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Spirituality For Dummies¨

By Sharon Janis


Excerpt from Chapter 1
Spirituality Defined

In This Chapter

bulletExploring the meaning of spirituality
bulletUncovering the essence of spirituality and how it relates to organized religion
bulletContemplating that amazing, remarkable, wondrous God
bulletPreparing yourself for all of the great benefits of spirituality

 


The study of spirituality goes deeply into the heart of every matter and extends far beyond the physical world of matter. Spirituality connects you with the profoundly powerful and divine force that's present in this universe. Whether you're looking for worldly success, inner peace, or supreme enlightenment, no knowledge can propel you to achieve your goals and provide as effective a plan for living as does spiritual knowledge.

 
bulletNo financial or societal stature helps you get ahead in life as much as spiritual wisdom.

bulletNo amount of outer effort bears as much fruit as understanding and flowing with the spiritual laws of this universe.

bulletNone of the powerful people you know can "connect" you like the power of knowing your own self.
bulletNo friend can love and guide you as much as that truly best friend who exists behind all friends, behind all enemies, and in your very own soul.

In this chapter, I provide background information about spirituality and introduce spiritual ideas and theories that have the potential to immediately begin transforming your life for the better.



Spirituality: The Basic Premise

Spirituality is a unique topic to explore. After all, the very nature of spirituality is that it reaches beyond common material substances and therefore can't be properly captured or fully expressed in words and form. Yet because the spiritual essence already exists inside of you, hearing the right words just may trigger your own awakening into higher perception.

Perhaps the best way to discuss a spiritual approach to the world is to contrast it with a more common materialistic approach.
bulletThe materialistic approach: The materialistic approach relies primarily on empirical evidence provided by the five senses -- what can literally be seen, heard, tasted, touched, or smelled. This approach depends on the outer appearances of things to decide how and what to think and feel about them. A materialistic person fixes whatever may be wrong or out of place in his or her world by moving things around and effecting outer changes.
bulletThe spiritual approach: In contrast, the spiritual way is to see beyond mere outer appearances and the five senses to an intuitive perception of the causes behind outer conditions. Someone with a spiritual approach may change and uplift their world by first transforming and improving his or her own vision.

bulletEfforts that include the spiritual approach can be especially powerful, because the spiritual laws of this universe connect your personal vision with the world around you in ways you may not have even imagined. (More on this in Chapter 16.)

The lion cub who thought he was a goat

While walking through the forest one day, a young lion cub became separated from his mother. Lost and hungry, the cub came upon a family of goats who took him in and brought him up as one of their own. Within a few months, the little cub even began to bleat like the other goats, though he never did quite get it right.

One day, the goats were dining in a grassy field, when a lion happened by. All of the young goats went to hide behind the trees, just in case the lion was looking for lunchmeat. The big lion had already had his meal, but was surprised to see a young lion cub running off to hide with the goats. He went over to the cub and asked, "What are you doing here with these goats?"

The cub eyed the lion nervously, and replied, "These are my goat brothers and sisters, sir, and I am also a goat."

The older lion realized there was a problem here. "What on earth makes you think you're a goat?"

This question confused the cub. Couldn't this lion see he was a goat? Nobody had ever questioned his goatness before. The cub became suspicious. Maybe this lion was planning to get him involved in some dubious scheme. "Please, just let us be," implored the cub, "Everything is just fine here with us goats."

However, the lion couldn't bear to let this poor cub live on in such delusion. After all, he was the king of the forest, not a lowly goat. "Come with me," the lion said, leading the cub to a nearby stream. "Look into the waters and see your true nature."

The cub walked up to the water's edge. He had drunk from these waters many times before, but had never bothered to look at his reflection before breaking the water's surface. As he peered into the waters, the cub saw his own majestic face and began to roar with amazement and joy.

This is a great analogy for the predicament most people are in. Not realizing their true identity, many base their self-image on the opinions of others. In Parts II and III of this book, I show you powerful spiritual practices and principles to help still the waters of life and prepare you to see your own majestic face, perhaps for the first time.


Listen to the track called "Something Turned Me Around" to hear the Agape International Choir singing about the elation of remembering your spiritual nature.

One of the great gifts of spiritual knowledge is that it realigns your sense of self to something you may not have even ever imagined was within you. Spirituality says that even if you think you're limited and small, it simply isn't so. You're greater and more powerful than you have ever imagined. A great and divine light exists inside of you. This same light is also in everyone you know and in everyone you will ever know in the future. You may think you're limited to just your physical body and state of affairs -- including your gender, race, family, job, and status in life -- but spirituality comes in and says "there is more than this."

Notice that spirit sounds similar to words like inspire and expire. This is especially appropriate because when you're are filled with spiritual energy, you feel great inspiration, and when the spiritual life force leaves your body, your time on this earth expires. These are two of the main themes of the spiritual journey:
bulletAllowing yourself to be filled with inspiration, which also translates into love, joy, wisdom, peacefulness, and service.

bulletRemembering that an inevitable expiration awaits to take you away from the very circumstances you may think are so very important right now.

Opening up to a spiritual view of life

An important practice in spirituality is to question what you really believe and to then apply those contemplations to your life. Here are a few questions to consider right now:

 
What if this world is a school for the soul, a place of learning and growth?

What if the experiences most people label as "bad" end up being some of the most precious transformational tools you ever encounter?

What if true wealth is measured very differently than how the IRS would have you believe?

What if the most important action you can perform in this life is to expand your own awareness into the highest realms?

 


Making a best guess in life

Okay, I'll admit right off the bat that no one knows really -- completely or accurately -- why we're on this earth or what this whole game of life is all about. All anybody can do is to make a best guess. Will you choose to spend your time and energy on acquiring more money, power, beauty, love, admiration, success, a nice house, good family, and devoted friends? These are all fine ambitions, but I propose that adding spiritual efforts to the mix is also an especially good guess. Spirituality has an importance beyond all these worldly achievements. It reaches into the depths of creation, into a part of your soul that's much greater than just your body or temporary circumstances.

One of the main teachings of spirituality is to look within and find what you seek within yourself. The external world is ephemeral, temporary, and ever changing; in fact, your body will die one day, sweeping all those worldly accoutrements away like a mere pile of dust. Your inner realm, on the other hand, is timeless, eternal, and deeply profound.

What does "spirituality" mean?

The words spirit, spiritual, and spirituality originally referred to breath and wind and first appeared in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, respectively. This means that these terms weren't even around during the indeterminable antiquity when many world religions were formed. Nevertheless, other words have been available in cultures and traditions throughout the world and the ages to refer to aspects of what is now called spirituality and spiritual energy. Some of these words include Holy Ghost, Chi, Tao, Sefirah, Prana, Ki, and for at least one bushman tribe in Africa, a clicking sound made with your tongue.

For example, what is now referred to as Holy Spirit in the Bible was, before the 20th century, translated as Holy Ghost. The word ghost originally meant "the soul regarded as the seat of life, the principle of life," as when somebody died and "gave up the ghost."


Spirituality: The true wealth

The majority of men live without being thoroughly conscious that they are spiritual beings.

-- Soren Kierkegaard

Wealth is often used to denote monetary success, but riches comes in many different forms. One Indian prayer entreats Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, to shower blessings in the form of intelligence, worldly enjoyment, success, worldly position, prosperity, liberation -- and most importantly, freedom from the enemy of ego, limited self-identification. (More on ego in Chapter 2.)

People say that "health is the greatest wealth," or "a good mind is paramount," or "having loving relationships is what's really important." However, there is a prosperity that only a small percentage of people attain. Their wealth is the experience of expanded consciousness, inner peace, and serenity that comes from spiritual awareness.

Here is an analogy that can give a sense of how spirituality gives an enhanced meaning to all the good things you have achieved thus far. Imagine that all the enjoyments and achievements of your life are like a string of zeros:

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Only when you put the number one before them, will each zero add more value, like this:

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

It's a big difference in value, right? Adding a spiritual perspective of life is like adding that number one. Spiritual wisdom gives greater value to all the elements of your life. When you enter the dawning of spiritual understanding, you may outwardly seem nearly the same as before -- with all the same set of accomplishment zeros. However, inwardly you will have gained a greater wealth of peacefulness, faith, love, and spiritual vision.


Spirituality is about following your heart

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.

-- Carl Jung

The spiritual journey can be summed up in two phrases:
bulletPurify your heart.
bulletFollow your heart.

All spiritual practices and exercises, such as prayer, meditation, contemplation, yoga, scriptural study, and devotional rituals (covered in Part II of this book), as well as spiritual qualities such as compassion, honesty, steadiness, and unconditional love (covered in Part III) are part of this process of purifying your heart. With a pure heart, you're better able to hear, trust, and follow the still, small voice of God, the whisper of your own wise soul, the universal throb that speaks softly in every moment -- if you have the ears to hear.


If you follow your heart before first purifying your heart, some of your inner promptings may, in fact, be regular old thoughts and desires disguised as inner inspirations and divine guidance! Be sure your intentions are pure. That will ensure that even if your inner guidance isn't always on target, you'll still be moving forward on the spiritual path, protected by your own pure intentions.

Purifying your heart and following your heart aren't really two separate things. Each one supports and strengthens the other. As you progress in your spiritual efforts, eventually your will and the divine will begin to flow harmoniously as one.

Experiencing more self-awareness -- right here, right now


An important element of spiritual growth is to become more self-aware, something you can practice anytime and anywhere. Try the following:
 
1. Take a moment to observe yourself right now.

 
How are you feeling? Are you taking nice, relaxed breaths? Is your posture gentle but supportive of your body? Are you able to focus on the words you are reading, or is your mind flitting around from outer distractions to inner concerns and random thoughts?

 
2. Look upon yourself with a kind and friendly eye.

 
If you aren't as peaceful and focused as you'd like to be, don't fret -- fretting definitely won't help you feel more harmonious and peaceful. Just be aware of your inner state without judging it as good or bad.

 
3. Gently align yourself, adjust your posture if necessary, and put a little more effort into focusing on the ideas you're reading.

 
Sometimes not-so-spiritual thoughts come up while you're contemplating. If this happens, your mind may be doing a bit of housekeeping -- sweeping up some old clutter that needs to be cleared. Be receptive to your own sublime knowledge as it's churned by all this spiritual contemplation. If gifts of insights begin to come to you, take time to unwrap them.

 
4. Take a deep breath, allowing the oxygen and energy to fill your entire body.

 

 
Breathing is how you make continual love with the universe around you. The life force pours into your body, mind, and soul with each inhalation and then rides back out on the wave of exhalation, merging into the outer air. You may wish to take a peaceful break right now by closing your eyes for a few moments and enjoying a few more deep, slow breaths.


Getting to know your spiritual heart

Spirituality is a shift into a knowing of the heart. Not the physical heart, per se, but the symbolic heart that represents all the ways of knowing beyond the rational mind: intuition, emotion, and divine shifts of awareness that can take your world and immediately transform it into a heavenly realm. Your spiritual heart is a non-physical space of communion with spirit that is also the
bulletSeat of intuition: This intuition comes from a deeper way of knowing than has been captured by scientists and psychologists. Your spiritual heart guides you to move in harmony with the universal creative energy.

bulletRealm of unconditional love: To the spiritual heart, every person is your own brother, sister, mother, and father. But unlike with many worldly relationships, this is a flow of love that can't be squashed even if someone acts against you. When you have true unconditional love, your love and God's love become one -- because God's love is always unconditional.

bulletAbode of inner peace: When peace begins to make its home in you, it is like a lake after a thunderstorm -- gentle, yet vibrant and fresh. Even when you become frazzled from all the challenges of life, you can find your way back to the lake of inner peace. You can take a dip in the refreshing waters that flow within your own heart.
bulletOcean of contentment: True happiness doesn't come from outer objects, people, or events. Things and people can bring little blips of happy feelings, but true contentment is something quite different. Inner contentment may not always be as dramatic as having your outer desires fulfilled, but it's there, it's real, and it's your companion through easy and hard times, through stormy and sunny days.


Discovering your smiling soul

The secret of divine omnipotence resides in the eternal smile.

-- Eliphas Levi

When you shift into spiritual awareness, you may appear to be living the same life, with the same ambitions, joys, and sorrows as before. However, you may discover that inside you have a smile that may or may not be visible to the world. Your shining spiritual soul smiles through the good times and the bad. In fact, as your smiling soul begins to reflect more and more in the world, the world also begins to smile back at you.

Do you ever find yourself smiling even when there is no one else around? If not, try it! Smile to yourself. Smile to God, who is always present where you are -- closer than your own breath.


Oh, the dichotomies!

There are two kinds of truth, small truth and great truth. You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another great truth.

-- Niels Bohr

Spirituality encourages you to take life more seriously, with greater respect for the deeper meaning and symbolic nature of even the smallest details of life. At the same time, spirituality also gives you an awareness that everything is running itself quite well without your having to feel anxious or responsible for all of it. The spiritual journey is filled with these sorts of dichotomies and seemingly opposing viewpoints. Here are a few more to explore:
bulletEffort is of utmost importance, but you have to stop trying. If you don't put effort into attaining the great benefits of spiritual life, these attainments will probably not fall right into your lap. However, there comes a time when your trying must lose its sense of effort, of wanting and striving for something you don't have. Rather, your inner contentment grows as you begin to act, not with a sense of lack, impatience, or desperation, but from the joy of evolving and expanding your awareness, your goodness, your love, and your wisdom within every moment.

bulletYou're a work in progress that's already done. You may enter spirituality with a whole list of improvements you would like to make in your self. Maybe you're unhappy with how you act at times or with certain habits or self-defeating thought patterns you may have gathered along the way. Therefore, you are still a work in progress, with great room and potential for change, growth, and improvement. On the other hand -- and this is a big spiritual hand I'm talking about -- after you glimpse the amazing beauty and perfection of this eternal universe (the "I am" in the phrase "before Abraham was, I am"), you also recognize that you have always been absolutely, perfectly, and eternally complete in your deepest spiritual essence.


bulletLove thy neighbor, but not too much! A love for humanity is paramount for spiritual growth, but this doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of time with all kinds of people. The company you keep affects your thoughts and life in ways you may not even imagine. It is good to be discerning about with whom you spend time, especially in the beginning stages of your spiritual journey. Some seekers find that a certain amount of solitude allows them to become clearer about what they really feel and believe. There is an invaluable freedom that comes when you don't have to fit your beliefs into the concepts of too many other people.

bulletYou have to take care of your body even though you're not really the body. You know how all these spiritual teachers say that you aren't the body, you are pure spirit and all that? Still, you can bet that most of them moan and groan like everyone else when their own bodies go through a painful experience. This doesn't mean they were lying about the "not the body, but pure spirit" thing. Rather, it is one more dichotomy on the spiritual path. You are in the body, but not of it.

bulletYou are supreme consciousness but you still have to wash the dishes. In the depths of spiritual practices (such as meditation), you begin to experience greater realms of thought. You may feel completely free, expansive, and powerful. Then, you come out of meditation and that pile of bills is still there waiting to be paid, the house needs cleaning, or the phone is ringing and your boss, a creditor, or a relative wants to have an aggressive chat with you. You may wonder where all that powerful expansion went. (More on this topic in Chapter 7.)
bulletYou study to attain God, but God can't be attained through studying. Theologians have been studying God for centuries, yet many scholars have left this world feeling that they never really knew or experienced the divine presence. On the other hand, many spiritual seekers have splashed heart-first into the ocean of God's presence only after studying and learning from those who had tasted those waters before.



The Difference Between Spirituality and Religion

There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.

-- George Bernard Shaw

Although religion and spirituality are sometimes used interchangeably, they really indicate two different aspects of the human experience. You might say that spirituality is the mystical face of religion.
bulletSpirituality is the wellspring of divinity that pulsates, dances, and flows as the source and essence of every soul. Spirituality relates more to your personal search, to finding greater meaning and purpose in your existence. Some elements of spirituality include:
bullet 
bulletLooking beyond outer appearances to the deeper significance and soul of everything
bulletLove and respect for God
bulletLove and respect for yourself
bulletLove and respect for everybody
bulletReligion is most often used to describe an organized group or culture that has generally been sparked by the fire of a spiritual or divine soul. Religions usually act with a mission and intention of presenting specific teachings and doctrines while nurturing and propagating a particular way of life.


Religion and spirituality can blend together beautifully!

Different religions can look quite unlike one another. Some participants bow to colorful statues of deities, others listen to inspired sermons while dressed in their Sunday finery, and yet others set out their prayer rugs five times a day to bow their heads to the ground. Regardless of these different outer manifestations of worship, the kernel of religion is spirituality, and the essence of spirituality is God.

One goal of this book is to focus on essential spiritual teachings that resonate with most religions -- a formidable and challenging objective, to be sure. Yet, in the depths of personal contemplation, I have seen that spirituality is intertwined with religion, politics, science, philosophy, and art on subtle levels that may not be outwardly obvious. The ultimate goals of these endeavors is some version of knowing greater truth and living better lives -- what Kahlil Gibran referred to as being "in quest of the uttermost."


Spirituality is:

bulletBeyond all religions yet containing all religions

bulletBeyond all science yet containing all science
bulletBeyond all philosophy yet containing all philosophy

The pearl within the shell

Religions are like a shell that creates an environment within which a pearl can grow. This pearl is the blossoming of great and divine spiritual qualities in each soul. A good shell can nourish the pearl and keep it safe and protected from outside elements and predators while it grows.

Nevertheless, even while in the shell, the pearl always remains different from the shell and eventually may grow to the point where it can -- and perhaps must -- shine its beauty without being closed inside the shell.


No more crusades, okay?

It is more important to create a safer, kinder world than to recruit more people to the religion that happens to satisfy us.

-- Dalai Lama

Many wars have been fought based on what amounts to fairly slight variations in religious theory and language. In the light of spirituality, no one needs to fight with anyone else over whose religion is better. No one needs to quarrel over every rule and detail of all the different doctrines. Rather, a spiritually-aware person is open to learning and growing from everything in life. One sign of spiritual awakening is an increased respect for all people, all religions, and all forms of God. This kinder, gentler approach replaces outdated tendencies toward intolerance and prejudice. As one becomes more spiritual, animalistic aggressions of fighting and trying to control the beliefs of other people can be cast off like an old set of clothes that no longer fits. In fact, many seekers begin to feel that every image of divinity is just one more face of their own, eternally ever-present God.


Loving and respecting all religions and images of God doesn't mean that you have to agree with all their doctrines. In fact, you don't even have to believe and agree with every element and doctrine of your own religion! This goes for any teachings you may encounter along your path. For example, as you read this book, enjoy whatever words work for you and just skim over what doesn't. My goal is to share some spiritual ideas that have been helpful to me, not to make you agree with them.
Everybody thinks that what they are doing is right. That's what's so fun about the world. Everybody is doing something different, and each one believes deep in his soul that what he believes is right -- some with more contemplation and conviction than others.
Play the track called "Tumse Hamane" to hear more about how God exists in all religions and paths, and in everyone's heart. Here is the translation:

I have embraced you in my heart. Whatever exists is you alone. I have found that you alone are mine. You are all that exists.

What if one is a Buddhist or a Christian? What if one is a Hindu or a Muslim? You have made everyone the way you desired them to be.

Whether it is a mosque or a temple, you are present equally everywhere. Everyone bows down their head for you alone. In all that I see, you alone are visible.

 


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