What is spirituality?

candles-wave“What is spirituality?” he asks me.

I stop to think. Or rather, I stop to try to stop myself from thinking. Instead, I try to redirect my focus down to my gut in order to feel forth an answer.

“Faith.” That’s what I want to say. But I don’t. Still trying to turn my brain off, I spit out, “Spirituality is that sense that tells me when everything seems to be going to shit, it is going to be alright in the end.”

He smiles, knowingly. I can always tell when he is about to say something he thinks is profound – and therefore likely is – by this very specific smile that appears on his face right before he says it. Turning to the paper in front of us, he says, “It’s this.” And he draws an arrow pointing from where I have written “vulnerability/honesty,” connecting it to where I have written “spirituality.”

On the paper is a jumble of shapes, each labeled with something I believe I need to work on: spirituality, vulnerability/honesty, acceptance, willingness, wholeness/being myself, anxiety, and forgiveness. I’ve connected them with arrows. Hence the initial question and his proposal that vulnerability/honesty → spirituality. I contend that the opposite is the case, that spirituality is necessary for me to be open to being vulnerable. That the faith provided by spirituality that things are going to be ok if I get vulnerable is what allows me to do so.

“No,” he says. “Vulnerability is what allows spirituality in.” The time for smiles has passed. The conversation ends and I’m left to mull this over.

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Navigating spirituality and radical politics

malcolm-x-prayOne of my biggest fears in undertaking this new site and a more open posture is that I will be judged by colleagues and comrades, people I’ve worked and organized with in the real world and online, as selling out, going soft, turning liberal. In the past, I very much adhered to a type of role or persona in carrying out my work. I held onto an internal narrative that I constructed which said I must present myself as a strident, uncompromising, militant radical of the anarchist variety lest I be thought less of, judged unworthy. Of course such thinking is flawed and problematic on numerous levels, yet that narrative became very loud, drowning out the parts which desired to share a more complete version of myself. It still holds a lot of sway and tells me I will be judged for writing these very words. All the more reason to continue doing so.

It happened that I was indulging in this particular fear on Malcolm X’s birthday, May 19. A common ritual on a commemorative day such as that is to share quotes from the deceased. And so I was looking over some quotes and found a few of his that resonated with me around this very topic.

“If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.”

“Every morning when I wake up, now, I regard it as having another borrowed day.”

“Stumbling is not falling.”

Then I recalled how after Malcolm X went on Hajj, where he had a spiritual experience, he was viewed as being “softer.” His letter from Mecca is a profound recounting of the opening that occurred for him. Later, upon speaking with Alex Haley, he shared, “Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as the result of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race. I am now striving to live the life of a true Sunni Muslim. I must repeat that I am not a racist nor do I subscribe to the tenets of racism. I can state in all sincerity that I wish nothing but freedom, justice and equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people.”

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