Friday, January 31, 2014

Spirituality Defined

I want to speak to the definition of spirituality in my life.  Our modern world is so dependent on experts and scientifically proving everything.  Spirituality is a tool for finding truth without an expert and having proof of things that can’t be seen.

The human being is a dual being - part physical part spiritual.  The physical part dies but the spiritual part “flies away into God’s arms”.  I have seen the spiritual part of a human being.  It is the difference between the corpse and the living person.  Both “look” the same but different.  The corpse appears different from what I saw when that person was alive.  The difference is that the living part, the spirit, is gone.

Spirituality is the functionality of the spirit within my body.  It’s functions are called the “subtle senses.”  As everyone knows, our five physical senses are sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell.  Our five subtle senses are spiritual sight, spiritual taste, spiritual touch and spiritual hearing and spiritual smell.  We sometimes describe our spiritual sense of smell with the phrase, “I smell a rat” used to describe a situation that doesn’t square up with our expectations.  If an experience is negative we say, “that left a bitter taste in my mouth,” a subtle taste.  When we are moved by a song or a sunrise we sometimes say that we “felt” something at the time that “moved” us.  This is an example of a subtle touch.

Spirituality is not that uncommon.  It is sometimes described as intuition and many people make intuitive decisions.  Intuition is defined as the ability to acquire knowledge without the use of reason.  I “read” other people in social situations not by what that person says but using my intuition.  This leads me to make quick judgements based on an understanding that I can’t justify.  If you are not this kind of person, you can still be spiritual and have spiritual experiences.  Intuition is not required for spirituality.

Spirituality is described in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 2:10-15.  “What knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of a man which is in him?”  I have come to a profound understanding of myself and others by looking inward and asking my spirit to manifest the truth to me.  In her book, Recovery of Your Inner Child, Lucia Capacchione describes a method of looking inward that can be used to overcome personal tragedies.  The spirit within us is an expert we can consult at any time.

No culture or religious tradition has a monopoly on spirituality.  I have learned much from other cultures and religions about spirituality.  The Native American culture highly regarded those with spiritual knowledge.  In the following narrative about the life experiences of a Native American known as Grandfather, the majority of his spiritual knowledge comes to him in natural settings.  “Even though the old tree did not communicate with Grandfather he would still spend hours talking to it.  He would discuss his problems with the tree, tell it of his adventures, ask its advice, and tell it of his triumphs and failures.  He always felt so much better after talking to the tree and many times he found that he would gain answers and insights into problems by just discussing them with the tree.”  pp 65-66 in Grandfather by Tom Brown Jr.  I could try to prove that this dialogue with the tree was real and that the tree led Grandfather to a deeper understanding, but that is what makes spirituality so illusive.  It is impossible to describe the boundaries between real and unreal experiences.  Another aspect of spirituality described in this book is the vision quest.  When I do a vision quest, I try to see spiritually into the future and feel my way to the next reality.

Cultivating spirituality is possible in quiet moments of reflection.  I often feel inspired by inner truths after I have spent time in the natural world away from people and distractions.  In addition, when I write down my emotions as truthfully as I can, my emotions lead me to discover solutions to problems that are found within my spirit and not in my rational mind.  Silence is not necessary for spiritual experiences but may be very helpful.  I have found that spiritual experiences do happen in the smallest moments of silence in the midst of many distractions but they are easily missed.  

For me, spirituality offers a unique perspective that reason can’t provide.  I can’t force spiritual experiences.  They come to me on their own timetable and sometimes I spend a lot of time in reflection before I gain any insight.  I began to look for spiritual experiences when I was a young girl.  I first noticed the feelings associated with spirituality when I read the Bible or other religious essays.  In high school I was exposed to the classics and I found truths in them that “moved” me and pointed me to other spiritual truths.  As a young single, I used my subtle sense of smell in dating to ascertain whether the young men, who were more or less strangers, were presenting their true selves to me.  My first experience with subtle hearing came when I “heard” voices in my mind and recognized them to be the voices of deceased relatives.  This may seem like foolishness but spirituality informs and motivates my decisions.

I haven’t always accessed my spirituality to help me with life’s decisions.  When I am in conflict with others, I have the least number of spiritual experiences.  Conflict and dishonesty about life prevent me from being aware of the “inner truth” that my Spirit knows.  I have to be honest with myself and accept the truth even when it frightens me.  I also try to live at peace with others accepting their imperfections so that I will be able to use my spiritual senses.  I want to say however that anger, pain, and suffering have taught me truths about myself and others that help me to be more honest and accepting of others.

CS Lewis spoke of the battle between the cognitive decision to believe or do something and the emotional states that often negate those decisions in the book Mere Christianity.  I find that the logical and rational aspect of my mind often doubts the emotional or spiritual knowledge I have about something.  In like manner, fear or pain can stop me from doing what I have decided logically was the best course of action.  I mention this because spirituality is choice to give weight to subtle senses over physical ones.  However, the physical senses give me important information about my surroundings that may be essential.  I try to allow time for reflection on both my rational and spiritual senses before making a decision to act.

Spirituality is a tool for solving problems, gaining insight into people and discerning the truth.  When the truth is obscured by pain and swirling emotions it can be helpful to consult the inner spirit for guidance.  The path to enlightenment requires honesty.  It may come after a period of reflection or vision questing.  I encourage you to courageously follow your intuition.  As Thoreau said, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”  Follow the music and find the truth.

Image Credit:  Flickr/Alice Popkorn

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Where I Come From

I'm a mother of eight in rural Texas.  I come from a family of six children and my husband comes from a family of eight children so we are in our element with eight of our own.  We started our family when we were just kids -- I was barely 22 when my oldest was born.  All aspects of adult life were new to me.  I had only started to explore myself as autonomous from my parents and the safe haven they created.  I look at my decision to marry and have a family as a leap of faith.  Sure I'd seen other people with successful families but I had no way to gauge my own ability to fly.  Now that I have been a mother for awhile, I can honestly say that at the time I had no idea what I was doing.  I wasn't prepared but I learned by doing.

My first child is a girl.  I came home from the hospital with her with some serious doubts about my ability to care for her.  This was no babysitting job.  My own mother was two hours away and unavailable to help me.  My husband knew no more than I did about taking care of babies.  God must have known something about me that I didn't know because he sent a precious little child into my life and said, "You go girl!"  Of course, at first, I was totally enamored with her perfect features in miniature.  Then she began to fuss and became seriously colicky.  She cried and threw up the milk in her tummy every day after 5 pm.  I didn't know anything about colic.  "Surely my baby was perfect!" I thought.  I waited to ask questions.  Eventually, another young mother suggested I try Mylicon drops which she had used with her baby.  These helped some.  Eventually my baby outgrew these symptoms and we kept going.  Life has a way of speeding up not slowing down.

Nine months later, I discovered I was expecting again.  This meant that my toddler who was barely ready to stand alone would soon be faced with a sibling to share me with.  It also meant that my identity as a woman was changing again.  As his birth approached I wrote, "I wish the best for you.  I will help you as much as I can.  You will be surprised at how different life on Earth is from the warm darkness of the womb."

Now I have eight children.  My youngest is less than a month old.  He is as precious and perfect as all the others were at birth.  In giving him life, I once again gave up my physical strength for a period of ten months.  I let my body do its thing while I ate and slept and put aside projects.  Every time I give a baby birth via my body, I give up my own will for a while.  It is my gift to God.

In losing myself, time after time in pregnancy, I have found a new self.  I have become a woman with more depth, more patience and more endurance.  I have lost some of my selfishness and a lot of my pride.  I have relinquished appearance, order and entertainment.  I have also given up things that matter -- together time with my children, marital harmony and opportunities to reconnect with my siblings.  These things I have to reassert as priorities in my life now that I'm past the pregnancy.

And the miracle is that I've reached this point in my life together with my husband and my children and I still have a sense of humor, a tender heart and a belief that God has a plan for me.