Too often, we confuse “spirituality” with “religion,” or the words are used interchangeably, without any thought given to their subjective meaning. Is spirituality the interior personal experience, and religion the sacred doctrine or holy law? Does spirituality become religion when we try to share it with another person or pass it on to another generation? Could they be two subtly different ways of describing the same experience?
Religion is not only our shared set of values, or the way we create meaning in the world, or our method of contemplating the universe (Oneness, Brahman or God). Religion is made of many perspectives in many locations, and is the key to co-creating a multi-dimensional worldview. Religion is a map that is continually being drawn from the inside. And while it was Alfred Korzybski who coined the term “the map is not the territory,” Korzybski himself knew that our “knowledge of the world is limited both by the human nervous system and by the structure of language.”
For the sake of analogy, let’s briefly consider a full, rich, complete and conscious life to be both – the exterior and the interior, the media and the message, the sheet music and the song itself. We must make this distinction, as some people have the map firmly in hand (some even know it by heart), but have never once planted their feet on the ground. And some people have lived in a place their entire life but never truly know where they are in orientation to others.
If religion, then, is our spiritual map of the world – a man-made rendering co-created by a collective consciousness, yet always falling short of the ineffable whole of the Cosmos – then which maps (or parts of them) should we keep, and which should we discard? Where are the unexplored places that we should continue to chart on our own?
Consider the ancient cartographer’s parchment with those dark and dangerous areas illustrated with inky shadows and fanged sea monsters (“Here there be dragons!”). Those areas remained ominous and unknown until some brave and courageous (and most times, well-funded) soul ventured into the darkness and provided detailed reports of the seas, deserts and caves. Are there any of these dragons left today?
Or what about the bright and colorful Rand McNally road atlases? As children, they kept many of us active in the backseat during cross-country road trips with their arterial red and blue highways stretching across each page. But, the states were sorted alphabetically, not spatially or intuitively, and occasionally you’d hit some road construction that wasn’t on the map. Then, you’d have to pull out a pencil and chart your own course. How do we sort, classify and organize the maps we use today?
From these subtle changes in roadways, borders and territories to huge shifts in actual landmass, the world has changed dramatically since these maps were drawn, and continues to change faster every day. Google Maps now provides a modern, interactive, up-to-the-minute rendering of the entire planet, delivered to the screens in our vehicles and the devices in our pockets. Every shadow and corner of the world is now available on a display at your fingertips.
Which spiritual maps (or religious worldviews) are we holding onto out of sentimentality or posterity? Which sections of these interior maps and mythologies can be left behind, and which are just as true and relevant today as the day they were written?
Throughout history, science and spirituality have charted very deliberate courses, both thinking they have the only map we need – with science viewing spirituality as unnecessary and “not of this world,” and spirituality viewing science as too narrow in scope, or not taking all dimensions into account.
We, unfortunately, still live in a world where dreams, altered states or religious experiences are most times viewed as aberrations from a properly-functioning and mechanistic universe – the proverbial ghost in the machine. Sigmund Freud viewed religion as a form of psychological regression – a return to the womb (sanctuary) of the mother (source) – with nothing redeeming, constructive or creative about it. Carl Jung, on the other hand, familiarized himself with the interior (transpersonal) and spiritual dimensions and adapted the language of psychology to support these newfound structures.
The quest for unification and synthesis of these two worlds carries on today. Like Arthur Koestler so many years before her, Lynne McTaggart, in her book The Field, asked psychologists and physicists alike to weigh in on the realms of faith healing, ESP, telekinesis and the power of prayer. In journalistic fashion, McTaggart took quantum physicists to task for doggedly, almost religiously, focusing on “matter,” yet consistently and historically ignoring the interiors of the human animal.
In summary, McTaggart writes, “We are quantum beings. All living things are connected by an invisible web. The brain perceives the world through quantum frequencies. Everything is indivisible and living consciousness is not isolated. In effect, there’s nothing that is not part of this field. There’s nothing that is not God.”
Our universe, if we are reading the map(s) correctly, is an ever-unfolding composite of light, sound, vibration, matter and quantum energy. Most of us perceive only the parts of our world that are necessary to our survival. As much as we feel that our combined senses are a trusted window to a complete vision of the Universe, they really only act as a kind of lens or filter (what Aldous Huxley referred to as a “reducing valve“) to throttle the ratio of noise to signal, or to block out that which the body (or mind) cannot process or comprehend.
Yet, there remains “information” beyond the fringe and between the frequencies. We know this because we are occasionally offered a glimpse of it. The veil of perception is sometimes parted and we are illuminated by Oneness, struck speechless and still by the beauty and grace of a perfectly coherent and cohesive Cosmos. One might think of our entire Self (body, mind an d spirit) as a sort of prism that refracts an infinite amount of information (colors, sound, vibration, consciousness) down into the most basic tones and colors.
Our prophets and poets have attempted to describe this Universe using language.
Our best artists have attempted to convey the depth and span of this Universe in music or images.
If one of our goals is to navigate this multi-dimensional map of the world, or to “be the compass” and show others the way, or better yet, collaboratively co-create this map on an ongoing basis, then it is imperative that we understand this world (indeed, using our limited senses) from the inside out. We must be able to inhabit and intuit not only the physical realms, but the psychic and spiritual realms as well. We must know these dimensions, not through studying the words and pictures of those that came before us, but first hand, by standing with both feet on the ground, staring into the Sun and letting the Divine light warm our face and chest.
We must know, without hesitation, the backroads to what the Buddhists call the skandhas (or sheaths of being), the alleyways that pass through the biosphere to the noösphere on the way to Christ Consciousness, and the shortcuts around the non-stop construction at the intersection of Religion and Psychology.
This is how we will arrive at a cohesive understanding of the Cosmos. This is how we will travel up the many mountain paths of interfaith dialogue to the summit, where all the paths converge. And only then will we realize that the mountain (which we fought to overcome) is a grain of sand. That the map we were holding onto so dearly was written upside down, in a different language, using invisible ink. That the only map that matters was always already laid out before us in our original mind, and that the only compass we will ever need rests in the engine of our soul.