“Spirituality is the brave search for the truth about existence, fearlessly peering into the mysterious nature of life”. Elisabeth Lesser
The spiritual dimension of our experiences is the most mysterious but potentially the most rewarding as well. This dimension is of course related to our beliefs about the world, but spiritual does not necessarily mean religious nor irrational.
It often comes down to meaning. What we believe to be the meaning of life, and how our experiences fit in this framework of meaning. Finding meaning through our experiences is what gives us true fulfilment, a “raison d’etre”.
If the meaning of life is obviously too complex to get into here, I’d like to note that the topic has been thoroughly explored throughout the ages. Meaning is central to philosophy, religion, anthropology, sociology and arguably psychology. There are plenty of elements for answers out there that we can draw upon.
The point is that finding meaning is a journey and a process that has to be done for oneself. Even though we may be influenced by others, we have to come to our own conclusions, do our own research and questioning to make sense of our life-experience.
By having a firm sense of identity, a sense for the meaning of our lives and of life in general, we can experience the world in a different way. We will know what is most important to us, what to prioritise, and how to appreciate more to truly enjoy.
The meaning that we attach to our experience is dependent on context and on our perception.
Imagine that you really like cars. There is this special car that you have been saving for. It may be a vintage car or a race car like a ferrari, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve worked hard to save the money for that car, maybe years. You finally buy the car. You feel fantastic driving it. You know that you’ve really earned it, and it makes you feel dynamite. Now out of the blues, you are randomly selected to win a prize, and it happens to be the exact same model of car. Now you’ve got two. Which car do you prefer, the car that you’ve saved for and earned, or the one that was just given to you?
The point of the story is that when we believe our experience, or our effort is at the service of a goal that we want to accomplish, it creates meaning, and we feel good about it. In some ways, having something to look forward to allows our lives to make sense, a sense of direction, and that is fulfilling. When we feel that we stagnate, experiences can lose their flavours.
Consider another exemple; Visualise that you are sharing a meal with a close one, be it a friend, partner or family member. What if you knew for a fact that this person was going to die tomorrow. This person would be terminally ill, or you had an accurate prediction of an upcoming accident. I gather that these are not pleasant thoughts, but how would you experience that meal then.
If you knew that it was the last meal you would share with that person, it would change the significance of the moment entirely. You would be much more present, the depth of your emotions be much more intense. You would probably say different things to each other.
Our perception of time and the future greatly influence how much importance we attach to moments. Having these thought experiments can add solemnity to moments and allow you to enjoy them more.
Similarly, if a person that you loved just died, through remembrance, the meaning of your last shared moment would alter drastically. I think this fact alone can change our life if we really internalise it. Life is too unpredictable to end interactions on a bad note. At the end of interactions with others or activities, make sure you end it well, so you do not have any regrets.
It can be useful to contemplate the impermanent nature of life. Each moment is special, precisely because it will never happen again. All things end, and this transience can allow us to truly appreciate how lucky we are to witness such fragile manifestations.
The value that we project on specific situations also determines their meaning. Our expectations can change a moment’s entire meaning.
What if you were to have an upcoming interview for a new job. An interview that had the potential of changing your life. A dream job, more fun, with better pay, where you can express yourself, the whole shabang. How do you feel about going to this interview?
Now imagine that you are going to that exact same interview for the saem job, but your life situation is different. You are in a different position in your career, you’ve already learned most of the key skills of that job, it doesn’t come with a salary increase or may even be a down pay, how would you approach this interview.
Your attitude would be different. Yet from an outside observer’s perspective that didn’t know you, this difference between attitudes may be unexplainable.
“The Old Pond” by Matsuo Bashō
An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond—
Splash! Silence again.
Like we have seen in part 3, Being mindful simply means paying attention to what is going on in the now. How can we experience something if we are distracted with something else? It often means, getting outside of your head and noticing reality, instead of living in fantaisies and mind scenarios.
Mindfulness does not mean we cannot use our imagination, but rather that we become an observer of the now. That we disassociate ourselves from our thoughts and ego so that we can take a birds eye view of the situation and take more of it in. True mindfulness is when we can become the observer and the observed at the same time, without feeling self-conscious. It is a comfortable state, I like to think of it as “settling into”, instead of “being carried by” an experience.
Ritualisation, is a systematic way of making a moment important. Performing a ritual allows us to step into a state of attention, care and solemnity. It is a way to communicate to our subconscious that this time is meaningful and that we should dedicate our full attention to it.
Grounding also allows us to connect to the present more deeply. Being “down to earth” means not being distracted by thoughts and fantasies but to tune in to the now. That connection with the earth, with gravity, to the air we breathe and the sensations that are going on in our body directs us toward our full experience.
A sense of purpose:
Our inner purpose is determinant in how we approach every moment.
The quality of our experience is not only about feeling good. When we can derive some utility out of our time we feel even better. When we feel that we have made a difference, that we have contributed, added value to the world and others in some way, it is a great feeling. I call it the gift of giving.
Ideally we can combine what feels good with what is useful, and feel wonderful about ourselves as a result. I think that to have a sense of purpose we need to believe in some form of consequentialism, accepting that our actions and attitudes matters, have an impact on the world, and that it can be determinant. I think to find happiness and experience joy, a reason to live is essential.
I like to simplify purpose with this simple question: “Is this life serving? To me and/or others? Or does this make my life or that of others more wonderful?” If an experience and/or activity is life-enhancing then it is purposeful. Ultimately it is about taking responsibility for aiming to make life better for ourselves and others and avoid making it worse.
Some belief systems find meaning in a sense of life after death, this life being a test or a preparation for what comes next. Whatever the beliefs, these fit into a “consequentialist system”
and allows actions and experiences to have meaning, and therefore be life serving for the believers.
“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”
― Charlotte Bronte
One of the most powerful ways to enhance our enjoyment of experience is to share them.
Sharing experience allows us to connect with others, to experience connectedness, bond and love, which are amongst the strongest positive feelings we can feel.
Sharing an experience means that because we are able to relate in a moment, we find each other, and are no longer alone. Each moment of connectedness pulls us away from a lone experience, and it feels good. We are social animals by nature. Through others we gain support, love, security, and much more, anything that we need to support our lives.
Sharing experiences also allows us to give and receive, to exchange, which is very meaningful.
When we look back on our life, the moments we have shared with loved ones are often the most precious. We all know that, yet it takes conscientiousness to make time to be able to share these moments with the ones we love. To create the space in our lives to focus on what is really important, instead of being lured by the rat race.
So much wellbeing and fulfilment is received from these shared experiences. Think about a time when you did an activity with someone you really appreciate, would it have been as good if you were alone?
That being said, being alone is not the same as being lonely. Being alone can be the space we need to share with ourselves, and to fully experience with our own realm without distractions and external influences, which is also very valuable. Finding social boundaries, to balance the need to be alone and prioritising important people is a sure boost to our overall happiness.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa
Connection means that on some level you and others experience, or seem to experience, the same things. I like to think of connections as “experiences enabler” and/or “experiences supporter”. Other people experience reality differently, and can point out to us
points of focus that we wouldn’t have noticed were we not with them. Others provide opportunities for us to experience moments in new ways.
Similarly, the experience of others can synchronise and reinforce our own. Have you ever watched a comedy with someone that has an easy and vibrant laugh? Everybody else seems to laugh more and have a good time. What about a passionate naturalist that likes to point things out when going for a walk. A musician that shares his/her experience when listening to a piece. A friend that really let go and dances all out at a party.
When we can connect and reinforce each other’s experiences, our lives become enriched and all the more interesting. In order to do so, we need to aim to connect with others on this level. And of course, find friends that we really get along with and are open to.
Connecting doesn’t necessarily have to happen with others. Connections happen within oneself first. If you are disconnected from yourself it is impossible to connect with others on a deep level.
This also means that experience can also be magnified when we are alone, and truly connect with ourselves. For some experiences, others are a distraction, which enable us to really check in with the full dimension of our being. If we are never alone, it becomes difficult to truly know who we are. Seeking experience alone from time to time, can also mean that we can experience more when we are not alone. We also have something to share and offer to others, our own experience, our own value.
When we share and experience with others, or perform acts that are directed to the benefit of others we can access a dimension that is beyond ourselves, a form of communion, when we can become more. This state is very powerful and it is addictive.
This feeling can be a form of trancendances, when we do not see ourselves as a separate unit anymore but as part of a whole. Through a connection we can forget ourselves, and therefore become more. We momentarily let go of the ego, and get a glimpse of something elses.
This form of connectedness can be extremely comforting, a relief. The loneliness of our experience is diffused, and we can feel wonderful emotions of being supported, understood, valued and loved.
When we are with one another,
We become owned by one another
Even if it is temporary
We become of service to the other’s experience
It is not a constriction but a gift
I am to nature what nature is to me
And when we will part you may take a part of me and I a part of you
Of whatever it was that we shared
Of breath, of food, of heart, of mind
For one cannot take what is not given.
For one who is receptive to life is given everything
We have talked about openness in part 2. I’d like to mention it again because openness is as much spiritual as it is emotional. Ultimately, what enables us to experience a sense of fulfilment, connection and meaning is openness.
For our experiences to matter, we need to be open and receptive to them. It does not matter how powerful an experience can be, if you refuse to take it in. It would be like trying to pour wine down a bottle with the lid on, all the liquid would be wasted.
Openness means that we accept within our heart to feel, that we accept within our minds to be influenced and changed, that we accept our spirit to be inspired. It is about the acceptance of what is and the recognition of that experience.
Openness also means having space in our being to take new things in. Imagine that same bottle, this time the lid is open, but the bottle is already full. You can pour new liquid in, but the bottle will overflow, and mix into something poor. Having space in our being means to keep an open mind and reserve judgment. When we believe that we know or that we have arrived, we close our minds to new information, to viewing things in a new light.
We categorised the experience as already being discovered, not worth the brain power. We close ourselves to further intake of data. “been there, done that, got the T-shirt”. The “beginner mind” allows us to re-experience and re-discover, into and ever changing newness.
Acceptance means to take in experiences as they are, not as we wish they should be, to simply notice. It means putting the ego aside, and being ok with being changed and influenced. We mostly close ourselves out of fear. Fear that we won’t cope or fear of some imagined danger.
We often refuse experience because of judgment and discomfort, because they do not fit it with our ideas about ourselves and the world, what we’ve been taught, or thought we knew.
Sometimes, the pains and sufferings of life can close our hearts and our mind, so that we become less receptive. We learn to dull our senses, and our emotions so that we can protect ourselves. Yet, we also rob ourselves from the beauty that is life, the full intensity of what we can really experience.
Sensitivity is not a curse. It is a gift from which we can find connection and transcendence. Sensitivity is a risk because we can then become affected, but it is the only way to truly experience life. The only way to truly balance our sensitive hearts, is not to shut ourselves off, but to develop wisdom. To balance our heart with our minds, so that we know how to care for ourselves, look after our inner child, and face our demons fearlessly.
Life is a gift opened again each moment through.
Nature smiles at whom looks with an open heart.
Nature sings to whom listens with an open mind.
Set your eyes and the world becomes art.
Prick up your ears, and you will find
that all the birds are singing for you.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this four part series.
I hope that through these words your heart can be fulfilled and inspired.
May all of you moments be the best they can be.
All the best