In one of my first doctoral classes in East-West psychology some years ago, we were asked for our definitions of spirituality. The question was met with plenty of ceiling staring and throat clearing. A few of us ventured an answer, hoping to give the impression that we knew how to approach questions such as this. I had a sense that most of us thought we were spiritual or at least knew someone who was, but to define it? Well, it’s, you know, spirituality. The most interesting answer came from a Japanese student. He said, “I don’t know what you mean by the question. There is no word for “spirituality” in Japanese. It is not a thing. It’s everything.”
It reminded me of Tibetan meditation teacher Chogyam Trungpa’s term “spiritual materialism,” the practice of “acquiring” spiritual wisdom and practices that ultimately do nothing but serve the ego. In our very acquisitive culture, we try to go out and get some spirituality as if it were a commodity to buy, something that will save us from the trials and challenges that come from living a human life. I have heard clients say to me, “I feel like I have no time to work on my spirituality. I’m just too busy.” Working on spirituality is like having to moonlight, taking on a second job. I think what these clients are saying is that they have no time for practices like meditation or prayer or yoga. Or maybe they are saying, “If I were spiritual, I would not be so stressed by what I have to do to just get through the day. Maybe I would take more time to be and not feel as compelled to do.” Whatever the meaning of their desire, the desire stems from the thinking that being spiritual is different from being human. There is the rub.
I have spent many years grappling with the conflicting needs I have. For example, how can I have a livelihood that provides money and as well as meaning? How can I reconcile the fact that I have a part of me that wants to be generous and compassionate towards others while there is another part of me that wants to avoid people and situations that bother me? How do I reconcile the fact that in spite of my best efforts not to be judgmental and emotionally reactive, I fall short of that most of the time?
There were periods (actually many years) when I tried to cram myself into being a “spiritual” person: someone who was patient, above the fray, contained, disciplined with my words, thoughts and feelings. I wanted to be a good person and live according to my own ideals of how I thought I should be. When I ran aground in a relationship or lost a job or failed in some significant way, I would try to overlook my hurt or anger because they were not the right feelings to have. I would say to myself, “It’s all maya (illusion). It doesn’t matter.” I went spiritual. It’s a little like going postal or maybe worse. Some would call this “spiritual bypassing,” trying to get around my unprocessed unconscious material – my anger, fear, righteousness and other goodies that tripped me up when I was trying to be so spiritual.
In the middle of one of these episodes, I was introduced to the Enneagram. The Enneagram is an elegant system that continues to show me what gets in the way of relaxing into the goodness and grace of my life. It made me look at my personality, my emotional patterns that distort my perception of reality, patterns that were set in place years ago, lodged in the dark recesses of my subconscious, yet replaying themselves ad infinitum, always leading me away from happiness and peace. This information has been a godsend and a way back to my humanness. Instead of bemoaning my human flaws, I began to see them as a path, a path that begins exactly where I am, not where I think I should be. I can relax.
I have become a great fan of humanness. It is a complex and messy thing when we get right down to it. Buddha said life is suffering and we suffer because we misperceive, we desire to be anywhere but here. I do my best as I work with clients to hold their feet to the fire, to have them not go spiritual on me. We end up laughing a lot together. Not because I tell jokes, but for me, laughter is the spontaneous response to being truthful and finding ourselves right smack in the middle of our humanness.
I am not sure any of us need to be more spiritual – just more human. I am not sure our deepest desire is to be more happy, but to be more whole. Wholeness is accepting my “shadow” side as much as accepting my “light” side. I don’t have to build a firewall in my psyche keeping spiritual things on one side and human things on the other. I think this striving for wholeness is a path in itself. How do all the parts fit together in one whole? What is the field, the energy between all these moving parts?
And how would I define spirituality today? Well, first it is not trying to be someone I am not. It is living in my very human life but from a more expanded perspective. The “I” that I am is not all there is to life and not all there is to me. Words can’t really describe this, but I do feel it when I open to life and feel connected to something larger than myself. It is a feeling I get when I sit down to a meal with my partner, my family or my friends and I know that the pleasure of the moment comes from having lived well that day and knowing that these moments of perfection come not from what I was able to make happen but from being a part of the larger story, the larger fabric of life, me as a spiritual being have a wonderfully human experience.
Frank De Luca teaches classes and facilitates study groups on the Enneagram. He also sees therapy clients in Carmel and San Francisco and offers classes on other topics. On September 12, from 9am to 5pm, he will be facilitating an Introduction to the Enneagram Workshop in Carmel, CA. Cost is $95. See more at http://www.arichlife.com
or contact Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org