Spirituality Without Religion

Chapter 2
A Rough Map of the Work

So we take an interest in the spiritual realm because it's where the most important things are: happiness, harmony, beauty, etc. We need to learn the laws that govern the realm and the relationships between its components. We also need to understand how the spiritual realm interacts with the material.

We learn these things so that we can use them: it's not enough to know where meaning dwells; we want it in our lives. So we're after skill, not just information. Spirituality is something you do, a way that you live. If you don't live it, you can have ideas but you won't have spirituality. It's the walk, not the talk, that determines your quality of life.

By asking you to run experiments, I not only offer ways for you to discover what's true in your life but also introduce you to spiritual practices. Practices integrate parts of oneself, such as values and behavior. When all parts are working together, the result is inner peace.

There are many spiritual practices but two main tasks: living according to your values, and witnessing creation. I will use these two to organize the work. I've broken them into sub-tasks and give both theory and practice for approaching the sub-tasks. Accomplishing the sub-tasks is rewarding and useful by itself, so don't worry if it seems like there are a lot of them. Below I map out, in a rough way, the tasks and sub-tasks, giving chapter locations of the material in case you want to skip ahead (fine for theory, a small risk for practice).

In order to live by your values, you first need to discover and articulate them.(Ch. 11) You may need to untangle what you value from what you've been taught. It helps to have some criteria for distinguishing the two--values and beliefs--so I introduce some theory to help.(Ch. 7,12)

The next subtask is to keep values salient so that they inform your day-to-day decisions.(Ch. 15-17) While living in this new way, you'll get familiar with spiritual forces (such as values), the laws by which they work(Ch. 19), and their relationship to the material world. That is, you will develop a spiritual point of view.(Ch. 7.1) I offer more theory to bring out issues for your consideration, so that your new perspective will grow from both use and deliberate thought. Again, you may need to clarify or change old beliefs.(Ch. 7.2,13,23,24)

The perspective you develop becomes a mental resource for the work ahead, that of systematically comparing your behavior, thoughts and feelings to what your values indicate they should be.(Ch. 18-38) In this way, you find the obstacles that prevent you from being guided by your values and the wisdom that I hope is one of the things you value. I refer to these obstacles as obstacles to "receiving divine guidance," for brevity.

It turns out that any emotional agenda that you walk around with is an obstacle. When you need to service a fear, judgment, resentment or disappointment, you are not receptive to divine guidance. The business of surrendering these obstacles for healing is a big job. It's a tough one, but incredibly rewarding.

So we'll just have to take a gentle approach to it. Our innate wisdom knows how to make healing gentle. "Healing" sounds more like psychology than spirituality, so I address the relationship between the two and offer a model of healing.(Ch. 27-31) It says that healing is mental integration. To show what I mean, consider friction. We all learn about friction early in life, and our understanding is available when we build book shelves or dance or drive a car. It is integrated. For some of us, our understanding of love is also well integrated, but for others it is not. Our experiences with love have been painful enough that we isolate the mental network of experiences and conclusions, so it is not integrated. In order to heal--making the knowledge accessible--we need to integrate the old experiences with the rest of our minds. The spiritual perspective becomes part of our thinking that can be integrated with the old pain, offering new conclusions and new understanding. That's why I start with several chapters to develop the spiritual perspective and to separate it from old ideas that may no longer serve you.(Ch. 1-8) This model of healing is the largest single new idea in this book.

Integration is helped not only by the spiritual viewpoint, but by the practices. These all integrate some part of our mind with another part, and some of them exercise skills needed for integration, such as controlling attention.(Ch. 10)

As we do this work of allowing old hurts to heal, we practice the fundamental skill of a spiritual life, embracing all experience.(Ch. 9) Embracing makes life rich and rewarding. It makes people interesting and problems workable. Life changes.

Living in a new way and cleaning up the past (Ch. 35) take time. They can't be rushed because living can't be rushed. And while the work is substantial, this is more a time of celebration than of drudgery. Our vision clears like the colors after a rainfall. Life becomes rich and satisfying. We mend old relationships and start new ones, clean up our past mistakes and stop repeating them. We may start new careers or activities.

All this work puts us in position to attempt the second task, witnessing creation.(Ch. 40-42) This is a task not because integrity demands it (as with the first task), but because we yearn for it. The skill developed in meditation puts creation within reach, and conceptual models help us understand what that deep request is asking for.

As you work to discover what you value and believe, you might find it at odds with what the larger culture tells you to value and believe. I've included a "Frequently Asked Questions" section(Ch. 43,44) to address some of the resulting conflict or confusion. If the relationship of spirituality to religion is important to you, you can read that chapter now.(Ch. 24)