches circling this lovely old park. The plaques told about fond memories of life in that English capital, love for a deceased spouse/child/parent, gratitude for close friends and teachers, and countless other themes touching the common soul of humanity.
What impressed me most was the special meaning the inscriptions assigned to Berkeley Square. These diverse people from around the globe spoke of how the park had played a prominent role in their most intimate relationships. They considered it a “sacred place,” a “quiet oasis of peace” within the “crucible of a bustling world center,” where they “felt protected by lush plants” under a “canopy of 500 year-old sycamores.” I left with a warm sense of having shared the lives and loves of these people whose essence continues to dwell in this spiritual enclave. When I returned to London, I headed straight for Berkeley Square.
To get a vivid sense of this personal type of spirituality, listen in Box 1 to how a variety of people experienced highly personal moments of heightened awareness:
Personal Accounts of Heightened Consciousness
A young man meditating: “Slowly, the mind quiets. I float. Then, all my energy seems to draw into a ball. I am conscious of being this ball, moving a foot or so above the floor. Then the ball bursts, turns liquid, and rises upward, becomes pure fluid energy. I am now in the center of a flower as it blooms. Up and up until I erupt into an open space filled with music and joy and love. The sweetness of it is exquisite, almost unbearable.”
A woman crying over loss in her family: “I suddenly felt like a little girl again, asking my mother if she missed my dad after their divorce. All at once, I was crying. It was as if an infected area lay inside me where I had for years been stuffing my loneliness, vulnerability, and loss. I grieved openly and unashamedly for my mother and father, and for myself as a wife and a mother. This went on for 45 minutes. When it was over, I felt complete, cleansed, healed.”
A young girl dancing: “I didn't know him, and we started out tentatively. But soon we were making great loops around the room. I closed my eyes for a few moments, and it seemed that we weren't dancing at all; we were flying. We had risen a few inches off the floor, and we existed somewhere outside the law of gravity. The music, the other couples, none of these were there, as I danced in perfect joy and grace.”
A soldier's experience of war: “It is only now that I realize what a frightening experience I had been through. At the time, I was so completely wound up and braced for war that everything was taken in stride. Fear and disaster can be faced without too much difficulty in the heat of battle if one subdues the senses and emotions. It’s like entering a narrow tunnel with close horizons. But when it is over, then it is possible to emerge with full consciousness of the real world.”
A woman’s discovery of faith: “ I had the sense that something spiritual was coming into my life. There was no doubt -- everything had shifted. I attended a Quaker meeting, and the rest is history. When I walked into that peaceful room set among great old trees and gravestones, the silence spoke to me. Quakers believe that God is Inner Light. At worship, we seek this Light together. Sometimes the silence is so profound that we all have become one, and one with God.”
SOURCE: Quoted from The Sun (November 1989); “A Memoir of War,”Washington Post (July 13, 1986); and “Right At Home,” Washington Post (November 14, 1998)
These quotes don't prove much, but they remind us of those special times when joy, grief, or crisis cause profound shifts of consciousness. Similar but less dramatic shifts occur constantly. Our typical day starts when we leave the dreamy haze of sleep, then take a shower to refresh the senses, use coffee to stimulate our attention for work, spring to battle over a challenge, enjoy the relaxation of a drink before dinner, or allow sex to carry us off into the Nirvana of sleep. In short, life's daily cycle is a sequence of small but important changes in consciousness.