“I’m spiritual, not religious.”
Sure you are.
It’s really strange when someone declares themselves to be a “spiritual person.” For one, the statement doesn’t actually mean anything. It says nothing about who that person is, what that person does, or how that person perceives the world.
Two, I don’t think we should be allowed to declare that we are spiritual. It’s like telling someone how humble we are—it’s a performative contradiction.
Modern spirituality loses its practicality and usefulness when we get caught up in spiritual materialism, or the spiritual ego.
If we have ever gone to a spiritual workshop or a meditation retreat, I’m sure we’ve had a run-in or two with this type of person. This is the “I’m more spiritual than you, but don’t worry you’ll get there someday” person. Or the “My chakras are in complete alignment, but it’s okay—not everyone can be this spiritual” person. Or the classic “Alan Watts was wrong—you’ll understand one day” person. That’s my favorite.
I think the problem with all of this, other than being unimaginably annoying, is that it gives the everyday person a completely jaded idea of what spirituality is truly about. For people already on the path of self-inquiry and soul work, the spiritual ego offers a false sense of superiority that takes away from the true essence of spiritual practice. It’s bad, all around.
Being a spiritual person is not about how long you can meditate or how sturdy your downward dog is. It’s about how we cultivate ourselves as human beings and what we take from our practice that helps us live more fulfilled lives. It’s all very personal, having everything to do with our unique relationship with the world and with ourselves.
Spiritual work is not a competition, as the spiritual ego would have us believe; rather, it’s learning how to put to rest the competition that’s happening within ourselves. It is about stepping into what we actually are, in the depths of our being, instead of endlessly pursuing some kind of cultivated self-image.
Spirituality is about stepping out of the mind and moving into the consciousness of the body. (And just so we’re on the same page, I know I’ve used the words spiritual or spirituality 17 times already, and I’m not happy about it.)
But I believe the essence of spirituality (hehe) is gratitude—simple, easy, and clear. When we are grateful for what we have, rather than being bitter about what we don’t have, we are living in the present moment.
I’m not talking about gratitude as a concept either; I am talking about actually being grateful—for every breath, every taste, every touch. This is gratitude as a living experience, something that is happening in the active present. Not gratitude toward the idea of this thing or that thing; that’s just mind stuff.
Gratitude is also not about playing games of, “I am the most grateful person alive,” or, “I am 20 times as grateful as you.” No, no, no. There is a near infinite amount of ways that our ego can attach itself to the inner work that we’re doing, and we need to be sensitive and mindful to avoid this trend. “I am so mindful of my ego.” No, you’re not—just pay attention.
The more attention we pay to what’s happening within ourselves, the less likely we are to be possessed by the tricks of the spiritual ego, and the less we’ll need to affirm how spiritual or grateful we are to other people.
I find that when I am truly paying attention, connected with the present moment and in touch with my inner self, gratitude is the natural feeling that comes. Life is actually a really beautiful thing, and when we are in tune with life instead of being lost in the endless labyrinth of our thoughts, we tend to be thankful for that beauty—the joy as well as the sorrow. It’s the ego that gets bitter. What we truly are in the depths of our being—beneath the mind, beneath form, beneath pleasure, beneath personality—is pure consciousness in complete accordance with the flow of the universe. We are the thing that doesn’t feel bitterness.
Maybe this sounds a little new agey to you, but I really don’t think it is. When we pay attention, simply observing what is, the energy that comes up is Good with a capital G. It’s goodness. It’s love. It’s gratitude. It’s rapture.
Then we think, “Well this is wonderful—let me hold onto it.” And that is the voice of the little “me,” the isolated sense of self who lives in a perpetual state of lack and is always trying to steal the beauty of life for itself, but never succeeds. It’s all here. It’s always been here, and if we can stay present long enough to recognize it—that purity of being that the Star Wars films call “The Force”—then we can live a truly healthy life.
That’s what we all want, right? To live well. To feel good. To be happy enough to get through the day. To feel that life has enough meaning to justify the suffering that comes along with it. This is every person’s birthright. This is the destiny of the human adventure.
Don’t buy the pseudo-spiritual nonsense—it’s just another scam. Instead, find ways to be grateful for what life provides and is always providing. A good test of our spiritual practice is to see if what we’re doing is making us more grateful than not. If it is, keep going. If it’s not, trying something else.
Because true gratitude is the secret to moving beyond spiritual materialism.
Keep feeling what you’re feeling, soul fam!
Introduction to Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Crazy Wisdom Buddhist guru; founder of Naropa, Shambhala, Vajradhatu)
Author: Samuel Kronen
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina