Writing and reading this course, studying, meditating, sharing spirituality, working on it, is itself an experience of spirituality to me. But what does “experience of spirituality” mean? The answer, hopefully, is in the content of this course, as well as in the experience of reading it. One of its primary purposes is to clarify and possibly even give an experience of what spirituality is: I have tried to share this experience so that anybody can enrich his life with it.
Sharing and explaining spirituality is made difficult by the situation of our epoch: today spirituality is a badly treated treasure: it is misunderstood, ignored, commercially exploited, objectified. I’ll explain later in more detail this last key word. However, I’m not going to propose myself here as the savior, the rescuer, of spirituality. Thinking in a strong way about saving, rescuing spirituality, would be fanaticism. I think that spirituality deserves a rescue, but whithout forgetting its limitations. We can notice that the idea itself of saving something contains a risk of betraying spirituality. We will examine this topic as well in more detail further in this course. More than saving, a radical aim of this course is a personal communication, an action of placing at disposal a helping perspective about spirituality. The expression “personal communication” shouldn’t be misunderstood: in the contest of spirituality, as we will see, subjectivity is not a limit, it is not just the relativity of an opinion. On the contrary, it is the criterion that gives statements the most authentic context; absolute statements, although they are often needed to make language simple, are always at risk of tendency to rule over other opinions, other people, they are even at risk of imposing surreptitiously a dictatorship.
What I’ve said raises the problem of language: many problems, misunderstandings, even wickedness and hypocrisy, are just unintentional results produced by our necessary usage of language. I am aware I can’t escape these risks coming from putting experiences into words; I can only ask readers to be vigilant about my unwanted and unwitting trickery: spirituality is like a treasure always in need of being cleaned from dirt and, to a certain extent, from a certain perspective, it can be even considered dirt itself. Let’s put aside illusions, but also let’s make efforts not to miss the preciousness of spirituality and the immense help that its cultivation is able to give to our existence.
I’ll try to be clear as much as possible, fair, aware of problems and contradictions, I’d even say scientific, to achieve my goals. However, spirituality can’t be a science, because it is based on subjectivity, while science is based on objectivity. At the same time, a too clear-cut distinction between these two fields wouldn’t help a good approach to the universe of spirituality. Rather, an essential purpose of this course is to explore ways for best harmonization, dialogue, connection, between subjectivity and objectivity, while trying to make clear what they are.
For this reason I will start from a systematic way of studying in depth the history of the word “spirituality” and a clear description of the concepts by which it has been meant in the past and is today. In other words, my normal procedure, in the whole course and in any topic, will be guided by the criterion of starting from what is clear, objective, understandable, expressible by words; then I’ll go on in the research to explore what we perceive as subjective, critical, inner, hidden behind the words: I need words to guide the awareness of the interlocutor to imagine, as properly as possible, not only what I want to express, but also what is most commonly perceived in general by the whole humanity. I hope this way spirituality will be discovered like it happens in an archaeological work of excavation that bring treasures to light.
As a consequence, this course will try to be exact as much as possible, disciplined, but also clear and simple, human, because spirituality is a discipline, but it cannot ignore the importance of spontaneity and, I’d say, even humour, to let the best of our humanity emerge and be promoted.
Critical research is conducted with a humanistic, scientific, and philosophical criterion.
Applying a humanistic criterion means studying spirituality with the same responsibility with which, for example, literature, psychology, history, sociology, that is the so-called “humanities”, are studied in schools and research institutes; they differ from science as such because they are not limited to what is strictly measurable and provable; for example, to study the style of a poet, humanities not only use structural analysis, which would be often eccesively complex and extensive in order to allow us to finish them, but also rely on sensitivity of experts about criticism in that field. This does not mean that literary critics are allowed to say any statement without having to prove it, but that they use the data from experience in more global, comprehensive, synthetic, transverse ways, rather than in a purely analytical and detailed way, as it is done, for example, in physics, mathematics, chemistry. Transverse ways can be compared to what is explained in the post Structures of spirituality – II. Besides this, the specification “human”, is meant also in opposition to “universal”: it results to be an advantage for resarch to distinguish a spirituality widespread all over universe from another one that instead we find specifically within us.
Using a scientific criterion means to strive to narrow the search field to what is documented, demonstrable, explainable, repeatable. It follows that fields usually referred to spirituality, such as paranormal, esoteric, supernatural stuff, here are simply appreciated as manifestations of human behavior. In our research we are interested in a spirituality that even a scientist, a materialist or an atheist must be able to follow.
Keeping a confrontation with philosophy, in favor of research seriousness, essentially means giving importance to criticism and self-criticism, especially regarding the relativistic criticism of metaphysics. An example of this type of criticism is the “weak thought” of Gianni Vattimo, but we can also think to Heidegger or what is called “postmodern”. Who wants to believe in the existence of “spirits”, as such non-material, but belonging to other dimensions, is free to do so, this is not relevant for the purposes of research that here is meant to pursue; what matters is that everything will be discussed here, whether material or immaterial, will anyway be interpreted in a manner incompatible with any notion of truth as objective, real, something to which, according to some, we all should adapt “because it is so”, “because it is true”. From this point of view it is not uncommon that even atheists are actually very dogmatic. Spirituality meant here is rather relativist, critic and self-critic on everything, always becoming, ready to doubt everything, including itself. For a better understanding of the philosophy that underlies this view, I recommend reading my book Walking, available for free in this website.
The critical path that philosophy has covered in the world now enables a work of rescuing the human heritage of experience, indicated by the word “spirituality”, to seriousness; there is no one to blame for what has been said above, it is a matter of proceeding with a historical mindset, that actually allows us to appreciate the progress made, but freeing its interpretation from metaphysical presuppositions. An efficient portait of the new efforts in the present situation is in Jacob Waschenfelder (2011), The World Suffices: Spiritualities without the Supernatural, Journal for the Study of Spirituality 1:2, 171-186.