Exploring Spirituality

The older we get the more knowledge we have absorbed, the more mistakes we can learn from and the more experience we can draw upon to frame our outlook on life. It follows that a person’s level of wisdom should advance at a similar rate to their chronological timeline. High levels of wisdom are associated with earned respect and often tied to a hefty amount of life experience.

It is possible to accelerate one’s learning and development through the study of ideas and the practice of mental discipline. To achieve sage-like qualities before your body becomes weakened and wearied by advancing old age would certainly be desirable. The problem for many people today is that there are vast amounts of conflicting ideas available to us. It is hard to select which body of knowledge to become an adherent of. Here we can use spirituality to pursue experience of more than the physical world, to guide us in finding balance and harmony in our lives.

Mismatched Spirituality

My own meanderings within the divine or metaphysical realms have been constricted by taking certain wrong turnings and ending up at seeming dead ends. I misunderstood a passage in the brilliant book What the Buddha Taught; whilst trying to implement the concept of ‘no-soul’ to my own life I damaged my sense of self. I was trapped by trying to believe there was absolutely nothing that constituted me. At that time in my life I was coming up against a lot of other ego’s (beginning University) and I struggled to map the ideas of non-existence onto this vibrant social milieu. The result was I didn’t flourish as much as I could have done, I was held back by choosing to believe in nothingness.

I encountered another spiritual conundrum when a little bit later in life, I tried to find myself through Christianity. This was the exact opposite and in some ways a reaction to the Buddhist ideas I had previously tried to embody. I attended church for a while, attempted prayer and took part in a cell group which met regularly to share our lives together. The community feel of that period in my life was warm and fulfilling but I just felt that it was all a social construct. People made such an effort with each other in the name of God and doing God’s work. They were honest and sincere, good to the core types of people, but I couldn’t tell if a combination of privilege and Christianity had made them that way or there was something more. I wondered what they would be like without the teachings of Jesus and the ‘presence’ of the Holy Spirit. My conclusion at the time was, they would be much the same.

It’s five years later and a lot has happened good and bad. I’ve slid into being some kind of agnostic. I accept that I don’t know enough to argue that there is no God or supreme being. Meanwhile, the two extremes which I dabbled in have shaped my current worldview and so I posit that if there is a supreme being, it is something elemental and forceful, not resembling human characteristics and having a benevolent personality. I don’t want to believe that the universe is entirely indifferent to human affairs (as I think that is bleak) so I have looked to find some source of ideas that are foreign enough to intrigue and excite me, but that I can somehow relate to. That’s where the ancient oriental book, the Tao Te Ching comes in.

Philosophical Therapy

The Tao Te Ching has been called ‘philosophical therapy’ (as oppose to the presentation of an actual theory) and this is the beauty of it. For me, taking lessons from the text is a more relaxed process than wading through philosophical concepts or learning to conduct religious rituals. It only takes an afternoon or even less to read the work but something about the text means it can resonate with any reader for much much longer. The words ‘Tao Te Ching’ themselves can be translated as The Classic of the Way’s Virtues or The Book of the Way of Virtue. The text makes frequent references to virtue as something to aspire to, but overall is about how to live according to the Way.

The Way is considered to be both the root and the sustenance of all things. It is something of an unknowable concept, at one point in the text we are told that people who know do not speak, and people who speak do not know. One of its many paradoxes. There is some sense of harking back to a time when society was different but I think following the Way relates to learning from the past. This is not traditional learning, it is learning through emptying the mind, learning to be at peace and harmony. This struck a chord with me recently. With so much going on in the world (the media saturation and daily bombardment by advertising) an empty or peaceful mind is something to be cherished.

There is also more harmony within the ideas put forward generally in the Tao Te Ching. Body and soul are not to be considered different entities but one and the same. This take on spirituality is appealing to me. I can consider myself more than the sum of the parts that constitute my body. I can think of my mind as more than just thoughts and memories generated by chemical reactions and bio-electrical impulses. At the same time there is a connection between myself and all things, what the Tao Te Ching refers to as ‘oneness’. Drawing on these ideas generates a sense of well-being, which combined with beneficial mental practices and a positive outlook on each day gives me a feeling of being blessed.

Final Thoughts

My own experiences have taught me that spirituality is important, believing in something more than the physical is a powerful force. The spiritual paths offered to us by religion and non-religious texts can release knowledge and ideas to enhance our day-to-day lives. I also believe that the ideas of each organized religion are not for everyone. I realize a number of religions claim to be for everyone, but I just don’t think that there’s a ‘one size fits all’ for human beings. My point is not to argue with any of the organised religions but to state the case for developing a personal interest in spirituality. The latest development in my life in terms of spirituality is drawn from the ideas of Tao Te Ching. I encourage anyone to try out different philosophies and approaches to the exciting aspect of human life that is the spiritual.

 

Forgive the Past, Believe in the Future

Friendly advice can come from a whole range of sources. In a world saturated with images and messages it is important to recognize the most useful sources of advice are often closer to home than we think.

The Power of the Journal

I don’t often keep journals but I am aware of the power of keeping one. Today I looked through a journal of my travels as a 19 year old on my own in South East Asia for six months. I recorded a journal page every day of that trip and while some would say this a little self-indulgent, the end product is a book full of anecdotes and a snapshot into my personal history.

What it meant is that each day I had to reflect on what had happened, digest the events and convey them to the pages in a way that made sense. The process was like having a daily debrief. It helped keep my mind in order through the sometimes turbulent experiences of life on the road. In addition to having a function during the time, it is now a source of motivation for me.

Today’s Advice

The most pertinent advice I found today is a three sentence mantra: Forgive the Past. Believe in the Future. Imagine the Present.

Forgiving the past is important because the past can hold us back in so many ways. We are each conditioned by our personal histories but if we don’t forgive the people who have wronged us and the events that have affected us we may never move on. Breaking free of traumatic experiences that have left psychological scars is difficult, but learning to live beyond the reach of the past is liberating.

Believing in the future must be the central tenet of this advice. I recall a saying, “He who has hope has everything”, and to some extent it’s true. If you constantly and determinedly hold on to the belief that the situation will improve then you will increase your ability to survive any ordeal.

Imagining the present refers to creativity and positive visualization. If you can imagine yourself the way you want to be or how a situation can be improved, then you can consciously work towards that visualization. Imagining how you want the near present to be is a tricky mental exercise – whilst trying to live in the moment it is not possible to conceive of whats coming next. Yet since none of us entirely live in the moment there is always a mental space to imagine a better present.

Conclusion

A journal from ten years ago provided some wisdom which I found relevant today. Its clear that the lessons I was learning during that period of my life have bearing on how I compose myself today. When I think about my general approach to life I see that it hasn’t changed much, I am just more aware of the need for other people. The journal was a creative and practical endeavor at the time and is now a useful source of ideas and motivation. I would recommend experimenting with keeping a journal for anyone who wishes to learn more about themselves.

 

 

 

Lessons from Ancient Chinese Philosophy

The day to day experience of life has changed dramatically over the last two thousand years but the realities of human existence have not. Over the coming months I will be working on an undertaking to convey what I think are important lessons from ancient oriental texts.

What Lessons?

I have a particular interest in issues surrounding mental health and promoting creativity in day-to-day life. ‘Mental Health’ itself seems to be a loaded term which has negative connotations. That just doesn’t seem right to me. All people have a level of mental health. This is just as all people are in a physical state of fitness or unfitness at any point in their lives. Promoting stable mental health states is important in the face of issues such as anxiety and depression. I’m certain more people openly engaging with mental health issues would reduce increasingly common psychiatric problems. Talking helps.

There is a lot of writing on success and achievement around on many blogs and in the ‘self-help’ literature. For sure most people would like not only to function on a basic level, but to achieve what they ultimately desire. I hope that my writing and works encourage other people to be more creative. Yet I don’t encourage goals and plans for some kind of ultimate success. I believe that balance in ones life and sustainable happiness are more important.

The lessons that I learn from my studies will of course be conveyed in text format as blog posts. However, once I have collated enough wisdom to draw inspiration, I will create an artistic piece related to the meaning. This means that by the end of the project I will have a gallery of creative artworks which somehow reflect the lessons.

Process

My favourite software for writing projects is Scrivener due to its flexibility and functionality. I have in the past used it to plot stories but this is the first time I will use it for non-fiction purposes. I’ll take notes and make insights, draft my own thoughts and then produce what will be the lessons I’ve drawn. I’ll be using Corel Painter 2017 to produce the artworks.

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