Spirituality, Rationality, Mentality, Duality

jmb275Mormon 10 Comments

Today’s guest post is by jmb275. In my first guest post, I talked about intellectualism and faith. A few of the commenters pointed out that I had somewhat assumed that we had dual natures – spiritual and rational. The point was mentioned that the term “spirituality” could be loosely defined to be many things – not necessarily religious in nature. In this post I would like to address these issues as I have been pondering it for quite some time.
1. Are we innately spiritual, rational, and/or do we have dual natures that we are inclined to satisfy? I would answer ‘no’ to this question. I like the posts from hawkgrrrl about the various personalities that characterize many of us rather well. We have no reliable means (at least not that I’m aware of) for determining what we are born with, and what is learned, and how each influences our overall personality. Some will be inclined (for whatever reason) towards science, math, etc. and others will be drawn to painting, and music composition.  Some may like all of it and become the proverbial “renaissance man.”

In Hinduism we read “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanthi” or “Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.” I’m a big Joseph Campbell fan. He pointed out the goal of religion is to take us beyond the dualistic conception of reality, or “pairs of opposites,” to a stage of transcendence. I think we find this in Mormonism as well. The words of Lehi in 2nd Nephi 2:11:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.

juxtaposed against Christ’s admonition in John 17:11, 21:

11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Ultimately, I wonder if there is a duality, each side of which is to be satisfied, maybe it is our mission in life to overcome it and become one?

2.  What does it mean to be “spiritual”? And an extension of this, do religions always help us be more “spiritual”? This is where I’d like to focus my thoughts. Joseph Campell’s message, research, and ideas can be summarized by the phrase “Follow your bliss.” Might I suggest this as a definition of “spirituality.” I am convinced that this could be science, mathematics, scholarship, religion, mythology, music, pottery, philosophy, languages, poetry, etc. etc. etc. From Campbell:

The way to find out about happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you are really happy – not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what is called following your bliss.[3]

As a case study, I’d like to compare Joseph Smith with Albert Einstein. Joseph Smith needs no explanation to this audience. He was a visionary, a mystic, a prophet, a charismatic leader, superstitious, an author (depending on your POV). But no matter how you spin it, he was a deeply “spiritual” man in the traditional sense of the word – that is, he was concerned about God and religion, afterlife, premortal life, ordinances, revelation, and authority.

The less traditional case is Albert Einstein. When most of us think of him, we might think of general, and special relativity, and more specifically E=mc^2. What we don’t think of, are his profound thoughts on nature, religion, God, oneness, etc. From Albert Einstein:

A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.[1]

It seems to me, from this statement (and many others he made) that he was “following his bliss” via his scientific endeavors. It would appear that Einstein was deeply “spiritual” in this sense. He was passionate about the subject that, for him, led him to a place of appreciation, love, respect, and kindness for all things living. A kind of transcendence above the need for “opposition in all things.” Note the following:

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty… The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. (Albert Einstein, 1954)”[2]

But lest you think that his convictions came from religion, or traditional “spirituality,” observe this statement:

“I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. (Albert Einstein, 1954)”[1]

My point, at the end of the day, is twofold: first, the seeming duality is, possibly, something we are to overcome, and second, that “spirituality” can be defined as following whatever means leads us toward this realization.  Religion, God, the Holy Ghost, prayer, and Mormonism is one way to achieve that end. I suggest there are as many other ways as there are human beings!

What say ye?

[1] http://www.spaceandmotion.com/albert-ei … eology.htm

[2] http://www.spaceandmotion.com/

[3] http://thinkexist.com/quotes/joseph_campbell/

Comments 10

  1. With regard to “What does it mean to be spiritual”, I would say the sine qua non of spirituality is the real time sharing of feelings with other individuals at distances great and small.

  2. “The way to find out about happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you are really happy – not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what is called following your bliss.”

    I believe happiness can be fleeting compared to joy and that we have to be careful to understand that what makes us happy at any given moment is not necessarily what will bring us lasting joy. For this reason I have to disagree with the comment above to “stay with it, no matter what people tell you.” If I graduate from high school and get a fun job as a lifeguard, I could make money and be having a great time living off my parents and spending my money how I want. That would make me happy, and could for several years, because eventually I would need to move on to college (or a better job) and support myself financially. This is not something that would probably make me happy, but would be necessary. If I decided I just wanted to “follow my bliss” and I didn’t care what anyone else thought, it probably would create a sort of self-centered happiness, but I wouldn’t be too well liked by those around me and eventually something would have to change in order for me to support myself. I believe spirituality involves sacrifice or giving up something for something better. That isn’t seeking happiness in that moment, or “following your bliss” but it is on the pathway to a deeper and lasting feeling…..joy.

    For me spirituality involves sacrifice. I believe sacrifice teaches us patience and gratitude and helps us see outside ourselves better. I also believe it leads us to joy. Rather than just having happy moments or “happy times” here and there, we can feel deep and lasting joy, even in the midst of difficulty. I think the “following your bliss” concept is somewhat of a problem nowadays in that people just want to feel good and live a life of ease and they really don’t want to sacrifice their time or their comfort to work for something better.

  3. re 3:

    Jen, I think that’s a bit of picking at words.

    I think when Campbell says happy/happiness, he is referring to joy…I mean, would following your bliss refer to joy or happiness? Gotta look at context.

    If you read it exchanging happiness with joy…does it change things? In fact, with looking at the things he “contrasts” to happiness…I think he’s at least trying to go for the same concept

    The way to find out about joy is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most joyful, when you are really joyful – not happy, not just thrilled, but deeply joyful. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that brings you joy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what is called following your bliss.

    If you decided you just wanted to “follow your bliss” and didn’t care what anyone else thought, you might be engaging in the same thing that the Savior discussed: remember, he came not to bring peace, but a sword. To set man against father, daughter against mother, etc., etc., Does that make religion a “self-centered happiness”? No. Of course you try to share and bring the gospel to family, but you have to put first things first.

  4. AndrewS-

    I don’t think it is picking at words. I personally think there is a big enough difference between joy and happiness that it makes a difference in the meaning of the quote. Joy to me is not the same as happiness. To me, happiness is a more fleeting, superficial feeling and joy is a deeper, lasting feeling. I can be happy going out to eat at my favorite restaurant everyday, but as soon as I leave that feeling is over. Joy is something that lasts and can sustain you in times of challenge.

    I also think that people who are sincerely trying to follow the Savior DO think about others more than they don’t. That is part of sacrifice, putting others ahead of yourself or your own comfort and needs. Remember, “As I have loved you, love one another.” How did He love us? He gave His life for us. That is the ultimate sacrifice and thinking of others completely.

  5. re Jen:

    would campbell understand the big enough difference in words? And doesn’t it seem like he already gets it, through synonyms like “bliss,” and by contrasting it with “thrill” or “excitement.” It seems to me he means happiness to be something of a higher goal. Perhaps even what you mean by joy? Why don’t you think Campbell means a “deeper, lasting feeling”?

    so, what I’m trying to get at is…I don’t think you disagree with the quote. I think you disagree with the terminology because you associate the terminology with different things, but when you get down to ideas, Cambpell’s talking about the same things you are…and he would probably suggest the same things you do (e.g., sacrifice, putting others ahead of yourself or your own comfort and needs.)

  6. AndrewS-

    I don’t know what Campbell is thinking but I do know that I read and reread his quote I wrote what I feel it means to me. This is a good example of how people interpret things differently and can get different meanings out of the same thing.

    I think if he said something like “find your purpose” rather than “follow your bliss” that would have helped me feel that he was referring more to joy than to happiness. Following your bliss sounds to me like you just do what feels good and makes you happy without regard to what others think. So, I think I disagree with the terminology enough to disagree with the quote as well. I don’t like it, it seems to self-serving.

  7. Ever since my wife started nursing school and they distinguished between those who were religious and those who were spiritual, I’ve been paying attention to the difference. However, words and definitions and having that become part of the LDS lexicon might well benefit us all.

  8. I associate “spirituality” with purpose and meaning. Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Surely there are many people who approach these basic spiritual questions from different angles…science, nature, business/career devotion … but overall, throughout most societies throughout the world, religion has the corner on this market. Science is more focused on studying and explaining the “here and now” and the physical things of this world, perhaps anthropology is studying what was…but still focused on what was upon this earth. Religion reaches beyond this world and tries to explain eternity, creation, and the great plan of happiness while here on this earth.

    I would also say there is a difference between things I’m good at and things I like, and spiritual things. I love eating ice cream, it makes me happy. I look forward to basketball every week, and that stays with me beyond a week at a time. But I don’t consider these spiritual in nature. Spiritual is tied to purpose and meaning…more like what kind of father am I? Or can our family be together in the next life? Answering those questions tells me who I am, not just what I like or am good at.

    BTW, I am enjoying Campbell’s book Power of Myth right now, about half way through. Very good thoughts in it. It is strengthening my testimony in Christ.

  9. “I am enjoying Campbell’s book Power of Myth right now, about half way through. Very good thoughts in it. It is strengthening my testimony in Christ.” It is a great read! I love that book, too.

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