One man’s perspective on spirituality, religion, & God
First, a quick disclaimer. Like virtually everything else one reads, the following writeup isn’t completely objective; it comes from just one man’s perspective — in this case, it springs from the writer’s personal experiences and beliefs concerning spiritual matters. What follows is merely one of countless conceptions of God or a Higher Power. May our views continue to evolve with experience, sobriety, and spiritual practice!
Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?
This “novel idea” is surely one of the reasons Alcoholics Anonymous has thrived all these decades. I’m eternally grateful to both Ebby Thacher and Bill Wilson for this weighty snippet of sage advice. Without this intellection, I’d have blown off Twelve Steppery in one fell swoop. Without this approach, I’d have considered AA as yet another system attempting to proselytize me, brainwash me, mold me into its conformist template. Without this open-minded notion, perhaps AA would be nothing but another religious group, or a cult of some type. (That’s what my thinking was like back then.)
But this brilliant idea was communicated by Ebby and recorded by Bill, making it available to all of us — creating a fellowship beyond what anyone could have imagined at the time. How great is that?
An encouraging truth upon which most of us can perhaps agree is this: the Source of all things (Great Spirit, God, Universal Intelligence, Creative Force, Mother Nature, Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Mystery of the Universe, Higher Power, or whatever else one might care to call it) is accessible to everyone who genuinely seeks. It seems this Source or Higher Power can be found only by going deep within oneself; those who look for God externally may encounter barriers until the searchlight is turned inward.
Bill W. put it this way:
We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It was so with us.
— Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous, “We Agnostics” p.55
Looking deeply within is emphasized as an alternative to questing for something external, something outside oneself to help “fill the hole” or bring about inner peace & equanimity. Terminology such as seek within and look inward does not refer to the examination of one’s ego-self: that vocal, self-centered, self-serving part of our psyche which, we came to learn, had all but ruled our lives until we could finally see it for what it was. Even with new awareness, ego-based thinking still resurfaces to tell me I’m right, I need to look good, I’ll do it my way, I need more, I’m separate from everyone and everything else, and I’ve got to keep up with the Joneses in order to earn any respect at home, work, in my community, in this society. (Present-moment mindfulness really comes in handy for that sort of ego chatter; more on that later.)
Now I am convinced in my own mind… that there’s only one problem in this life, one problem that includes all problems, and one answer that includes all answers… I am totally convinced that the only roadblock between me and you and me and my God is the human ego… I further believe that the best definition you’ll ever hear of the human ego is, The feeling of conscious separation from…”. From what? From everything. From God. (I like to use three words: life, good, God, which to me are synonymous words.)
— Chuck C., A New Pair of Glasses
Some say underneath the ego dwells the real you, the spiritual you — the Self, the Higher Self, the Holy Spirit, the fundamental idea of God, Christ consciousness, Buddha consciousness, etc. (again, apply whatever moniker feels right in your heart); I believe it to be true.
The path is the goal.
In a deep but very real sense, the path is itself the goal. It took time to begin understanding this Eastern nugget of wisdom. It’s the journey, not the destination. Another way to frame it might be, If I am not experiencing inner peace and equanimity right now, then when?
Peace, it seems, really IS now or never.
This writer often surmises that, in a spiritual sense, the most important things we humans really have are the present moment and our relationships. To live fully & help others, I need to make the very best of these two things as I possibly can. We have these and many other things to be grateful for, and it’s this Higher Power or Mystery of the Universe that makes time — and everything within it — possible.
When genuine spiritual practice is boiled down to its pure essence, one might find the following trio:
- Deflation of ego
- Mindfulness of the present moment
- Non-attachment (letting go of expectations, outcomes, “must-haves”)
With persistent, genuine spiritual practice, perhaps we’ll eventually come to abandon division and embrace unity. This has been the path for people like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Thich Nhat Hanh, and so many other amazing people — spiritual teachers, really. Ethical spiritual paths necessarily lead away from closed-mindedness, fideism, and fundamentalism toward open-mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance. Love and tolerance is our code…
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.
— Alexander Pope – English poet, 1648-1744
Everything is connected. Nothing truly stands alone; nothing is completely independent. Everything that exists in time is interdependent and impermanent, in a state of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls inter-being. All that we have ever seen or touched is made of the same stuff. Could it be that what we really are is everything? It’s true, if you contemplate it deeply.
We are largely creators of our own experience. We create our life experience with thought followed by action. Faith is in the feet. As Dr. Mike said at the 2013 Prime Time retreat, we control what comes in (by how we choose to respond, by filtering our cultural diet) and what goes out (by applying spiritual principles today, by doing the next right thing). Right Thinking comes from the continued practice of basic universal spiritual principles and is the result of the trio mentioned above: ego deflation, mindfulness/awareness, and non-attachment. Consistent Right Thinking and Right Action result from persistent spiritual practice over time.
While hiking at Radnor Lake, a friend of mine said, “We are co-creators of our lives.” It’s true; we cannot recover in a vacuum. A man is not an island; lasting recovery requires others, and it requires a spiritual connection. So we are co-creators rather than the sole creators of our own lives or life experiences. “‘God’ or ’Source’ or ‘Spiritual connectedness’ or ‘Compassion’ is my co-pilot!”
The spiritual journey does not consist of arriving at a new destination where a person gains what he did not have, or becomes what he is not. It consists in the dissipation of one’s own ignorance concerning one’s self and life, and the gradual growth of that understanding which begins the spiritual awakening. The finding of God is a coming to one’s own Self.
— Aldous Huxley
Great Spirit, God, Allah, Jehovah, Universal Intelligence, Creative Force, Creator, Source, Yahweh, Universe, Infinite Intelligence, Mother Nature, Great I Am, etc. seem to be varying interpretations of essentially the same thing: this Higher Power we speak of so often in Twelve-Step recovery. Although no one really knows what’s behind the “curtain of reality,” there are opinions aplenty. To be connected, we’ve got to resign from the debating society.
Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, I suspect we’re always & necessarily connected to God, the unknown and unknowable Source from whence all evolved, sprang, or came to be: the Source of all things… a Great Spirit, indeed.
Everything in existence is a manifestation of the one living being we call God. Everything is God… human perception is merely light perceiving light… he saw himself in everything – in every human, in every animal, in every tree, in the water, in the rain, in the clouds, in the earth.
— Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
When the accretion of dogma, tradition, division, cultural specificity, rigid interpretation, etc. are stripped away from religious and spiritual teachings, we are left with basic universal spiritual principles (aka, recovery principles). The initial realization of such an incredibly beautiful truth just might bring about a spiritual experience. Those “a-HA!” moments are welcome ones, to say the least.
Our individually chosen religion or spiritual practice can remain a wonderful, positive thing as long as we remain open-minded, honest, willing, and teachable. We must understand and remember that none of us has all the answers. When we begin to believe that we have all the answers to the exclusion of others, that we belong to something akin to a “one true religion”, or that others ought to believe as we believe, our spiritual quests can be quickly derailed. The ego has returned with full force.
One of the simplest ways to communicate the relationship of religions, spiritual paths, truth, reality, knowledge, science, etc. is through the use of Venn diagrams. (Remember those intersecting circles from math class?) Envision them as a bunch of circles – one circle for each religious tradition or spiritual path. Where these circles intersect – that is, the area they share in common or are in agreement – is perhaps where the truth of universal spiritual principles can be found. These practical, experiential aspects of belief systems are what really matter, IMHO.
Perhaps the Source simply is. God – Universal intelligence – is. Life IS. From this angle, being itself is Source. Self equals being: the verb “to be.” In the Bible, this seems to be expressed when God is referred to as “the Great I Am.” Pure awareness? Consciousness? I (along with many of my friends) enjoy theorizing about God, and ultimately, that’s about all we really can do since no one completely understands it. As the first verse of the Tao says,
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The Tao is both named and nameless. As nameless it is the origin of all things; as named it is the Mother of 10,000 things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery; ever desiring, one sees only the manifestations. And the mystery itself is the door to all understanding. (Lao Tsu, 550 BCE)
More important than belief, of course, is action! I never met anyone who had inner peace due to a particular supernatural belief; however, I can think of several people throughout my life who radiated inner peace, my dear Granny included, largely by applying spiritual principles to all areas of their lives, to the best of their ability.
We’ve come full circle. Remember, all of the above is just one guy’s perspective. Perhaps there are as many perspectives of and paths to God as there are humans on this planet! Religion and philosophy are incredibly interesting, as well as baffling. Sadly, these things are also divisive.
Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?
The content on this page was paraphrased from an introduction to a substantial, as-yet unpublished list of categorized spiritual quotes compiled over many years. Most of the sayings come from a “short list” of thirty or forty favorite spiritual books I’ve enjoyed over the decades. (I’ll eventually get around to adding a page of suggested reading somewhere on this addiction recovery blog.)
A sampling from the spiritual quote collection
The quotes previously shown here were moved to the Quotes section on our site.
 Higher Self, Self, self
To be addressed at a later time, perhaps…
Definition: The exclusive reliance in religious matters upon faith, with consequent rejection of appeals to science or philosophy (Source: Dictionary.com)
Fideism is essentially the belief that reason, logic, and science are enemies of a given religious system, thus causing the respective set of beliefs (or interpretation of a religious text) to seem irrefutable. Fideism seems to go hand-in-hand with the tendency to focus on differences rather than similarities when it comes to various belief systems. (Can’t we all just get along?) 🙂
Resources: A conception of God
- A New Pair of Glasses, by Chuck C. – Amazon
- don Miguel Ruiz – Official web home of author don Miguel Ruiz
- The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Miguel Ruiz – Amazon
- The Path is the Goal – A Narrative
- A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, by Eckhart Tolle – Amazon
- Plum Village Mindfulness Practice Center
- Essential Spirituality: The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind, by Roger Walsh – Amazon
- A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, by Jack Kornfield – Amazon
- Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Book 1, by Neale Donald Walsch – Amazon
All you want is to be happy. All your desires, whatever they may be, are of longing for happiness. Basically, you wish yourself well… Desire by itself is not wrong. It is life itself, the urge to grow in knowledge and experience. It is the choices you make that are wrong. To imagine that some little thing – food, sex, power, fame – will make you happy is to deceive oneself. Only something as vast and deep as your real self can make you truly and lastingly happy.
— Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, 20th-century Hindu sage