I am not a spiritual person

Filed under mm • Tagged: Spirituality

For those concerned or confused by my use of terms like spirituality, mysticism & awakening, I’d like to make something clear up front.

I am not a “spiritual person”.

I work as an engineering manager in Tech. I love writing code and leading teams. I get excited about typography and blockchains. I don’t speak slowly, or with an uncomfortable level of eye contact. My jeans fit well, I never smell of incense and my political views are moderate. I am punctual and organised. I love learning about history & science and indulging in unashamedly intellectual philosophers.

I get annoyed with sloppy thinking and I get very excited watching rugby. I listen to death metal. I will assert my boundaries when I feel someone’s asking too much. A small part of me dies inside every time someone talks about their “ego” in the third-person.

Inwardly, I started using the terms I do because it felt like the only way to adequately describe what was happening—a necessary means of maintaining fidelity to my own awareness. 10 years ago, I struggled with the term “spirituality”, but grudgingly adopted it.

For the large part and throughout this process, I have not been a willing subject. But I was inexplicably drawn to something I didn’t understand. I accepted the contemplative invitation and undertook the experiment.

When I was 22, starting some dedicated “inner work” made perfect sense. I read the books and followed some innocuous meditation instructions that lead to a mystical experience. It was powerful yet fleeting.

With continued practice, more abiding shifts took place. Other things begun to happen that were very unexpected, profound and left me feeling somewhat alone. Each shift usually arrived with a great deal of confusion and resistance on my part. These days, I am mostly cooperative.

Throughout this period, I have been trying to piece together an understanding, mostly for my own sanity but also to share the liberating nature of this realisation with others. Trying to interpret these changes in a purely secular framework felt increasingly uneasy and forced. This internal war continued for 10 years, as the spiritual fireworks continued, unabated. The idea that I’d one day be seeking out obscure mystics and reading Christian theologians alongside ancient philosophy would have seemed repulsive to me throughout most of this journey.

Feeling disoriented, I have at many points wondered into spiritual scenes only to find an abundance of talking, dressing and acting spiritual, and very little contact with authentic spiritual realisation. These performative adornments felt like a way of avoiding the world rather than cultivating a deeper understanding of it.

So meditation and mystical experiences have been two of the biggest influences in my life. Which puts me in a tricky position, because it is not easy to talk about these things. And despite their impact, they didn’t stop me pursuing other things in life. I had no wish to abandon career growth or the many other beautiful ways of unfolding oneself out into this dizzying and delightful world. In fact, I felt more excited about these things, endowed as they were with a new richness and depth.

The point I’m making is this: spirituality is not an identity.

You don’t become a spiritual person or leave it behind.

Your spiritual participation is a fact of your existence—it remains whether you engage with it or not.

New Age identity, hippie identity, counter-culture identity, spiritual-but-not-religious identity—they are only cute hats perching atop the direct reality of your spiritual inheritance; an already-existing nature that is available to you, right now.

Recognising this nature requires no outward change in appearance or belief. Of course, people often change their lives and beliefs as a result of these experiences, and that is not surprising—they are transformative by definition. But those changes are downstream of the insight itself and should not merely be an attempt to imitate it.

I’m not a spiritual person. I don’t think you should be either.

—Dan Bartlett
1 Jan 2023

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