How to Practice Spirituality in Times When Religions Are Falling Apart.
I think there is no more urgent issue, apart from environmental issues, we face nowadays than the personal search for a meaningful spiritual practice.
We all naturally long for a connection with what the American philosopher William James calls the original religious experience, and what I prefer to call the original spiritual experience.
So what’s the difference?
In a sense they are the same, as we both refer to the original and personal experience of a connection with the Source. I prefer to avoid the word God, as it has a great deal of negative connotations for many people and is often associated with a judgmental father figure, which is, by the way, a complete fiction created by dogmatized religions to frighten and control people.
I do not want to throw names about here, but many religious philosophers talk about an original white hot experience with Divinity. This experience can often be completely spontaneous and difficult to repeat, yet can be wonderful and earth-shattering at the same time.
Because it can show us the complete artifice of what we have been told about the Source and about what makes our lives meaningful. The experience is often so powerful that it might ask us to completely change our lives or at least to change how we view our lives and consider what is truly important. It can provide a greater cosmic vision which can be sometimes difficult to hold and even more difficult to act upon.
Zen calls these spontaneous spiritual experiences our little satoris (a Japanese Buddhist term for awakenings, comprehension or understanding). But this gives us the true experience of our own glory and the glory of the larger Universe, from which, I believe, most organized religions try to separate us. Indeed, the more organized the given religion is, the more controlling it can be.
At other times, these awakenings can happen through formal initiation, as happened to me through the ritual of Shaktipat in the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism. My experience completely changed my life. It not only transformed me as a person, it changed my priorities as well. As a result, I became seriously confused.
I will share an example with you. I was brought up to believe that being a successful artist (a writer, in my case) was the peak of human experience. Now, this is not uncommon, especially in Europe, where achieving artistic success is valued higher than gaining financial success. I would call this cultural conditioning.
So, ironically, just as I was starting to gain recognition as a writer in English (which is not an easy thing to accomplish for someone who speaks English as her fourth language), I underwent a complete spiritual transformation. Suddenly, my earlier goal of being a famous writer did not seem so important.
This was especially painful, as all my friends at the time still believed that being an artist was the highest goal. Not only that, but a famous writer who was nurturing me and promoting me as a young writer back then also thought I had lost my mind.
So, as some spiritual teachers say, “The path is as long as your ignorance.”
What does this mean?
This means that the path is as long as our resistance to it. My resistance and my ignorance were very lengthy. Since I have always been a very ambitious person — both as a writer and as an academic — this proved to be a painful exercise for me for many years. That is, until I let it go and let the path unfold in front of me.
For those of us who have started on the path, I believe the most important question is: how do you practice spirituality when religions are falling apart?
This is not an easy question to answer. Traditional religions do, in my opinion, two things:
1. They preserve the teachings for us, albeit very often in a bastardized way, and give us a modicum of spiritual knowledge.
It is a scholarly fact that hardly any religious texts were written by original great souls. For example, the Bible was not written by Jesus, and was most likely written by the second generation of his followers, just like the Buddhist texts were not written by Buddha.
And in some instances when a tradition can claim its texts have been written by the original receiver of any revelation, these texts are then appropriated to suit the beliefs of the elite — this is what I call bastardization. Also, throughout the course of history, religious texts have been further edited, with more radical or inconvenient teachings removed.
We could debate whether this has been well-intentioned or not, but I would rather decide for myself what I am ready to read, rather than have authorities decide for me.
Having said that, being raised as a Catholic means I am grateful for the fact that, however imperfect and bastardized their approach was, they did give me a sense that there is a spiritual life to aspire to. This is something I will always be grateful for, as I have never doubted spiritual possibilities within our lives. This is a great gift.
2. They tightly control our spiritual experience.
In fact, they dogmatize it so much that, for me at least, there is nothing left but dogma. These religions have lost the original grace, the original spirit of the teachings. They have lost what in Hinduism is called Shakti — the beautiful sweet energy/experience of Spirit. This is what happens when you are obsessed with control — you lose the original beauty of your experience.
It is no different from love. Think about it: how beautiful is the experience of falling in love? But how quickly it is lost when we start controlling it!
So where do we go from here?
Rupert Sheldrake in his new book Sciences and Spiritual Practices talks about the ABC syndrome or Anything But Christianity that Westerners experience. This is so true. I have been through this as well. We look for the original spiritual experience that William James talks about in other religions which are more Shakti-ful, which give us tools to get in touch with an inner spiritual experience.
I can honestly say that my original spiritual experience came from Hinduism — through meditation, through chanting, and through the living tradition of a particular lineage of gurus.
I am also a great practitioner of pilgrimages. Not organized pilgrimages steeped in dogma but personal ones, ideally solo or with a small group of like-minded friends to places of great spiritual significance or places of great natural beauty, since I believe that Gaia is a spiritual entity too.
I have also, in the manner of a prodigal daughter, revisited Christian teachings — not those I was fed as a child, but those rejected by the organized Church. I am talking here about the so-called Gnostic writings, which were rejected by mainstream Christianity in the fourth century.
I am not an expert in the Gnostic stories but am much more attracted to their approach to spirituality, which is very modern and filled with Energy.
Like many Hindu teachings, they speak of looking within (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Mary Magdalene). They speak less of Jesus as a man but more of him as Christ consciousness. They honor the Divine Feminine in their stories of Sophia and their portrayal of Mary Magdalene.
So this is a journey, my friends, and I would not have it any other way.
All I can do is to encourage you to make this journey yourself, and as my friend Miguel Conner of Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio says, “Write your own gospel.”
And as all scriptures ultimately say: Look within, look within, look within. No dogma can substitute this.
I began my journey with yoga, then Kashmir Shavism, then the rejected Gospels. I love putting these things together and looking for commonalities between them. And I reject all labels. Especially religious labels. I belong to no club, but I do honor all and everyone on their journeys and I respect their journeys. Each and every journey is meaningful and priceless.
On this journey there are some great practices. Among them, I recommend:
- Meditation. You can use a mantra (one beautiful Goddess mantra, for example, is Om Shree Matre Namaha — I honor the Divine which lives within me — Matre being the Divine Feminine here) , you can use breathing techniques, you can use guided meditation as a good start, you can use synchronicity meditation to help you alter your brain waves to a more sublime level.
- I also love chanting. It is good to find a local chanting group and meet once a week. I love the ecstatic and uplifting aspect of it. Chanting can also can provide us with a community of like-minded people.
- If you can, travel to places of spiritual significance to any tradition, or places of natural beauty. Few things alter our states of consciousness like travel. I can recommend the World Weavers and the Monk for a Month programs that lead like-minded people on spiritual travels, with Nepal being the most popular destination.
- It is a good idea to set up a puja table for yourself where you can keep images and symbols of great spiritual teachers who inspire you. Each morning, I spend a few minutes in silence in front of my puja table and call upon the Energy (Goddess Shakti/Universal consciousness) to flow through me. It helps me face the often-maddening dance of everyday life.
- Journaling. I have no doubt this this is one of the most effective ways of getting in touch with your inner self.
- And look within, look within — there is so much more to life than we are told.
Dr. Joanna Kujawa is the author of ‘Journaling to Manifest the Lost Goddess in Your Life’ and ‘Jerusalem Diary: Searching for the Tomb and House of Jesus’, and many short stories, essays and academic pieces. She sees herself as a Spiritual Detective who asks difficult questions about spirituality, such as ‘Can spirituality and sexuality be experienced as one?’, ‘Who was the real Mary Magdalene?’, ‘How can we include eco-spirituality in our belief systems?’ and ‘How can we bring back the Divine Feminine to create a more balanced and interconnected world?’ Her goal is to create and participate in the shift in consciousness about spirituality, our connection to nature, and our place in the Universe. She has PhD from Monash University, and MA and BA from the University of Toronto. She is immoderately passionate about her Goddess News blog. You could connect with her via her website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.