I want to talk about four key initiatory thresholds that define 21st Century Spirituality in the realms of Body, Mind, Shadow and Spirit.
In order for spirituality to be substantive it has to include both a theoretical and an experiential component - and those two components have to be in an evolving dialog of inquiry.
In other words it's not enough just to have a cool sounding theory or belief system that you then filter everything through, and it's not enough just to have some groovy experiential space that you enter via a practice, activity or other stimulus. Nor is it even enough to have both an experiential and a theoretical aspect that are somehow connected. I am saying that what is essential is that the theoretical/mental framework and the experiential process have to inform one-another in a genuinely inquiry-based way and thus be in an evolving organic process that is about authentic relationship to truth, beauty and goodness.
The questions: What is true? What is beautiful? What is good? invite us into an open-ended inquiry that keeps the process alive and honest. They force us to reallly look at the veracity of what we think/believe as well as it's ethical implications and it's relatiionship to that intuitive sense of beauty/elegance/meaning in the high sense. When something is innately beautiful it reflects what is deeply true. When we are interested in what is true we are more likely to act for the good. When we are in touch with the good there will be a sense of beauty that we are striving towards.
So these three questions create the conditions in which a kind of spiritual excellence - what the greeks called Arete, can arise. The tricky part is that these three questions do not make us comfortable and they do not give us any easy answers - rather they insist that we engage, inquire and struggle with life as-it-is.
This noble struggle can lead to four key initiations that I see as rites of passage into an integrated 21st Century Spirituality. These four initiations arise in the four domains of Body, Mind, Shadow and Spirit.
Like all initiations they ask us to open to something new and to leave something behind. They invite us into a serious transformational process that takes time and is nothing less than a reshaping of who we are and how we hold our life experience and relate to the world.
As I work with students in all four domains, I invite the use of three key principles: breath, presence and compassion as touchstones and resources along the way.
I will give a brief summary here and then take another four seperate blog posts to expand into each of the initiations:
This is the area where I spend a lot of time on a daily basis, guiding people into a deepening relationship to their bodies. Many approaches to spirituality ignore or avoid the body, but being grounded in one’s physical body is the foundation of 21st Century spiritual practice. The first initiation is into the sacred nature of this body - the only body that you have. Using sensation-based meditation, breathing techniques, yoga, touch and movement I introduce students to an experience of the body as an energetic doorway into ecstasy and deep healing.
This is not abstract, nor does it require any belief. I am talking about a direct experience of both energy flow and the emotions held in the body that confounds the rational mind and is not under the control of the ego - like any initation it is an opening to an ontological reality that was not previously known...and it is extremely potent.
Here is a demonstration of Open Sky Bodywork (formerly Core Sequencing) by myself and some fellow initiates into ecstatic energy....
(To understand more of what you are seeing in this video go to my Riding the Kundalini Dragon article here.)
Many spiritual approaches remain faithful to the ubiquitous cultural taboo against acknowledging shadow material and it's associated deep feelings.
Deep feeling is a doorway into the soulful language of the heart. Rather than avoiding, denying or judging our emotions, 21st Century Spirituality invites an open space for deep feeling wisdom and authentic healing. The second initiation is into our emotional intelligence. Using heart-based meditation and breathing techniques I encourage non-judgmental awareness of the feeling body and creates a sacred space for healing, forgiveness and love. This lays the foundation for profound shadow-work. In our "shadow bag" we carry everything that has been denied, repressed, avoided, demonized etc.. For all of us this means rage, grief, shame, fear, trauma, bbut it can also mean sexuality, creativity, intelligence, intution and many other things that our family or society deemed unacceptable for us to express/develop.
Stepping outside the pervasive circle of shadow denial is terrifiying at first, but becomes revelatory and empowering as we learn how to tolerate the new awareness.
Using and developing the mind is something that either gets completely avoided and seen as unspiritual or "in the way" by many approaches, or gets oversimplified and distorted into the magical thinking "you create your own reality" credo by other approaches.
The initiatiion I am interested in here is two-fold. First, it has to do with strong rational development that utilizes healthy critical thinking (what is true?) to develop discernment that is related to ethics (what is good?). Second, it has to do with cognitive development into the area of interpretive, symbolic, metaphorical intelligence that can engage in hermeneutics at the level of poetry, mythology, art and mysticism (what is beautiful?).
Developing the mind and keeping it strongly engaged is a key component of 21st Century Spirituality. In a sense the initiation here is one of turning the power of the rational gaze and the interpretive intelligence onto our inner an outer worlds with an unflinching integrity.
In all three of the previous initiations there is a window opened into a deepening awareness of the essential consciousness that stands in it's everpresent clarity at the center of mind and body, shadow and light. The three key elements that I invoke and invite people to keep returning to: breath, presence and compassion can also be seen as three names for "spirit."
Yoga, meditation, intelllectual inquiry, dance, breathwork, bodywork, emotional release all are rivers that find their culmination in any given moment in the ocean of spirit.
21st Century spirituality recognizes the paradox of process and is-ness of immanence and transcendence. In the midst of the process of mental development, emotional excavation, body awakening there are moments, glimpses of freedom, grace, beauty, pleasure, compassion, forgiveness that give the impression of what we can only call "spirit."
Through an authentic and grounded recogntion of and work with the intergated/overlapping domains of mind, body and shadow the fourth initiation occurs - that of recognizing the entire process and it's ground as being itself spirit.
There is nothing to believe in, no need for metaphysics, just an awakeness to what is and on ongoing inquiry into truth, beauty and goodness, via breath, presence and compassion - as well as a stillpoint, a clearing in which it is all arising and passing away...