What Is Spirituality?
Today Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber did their first audio internet-based seminar—bringing the much loved Guru and Pandit dialogues from EnlightenNext magazine live into homes around the world. (There were over 600 who signed up for the seminar, hailing from all over the globe—including New Zealand, Dubai, India, and China.) These two pioneering thinkers worked seamlessly together to open up our understanding of Spirit in the four quadrants of Integral Theory, as the three faces of God, from the ground of Being to the creative thrust of Eros, and across the evolutionary trajectory. It was quite a ride!
One of the points that Ken made at the end of the day really struck me. He said that mainstream liberals (those folks who are reviled by the Right for highjacking our media, among other dastardly deeds) make no distinctions about anything that is pointing beyond the material realm. That means that they paint with the same brush (and, trust me, in a dark color) fundamentalism, more contemporary expressions of the religions, and the transrational expressions of spirit. All of it is seen as flakey, misguided, and…well, not to be too Biblical, but almost downright evil. Ken observed that the fact that materialism is the metaphysics of the majority—and that they do not have the perceptual sensitivity to recognize the subtler dimensions of Being—means that the mouthpieces of our culture dismiss higher levels of development as the same as lower, more rigid and superstitious levels.
Ken’s comments made me think about the effect this has had on postmodern spirituality. It’s something that we on the magazine have thought about quite a bit, from many different angles. But I found myself thinking about how many of us postmoderns (those of us born in and after the 1960s) have brought materialism into our search for spirit. We couldn’t help it—we’ve been conditioned to value only that which we can experience with our senses, see with our eyes. In fact, many seem to think that being “spiritual” means feeling calm or at peace or experiencing compassion or wanting to do service. Or that it is about the positive emotions: spirituality is about feeling good and not thinking too hard (or at all). It’s the opposite of the kind of hardnosed rationality that emerged during modernity. Within a postmodern secular culture, spirituality is a personal realm of self-satisfaction that makes one feel expansive and generous—all of which makes one feel good about oneself.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. And the great spiritual heroes and sheroes of times past have transmitted a joy in life, a deep confidence, a ringing stillness, and an often fierce compassion. But that all is a byproduct of their surrender to Spirit, the inner depth that has no limit; it is not Spirit itself. You could say that those are the human qualities, the expression in manifestation, of Spirit–but it can’t just be slapped onto the personality and be authentic. In today’s seminar, Andrew kept bringing our attention back, over and over again, to consciousness, the ground of all Being, which is Spirit. How many of us have gone deep enough to discover the living presence of No-thing (which is the perfect opposite of materialism that only values things)? That, Andrew suggested, is the first step. The recognition that the deepest part of the “I” is THAT which existed before time began and grounds all of existence and is not just an individual psychological realm. Taking seriously what this means—the hole it punches in the materialist position and our belief in the primacy of our separate sense of self—opens a space in the Kosmos for real spiritual development to take off.