Given the choice between having to discuss my sex life and having to discuss my spiritual beliefs, I’d choose the former every time. Not because doing so would be comfortable; I’m a fairly private person despite the blogging, not at all sanguine about sharing my kinks. What happens in Vegas and all that. No, I’d pick the sex option because discussing religion and spirituality makes me uncomfortable down to my bones.
Part of the problem is that much of my feelings about spirituality are just that, feelings. It’s hard to put amorphous emotional reactions into words. I get defensive trying.
It would be easier, I think, if I were allied to a specific religious or spiritual practice. I would have a dogma I could trot out when questioned. It would be easier too if I was extremely well-educated about the topic. I’m not, however. Religious education light. I know a little bit of this and a little bit of that. A phrase that somewhat accurately describes my spiritual beliefs and practices. I am an eclectic consumer.
I’m uncomfortable sharing my beliefs about God and spirituality. I worry that something so dear and intrinsic will be rejected as ridiculous and pretentious because it’s self-made. To be honest, my philosophy is kind of a mess, cobbled together with religious, spirituals, and ethical ideas that feel like a good fit. But it’s mine and I don’t want to be mocked because I’m not doing spirituality the “right” way.
Is there one right way? Many would say yes but I tend to disagree. I think that underneath the bits and pieces that have been added by this person and that throughout history, primarily to further self-interest, nearly all religions are of a type.
Why do we pursue spirituality? Why do we seek out religion? Even atheists are pursuing religion in a manner of speaking; they fulfill their spiritual needs by believing in a philosophy of rejection. Because apparently, a spiritual life of some kind is necessary to our existence. Psychologists have concluded that a spiritual practice is required not only for a rich life but for a healthy brain. We are biologically hardwired for religious pursuits. Even active rejection feeds the psyche.
For me, one of the most important components of my spiritual practice beyond my connection to God is fluidity. The system has to allow for growth, situational attunement, analysis. I think static and dogmatic practices are problematic. People become stale and set. They become concrete. They lose important values such as understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. And for me, these emotional states are part of the core of my spirituality. A practice that allows for their rejection on any grounds isn’t really much of one, in my opinion.
Flexibility in matters of spirituality and religion is logical when you think about it. God is an incredibly difficult thing to understand. Thinking about God is like trying to comprehend the universe or infinity. Sometimes we get glimpse of the truth but the totality is beyond our comprehension. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on it. And, as we do, as our understanding increases in scope and complexity, our practice should correspondingly evolve.
My practices are pretty fluid. I am adapting and refining and changing them all the time. As mentioned, hey come from a variety of traditions. I have no issue with mixing things up. Take a sentence from this text and a practice from that one. I have core beliefs, of course. I don’t believe one should be fluid with the basics. But the list of basic requirements is shockingly small and it’s consistent across most religious beliefs and practices, no matter how twisted and corrupted things get in the execution.
Be a good person.
That’s it. We complicate it immensely.
It’s funny when you think about it. When you think about all the pages and texts and books and articles and analyses that exist for every religious practice ever. There are rules and strictures and exhortations and admonishments. Eat this, don’t eat that. Wear this, don’t wear that. Think this, don’t think that. I bet if you printed all the rules and traditions from all the religions on a piece of paper it would stretch for miles. And yet, most of them are irrelevant. It can all be summed up with four simple words.
Be a good person.
Of course, you have to define those words. You have to have an understanding of what “good” is and although it too can be a flexible concept, there is an underlying fundamentality that most if not all would agree on if pressed.
For myself, I would define it in two ways. The first comes from pagan traditions, is reiterated by doctors all the time, and is simply another, more precise way of saying be good: “do no harm”.
“An’ it harm none.” This pagan precept covers a lot of things. It covers our relationships with ourselves, with family, and with friends. It informs our actions. It helps us to tread lightly on the earth. It doesn’t, however, provide an affirmative plan of personal action. For that, for myself, I find I’m increasingly drawn to the vision of good presented by the Stoics and Buddhists.
For the former, to be a good person meant to live a virtuous life. And a virtuous life is well-defined in the philosophical texts. Basically, be wise, courageous, temperate, and just. These exhortations are further defined as well. Important too in Stoicism is remembering that you are in control of almost nothing; some of your thoughts and actions and that’s all. Make them count. Be a good person. Harm none.
For the latter, from what I understand from my initial readings, the good is found in the pursuit of Dharma, which is the nature of reality regarded as a universal truth taught by the Buddha.
The goal of my spirituality is two-fold: make me a better person here and bring me closer to God. Which, at least according to my understanding of spiritual matters, is really all that God wants. To have everyone acting like good people and not causing damage with our actions.
We get caught up in the minutiae of religion and spirituality sometimes. From the Christian tradition, I have an affection for the Gospel of Thomas. The doctrine isn’t recognized by all Christians; however, I like what it has to say. God is not in the churches. God is not in the buildings, in the hierarchy, in the man-made rules. God is people. God is nature. God is the universe. God is in what you do.
God is in the details. You don’t need anything between you and god. I don’t need a church. I don’t know that God needs churches or temples or mosques either. Good came come of these groups and gatherings too, of course. People can do a lot of good with their various congregations. They can cause harm as well. But congregations are not required. They’re not necessary for a relationship with God.
People forget I think, at times, that we really can’t know with any certainty what God thinks, wants, or feels. All we can do is try to live our best lives based on the overarching message that is present in almost every religion and spiritual tradition: be a good person and do no harm.
Are you a good person?