You are not alone! Our skin-encapsulated ego gives us a biological sense of identity, but we would not exist or survive without other people, our food sources, or the entire biosystem. We are part of the biosphere. At a deeper level, we are also part of a great mystery – consciousness itself, and some traditions equate consciousness with God or Buddha-nature. Learn to feel the support of something much greater than yourself, life itself.
I am currently working on Part 4 of the Life Talent Book:
Part 1: Make the Most of What is Great About You
Part 2: Transform Your Inner Obstacles to Success and Happiness
Part 3: Action Trumps Everything
Part 4: Learn to feel the support of Life itself
Over the next few months I will be writing about how to feel the support of life itself, and today, I am going to offer you an overview of this topic:
1. Everyone senses the great mystery
We all sense our connection with something greater than ourselves, our connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.
Scientific research shows that spirituality increases well-being, resilience in the face of suffering and the likelihood of recovery from physical or mental illness. Spirituality reduces the likelihood of physical or mental illness and also our mortality (how soon we will die).
2. The importance of wonder
One easy way into this sense of connection is to spend time developing our wonder at life: the magnificence of nature, the universe, the people around us, and something so close to home that we hardly notice it, our own consciousness itself.
3. Wonder can be explored physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually
We can wonder at the temple of our bodies, and nature; we can explore the wonder of love and human connection; we can use our brains as scientists and wonder at the universe and evolution; and we can learn to attend mindfully to consciousness itself, discovering our non-dual connection with the whole life.
4. Meaning through how we face unavoidable suffering
Not only does spirituality give a deep experience of joy and wonder at life, but it is also the most powerful tool in helping us face, and deal with, unavoidable suffering.
5. Self Transcendence
So much of our lives are concerned with making the most of ourselves, and this is positive. We need healthy egos for healthy relationships to operate in the world effectively.
Yet we are part of something much greater. We are born and die in an instant of cosmic time and this is a painful thought. Yet if we start to identify with the whole that is much greater than ourselves, then we can live forever. We can experience our identity more fully as the cosmos itself, or more abstractly as existence itself, or with a divine power – the God that is everything, or as the biosphere – Mother Earth, which is in such trouble but is worth saving, especially when we identify with her rather than as separate from her. Prayer gives us a way of connecting with the larger whole. Meditation practice gives us the experience of awareness itself being infinite and containing everything. – In meditation we experience everything as one.
6. The Sacredness of the Natural World
Not only is the beauty of the natural world so soulfully inspiring and gives us an opening to the sacred, but we are clearly part of that system. – If Mother Earth dies or has chronic illness, we will suffer to.
I once helped look after an abandoned baby starling we called Squeaky. We built her a nest made with a circular pile of towels. Even from her earliest days, when she needed a shit, she would scamper up to the edge of the nest and aim her backside outwards, excreting on the table rather than in her nest. By burning excessive fossil fuels and other forms of pollution, we are shitting in our own nest. If we are one with everything, shouldn’t we look after the Earth’s body as if it were our own body?
7. Spirituality is experiential
It is our experience of “our connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred” that is important, not just theory or theology. We can use meditation, prayer, music, mindfulness, embodiment exercises such as yoga or Tai chi, walking in nature, loving kindness and other practices to develop our own embodied experience of the sacred.
8. Embodied spirituality
Descartes said “I think therefore I am” reinforcing a split between mind and body that is apparent in many spiritual traditions. Mind is “good” and body is animal. If we say “I am, therefore I think” we then need to find a spirituality that includes our physical biological nature, that includes emotion and sensuality. The goal is to be at peace with our experience living in a human body.
9. Find your own path
Less and less people want to follow the orthodoxies of conventional religions, and in a pluralistic world it is possible to follow your own intuitions and feelings about your place in the mystery of the universe. You can draw on any of the ancient traditions if you like, but you don’t have to be bound by them.
10. A model of spirituality
Buddhism offers a simple classification of spiritual practices that can be applied to any religion or spiritual practice:
Outer practice: seeing the divine as something external to yourself, or praying to an outer figure such as Jesus or Padmasambhava and seeing the outer world as sacred, for example, Mother Nature and also your loved ones and all the people of the world.
Inner practice: God is within you, and we can explore the sacredness that resides in our own bodies, including consciousness itself. In Buddhism consciousness is considered “Buddha-nature”, and since the body has millions of conscious nerve-endings, the body is a “Buddhafield”.
Non-dual: through meditation we can find a non-dual space in which we give up thoughts of “inner” and “outer” and see everything arising as consciousness. In this place, God is everything. Awareness itself is the divinity. Non-dual traditions can be found in Mindfulness, Buddhism, Advaita Hinduism, Mystical Islam, Contemplative Christianity and Non-dual Judaism, amongst others.
We can each develop a spirituality that mixes these three dimensions: outer practice, where we see the world as sacred and pray to our own version of a higher power. Inner practice, where we explore and discover our own divine nature. Non-dual practice, where we explore the nature of awareness itself by meditating on what Buddhism calls emptiness or spaciousness and Christianity calls “the cloud of unknowing”.