Category Archives: Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR)

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

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