July 28, 2011

Imagine: A Spiritual Manifesto.

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…


In the spirit of John Lennon:

I imagine there is another stage of spiritual growth that is possible.

It involves integrating science, spirituality and psychology in intelligent ways and using spiritual practices to more deeply embrace every aspect of our humanity and discover the sacred in ourselves, each other and the natural world.

It moves us beyond outdated beliefs and forms of spirituality that are about projecting the sacred into an otherworldly domain, or defending against facing the reality of our mortal vulnerability.

It celebrates wonder, beauty and love while honoring reason and evidence as powerful guides to truth.

It has undergone the existential initiation of radically accepting the reality of being human – and recasting spirituality in this light.

In so doing, it frees us up to find the sacred where we stand, to let go of unreasonable beliefs and own a spirituality that is congruent with what we now know about reality. It also allows us to turn and face what before we may have been hiding from behind our old spiritual ideas.

It resolves the apparent conflict between reason and spirituality, science and religion, by simply embracing what is true.

Glimpses of this next stage have been described by various poets and thinkers all along.

The Buddha:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

So, imagine that the next stage of spiritual life is a step beyond the religious faith, regressive magical thinking and psychologically defensive/distorting beliefs that usually identify what people call spirituality.

14th Century Indian mystic, Kabir:

I said to the wanting-creature inside me:

What is this river you want to cross?

There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.

Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or nesting?

There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.

There is no tow rope either, and no one to pull it.

There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!

And there is no body, and no mind!

Do you believe there is some place that will make the

soul less thirsty?

In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;

there you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully!

Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of

imaginary things,

and stand firm in that which you are.

Imagine that there is a place of radical self-inquiry, intellectual honesty and relationship to the magic that we already are, to the mystery that shines without adding any made up nonsense or believing in any unproven fantasy to try and manufacture something spiritual – when ironically we already are these remarkable, improbable magnificent creatures who live for a short while, suffer, love, flourish, create, deteriorate and die – and what if that is enough?

Contemporary Welsh poet David Whyte:

Enough. These few words are enough.

If not these words, this breath.

If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life

we have refused

again and again

until now.

Until now

Imagine that a serious study of mythology and depth psychology and the brain, endocrine and nervous system and the way that breath and movement and touch affect our state of being and the way things like yoga and meditation and psychotherapy and bodywork can enrich and enhance and deepen our relationship to the inner life had absolutely no need to be predicated upon and interwoven with metaphysical beliefs that in many ways demonstrably limit our capacity for intimate contact with the core vulnerability and magnificence of what it is to be a mortal, flawed, mysterious, ordinary human being on a planet floating through empty space, circumnavigating a sun that will one day explode..

Imagine that love and truly engaged aliveness were at the heart of what we are really seeking.

12th century mystic poet Rumi:

If you want what visible reality

can give, you’re an employee.

If you want the unseen world,

you’re not living your truth.

Both wishes are foolish,

but you’ll be forgiven for forgetting

that what you really want is

love’s confusing joy.

Unparalleled World Mythology scholar Joseph Campbell:

“I dont believe that people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

Imagine that ultimately there is no big “T” truth or meaning beyond what we discover for ourselves about the relationships between our personal struggles and epiphanies and what human beings have always gone through everywhere.

Imagine that the transcendent truth is that we all die and yet somehow humanity goes on (for the moment at least) that we all are convinced (as we should be) of our importance and uniqueness – and that yet this is the one thing that makes us just like everyone else that has ever lived.

Imagine accepting that science has rendered every superstitious belief about how the universe works obsolete and allow quaint religious literalist “faith” and self-serving magical thinking to be included as they should be in that category.


The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.

Imagine, however, that the magic of the real was in no way threatened by science – and in fact science was understood as the best way we have for exploring, grasping and celebrating the world around us – reason the best tool we have for exploring grasping and celebrating meaning and truth.

What if imagination and intuition and love and creativity and spiritual epiphany are healthiest, strongest and most effective when in deep relationship to scienctific method and rational interpretation?

What if that was the definition of integration at the higher stages of personal and collective development?

What if the magic of the real has to do with love and reason, mind and body, self and other, music and literature, painting and dance, acting and storytelling?

What if the very reason that life is sacred is because it is so fragile and at the end we die?

What if religion is a made-up story told by real people and the acceptance that the conventional god is dead leads to a spirituality of the real – a recognition of the sacred in an ongoing discovery of what is – nothing added nothing subtracted and nothing distorted or denied?

Imagine that spiritual practices like yoga and meditation were actually a doorway into finally discovering and accepting this reality and celebrating the brain, nervous system, endorphins and hormones and the symphony of balance, strength, proprioception, intuition, imagination, sensation and intellect that make up the human being without then postulating anything extra – because this is enough.

Breath-takingly, mind-blowingly, heart-breakingly – enough..

19th century American poet Walt Whitman:

Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from,

The scent of these armpits aroma finer than prayer,

This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds. If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body..

What if the deep seated human need to project sacredness outside of reality and believe in something that distorts the truth was the single biggest obstacle to authentic grown up spirituality and if accepting death, embracing suffering and the absence of magical solutions was the next doorway in as we penetrate the labyrinth of our own heroic journey?

More Campbell:

“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world. … The passage of the mythological hero may be over-ground, incidentally; fundamentally it is inward – into depths where obscure resistances are overcome, and long lost, forgotten powers are revivified, to be made available for the transfiguration of the world. … [Now] it appears that the perilous journey was a labor not of attainment but of reattainment, not discovery but rediscovery. The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time.”

Imagine that the life lived in curious self-inquiry, with a commitment to truth, beauty and goodness, to intellectual honesty and an embrace of the human condition was enough of a reason to meditate, to study, to express and share and love and there was no need for something else to fill the void, what if we meditated on that very void that we try and fill with metpahyical self-soothing and learned to tolerate it, to feel into it with curiosity, compassion and love.

What if that was real spiritual freedom – what if that is the real enlightenment?

Back to John Lennon:

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

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