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Spirituality in the Modern Age: Essential or Outdated?

Many would argue that the notion of ‘spirituality’ (which, for the sake of this article I will define as ‘finding enlightenment,’ but which less religiously-minded people might just as viably argue to be ‘finding peace’) came into its own in the ‘flower power’ era of the 1960s, where it found purchase amongst the hippy community as a delightful by-product of smoking opium and ingesting copious amounts of LSD. But whilst it’s probably fair to say that there are numerous pockets of society where it still thrives today in its original incarnation as part of an alternative living movement – sitting comfortably alongside complementary therapies and traditionally ‘hippy’ enterprises such as divination, fortune telling and the like – what I personally find more interesting is the way spirituality has evolved to suit the arguably greater needs of the majority; trudging grey armies of office workers in every town and city across the world.

You only have to walk ten steps down any busy high street in the UK these days to see at least one sign for a yoga class, or flick through a few pages of a women’s magazine before it yields advertisements for ‘mindfulness classes’ and ‘meditation retreats.’ I speak not as someone who looks condescendingly upon such things, but rather as someone who has tried a number of them. I am, you see, myself quite keen to ‘find enlightenment,’ and seeing as there’s no easy road map to reach it (I fear my career would suffer if I were to hole up with a bag of acid tabs), have for the past few years been taking somewhat of a hit and miss approach to tracking it down. And believe you me it’s an elusive little bugger.

Indulge me, if you will, as I provide a brief synopsis of my own spiritual journey to date. The first foray, unsurprisingly, came a year after splitting from my ex of nine years, when I was at my lowest ebb and desperate for some form of peace. Never one to take the easy path I decided to go on a meditation retreat. To deepest Scotland. In darkest Winter. The weather, in fact, was so bad that I nearly didn’t make it, but even the Big Freeze could not deter me from my goal and, soon enough, I was installed in a quaint little guest house beside a frozen lake. Over the course of the next two days I learnt a good deal about Buddhism and the practice of meditation, and even had one session where I felt I had got somewhere close to a higher level of consciousness. When I re-entered civilisation I found it temporarily hard to adjust to the hustle and bustle of normal life, but it soon had me back in its grasp and did all it could to squeeze what little spirituality I had found out of me.

Fast forward three years and I tried again; this time taking the rather more serious step of enrolling on a two week ‘yoga vacation’ in a Hindu ashram in southern India. I re-learned the basics of both yoga and meditation and, despite initially struggling to calm my ‘monkey mind’ soon found myself capable of far longer periods of stillness than I had previously thought possible. It wasn’t all plain sailing though; far from it. At times I struggled not only with the rigorous routine but with my own incessant desire to find the ‘light.’ Looking back now I think I found it in ways I couldn’t conceive at the time; in the people I met there, and in the quietness of the neighbouring lake and surrounding mountains. At the end of one yoga session during the second week I had a very odd experience in which I felt as if I was being physically lifted up and out of my body; but alas, the moment I focused on it, the sensation slipped out of my grasp.

Determined not to let my taste of spirituality dissipate, after returning from my travels I tried two very different experiences that had presented themselves (I say presented themselves – in actual fact they were the result of hours of internet research using various spiritual search terms). First I went to a local meditation group, which was going swimmingly until one of the monks went out for a fag break halfway through the meditation and the other suggested going to the pub for beers afterwards (I’m not saying monks shouldn’t have fun, but this just didn’t tally with my understanding of spiritual enlightenment). Next I went for a ‘Qi energy treatment’ at a clinic on Harley Street, which “considers that the body, mind and spirit are all connected and to truly heal one you we need to heal all three” – but which charges through the nose before you can heal any one of them (the treatment itself, billed as an ‘acupressure sound massage’ was also one of the most bizarre experiences of my life, comprising a woman holding her hands over my body and belching loudly ‘to remove the toxins’ from my body – as someone with an acute aversion to belching of any kind, it was clear this would never be my route to enlightenment, so I left,  never to return).

Since then I have kept up a fairly regular yoga practice and an intermittent meditation practice. I have also toyed with the idea of visiting the UK branch of the ashram I stayed at in India. But all the while something has been niggling away at my subconscious, and that something is this: Could the problem be that spirituality is too big, too important to shoehorn into those infrequent moments of spare time us city folk allocate to it? Are we, in our busy modern lives, somehow missing the point that to truly appreciate spirituality you have to live it, fully, and give it the time it so rightly deserves to flourish, much like a flower in the sunshine? Furthermore, given that spirituality is getting such a raw deal in our society, does it even have a place here anymore? Should we be looking not to some higher being or consciousness for the answers and instead turn our attention to what is tangible and real in order to find the peace and enlightenment we so desperately crave?

Can we, for example, find our spiritual peace in people, in pets, in hobbies? Does it have to be about silence and quiet contemplation? Is the whole notion of such things now out dated? Sometimes I think I find a version of enlightenment in my writing, in those rare moments when the words just flow and time itself seems to stop; those moments where everything else ceases to matter. Maybe that in itself is proof that enlightenment isn’t so far out of our reach; perhaps we just have to look within ourselves, rather than to a higher power, to find it.

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About Belle365

Hi, I’m Belle. Thanks for stopping by. Here's a list of ten things about me: 1. I want to write, but rarely do it. This tortures me daily, and, unless I seek to remedy it by writing more often, will continue to torture me until my dying day. 2. I worry: about hate, about greed, about selfishness, about the state of the world my (God willing) children will inherit. I worry about what people think of me. I worry that this makes me shallow. I worry about things happening to my loved ones. I worry how I would cope. I worry that this makes me selfish. I worry that worrying will send me to an early grave. But I'm so good at worrying that I also wonder what I would do if I wasn't worrying. Probably more writing (see point 1)....Oh. 3. I see myself as two people (though, as far as I am aware, I am not technically schizophrenic): a) the fancy dress loving party girl, who loves nothing more than having fun with her friends, because she has seen through her own experiences that life is short, so why not enjoy the ride? b) the more serious and reflective person who wants to learn and to help people and to find her higher purpose (I suspect it is also she who really, really wants to write). Sometimes these sides are conflicting. Fortunately they are in total agreement when it comes to chocolate, red wine and travel. 4. I don't see myself as an ardent feminist, but the older I get the more frustrated I feel by the societal view of women and ageing. Having just hit the metabolically displeasing age of 35 (now officially past it according to the massive wankflap that is Donald Trump, as well as virtually every media outlet on the planet, whether they overtly state it or not) I hate the fact I am made (and have let myself be manipulated) to feel that my fertility is now teetering on the edge of a clifftop free fall, and that even if I do negotiate this rocky march towards infertility and manage a miracle procreation, my usefulness as a financially solvent career woman will be over, seeing as having a baby in your mid to late thirties is pretty much akin to career suicide. It's enough to make you want to drown yourself in a vat of wine (hence why I often don a wig and do just that - see point 3a). 5. The older I get, the more I realise that you are never too old to love drum and bass (whether you are ever too old to publicly dance to drum and bass is an issue I am currently grappling with). Ditto UK garage. I will never be ashamed of these two great loves. Never. 6. Speaking of great loves, I have two: my husband, who (sickening as it is) completes me, and Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I have loved since I first laid eyes on him as Romeo to Kate Winslet's Juliet, and will love until my dying day (likewise the husband, all being well). As much as I like Kate Winslet, I will never forgive her for leaving him on that door. There was definitely room for two. 7. I am riddled with self doubt, and have a serious case of imposter syndrome, particularly in relation to my fourteen year communications career. I have never understood how anyone could deem me capable of running their campaigns. The lack of complaints would suggest I haven't made a total balls up of it so far. But there's still time. 8. Infinity and death frighten me senseless. I can't even talk about the universe without breaking into a sweat. I need to believe in life after death because death CANNOT be the end. I should probably have some (more) counselling to address these issues. 9. If procrastination were an Olympic sport, I would win Gold, Silver and Bronze (to give an example, I sat down an hour ago to work on my new novel, and instead have been updating this bio. I refer you to point 1. Sigh). 10. I make more lists than Buzzfeed. When I die, besides having Oasis's Champagne Supernova played at my funeral (deep breaths - see point 8), I should probably have a To Do list inscribed on my headstone for when I reach the other side...

5 comments on “Spirituality in the Modern Age: Essential or Outdated?

  1. MJ Conner
    August 30, 2012

    I think that spirituality is as much about how you live your life, as it is about what you find. The journey, some say, is what it’s all about. I don’t know about the journey part, because to me that seems more like living in the moment. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but I guess I hope that it’s really more than the journey – that spirituality or finding enlightenment is more than where I am now, how I got here, and where I’m going. Maybe it’s found within the journey – where we find solace in and around our lives. I don’t think we are ever supposed to stop searching for enlightenment. It is a life long treasure hunt, and a long the way we meet people who change our lives, and do things that spin us in a different direction – like a zig-zag motion. I don’t think spirituality is any less important today than it was when I was little – or really ever.

    Sorry about the sermon… 🙂

  2. belleagain
    August 31, 2012

    Not at all, you make some really interesting points, and I love the comment about spirituality being a treasure hunt, lovely analogy 🙂 I was really just going off on a stream of consciousness – I would tend to agree that spirituality is as important now as it ever was, but I’m just interested in how it’s evolved and whether people’s definitions have changed over the years.

  3. Jacqueline Christodoulou
    September 2, 2012

    Great post. I would say it’s essential but harder to find.

    ‘Could the problem be that spirituality is too big, too important to shoehorn into those infrequent moments of spare time us city folk allocate to it?’
    I think this is a big part of it. There is so much to grab our attention now that it’s increasingly difficult to separate the consumer experience from authentic experience. The idea that you should have to pay for spiritual experience doesn’t ring true to me and, like you, I have tried meditation classes and yoga and lots of other things that turned out to be someone’s money spinning idea.
    Even more confusing, because everyone’s experience is unique, everyone’s individual spirituality will have an idividual meaning for them. I think that’s why it’s so difficult for someone to define it.
    Personally, my biggest spiritual realization came when I wasn’t particularly looking for it and through education. I’d spent a long time learning a particular discipline and, it must have been seven or eight years in, I had an ‘Aha!’ moment where I saw the world in a different way, with much more clarity. Since then I have been happier and been able to find that feeling of peace even in the middle of a busy day at work. It’s even coloured the way I problem-solve.
    But it wasn’t anything dramatic and I’m not, as they say, enlightened, I’ve just found a better, more informed way to spend my life on an inner level, and that’s what spirituality means to me. I think that people could find spirituality in many different places but, as with anything worth having, it takes time and effort, spending time with yourself, and even then you have find a way to incorporate it into today’s busy world as many of the gifts of spirituality seem at odds with society’s ‘shoulds’.

  4. belleagain
    September 3, 2012

    Really interesting Jacqueline, thanks for commenting 🙂

  5. sampgceblog
    September 6, 2012

    Hi Bea..spiritually..in a word an inner peace, a harmony with oneself and if you are a believer and have faith; you feel at one with a bigger force than yourself. I have to be careful here as I word… as the media/society find those with a faith (religious) very threatening. In fact the world likes to suggest that people are religious rather than have a faith..religious is a rigid word which implies a set of rules when actually most with a faith feel more free and happy generally.. Its the world that sets rules and dogma and blocks a sense of spirituality I am certain of this.. Faith can set you free in yourself. A faith is much kinder…its about a relationship with one higher than yourself..an intimate relationship, and lets face it its hard facing life with so much responsibility on our shoulders I guess spirituality is where you find it … and I can’t tell you where to go. Spirituality is about a personal value system..what we believe in what feels right and what feels wrong inside of each one of us. Usually we are more at peace when we feel we are making the right choice or GOD (good orderly direction) its probably better for your health and spirituality to exercise and eat healthily and avoid taking drugs. ..I think you know when you have found spirituality as its a place of contentment and equilibrium.. Put it like this you are more likely to sense the spirit of yourself in a calm reflective place (local church, group, after making love etc) than stuck in a traffic jam on the M25 or indeed after a row with your best friend or relative. Christians in the UK and there are plenty of us ….receive bad press but one tenth of the UK (Christians) attempt to lead spiritual, unselfish lives and attempt in their own small way to make the planet a better place. For example the world teaches us that riches and consumerism is admirable.. I believe that money helps but not the key to happiness, the world teaches us that sex with plenty of partners is desirable..sex is great, love and sex with a caring spouse is better.. I believe infidelity is messy, the world tells us that a quick fix drug maybe helpful… but its not the answer… to find spirituality is finding oneself in a state of peace and tranquility with good orderly direction which can be found by finding ulitmately faith, a love of yourself and others. Many people go to beautiful places where it’s mostly unspoilt to find spirituality strongly suggest.. but you can find spirituality by listening to that small inner voice inside you and it sounds as if you are already on the way as I think its prompting you to take action..
    Samantha Jennings Directing Choreographer Beaus & Belles http://www.dances4u.co.uk

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This entry was posted on August 30, 2012 by in Bea Spiritual, Bea Yourself and tagged , .
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