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So many ideas, but what is important?
There are many, many ideas and theories about spirituality that have sprung up over the last hundred years or so. Some of these are more or less serious, original, popular, well-articulated or worthy of attention. Some tend to emphasize particular aspects of spirituality, like perhaps the emphasis on psychology in some of the work of Ken Wilber, or on the social constructive elements in the work John Heron, whilst others go for a more broad-based approach, as found in the work of Martinus, whose “Cosmology” makes an account for every aspect of existence. In the midst of all these ideas and theories stands the individual, and what emerges as the most important thing is this: what is your theory?
How it can help
For those people whose spirituality is not lived under the direction of one of the world’s religions, or the worldview that these religions draw on and promote, it can be a very good idea to develop some kind of theory of spirituality. By this I mean anything from a simple, overarching framework of the spiritual universe, to something much more complete in its details. Having such a theory can really help guide practice and development. It can be a shining light in an otherwise difficult terrain.
It might be worth adding here that I also mean by “theory” something very broad and plastic. In this regard, “theory” means simply an idea that is more or less expanded. As applied to spirituality, it means a more or less expanded idea of the spiritual universe. Not everyone is a Plato or Isaac Newton. Yet it is not necessary for each and every person to develop an entirely complete theory. It is not necessary to build a theory for others to use, or to convince others. I’m speaking here only of what is relevant to the individual who feels they are on some kind of spiritual journey.
A theory of spirituality can help give the spiritual journey a certain shape and direction, a form. It can help the traveller get a handle on some of the challenges of the spiritual life. As well, it can help contextualize and conceptualize what the lived experience is. It can help one see more clearly where one is, where one has been, and where one is going. It can help one triangulate one’s position, but also help answer questions that nobody else can answer. One of the challenges of the spiritual journey outside of religion is that very often there is no other guidance but that which lies within. Having some kind of spiritual theory can help give that inner guidance a shape and vessel through which to speak.
What is needed
To get such a theory, it is necessary first of all to think. To get and build one’s own theory, it is necessary to think about everything one has come to realize and verify for oneself as being one’s truth or belief. This might involve, of course, drawing to mind the many important things that have influenced one through one’s life. This can include the many different ideas and theories shared by others in conversation or in books, or in one’s previous education. But it is still more important to come to some kind of recognition and valuation of what, ultimately, one believes or holds to be true oneself, despite what other people have said, thought or written down.
Such a theory does not need to be written down, although of course it may help if one finds writing helpful. The important thing is not that it is written, but that is thought through. It can take time to go through such a process of bringing to mind everything related to this theory that one has, or that one is forming. But it is time very well spent, because then the traveller will be much clearer about the journey, the terrain and the road one is taking through it.
As mentioned above, the theory I’m speaking about here can be more or less complete; it can consist of something as simple as a few broad strokes and “big ideas” about how everything goes together, or it can be complete and detailed so as to cover everything that exists. Its completeness is not of immediate importance, as it can always be developed and refined later. With this theory, simple or complex, one can measure one’s experience of life against it, and gradually come to an ever more accurate theory. This would also be the beginning of an individual’s spiritual science.
Isn’t such a spiritual theory redundant?
It might be argued that it is not necessary to spend time undertaking such an exercise, because people already have their theories of life and operate under them every day, and use them every day, continually refining them in a natural manner without any effort. However, this would be to mistake theory with something like a perspective, worldview or view of life, which can be more or less unconscious. It is true that our worldview is always coming into play and always being refined and added to by experience, by everything we read or speak about with others. However, this is something that is quite passive within us. A theory is something that we create, by our own mental power, and which involves will power and analytical processing. It means making choices about what the world is like, perhaps independent of our worldview.
It might also be countered that people cannot make such a theory, that it is too difficult or that one cannot escape the many influences that have fed into our worldview. Here, it may feel true that one’s theory of spirituality actually comes from this writer or that writer, and that one cannot think any differently to that writer. However, there will always be some kind of reason why one agrees with this or that view, and why one takes this or that idea on board. Here it will be important to rediscover those reasons, and not take anything for granted. One cannot truly have a theory if one does not attempt to own it, no matter where the thought may have come from, whether from Plato or Kant or the woman down the road. Here, it will be most unlikely that one’s whole theory of spirituality and the spiritual universe comes from just one source. As such, it is important to go within and try to work out where one’s ideas have come from. As an ancient philosopher once said, the unexamined life is not worth living.
A basic need
There are very many reasons to start thinking along these lines, and continue thinking through one’s ideas about spiritual reality, as well as build them into a more or less simple theory. It is not necessary to create a Newton’s Principia of spiritual reality, as I’ve already said, but of course if you can then all the better for you. What feels right depends on many factors, including who you are, where you are and what you can do, as well as what you feel you need. However, I would contend that all who are exploring spirituality need to have at least some kind of theory. If they do already have this, then certainly it can be a good idea to look at it and develop it.
Anton Jarrod is a writer, thinker and practitioner of modern spirituality. He is currently writing about issues in modern spirituality, as well as the work of the largely unknown but important Danish thinker Martinus. He is the author of Martinus Cosmology and Spiritual Evolution: the essential ideas and teachings, as applied to the Gospels, published in June 2017.