Talking about “My Spiritual Journey” (and how difficult it is to find the words)

For a long time I had experienced a sort of writer’s block when trying to find the right words and expression for a short series of videos on my spiritual journey. The main reason, as far as I could discern it, was to do with accuracy – principally, being unable to accurately express something as vast and all-pervading as the direct encounter with spirituality over a whole lifetime, in just as few short words. The task seemed impossible as I thought through it: how on earth (literally) could I give another person any sense of the enormity of what has been experienced? At best, all that could be communicated would be the scantest, most irrelevant and most superficial details.

After all, dealing with spirituality is by nature dealing with the very things that language has not been built up to describe, namely, the non-physical. Yes, we have a developed a whole system of words for abstract concepts, but the spiritual world lies as much above and beyond the world of thought – the natural terrain for concepts – as the world of thought lies above the world of matter. Trying to capture the nature and reality of spirituality and its experience in a rather crude material like “thought” seems just as pointless as like trying to catch the wind in a sieve.

Of course, I was well aware that there was a long and illustrious history of people writing about spirituality and their encounter with “that” in ways that marvelled and excelled, and brought language to its own limits. Yet, the landscapes they had painted, and the worlds they had described, were all coloured by the language and concept-systems of the traditions and religious teachings in which they were embedded. When St John of the Cross talks about his dark night, it is a dark night illuminated and bound by Christian teaching and imagery. For someone sitting firmly outside of the religious traditions, those tropes and concepts and images would not be helpful. I could not paint my own picture in the language of the spiritual tradition, as it seemed to me.

Yet, at the same time, it was not my objective to create a new language for the experience I wished to talk about. I had to find a practical way through the difficulties and not be overtaken by them or prevented from speaking. So, even whilst they remained, and I was left to use words such as “spiritual journey” and “God” in my eventual and resulting videos, I was able to speak something about my experience, since childhood, of encountering spiritual reality. And I was pleased to be able to release the final and third short video this week.

My practical solution: I told a simple story, in three parts, of how I came to the decision and determination to look for and at spirituality in a serious manner, and where that led to. This meant, my own spirituality, my own experience of it. As far as can be achieved in what amounts to a total of 30 minutes of speaking, I am pleased to be able to highlight the main shape of a story of becoming and realisation, and awakening to what is my current truth. What it lacks in detail, comprehensiveness, and perhaps originality in terms of what I light upon, it makes up for in being able to condense in as short a space as possible the “impossible-to-describe” reality of experience regarding spirituality reality.

True, I have side-stepped the thorny issue of language and representation, and I’ve gone for communicability instead of accuracy and precision, using common words and frames of thinking, even though I still feel I haven’t quite said very much about the real nature of the “journey” that I’ve been on, but that work can be for another time. For now, as part of my work of sharing insights into spiritual reality and our encounter with it, I am pleased with the result and feel that it would help encourage conversations with others about their own spiritual journeys, where they’ve been, where they are, and where they see themselves as headed.

 

The benefits of having some kind of spiritual theory

you need a spiritual theory

Reading Time: 5 minutes

So many ideas, but what is important?

There are many, many ideas and theories about spirituality that have sprung up over the last hundred years or so. Some of these are more or less serious, original, popular, well-articulated or worthy of attention. Some tend to emphasize particular aspects of spirituality, like perhaps the emphasis on psychology in some of the work of Ken Wilber, or on the social constructive elements in the work John Heron, whilst others go for a more broad-based approach, as found in the work of Martinus, whose “Cosmology” makes an account for every aspect of existence. In the midst of all these ideas and theories stands the individual, and what emerges as the most important thing is this: what is your theory?

How it can help

For those people whose spirituality is not lived under the direction of one of the world’s religions, or the worldview that these religions draw on and promote, it can be a very good idea to develop some kind of theory of spirituality. By this I mean anything from a simple, overarching framework of the spiritual universe, to something much more complete in its details. Having such a theory can really help guide practice and development. It can be a shining light in an otherwise difficult terrain.

It might be worth adding here that I also mean by “theory” something very broad and plastic. In this regard, “theory” means simply an idea that is more or less expanded. As applied to spirituality, it means a more or less expanded idea of the spiritual universe. Not everyone is a Plato or Isaac Newton. Yet it is not necessary for each and every person to develop an entirely complete theory. It is not necessary to build a theory for others to use, or to convince others. I’m speaking here only of what is relevant to the individual who feels they are on some kind of spiritual journey.

A theory of spirituality can help give the spiritual journey a certain shape and direction, a form. It can help the traveller get a handle on some of the challenges of the spiritual life. As well, it can help contextualize and conceptualize what the lived experience is. It can help one see more clearly where one is, where one has been, and where one is going. It can help one triangulate one’s position, but also help answer questions that nobody else can answer. One of the challenges of the spiritual journey outside of religion is that very often there is no other guidance but that which lies within. Having some kind of spiritual theory can help give that inner guidance a shape and vessel through which to speak.

What is needed

To get such a theory, it is necessary first of all to think. To get and build one’s own theory, it is necessary to think about everything one has come to realize and verify for oneself as being one’s truth or belief. This might involve, of course, drawing to mind the many important things that have influenced one through one’s life. This can include the many different ideas and theories shared by others in conversation or in books, or in one’s previous education. But it is still more important to come to some kind of recognition and valuation of what, ultimately, one believes or holds to be true oneself, despite what other people have said, thought or written down.

Such a theory does not need to be written down, although of course it may help if one finds writing helpful. The important thing is not that it is written, but that is thought through. It can take time to go through such a process of bringing to mind everything related to this theory that one has, or that one is forming. But it is time very well spent, because then the traveller will be much clearer about the journey, the terrain and the road one is taking through it.

As mentioned above, the theory I’m speaking about here can be more or less complete; it can consist of something as simple as a few broad strokes and “big ideas” about how everything goes together, or it can be complete and detailed so as to cover everything that exists. Its completeness is not of immediate importance, as it can always be developed and refined later. With this theory, simple or complex, one can measure one’s experience of life against it, and gradually come to an ever more accurate theory. This would also be the beginning of an individual’s spiritual science.

Isn’t such a spiritual theory redundant?

It might be argued that it is not necessary to spend time undertaking such an exercise, because people already have their theories of life and operate under them every day, and use them every day, continually refining them in a natural manner without any effort. However, this would be to mistake theory with something like a perspective, worldview or view of life, which can be more or less unconscious. It is true that our worldview is always coming into play and always being refined and added to by experience, by everything we read or speak about with others. However, this is something that is quite passive within us. A theory is something that we create, by our own mental power, and which involves will power and analytical processing. It means making choices about what the world is like, perhaps independent of our worldview.

It might also be countered that people cannot make such a theory, that it is too difficult or that one cannot escape the many influences that have fed into our worldview. Here, it may feel true that one’s theory of spirituality actually comes from this writer or that writer, and that one cannot think any differently to that writer. However, there will always be some kind of reason why one agrees with this or that view, and why one takes this or that idea on board. Here it will be important to rediscover those reasons, and not take anything for granted. One cannot truly have a theory if one does not attempt to own it, no matter where the thought may have come from, whether from Plato or Kant or the woman down the road. Here, it will be most unlikely that one’s whole theory of spirituality and the spiritual universe comes from just one source. As such, it is important to go within and try to work out where one’s ideas have come from. As an ancient philosopher once said, the unexamined life is not worth living.

A basic need

There are very many reasons to start thinking along these lines, and continue thinking through one’s ideas about spiritual reality, as well as build them into a more or less simple theory. It is not necessary to create a Newton’s Principia of spiritual reality, as I’ve already said, but of course if you can then all the better for you. What feels right depends on many factors, including who you are, where you are and what you can do, as well as what you feel you need. However, I would contend that all who are exploring spirituality need to have at least some kind of theory. If they do already have this, then certainly it can be a good idea to look at it and develop it.


Author:
Anton Jarrod

Photo of Anton Jarrod
Anton Jarrod

Anton Jarrod is a writer, thinker and practitioner of modern spirituality. He is currently writing about issues in modern spirituality, as well as the work of the largely unknown but important Danish thinker Martinus. He is the author of Martinus Cosmology and Spiritual Evolution: the essential ideas and teachings, as applied to the Gospels, published in June 2017.

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