Saturday, January 6, 2018

What is spiritual?

For me, yoga has always been a spiritual practice. But what exactly do I mean by that? I have heard quite a few people say that they don't mind doing yoga but they cannot stand all that spiritual stuff. What do they mean by that? Can it be yoga without being spiritual?

I have also talked to a number of people who are reluctant to do yoga because they fear it will conflict with their religion. Is yoga religion? Is spiritual experience religious?

Like many, I actually began taking yoga classes, back at the tender age of eighteen, looking for physical exercise. I was seeking a movement discipline I could enjoy. I had never been great at sports, my racket skills truly suck and I find it hard to catch a ball. Yoga appealed, no rackets or balls involved, or so I thought back then. I am now actually quite fond of balls as part of my yoga explorations.

I did enjoy it. Turned out that my 18 year old body was quite flexible and strong, and yoga, the physical side of it, came naturally.  It wasn't long however before yoga revealed something more to me. It was something my feeble attempts on the netball court had never come close to. I began to recognize the spiritual in it, in me. All in all, doing yoga felt harmonious, I felt harmonious and whole, doing yoga.

This was natural and unremarkable. There was no sense of the hand of a god. Just a sense of deep connection I could not explain, but which was both extraordinary and ordinary, a paradox, undeniable and exquisite.

Spirituality is natural and unremarkable. It is as normal and as natural as remembering, a remembering of ourselves as we really are, which is immense, connected and easeful, forgotten in our taking on form and becoming caught up in sensation and thought.

Religion is troublesome because there are so many of them each claiming to be true. Since antiquity people have attempted to explain the unexplained by ascribing it, the ineffable, to God, a God, or different gods for different purposes. Religion has a hallmark of being organised and rule based, lest you offend the God. Religions are almost always organised around assigning power to human beings, usually men, over other human beings. Religion develops theology, a set of quasi-logical arguments based upon initial assumptions that spring from that particular religions revelations from the god to some founding father figure of that religion. Religion spawns its own mythology and demands obedience. Religion backs us into a corner that must be defended.

There has been a tendency to confuse spirituality with religion, as a process by which humans come to know God. But what if we remove the whole idea of God.
Remarkably, spirituality still exists. Stripped of lofty and divine otherness, it becomes the very ordinary recognition of a part of ourselves which is not the body, not the senses, not the emotions, nor the 'thoughts that come and go, but greater and more sustaining than all of these. It is not discovered by listening at pulpits but in the simplest and most ordinary of actions, mindfully practised. Like eating a peach, mowing the lawn, or going through a series of postures and movements mindfully.

Any mindful activity, it doesn't have to be yoga. Perhaps it is surfing, or painting, or playing music, or washing dishes or racing a motor cycle.

But yoga was developed for this purpose. The whole system of yoga consists of practices that are designed to still the mind and allow the truth of who we really are to move to the foreground. I am not sure, but perhaps it is not even possible to do anything taken from the yoga practices and not discover a spiritual pathway in it. Even when doing a practice that has for all intents and purposes been stripped of its origins, and presented as a physical workout, these movements may simply awaken pathways of energy in the body that create the very conditions for remembering who we really are. This would explain a number of revelations that have been made to me by people who started in such a practice and came to the more traditional, in some ways, school of Yoga Spirit Studios, wondering what the heck just happened over there. For, as Suzuki Roshi said:
"Gaining enlightenment is an accident; Spiritual practices make us accident prone."
Even when you didn't know you were doing a spiritual practice.