After all, what does it mean to be a “Spiritualist”?

I’d like to propose some reflections for you who consider yourself a catalyst of positive change in the world, especially if you also consider yourself a spiritualist.

I have met hundreds of people that fit the description above and observed many more in physical and online (such as Facebook) groups on various religious and spiritualistic themes. The great majority of them have a very unrealistic idea of themselves, considering their abilities and/or knowledge to be much but much greater than what they truly are. Those are individuals who consider themselves awake or awakening but can’t provide good arguments to support their certainty. Rational verification is a process that does not typically resonate with them, yet they carry a lot more certainties than questions. So, what is the origin of such certainties? (This rationale brings to mind Socrates words: “I only know that I know nothing”; or those of Jesus: “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” – are them not spiritualist figures?)

Well, I tried to look deeper and try to figure out if perhaps I wasn’t missing something and start noticing that most spiritualists exhibited clear “spiritual bypassing”, a term coined by Dr. John Welwood and that can be summarized as rationalizing premature transcendence to avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks. I’ll give you an example: the individual take some basic concepts of an Eastern religion combined with the fact that we create with our minds, add some cliché concepts of practical philosophy and self-help, and in this miscellany of ideas, shape his/her own spirituality with very little change to personal ethics and actions on daily life. In the end, everything is energy, connection and God – Ah and, of course, don’t question anything or anyone as it makes people uncomfortable and/or frustrated, after all, no inner reform has actually been accomplished and people get triggered very easily!! I honestly wonder if some people consider themselves spiritual for asking questions such as “what is the most spiritual element, number or letter of the alphabet for you”? I see a lot of disdain for religion and science coming from spiritualists that haven’t really researched or thought about any of those concepts deeply – beyond random internet searches of blog discussions. I don’t mean to come across as being sarcastic, even because I myself still fall on some of the descriptions given above way more often than I’d like to admit. Moreover, the reflections I am proposing here are the direct result of my observations and practices on self-discovery – the very studies and reasoning’s that made me see how urgently I needed to be more rational and scientific about my own spirituality and beliefs. That’s when I decided it was time to go beyond the surface and really understand what spirituality really is (and is not). This process made me realize how important it was for me to listen and consider things from multiple perspectives. It made me question the true extent of the positive and/or negative impact I have in the world and in my relationships – topics I have approached previously. So, to conclude this introduction, I’d like to stress that the matter is quite important and really not about me, but about how we truly affect positive changes to ourselves and the world we live in. Do we really know what we think we know?

After the points noted above, I guess it makes sense we start by establishing some ground understanding of what Science and Religion really are, before deepening the understanding of Spirituality and its relationship with those other two concepts.

Let’s start with science. I discussed this topic quite extensively in the post “After all, what does it mean to be a Scientist”. So, here, let me simply state that Science can be defined as “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and laws of nature and its inhabitants through observation and experiment”. Science then, does not need to be positivistic, but simply to meet the basic criteria of having a rational and systematic method of study adequate for the object of study. We can also approach this from a slightly different perspective and state that every effect has a cause. Now, when have we determined that all effects must have a physical cause or that science must be materialistic? Ruling out all non-physical effects as supernatural and explaining them as a delusion or hoax simply can’t constitute good reasoning or good science. Therefore, spiritualists can (and should) think and act scientifically by employing a “systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”, in other words, use their reason wisely. From this standpoint then, science and religion do not compete or oppose to each other. There is only opposition between materialism and spirituality, not between science and spirituality.

Now, let’s discuss Religion. The word “religion” comes from the Latin Religare, which means “reconnect”. Therefore, simply put, everything that connects us with the divine have a religious element, regardless of rituals, clergy or you name it. In essence, this Religare is a subject experience. This is not, however, what religions have become as this autonomous morality element has been totally stripped from them and replaced by human creations that, instead, follow a heteronomous model of morality. We discussed the differences between autonomy and heteronomy in the article “How to deconstruct our need for a messiah, a savior, a leader”, which I highly recommend that you read (as understanding autonomy vs. heteronomy is critical to truly understanding of what spirituality really is). Here, we’ll delve into those concepts briefly and objectively.

“Heteronomy” is a concept of practical morality introduced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau to describe actions influenced by a force outside the individual. In other words, it is the state or condition of being ruled, governed, or under the sway of another. It is the counter/opposite of “autonomy”, which is the capacity to make an informed, un-coerced decision. It is clear then that all religions are heteronomous. All of them contain a system of beliefs and determined moral conduct with a clear reward and punishment mechanisms with little to no room for individual interpretations.

Okay, but why autonomy vs. heteronomy is so critical for a true understanding of what spirituality really is? It is because the heteronomous system is based on coercion (you do what you are “instructed” to do) and competition (individuals performance/behavior is sorted between better and worse, giving rise to the favor or preference. Not everyone can win – for instance, some will go to heaven but not all!). Coercion and competition leads to privilege (a head start over others), corruption, etc. If you’ve followed my reasoning, you are now getting a picture of how “heteronomy” and “autonomy” have everything to do not only with religion, but also politics, ethics and the very basis of how we organize ourselves as a society. Awakened individuals are those who think more independently, who reason and question things. They are autonomous by nature and with such strength (because autonomous individuals are those who no longer need canes to stand tall), exercised in mass scale comes deep reforms. The crisis we are facing in all aspects of our present society (economic, political, educational, emotional, spiritual, etc.) and in a global scale have everything to do with mass awakening. This present system based on heteronomy cannot withstand too many autonomous minds. Therefore, this system will naturally fall as competition becomes cooperation (“respect bilateral agreements”), because individual needs are taken into perspective. Fraternity enters the picture and corruption is out. Coercion has no longer a place and freedom finally becomes practice instead of theory. Privilege is progressively substituted by personal merit – everyone have access to whatever their interest and qualifications allow them to do.  Everyone can achieve their dreams and love starts to prevail. This future society, however, cannot be achieved through religion (heteronomy), but only through spirituality (autonomy). I hope that by now, the initial points of this article are better understood and I can now ask this question: is your spiritual practice looking more like religion (heteronomy) than spirituality (autonomy)? Let’s discuss spirituality more deeply then…

Strictly speaking, anyone who believes there is something more than what can be perceived with physical senses (materialism) is a spiritualist, regardless of what this “else” is. In this study, however, I want to propose a distinction between religion and spirituality through heteronomous vs. autonomous grounds, respectively, as it seems to be naturally applicable to each of these concepts. In this sense, a spiritualist that does not question his/her own beliefs is actually a religious person that does not know how religious he/she really is. A rational atheist opened to the possibility of the existence of non-physical dimensions might be more spiritualist than most people in any spiritualist groups in social media, as per my observations. Spiritualism has only one connection to religion, which is to restore the original meaning of Religare – without intermediaries (saints, deities and other characters). Spirituality is a personal experience of self-knowledge and inner discovery. It cannot be learned until experienced at a holistic level – It is not theoretical, but practical, lucid and conscious. True spiritualists employ mind and heart to connect them with the truth and become a new and better person every day. Their betterment happens not through compliance with a given model, but through greater ethical knowledge – which is in itself, connection with the truth. Whereas religious individuals would pray to receive concessions of various natures, spiritualists pray for support and/or guidance so they can implement inner reforms to become better human beings (one is powerless and passive, the other is powerful and active). Spiritualists are entrepreneurial by nature, expressing outwardly their inner calls.

Any spiritual practice not followed by a deep transformative effect of ethical nature is simply a psychological mask, a spiritual bypass. Progress in the path of spirituality requires arduous work. It is not enough to light incense and attend a center of choice on the weekends. It is not enough to attend a week-long spa or meditate up in the mountains. Those things have a purpose but cannot substitute the work that you and only you MUST do. You can choose to start today or tomorrow. You can choose to start it in this life or another. You can choose to start it in this planet or another, but eventually YOU must do the work because spirituality is inherently autonomous.

I hope this text has helped you access new connections with the truth. Let us know how it touched your life. Did it bring you hope or peace? Did it bring excitement? Sharing of a brief comment, you help us gauge whether those articles are of value to others!  We have no funding and every article written is a work of charity to spread love, hope and understanding.

3 thoughts on “After all, what does it mean to be a “Spiritualist”?

  1. You state much that is true but there is a serious flaw in your arguments and the problem is human nature . We are apart from a few exceptions moral beings but how far we obey our inner moral voice varies enormously . Some live for others , their lives are lives of service and dedication and they have successfully put aside personal pleasure. At the other extreme are those who are self – centred and seldom let the needs of others prevent them from doing what they enjoy and gaining what they want. In very extreme cases they are psychopaths with out conscience.


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