The post-religious spiritual path is lonely. In the polarity of American culture, which recognizes only conventional religion and secularism, there are not a lot of ways to find your tribe. Actually, it’s one of the reasons why I started this blog. Unless you gravitate to a particular modality or practice that you can really identify with and use as a channel for community (e.g. yoga), you’re basically on your own. There’s a sense of isolation in being spiritual-but-not-religious that I want to explore.
What happens to spiritual fellowship in a post-religious world? In the era of mythic religions people on the spiritual path were led by a guru or teacher. They had the comfort and support of a sangha or congregation. And they had a creed that mapped out the glorious, sacred story within which their soul journey unfolded. It’s different for us. Why?
I think a major reason is that we have undergone huge epistemological shifts that have dismantled traditional religious foundations – at least for those of us paying attention. First, we had the Enlightenment and the rise of modern science. Second, post-modernism forced us to accept the reality that what we think we know is actually subjective. The upshot is that we are left without an overarching myth or external authority to explain everything for us. And we no longer have a cohesive social context for our soul journey.
I don’t think this is all bad. Because there are no well-worn road maps we are forced to take responsibility for finding our own way. Unlike religious devotees we cannot simply go along with the set of teachings we are handed. Instead of “hear and obey”, we operate in a mode of exploration and experimentation. This self-responsibility gives spirituality a wonderful aliveness and creativity – the vitality of unknowing. It requires sustained attention and cultivation. We are souls-in-progress.
But I think there is also a downside. For many of us in this predicament, the spiritual path collapses into something intensely (and sometimes stiflingly) personal. In the absence of myth, both the goal and the experience are confined to our own personal growth and development. Yet I think that ultimately, as human beings, this isn’t enough to satisfy us. I think we’re hard-wired to want more. There is an impulse within us that wants to connect with one another and the world. To have an impact beyond our own skin and psyche. Without some outward movement or orientation, spirituality can become neurotic.
This brings up several questions I want to pursue in future entries. First, how can we broaden the context of the spiritual-but-not-religious journey without going backwards? What is the bigger meaning of spirituality here and now, beyond achieving my own personal peace and healing? I am also curious about what new forms and practices are emerging that could support people like me in working collectively on spiritual development. How do we come together in spirit in ways that are appropriate for the non-religious?