Out of everything in The Power of Modern Spirituality and of all the strategies and concepts of modern spirituality, these are perhaps the five most important words:
‘What works best for you?’
What kinds of situation and circumstances most easily melt your boundaries, make you more permeable, touch your heart, open your awareness and connect you with the hum, the wonder and energy of life? Particular environments and circumstances affect you, touch and open you, awaken your spiritual knowing and intuition – and you need to recognise and know what these circumstances are that work for you.
One possible example is the way that you might respond to landscape, nature or water. The ambience of these situa-tions may take you into. a different mood – moderately different, but an altered state of consciousness nonetheless. In a quiet and discreet way there is a subtle shift in your awareness and the quality of your experience as you connect with the hum of existence. It feels good. You regain some sanity, some harmony, some focus, some trust. Some of your concerns melt away or are placed in perspective. You have softly and instinctively switched channels and moved into connection.
This is normal spiritual experience. A sense of connection. A change in ambience. A healthy and natural shift in your consciousness and mood. Perhaps very subtle. Perhaps just a whisper.
This minor shift may just seem to be something ordinary to you, like a brief period of relaxation, or a lifting of your mood, but ponder more carefully what happens within in those circumstances. Why is there this shift? What has actually happened within you? Surely your heart has been touched and your consciousness expanded, a slight nuance of greater compassion and awareness. More soulful.
Occasionally, people protest to me that they never have experiences like this, but then I ask them if they have experienced special moments of knowing that there is something essentially good and wonderful about life, perhaps, for example, when they have been in a friendly crowd when their football team has won, or lovemaking with their beloved, or lost in a hobby, or with a team of colleagues in full and creative flow, or with a glass of wine and a wonderful book. Finally, they hear something that does indeed work for them – and they smile with recognition.
When does it happen for you?
Creation, existence, the cosmos, the natural world – all this is stunning and awesome. It is sensational. I use the word ‘sensational’ here in its true meaning – there are sensations and feelings when you experience your connection with all that is. No wonder, for you are part of it. Every cell in your body is alive with it.
But the volume and amplitude of this sense of connection varies. Sometimes the experience may not be there at all for you. At other times it is subtle. And sometimes this sensational experience is obvious, even rapturous and ecstatic.
The difficulty, of course, is that we are human and forget that we live in this extraordinary cosmos; or we ignore it or are too numb to feel it. We are so caught up in the stimulation of our daily lives, so engaged in our immediate circumstances of family, relationships, career, health and media, that we stop noticing the magic of existence. We may also be deadened by the noise and pollution of our urban environments, the endless information and the drudge of work. There may too be so much stuff in our lives that we simply cannot see beyond it. And of course we may also suffer bad moods that may last far too long, even denying that life and creation are in any way good.
All this is not an intellectual issue such as ‘Do you believe in God?’ It is simply about remembering and coming home to your awareness that there is a wonder to life.
The most crucial thing that I have learned in all my classes and research is that everyone without exception has these experiences, but you may not recognise that you are having them. There has surely been a moment, or moments, when you have been caught by the beauty or wonder or magic of life. This moment may have been a quiet time alone in landscape, or watching your children, or caught by the poignancy and emotion of music. There are a thousand different times when you may have sensed and intuited and felt and thought that there is something more to life than just surface appearances.
When has your heart moved? When have you felt an inner knowing, a haunting or even a wild ecstatic inspiration that there is a marvel and vitality to all life and creation?
These are important experiences. These are the times when, even if you do not know it, you are in a state of connection with the underlying mystery and brilliance of creation, when the usual boundaries of your sense of self become more relaxed and permeable and you feel your relationship with all that is.
The nature and depth of the experience
Traditionally, religions tend to suggest that spiritual experi-ence is rare and only for a special few, but here we are reversing that approach. Modern spirituality, along with many mystical and shamanic traditions, reframes the idea and suggests that we are perpetually inside a spiritual experience and all that ever changes is whether or not we are conscious of it. We are also, just because we exist, part of the wonder.
Spiritual experiences vary in their duration, volume and quality. The most highly profiled spiritual experiences are dramatic and peak moments such as Paul meeting God on the road to Damascus or Buddha achieving full enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. The academic literature on religious experience is nearly always focused on these intense and life-changing encounters with the numinous.
There are also many people who do not have these intense moments of numinous awakening but live with an ongoing background hum of the magic, their hearts almost permanently in a gentle space of compassion.
Others of us, however, may be touched intermittently and only subtly with just a fleeting moment of recognition, a subtle intimation. You may glimpse something that momentarily touches your heart and connects you with the magic of life. For just a brushing second you are reminded of life’s beauty. In the midst of that hectic day, a gap opens up in the momentum and a knowing that there is a wonder to life flickers within you.
Your soul lights up.
From The Power of Modern Spirituality, © 2011 by William Bloom, published by Piatkus.