Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Varieties of Spiritual Experience


Even from when I was very young, I always felt I had a sort of instinctual spirituality. My zealously religious mother drilled into me the existence of The One God. At night she read chapters of the Mosaic Law to put me to sleep. (There's an insomnia cure if I've ever heard one!)

It was easy to merge this indoctrination with my own natural spirituality as a child. I considered the two to be one in the same. It wasn't until my teen years, when my own sense of right and wrong started to rub against Biblical teaching, that I noticed anything was amiss. Still, I clung to my childhood teachings. At first, I separated "the church" from my sense of "god". But even that fell away, and more recently I have felt my own individual spirit soar, no longer tied to the doctrine of well-meaning, but hopelessly misunderstanding ancestors.

It is hard to explain what I mean by natural spirituality. It is a feeling of being connected to more than just your biological self. Some, I think, have a greater capacity for this experience than others, in the same way that some of us are better chefs or runners or drawers. Trying to fit this natural sense of spirit into Christianity only stifled it.

Any time I tried to express my ideas to someone "experienced" in the church, I received the sympathetic nod of "How cute" and "You have no idea what you're talking about". Of course I already knew that I knew what I was talking about. What I learned from them was that they had very little to teach me. They did very little thinking and spiritual feeling/experiencing themselves. Even the most "experienced" of church folk could do little more than point to chapter and verse to answer my quest-tions.

So, I left: spiritually, mentally and physically. It was scary at first to think that there was no spiritual light for me to look towards if I got lost. But there was yet another spiritual truth for me to discover, a golden nugget of truth:
The man who is ceaselessly questioning, who has no authority  who does not follow any tradition, any book or teacher, becomes a light unto himself. -J. Krishnamurti
And so I did. I became a light to myself. Not that I put myself up as some kind of authority. Not that I think I don't need anyone or that I'm better than anyone else. I greatly value the experience of others willing to share their experience (not their "knowledge" of the "truth", specifically "god's" truth from the Bible). I can decide for myself what is true or not about each experience.

The thing is, when I was seeped in religion, I was always seeking, but never really finding. Always repenting for sin, but never really feeling like I had arrived. Now, that I have let go of religion, I realize that I had everything I needed all along. Ironic. The search was over. There was never a need to search for what I already had.
[This] is all that matters -- your life, yourself, your pettiness, your shallowness, your brutality, your violence, your greed, your ambition, your daily agony and endless sorrow -- that is what you have to understand and nobody on earth or in heaven is going to save you from it but yourself. -J. Krishnamurti
(I realize this is only one spiritual experience and the title implies a "variety". This was more for the literary reference than to capture the effective content of the article. And thanks to William James for the borrowed title and spiritual insights.)