A Radical approach to ‘Spiritual’ Practice…

The first place we have to begin is to define what on earth spiritual actually means. A lot of people use the word and often never have a definition of what this elusive term actually means.

It is often used, even in modern spirituality and yoga, to define the elusive stuff that joins everything together, stuff that is somehow different to all that is matter.

This kind of dualistic vision presents matter and its opposite as spirit.

Sometimes the word spiritual is used to define the source of matter. There is matter and there is that which makes it and holds it all together and this is Spirit.

Sometimes the word is used to define whatever is unseen.

So I suggest we use this medieval word simply to define our subjective experience of connectivity if at all.

Why?

As humans, we are hardwired in our neuro-biology to experience…

  • comparison and difference
  • separateness and then from this base — connection
  • solidity
  • a sense of permanence
  • definition
  • self as a separate thing from the rest of the universe
  • relationship as a process of self as subject and other as the object to our gaze

The lens of evolutionary biology

If we look through the lens of evolutionary biology we find that this sense-of-self and its self-construct is something that has evolved to assist intra-species socialisation and reproduction of our genetic material. This process has taken around 500million years to evolve and is, to say the least, a robust experience.

The lens of neuro-biology

If we look through the lens of neuro-biology we find parts of the brain such as the medial pre-prefrontal cortex, the insula, the parietal and cingulate, amongst others, that build this subjective experience of being a separate self-thing — in the face of a vast universe.

The lens of chemistry

If we look through the lens of chemistry we find that the majority of our structure is made of water and gases, and that even this water is made of two gases. We are mostly made of hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. A lot of the rest of us is made of carbon which in the form of carbon bound with oxygen, carbon-dioxide, is also a gas. The bits of us that aren’t these gases are mostly made of earth minerals.

The lens of physics

If we look through the lens of physics we find that every particle that makes up our structure is made of spinning energy. When we go deeper into this energy it is hard to locate and also define. When we get down to a quantum level it even appears that a lot of what appears as solid is flickering into and out of existence. There are many theories about what this quantum level experience is, one by David Bohm suggests that all appearances, all vibrations and movements of energy (out of which matter is constructed) are scintillating into and out of existence as expressions of one unified field.

The illusion?

So everything that our nervous system says about what is solid, real and defined is inaccurate as there is nothing that is solid, permanent or truly defined. These are the appearances, what appears real to our nervous system. The reality is that there is no real solidity, no defined, inherent or separate existence to anything. It is all a seamless flow of energy that is most probably an underlying unified field sparkling into and out of existence as the appearances.

The interesting correlation with the majority of the reported experience and arising yogic philosophies from deep meditators is that this formless base to all arising appearances has qualities. The key quality is awareness. The feeling side to this awareness is love or compassion. We find this in our own body as we go deep in the yogic practice of meditation. We find the constituents of our body as gases and appearances of solidity created by the energetic binding between these gases and earth minerals as an expression of space-time. We find this whole experience to be replete with awareness and love. In our own structure we find spacious-awareness as aware space. In yogic philosophy this formlessness is variously called avyakta or shunyata.

Then comes the beauty, this formlessness is none other than the form. The appearances and the root of all the appearances, the unified field are one and the same, always as what some call brahman.

The laboratory of our own experience

One of the ways we begin the subjective deconstruction of this in the laboratory of our own experience is to engage in practices that retrain our brain to be able to step beyond the dualising mechanisms of comparative mind. We do this by cultivating the observing self, the witness pole of uninvolved pure awareness. We do this by paying attention to the key quality of seamlessness in our living experience, the life-breath. As we watch the breath, bringing consciousness to the process, we cultivate the observer position and we start to kinaesthetically experience the seamlessness of our body as impermanent flow, gas as air, air as gas, as breath, as tissues. We feel this breath as the breath of all of life. We also pay attention to our other living process and find ourselves as water, as rivers and rain, warmth that derives from sunlight through the process of photosynthesis and above all the seamless web of space-time.

Since we sense all of this we are also not it. Not being the systemic flow alone, we find ourselves as awareness in all of this systemic process.

As we go deeper we find our original nature as awareness, inseparable from that which weaves as appearances. We find ourselves as no-self, as the totality, shunyata-rupa, avyakta-vyakta, or as David Bohm calls it implicate-explicate.

So lets, just for now consider the word spiritual to be an ‘old school label’ to cover the terrain of all this whole, the one as the many and the many as the one, brahman. The realms of formlessness and its movements, its tremor into energy and its manifestation as the appearances as form.

Imagine one word to cover this terrain of totality. The word spiritual is an old fashioned word that can be repurposed to cover this terrain. The Sanskrit word for this is Advaita. Advaita simply means ‘never two’.

Why is it called practice?

It’s not that advaita can be practiced, it just is, as it is. It is the doer, doing, the done and the done-to all together and all at once. Pure and total beingness.

We can’t practice being this, we are it.

However, our evolutionary biology stops us perceiving this, so the methods that suspend the ‘hallucination’ of the five senses enable us to perceive more fully how things really are.

Practices that do this are traditionally called yogas, dogmas that promote this are religions, and spiritual can be used to define the non-dogmatic explorations of the unified field — unicity.

What we practice are methods that help us to remember and know this unicity.

Integration

As a result of these practices we may experience peak moments where the dissolution of the robust experience of being solid, real, defined and permanent as form, dissolve. These moments then have to be integrated into daily life. The real practice is integrating the experience of vastness into daily life.

How does this integration most fully occur?

When we find the peak experience within the weave of mundane, daily life.

When we understand ourselves as the unified field, it manifests as kindness, as compassionate behaviour in our lives. Of course you don’t have to believe this, we don’t need more belief, the aim is to directly experience this in life.

Direct experience and integrating that through behaviour is what ‘spiritual’ practice is really about.

Find out more about my work here: www.christophergladwell.com