This week, one of the many books I am reading is Sam Harris’ Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. In it, Harris discusses the issue of spirituality, evoking neither the trappings of religion nor the types of fuzzy thinking that normally accompany notions of spirituality. The book is fascinating because it delves into the complexities of neuroscience, which perplex even the experts. But it also addresses the practical notions of training the mind through meditation in order to live a purposeful and peaceful life.
While researching this topic, I came across a wonderful definition for spiritual atheism. One can think of atheistic spirituality as “a sense of the sacred, of the things that are highly valuable and worthy of reverence…a sense of awe and wonder, a recognition of the deeper and more profound aspects of life” (“In Awe of Everything”. Daylight Atheism).
Despite the fact that I love and identify with this definition, I just don’t feel comfortable with the term “spiritual.” I feel this way for the same reason that I am not comfortable with the word “God” – no matter how many gymnastic stretches of the English language I’ve heard use to define each term. It’s like when old people start using certain teen, street, or hip-hop slang words – that’s how you know the word is no longer cool. The words “God” and “spirituality” have been beaten into bloody pulps of nonsense. Therefore, simply redefining them won’t do.
Rather, as an atheist who meditates, produces poetry and art, and has been described as “spiritual,” I would like to reject the term, but keep the sentiment. I am not “spiritual.” I am humble in the face of the magnitude of my own relative insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe. Nevertheless, I recognize and embrace the part I have to play in my own circle of influence; and I do my best to play that part to the fullest. I believe that, as a human, I am honor-bound to take care of other humans and the Nature upon which we all depend. I believe that I have inherited a set of traits which have produced a certain set of proclivities. I develop and display those traits for the good of myself and the people around me. I believe that, as a human, I am a communal being. Therefore, taking care of my community is fulfilling. Being a proactive and responsible citizen helps me thrive as an individual and as a part of the whole.
Most importantly, I accept my mortality. Acknowledging that life is short, I am committed to using as much time as I can to influence my own happiness and those of the people I love. The only immortality I have is the legacy I leave behind in the form of my children, the people I help, and the work I leave behind. Perhaps, we can come up with some word other than spiritual – a word that does not invoke woo. I am a naturalist, a freethinker, an atheist, a Darwinist who lives in awe of the interconnectedness of all things. A trans-materialist, maybe? (I’ll keep working on it).
Have a beautiful week!