What would be the relevance of spirituality without practicality?
When Thijs en I wrote The Experience Maker, the intent was to build a bridge: to make spirituality practical (again).
What is spiritual growth? It would be the growth of your spirit - perhaps less so in the direction of length and width, but more in the direction of depth. A practical definition could be to be increasingly aware and knowing. That seems useful. The unaware person is a slave of his or her programs and run be automatic urges and responses. More awareness means more conscious choices in which direction your life is heading. In that sense, spiritual growth may have the intent to increasingly make more skillful choices in life. Very practical indeed.
More awareness of what?
Let's say your car breaks down. To repair it, you'll need an understanding of how it operates. Becoming aware in that sense is like knowing through noticing and observation. You study it so you have a better understanding of its workings. From that understanding you can fix and also make cars.
Applying this to your own self, when you are broken, to fix it, you'll need an understanding of how you operate. Therefore, you study you, and the increased knowing will help you fix and also make you. Very practical still.
For our cars we visit the mechanic. For ourselves, we visit the doctor, therapist, books, video interviews, and so forth. For as long as the car drives, we're happy. With millions of people being broken down in depression, disorder, burnout, anxiety, stress and trauma, it seems we and the mechanics (doctors, therapists, etc) don't have sufficient self-knowledge to fix 'us'.
The simple question being: if life is not what you want it to be, how do you make it so it is?
In the absence of a 'chip' that you could insert into your 'brain' to fix you - spirituality may be a very practical alternative.
Spiritual 'practices' should aim to help you better understand you - so that you can keep driving in the direction you want. The challenge here being that one Mercedes is generally build like the other Mercedes. But human spirits are handmade unique one time creations - who also continuously evolve, change and transform - we are self-learning. Added to this that there are entire aspects of you that aren't easily 'visible': that what is outside of your awareness and perhaps deeply hidden in what is called your subconscious. To really understand you, you'll need to study you more so than 'human kind'. Knowing what 'type' of being you are isn't enough. You really need to know who you are to get to the root of things.
This may tell you something about why many 'practices' won't help you fix what's broken. If the premise of the practice is some religious or scientific universal truth preached by a guru, priest, doctor, therapist or scientist, you should be sceptical unless it helps you better understand you. It would be like a Fiat telling a Ferrari where her 8th cylinder is. You get the point: the one who knows you best is still you. Nobody else knows what you have experienced, how you have experienced it, what you have learned from it, and how that has made you who you are. The best practice is a self-study based practice.
Where to start your study of you? We recommend starting with your experiences. Why? It's very practical. You either like or don't like the experiences you are having. This would be like determining that the headlight of your car is broken. Start with that.
We don't seem to emphasize the essence of experiencing enough. You are experience. Life is experience. You experience all day long. It is what it is all about. It is undeniably there. Everything you do is to experience something. You can't not not experience. It's always there, always has been and always will be. You like it or you don't like it - that's about how many options are on the table. Experiencing is a given and it's either positive or negative (and perhaps 'neutral' - but that's another topic). Very simple still.
You may think you go to work because you must. That's not a fact. Many people on this planet don't work. Will they experience what you experience? Maybe not. And maybe that is not the experience you are looking for. You go to work to have the experiences you want (or think you want). You may think you are in a relationship because you must. Again not a fact. Many people on this planet don't want a relationship. These are all choices.
If you are depressed, scared, lost, broken, sick, etc, and you don't like that experience - you don't want it. Start there.
How do you study that? If you want to study the headlight of your car to fix it - you're going to need to take it apart. You are going to need to understand the components it is made of to see which is and which isn't functioning. The whole of the headlight works when all its parts work. You'll need to find the parts in you that are out of balance and in disharmony with the rest of you.
The great thing about experiences is that you can easily become aware of them. Just watch them. Observe them. What components can be found in each experience? When you start looking, it's not as complex as it may seem. There are thoughts. Feelings. Actions. Senses. Your physical body. There are other people, nature, the world. It's interactive and dynamic - in constant movement. Something appears, you respond, etc. Perhaps the most helpful component to explore next is your intent: what do you want?
When your experience isn't what you want, there has to be something that you want instead. How else would you know that something is not what you want? Once you have identified the experience that needs 'fixing', study next the intent or desire that is behind it. For instance, if the experience of loneliness is not what you want, experiencing connection is what you may want instead. The difference between the two is how they make you feel. If loneliness doesn't make you feel good - you or some part of you isn't in agreement with the experience of loneliness. If the experience of connection makes you feel great, then that's a sign you want it. Here you can start to see how 'knowing' can help you make better decisions. When you know what you want, you've made choices. The practical definition of spiritual growth we used earlier was therefore to be increasingly aware and knowing with the intent to make more skillful choices in life.
Why would we bring 'spirit' into making better choices. Isn't that simply a matter of logic? What does spirituality have to do with decision making?
The answer to that lies in what knowing really means. When do you know something to be true for you? How do you know 1+1=2. You remember what you have learned from experience. How do you know if the housing market will go up or down? You don't. But from experience you may remember what you have learned which will give you a sense of probability. How do you know you prefer to eat Chinese instead of Pizza. Your unique preferences are inspired by your total uniquely combined experiences. You can imagine that you have had a lot of experiences. In each experience you have, you will 'know' what you have learned in similar experiences by remembrance. Your memories plays a substantial role in the making of your next experience. It's like you press the ignition button and the engine starts. Every new experience ignites the memory engine to produce the next experience. How can you modify the engine to produce a different experience if you are not liking the current one? Self-awareness.
Who is self-aware? Right. This is where 'spirit' may have a meaning.
When we say 'more aware', we imply that there is more of you than is in your present awareness. To make better choice in life, and have more of the experience you do want, we therefore say to bring more of you into your awareness. What would then be the totality of you? What would you be when you are entirely aware over everything you are? That which is all of you, conscious and subconscious, we tend to call spirit. Therefore, bringing more spirit (more of you) into your awareness, gives you understanding of more memories, more experiences, more learnings - all of what's inside the engine producing your experiences. That's helpful and very practical.
Spirit is therefore about the definition of you. Are you your physical body alone? Your personality? Your spirit? This definition will depend of what you are aware of. People who have had a near death experience will likely define themselves as more than their physical body and more than their personality - because they have experience being 'outside' of that. There may be as many definitions as there are people and that can turn into a very spirited discussion. You don't need to agree on any, since the practicality is in what you want to experience. The suggestion with spirituality is simply to bring more of you to the table to make the choices in life that fit you. As you study your experiences, you will also learn more about the totality of you - those aspects you were not aware of. Perhaps even some of those element people who have had a near death experience talk about. You don't need to nearly die to have an out-of-body experience.
This seeking may make you aware of parts of you as well as processes. For instance, earlier we asked if decision making isn't a logical thinking process and what spirit would have to do with that. And that 'knowing' is a process of remembering. What process is feeling? Intuition? Foreseeing? Gut feeling? Dreaming? Creating? What do we mean when we say something resonates with us? Or that you are not 'yourself' lately? These 'experiences' point to parts of you that may be beyond logic or a different type of logic. What you may discover is an incredibly powerful engine or intelligence within you that if you become aware of it and understand it, could be very helpful in making the life you want.
Getting it to work. The purpose remains better decision making to create the life you want. If something isn't feeling great and bringing you joy - it's time to fix it. One experience leads to another. You could simply start fixing the experiences that aren't working for you so that you feel better. You could start small, turning every little experience into more and more joy. Finding the meaning and love in every experience. Learn from it. Grow from it. Rinse and repeat. Keep becoming more aware of your current experiences. What is happening in the experience? What are the components? What version or part of you is at play? Who is involved? What memories in you are activated? How does it feel? What do you want instead? How might you change your approach, response, thoughts, emotions, believes, preferences, biases, expectations and actions. This simple step by step weeding through your experiences, day by day, moment by moment, keep you focussed on what it is all about: your experiences right here and now. As you master each experience better, you become a new version of you - opening the door to yet other experiences.
What is truly helpful in this process is to be non-judgemental. Judgement closes doors. The acceptance of the experience, you and anyone else keep your mind open and flexible. A judgement often fixes the approach and outcome you are attached to. Unconditional love and acceptance allow you to see more of you and the experience - and also more of all the possibilities in front of you.
Practitioners and facilitators of spiritual growth should be practical and have the same openness and neutrality. Their task should be to support you in growing self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-being, firmly grounded in every day experiences - not preaching their own truth or claiming to know you better than you know yourself.
Spiritual growth as we discussed it here is practical. It aims to bring more of yourself into your awareness, to help you make better decisions in life. It is added wisdom and intelligence. What you call it should not distract you from what you aim to achieve: to experience what you want your experience to be.