I had someone write this email to me, asking:
“Serge, I really want to live a deeper spiritual life. Can you give me any advice?”
Here was my reply:
It depends what you mean by a spiritual life which for a lot of people means one of austerity, and being adept at difficult yogic postures! This is not my understanding. Just being able to stand on your head for two hours does very little good in the world and by no means guarantees you are a decent human being, which for me is what being spiritual is all about. Yes, yogic practices or other spiritual practices help refine us and certainly if we wish to be more spiritual we will probably need some practices to do, meditation being my favourite one, but remember that a practice in itself is not spiritual. What is spiritual is the potential in us that a practice may help bring about.
I prefer the term being more fully human to spiritual as that sounds more genuine. For me, spiritual people are people who live with gusto and passion, who don’t deny their own fruitiness, who prefer expressing than suppressing, who see the value of working at opening their hearts and listening to them, who are interested in some way of being a force for positive change in the world and don’t try to escape life by living on a mountain top in the Himalayas but are engaged in it fully without taking on its horrendous value system. Or as one teacher of mine put it: “The challenge of being spiritual is about being in the world but not of it!”.
A spiritual person for me is not about being some skinny ascetic (unless one feels one’s true calling really is to renounce the world and live cloistered away in an ashram and this is a few people’s calling, I admit) but rather someone willing to live in the midst of civilisation and its many discontents in a way that doesn’t aim to increase them so much as be an antidote to them. A spiritual person then, for me, is someone whose aim is to emanate a good, positive energy and not dump their surplus anxieties and fears onto their environment but rather is willing to recycle them. Such a person seeks to be authentic and not to engage in all the manipulative game playing that is so prominent in the world today. A friend of mine used the phrase “Elegant Simplicity” and I think that if we are seeking to be more spiritual, that that is how we should attempt to live.
Modern life is so complicated and inelegant. We all have so many eggs in so many baskets and are always feeling we need to do more or be more, so I say that a spiritual life is one where we try to reduce what we do to essentials, not have surplus stuff hanging around, and put more energy into being than having or into connecting with rather than possessing. We need to practice right livelihood, have a profession that is respectful of our planet, and see that the way we live, move, and generally have our daily being is less and less about feeding the many problems in the world and more and more about trying to be part of their solution. Thus, we seek to not be greedy, not to have our investments in oil or armament shares, not to believe that killing off more and more terrorists will end terror, not project our dark side out on others but take responsibility for it ourselves. For me, a huge part of being spiritual is seeking to treat all people in a kind and compassionate way and to see the best in them and thus to work at ridding ourselves of the terrible tendency so many of us have, which is always to be critical and see what is wrong with everyone and everything. Thus, we need to see if we hold beliefs and values and attitudes that are in any way ‘anti-life’ and if so, think about changing them. I hope this is OK for starters.
The last thing I will say is that we need to have an aim in life, a purpose. My experience is that powerful “helping forces” exist in the world. I wrote about them in my recent book on Awakening the Universal Heart, and if we really wish to be more human, then we start evoking these wonderful forces and they start working on our behalf. My point is really that being spiritual is all about the way we live our daily lives and it requires more than just reading a few spiritual books and going to the odd weekend workshop. It needs to be a total commitment that engages us in all areas – our work, our relationships, our families, what we do to relax. My new book coming out next year, provisionally entitled From Separation to Celebration, will attempt to answer your question more fully. I wish you well in your commitment.