I believe in ‘spirituality’ in the sense that it is a psychological perspective. In other words, I do not believe in the ‘spirituality’ which encompasses an objective or existent ‘other-world’ inhabited by sentient spirits.
When most people think of ‘spirituality’, they assume things such as speaking to the dead, or being possessed by spirits, or coming into contact with God. This is largely a result of the Judeo-Christian influence on our western world, which teaches of spirits and angels and the objective existence of non-human entities that live in different dimensions.
However, this is definitely not the kind of ‘spirituality’ I am referring to. Mostly because, as anyone familiar with my work can attest – I am mostly an atheist.
There are other types of ‘spirituality’ which are professed by shamans and spiritual gurus – another group of individuals who, like Christians, expound ideas that I believe to be false or largely imaginative.
Sam Harris, a contemporary philosopher whom I greatly respect, has said that ‘spirituality’ is a psychological phenomenon – one does not need to be religious to follow it or study it.
For almost all religions, spirituality involves some form of altered consciousness. That is my primary concern – the altered states of consciousness. I am interested in the different states that exist within the human mind and how one can achieve them. Obviously, drugs are a great way to do this, but it should be noted that many monks and gurus have had similar states of consciousness without using drugs. Ram Dass, for example, went to India and gave a group of ascetics LSD – he reported that the monks acted normally and that they had experienced these types of visions and thought-processes before. However, while drugs are certainly a good starting point, I feel that one must also try to obtain this altered state without the use of drugs – namely, on their own will and practice.
Spirituality also aims to ‘recover the original shape of man’. In his book Waking Up, Sam Harris writes that’s ‘people of every faith, and of none, have had the same sorts of spiritual experiences. While these states of mind are usually interpreted through the lens of one or another religious doctrine, we know that this is a mistake. Nothing that a Christian, a Muslim, and a Hindu can experience – self-transcending love, ecstasy, bliss, inner light – constitutes evidence in support of their traditional beliefs, because their beliefs are logically incompatible with one another. A deeper principle must be at work.”
In other words, Mr. Harris has noted that spirituality exists as different types of mental states – the problem is that these states are often described by fitting it into a religious dogma for the sake of the religion. However this does not mean that these different states do not exist – rather it simply means that the state was interpreted in a religious way.
Mr. Harris also notes that many altered states of consciousness expounded by Hindu and Buddhist methods require no faith at all in an external, separate entity or spirit. Many of the eastern methods of spirituality rely on a personal, internal will and introspection – not on praying to spirts or submitting to some God (cough cough Abrahamic religions).
Spirituality has, for the most part, been a central tenet of mankind. Even the most primitive of people had some sort of spiritual belief system, and simply because one is an atheist does not mean that one cannot learn a thing or two by studying ‘spiritual’ belief systems.
As mentioned above, many Hindu and Buddhist spiritual techniques do not rely on faith and are thus accessible to anyone.
So, when I speak of spirituality, I mean it in a non-supernatural way – indeed, I mean it in a natural way. Spirituality to me is simply a psychological quest – a journey into the reaches of the mind and what it is capable of. For me, everything spiritual is connected to something personal – something mental – something that is residing in ones psyche.
Since my primary focus and teachings revolve around self-discovery and self-knowledge, it would be a mistake of me to disregard spirituality as merely ‘religious mumbo-jumbo’.
I have an interest in spirituality for the same reason that I have an interest in the occult – not because I believe it can unlock doors to a supernatural other-world, but because it can take one to different realms of their mind and experience things that are not present in ones typical day-to-day consciousness.