I recently joined a book club in Vienna and when we got to discussing the books we enjoyed I mentioned that I had enjoyed learning about spirituality. To my horror when they asked me to elaborate on what exactly is spirituality I was unable to provide a coherent answer. I could have said simply “something bigger than ourselves” but instead I rambled on about what leads to the feeling of spirituality, differences between spirituality and religion as well as the feeling of “awe” commonly associated with spiritual episodes such as when you walk into a church, when the meditation bell ring, when you see a perfect hat above a volcano or while staring at giggling to yourself at the back of a shop in Amsterdam. In order to have a more coherent answer next time I am asked I decided to dive deeper into what spirituality is and write about it. There are three avenues to spirituality: religion, meditation and psychedelics. At a surface level these might seem very different but let me explain how they all center around love. Because really, love is the greatest thing and its natural that love would be something that make us feel small.
I have never truly loved god, any god. My spiritual experience through religion comes from visiting churches all over the world and feeling the love that others have for god. I have been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and kneeled at the sit where Jesus supposably rested. The site did not have significance to me, but I was in awe at the idea that all the stories I had heard about JC growing up might actually have some backing. I mean, where there is a rock, there must have been a man, at least some version of him. I have also felt the awe associated with the Wailing Wall, that one is not even my religion but I felt a sense of awe just from the level of devotion I saw there. Seriously, if you want to feel spiritual, just go to Jeruselem and walk around, the place is magical. I am also fascinated by the architecture of churches. Centuries of innovation have led many of them to give you an immediate feeling of awe when you walk through the doors. They are purposely designed to be grand in order to make you feel small and show you that there is a powerful force in the universe. Spirituality in religion can also be felt through the practices of those religion. Many rituals and songs that have stayed relevant over the ages are those that naturally slow the rate of breath leading to a relaxed, spiritual state of selflessness and love. While religious practices can help you feel more spiritual and part of a strong community, they require you to believe in that religion and can seperate you from people who do not share your faith. It is possible to reach spirituality without religion by way of meditation.
Meditation tends to be associated with Buddhism as it is a central pillar of that religion but one can have a deep meditative practice without ever reading a Buddhist teaching. All you need is time, practice and dedication. Meditation is very much a “you get what you put in” kind of practice. Some people just close their eyes, start breathing six breaths a minute and feel spiritual. The rest of us mere mortals need a little more help but not necessarily a god you just need to breathe slower or focus on good things. If you can’t get there by just focusing on your breath, don’t worry, I usually can’t either. There are a number of ways you can enhance your practice such as singing mantras, appreciating your blessings, or visualizing positive experiences.
For further reading please see:
- Outgrowing God – Richard Dawkins
- The Five Levels of Attachment – Miguel Ruiz Jr.
- Mythos – Steven Fry
- Waking up – Sam Harris
- The Practicing Mind – Thomas M. Sterner
- How to Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan
- The Craving Mind – Judson Brewer
- What I Believe – Bertrand Russel
Alternatively, by visualizing/ reflecting on the positive aspects of your life or practicing loving kindness you can supercharge your meditative practice. I have used this technique at times when I am feeling lonely or isolated. By visualizing being with my girlfriend at times when we are apart I have felt closer to her and felt less lonely. I have also jumped down the rabbit whole of gratitude and kept thinking of more things to be grateful for because of the euphoria it was giving me. Taking the time to learn this practice can be very beneficial for decreasing negative emotions as they teach you to notice them as they come up and start influencing you. The downside of meditation as your medium to feel spiritual is that it is probably the hardest path to spirituality. You are in complete control control which means that you need to find the time to meditate and must be willing to put the effort into it if you want the benefits. Alternatively, you could just get high.
Before I go too deep into how drugs can help you be more spiritual I want to start this one with a disclosure. I am not recommending you get high. While it can grant you instant access to spirituality, it comes at a cost. It can also drag you down into a dark abyss that will leave you more miserable than you can imagine. When it’s good, it’s really good but when it’s bad, it’s really bad. The “high” I am talking about here can be attained by the consumption of either psychedelic mushrooms or marajuana. Both can make you feel spiritual, but in different ways. What they can both do is make you feel love for everything and everyone you have ever known but the effect is fragile and short lived. There can be an “afterglow” effect after the influence of the drug wears off but even that is typically gone within a month. So, while using drugs is the easiest way to get in touch with your spiritual side, the potential downside might not be worth the risk for you. The best way to use this backstage pass to the spiritual realm is as an enhancement to your regular meditative practice. It can be easier to go deeper into a meditation when your neurons are firering at random and the realizations made during these drug fueled meditations can carry over to deepen your regular practice.
In conclusion, there are three paths leading the way to spirituality. All three methods have their pros and cons which I have outline as best I can above. However, for me, the central path of meditation is the best path to take. Delving too deep into religious texts can cause you to reject some aspects of reality. Meanwhile, taking mind altering drugs can cause you to loose touch with reality altogether. We all have something capable of giving us a feeling of awe in our life and we can use that feeling to grow together. At the end of the day, the central dogma of spirituality is love, a love of self, a love of others, a love of beauty, and a love of love. All three of these paths can lead there and you can choose the one that best suits you best, it doesn’t have to be just one. The most important thing is that you make a path and follow it even when it gets hard. The greatest joy is found just on the other side of the greatest hardship, in order to get there you need to persevere and I know you can do it. Just keep going, you are almost there.