Sometimes we describe people as 'spiritual' - but what does that mean? - here are a few suggestions, things which maybe are characteristic of a spiritual approach to life...
1. SPIRITUAL PEOPLE PREFER TO CONTEMPLATE THAN TO STIMULATE
Thousands of years ago, there was a group of men and women who lived away from others, on the slopes of Mount Carmel in Palestine. This was the foundation of the Carmelite Order, which still exists today. It represents a contemplative tradition - living away from distraction, in order to get closer in your mind to what is truly important. Many people seek companionship, activity and stimulation, to avoid the fear of being alone. On the contrary, contemplation involves being ready to suffer alone, in order to come out of that suffering at the other end of the process.
Some people would think of contemplation as 'doing nothing'. But this is not true. When we think, we are doing something. It may not look very active, but in fact, the contemplative person is living more deeply. When we are active, we spread ourselves thinly; when we contemplate, we thicken our understanding.
2. SPIRITUAL PEOPLE PREFER TO BE PEACEFUL THAN TO DEFEND THEMSELVES
One thing meditation can bring, is the sense of being part of a stream. When we are being selfish, we see ourselves as the centre of the universe. We see our ego as separate, as something which needs to be defended. In a sense, we don't trust the world, so we spend our time trying to make the world play our game! But if we can let go, and be trusting, then we can experience peace, because we no longer have to fight these battles of the ego. We can relax in the feeling of being part of something much bigger than ourselves.
3. SPIRITUAL PEOPLE PREFER GRACE RATHER THAN SUSPICION
If we have experienced too many dishonest, uncaring and manipulative people in our past, then we may be suspicious of everything, even good things. When we experience genuine love, we will even be suspicious of that, and think there must be a trick! But think about it. If we are always expecting a trick, how will we notice when we meet someone who genuinely wants to help? Grace can help - to accept grace, is to stop being suspicious. It enables us to receive good things without polluting them with distrust. In a way, grace is very simple. It just involves accepting goodness without destroying it.
4. SPIRITUAL PEOPLE PREFER TO SERVE RATHER THAN DOMINATE
When we serve other people, we attend to their needs. Not their wishes, because sometimes their wishes are self-destructive. Serving is not slavery. A slave doesn't really have to think - they just have to obey orders. But a servant is more thoughtful. When we serve our children, for instance, we are always thinking of ways to help them to grow. Sometimes we have to be very clever, and choose courses of action which are helpful, even though others may not see them as helpful!
5. SPIRITUAL PEOPLE ARE ABLE TO FEEL GUILTY AND CHALLENGE THEMSELVES
People betray each other - some in subtle ways, some in dramatically terrible ways. We have all failed to be good sometimes. We need, sometimes, a strong sense of personal failure and inadequacy. How else will we improve? Imagine someone who tricks their friends, hurts and destroys, but has no sense of personal failure. How would they ever make themselves better? Only through a deep sense that they have done bad things, and failed to be kind. Evil is not committed by people who question and doubt themselves. On the contrary, evil is committed by people who do not want to examine themselves, because they are afraid of how uncomfortable it would make them.
We must challenge ourselves. We need to recognize clearly just how ignorant, self-deceiving, blind, stupid, selfish and nasty we can all be. Then, and only then, can we realize just how wonderful it is that we're accepted anyway! And only if we openly recognize our faults, can we start to improve.
6. SPIRITUAL PEOPLE PREFER FAITH TO FEAR
Faith is the opposite of fear. When we have faith that all will be OK, then we stop being afraid. When we lose faith, then we become afraid. Faith is most difficult when we feel abandoned and left alone. But if we can learn to be alone sometimes, but not afraid, then we have gone a long way.
In summary, we could list the attributes, and their opposites, and suggest:
WHEN WE ARE BEING UNSPIRITUAL, WE:
1. Need constant stimulation
2. Need to defend ourselves
3. Are suspicious
4. Need to dominate others
5. Never feel guilty or challenge ourselves
6. Fear being alone
WHEN WE ARE BEING SPIRITUAL, WE:
1. Contemplate deeply
2. Are peaceful
3. Feel free to accept goodness
4. Serve others thoughtfully
5. Are able to feel guilty and challenge ourselves
6. Have faith that everything will be OK
These are just a few ideas, many of them taken from 'What Return Can I Make?' by M. Scott Peck, which I was reading in the library this morning.