Sunday 17 November 2019

Everyday spirituality

You don't need to be sitting cross-legged to truly expand your spirit

Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

A friend of mine recently described a concert he attended as a "religious experience" so intense that he burst into tears during the finale.

The singer wasn't delivering a sermon, yet the epiphanies came thick and fast for my friend during her performance. "I know what I need to do now," he told me afterwards. And before you ask, he isn't having a nervous breakdown...

Isn't it strange how we allow a person to have a breakthrough during a yoga retreat, a satsang or any event that is especially designed for self-inquiry, yet we raise an eyebrow when a profound revelation occurs during everyday life?

We seem to think that enlightenment requires sacred temples, mononymous gurus and esoteric rituals. An epiphany can't occur at a concert that lasted three hours and cost €22.50. That would be much too easy.

I've fallen into this trap myself. Every now and again I allow myself to believe that I'll become a bona fide Spiritual Person just as soon as I read A Course in Miracles and learn the Ashtanga yoga opening chant.

Then I wake up and remember that the most peaceful people I know have no truck with ceremonies, rites and rituals. They've found the kingdom within without searching outside of themselves.

I've met a lot of 'seekers' over the years: people who have ticked off the obligatory 10-day silent vipasanna retreat in the same spirit that a gap-year student takes on South East Asia. They have embraced the Hugging Saint and read the Bhagavad Gita yet, for the most part, they are no more peaceful than those who have found contentment in the everyday.

They've devoted their lives to the pursuit of enlightenment but they are no more spiritually advanced than the surfer who has tuned into the wisdom of the ocean or the farmer who has harmonised with the cycles of nature.

The commodification of spirituality has led us to believe that we will only become spiritually minded when we sit with a guru, book a yoga retreat or start a course in transcendental meditation. We think of spirituality as something that we'll get around to just as soon as we find the time and the money for an ayahuasca ceremony in the Amazon.

This tick-box approach to spirituality can lead to a phenomenon known as 'spiritual bypassing', which is what happens when we use spiritual practices to avoid dealing with our pain.

According to psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters, aspects of spiritual bypassing include "exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one's negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being". In simpler terms, it can make a person become a bit of an arse.

Spiritual bypassing can also make us underestimate the spiritual components of people who haven't read The Power of Now, just as it can make us overlook the epiphanies that occur when we're not sitting in a cross-legged position.

The truth is that our spirit only expands as far as we're willing to open it. And while some people need the props of incense and crystals to aid the process, others can access inner peace through the simple, everyday practices of modern life. Here are just a few of them:

PLAY MUSIC - Partaking in a sound bath of gongs, singing bowls and chimes is a powerful experience, but nothing compares to the soul-stretching feeling of playing an instrument yourself. Pianist James Rhodes puts it best at the beginning of How to Play the Piano: "Learning a musical instrument can unlock the door to a new dimension that many of us have forgotten even exists," he writes. "If listening to music is soothing for the soul then playing music is achieving enlightenment."

CONNECT WITH NATURE - Some people think they have to find a teacher or guru to guide them along the spiritual path. Others believe nature is the best teacher of all. The great outdoors can give people the serenity that they've been searching for through advanced spiritual practices, so before you go looking for a guru or a deity, give Mother Nature a go first.

CONNECT WITH ANIMALS - Do a Shamanic meditation to discover your spirit animal by all means. However, you'll probably discover that the ceremony is no more powerful than playing fetch with your dog for 20 minutes. "Until one has loved an animal a part of one's soul remains unawakened," wrote the late Anatole France. Pets are good for the soul, and their spiritual purpose should not be underestimated.

EXPLORE SILENCE - Silent meditation retreats have become increasingly popular in recent years. The real challenge, however, is bringing silence into the everyday. Can you potter about the house without the background noise of the radio or TV? Can you wait at a bus stop without your earphones in?

EMBRACE SOLITUDE - We tend to have a romanticised view of solitude and its role in spiritual development. We think of the artist in the cabin in the woods, or the monastic monk in the beehive hut. We're less inclined to think of the person who has left a little bit of space in his life for quiet, uninterrupted reflection. The solo spiritual journeyman is a nice idea but we can also tap into the joys of solitude with an unaccompanied walk or a table for one. Solitude is indeed a spiritual practice but we don't have to be alone for too long to receive its benefits.

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