Saturday, March 20, 2010

SPIRITUALITY, TAKE TWO

My colleague, Dr. Ruth Bolletino (see Kindred Souls, bottom of page), sent me this comment on my March 17 posting, “Spirituality”:
There are different ways to construe reality, and we use different ones at different times. Let's say that spirituality is indeed a perspective, maybe even a perception, a way of seeing oneself as being connected with others and the universe. That's a marvelous way of looking at things (even though, personally, I confess, there are a lot of people and things I can think of that I would strongly prefer not to see myself as being connected to.)
While that perspective surely lessens our fears about mortality, we're alive now. In the moments that we are able to see our experience in that unified way, what will we do with that perspective? Surely spirituality is, as you say, about more than making us feel good with an expanded self-image.The philosopher Jacob Needleman once pointed out that "real spiritual development calls for action." In other words, it has an ethical element, a way not just of seeing, but of being and acting that demonstrates our connectedness with the people around us.
In every culture we know, people have believed that we human beings have a dimension that cannot be accounted for in physical, intellectual or psychological terms alone. And every major spiritual movement we know about includes a conviction of concern for others.
There's an immediate pay-off. Check it out. Google some phrase like "how helping others is good for health," and you'll read about studies showing that concerned action is good for us, mentally and physically.
- Ruth Bolletino, www.cancerasaturningpoint.org

(By the way, Ruth published a terrific book last year, How to Talk with Family Caregivers About Cancer.)
 
It’s remarkable that Ruth and I are talking sense about spirituality here without having used the word “religion.” A good many people have been turned off by organized religion, but I know very, very few—including adamant atheists—who don’t express some sense of spirituality.

To paraphrase Carl Jung, "Summoned or not, spirituality is present." It begins to make its appearance when my life-threatening illness indelibly confirms that my days are numbered. (They always were numbered, but until now I found that fact convenient to ignore.) I finally know for sure that I can’t spin my wheels indefinitely. Since every moment counts now, how do I use each most effectively? 

This raises magnificent questions: what am I supposed to be doing, anyway? Why am I here in the first place? Soon I find myself reviewing my daily life, my values, my relationships with others, and my perceived place in the universe. Before my diagnosis, my attention was dominated by American Idol and the price of asparagus. Now my horizon's dramatically expanded, as though this illness has cranked open lifelong blinders.

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