When you write and teach about spiritual practice, one of the questions people ask is ‘What do you mean by spirituality?’ It’s a fair question to ask in today’s polyglot and confusing world, but it’s a hard one to answer without reducing the ineffable into a banal constraint. So I’ve found it a challenging question, not helped by the fact that it’s not a question I’ve asked myself. For whatever reason, I had a strong sense of spirit always, and because it was so innate, I didn’t turn my mind to question it directly. But I did question its manifestations…
When I was a very young child I used to see a big man with a feathered headdress every night in my bedroom. His large head in profile, with the feathers flowing out the back, was always above the doorway, and I would look up at it just before I went to sleep. I know, a Native American chief sounds so clichéd now, but it’s true. I barely knew what a Native American was, (or rather a Red Indian as they were called in the 1950’s) and I didn’t question his presence. He was simply there, part of the fabric of my life, as steady and unchanging as the striped wallpaper and the flowered curtains.
Then one day, when I guess I was around three or four years old, I looked at him differently and thought, ‘Who are you?’ So that was the end of clear sight! I didn’t see him again until he came back to me in meditations and dreams in my twenties. Of course, it was necessary for my survival and to become adept and accomplished in consensus reality that I differentiated my world and separated out from the things around me. The question I asked showed the healthy development of an independent ego structure, but if I had grown up in a more mystical culture perhaps I would not have needed to shut down my vision in that way.
When I re-found my guide, my childhood guardian spirit, it was like coming home, and I had a huge sense of relief. For the period in between I had been gradually shutting down, steadily feeling more alienated and lost, even though outwardly I appeared to be okay, passing exams and the other hurdles of adolescence. In my teens I took a wide variety of drugs, as did many of my generation. We were quite sure that the altered states we achieved were part of a genuine spiritual search, but over time hedonism and addiction took over from any real gains and I became anxious and weakened by habitual usage. Luckily for me, after taking some mushrooms I had a seizure and had to go for medical tests. It turned out there was nothing wrong from a medical point of view, but I knew there was a real problem and began to assess my life choices from a new perspective.
Exactly a month after the fit, I had an astonishing dream that showed me what could really be achieved in a human life. In the dream I was enlightened and in a state of awakened bliss. This impelled me to take myself more seriously and to begin investigating the wisdom traditions of the world on a quest to develop the state of being I had glimpsed in the dream. Later a healer told me that my guides had caused the seizure to get me back on track, and I don’t doubt it, fanciful though that might sound. A few years later, I reconnected consciously with my Native American chief and his presence helped me make deep changes and to have the faith to put my spiritual development before all other considerations. Over time I became aware of other spiritual guides and teachers who were helping me.
So that’s a bit of the story of how I found my way back into embracing and accepting the manifestations of spirit. As for the question, ‘What is spirituality?’ – I still think it’s an impossible question to answer, but I have made an attempt: here’s an excerpt from my latest book, Growing Your Inner Light.
‘Our sense of Spirit is embedded deep within us. Something we cannot see, dissect, or measure impels us to perform acts of worship, to better ourselves, to overcome tragedy, to create works of art that inspire and uplift, to love others even when they have done us harm, to rescue those in need, and to seek inner peace. This Spirit lives both within us and independently of us, permeating everything: land and flora, birds and animals, oceans and skies.’
© 2011Lara Owen