With something like spirituality it’s not always easy for people to relate. Religion has given it such a bad name at times, sometimes people just need to find what for them is a less tainted language. For me though it runs pretty well as a word I’ve come to embrace in my own way.
If I drift off into a reflection on it, I think of various points in my life, oases where it was clear, lucid and peacefully “right” and meaningful. Free of a sense of prohibition and rules, in step with a sense of intuited place and balance, though not without the occasional need to get outta Dodge and make some discriminating calls on things. The real sense of it has always been positive rather than negatory, a real good experience rather than an avoidance of bad stuff.
I must have grown up with some sense of spirituality as a kid, maybe due to the innate sense that I feel all children originally have within them of peace, love and beauty, but also probably due to my mother’s influence. My mother was a not very religious Christian, quite non-doctrinaire but very strong on honesty. She had a good deal of frailty to her, but I remember her as a courageous woman when it came to defending the vulnerable in front of her, and standing by right, certainly when I was a child. She was delicate and troubled, but she had a luminous quality, and yes, I could only describe that as spiritual. I was a pacifist as a kid, and I mean committedly so, and if I had a sense of Jesus it wasn’t of crosses and suffering, but of this hippie dude who talked about love and exemplified peace as powerful. I was, in a lot of senses, a child of the sixties.
For my teens and twenties though, it was very different. The heady and sometimes bizarre mix of influences and currents in my (counter) cultural life formed a backdrop to much of what I went through, along with a wacky and disrupted family life that I learned to cut out of emotionally as a teen. Spiritual influence would surface at times and glimmer with serene clarity, only to dive from view and attention, as other streams of culture rolled on to compete more noisily. Some of the compelling philosophies of the counter culture had a strongly materialistic bent; leftism, existentialism, hedonism and demands for revolution and liberation. Psychedelicism straddled and weaved between the spiritual and freeing, and the materialistic. Pour that through adolescent minds and you can see what you’d get. It’s not that there wasn’t spirit amidst all that, the sense of the shared dream which dissolved barriers and boundaries was overwhelming at times, but the flinty, steely demand of some of the static could whip the mind and heart into some distorted forms, forms that were shared and became a consensus.
That was the counter culture, but I see similar themes differently expressed in the wider world. The mixing of the spiritual and the materialistic or power oriented. The mixing and tugging of the freeing and the conformist, the freeing of consciousness on the one hand, and then the demand to pull it back into the standard, shared script.
What I never did see before my psycho-spiritual crisis of about 20 years ago, was how ubiquitous the conditioning of materialism was, and how mistaken as perception. And I don’t mean materialistic values, I mean basic materialistic perception. Our sense of causality and the nature of time and space, and separative being, and our valuation of where and in what power and consciousness necessarily lies.
Spiritual reality and power is a real thing. Real – like when a picture you’ve always looked at and accepted gets turned upside down, and you suddenly see that is the plain picture, and the whole edifice of upside down disappears, because it was just a mistake, an error of perception. Plain and simple. That kind of real.
One of my favourite tarot cards is called “Strength”. It shows a woman in a flowing robe bending down over a lion. She has flowers in her hair and the sign of infinity above her head. With a serene expression on her face she places her hands on the lion’s jaws and effortlessly closes the lion’s mouth, who resists her not at all. It is a picture of spiritual power.
We find ourselves faced with many things in our lives, many apparent sources of pain, conflict, turmoil or destructiveness. We are conditioned to think that power and security resides in things that take away this or that person’s choice; violence, manipulation, cruelty, paranoia, ignorance (or at least control of opinion), glamour, conformity. These are artefacts in the vision of materialism, and of separative bodily identification. We are even conditioned to think that the answer to these things lies in the same vocabulary. But that is an unconscious edifice built on an upside down picture. The extraordinary thing is that they are not necessary, and only seem so (or at least apparently inescapable) through being accepted and asserted as a common reality. But as faulty perception they are anything but necessary.
When we get faced with trouble, there is a reaction to fall back on conditioning, fear and shutting down. But with time there comes a response to see beyond it and recall a deeper reality. We can gently awaken, and live from somewhere different, peaceful, powerful.
This is the power of spirituality, and real magic is an expression of that.
Tarot artwork by Pamela Colman Smith