Preface form the upcomming book "What does spirituality want?'

W h a t ist spirituality? This question, while it might seem easy to answer at first sight, evokes some difficulties. Do we actually know what we mean when we talk of spirituality? It seems, as a conglomeration of worldviews and practises under the banner of self-transcendence, to escape a certain clarity. What is it exactly, this spiritual life? Is it a lifeworldly bricolage as well conceptually as in practice, or is there a hidden architecture or wholeness to be found which elevates spirituality to something notable, maybe to something essential to human nature. Is it more than the sum of its – from all over the world cobbled together – parts? Can we even speak of t h e spiritualty, as a thing in itself, as something which possesses a structure and form, which stabilises itself though specific ways of communication and methods while excluding others – as the social systems of science, politics or economics do. 

Is there, with other worlds, a specific sense or spirit observable, and therefore a general tendency, a t e l o s  philosophically speaking, a common goal, and yes, a way of being in the world and a general practise inherent in spirituality?  If that would be true, that would mean that it – as the systems of science, economics, and politics do, among others – would have a reciprocal relationship with all part of our cultural life. Moreover, our being human would be interwoven with spirituality and our daily life would benefit from it. Science – for example – receives its legitimation by offering to culture and our daily life the practical results of its theories and its search for truth and thereby becomes compatible with society as a whole. Could we dare to strive for an equal claim regrading spirituality? Is spirituality more than a New-Age phaenomenon, more than a passing fad historically seen, and maybe something which has to be embedded into a big picture of our culture.

Maybe – and I am a follower of the concepts of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget – we do not know yet what spirituality is, or what it might be. Didn´t Piaget demonstrated that we have to live through certain experiences before we can understand them? Doesn´t a child play, before it can describe the rules of the game? Don´t we need to dream, before we can analyse and understand the dream? Doesn´t the infant enacts his impulses and instincts, before it can develop concepts and schemes of behaviour? Don´t we have to act out certain things in order to understand them later? Don´t we project certain contents of consciousness as mythical stories into the world before we recognize them as being part of our interior psyche? Don´t we need to repeat behaviour in order to observe it, to understand it and to change it?  What Piaget discovered was that we have to go through these iterations to become able to understand ourselves and the world. And we know that from early psycho-analytical theory: That, which lingers in the unconscious, that we hadn´t made conscious, will control our life. Its the same idea.  

And why should it be different with cultural phenomenons. What is true for the development of the psyche must be true for culture as a whole. Perhaps up to this point in time spirituality has shown itself only fragmentary, while at the same striving to be understood as a whole and revealing her telos and evolutionary purpose.  Maybe we need to go through the varied manifestations and iterations of spirituality – of the shamanic, the religious, the mystical experiences – in order to understand the true nature of spirituality. This should be our starting point, and I will come back to it frequently: Perhaps we dreamt culturally for millennia about spirituality, all the while only noticing certain aspects and certain characteristics without understanding her fully, as a nightly dream sometimes escapes a clear interpretation. Maybe we were caught up in certain symbolisms and cultural forms. Maybe it is just now that after going through all the archaic, pre-modern, religious and postmodern iterations we are able to understand the core of spirituality. Even the philosophia perennis, postulating a common origin of wisdom, couldn´t see clearly though the fog of ideology and directed its attention more on metaphysical similarities and not on biological – or even better said: existential – initial conditions.  

For though if we extent the temporal horizon and observe all the historic forms, beginning with the early funeral rites and the archaic forms of shamanism, to the mesopotamic, egyptian, greek and the eastern cults to the great religions and traditions, christianity, hinduism, buddhism and so on, to alchemy, spiritualism, esotericism, hermeticism to the Lebensreform and New-Age as iterations of one and the same thing, one has to ask: What is it exactly which expresses itself and wants to be understood? What is it that iterates, the core, the motive, and the purpose? Maybe we can understand something about human nature and consciousness if we take this approach.

In relation with this it must be said that I decline to talk of these cultural phenomenons as religious phenomenons, as it is done frequently. This not only because the original term religio is in context of the varieties of spiritual experiences of at least three hundred thousand years a relatively young term; not only, because this term to this day eludes a clear definition; not only because this term failed to describe properly the eastern traditions; not only because a reverence of the gods or bond between good and men or a reconnection with the god was not always a constitutive element of the spiritual experience, may it be pre-modern or postmodern; but because there have survived to this day certain spiritual phenomenons, concepts and practises, while the very religious aspects have long fallen, or were explicitly murdered by the most famous and most influential German philosopher. What a god is or could be today is a question which offends our amour-propre. The tower – the house of god itself – fell, as it was predicted by Christianity itself. And not only did Christianity predicted its own demise, it worked actively toward that goal, since, as everybody know, scientific though explicitly developed by the hands of the clerics, while the modern thinker and first famous scientist Issac Newton was at the same time the last of the alchemists. Nevertheless we don´t remain with empty hands.

But this is not supposed to be a complete farewell to two thousand years western cultural and religious history. On the contrary we might understand spirituality better if we overcome our aversion of religion as a whole and integrate the virtues of religion while dismissing the fallacies in order to honor its ethical and psychological as well as narrative content. Its obvious that we all internalized the ethical norms of Christianity, even if we don´t identify a Christians. But it may not be that obvious that the narrative structure of the bible still has a lot to offer to understand our daily lives from a psychological viewpoint. Your spouse has left you: Maybe you should read again of the fall of men and the story of Eden! Are you in despair, success is withhold from you, and you become resentful? Read again the story of Cain and Abel! We live by and through stories, and the biblical ones can offer something to understand our existential predicament. We need concrete stories to navigate through life, to generate actions and behaviours. In this sense those biblical stories are equally important as the greek stories or the fairy tales of the brother Grimm, which we out of obvious reasons still read our children, and which derives from greek myths. They are – obviously – still relevant, and many psychologists have shown that you can analyse ones life properly by analysing the superficial and deep stories, which we have chosen in a very young age to navigate through life. 

It becomes clear in what direction this considerations are going to go. We want to dismiss all unnecessary metaphysical ballast, all esoteric-murky and speculative presuppositions and approach the problem of spirituality from the viewpoint of the evolution of the consciousness itself. But in doing so we are running into something we could identify as the main problem with which spirituality is wrestling since its late-modern emergence in the 19th century and especially since the cultural revolution of the 60ties, namely its utter i n c o h e r e n c e regarding its program or its methods. What is it that this late- or postmodern spirituality wants? It is about taking the path of self-discipline and temperance or is it about being in the here and now? – two completely different approaches which are basically mutually exclusive. Is it about radical honesty or is it about developing compassion and love – most times authentic honesty has nothing to do with empathy and compassion. Is it about healing or illumination? And if it is about illumination: illumination according to whom? Is it about strengthening the individual or to give oneself up in some form of collective consciousness? Is it about attaining happiness, or is it about gaining the strength to endure suffering?

It seems that this diffusiveness of spirituality does not discourage the seeker, but on the contrary constitutes to a larger extent to the attractiveness of spirituality. Spirituality seems to be what people can make of it. But there is no consistent program, no verified methods, no clear goal, which applies to everybody. Shakti-Pooja, reiki and tantra-soap, everything seems to belong to spirituality. There is, I say it again, no telos, something all the other social systems do in fact possess. And a consequence of this structural incoherence there are certain fallacies or pathologies, which permeants the spiritual life; and I am not even talking about pre-modern superstitions like reincarnation, the akasha-chronicles and so on. We will deal with these pathologies und ideas in the third part of this book, as well as we intend to analyse the breeding ground from which these fallacies arise. We will see that – from an ethical viewpoint – that these postmodern pathologies are hostile to life and the very development of psyche and culture.

The remaining question would then if such an interpretation of the spiritual life is a proper one, or if spirituality serves a deeper function and provides answers to more existential problems, which are arising as soon as consciousness emerges. The emergence of consciousness may not only be the result of other influences and forces, but had to produce – as every new invention does, independently of it being biological, social or even technological – a certain set of new existential problems. I will argue in the pages to follow that spirituality offered some solutions to these emerging problems, and is still offering these solutions today if only we could see through the haze of postmodern, esoteric spirituality. This book is therefore an attempt to identify this existential, evolutionary function of spirituality in the most broadest context; at the same time I fear we have to throw the bulk of our spiritual conceptions overboard to get a clear picture of this evolutionary function.

What does spirituality want? Perhaps lurking in swamps of postmodern spiritual life there is some gold to be found – Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicinam – something true and beautiful striving to be known by those who have the grit to throw themselves into this abyss. Especially in differentiation to postmodern spirituality we have to and must ask: What is the useful element of such a primordial or authentic spirituality? What is its psychological and social function? Inasmuch as we can get involved with this endeavour we might discover its telos and its overall goal.

In approaching spirituality this way we have to address the issue of language. We should not ask what spirituality or transcendence ‘is’ but what happens in the process of transcendence and spiritual practise. There is no such thing as spirituality, is it a linguistic objectification of something we do, and something we act out. A lot has been written about the problems of identify processes as things; consciousness itself is very good example, which is not a thing but more in the sense of lived experience. In this vein: There are no stages or levels of consciousness, only different ways of create experience. This is quite a huge difference if we try to understand our mind. That is to say, there is also no spirituality as there is no waterfall or any thing, there is only water streaming down a cliff. This shift in perception will help us to understand more precise the nature of the spiritual practise, its results and its consequences. When on the following pages I will speak of spirituality, this will be only out of convenience. With this shift we are approaching one central issue, namely the question what we do if we act spiritually. Now, one could presume that a definition or description of certain techniques would be sufficient to describe the spiritual life. In this sense, spiritual would be someone who practises Yoga. But my counter-argument would be that such an approach wouldn´t serve our purpose since methods and techniques are changing over time and there are obviously people who practise yoga who won´t identify as being spiritual. That means we have to dig a little deeper than that. If these ‘externalized’ and ‘culturalized’ techniques and methods don´t define the spiritual life, what then does define spirituality?

That means, we want to take a look at consciousness as the agent of spiritual acting. Not the externalized methods like yoga or meditation are the focus of our investigation, but what consciousness does while it successfully employs and uses this methods. Acting spiritually would imply therefore something we do with our consciousness. What that is, or might be, we will investigate in chapter one and two. Overall, this should be the general scheme of this book: To differentiate and distinguish spirituality as a postmodern phenomenon from a spirituality which emerges with consciousness itself and is defined by the architecture of the consciousness. Chapter one and two will deal with these architectures – although I should say more precisely: these processes, since we don´t want to deal with any kind of objectification – before delving into the postmodern predicament in chapter three with all its virtues and fallacies.

Tom AmarqueComment