Many paths, one journey
Meditation for spiritual fulfilment
Many people understand meditation to be a spiritual practice. But ask ten meditators what ‘spiritual’ means and you are likely to receive ten very different replies. If we aren’t clear about what ‘spiritual’ means, then for what purpose is that practice?
There are other good reasons to meditate. We can meditate for our health by learning to manage stress and anxiety. We can use meditation as a tool for our psychological growth so that we can become relatively free from our conditioning and trauma. These two reasons are not necessarily spiritual.
I offer this set of two definitions:
‘A Spiritual Path is a set of practices and lifestyle contained within a knowledge system, with the intention to connect with something greater than oneself, whether that be a higher power, a universal consciousness, or a sense of interconnectedness with all things. A mark of progress along the spiritual path is growth in Wisdom, which is to recognise the patterns of reality and live in accordance with them.’
These definitions are purposefully general enough to include a wide variety of spiritual traditions and even pathways not included within traditional religious belief systems.
Every effective and balanced spiritual path has two sides to it: the Experience that comes from following practices and lifestyle, and a container, or Knowledge system, to hold and make sense of this experience. I like to use the term ‘knowledge system’ rather than ‘belief’ because quite often a ‘belief’ is the acceptance of something as true without any proof.
In contrast, a knowledge system is something that evolves based on one’s experience. There is no one-size-fits-all spiritual path because we all have different life situations, capacities and urgency for spiritual growth.
Freedom to choose
Up to the very recent past, the spiritual worldview and path of most people have been determined by their culture, depending on where and when they were born. Today, in our modern global society we have universal literacy and education, access to the internet and more information than we have time to consume. We have the freedom to question our birth-religion and to shop in the spiritual supermarket. It can be quite confusing, and if one is not discerning in the choice of path, it is not without its dangers.
Let me list just three spiritual pitfalls:
- Spiritual bypassing is the tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to avoid facing up to unresolved emotional issues. It is possible to use meditation as a way of ignoring feelings of anxiety rather than addressing the root causes.
- Spiritual materialism is the tendency to use spiritual practice as a way of creating a comforting self-concept or even worse using it for power, status or material gain.
- Spiritual nihilism is a radical form of scepticism or atheism. It rejects the possibility of transcendent or higher meaning in life and asserts that the universe is ultimately meaningless, purposeless, or indifferent. It might emerge as a coping response to negative religious experiences in youth or following secular scientific reasoning (usually a combination of both). While this view can be a liberating or empowering perspective for some individuals, spiritual nihilism can also lead to feelings of despair, hopelessness, or existential crisis.
If we find the interest or need to explore and develop the spiritual side of meditation, we need to get very clear about our core values – i.e. what we strive to embody and express in our lives – and our core beliefs – i.e. our deeply held conviction or perspective on the nature of reality. We can also explore how meditation has been used in religious wisdom traditions as well as our growing understanding of the nature of consciousness emerging from neuroscience.
On our retreat Many paths, one journey: meditation for spiritual fulfilment we will guide you through the different ways that meditation can be used to enhance your spiritual growth. We will examine the understanding of consciousness and spiritual growth in some of the main spiritual paths available to us today, in both their traditional and modern forms: Buddhism, Christian mysticism, Vedanta and Neuro-dharma. More importantly, we will learn how meditation and other practices, derived from these different views contribute to spiritual growth.
The aim of the retreat is not to convince you of any viewpoint, but to help you become clear about what spiritual practice is for you, and how meditation and other practices can help you on your way.
And we guarantee it will not be a heady philosophy class! Most of your time on the retreat will be resting, deepening your meditation practice, gentle yoga, and enjoying the natural environment of our Tara Hills retreat centre and delicious food.
‘Imagine your day on retreat is like a garland, with each program item being a flower along that garland. The ‘theory and discussion’ flower is a short, interesting session to keep your focus on the reason you came; to get clearer about your spiritual path.’