Words for atheist spirituality

I use spiritual practices as part of my good life. Through sitting in silence I bring the unconscious to consciousness, and improve my mental health. I am materialist. I believe humans evolved by natural selection in a Godless universe, and that “spirituality” is a misleading word. It implies that there is something beyond the human animal, a holy spirit, spiritual beings such as angels, demons and a God, when I believe there is none. Our afterlife is in the memories of those who knew us and in the effect we have on people’s lives, not in some other dimension of spirit.

I am not merely a humanist, as humanism does not require those spiritual practices. Possibly humanists would be more drawn to them if they did not associate them with religious beliefs.

Biblical Greek and Hebrew words for spirit- pneuma, ruach- relate to breath. A humanist might accept that “breath work” has value. We sit in silence, paying attention to our breath. We might count breaths. Being aware of breath, I begin to be aware of the unconscious processes of my body. I am more in my senses, aware of what is going on around me now. I draw my attention away from what Buddhists call the “Monkey-mind”, ruminating on old hurts and fantasies. We talk of “awareness”.

Quakers talk of “silent waiting”. Not waiting on the Spirit of the Creator, I wait on my unconscious. Growing up, I learned that aspects of my personality were not OK, and I suppressed them below consciousness. This happens in the most sane, loving families. Now, as I take time to collect myself in silence, the fear and judgment which made me suppress them fall away, and they become conscious again. Nonreligious wisdom teachers talk of “shadow work”, and other practices are available.

I hesitate to use the word “collective unconscious” as I do not know what Jung intended to convey with it, and we have a vast amount of knowledge, some of it innate, about what it means to be human in community. We do not keep it in the front of our minds but recall it when necessary. If I minister, I am bringing unconscious skills of observation and this knowledge to consciousness, to verbalise something which is for the whole meeting. Our practice is that ministry is spoken in love to build us up and bring us together.

Much Quaker language works for a materialist. Meetings can be gathered. This comes from “When two or three are gathered together I am with them,” but that does not mean that some spirit related to a man who lived two thousand years ago floats, half seen. Rather, the Christ-consciousness which was in Jesus is in us.

Wider spiritual language works too. I seek mindfulness. I am in the moment, practising so that I grow more aware of what my senses perceive is around me. I seek nonduality. The duality which is less than the best possible for me is not between mind and spirit but between consciousness and unconsciousness. I have not attained the perfect free flow of thought between conscious and unconscious. I retain blocks and introjects inhibiting it. Slowly, gently, I salve those blocks away.

While others have those blocks, one might do this work on consciousness in order to gain power to manipulate or control them. So at the centre of all true religion we enthrone Love, to build up. We will not quench a smouldering wick or break a bruised reed.

I still do not have one all-encompassing word for these things to replace “spirituality”. “Mysticism” might do. I chase the mystery at the heart of humanity and of each human, which can be known to us, so that we know and are fully known. But mysticism is replete with negative connotations, for many meaning folderol unrelated to real life.

I do not want to talk of spirituality. I am a materialist. I do not believe in spirit. All of this is consciousness work. I seek the liberation of human consciousness, in Love.

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