The Spirituality Of Humanness

By Jeff Brown

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.”

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.

We 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.

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