Excerpt from the Introduction to Spirit, Time, and The Future
Towards A Definition of Spirit, and Spiritual Experiences:
As a part of this book, and as a working definition that runs throughout all my considerations and explanations, I have summarized the traditional and the emerging understandings of the Spirit in these words:
First, Spirit initiates and creates. She is that vital and visceral, animating energy or cellular presence that activates and sustains our human consciousness: From the moment of our first breath or inspiration to the moment of our last expiration, She graciously accompanies us along a continuum of life experiences, all through our lives that we live just one breath at a time.
Second, Spirit conspires and informs. While able to function alone, Spirit completes its purpose and its divine intent when she teaches us to conspire— when consciousness is shared as one breath among people. Spirit acts prophetically as the shared source of their community, their covenant, and their commitment to one another. Spirit then functions as the animating and sustaining source of commonly held ideals and feelings, missions, and motives. Spirit, understood in this way, becomes the wellspring for our deeper ethical impulses. She can be seen as actively accompanying any movement toward significant change or towards a necessary social transformation.
Wisdom originates in Spirit, and is, at its heart, relational. Spirit as the source for wisdom becomes the advocate and companion to justice, dignity, and self-worth. Spirit asks us to seek and then apply our insights and our concerns in community. By doing so, wisdom becomes alive. She encourages us to participate together, and to act wholeheartedly in a gracious conspiracy!
I contend that there has never been a successful socially freeing or progressive movement of any depth or lasting impact without such a commonly held, actively shared spiritually centered agreement. Whether you cite Schweitzer, Gandhi, King, or any successful radical reformer whose influence created meaningful social change, each of these great ideas and social revolutions has had a clear spiritual sense of mission and an inspired vision that sustained, preserved, consoled, and uplifted them.
Lastly, Spirit empathizes. It is from our active acknowledgment of grace within our lives that we are moved by gratitude to act unselfishly. She motivates us to ask about justice and then to firmly seek the common good; to promote ecological responsibility, to ensure humane interactions, and to preserve human dignity. She asks us to conspire to heal our culture, and then to assist each other in the task of redeeming any personal injuries and inequalities. Such courageous compassion is Spirit filled. She can be seen as directing the energies of health and wholeness, justice and mercy, and wherever humanity is at its best. Spirit, when active as well as omnipresent, flows through all authentic forms of social reform and holistic healing.
Soul is not Spirit. Soul can be best defined as the entirety of our being. Following the traditional Christian teachings on the eternal Soul, and in a general alignment with certain Eastern concepts such as reincarnation, the human soul is the only part of us that is deathless. Soul is trans-migratory; that is, our soul contains the eternal spark or the enduring consciousness that travels with us to or that accompanies us from lifetime to lifetime. Therefore,
The Soul is our timeless connection and our eternal participation
within the allness of God.
Many of us were erroneously taught to passively adopt or repeatedly believe that the soul was somewhere located inside our bodies- usually thought to be housed either in one’ heart or brain. At best, these are pleasant metaphors or poetic reference points. Instead, the reality of life is that our bodies are inside our souls! 7
Additionally, the soul is the sum total of all our sensory-motor input, and contains all its cellular correspondences and connections to health and well-being. Soul, as I was taught by various spiritual masters, is also our Higher Self, or our whole selves. It is our ” container” — place where all of our experiences, the conscious and the unconscious, the past and the present, are stored. 8
Soul manifests itself as a result of all of our learning, as the result of our social conditioning and our cultural programming. Soul reveals the depth of our psychological insights, and the extent of our metaphysical comprehension. Soul contains all our survival mechanisms, our interaction skills, our ability to understand and then to adapt to life’s blessings and demands. (Maybe this realization is what is behind the commonly used phrases ” He is a good soul” or ” is an old soul?” Soul, then, is to be acknowledged and understood as the container of consciousness, the sum total of our awareness. Therefore, in both a visceral, organic way as well as in an ethical and religious way, whatever you do to your body or whatever you do with your body, you also do with your soul! As the entirety of our awareness, both individually and collectively, the soul is synonymous with all the depths and dimensions of consciousness. Within the soul we store when and how we think, express, create, and love. In short, contained within our souls is the way we reason, how we relate, and how we totally respond to life itself.
Spirit, as the vital energy of God, she animates, activates, and enlightens the individual soul. As Spirit, she can be known and experienced as the collective source of archetypal energies that can direct human life and culture. From the prerogatives of the Spirit, the personal soul is informed and inspired. From the ethical imperatives of Spirit, the development of our soul’ awareness is challenged and disciplined. In an ultimate and intimate way, Spirit directs us towards the necessary reduction of the ego and towards an increase in wisdom and compassion.
It is there, in that earnest search for purpose and meaning, that we discover the Spirit’ depths and the soul’ dimensions. Each time we listen to the Spirit, we can continue our steps in our search for connection, giving meaning to our innermost feelings and deepest intentions. We can conclude that Spirit gives our souls their refined direction, their best intentions, and will gracefully guide the fulfillment of our life’ highest purpose.
In my experience, it has been particularly keen when we engage our souls in what the Orthodox mystics call perichoresis. 9 This exercise is for our conscious awareness. This walk around our hearts is taken by our willingness to carefully and compassionately examine our motives for behavior, etc. When we are acting out of such deepening awareness, we are acting spiritually. From this practice, we learn how to possess an open, expectant, and courageous heart, and we give evidence of having an active compassionate soul. Such spiritual growth is not for the fainthearted. This inner search, this walk around, examines all the tragedies and glories, heartbreak and exhilaration, all the despair and ecstasy we have experienced. I know this personally, and have benefited highly from this practice.
Additionally, I feel privileged when someone comes to me for spiritual direction or guidance. In those sessions, Spirit compels us to discern together what might be missing or lacking or incomplete, and what directions the Spirit could move us toward for restoration, healing, and peace. It also impels or teaches us to guard our ethical awareness and to celebrate the good of our lives by never postponing joy. Spiritual awareness is the heartfelt invitation to integrity, to wholeness, and to a more complete sense of love.
Lastly, we arrive at trying to define spiritual experiences. Remember, this whole realm of spirituality has little formal connection to either theology or religion. In fact, it is one of the principal reasons why people describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.
All through church history, East and West, it has been the unsettling and pesky spiritual types, (prophets, mystics, artists, and healers) who would regularly antagonize the status quo, and challenge all the accustomed practices of the dominant religious culture. These questioners and creative types would upset those who needed order or who found their comfort, their sense of control, and their contentment by obediently following all the rules. However, Spirit compels us to follow our inner directives, and not to try to hide safely behind restrictive doctrines nor become distracted by too many outside, worldly obligations.
The mystic and the prophet are not often welcomed or made to feel at home in institutional religious groups or churches. Rarely do they comprise the majority of people who attend religious services. The imperatives of the mystic, the artist, the prophet, and the healer, etc., have a sharp and sometimes unrelenting focus on individual responsibility for acting on their spiritual beliefs and their ethical commitments. Because of many consequences that can come from taking spirituality so seriously, it is a vocational call most of us will decline to answer.
Next, it is important to ask the questions of discernment. What distinguishes the spiritual from the usual or the ordinary? (If this distinction is useful for you and from some perspectives it is not) From my studies and as an attempt to summarize what I have found to be useful so far, a spiritual experience has to contain one or more of these feelings or experiences:
First, the experience must take you outside of yourself, past or beyond your ordinary awareness, beyond your usual or comfortable ego boundaries. (A definition of ecstasy?) It often involves us in taking a risk in the face of uncertainty, and has an emotional quality that asks us to be vulnerable, open, and willing.
Second, for something to be spiritual, it has to create or provide a greater sense of bonding or belonging— a gracious connection, a quality of relationship that differs from others that you have previously experienced.
Third, for something to be considered spiritual, it needs to provide you with feelings of unity or immersion — To become one with Nature, the Universe, God— and that can be something blissful or something that is deeply disconcerting. These events and experiences are what lead you beyond the ordinary or the fearfully ego bound to a new level of perception; It is clearly a change that is meaningful, and often becomes compelling, transcendent, and lasting in its effects.
Concerning time, there are varieties of spiritual experience can be ever so brief, even a once- in- a- lifetime event! When and where, or under what circumstances they occur, no one can actually predict. While it is true that you can work diligently and conscientiously to make yourself more open, willing or receptive through various spiritual exercises, demanding disciplines, or other such esoteric practices- even trying through drugs and deprivations- any or all of those efforts do not or will not guarantee that such ” experiences” will occur!
Spiritual in-breakings are often synchronistic; they can appear to be whimsical and gracious, gut-wrenching and revelatory. What they cannot be is neatly outlined or conveniently scheduled! Just because you feel that it is not the right time for you, doesn’t mean it is not the true or the right time for some experience of the Spirit to manifest in your life! Because the Spirit has her own timetable, She follows her own calendar of the heart, and more often than not, will arrive unbidden or unannounced!
Sometimes, these experiences come to us through a dream or as some sort of ESP experience. They can arrive during an intense time of caring, or of tenderness, such as when you find or lose someone special or someone who has been close to you: a cherished relative, a transformative lover, a dear friend, a beloved pet. With such a spiritual experience can come feelings of deep connection; it can be found when you look at your child, take in a sunset, or when you hear a particular strain of music that moves you deeply. In the process of this open hearted beholding, we can arrive at all that can be beautiful, contemplative, peaceful, and serene.
Some of these inspirational times and experiences have been historically preserved or have been translated into shared rituals for a culture or a community. They are often best recalled in and through common worship, which would include such mind- and heart-altering practices as singing, dancing, chanting, praying, energy healing, and so on. The expression of the Spirit is something that any open religious or authentic spiritual community needs to allow, design for, and respectfully recall as a vital part of their times together.
In writing this book, I have no illusions as to my work being unusual or extraordinary. I fully realize that some will read my words and be provoked, while others will read them and feel some degree of inspiration. What I trust is that my words will add positively to an expanding dialogue on the Spirit that was either lost, overlooked, shunned, or that now stand out as needing greater development.