Why does anyone need spirituality?

The grass looks greener over the spiritual side. Here are five of the questions in my life that make me peer over the fence longingly

Grass is greener fence field daisies. Laura Eades 2014

Grass is greener. Laura Eades 2014

I suppose it’s inevitable that questions on happiness, and on how you should be in relation to your world, eventually bring me to a philosophical T junction: spiritual dimension, or no spiritual dimension?

I mean, I haven’t ever had a religion. So I’m just going on what it looks like from the outside. There are certain contexts in which the questions that only spirituality could answer assert themselves more noisily than others.

1. Gratitude: Who should I be thankful towards?

We know that happy people tend to be grateful. I’m up for it. But how I frame it to myself bugs me. Am I grateful, appreciative, or just plain glad?

What am I actually doing when I count my blessings? Feeling lucky? Honouring the ‘thing’ (friend, insight, object, family member, ability, experience) I’m grateful for with my admiring attention; wondering at it; noticing it properly? Thanking the actual things for being in my life? Or am I attributing benevolence to the world/universe/god that provided me with such great stuff? Perhaps I’m being aware of the vast possibility of not-having that thing, and the miracle, or marvellous serendipity at least, of me having it.

2. Trust: What can I have faith in, if not my own abilities to make things happen?

I’m down with the Mindfulness notion of non-striving (in theory – I mean, I definitely clicked ‘subscribe’ – What? Haven’t you noticed how great I am at totally taking things easy?). To be good at non-striving, it would be useful to trust. Trust that things will work out even if you don’t push through your rigid plan of action.

So: faith. There’s confidence to be gained from it. But do we have to trust in something outside ourselves? Something that’s gonna ‘look after us’?. Again, the idea that the benevolent universe/god/lucky stars will provide for us and protect us (they have, after all, done a pretty good job so far). Think this would be a departure from existentialism. Departure also from bald meritocracy (though we didn’t really believe it was working out that fairly anyway!).

3. Generosity: How can I get motivated about giving?

The most generous people I know all happen to be Christians. They really dig giving. They have a sharing approach to money, as if they are custodians of it, rather than owners. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been in receipt of world-rocking generosity from other people too. It’s just that I look at my Christian friends and sometimes think:  ‘Wow. You really concentrate on the giving part. You give it daily focus. I bet that feels good inside’.

When it’s my turn to give, I have a limited clingy idea of what I can afford, as if giving will leave me with less. I love having, but I  never feel I have enough. What about ‘being enough’ instead?

It’s lonely being up your own arse and preoccupied with what’s yours. Nobody wants to play with you if you’re not up for sharing, as I try to teach my toddler.

Some thistles and thorny issues on this side of the fence. Green field. Laura Eades 2014

Some thistles and thorny issues on this side of the fence. Laura Eades 2014

4. Soul: Is there a ‘real me’ untarnished by the flaws of my personality?

Identity crises take up a lot of headspace. And, in my case, a couple of decades at least. Who am I? Can I be someone I’d like to be?

I can see the appeal of thinking there is an inner self, something unimprovable. It’s an attractive concept when you confront the challenge to ‘love yourself’. How can I love myself when I’m so moody/ tired/ mean/ humourless/ impatient/ greedy/ when my personality doesn’t even resemble someone I’d like to sit next to at school?

That would be easier if there were a ‘real me’ inside of my habitual behaviours and aside from my actions. A pure me. The spirit of me. A distilled clear pure proof vodka of me.

5. Purpose: Is my journey in life meaningful? Is it meant?

It would be handy to stop worrying about this, like it was some kind of treasure-hunt I had to do with Values lists and Skills Inventories and Passion Charts and Artist Dates and Careers advisors and dreaming up job titles like Chaos Pilot or literally anything ending in -ologist.

Spiritual people have a nifty solution: the ‘soul’ can also mean something that has its own trajectory on earth and even in ‘afterlives’, a journey of evolution and learning to fulfil. Something to teach. Something to learn. This implies there’s a purpose out there to ‘discover’ already with your name on it. Though it’s worryingly preordained, and maybe a little boring, the one-option view, it would also be liberating to think that you were ‘called’ to make yourself useful in some particular, intuitively-fulfilling manner.

Then you could stop trying to figure out whether to tackle the email backlog or the washing pile of a morning, and you would definitely definitely stop googling postgraduate qualifications you could do for minimal tuition fees if you moved to, like, Denmark.

* * *

Do you have secular solutions to spiritual questions? Or are you  just down with believing? Add your comments in the thread below (click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign to open the comment thread)

* * *

Read more on Illustrated Guide to Life: