How does our spiritual identity affect our actions and how we shape our world?
When I think of the “spirit” of something I think of its modus operandi; what is its “method of operating?” What makes it function? What drives it to work?
When I think of the spirit of a human being, I ask myself, “What does that being live for?” What makes him or her get up every morning? What makes his or her life worth living? What source of energy does that person draw upon to do what they do?
Evolution and biology can describe the reasons behind a lot of basic instincts and behavior, but they don’t answer a whole lot about the values we hold implicitly through our traditions, customs, culture, and art.
We all go through rituals that define our existence. It could be watching TV, going to church, reading books, meditating, playing sports, doing your job, eating, videogames, working out at the gym, writing, taking care of your kids… you get the point – if you do it periodically then it is a ritual – and these habits implicitly tell us what we value out of life.
But how often do you ask yourself, “Why do I do the things I do?”
It can seem like a stupid question because we take these things for granted. Maybe you do them because you have always done them and that is just who you are. I hear people give me that response a lot, but that is circular reasoning; saying those things only reinforces who we are, even if that modus operandi isn’t doing ourselves much justice.
Backbone = Identity
I wouldn’t say that our actions define ourselves (although that might be a behaviorist approach to identity), but I do think how we define ourselves plays a significant role in our actions.
Buddism and many Eastern philosophies put a strong emphasis on the “nature of self” as a spiritual guide. They also recognize that how we think of our self determines certain values we hold about our world. For example, many schools of Buddhism recognize a non-dualistic nature between self/other (that we are all interconnected and no one is separate), thus compassion and loving-kindness become logical moral values to hold in our relationships with friends, family, neighbors, coworkers other acquaintances, and nature itself.
Some of the big questions regarding anybody’s life are,
“How do I fit into the world at large?”
“What purpose do I serve in life?”
“How can I improve conditions for myself and others?”
Only you can answer these questions with your own reason and experience, but let it be known that your answers have a profound impact on how you live your life. Thus, I would argue these questions are worth contemplating through daily introspection, meditation, or prayer.
Getting Off The Soapbox For A Moment
Before I conclude this post let me just clear up a few things that often get misunderstood when I write about spirituality. I do not intend to change anyone’s values or how they live their life. What I am suggesting is that we take the time to question why we live the way we do. It is a deep question, directed towards you, but not one that I can provide the answers for.
I think when we try to make a change or improvement in our lives we often take the most basic questions for granted. But often those fundamental questions are the catalysts for the biggest improvements one can make in their life.
I write in order to get people thinking and re-evaluating that world which we take for granted. I want to bring into light implicit assumptions and beliefs, and get individuals to think critically about these ideas they have grown up with all their life. Through doing this individuals can grow a stronger backbone, become more dedicated to what they actually love to do, and drop actions which have become “no good” habits of familiarity that we have wrongly identified to.
But – because we are all diverse individuals with separate interests and talents – it is up to each from their own individual perspective to decide what is right and wrong for them. There is no objective good for everyone; our traditions, culture, art, and tastes (our “pursuit of happiness”) should be particular to our personality. We should not take anything as given just because we have grown up with it or some higher authority has “bestowed” it upon us. Even the values I hold implicitly in my writings should be doubted and questioned.
A Healthy Backbone Builds New Elements, Gets Rid Of Old
A spiritual backbone gives you a center to stand on but it is not necessarily fixed in one place. Just like your spine is built of various bone elements, your spiritual spine too is mobile and multi-faceted. The only thing different is your spiritual spine never stops growing and evolving in new ways (whether you are conscious of it or not).
Your relationship with the world is never fixed, it is always changing; new aspects are constantly arising and fading into the ever-expanding shape of time. From a day-to-day basis things may seem to be moving slow, but when you reflect on months or years they can seem like eternities apart. The world is actually a really exciting and dynamic place if we keep our eyes open to it. Not many things remain the same over extended periods of time. Isn’t that what evolution is all about?
The only thing worse than not having a spiritual backbone at all is having a concrete one, which refuses to change in the face of new evidence and experience. Extreme fundamentalists from all religions share this illness, like when biblical literalism takes precedence over scientifically-gathered facts.
Man is not omniscient nor infallible, that is why God forgives and, most importantly, why we should forgive ourselves. All actions and creations of men, including the Bible, are not perfect. This is why spirituality in all of its form is a never-ending process and not a goal-seeking one.
Living In Congruence
When our unspoken values become spoken we are more conscious of the driving forces in our world. Now we know why we get up every morning and we are proud to live out our lives in congruences with those values.
This requires a higher level of consciousness. No longer is our modus operandi like a puppet on strings, but now we are the puppet masters. We understand the reason behind our rituals; we don’t just live them out obediently but with a sense of joy, flow, and engagement. There is purpose behind every action. We embody what we believe and we act in accordance. As Gandhi once said, we “Become the change we wish to see in the world.” Within that cycle, within every action, we are constantly being born and re-born into a different world.
So don’t stay static, never be afraid to re-align your spiritual backbone, and keep living the life you want to live (as you see fit). The world depends on your moral courage and aptitude.