|Lesson 5: What is Spirituality?
SCHOLA AETII·THURSDAY, 14 JUNE 2018
What is spirituality? It is like the Parable of the Broken Mirror.
Whoever begins a spiritual path feels within himself that something is wrong with his life. Something is broken, fragmented. This is man, turned away from the broken mirror. He doesn't see himself clearly, only recognizes splinters all over the floor around him. Life is a broken, unclear, a confusing thing, only here and there something flashes up that seems significant. But it doesn't seem to make a whole, anything coherent. Many walk around staggering their whole lives, chasing a flash here and there, but they don't move higher up. Most of those who begin what they eventually call the "spiritual path" came to it because of a crisis and became aware of the crises in their lives. Something has drawn their attention to the fact that they do not feel complete, they are directionless, exposed to wind and weather like a ship on the ocean. They long to understand the world, to understand what is happening - to them and within them. To seek a spiritual path is to want to understand.
Understanding is not knowledge. Understanding cannot be accumulated and inculcated in oneself, through books and wise words, or through distanced contemplation. Knowledge is not understanding. I can know that a person suffers when someone has caused him suffering; I can understand it only by remembering my own suffering. Everyone around me is a fragment of the broken mirror. In every person's life there is at least a moment when the possibility of a spiritual path is revealed to him. Something points beyond everyday life and monotony, beyond isolation in the ego and in the machine life of the world. Whether we let pass or not is up to us. It's our choice. We look, go deeper or let it pass and drift on in the current of everyday life.
Spirituality begins with a feeling of discomfort at how everything works. Without this distance, this criticism, there can be no desire for another view. In modern society, the human being is integrated into a machine mainly for external purposes. More than ever before, man's actions are determined by external demands. He is a tool for making profit, part of a reality defined by consumption and economy. This reality leaves him no time to know himself. In this economic machine, a human being is a stranger to himself. The noisy bustle and talkativeness disperses our attention everywhere, in the working world and in our leisure time. We are kept busy in a big machine. If we notice something important, an insight, our attention is scattered moments later. Man drifts in this torrential stream of external necessities without something of his own, something lasting, something deep growing within us.
For those who seek spiritually, this hustle and bustle is not enough. It is a longing for depth and authenticity, for something that remains beyond the abhorrence of superficial distraction. You want at the same time get away from something and you seek to move towards something different, something richer, more permanent. Spiritual search is defined differently for everyone. What we seek depends to a large extent on what we have experienced in our life before the search. People who have been exposed to social constraints and suffered from the expectations of others usually seek freedom, independent self-realization. Others, who have always felt isolated and alone, may be looking for a community with which to grow and exchange. This often goes hand in hand.
I think these are indeed the two main features of all spiritual paths. Each spiritual pathway balances these two parts, liberation and community, differently. Independence, freedom and free self-realization are an important aspect of spiritual progress. It means to find an inexhaustible source in oneself, to be connected to this inner source and to draw from it and to be active creatively. This requires getting to know yourself, discover yourself. You draw from your inner self and create authenticity. The guiding star of this path lies inside yourself. This aspect of the spiritual path is strongly emphasized today, which is not surprising, because the main characteristic of modern society is that most people are strongly involved in external constraints and therefore long for something that they can do themselves, something that springs only from within. These people want to be more than just determined by fashions and trends, political ideologies and superficial opinions. Something should be real, something that comes from within. But this is only half the spiritual truth. Knowledge and understanding is always possible only in the process with others. You can do a lot on your own, listen to yourself and create something out of yourself. But it is only effective and meaningful when you are being related to others, by the community that you build, protect and improve. Something must remain, must carry on what you have created, take it in as a part and let it live on. The work that one creates and the knowledge that one acquires, both succeed only in relation to others with whom one connects. This aspect of spiritual progress is little emphasized today. It is also difficult to comprehend. In the everyday world we feel so integrated into external duties that we are reluctant to accept new duties and obligations. I understand how many people don't like to get involved in community.
Community is necessary. That's part of the mirror. We recognize ourselves not only in our own image, but in others. We recognize ourselves in where we are equal to others, but also in where we are different from others. Both brings us understanding of who we are. We cannot do without the other, no matter how powerful and independent our inner source is. The river, no matter how strong its source is, must inevitably unite with other streams to the sea, otherwise it will dry up senselessly in the barren sand.
To follow a spiritual path is to want to understand. We understand in the mirror, in the mirror in which we see ourselves, and in the mirror in front of us, in which we see in others. These are the two sides of the mirror. If we put one side together, the other always appears at the same time. These two are inseparable, self-knowledge and understanding through others. To go the way is to put the mirror together.