Embodied Spirituality – Compassion and Care of Oneself
In my companion article The Concept of Soul and Spirituality in Life and in Therapy, I wrote of the need to reclaim our soul into our life if we are to authentically progress on a spiritual path, find happiness, and to heal many physical, emotional and mental ailments that can afflict us in life. There is a need for such a reclamation as the Materialistic and Reductionistic framework that has dominated Western sciences since the 17th century denounces the concept of spirit in nature and in man, and by extension this includes the idea of a soul in mankind. As a consequence the human soul which was once the province of religions, has largely been denounced and ignored by contemporary society.
As the soul is essentially unknowable, the soul is best seen by pointing at it in terms of its effect on us as it is an unknowable mystery (Merton:1975). This is also the view of “the indwelling spirit” tradition which is represented by the catholic mystics such as St John of the Cross who pursue the “Great Cloud of Unknowing” mystical process.
Many traditions promote a healthy way of cultivating this soulful part of oneself by creating the concept and reality in oneself of having 4 bodies. In this way of caring for ourself we learn to see ourself from a place where we envisage having 4 bodies:
1. Physical body
2. Emotional body
3. Mental body
4. Spiritual body
The first of these is our physical self, and the other 3 are more or less our non-physical and energetic related self. Regardless of your spiritual tradition or beliefs one can use this concept to remind ourself that we are more than our physical self, and that we should care and tend to our needs at the other 3 levels on a daily basis. How you care for yourself can come from the physical regimes you use to care for yourself now, and then the energetic self as seen through the other 3 levels can come through your spiritual nurturance, therapy, relationships and work on your energetic self.
An authentic embodied spiritual life is not about being perfect. Perfection is about Narcissism. Spirituality is about living a heart-filled integrity that accepts our humanity and all its imperfections, but which aspires to evolve and find meaning in life. It is a journey and not an event or a destination. The divine tension within is a balance of opposites which comprise our frail humanity mixed with our diamond-like divinity. We flow and seek balance within these paradoxical states of being.
Thomas Moore advises people to care for their soul in a number of ways. We need to attend to each of our 4 bodies on a daily basis in a way that nurtures and treats each body as a temple, a holy place that deserves love, reverence and time. Each body has its own needs that are unique. Let’s consider how to care for each body in turn from the lowest or grossest physical body, up to our most subtle spiritual body.
The Physical Body
In our society we typically invest considerable time in grooming and caring for the physical body. An authentic spiritual path is concerned with a healthy relationship with all 4 bodies as each of the first 3 bodies is both the temple or container for, and the expression of our 4th body, the spiritual body. The first body is the most energetically gross, it being particle energy, and then the others are increasingly more subtle wave energy forms that are in and around our physical body. They help comprise what esoteric spirituality calls our aura, chakras, subtle body, energy field etc.
The physical body is a container through which we see the other 3 bodies expressed and contained. The physical body is an amazing and beautiful aspect of the self which requires daily care to perform at its optimum, and to not become a bottleneck for the expression of the other bodies.
The physical body is also our unconscious mind and we can learn much about ourselves from how our body reacts, holds, feels and looks. When we address the body we address our unconscious mind, and make contact with our other 3 bodies.
There is much sound advice around about care and rest for the body. Indeed a soulful person spends up to an hour or two each day resting in their “being” or being still and connecting with their body and inner self (other 3 bodies). We are human beings and not human doings, yet many people run around all day, every day, in a neurotic, anxiety fuelled treadmill of action. We need to stop each day and reflect, rest, and just be with ourself in an undistracted way.
Sleep is a necessary practice for bodymind health. Even though the necessary levels of sleep vary throughout our life, studies show that 6-8 hours per night are a minimum requirement for health. Studies show the brain and the various systems of the body undergo recharge, refresh, resetting, and reorganisation based on the events of the day just gone. Sleep also dissolves the ego mind and allows our unconscious to speak to us through our dreams, which have important information for each one of us, if we would only remember and interpret those dream states.
Quality of sleep is more important than sleep duration. People who suffer sleep disorders should treat these as a health priority as all other systems of the mind and body degrade when sleep duration and sleep quality are compromised. Medical studies show people with sleep disorders have poorer mental health outcomes, and shorter life spans than those who get quality sleep and a minimum of 6-8 hours of sleep per night. A regular sleep pattern of going to bed and a time of arising helps to stabilise your sleep patterns.
Some people would benefit by taking an afternoon “siesta” or cat nap for between 30 minutes to an hour per day. Research has shown that as the brain tires in the afternoon period it can fire off impulse signals to the person to get rest. Many people respond with a stimulant such as coffee or a sugar fix which is a wrong response to the original impulse. Research has shown that meeting a sleep impulse with a food response can cause “cross wiring” effects in our impulse recognition circuits of the brain.
Sleep deprivation is a common torture technique used by interrogators on captives. Its effects on subjects have been shown to be devastating over time. We owe it to ourself not to torture ourselves by living with compromised sleep habits and outcomes, as it has direct deteriorating effects on the 4 bodies of us all.
In some Eastern systems yoga was devised as the process of “preparing for meditation”. By this the process of relaxing the body and inducing a bodily suppleness also created a suppleness of the mind, which aided the meditative process, and especially allowed for long periods of still meditative body posture, and also for a calm mind with less distracting thoughts during meditation.
Some yoga systems went on to evolve their practice to be both meditative during the bodily or breathwork focussed actions of their yoga practices. Meditation and yoga became one and the same practice. Today we find a range of yoga systems which have varying emphasis on the bodily postures, breathing practices, and with or without meditative emphasis. Each system has its benefits.
Neuroscience has now shown how yoga is now being seen to effect brain changes at the neural pathway level. Research and a major study by psychologists found that of all the major exercise types undertaken in the West, Yoga had the most lasting benefits to both the body and mental state of the participant. This study showed that Yoga was the most effective exercise in the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter GABA by our brain. Yoga surpassed gym work, running and other forms of exercise in this way.
The practice of yoga if done from a place of quiet and being with oneself, is a mode of “being”. Do not do yoga to loud gym style music as this distracts you from going inside yourself. Yoga is a slow, deliberate, reflective practice of body and mind, and a time to meditate or reflect while in any one of its sacred postures. This is giving to oneself, and noticing where your muscles are contracting and tightening, and finding meaning as to why this might be so.
Meditation and mindfulness have come to be powerful tools in the diagnostic and healing approaches of the Eastern traditions. These are now increasingly being adopted into Western society and within medicine and psychology as credible tools for healing and self development. The Western approach strips away any association of spirituality with these techniques since “spirit” is a disallowed concept within medicine, psychology, science and increasingly within our secularised society.
Meditation is an important practice for bodymind health, not just for spiritual adoptees. Meditation connects oneself with one’s inner life and stills the busy mind, especially when the meditation practice involves following the breath from a still sitting posture. Meditation also allows one to calm or subdue the physical, emotional and mental bodies, whilst accessing the spiritual body. This is why meditation is sometimes considered a gateway practice into other parts of our being.
Meditation is defined in the Tibetan Buddhist system as a method for acquainting the mind with virtue. The more familiar the our mind is with virtue, the calmer and more peaceful it becomes. When our mind is peaceful we are free from worries and mental discomfort and we experience true happiness.
In many respects there are 2 types of meditation.
Analytical meditation is where you adopt your meditation posture and contemplate the logic and meaning of a subject or object you have heard or read, you will reach a mind that has a conclusion or special feeling to arise and exist. This may also be contemplation via walking meditation or via being alone with one’s thoughts and feelings.
This conclusion or special feeling is actually the object or the focus of the second type of meditation, known as Placement meditation. Here one strives to concentrate on the conclusion or special feeling single-pointedly for as long as possible in order to become deeply acquainted with it. Placement meditation is the classic view of meditative practice here in the West, but the Eastern view places emphasis on firstly reading and hearing to learn logic or instruction, then Analytical meditation then Placement meditation.
Neuroscience also shows us that meditation done with visualisation techniques accesses the same parts of the brain which process visual or eye input. Our brain cannot discriminate between real visual input from the eyes, and a generic image constructed by the mind in visualisation. By visualising restful and peaceful images we create those emotional outcomes via brain processes.
Similarly we can cultivate positive or virtuous states of mind via meditation which actually create the emotional brain neural connections for us to embody and become that virtuous state in real life. We also can direct the mind to heal the body or itself via visualising this action to be done as studies have shown the brain directs such physical changes to occur via neurotransmitter triggers or nervous system signals arising from meditation states.
Stress is a common ailment that people suffer in our modern technological society. Everyone is finding that demands on them appear to be increasing and under parameters of a shorter response time being required. A 2010 survey commissioned by The Australia Institute found that almost 60% of Australians who work overtime say it stops them from exercising or spending enough time with their families, while a third believe it stops them from eating healthy meals. Australians worked more than 2 billion hours of unpaid overtime a year which represents a $72 billion gift to their employers.
A sustained elevation of bodymind response to such circumstances brings on performance enhancing positive forms of stress and anxiety, but these then tip over into toxic forms of the same responses. Chronic anxiety and stress bring on illness in the body and the mind. Refer to my article on Anxiety in the articles section of this website.
Stress generated from work overload, emotional upsets, feelings of being overwhelmed or being unable to cope, often lead to self neglect as seen in eating junk food, getting poor quality sleep, and start to run negative thinking patterns from their racing minds. We then start to live” in our heads” and this then triggers the Sympathetic state of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Wilhelm Reich claimed this led to a shutting down of the vertical energy current running from head down to the feet, shutting down the feminine and spiritual nature of man.
We instead run a masculine energy from the feet up the body and into our heads, keeping us “charged” in anxiety, stress and a sympathetic ANS state. Barbara Brennan who specialises in the science of energy fields, claims this causes a contraction and weakening of the life force or energy field in and around the body. The sustained living in the sympathetic state of the ANS causes the immune system to be suppressed. People then manifest illnesses in the body, and start catching all the opportunistic viruses, colds, flus, and fungal disorders such as Candida that lie in wait, and people with allergies, skin rashes, and eczemas have outbreaks.
A stressed person who enacts their sympathetic ANS will create an effect which drains blood from peripheral limbs and organs, and so a person starts to look and feel drained, flushed and unhealthy. The eyes look washed out and the person lacks energy or feels sick.
Stress is a priority issue that requires day-to-day mindfulness. We must take ownership for managing stress levels in our lives. The ability to find balance between work and life, to get adequate rest, nutrition, and self-care, is critical in managing a stressful lifestyle.
Our body needs good nutrition to maintain optimal health. For many people this is not occurring with the natural diet they maintain. It has always been an assumption that if I eat well then nutrition takes care of itself. For much of the last part of the 20th century the American Federal Drug Agency (FDA) dismissed the notion that taking nutrients had any beneficial effect on humans. Dr Robert Fletcher, the author of the results of a landmark review of 38 years of accumulated scientific evidence regarding vitamins and nutrition, wrote in the conservative Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA),
“Vitamin supplement usage was for a long time considered to be an expensive form of urine”.
The results of his landmark study were so convincingly the opposite, that the American Medical Association (AMA) has completely reversed its anti-vitamin stance and now encourages all adults to supplement daily with a multiple vitamins.
The JAMA report concluded that both the recommended daily allowances for vitamins and minerals are too low, and that the modern diet of man is no longer sufficient to provide all the support for optimal health.
Dr Robert Fletcher also wrote:
“Insufficient vitamins is apparently a cause of chronic diseases. Recent evidence has shown that sub-optimal levels of vitamins (below standard), even well above those causing deficiency syndromes, are risk factors for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis. A large portion of the general population is apparently at increased risk for this reason”.
Our bodies require good nutrition to undertake the constant death and rebirth of new cells, tissues, skin, hair etc. In fact it is believed we completely replace our bodies over a 7 year span. We need good nutrition to maintain health, vigour and energy.
Our physical body’s sense of aliveness and beauty is partly perceived by others via the oscillation, vibration and strength of our 3 energy bodies. Good nutrition boosts and maintains not only your felt sense of “energy” but also others felt sense of your energy and hence their perception of you as healthy, beautiful, sick, weak or down.
The lifestyle of the Industrial Revolution era of Western society is a story of contaminated environments, food, plants and animals within. Many people have undiagnosed heavy metal or chemical toxicity due to exposure to such heavy metals, chemicals, compounds or minerals over time. An example is lead toxicity which is common in people who were raised in houses with lead based water pipes, lead paint on the house walls or roof, or who drank rain water sourced from a roof or gutters or tanks which had lead and zinc composition.
Lead poisoning creates depressive symptoms, loss of energy, and other physical symptoms. It is quite common for people who present at the Energetics Institute with Depression who had extremely high levels of lead toxicity that once diagnosed and treated by a Chelation process, often regain their BodyMind wellness.
In these instances we recommend that clients whose background and past includes exposure to such hazards, get a hair analysis done. We recommend the services of a competent Naturopath, as they typically facilitate the taking of hair samples and their analysis in Melbourne at a laboratory dedicated to this type of service. A blood test will not typically show heavy metal toxicity as the body attempts to deal with such toxicity by depositing them into the hair and nails of a person, where these fall out over time, thus shedding the person of the excess.
INTERACTION WITH NATURE
The various schools of energy science such as Barbara Brennan, Core Energetics, and Eastern medicine, all stress the need for man to maintain contact with nature as part of our bodily and energetic health. Studies of children have shown that a child who plays in nature for an hour develops an enhanced immune system, it stimulates hormones for growth, and raises Serotonin and Dopamine levels, which create enhanced feelings of happiness.
Getting into nature by walking enhances all of our 4 bodies for different reasons. Walking as a physical activity is a primary action that is needed in upright animals such as ourselves for motility and to assist muscles, the spine, and the digestive organs in the food digestion process. We need to work our bodies to promote health and a long walk has been shown in studies to have many benefits.
Shamans believe that modern man has suffered a “soul loss” by our disconnection from the land and nature. Instead of connection and renewal of their soul via contact, mankind now views nature from a detached and sometimes fearful place, and so has no qualms about the use, abuse and destruction of nature and its environments. We think we can survive without nature but this illusion is quickly being shattered as nature turns on us and makes our planet a more inhospitable and extreme place with every passing year.
A walk in nature will see you cross various terrains which stimulate your senses and create a parasympathetic state of natural wellness and a healthy tiredness afterwards. You will feel energised as nature holds a healthy” charge” in its pristine environments that relate to the negative ions that are found in nature. Our body shows a positive ion charge at the surface or skin level, and seeks to attract and interact with negative ions to have a cancellation or “balance”. Many stressed people are “overcharged” and a walk in nature can deplete the overcharged state, flip them into the parasympathetic nervous system state, and promote wellness.
Nature also then is balancing our energy system and so this directly affects the emotional, mental and spiritual bodies which are energetic in nature. By making contact with nature we also lose the narcissism in our personality as we realise that we are not god, we are a small part of the infinite, and also connected with everything of the infinite. By losing the separateness of ourselves as against all other things we open to our spiritual natures and we can have surprisingly profound spiritual realisations when walking in nature. Spiritual traditions all encourage some form of retreat or pilgrimage into nature as part of spiritual growth.
Spending time swimming in the ocean or moving waters is also considered beneficial for all 4 bodies for the same reason as walking in nature. Some healing traditions claim that swimming in moving water, or the waves of the salt water of the ocean, cleanses the physical bodies, and the negative oriented salt ions neutralises the bodies positive charge or overcharge, and a field effect exists from the water movement which somehow cleanses, amplifies or has a positive harmonic with our own energy field. Swimming is a very healthy physical activity in its own right as it can be non-impact and support the body in the flotation process.
FUN AND JOY
People have become so serious, overwhelmed or driven in their lives they have started to lose their joy and sense of fun. When a person loses the joy in their life they often also lose sight of themself, their identity, and their life purpose.
A person of spiritual realisation loses attachment to objects, outcomes, experiences and their own ego and reputation. They flow with life and can witness life as well as be in it. Joy is the feeling and state that makes this possible. Our bodies are the vehicle for the celebration and expression of fun and joy in life.
We each need to make time for fun activities where we leave the worlds concerns, dramas, and responsibilities behind. What was serious and true an hour ago will still be so in an hour’s time, and taking an hour off to have fun and feel joy is not irresponsible, but instead a devotion to oneself, and a centring of oneself in our non-attached and at-moment selves.
It is spiritually, emotionally and mentally healthy to honour the child in all of us and to play and be the child again. Solemn or rigid adult personalities that disown this part of themselves have been shown to suffer from depression and mental health disorders over time.
BODY ENERGY EXERCISES
There are various schools of spirituality, healing and psychotherapy that use and promote bodily exercises and yoga whose primary function is to engage, enlarge, or resolve blocks in the bodily energy system.
Upon examination of each of these systems one sees both similarities and contradictions. It is hard for the average person to understand this increasingly crowded area of personal and spiritual development. There are a wide range of claimed “answers”, “unique knowledge”, “supreme methods”, “only effective system”, “ascended master revealed” and “secret ultimate to my tradition” techniques to work with what is a universal energy system to us all who would have a body!!.
When one works through the chaff of the spiritual and transformation narcissistic gurus and charlatans, one can distil these offerings down to some basic building block techniques of sound bodymind mechanics. Set your intention before you start. Set it to be some positive outcome for all your 4 bodies, ignoring none. That is enough. No ascended master prerequisites needed here.
The first key aspect of bodymind exercises which free body energy is the techniques of warming up and stretching the body. Human beings develop muscular contractions and blocks against our energy flow as feelings arise from these energy pathways of the body. For many of us we have had cause to numb out or block our feelings as once they were too painful to bear. We used our muscles, posture and ego to dim awareness of such pain.
Stretching starts to introduce us to the blocked, contracted and painful parts of our body which require muscular and postural interventions to correct. A warm up embodies us and brings us into sense awareness of the various parts of our body state, and serve to alert the nervous system to an intention to melt the muscular and postural blocks. Various exercise and yoga schools all teach such exercises. There are no hidden, secret or miracle techniques here. Follow a sound routine by a credible source and you will get the warm-up you need.
Now you can start to work with your 4 bodies. In work life if you work with energy in mechanical devices you need to switch the power source on somehow. Really the 4 bodies are somewhat the same. Most of us are like modern computers or TV’s, we are switched on but in sleep mode. The current is running at levels enough to keep the programming in devices intact so when we properly switch it on, it is immediately “conscious” and pre-set.
People are like this too. Many people go through life in “sleep” mode, with enough current or life force energy running through them to give them an unconscious form of consciousness from which they live life without really ever thinking about life. They function more than they live. Spiritually it is said these people are living in ignorance, or are spiritually “not awake”.
Doing a series of “charging” exercises for the body is one way to put more energy in the system, which in turn raises conscious awareness to new levels, and takes us out of “sleep” mode. By putting energy into the system one brings more consciousness into our system and this can result in an increased vibration and connection in and between each of the 4 bodies.
By bringing energy into the physical bodily system one can activate ANS nervous system states of both a sympathetic and parasympathetic nature. Wilhelm Reich observed that working with the human breathing can activate the bodily energy system. He noted that bodily energy ran down the body from the head to the feet, and brought a person into the present moment where they are truly embodied and activated the Parasympathetic state of the ANS.
Being present in one’s own body, and being in present moment consciousness, rather than living in the past, or in the future, which are both neurotic states of being, is an outcome promised by strong breathing techniques that create energetic charge. This outcome is a highly valued state of being according to spiritual traditions. One is typically free of distracting thoughts, one is aware of their body, their environment, and is in contact with one’s one feelings, heart and spirit. This is a form of embodied spirituality.
One eastern tradition that creates this effect is Qi Gong (pronounced chi gong). Its series of breathing related bodily exercises are highly recommended to activate this embodied present state, and to create charge in the 4 bodies. Qi Gong also claims to have numerous physical, emotional and mental benefits for its adherents. My experience of this tradition means I can endorse this practice as safe and reasonable for users working to create energetic fitness in their 4 bodies.
A western equivalent that I also find useful are the bodymind exercises of the Alexander Lowen originated Bioenergetics movement. In this tradition, a series of exercises were firstly developed by Wilhelm Reich in the 1920’s which were refined until his death in the 1950’s. The bodymind exercises were further developed by Alexander Lowen over the next 40 years. These are designed to work directly with the muscular blocks and contractions of the body, to raise the charge of the energy field of the body, to increase breathing to its full organic rhythm, and to increase the bodymind aliveness of the person.
The exercises from this tradition are also very suitable for creating energetic charge, and teaching its counterbalancing discharge principle. It also brings a person into present time in their body via a “grounded” state of being in present time. Both these traditions promote their exercises as a daily discipline or routine, and best done in the morning to create the best start for the day, and to create a resiliency buffer against the stresses of the coming day.
Our true heritage is to be human beings rather than human “doings”. Apart from sleep where we lay idle, we need conscious time to just be. I have already noted that meditation, play and fun are “downtime” activities that may have a sense of “being” in them.
A primary consideration in just “being” is being slow or still, not “doing” anything in particular, and letting yourself be in the feminine receiving “current” of energy. In this space one makes contact with the 3 energy bodies, and one is present to ones feelings (emotional body), thoughts (mental body), and the grace of spirit (spiritual body). One cannot will these from the ego. One must slow and still and “let go” so one can start to receive information from these sources.
In the great mystical tradition of The Cloud of Unknowing, Contemplation is a primary focus of one’s spiritual life. It is not acquired by knowledge or imagination, nor thoughts, nor remembrance of holy things, and from this place of contemplating one finds humility and awareness through contemplation. One may take a slow and soulful walk through nature, or one may sit and be in quiet with oneself. The idea is to let yourself receive what naturally arises, not what you would will to occur.
Grace is the gift of some form of contact by the divine unto oneself. These are sublime and subtle moments that the noise of modern busy life drowns out of our receptive abilities. In stillness we find connection and communion. Grace cannot be willed from our side or demanded of. It is a gift that only requires one to be open to receive and still enough to notice it when it comes your way.
Mindfulness is a good friend to Contemplation, having many similar characteristics, yet is of itself also different. Mindfulness is a term commonly associated with Buddhism. It is a practice that has been used for thousands of years in conjunction with meditation to transform the mind into a supple and stable state that allows a person to be and act with wisdom and skill in all situations.
The practice is widespread and central to Buddhist practice and has proven effects in healing bodily and mental illness, as well as being the basis to transform the mind of the practitioner. It is an embodied practice that centrally sits within the body and its sense awareness organs (eyes, skin, ears, mouth, and nose) and the mind itself.
In Tibetan Buddhism the practice of mindfulness is defined by one tradition as “a mental factor that functions not to forget the object realised by a primary mind”. What that means is that a person develops a mind that prevents us from forgetting an important truth or object of the mind even in the face of challenges and disturbances from within us, or from the external environment, or both.
This is the aim, but is not easily achieved and traditionally requires the practice of concentration through meditation to achieve results. Mindfulness functions to overcome and prevent distractions in the mind of a person so they can stay focussed on the truth or object they are concentrating on.
Here in the West not everyone has the time or the belief in Buddhist faith to practice meditation and mindfulness in a strictly integrated way, but the benefits of mindfulness practice and meditation are beginning to be understood and appreciated in Western forms of psychology. There have been numerous clinical trials done under scientific rigour that demonstrate a measurable bodymind benefit to psychological and physical well-being.
Mindfulness practice can be used to interact and affect our sense awareness processes to trigger improvements in immune system functioning, blood pressure, pain levels and chronic muscular tension. The benefits to the mental life of a practitioner are shown to improve mental clarity, reduce trauma arousal states, lower stress, anxiety, and depression.
We do not need to be practicing Buddhists to gain some of the key benefits of Mindfulness awareness. What is primarily beneficial for anyone is to develop the ability to pay attention, or being attuned to your experience and bodily sensations – both internal and external. Within this awareness you are able to point focussed awareness on whatever object you choose.
You develop a reality where background awareness of everything exists and at the same time you can place your mind towards an object of interest. It is sometimes thought that the aim of mindfulness is to be calm and relaxed in every moment, and while this effect emerges from creating such a mind, the purpose is more about developing awareness and acceptance. With awareness and flexibility, one learns to pay attention to one’s own experience, remembering the patterns or habits that we experience, and to observe without judgement.
With mindfulness we learn to discriminate between what is important and what is distraction, and so how to stay focussed on what is important. In a technological world where the pace of life is accelerating, mindfulness is a necessary bodymind skill in the life of a person wanting to start and deepen their spiritual life.
Our bodies give us the ability to move in the physical world, to create, modify and destroy in this domain. Our bodies are designed to engage with the physical world and act as the medium by which the other 3 bodies are expressed. We need the body to perform both mundane physical actions and those of a mentally, emotionally and spiritually guided impulse. In a spiritual sense we are now at an evolutionary stage of the planet where the silent and still and silent forms of spiritual practice are not totally suited to the pressing issues of the day.
The idea of sitting all day resplendent in meditation and achieving euphoric states of bliss is counter to the karmic or spiritual cycle we are in. These states can be traps for the unwary on the spiritual path, and can become addictive and fuel a spiritual mask or a form of spiritual narcissism. In the deeply spiritual book, The Hope by Andrew Harvey (2009), we find a spiritual call to arms for spiritually minded people to arise from their meditation cushions, and to go out into the community and make meaningful connections with others, and effect meaningful change to others and to the planet, in line with spiritual ethics.
In line with Al Gore and others, Andrew Harvey believes we must seize the moment and be change agents at a grass roots level. We cannot afford to wait for the traditional forms of leadership in society to enact change as they simply will not or cannot. I refer you to his book The Hope for the inspiration and basis of argument to use your bodies in a spiritually active way within your community to create positive change.
By using your body in a spiritually positive way you will start to find both purpose and meaning in your life, which are points or order and importance for the mental and emotional bodies, and which will be touched up in that section of the article.
EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL BODIES
The emotional and mental bodies are the first and second of our energy bodies and represents the boundary between our physical reality and our energetic reality. How energy impacts the body and creates physical, emotional and mental based outcomes is becoming better understood by science. The work of researcher Bruce Lipton helps explain how our body in general, and the skin in particular appears to be the key receptive organ of processing energy in our external environment.
Bruce Lipton clearly explains how all our billions of cells have many receptors on the outside “skin” or membrane of the cell. These receptors are designed to recognise outside stimulus and interact with it via the receptors in a “meaningful translation” at this receptor level. The cell recognises these interactions and creates an internal “signature” or message inside the cell that often leads to the cell DNA creating a messenger molecule or protein or chemical outcome. These molecule level outcomes become part of a chain reaction which gives rise to feelings, embodied reactions at tissue, organ, skeletal and brain level that partly creates both our consciousness and our feelings and emotions.
This is significant in itself but more importantly these cellular receptors are 10 times more sensitive to energetic stimulus as they are to molecule or physical forms of stimulus. We truly are energetic beings as we are designed and built to react to energetic stimulus and environments, and create physical outcomes in our own bodies from this place. Our feelings, thoughts and emotions are influenced by energetic stimulus in the same way.
Our central and peripheral nervous systems are also part of this energy/physical boundary and translation of each to the other. Studies have shown that the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) moves between the “fight and flight” Sympathetic state, to the relaxed and calm Parasympathetic state, which directly affects perceptions, thoughts and the bodily processes of any affected person.
Neuroscience has shown how we actually have 3 brains. This is called the Triune brain concept. The first brain is the Reptilian or rearmost brain and is the most primitive brain which is responsible for regulating bodily processes, and feeding sense awareness organ information into the wider brain system. This brain works in conjunction with the middle or Limbic brain system to give us the “emotional” brain complex.
The Reptilian/Limbic brain complex works with the body to create and react to sensations, emotions, and feelings, and is the repository of the “unconscious mind” of each one of us. All of our reactive or unconscious gestures, thoughts and actions in life arise from here. Our dreaming states, emotional dispositions, and about 90% of overall brain capacity is believed to derive from this complex. It is the embodied seat of our emotional energetic body.
Our most recent brain is the mental or Neo-Cortex/Frontal Cortex brain. Only humans possess this brain in its advanced state. This brain gives us moment-to-moment consciousness and all our rational, logical, analytical processes, and general mental apparatus of the conscious mind. This is also the seat of the psychological entity known as the ego, and is the embodied seat of the mental energetic body.
In talking about the emotional body and the mental body of mankind it is easier and more accurate to talk about them in unison as the two tend to work in concert and the spiritual principles that relate to each are also spanning both. There are few clear boundaries between the two, and where they exist I will point that out.
EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL DETOX
It is part of our journey through life to accumulate good and bad memories, experiences, and situations, some one-off and others repeated. From our experiences in childhood and beyond we form beliefs and attitudes and conclusions about life, about others and about ourself.
Some of our beliefs and conclusions are either distorted, ill-informed, or negative. When trauma is present there is also this injury which shows up as a potential to re-traumatise later on after the original event.
All of these factors act to reinforce or damage the mental, emotional and physical bodies in ways which lead to wellness or recurring illness, disease, suffering, and blocks to the spiritual body being able to be expressed in these other 3 bodies. Toxic emotionally caused bodily diseases are called psycho-somatic disease and toxic mentally caused bodily diseases are called psycho-genic disease by modern medical literature.
Most people would be well served to undergo some form of bodily and emotionally inclusive psychotherapy or healing work as a form of emotional/mental detox. The toxic and wounded parts of ourselves are found in what Carl Jung called our shadow and unconscious self, and by definition the shadow and unconscious self are held in our bodies with physical, mental and emotional bodily symptoms. In my companion article The Concept of Soul and Spirituality in Life and in Therapy, I argue the need for each person to work with their shadow material in line with the spiritual traditions of the “Dark night of the Soul”, and how contemporary therapy mostly fails to deliver this.
One cannot have an authentic spiritual life nor spiritual identity where it avoids facing our wounded and darker disowned aspects of self. Many New-Age spiritual frameworks are frolics in “the light” and practice re-integration of disowned selves without emotional involvement. Under these circumstances one receives a deluded sense of self that they are spiritually advanced or healed when in fact they have developed a spiritual mask.
In these dynamics the ego actually becomes stronger, and the person becomes more narcissistic. If one takes a stroll through Facebook at spiritual guru types, then you will see the clustering of self-god types, New Ager/Feral types who represent and define themself through overall physical presentation and dress, and their use of glib, superficial, spiritually sounding one-liners of wisdom and portrayed all-knowingness. This is one lost byway that many end up on the spiritual path where they think they have arrived somewhere meaningful, but are actually just stuck in their ego and delusion of spiritual growth. They are insecure and have a need to be seen, and to be seen to be spiritually important or advanced in some way.
Healing our disowned and wounded aspects of self is painful, uncomfortable and humbling work that does not deliver any exciting morsels one can race off to Facebook and boast about. Spiritual authenticity and its road of healing is a humble but powerful struggle of our humanity to truly reveal its divinity of the spiritual body that is obscured by the mental, emotional and bodily defences we erect to suppress our feelings, our spiritual impulses and our hearts.
FAITH AND BELIEF
Belief is a mental factor and faith its emotional counterpart factor that serves to keep a person believing in an idea or concept when there is no quantitative evidence to hand to directly prove the idea or concept. All spiritual paths are based on faith based beliefs, and this has proven to be the basic reason why in an age of science there has been a push to denounce all “unscientific” and faith based belief systems as irrelevant in the modern era.
One needs to develop and renew faith at all stages on the spiritual path. Without faith there will be no progress and instead will typically result in an abandonment of one’s spirituality over time. Faith and belief are directly linked. Faith is an emotional and intuitive feel for the truth of a set of mentally held beliefs in a god, spirit, or some form of unseen destiny or truth. Each links to the other in a unity and merging of the emotional and mental bodies that in turn reaches towards the spiritual body for the truth it seeks via the beliefs it holds.
For many there are not signs, evidence or felt contact from their spiritual self which reconfirms their held faith and belief. These are testing times warned about in all spiritual traditions where one starts to doubt one’s beliefs and faith, and many abandon their spiritual paths from this place. We are told to hold steadfast in these times and eventually a breakthrough in consciousness, or a shift will occur where an old block will dissolve, and a flooding experience will occur where we will be again infused with spirit. It cannot be willed from our side as it comes from the grace of the divine.
Some people become addicted to spiritual experiences and want spiritual ecstasy like the physical drug ecstasy. This can create a distorted form of ego based spirituality. Andrew Harvey (2009) warns us of a form of spiritual narcissism that involves basically selfish forms of meditative or spiritual ecstasy at the experience level, but this may distract one from progressing and deepening their spiritual life. The ego gets attached to these esoteric states of bliss, suppleness, or altered reality, and these can seduce a person away from their faith and belief into experiential addictions of a spiritual nature.
In both eastern and western spiritual traditions one must start and progress with spiritual frameworks, reason, faith and beliefs. At the end one sheds all such concepts and hence the mystical path called “The Great Cloud of Unknowing”, for knowing ceases to be an emotional/mental construct or reality based on beliefs and faith, and becomes an experience of direct spiritual self communion with the divine. In this place the emotional and mental bodies dissolve to allow full spiritual realisation to occur through the physical body.
We must not put blind faith or blind trust into beliefs however. In Buddhism we are instructed to use reason and logic to check with the belief we are asked to have faith with. Blind faith is a problem that leads to cults and the loss of adult critical thinking in these groups. There are spiritual cults and churches that exist which use various forms of emotional and mind control via belief, group dynamics, and supposed demonstration of superior or divine power, association with spirits and angels, and generally supernatural claims, to ensnare and trap recruits. We should always proceed with an open but discriminating mind and not just swallow claims blindly. Refer to my article Narcissistic Leaders and their Manipulation in Group Dynamics for more detail on these dynamics.
Prayer is the primary vehicle for the developing of faith and belief. Prayer relies on faith and creates dialogue, communion or a pathway to the spiritual self. Beliefs develop and evolve through reading, contemplation, meditation, prayer, and connection and discussion with other like-minded members of a spiritual community. Prayers and mantras develop the mind in ways that neuroscience is noting creates physical changes in the limbic emotional brain of a person which then creates positive outcomes in mental, emotional and physical health.
In a fascinating study done in England in 2008, it was found that a person who was the recipient of a prayer groups focussed prayers of intervention on their behalf, developed or gained positive changes as measured in physical and mental states, even when they were unaware they were to be the subject of such prayer focus by others. The study could offer no “scientific” reason for the result but eliminated the “noise” of outside effects or chance as a possible reason for the result.
One must develop sound conceptual minds around spiritual beliefs and logic as part of the development and care of one’s spiritual body. In Buddhism one will eventually have a direct realisation of that truth or knowledge if one repeatedly concentrates and meditates on that logic or truth. At that moment one drops the conceptual faith based belief and has a direct knowing of the same truth. The truth shifts from the mental/emotional bodies and now lives in a conscious way in one’s spiritual body. One evolves from mental/emotional life to a spiritually evolved life.
Authentic people “walk their talk” not just “talk their talk”. In this age of Narcissism people are attached to being “right” rather than being “in truth”. More so than ever people get defended, aggressive and want to win and be right. These are all symptoms of a ego/head based culture gone mad. This behaviour is the opposite of being authentic or being spiritual but we now face forms of “spirituality” that are extreme and which state that “only they are right and good”. This is spiritual narcissism and now we see some of the world’s oldest religions being taken over by extremists who would kill, punish, judge and banish others in the name of “god”.
Authenticity comes not from rigid rules, judgement of others, or righteousness, but from compassion and love for all humanity and for all sentient beings as being an expression of the divine. “He who is free of sin can cast the first stone” stated Jesus to the accusers of a woman about to be stoned for adultery. What he was saying is that everyone sins, that we all make errors, offend or abuse others, and take wrong decisions in life. That is part of being human. Who then are we to judge others or make ourself better than others.
What is wrong is that we either become more than human and cover-up our flaws, or we sink into the gutter and whip ourselves as being rubbish and worthless. Both are actually different forms of self obsession which are shame based, both are narcissistic, and both lack authenticity. Authentic people live in their flawed humanity. They do not try to rise above it and live in a rigid-perfectionistic state of classic narcissism as a god themself, nor do they live in a false sense of flagellation and “look at poor me” from a victim stance to life.
Another form of extremity and inauthentic self also exists. People are often wilful (Ego/head driven) rather than soulful. Many people with spiritual or soul sickness tend to live in a distorted polarity of living more-or-less from either their physical body at one end of the scale, whilst others live in extremism at the spiritual body end of the scale. Neither is healthy or correct.
As the Buddha stated, walk the middle path in life and be moderate in all things (Kornfield:2000). This is a great rule of thumb, and means we need to live across the spectrum of our 4 levels of embodiment to be in health and in connection with both ourself (ego) and our spiritual inheritance. Moderation promotes authenticity. Extremism or obsessiveness also robs a person of correct reasoning, adult critical thinking, and promotes various forms of righteousness and rigidity.
We need to show congruence with our body, speech and mind for us to be emotionally received as being authentic. An authentic person will look, behave, speak and act with an integrity and alignment across themself. This does not imply perfection as nobody is perfect.
Authentic people make mistakes but are accountable to the person they offended and when realising their mistake, approach them where possible and seek forgiveness. The person must also learn from their mistake, take on the lesson and the healing, and then forgive themself in turn.
It is not authentic to blame and punish yourself for some past mistake once you have tried to make amends, found your own fault, and healed your own wound. Radical Forgiveness strategies such as that by Colin Tipping, apply equally to oneself as others. We get stuck on our spiritual path when we do not forgive ourself or others, and then move on after some reflection and healing.
Trust is in many ways a reflection of the authenticity of the person concerned. Trust is what other people have in you due to your reputation, your actions, behaviours and the authenticity or stability that arises when you fulfil promises, complete actions, speech or other behaviours.
Trust is often said to be hard to earn and easy to lose. This is true. You are often only as good as your last deed in our modern cynical age where trust is hard to come by. Trust may also be misplaced in those who do not or have not earned it but who instead demand it from others. In spiritual cults and with narcissists this deception is always true. Trust in their world is manipulated into image and is not value driven or authentic. Truth and lies are interchangeable in their world.
Trust comes from an integrity and compassionate spirituality that requires from us in a participatory reality not to hurt, abuse, rob, lie or betray others, else we will lose our trust that we may have earned thus far. Ethical integrity originates in empathy, for then we take the well-being of others to heart and are moved to be generous and caring. Our thoughts, words, actions and intentions are based on a sense of what we have in common rather than what divides us.
We must come back to intentions and live constantly from there. From good intentions arises a form of ethical intelligence about a course of action to take. Each time we take an action we create risk of getting it wrong, but a spiritual person rests in the intention that guides their actions, not their actions or the outcomes of their actions.
At some point there is a letting go required. If one has good intentions rooted in their spiritual intelligence, and acts from an ethically intelligent place, one can then let go and see what happens. We cannot control the outcome, and it may not always go to plan, but it will show a solid intention and logic, which others notice. Others feel trust in a person even when they sometimes get it wrong for they see the spiritual principles at work, they feel the alignment and focus, and they understand the empathy and compassion being shown.
Trust of oneself also applies here. One may procrastinate or have doubt which will show and make others nervous, and create anxiety within yourself. If the intention is shaky then everything else that follows will also be shaky. If intention and action is clouded by doubt then the hesitancy and the worry or anxiety will be felt by others who will synchronise with you in concern and doubt, which dilutes the trust factor.
The cultivation within oneself of solid ethics, morals, spiritual intelligence and a spiritual self will create a solid foundation from which to make decisions and from which to act with consistency. This bedrock foundation stabilises the whole foundation of our mental and emotional personalities, as assists in the stabilisation of the body in a more or less self trusting place. This self-trust assists the brain in remaining calm and so relaxes the nervous system, creating the ability for the person to rest un-distracted in a Parasympathetic state of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
This creates wellness and peace within all 4 bodies of the person. Others feel the peace and stillness of a person in this state. It creates a positive energetic resonance that creates a temporary lift in other people’s lower vibration of energy towards the higher state of the person living from such a calm self-trusting place. This in itself creates an unconscious state of trust towards that person by those in that person’s presence.
MEANING AND PURPOSE
The sad state of our society and the people in it is that many of us live unconscious and reactive lives. We go from day to day like a ship without a rudder, being buffeted by life’s day to day events. Without a sense of spirituality life is drained of much of its meaning. Life becomes just a long conveyor belt of routine existence where you eke out a day to day happiness where possible, and this is your lot till you die, then that’s it, it’s all over. The atheist and nihilistic stance towards life is a bleak and depressing one. No wonder so many people feel empty, helpless, uninspired, and resort to addictions and self-soothing experiences to cope with their bleak reality.
Even those who do therapy work on themself and clear up many distortions, wounded places within them, and old hurts, do not automatically arrive at a state of sustainable happiness. I encounter many people who are functionally and psychologically sound but basically unfulfilled and unhappy. It is not about it being a state of dysfunction, its more about it being about a lack of finding meaning and purpose in life.
There is an old adage that if you find your passion in life, and you can turn that passion into a business, you will be successful in that as a business. I find this generally to be true of those who stumble across this dynamic and make it happen. Those people tend to find a level of purpose in their business that translates into passion and some form of happiness and contentment. It may not pervade all aspects of their life but psychological studies show such people feel more in control, more satisfied, and a clearer sense of purpose in their lives.
Psychological studies done across cultures have shown that once we satisfy our survival needs, we long to find connection and to find greater meaning or purpose in life. This is a form of higher actualisation in life. Carl Jung (1975) noted that all cultures enacted rituals, symbols and belief systems that explained mans place in the cosmos and which then gave himself meaning and purpose. Carl Jung saw the second half of a person’s life as preparing for death and grappling with spirituality and the meaning of life.
The term mid-life crisis well explains this dilemma in man. In our first half of life we often act from the Logos or masculine principle, and achieve, conquer, gather, and adorn ourselves at the superficial and physical layers of self. We can achieve much in this way. However the neglect of one’s deeper meaning and role in life often starts to become a nagging thought as the materialistic baubles lose their glitter, and what once worked, no longer works.
In men this is often brought into consciousness by the fear of ageing and death. The wilful man, wanting to turn away from their mortality, abandons the wife and marriage, gets a sports car, and a woman half their age, in an attempt to remain “forever young”. They do not want to psychologically or spiritually to “grow up” and flow with the seasons and changes within themself. This form of narcissistic denial has been identified as a key ageing trait of the “baby boomer” generation, who are often cited as materialistically rich and spiritually bankrupt.
We each must struggle in life to find our meaning and our purpose. This is not an event but an ongoing process as experience and knowledge both serve to change our realities and to provoke review of our beliefs. We are in an endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth within ourselves all through our lives, and meaning and purpose undergo this re-examination all the time. It is only when we numb out to this self-inquiry, or replace it with narcissistic pursuits or addictions, are we creating the basis for crisis and suffering.
In therapy do not want to hear the truth. They want a kind, gentle person who effectively colludes with them in a form of denial and tells them what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. This is a form of co-dependence where the therapist is dependent on the money from the client, and the client is told all is OK and everything is not their fault.
True compassion is not always so kind. A true spiritual friend or therapist confronts denial and the social mask that people hide behind and delude themselves in. Not to do so is ethically wrong. Spiritual paths often come from such a crisis of coming out of denial about life and oneself. It is often the start of the spiritual “dark night of the soul”.
Spirituality has certainly been found to convey meaning to the lives of those who take-up one of the authentic spiritual paths. Life issues and circumstances find their context within a wider framework of that spirituality, and the community of fellow minded followers typically offer support and guidance to their fellow believers. Even if one’s life circumstances do not change by the adoption of a spiritual practice, normally one’s reality or view of those life issues and events is seen from a new perspective or reality, and become less trying, stressful or urgent.
From meaning one usually develops a sense of purpose over time. In some cases one adjusts one’s view of what we are doing and start to accept it rather than try to change it. In other cases one makes practical and real changes to one’s life to align to one’s spiritual framework, or to abandon or change some aspect that is harmful or unhealthy. Change is a reality in life.
Purpose is an individual reality. We must find our own purpose and it will not necessarily be relevant or right to anyone else outside ourself. There is a knowing aspect to life purpose. One feels it is right when they find it, and often it integrates into alignment across all 4 bodies, and helps to express each in turn. There is normally passion present which excites the person about that choice. The choice does not violate one’s own value or spiritual system of beliefs.
Psychological studies have shown that those who find meaning and purpose in their lives develop a strong resilience to life’s problems. Nelson Mandela embodies this truth. He stood for a truth of love without discrimination or racial prejudice and became a leader and activist in this cause. Even when persecuted and jailed for over 20 years he sustained himself, loved his captors, and never lost sight of his vision or the bigger truth. He prevailed and won.
Man is a social creature and we are supposed to mix, communicate, and be with others. A spiritual person sees the sacred reflected back to themself in everything as life is sacred. Affinity comes by identifying with this reality and wanting to be part of that connection. Spiritually aware people find that they possess a natural charisma or energy that positively affects others around them. Others start to want to seek you out. Affinity develops from self and others who share a common understanding or belief that creates connection.
In the agnostic society in which we live it can be hard to find others who see life in a similar way as you, or who will not judge your reality, especially where you may have some form of spiritual views. Affinity is a form of reaching out for validation as well as connection for in a society that debunks spirit and spirituality, one may well keep hidden from some others this side of ourself so as not to attract criticism (i.e. in workplace).
Affinity means to mix with all and be an embodied role model for what you stand for, displaying an authenticity that will attract notice. It does not mean becoming a prophet or zealot, who enthusiastically preaches to all about your latest experience or truth. This can turn off people, and can be rooted in the ego that has some narcissistic reason to promote a specialness about you. Spirituality can become a new garb of the ego and functions to serve one’s image. One must be careful not to become a spiritual narcissist in this way.
The last and most controversial self is the spiritual self. Despite all cultures and all ages (apart from the 19th century till now) accepting the reality of all of us having a spiritual self, this aspect of the human condition is rejected as unscientific in modern society.
Science expresses one form of truth, the type of truths that can typically be empirically measured and repeatedly found. This type of truth suits our matter centric reality and the classical laws of physics that support matter reality. The soul or the spirit is an energetic concept and so Quantum physics may be a better place to search for understanding and a basis for this phenomena. Quantum physics is a strange world of probability, possibility, mind influencing matter, and realities that challenge our greatest scientists. It is still a science in its infancy and so we do not have all the answers about this realm of reality.
The spiritual self and reality cannot be categorically debunked from the quantum sciences as Quantum physics is too rudimentary to offer firm conclusions on sub-atomic and subtle realities. As soul and spirit cannot be detected or measured in matter by conventional science then we should not try to argue for its existence from such a place as its context is not matter or classical physics. Unfortunately the matter based scientists do not hold back and stop debunking spirit with the same respect for the limitations of their own scientific models.
The spiritual self is a faith based concept. No one can categorically state what the factual description of the spiritual self is. There is various understandings of what this self looks like or comprises, and is a debate I shall not enter into as it is pointless. There are some basic ideas which is enough to repeat here to qualify this self so the 4 bodies model can be rounded out and completed.
Basically the divine source, god, creator, spirit or whatever is present in all things and pervades all of space and whatever dimensions of reality are conceived of, created, or uncreated. In each person we have a personal plug-in point with the divine source. Some traditions call this our soul, our spirit, or most subtle mind. In some traditions this is a personalised entity that is shaped by our experiences in this or other lives (reincarnation).
This soul or spirit is present both in our energy field and within our body, and is often represented as being near or within the physical heart area, or the meridian energy line along the spine next to the heart. The mystical traditions all tell us that the One, the Divine source or whatever term you would use has a nature that is joy, peace, boundlessly creative energy and intelligence.
As a creation of this source, we receive its love with infinite tenderness, and that it is constantly irradiating, nourishing, sustaining, and transforming all things through its grace. When we are cut-off from heart/spirit and live from the head/ego, we only see separateness, disconnection, and things as antagonistic and unrelated. The infusion and awakening to spirit brings us into an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. Separate things are seen in a wider sacred context as part of cycles and flow of birth, death and rebirth, which have intelligence and purpose. We seek to be part of the greater whole, and cease seeing ourselves as separate and isolated. Hope, joy and bliss infuse us as part of this revelation and spiritual grace.
Our job as humans is basically two-fold. Our first task is to clean-up and remove the blocks and distortions from our physical, emotional and mental bodies so spirit can flow into us and be expressed through these 3 bodies as the natural heritage we share with all life as sacred. Our spiritual body is never defiled in and of itself, it just needs attention and recognition through prayer, awareness and openness. The spiritual body does its job on us, not the other way around.
The second job is to honour this part of us and then to use our free-will to embrace the spiritual in us by making our lives meaningful and with purpose. In ages and times gone past we either saw the contemplative mystic or the actioned oriented activist at the forefront of spiritual leadership, and as the role model for others to follow.
As with all things, even the nature of the type of spirituality appropriate to the time and the age and even culture may need to change to align to the needs of the day. At present the world is on the edge of an abyss, argues many prominent scientists, sociologists, biologists and researchers. Many believe we are facing the world’s sixth great extinction. A whole range of behaviours have led us to this place. Refer to my article “The Monkey and the Orange” for more information about this emerging world crisis.
Some spiritual leaders such as Andrew Harvey (2009) are calling for a form of spiritual action, called Sacred Activism, to be the dominant form of spirituality in society if the world crisis is to be averted. His ground breaking book “The Hope”, is all about this argument and the way forward with this form of spirituality.
Andrew Harvey argues that old spiritual truths such as the Buddhist “everything is emptiness”, the Catholic “earth is there for mans enjoyment”, and New Ager “only the light is real and all is in divine order so do not worry” are excuses for denial and the false pride of a spiritual narcissist trying to appear to rise above earthly concerns. He argues that the mystics had become addicted to being, and states of ecstasy, whilst activists had become addicted to doing. Both he argues are states of spiritual narcissism and polar opposites or extremes. He argues we need a merging of both at this time in our world’s history and evolutionary crisis.
In this place he advises that with divine awareness and love our spirituality of this age is one of working for justice and of spirituality in action, not just meditation. We are asked to be grounded in universal, all-embracing, mystical truth and then acting for justice in a local community. This is not supposed to be a grandiose set of actions for each one of us. It is about a grassroots change where in each one of our daily lives we can act in a just, spiritual way that helps another, helps the environment, and helps the planet. In a mind that sees all as sacred you are in fact then serving whatever you call god.
This practice already exists but now requires a mass consciousness of like involvement by us all. Collectively the traditional forms of societal leadership are found to be without vision or spirit, and their leadership reveals attachment to power, image, being right, and short term goals of self-interest. Change must happen around this power structure and not through it for it will be too late for that societal leadership to be motivated to change unless a crisis or catastrophe occurs which affects the elite in society.
This is not a call to anarchy for that is devoid of spirit or vision. Bede Griffiths, the great 20th century mystic proclaimed this model of Sacred Activism the spiritual practice of this age of man. It is practical spirituality in action through all 4 bodies, including the physical body where we help others.
Bede Griffiths (1994) wrote in his book “Return to the Center”, that “there must be a movement of ascent to pure consciousness, a detachment from all the moods of nature, a realization of the self in its eternal ground beyond space and time, but then there must also be a movement of descent by which the spirit enters into the heart of matter and raises it to a new mode of existence in which matter becomes the medium of a spiritual consciousness”. Bede stressed this path is no longer for the mystic or yogi but a necessity for humanity as a whole.
The vision that Andrew Harvey embraces is that “if this movement of descent was inspired and clear and directed enough, it would affect a huge evolutionary leap, a new mode of existence for a humbled and transformed humanity dedicated to putting Divine Love into action”. Spiritually our planet and mankind as a species can be considered to be undergoing a “dark night of the soul”. We are asked by grace to transform and let in spirit and its love, and to act and be from a new place. We can also choose to harden and ignore, and probably die from this place as well. This is the free-will choice we all have and must use.
We can each step into this new state of grace and spiritual love in action by enacting it under our own personal purpose in life. The Sacred Activism model can provide the meaning of life for anyone who would be open to it. I refer the curious to Andrew Harvey’s book “The Hope” to see if it inspires you in this way, as it has myself.
From this place your own present state of experience, embodiment, realisation, resources, passion and knowledge, will start to suggest to you how you may then find your individual ways of helping and enacting justice in your community. This you may be surprised to find, starts to fill you with meaning and purpose.
If you take care of your 4 bodies in a way similar to what I have briefly outlined in this article, the rest will look after itself. Remember that spirit is always looking to infuse into matter or into our other 3 bodies. We just need to remove our distortions or blocks, or as they say “simply get out the way”, and this will happen. Good luck on your spiritual path in life.
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