Connecting Our Spiritual and Human Experience

By Jeff Brown on Saturday February 24th, 2018

How to Find Sacredness in Our Shared Humanity

The healthy shift towards inclusivity—socially, culturally, politically—must also infiltrate our notions of ‘spirituality’ if it is going to bring us together as a humanity.

That is, we must get away from the idea that our spirituality and our humanness are two different realms, one higher or more meaningful than the other. In the way that it has been characterized since time immemorial—and not only by mystics, saints, and cave-dwellers—’spirituality’ has been seen as a way of being that is above and beyond our ‘faulty’ humanness, and certainly from many of the messy and unpleasant aspects of our life experience.

It has meant perpetual positivity. It has meant superficial affirmations. It has meant a pure, or absolute consciousness bereft of feeling. It has meant the transcending of the self. It has meant repressed anger and premature forgiveness. It has meant the dissing of ego. It has meant ’emotions as illusion.’ It has meant the bashing of our personal stories and legitimate victimhood. It has meant seeing God only when the sun is out.

Only in those rare moments when you can ‘transcend’ the human experience, or perhaps only when you die, do you get to have a spiritual experience. But not here, not now, not in the heart of this embodied madness.

Separation of Spiritual and Human Experience

Even Webster’s Dictionary distinguishes spiritual life from our embodied form, defining spirituality as, among other things, that which is “concerned with or affecting the spirit or soul,” “lacking material body or form or substance… the vital transcendental soul belonging to the spiritual realm,” “of or pertaining to the moral feelings or states of the soul,” and “of or pertaining to the soul or its affections as influenced by the spirit… proceeding from the holy spirit; pure; holy; divine; heavenly-minded; opposed to carnal.”

The separation between spirituality and humanness‘Spirituality’ has been seen as above and beyond our ‘faulty’ humanness.

We even see this view in the famous saying by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Don’t misunderstand—I understand why we resonate with this saying—it reminds us that we actually are spiritual beings, something we can easily lose sight of in the heart of our daily challenges.

But what is missing is even more important. What is missing is: he doesn’t also say, “We are also human beings having a spiritual experience.” Nor does he dare to suggest that there may actually be no distinction between our spiritual life and our human life. He keeps them distinct, and at most, allows for the possibility that our humanness is one fragment of our spiritual life. And this is the same mistake we have been making for centuries.

Desacralizing the Self

We have been desacralizing the self, imagining it something less than Sacred and Divine.

This leads us in the wrong direction and, although it may provide momentary relief from the challenges of the human experience, it actually perpetuates the (illusory) divide, concretizing the idea that being human is necessarily sub-standard, ultimately turning us away from the necessary work we must do to bring ourselves into integration and make sacred our humanness.

Desacralizing the selfWe have been desacralizing the self, imagining it something less than Sacred and Divine.

Simply put, our definition of ‘spiritual’ has meant the bypassing of the challenges of the human experience. They have been severed, abandoned, and transcended in the name of a ‘higher’ or stiller or emptier or more evolved path. Through this lens, spirituality is a shadowless and formless skyscape, one where the sun never stops shining and where we float—peaceful, silent and still—far above the messy complexity of the human experience. Love and light and everything nice.

Mastery at the Expense of Connectiveness

Does this matter? It matters a lot, particularly for those of who seek an inclusive and humane world. In the same way greedy, unconscionable capitalism is destroying us, humanity-severed spirituality is destroying us. It’s all part of the same power-seeking patriarchal system—one that focuses on ‘mastery’ at the expense of connectiveness, one that focuses on being above rather than being among.

Because if we don’t believe that what happens to the ‘human’ is spiritually relevant, we won’t bother to improve our behavior or become more inclusive in our thinking. We won’t stop to look at our effect on each other. We won’t bother to worry about human rights, or healing our trauma, or crafting legal and political structures that reflect our sacred significance. Why would we bother to focus on inclusivity and human value if we believe that our experience of God or Enlightenment or Divinity, is not down here among us, but is way up there, far above the human fray?

Living ‘Above’ Your Humanness

This perspective, this division between spirituality and humanness, is taking us far away from our embodied lives—the only place we can heal and transform as a species.

And it invites all manner of unethical behaviour in patriarchal power-brokers. Because when you are ‘above’ your humanness, you are also above the law. And you can always claim that your actions are acceptable because your human behaviour is not you.

Love and light and everything niceLove and light and everything nice.

This view is as fundamental to unconscionable capitalism as it is to ungrounded spirituality. And it’s wrong—if anything reflects your spiritual stage, it’s your actions. Spiritual maturity and emotional maturity are synonymous.

Instead, we must bring spirituality and humanness together, arriving at the understanding that spirituality is reality—not somewhere we go to ‘rise above’ or seek refuge from the challenges of the human experience—but an experience that is all-encompassing and ever-inclusive. That is, that the most spiritual being is the one who is the most engaged in and connected to all aspects of the human experience—what I call ‘spirit-reality,’ or Enrealment.

Everything is Sacred

From this vantage point, one cannot ignore the traumas and needs of humanity because one understands that all of it is sacred. That all of it matters. And then we are inspired to take action, in every sphere of society, to craft structures, systems, and laws that honor, encourage, and connect us. With those in place, no one gets left behind, and every human gets an opportunity to participate and improve their life conditions.

Inclusivity—within and between us, and at the heart of a humanized notion of spirituality—is not just a ‘politically correct’ progressive notion. It’s a way of being that leads to a more just and humane world—one where every one of us matters. Every struggle. Every wound. Every dream. All sacred. And when we believe that we matter, we cannot help but work together to co-create a just and compassionate world for all.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.




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19 Responses to Connecting Our Spiritual and Human Experience

  1. Wow. This article blew my mind. It’s time to embrace humanity, forgive our past hurts and actions…and just love. Truly love. Life is beautiful…the highs and lows

  2. Jeff salutations to the Divinity within you. This Divine consciousness is in our mind, mental processes and the natural processes that surround us. We can further expand our consciousness by getting in touch with the Divinity within and outside in nature with more love, compassion and the joy we spread to others. Whenever we go within and experience the soul, it becomes noticeable in our exterior body and actions as spirit is the permanent foundation that we build upon. We appreciate the smallest things as they come to us effortlessly and we stop reaching out and grabbing the first thing we can get. The spirit lives by grace so anything that comes our way is appreciated as we enjoy the objects in the outer world positive or negative as they are perfect for what we need in the moment.

  3. La espiritualización de lo corpóreo y la corporeización de lo espiritual.

    Which in English would be something close to: the spiritualization of the corporeal and the embodiment of the spiritual.

    It’s simultaneously a two way avenue!

  4. You are correct in asserting that spirituality and humanness should not be treated as separate spheres. Spirituality and humanness are real concepts; we can experience and witness them in our everyday lives. Spirituality is a natural, evolutionary aspect of the human brain that is common to all humans throughout all of history.

    However, your inclusion of the concept of a god does serious damage to the credibility of your views. The existence or not of a god or gods (there are currently thousands of such alleged deities) has no factual impact on human spirituality as the proof for such entities is on a par with the evidence for the existence of unicorns, that is, zero.

    If substantial and verifiable evidence for a particular god were brought forward there would then, perhaps, be a case for linking that god to human spirituality. To date, no such evidence has been forthcoming.

    • On the contrary, I think one’s belief in a god or god, or one’s agnosticism or atheism totally affect one’s spirituality, just as culture, upbringing, education etc do.

  5. the MUST that you put forth in the article is part of the discord 🙂 MY must is not the same as YOUR must and this is why spirituality is different and a unique experience for each human. My right can be your Wrong, and all sorts of things in between. I would also say one who can’t get there (inner perception can lower the bar to match where they are) fine line between being lazy and closed and being willing and open to what that spirituality is saying to the individual.

  6. I can’t think of any mainstream religion which doesn’t teach that our spirituality is totally embodied, and that it has to be both sought and expressed within the humanness of daily life.

  7. Utterly wrong. The writer clearly has no experience of MER, (the mystical experience of Reality) nor is familiar with this phenomenon now being studied by science at universities around the world. Mystics have known and still do know there is much more to Reality than being merely human.

  8. It’s the old conundrum of Manichism or Calvinist duality (God and the Devil) vs monism (there is only one). Duality might be better expressed by contrasting and comparing spirit with soul. Read “Care of the Soul,” by Thomas Moore.

  9. Thank you for this excellent so true sharing. It reminds me of one of the best John Welwood’s writing: “A Double Vision”

  10. Good article! I feel that all religion is based on love, but we have lost our way. For me yoga helps to be human and spiritual. Yoga is about compassion for yourself and others. When moving in your physical body and when moving in your mind. Love for others, compassion and forgiveness should be cornerstones of our societies. Though often we are preoccupied sometimes with our human experience and sometimes with a (false) sense of spirituality. We enjoy running around the mountain telling other their path is wrong when we are all going up the mountain, looking for love, acceptance and belonging.

  11. yes spirituality is all surpassing form realm to realm human kindness hope love compassion we are a reality a key to life expansion knowledge our universal language longevity well ness

  12. I really enjoyed this.

    As someone from a Christian background but also big on spirituality in general, I really enjoy how this article doesn’t bash religion just for the sake of bashing it. It has a go at the fact that if we banish spirituality to a sense of “unearthly transcendence” and on a pedestal- it can lead us to disregard the lived human experience of both ourselves (self-denial) and others (lack of compassion).

    Through Christian mindfulness practices, I have become much more fully aware of how neglected the body is and how the bible can help point us to look after our body well as there are multiple references to looking after our body, as “the temple of God”; something I’m sure the author of this article will have no problem with.

    2 other things I would like to note. This sense of spirituality being entwined with our innate human experience directly contradicts capitalistic and individualistic western values (what this article also alludes to). 1) This is clear within sociological concepts such as Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ which has greatly influenced me as I seek to achieve the highest rung of ‘self-actualisation’ once my more basic needs of food, shelter, and security have been met. However, many critics note that this is a western individualistic ideal and often more tribal and community cultures do not see “self-actualisation” as the highest need.
    2) I came across the Enneagram typology recently in a book by “Richard Rohr” which notes that enneagram type 9 “The Peacemaker” is much more common amongst communities and tribes that have not been tainted by western individualism. I would think that they would also be more in touch with the idea of spirituality being embedded within our entire selves and the world we live in; something that I hope that I can fully actualise too one day.

  13. I have no problem with the premises of this article but to use Teilhard de Chardin as the foil for your argument is absurd in the extreme. His whole theology was oneness. The man had a spiritual experience as a stretcher bearer in the first world war. He was a scientist and a mystic. He saw spirituality in atoms.Here is the quote of his you should have used in your article. “Some sort of essential instinct makes me guess at the joy, as the only worthwhile joy,of co-operating as one individual atom in the final establishment of a world; and ultimately nothing else can mean anything to me. To release some infinitesimal quality of the absolute, to free one fragment of being, forever-everything else is but intolerable futility.”

  14. Finally, an article about the duality of existence, as manifested by form and consciousness. We are both human and being, not one nor simply t’other. It’s always both. Even 800 years ago Rumi quipped: “good and bad are mixed. If you don’t have both, you don’t belong with us.”

    The oldest religious/spiritual icon, the Taoist Yin/Yang *encircled* duality, carbon dated antler bones in China from 14,000 years ago, suggest exactly what Jeff here says so eloquently. Blessings Brother.

  15. For the past few years I begin my day, meditations, prayers reminding citing there is no separation from the absolute, goddess, god etc. And That there never has been. That I in human form and experience am one. It reminds me to be aware of more than myself in this space we find ourselves.

  16. The author doesn’t understand spirituality at all. We have to first remove the log from our own eyes before we can help others find the peace, joy, and love that we have found. When he writes, “if anything reflects your spiritual stage, it’s your actions” it shows that he has not found yet. Unless, of course, he has found the ABILITY to unconditionally love all that life has offered. This is an emotional skill that comes with clarity of mind. Apparently, the author and most people still think that the richness in life comes from the external world, not our reaction to it.

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