Spirituality in Common

Spirituality Beyond the 12 Steps (by Scot F.)  Owl_post_(logo)

“…[T]he values underlying the 12 Steps come straight from religion’s moral division between good and evil … Like most authoritarians, the [psychically divided] goodself seeks power under the presumption that ‘It knows best.’ …But … the 12 Steps do not eliminate one’s inner split … Any framework that does not take the division within people into account can never truly implement a cure, if by cure one means an integrated being who has self-trust, and thus is not susceptible to authoritarian manipulation.”  – Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad  (pp. 245-247, The Guru Papers:  Masks of Authoritarian Power)

The Conscious Path to Your Own Understanding of … Spirituality?

“Spirituality:  The Conscious Path” was the original title of this article for agnostics and other secularists coming anonymously from a 12-step recovery perspective.

But to be fair, many of us who once participated in the freely available 12-step gestalt conclude that 12-step programs no longer fit organizationally as we evolve spiritually over the decades of our lives. And yet, I number myself among those who found an expansion of constructive spiritual experience that met me where I was at the time, decades ago, something worth sharing with others as a potential stage in the process toward human wholeness.

Worth sharing because, although spirituality exists innately whether or not you’re fully conscious, you don’t need to be in a 12-step program to use the experiential tools of the spiritual toolkit that helped many of us get as far as we’ve already moved — toward more expansively creative and caring consciousness as an internally integrated human being.

Whether or not you access it, spirituality is your potential for conscious experience available, on your own terms, without financial cost, just because you’re alive.

Does it make sense in making life decisions to prefer reason to irrationality, fact to fantasy?  Sure.  Yet our imagination, perception, communication and consciousness connects us to one another, as well as to all levels of our own being, and this is what for lack of a better term we call “spirituality.”  Ground it in the latest available science and objective consensus you can get, of course. Unlike the claimed immutable answers to questions of meaning and purpose posited by various religious doctrines, your spirituality grows and changes as you do.

You may like the term “spirituality” and the acronym, SBNR (spiritual but not religious).  Or not.  Any of us can get caught up in language that divides people on details instead of uniting for common interest.  More reason to agree to disagree on nomenclature.

Commit to the conversation, even if we agree to disagree, and we can move one another to the consciousness of expansive thought and caring action which, by any other name, would work the same.

Yet it sounds like a tall order, everybody’s spirituality equally available, aggregating to a giant collective consciousness where we’re all alone in this together on a vast continuum of life, neither side of the scale of individual and collective existence being a sole truth, motivating us to seek balance not only in ourselves but between and among every one of us.

The tall order is a run-on sentence, not a sound bite.

Also too much to ask when your spiritual toolkit is empty.

No wonder we drank.  Or we misused relationships. Or we overate compulsively for comfort.  Or we actualized a countless array of other “addictive” behaviors, sometimes mixing and blending on a smorgasbord of options to mask circumstances without facing reality.

“We” — the pronoun of social relations — also begins the 12 steps. And “we” suggests the truth that as social beings, humans need contact for sustainability and sanity.

Also together, we can raise our voices and progress consciously when organized religious belief becomes a deal-breaker to the open-minded social relations vital to being fully human.  We can detach with compassion from the zealotry of those who evangelize for their dogmatic understanding of “God” in their programming.   We don’t let the rigidity of their religious beliefs deter us from having our next free thought and taking our next best action.

Thankfully no religious belief about “God” was ever a requirement for human authenticity.  Waking up consciously, you stop running from yourself.  You begin to be present to what’s in front of you.  Instead of sidelining consciousness in the haze of chemical fantasy or other addictive behavior, instead of papering over the ungrieved places, you start expansively facing life on life’s terms.

Exercising spirituality, instead of swallowing theology invented by others, you have good reasons not to trust the origin stories of organized religions as truth instead of metaphor.  Take, for instance, the matter of scriptural claims.  From Mediterranean Basin texts of ancient language lacking capitalization and questionably translated into English by religious hierarchies, the word “Spirit” could as easily have been designated “breath.”

The word “Holy” as “whole.”

The word “church” as spiritual “power” to the people.

These are not things organized religion typically teaches as it quells questions about its arrogated authority.

You don’t have to trust me (exegetical research sources exist online and in tangible libraries), but agnostics and other secularists usually do, and there’s a growing consensus among the SBNR.

From shared awareness of the facts and history that religion typically does not teach, objection against religious authoritarianism occurs.  From there, we can shift past rebellion to individual autonomy in caring community with others.  This doesn’t depend on our calling it “spiritual” or anything else.  What counts is that we take the action motivated by our consciousness.

So What, Really, Is Spirituality Beyond Asking Good Questions?

Instead of trying to define spirituality, which in the search for authenticity can mean anything to anybody as long as consciousness is involved, what about another question?

Too many people, too few lifeboats:  A law of the universe or not?

Re-set the question to stretch the time-space continuum in honor of every reader who in the past has indulged one too many.  Provide a famous purveyor of libations in a glamorous yet tragic past historical setting preferably made into a blockbuster movie decades later.   (Replace booze with double-frosted chocolate cake behind the bakery glass in an urban café setting before a random terrorist attack, if you prefer, for this question about your spiritual heroism.)

The basic re-set question:  Would you, if a passenger on the Titanic when the iceberg hit in 1912, run for a possibly leaky lifeboat or seek a good stiff drink in the ship’s bar?

On a sinking ship, lifeboats are never a sure thing. The Titanic’s corporate owner (bastard!) skimped on the number of lifeboats in 1912.

As a consequence, which you surmise as the imagined participant in this question, nearly half the passengers will go down with the sinking ship in a clawing scramble for survival. Nothing but undrinkable salt water will slip through their frozen fingers.

In the re-set back to 1912, you make a split decision to skip the chaos and drown your anger (masking grief) over the inadequacy of lifeboats.  It’s certainly what I would have done decades ago back in the two-fisted drinking days, so let me join you in this picture.

Like me, you lubricate at the bar, with no panic, no distress, no offer to care deeply for one another in the last moments of existential angst, no grieving the loss to our shared humanity. Bring on the boilermakers, while supplies last, double whiskey shots with beer chasers. With liquored-up laughs until the very end, drowning fury at a “God” who’d let the masses drown, I’d join you in rejecting S.O.S. (Spirituality Or Something), and not even try to save our ship.

But that was then, and now we’d make more conscious choices.  We might have the serenity, courage and wisdom to join forces with the rescue effort, soothe someone’s suffering, and make it out of there alive ourselves.

We might in some measure of balance go forward after the shipwreck to enjoy the process of life’s flow, as well as the exercise of our own agency, at least when we’re not trying so damn hard to answer every question.

The Toolkit for S.O.S. (Spirituality Or Something)

As an agnostic or other secularist, you may relate to my learning curve.  I’d rejected organized religion as an adult for academic reasons and learned in the gap that I could drink most people under the table.  Or, alternatively, stress-eat a chocolate cake.  Or ____________:  fill in the blank.

What an accomplishment to have a hollow leg for liquor.  Somehow the jokes always sounded better.  What isn’t so funny is that we all share some version of the story of how organized religion failed us.  My version is that the superficial piety of Southern Baptist grandparents, plus a rebellious hard-drinking father who sent me to Roman Catholic school seemingly to spite the Baptists, offered competing views of two faith traditions common among those who find their way to 12-step recovery.  My story also includes a whispered and shunned pantheism of great-grandparental forebears in one quadrant of the family who were Native Americans (Bird Clan, Cherokee Tribe).

The three-punch religious upbringing left my spiritual toolkit bereft of anything but confusion, hypocrisy, conflicting unlivable ideals, controlling platitudes, unworkable images of domineering leaders and self-sacrificial congregants.  Also childhood fantasies of my own rebellion.

And yet, organized religious indoctrination hadn’t been all bad, with glimmers of beauty when, for example, Sister Richard Lawrence ignited my love of the world’s literature. (She’d taken the name of her brother who died heroically and, in turn, she heroically filled the academic hunger of students in her class.)   Today I consider this the good Sister’s spirituality blazing past her religious limitations.

Also because childhood programming runs deep, or because I like the archetype of the sacred feminine in counterweight to the cultural prevalence of deified “Him”, on occasion I say a modified, truncated version of the “Hail Mary”:  “Full of grace, all Love is with Thee … pray for Us.”  This, like anything that might be considered a spiritual form of prayer, not in blind faith or from a religious belief system I no longer adopt, but with a big dash of honoring the Mystery greater than myself.  In short, not taking myself too seriously in such a vast and mysteriously changing cosmos.

Maybe supposed results of prayer are always random, circumstantial, irrelevant to the prayers themselves, I reason.  A cosmic plea might not really shift the quantum field or constructively move the surrounding energy.  Maybe scientifically there’s nothing to the equivocal research about nonlocal consciousness, premonitory dreams, morphic resonance, plants that thrive and waters that clear when exposed to compassionate thought instead of enmity.  Maybe prayer just makes me feel better (which is itself a good result).

Merely giving voice to simple invocation  —  “how about a break”  and “we could use some help here”  —  puts the handles of spiritual power on a tool of S.O.S. prayer  useful at least for self-soothing (as in “if you worry, why pray, if you pray, why worry”).

Not taking myself too seriously while praying has served as the first tool in my spirituality toolkit.

Thankfully I could use this tool in a way that fit with experimentation.  People decades ago in “we” 12-step programs encouraged me to conduct my own trials and see if some force of synchronicity, some energy of benevolence, some greater good, might on occasion even if not reliably be accessible to S.O.S. practice.  Spirituality Or Something.  Whatever it was, I learned by trial and error, Something helped.

From the beginning of S.O.S. applied post-religion in adulthood, I didn’t need to define it, I couldn’t buy it, I could only keep it by giving it away, and I only needed overall to persist. On my own terms, I could opt in, take two steps forward, then one back, in a dance of “question everything and explore.”  And you could do the same, on your own terms.  What happened for us was nothing like organized religion but instead, individually and collectively we tended to feel more alive and more authentic, truer to ourselves, like decades of layered plaster had cracked and fallen off.

Together in our own time we provided safe social support for facing directly and grieving the loss of the complex socio-religious mirage pressed into our minds from earliest childhood.

Learning how to grieve the failed promises of organized religion, and in turn how to grieve losses in general, thus became the second tool in my new toolkit.

Meditation — including an imagined or real connection and willingness to accept anything good that was greater than myself — fell in place as the third tool in my spiritual toolkit.

In spiritual experimentation it was okay to try Zen koans, Advaita mindfulness, constructive inner dialog, breathing practice, that thing Jim B. called “loafer meditation,” or on any given day not to meditate at all beyond an effort to be conscious in my relationships with others.

With no deity required, no definition desired, only what would heal and help us, meditation was comforting beyond measure.  Most of us wish and hope for people to be kind, not cruel, creative not destructive, balanced in love of self and those around us.  In other words, healed and helped.  Meditation provided the process for learning to access this energy of healing and helpful calm within any storm.   (The vast cosmos continued to keep me from taking myself, or anybody else for that matter, too seriously.)

Gratitude, the fourth tool in the toolkit, for everything, the good with the bad, because it’s all at least an opportunity to learn and grow.  Every day on this side of the ground is a good day. If not, I can grieve a loss and start the day over any time I want.  And use the other tools. Plus laugh about having a non-religious G.O.D. (Good Overarching, or Overall, or Orderly, Direction), also known as inner guidance, saner than my own own E.G.O. (Edging “G.O.D.” Out).  Nobody’s religion required.

In this evolving cosmological crucible of spiritual acronyms, mystical moments of emotional rearrangement may occur, but mainly I found “G.O.D.” in the healing and helpful direction shared in the company of others, giving it away so we can all have it.

If we are spiritual beings having a human experience, if for our journey and in the end love wins, then our touchstone is that we can laugh at ourselves about what we know as well as what we don’t.  We can keep adding to our toolkit as we keep living.  We can accept that some days are better than others.  And that nobody has all the answers.

On one of the better days, as somebody — we’re not entirely sure who, e.g., http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/maya-angelou-and-the-internets-stamp-of-approval) — said:

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” – Some Famous Person


Mindful Christians (7 C’s including the Cosmic Christ)

  • Mindful Christians: 7 C’s (Caring, Change, Connection, Cosmic Christ, Courage, Creativity)Hand of God
  • Read or reprint a page about  butterflies, open flora, caring, change (cycles of living, dying and life going on …):  Click to Mindful Christians Text and Photo.
  • When you feel alive in wonder at the glories of nature, when you still want to sing some of the classic hymns to lull yourself to sleep after a day of inspiration (“Spirit of the living God …”), but being in church leaves you cold:  Call yourself a Mindful Christian.  Beyond the book (paper pope), beyond the hierarchy (human pope or other head honcho), into your own experience as a Mindful Christian.
  • No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Keep Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother, in your own understanding as makes sense to you  for your culture, your awareness and your experience.  Live!  Never backward, only onward.
  • Where were you born, where have you been, what has your life been bringing forth?  Born in Corpus Christi (TX) with many years spent in Los Angeles, I choose the destiny of being a Mindful Christian, meditating as well as praying each day, integrating all facets of what’s within me to bring forth.  What’s your destiny?
  • Life’s always changing and destiny is never a straight line, yet we each have meaning and value (even the worst of us can model what not to do, and the best of us can show the way).
  • We deserve the chance to grow into our better natures, to take things both seriously and lightly, in paradox of purpose and pleasure.
  • Mindful Christians unite!  (Like herding cats, but you get the idea.)

Mighty to Save

For the multicultural seeker, here in straightforward words and music, from international Hillsong  and Josh Houston.

What’s In a Name?  (Musing after Easter) 

Faith adherents and non-believers alike call up religious names.  California contains Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) with coastline saints like Santa Monica (pictured)Image, San Francisco and San Diego, topped by the capitol Sacramento (for the sacrament of Eucharist).   A timely name with the passing of Easter.

Mention Los Angeles, California and Corpus Christi, Texas, and you invoke angels in translation and the literal body of Christ for diversely populated hometowns that are also beach vacation destinations.   Cities provide famous reminders of our search for the sacred.

To celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, nobody need travel to the West Bank because  Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Pennsylvania also have their Bethlehems.  Biblical inspiration provides mailing addresses from Mt. Zion, Georgia to Beulah, Colorado and Damascus, Oregon.

The U.S. is not alone.  Religious names abound globally, from Christchurch, New Zealand to the nation of El Salvador (The Savior).  The Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Pagan and other religious traditions lent their language to places here and there.  Tel Aviv in modern Israel historically harkens back to the scriptural prophet Ezekiel.  Other examples of religious place names are Makkah al-Mukarramah (the Holy City of Mecca) in today’s Saudi Arabia, Mahakali (the Goddess Kali Ma) in contemporary Nepal, and Stone Henge in England.

Combined these places receive a fraction of the traffic that daily flows through Los Angeles, Corpus Christi and the Bethlehems, yet they still pinpoint the global fascination with religious naming.  While formal religion may not be in our DNA, spirituality is.  We simply cannot live in this world without spiritually motivated imprint to our linguistic consciousness.   In all times we evoke the greater power behind the names of wherever we live and move and have our being.  Name it whatever you want, timeless love remains real.   We want to believe.   Name  the Infinite whatever you want, God meets that desire wherever we are.

Owl Post signage from the realm of Harry Potter (YA blockbuster books and films)

Owl Post signage from the realm of Harry Potter (YA blockbuster books and films)

With the Christmas celebrations at Hogwarts and the iconic clash of good and evil in the Harry Potter tales, nothing but wise owls would do for delivering important messages.

Before traditional herbal healers (aka witches) were horrifically targeted by insanely normal churchmen during the real-world witch hunts (approximately 1480 to 1750 A.D.), the “craft” had a good following and the word “witch” came from the root words for wit and wisdom. Used for good, to help others, witchcraft of the type Harry Potter practiced had an ancient history that foreshadowed the healing care and other good works of Jesus. Small wonder some thought it mere magic as had been foreshadowed instead of the supernatural dispensation of the Holy Spirit.

When we pay attention to what has captured the YA imagination, we see updated renderings of the same story Jesus embodied as Incarnate Word, bringing light into the dark spots of humanity’s heart, uplifting mere sport into vocation.

Jesus also promised, in the less frequently taught version of the Sermon on the Mount (see Luke’s Gospel), that those who’ve mourned would laugh. This is the “be happy” beatitude.

Funny —- when we laugh to keep from crying — how Christianity excised a sense of humor so many times in so many eras and forget to take the Savior at His humorous and compassionate word.

YA fiction like the Harry Potter saga can bring us back to the resurrected themes of Jesus and authentic goodness that a Churchianity He (The One  of God Who Must be Named) never intended nearly buried.

Four Owls, that’s right, four heart faces, backgrounds as dark in contrast as the light around my darkened mestizo face. Spiritual growth = darkness turned to good in the light of Christ aka the Anointing Freely Given to All Without Exception (Emergent Christianity and Beyond, Way Beyond).

Barn OwlBarn OwlScot Four Owls

Barn OwlBarn Owl