What is Spirituality FOR? (1)

<June 2008>

Everyone and her cousin is reading Eckhart Tolle right now, & this is a good thing! I’m one of his biggest fans, & if I had to distill my (usually exceedingly long) recommended reading list down to just one title, it would be, without question, A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.

Eckhart Tolle’s thoughts & insights & wisdom are spot on. They are just the words & messages we need to hear at this uniquely challenging time in human history.

I do, however, suspect that there is some confusion over the meaning & purpose of the term/phenomenon “spirituality,” & I think it’s important that we not miss out on the forest for the trees…as it were.

Let me say right off the top here, by the way, that neither I nor anyone else would ever describe me as a “spiritual-looking” person (can’t seem to make myself do yoga or meditate regularly, for example). I’m no “expert” on the subject of the meaning & purpose of spirituality, either. I just think (& read, & philosophize) about all these things quite a lot…

While a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle (& of Oprah, who has helped so hugely to deliver Tolle's ideas to millions of people)(2), I’m a little concerned that some of us may be missing the point of all this learning to live in the moment, understanding about the “pain body,” & learning more about energy & joy & enthusiasm.

We are not here just for ourselves, Gentle Reader; none of us is! We are here for each other, & for the whole (meaning the human race & the Earth). This is what (most) religions & religious leaders have always tried so hard to teach us, but got derailed by becoming self-perpetuating & self-righteous institutions. Nowadays, of course, so many of us find that organized religion doesn’t “speak” to us, & indeed, the beauty of the amazing Eckhart Tolle is that his wisdom transcends all the old man-made religious divisions & dogmas.

Spirituality is for each and every one of us – its purpose (I think) is to help us become more fully human. Inevitably, becoming more fully human brings us into intimate contact with other human beings & with suffering of all kinds, since Planet Earth has billions of human beings & is rife with suffering in myriad forms.

“Spirituality is that aspect of ourselves which enables us to transcend our isolation and move into communion with life and with one another. When our lives lack any kind of experience which connects us with the sanctity of life, it is as though we have lost the very ground of our being. Spirituality is central to community and to effective political work.” So said Margo Adair & Sharon Howell in their essay “Women Weave Community” in the book Circles of Strength – Community Alternatives to Alienation.(3)

Spirituality & spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation & chanting exist to help us rein in our egos & their attendant emotional excesses & to become more wise, giving, compassionate & caring people; at least, that’s my understanding of their purpose.

I suspect there are still at least some people I know well who think spirituality is “woo woo” – too “out there,” too weird, too anti-intellectual…too…airy-fairy.

I think too that some of us think doing yoga & meditation are ends in themselves. After all, they make us feel so good.

It seems to me it would be a terrible shame if all the people who are “awakening to [their] life’s purpose” simply begin to exchange one form of egotism for another.

We are here for one another. We are not here just to look after ourselves & our own immediate situations. (I don't think so, anyway, though for sure, I could be wrong about this!)

There are many serious crises taking place here on the Earth at this time, & there is so much work to do!

I pray (yes, although I am not conventionally “religious,” do not attend church & don’t appear outwardly very “spiritual,” I do indeed pray) that more & more of us will grasp soon – as we learn to let our egos/minds grip us less & less in the negative ways to which we’ve become accustomed – that we do indeed each have a purpose here, & that our energy & efforts & caring & compassion are needed in a whole variety of ways.

Being “spiritual” – especially in the year 2009 – does not mean “workin’ 9 – 5” & caring only about our own immediate situation, & perhaps doing yoga & meditation in order to benefit our own immediate self. Doing yoga & meditation & chanting & becoming less selfish & less ensnared by ego free us to contribute to the world around us; this, I believe, is what spirituality is really for.

When we free ourselves from the old yoke of egotism & the more recent & all-too-prevalent “Everything is all about ME” mentality, a lot of energy is freed up.

But don’t take old un-spiritual Janet McNeill’s word on this. The Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader recognized, loved & respected around the world. I heard him quoted recently in the Elisabet Sahtouris DVD “Crisis as Opportunity: Living Better on a Hotter Planet” saying: “ The most important meditation is critical thinking – followed by action.”(4)


P.S. There are 2 other items on the blog on this topic: ‘The Problem with God’ & ‘Spirituality: More Thoughts.’


[1] With apologies and gratitude to farmer, poet and essayist Wendell Berry, whose essay collection “What are People FOR?” is an excellent and inspiring read (as is everything he writes!).

(2) with her Webcasts, I mean, which you can find here

(3) Circles of Strength – Community Alternatives to Alienation, edited by Helen Forsey, New Society Publishers, 1993.

(4) Elisabet Sahtouris is a wonderfully inspiring evolution biologist, writer and international presenter. To learn more about her, go here. The film mentioned is very, very inspiring. It can be ordered on-line…