This article isn’t intended to be an academic piece on the evolution of spirituality or the history of humanism.
I’d like to set the expectation that readers won’t have to worry about 12th century Renaissance Humanism quotes or name dropping of dead guys from the Middle Ages.
If you’re reading this article, then like myself, you’ve probably gone knee-deep into the spiritual path of your birth, whether that path was more secular or religious. And if you’ve found yourself even more curious, then a dab of mysticism, path-working, and stints of other spiritual and philosophical traditions are probably listed on your soul’s resume as well.
That’s my life in a nutshell. Like everyone else, even as a teacher, we’re still practicing the art of teaching. In order to be a halfway decent spiritual teacher, we’ve got to at least explore what it means to be human. Because, after all, those of us that are teachers are teachers of the human experience to other humans.
This article is really about recognizing spirituality for what it really is: an exploration of the human experience. To side step that and chase after a “transcendent reality” would be to knock the whole purpose of this experience that we call “human” in the first place.
We don’t need anything else to make us more spiritual. I’ve discovered that our goal is to become more fully human.
Religious and spiritual systems all over the world were created by us in order to understand both the world we live in and the “otherworldliness” that seems to invade our lives. The big debate centers on whether this experience steps into life from the outside, or if it comes from within life to meet and greet the outside.
We have to take into account that some of us doubt that there is anything “out there” or “in there” at all. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take the spiritual and religious systems that address these questions seriously—we just shouldn’t take them too literally.
The facts speak for themselves, meaning that a deep excavation of the history of those systems will pretty much reveal the shocking truth: none of us have the answers. Humanists tell us that maybe we don’t need these systems at all.
In a nutshell, we’ve been playing an endless Q&A game with ourselves. As we’ve evolved, so have our questions, but the cycle still continues. In fact, we need to continue to talk about these things because they are essential to our life on the planet.
For me, just as the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other major organs of the body function together as a whole, spiritual, humanistic, philosophical, and secular traditions from both eastern and western cultures function as major parts of our collective soul. So yes, if they were created for us by us in order to help us, then we are what we have been looking for. If that is the case then yes, “God” or “Being” is where I am.
Our definitions of it are fuzzy, fluid, and maybe even wrong on occasion, but that’s only because when we try to name or contain this experience, we limit it and ostracize someone else’s experience. At the end of the day, the only experience we can account for is our own experience.
This transcendent quality is found in the depths of our life living. It’s only mysterious and often times invisible from us because maybe we’re looking in the wrong place. In my experience, I’ve found that what I was looking for “out there” was “in there”, within my own heart and in my life all along. To be honest, spiritual traditions did prevent me from discovering this because they sucked me into their vast rules, standards and requirements. But, all of that “stuff” helped me because it woke up that investigative part of my soul which made me ask questions.
The nature of those questions and answers led me to where I am today: free.
We avoid other humans in order to find God or a spiritual experience, when in fact the very experience we are looking for is found in the human life. At the depth of our humanity is the threshold of what we call “God”, which is a metaphor for the beating, pulsating, raw, edgy, bloody experience of life. Try that one as your definition of God and see if your life doesn’t change!
As you can see from this article, when I searched for “God” I found myself—my own soul.
While I was searching for spirituality I found myself becoming more and more humanistic. Is there such a thing as humanistic spirituality? I’m not sure if that label will stick but I kind of like it. Maybe it will resonate with you.
One thing is for certain: my explorations gave me freedom to live life and live it more abundantly. Shouldn’t that experience represent the core and purpose of the spiritual experience anyway? Jesus thought so—maybe he was a humanist too? After all, he said, “The kingdom of God is within us.”
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Assistant Editor: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Cat Beekmans
Photo: elephant journal archives