We could define spirituality as a mental activity, allowing a person to come in touch with the deepest values of existence, thus enabling him/her to perform at the highest level of realization.
Mental functioning traditionally is described as consisting of three fundamental activities: feeling, thinking and doing. Hence a complete form of spirituality must include these three dimensions.
This view is confirmed by the fact that all traditional forms of spirituality excel in one or more of these aspects of mental activity. The more dimensions are integrated, the "higher" the appeal of this kind of spirituality can be.
Hence we define "partial
spirituality" as spiritual activities that only stress one or two dimensions
of the complete spiritual experience. An "integrative" form of spirituality
assumes the three dimensions. Moreover, a dimension can be poorly elaborated,
missing its profound impact.
Partial forms of spirituality:
Only one dimension
1. Only or predominantly the intellectual dimension (thinking)
This kind of spirituality is strongly appealing to our western, rational style of functioning. The definition of "spirit" and "spirituality" most often is narrowed to intellectual insight and theories about evolution, noosphere, gaia, integration, global brain, religious ecumene, modern concepts on socialization. Although reading and reflecting about those ideas may provoke a deep esthetic and emotional thrill, a more complete spiritual experience, including the other dimensions of our mind, is far more likely to provoke profound and persisting effect.
2. Only or predominantly the esthetic dimension (feeling)
Here we can enumerate all kinds of artistic experience, the creative moment for the artist as well as the experiential for the admirer. Some forms of art are very exciting, especially when more than one sense is addressed to, e.g. in modern dance, cinema. Some artistic styles, especially surrealism, are keen to bring us to the limits of spiritual experience, and sometimes beyond. Some musical experiences give rise to dreams about ideal worlds and relationships. But as we leave the concert hall and are immersed back into "cold" reality, the thrill may get a taste of deception.
3. Only or predominantly the active dimension (doing)
A distinction can be made between (1) realistic, active experience as working and manufacturing, (2) more playful experiences as sporting, mountain climbing, making love, eating, and (3) symbolic experiences through symbolism and rituals, although boundaries between those applications often are difficult to establish. Particularly activities where the creative aspect is strongly present, where human contact and sharing of emotions is rich, or where the grandiosity of nature or artefacts is impressive, feelings of a profound union with others and The Other may be very affecting, close to a mystic or spiritual emotion.
Two mental dimensions
1. Thinking and feeling
When Protestant Christians gather, they sing and listen to sermons. Although thinking and feeling are both present to a certain degree, the experience is rarely profoundly moving, due to the fact that theories as well as the musical experience are rather conventional and low profile. The promulgated Christian vision most of time lacks the grandeur of Teilhard de Chardin, and music is as a rule several centuries old. More progressive Christian denominations, especially those using modern media, bring a more exciting musical and esthetic, scenic emotion, but the expressed visions usually not diverge from traditional church talk.
Oriental meditation, from Buddhism to Transcendental Meditation, and also occidental mysticism can lead to thrilling experiences, but is usually poor in its connections to modern science and social engagement. Meditation, sometimes with the background of songs and bells, was conceived in a period long before modern multimedia.
2. Thinking and doing
Scientific research and creative manufacturing are good illustrations of a combined intellectual and behavioural experience. Unfortunately, a strong preoccupation and a limited field of application most often prevents more global associations with life and existence in general. Poetry and esthetics are most often absent, regarded as unscientific and unproductive.
Catholic and Orthodox liturgy is a combination of rational and symbolic experiences. Although the ceremonies may be more appealing than sober Protestant gatherings [but in the kirke basement there's awaiting lime jello, marshmallow, shredded carrot and cottage cheese molds... /m], sermons remain poor with their pre-scientific and moralizing content, and the rigidity of rituals leaves them meagre compared with, for example, rich masonic rituals.
3. Feeling and doing
In the early months and years after people fall in love, there is often an intense combination of "doing"--active, playful and symbolic--and "feeling"--from love letters to poetry, picture taking, etc. This is of course a good combination of experience and esthetic cultivation of emotions. Sexuality itself can include both dimensions. Tantric sex is an attempt to integrate erotic and spiritual experience. However, many feel that a reference to more global essentials is often missing in those experiences.
Masonry was perhaps the most fertile and successful combination of feeling and doing in western culture. 'Doing' is realized as well by the experience of fraternal intercourse, as by the symbolic rituals. 'Feeling' is present in the esthetic value of ritual texts and temple furniture and traditions. But its traditional rejection of any kind of explicit philosophical activity (fearing that discussions rather will divide than unite), its worship of ancestral lore and habits, and the fact that the oath of fraternality too often remains a mere pledge, those aspects of this quickly declining international order leave many doubtful about its ability to become a modern form of spirituality, although at its origin it was conceived as such.
Towards an integrative form of spirituality
Thinking, feeling and doing
This swift tour of existing spiritual traditions brings us to an concept of "complete" spirituality, that seems to include:
1. an integrative, unimpaired form of spirituality consists of three dimensions, each addressing one of the faculties of mind: thinking, feeling and doing
2. each dimension ought to include the best of what modern insights and technologies can contribute.
Concretizing those principles we could imagine a society, including:
- awareness and active
study of advanced theories about the evolution, the noosphere, fundamental
characteristics of human (psychological) and universal functioning, with
useful applications for daily life
- reflecting on possibilities and ethical implications of scientific and technological advance in many domains
- reflecting on modern hypotheses concerning the sense of life, life after death, a divine Being
- becoming progressively more aware of the deeper and universal meaning of ancestral symbols and idioms, the symbolism of art, etc.
- the awareness that in this evolvtionary process, errors, conflicts and pain are rather the results of the temporary imperfectness of the evolving systems, and no proof of bad intentions.
- the sense of responsability for the whole.
- the awareness of
participation into the technological, social, relational an spiritual evoltion
towards a better life and world
- sharing the emotions of significant others, especially when these emotions result from a constructive attempt to produce more happiness
- creating and experiencing all kinds of beauty of nature and artefacts
- being active in
the advancement of science, technology, psychology, art, medicine, education
- experience the sense and crucial moments of life and existence through active participation in symbolic rituals
- becoming aware of the deep value of fraternality and existential communication by applying fraternity and universal solidarity within small, significant groups ouside the traditional family and friendships
With this text I invite the readers of this web page to share their experiences with spirituality groups that respond to these characteristics. And if it appears that a society with this kind of integrative spirituality does not yet exist, I invite them to contribute to the elaboration of such a society.