Why is the word “spirituality” scary?

On the occasion of Alternatiba festival in GenevaI had the chance to participate last September 22 in a round table on ” The place of spirituality in the transition “. And I get a lot of requests around his recording. The comments that were exchanged with Noémie Cheval and Michel Maxime Egger will soon be posted on the Ecological Thinking site.

For this blog, I would like to focus on the very word “spirituality”, which I noticed (and noted at the start of the round table) often aroused unease, not to say fear. Why is talking about spirituality so scary? Does this have to do with the feeling of an intrusion into the private sphere, that of personal beliefs and should remain so? Or does it have to do with the word itself, or with the confusion it can cause?

Spiritual, did you say spiritual?

According to a study of World from 2015, more than half of French people do not claim any religion. The country where the most atheists are concentrated is France (40%). According to this same survey of World, people declaring themselves Catholic and going to the Church would represent a percentage of 4.5%. The study is interesting in that it also attempts a correlation with the GNP while noting biases, in particular the confusion between atheism, agnoticism and deism. But beware, spirituality is not religion! And globally, the proportion of people who say they belong to a religion is around 60%.

For my part, I noticed that I felt obliged, just by pronouncing the word “spirituality”, and without even being asked, to justify that I used this word in an extended, broad way, to say everything “secular”. So I use this term without proselytizing for any religion. But what Pandora’s box are we afraid to open by using this word?

Spirituality is not religion

In an interview for Point of December 10, 1975 Malraux said:

“I have been told that the 21st century will be religious. I never said that, of course, because I don’t know. What I say is more uncertain. I do not exclude the possibility of a spiritual event on a planetary scale”.

Seven years later, in the “Cahiers”, published by HerneMalraux specifies:

“If the next century were to experience a spiritual revolution, which I consider perfectly possible, I believe that this spirituality would fall within the realm of what we sense today without knowing it, as the 18th century sensed electricity thanks to the lightning rod. So what could give a really significant new spiritual fact (let’s say if you want: religious, but I prefer the word spiritual)? It would obviously happen what happened with science. »

To differentiate spirituality from religion, I will refer to the double dimension of spirituality which is not simply a belief received from outside, relayed by a third party (prophet, Messiah), but direct experimentation, “in itself” , of an “other than oneself”. With a double dimension, vertical and horizontal.

Thus, in the vertical dimension of a tested spirituality, I can have the feeling that the physical and intellectual aspects of my being, even satisfied, are not necessarily enough to repress another need which can be expressed by so-called “metaphysical” questions. “: that of the “meaning” of my life, of my work, of what I aspire both to be and to do, of my concerns, my questions about the aftermath (is there a life after dead ?).

In short, questions that we often ask ourselves around the age of 8, but that we can forget afterwards, for lack of having been able to find the substances to nourish them, or the spaces to develop them. And that has nothing to do with religion alone, or philosophy for that matter. It can have to do with music, art, nature… the wonderment of a sunrise or sunset, the fullness in the joy of children’s laughter, the communion of feelings, of joys shared with loved ones .

It is the feeling of feeling connected to something that is beyond us. Such is the horizontal dimension of spirituality to which the vertical dimension calls. Whether that something is other human beings, or trees, or animals. It is in a collected formula the feeling of feeling something bigger than oneself. Sometimes to the point of becoming one with this other, the Universe. And to feel an immense joy, a powerful emotion.

But also anger, sometimes violent, when we feel the attack on these other living beings who share our life, our common habitat. Because as human beings, we are violent beings, that is to say prey to an energy to be channeled without denying it by making room for it.

Interiority and connection: a double dimension

As Iwan Asnawi explains in his book which I had the chance to translate and adapt, The Spirit of the Jungle, it is here that the shoe pinches: when one confuses spirituality and religion. And that the latter is used for political purposes only, as was the case in Indonesia for example. So we forget the basic, innate spirituality, which he translates as “the fact that every child at birth has a direct connection with the universe”; according to him, a “pure” energy.

And what I reformulate by a potential for the development of its interiority. But it is not just about “personal development” as a technique of improvement (as restrictive as a use of yoga by soldiers before combat), a tool to just feel good or better in order to enjoy oneself in a society that drives us to unbridled overconsumption, to the detriment of the Earth.

Our interiority is as much Voltaire’s garden as the Little Prince’s rose or contemplation with what the believer calls God, in other words everything other than oneself but in oneself. If it is about energy, it simply consists in defining the proper space of one’s intimate interiority of thought, of reliance in oneself, but interconnected. This is how I would define spirituality in terms of feeling, and without preventing it from being conceptualized otherwise.

What spirituality(ies) for transitions?

What is at stake in the ongoing transitions and the future of our humanity, no more and no less, lies in understanding the incredible richness of the forces present, often unsuspected, that we have within us, to create, to create ourselves, and to make that we are, as Gandhi said, the change ourselves that we wish to see in the world.

So what world do we want?

Before claiming an absolute right over nature, perhaps we would gain as human beings precisely by remembering that we first and modestly came from it. This would perhaps allow us to put an end to a dualistic thought to open up to the ternary.

And recognize by feeling it that we co-inhabit with the mineral, vegetable, animal worlds… which we cannot without danger for our own species over-exploit and destroy continuously.

Spirituality is therefore not knowledge but rather an experience, I would even say an experiment. She works on herself and develops in her being and works on herself: alone; in Group ; with its own tools, works that link (TQR) to singing workshops, meditation, shamanism, prayer, worship, ballads, music, arts, gardening, silence, outdoor sports, in short, everyone has their own method!

The issue is not the fastest arrival, but the path. Without judgement. Without even having to claim the word spirituality. What we still lack are spaces to do so, legitimate spaces that recognize its importance. The importance of being, of persevering in our being (Spinoza).

Perhaps we would find there or consolidate solid inner bases to better respect differences; and overturn the violence of dominations that can exasperate us without going through physical violence itself but by channeling it to work towards fundamental structural changes.

Will we have the courage to dare to assume our own heritage and spiritual future as foreseen by Malraux? After all, claiming an ecological transition, isn’t it asking whether there is something other than the only sensitive materiality, intended for our consumption? Assume our finitude and that of the world to better live the present moment, the here and now.

In this sense, a so-called internal transition feeds the ecological transition just as much as it results from it. And this is perhaps in fact one of the dimensions that should be taken into account in the construction of a new paradigm of civilization in favor of the living.

We still have 10 years to act. Afterwards, the destiny of the earth and therefore ours, will no longer be in our hands. And that is what we should be most afraid of.

Why is the word “spirituality” scary?