Living My Spirituality

Earlier this week, someone on LJ tossed out a question about how we (the readers) incorporated our spiritual paths, the Great Work, etc. into our everyday lives. This was my reply:

For me, it’s a matter of taking my personal mythological cosmology–my spiritual understanding of the way the Universe works–and blending it with the mundane, everyday, physical reality. The former provides context to the latter, though they are not identical. So I look at my everyday actions and I think, “Does this correlate to how I believe the Universe is on all levels?”

That’s why I’m such a sustainability geek (though still a relative newbie to some of the more advanced practices)–because if I truly believe that the Universe as a whole is alive, and that the Earth is an organism, and that totems are the protectors of physical animal species, then my actions need to mirror that awareness and understanding.

There’s nothing that isn’t connected to my spiritual path. What there are, are areas that don’t align as well with my ideal path (True Will, if you will) as I’d like them to, and those are things I work on.

I think for some people, “spirituality” is primarily linked to rituals and rites, meditation and other specifically spiritual things where the “mundane” world is to be kept separate. I admit that even I can sometimes fall into the dualistic perspective, even though I damned well know better. Yet if I have learned nothing else from my first six months’ training, I have gained a more universal view of reality. I do, on a certain level understand that every single individual thing = a cell in a very vast body, so to speak. I describe myself as an animist and a pantheist; everything has a spirit, and all spirits are the piece of the Divine within all things.

However, there is a difference between knowing something, and acting on that knowledge. And that’s really what the question came down to for me. Living my spirituality means making my decisions based on the concept that what I believe is true–for me. It’s applied cosmology–taking one’s understanding of the world and choosing one’s actions based on that cosmology. Sometimes this has to be done consciously, especially when we adhere to a cosmology that we weren’t raised with. Additionally, even if we are raised with a cosmology, we may not actually apply it to what we do on a daily basis.

For example, let’s look at my animistic/pantheistic theological mash-up. If I believe that “God”–not as in YHWH, but as in the ultimate Divine–is within all things, which creates the spirits of animism, then there’s no such thing as a truly “dead” thing. There are things that are technically “without life” in the form of scientific definitions of life, but that does not mean they are without spirits. If I die, then when my soul/spirit leaves the body, there will still remain the spirits of my limbs, the spirits of the individual cells, the spirits of the atoms, etc. Additionally, there is a spirit in the plastic cup on my desk, which also has a spirit. Same thing goes for my car, my computer, my apartment, etc. Not all of these may be spirits of a sort of consciousness where I can communicate with them in the same way as, say, totems. However, I also can’t have a conversation in English with my cats. Does that mean they can’t communicate at all?

And furthermore, even if these spirits are not like me, does that mean I should treat them with no regard or concern? I’m not going to apologize to a hammer for using it to hit a nail (I’m not going to apologize to the nail, either). But let’s look at something else considered to be not-living by most scientists–water. Not the ecosystems the water itself supports, but the dihydrogen monoxide. Water does a lot of work. It bears everything from oxygen to plankton to silt to garbage without discrimination. Yet certain things that it carries may make it an unsuitable carrier for other things. If you put a poison in the water, then the water will no longer be able to effectively hydrate an animal or flush toxins from the animal’s body. Water’s ability to carry oxygen (besides that in its own molecules) is made all the more important when we look at oceanic dead zones, in which the oxygen level is too low to sustain life and numerous being suffocate. However, chemical fertilizers from farm runoff have created conditions that reduce the water’s capacity for oxygen.

So what does this have to do with animism? Compare these two sentences:

Go and pour a gallon of bleach into that creek.

Go and feed a gallon of bleach to your pets.

Which do you think most people are more likely to do? Granted, one would hope that people would choose to do neither, but every day much more than a gallon of bleach (and other toxins) is poured into waterways every day. Water is “dead”, and there’s apparently a lot of it. Well, there are lots of cats, too, but (hopefully) nobody’s going around and routinely disposing of factory effluvia by feeding it to them (one would hope the furor over the 2007 pet food recalls would demonstrate that people care about animals). But if you make a fuss about the same types of chemicals going into the water, fewer people listen, because to most people, water is “lower” than cats, which are “lower” than human beings.

To me, water is inherently no better than cats or humans. I may have subjective preferences–while I absolutely love my kitties, if our apartment caught on fire and I could choose to save either my husband or my cats, I’d definitely save the husband. (Sorry, Sun Ce and Ember!) But I would not stand by and watch a Cartesian fundamentalist throw rocks at a dog while preaching that the dog is just a meat machine and is yelping out of mechanical response rather than any genuine pain. If that Cartesian fundamentalist were throwing rocks into a river, I wouldn’t much care, since the water isn’t harmed by it.

However, the spirits in my husband, a cat or a dog, water and even a Cartesian fundamentalist are all worth considering on their own terms. I may not treat them all the same, but I do not think any of them are worth ignoring entirely and taking for granted. Consideration is honor. I honor a cat or a dog when I consider how my treatment of that animal affects hir health, happiness, and overall well-being. However, that consideration extends outward. When I have a dog, I train hir to behave and socialize hir so that s/he’s not vicious and a danger to other dogs, people, etc. I do this because the dog is worth considering, not just because I don’t want to deal with a potentially dangerous animal. However, what about consideration for water? Water is not an isolated thing; nothing is wholly isolated. The water itself, the hydrogen and oxygen molecules, may not be harmed by pollution, but every thing that relies on that water is affected, and the water’s spirit–never mind the physical qualities–is changed for the worse.

Granting that water has a spirit makes us more likely to pay attention to it. Anthropocentric viewpoints rely on nonhuman beings either having lesser spirits, or no spirits at all. However, if I see all things as possessing a spark of the Divine, then all things are worthy of my attention. They are all living, alive. As an animist, I am aware of the spirits in all things, and therefore am made more aware of my potential and actual impact on them, moreso than if I didn’t see them as having spirits.

I believe that water has a spirit; therefore, I do what I can to change my behaviors so that I minimize what I contribute, directly or indirectly, to the degradation of the water, and by extension all thing that rely on water. The same goes for the earth, the air, the animals and plants, all things. I don’t expect perfection; there are always things I could do to reduce my impact even more. However, I also have to, on a subjective level, balance my own needs. I am an omnivore, and I believe that killing a plant to eat is essentially the same as killing an animal. However, I also recognize that the way both plants and animals are often raised, killed and processed is bad for both them and the environment as a whole, including water. While I have not chosen to be a vegetarian or vegan, I do my best to buy organic produce and free range meat and eggs when I can.

Some would argue that I’m not doing enough. But living my spirituality is not about perfection. It is about being aware of what I am doing in the context of my cosmology. Even if I make the conscious choice to act against my cosmology for whatever reason, at least I approached the problem consciously–and I can keep that choice in mind for later opportunities. Maybe today I don’t have enough money budgeted out in the groceries for free-range meat and I want to be sure I can buy cold medicine to make my sick husband feel better, so I buy conventionally farmed meat instead. But the next time I go, when I have enough funding, Ithen yes, I can buy the free-range meat. Living my spirituality is not about fundamentalism and guilt. It’s about the awareness. I’d rather be aware of my choices and sometimes not do as much as I could because I consciously chose to, than do everything I can blindly without considering other impacts (such as making my husband suffer through worse cold symptoms and maybe even develop a respiratory infection because I just had to get free range meat or else I’d be a bad environmentalist!).

Living my spirituality is an ideal to work towards. It is an ongoing project and path. It makes me question what I believe, especially because I put what I believe into practice on a daily basis. And it makes me put my money where my mouth is. There’s room for adjustment and growth and change as needed on a moment-to-moment basis. The rituals and formalities help in their own way; they remind me of my purpose, and they are opportunities to learn more about the way the Universe works.

But in the end, what it comes down to is conscious awareness of what I believe to be true, and living my life to reflect that to the best of my ability under the given circumstances.

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