Over the past 5 years or so I’ve been slowly investigating and integrating spirituality into my life. Previous to this lustrum, I arrogantly and conceitedly conceived of spirituality as a thing people with lesser minds got swindled into when they didn’t understand math or science.
Oh how I was wrong.
Unfortunately, many people, including many of my friends, find spirituality equally opaque and nonsensical as I once did… although they are almost universally less arrogant than I was.
I finally feel capable of explaining what is going on.
So here it goes:
The best way I know of to conceive of spirituality is to think it of it as an additional sense organ or way of perceiving the world. I claim that for the most part, this way of perceiving is available to most everyone from a young age, but many people are directed by life to specialize in other ways of perceiving.
Just as the dancer specializes in physicality, the philosopher specializes in reason, and the musician specializes in hearing, so the mystic specializes in spirituality.
There is cross-linking between ways of perceiving, and a master of any has some competence in all, but there is without a doubt a “dominant domain”. This actually becomes a rabbit hole where crossed domains form new platforms from which to build upon… but never mind that for now.
The reason spirituality seems non-sensical from the perspective of reason is that spirituality isn’t trying to do the same thing as reason at all, it has a completely different function. Now if you’re spirituality muscles are significantly under-utilized they will of course atrophy. Your other senses will make attempts at compensating but will be woefully inadequate.
Trying to use reason to understand spirituality is as deficient as trying to use reason to understand physicality, emotion, or hearing. You have use reason to “make sense of it” but you first need to consciously perceive and use physicality, emotion, or hearing before you have an anything from which to make sense of.
In other words, if you cannot hear and feel within your soul the sounds of a trumpet, then music theory will always look like total nonsense. You would inevitably try to interpret A,B,C,D,E,F,G, minor, major, and so forth as “just letters”. So you would believe that musicians were trying to make words or perhaps mathematical statements when they said things like “This song is Ay-minor, Gee, Cee, Eff”, but this is of course fruitless.
There may be math in music and “words” making “phrases”, but those are really not the root of the thing. AmGCF is not a “word” in English. If you’re a very gracious mathematician you may begin to see patterns in their esoteric notation and scripts, but you still would not ultimately “get it”.
But if you actually hear and feel the notes, then it all starts to click. Not only does it click, but as long as the hearing/feeling of the music remains the dominant factor, then the analysis of music through other lenses (like reason) will strictly add beauty to the experience rather than subtract from it.
Spirituality is precisely like that. It’s simply a completely different way of perceiving. The core of it is wholly illegible from the perspective of any other way of perceiving. So if you hear “spiritual” people talking about “spiritual things” and it sounds like total nonsense, consider that you may not be having the same experiences they are from which to make sense of.
It is still fair to say that many spiritual people have poor reasoning skills. Of course that is the case. There is not only an incredibly wide range of skill, but the domain itself is not specialized in reason. So from the perspective of the mathematician, philosopher, or engineer, whose domains take reason as the most critical faculty, of course it seems like artists, priests, and dancers have “poor reasoning skills”… duh. But the reverse also applies. From the perspective of a dancer, most mathematicians have all but forgotten they have a body. When an engineer asks for more information on how to perform a handstand before even being able to feel their body, the acrobat internally is shaking their head.
So suppose you wanted to investigate an illegible domain. How do you proceed when you know ahead of time you are bound to over-compensate, misinterpret, and fail to make sense of a new domain with a different way of perceiving?
There is no direct answer but the most helpful things I could say are:
- Treat others charitably.
- Take the perspective that gives what they say or do the maximum possible coherence.
- Do this even if it contradicts your own beliefs.
That doesn’t mean you have to take action or discard your own beliefs (including the ones which contradict). But it means setting aside for moments at a time the perceptions which are least helpful for really understanding their world. Over time this will develop the necessary muscles to make sense of their world.
Now once you feel like you “get it” deep down, then you are of course free to disagree or see things differently. That’s a conversation to be had. But you cannot have the conversation until you can speak the language. At least not productively.
Some concrete things which may also be helpful for entering a mostly illegible domain:
1) Find teachers who have experience in the domain you specialize in. If you are a highly rational type of person then:-looking to get into spirituality? Find a teacher who has a strong interest in science.-Looking to get more physical? Find a teacher interested in bio-mechanics.-Looking to get more into music? Find a teacher who really likes music theory.
2) As soon as you’ve found that teacher, try as quickly as you can to get away from the style of thinking your previous domain of expertise ingrained in you. Follow your interests, but recognize that if you don’t absolutely run for the hills with respect to your most dominant faculty, you will be trapped and frustrated. At the same time, you cannot force anything, but you can do the hard thing while following your heart.
3) Embrace the frustration of being highly skilled in some traits and extremely novice in others. This makes finding a good teacher even more necessary because in most group class settings you have skills way beyond that of most people in the beginner classes and are missing fundamentals for advanced classes. That’s just how it is. If you put all your character points in strength and then want to be an acrobat, you are bound to be frustrated as the moves in the beginner class are uninteresting because you can muscle your way through 1/2 of the moves in the advanced curriculum already, but by the same token the other 1/2 of moves presented in the advanced class are bound to be unreachable for you and likely to cause injury.
Throughout all of this, I am projecting my own past pains onto the experience of others, but it’s the best I can do. I hope this has been useful, and at least partially legible to some.