religion vs spirituality; theology vs metaphysics

I’ve been thinking about how I would describe my spiritual reality to someone whom I’d just met. In general, I try to avoid labels as I find them limiting and constricting — “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes).”

But labels can be useful in a descriptive sense, so long as one does not mistake the map for the territory. In my life I have used some of the following labels at one time or another to describe my spiritual existence (in approximate chronological order): Catholic, Christian, Neopagan, Wiccan, Grailseeker, Philosopher, Pagan, Buddhist, Process Metaphysician, Energy Worker. And indeed, all of them still ring true on some level (apart from the first two).

But that doesn’t really say much. For example, what do I mean by “pagan”? This word (its origin is Latin for “redneck”) simply means country-dweller; it was a term used by the Christian power establishment to describe those not under their direct control, those who did not live in the cities where their behavior could be easily monitored. These people, who were not constrained by urban routine, tended to live their lives more closely attuned with the cycles of nature (day/night, summer/winter, etc.).

These days I see “pagan” as being broader than “wiccan,” in that all wiccans are pagans but not all pagans are wiccans. Wicca, while I appreciate its map, is really too narrow for me. I’m not so much into ritual or tools these days, though I still find them useful as a parent raising a child. When I do my own spiritual work it tends to be introspective and conceived in terms of chi/qi/ki/universal life energy (“chi” from now on), or simply “energy.”

I’m already babbling. I’m trying to imagine what I would say to someone interested in my spiritual path. Where to begin?

OK, like a good Buddhist, I’ll begin with the Now.

Now, I am more spiritual than religious; I am more metaphysician than theologian. I believe in the divine (how can any awake person not?) but I don’t find much divinity in rigid codes of behavior and simplistic modes of religious expression. I am panentheistic in my view of divinity: the divine is in all of creation, and all of creation is animated by the divine. I am intrigued by the relationship between this notion of the divine and chi, the notion of universal life energy. I’m not necessarily convinced that chi is the divine, but I have no doubt that there is a correlation between the two.

For instance, consider any religious experience. Those experiences whose intensity is palpable, you can feel God in you, you get goosebumps on your skin, your heart rate goes up, and your breath is quickened. These instances, in my experience, are utterly charged and suffused with chi. This is what the divine feels like inside of us.

I have spent the last several years learning to feel this energy, and indeed trying to cultivate its intensity within myself. There are many ways to do this — T’ai Chi and Reiki among the most well-known — but once I began to focus my attention on the energy, it seemed to come naturally to me. I do have some basic T’ai Chi Ch’uan training, and I have received Reiki attunements, which have undoubtedly helped.

But working with this energy is, in my view, the closest way we have to be in touch with the divine. Awareness of this energy IS awareness of the divine at work in and around us. Prayer becomes something other than linguistic; moments of true communion with the divine can be felt, and this feeling at its most intense is indistinguishable from love.

This energy, by the way, is not a noun but a verb. My view of this sort of energy is highly informed not only by direct experience, but also by the metaphysical map of process metaphysics. This view sees all of creation as being in motion, things constantly move and shift in a neverending state of becoming tempered by endurance. And this view is consistent with chi; the divine energy ebbs and flows as creation vibrates and breathes; all of creation is suffused with chi, some more active than others.

So much of my spiritual practice these days is working with this energy, raising it, directing it, feeling it. And I’m particularly interested in working with this energy with other people who are also trained in this sort of work. One example is music; when I play music with other attentive energy-workers, it produces some of the most vivid examples of energy I know of.

Recently I have experienced this sort of energy work in a new and very intense way, energy work from a distance. This type of work for me is very informed by my Reiki work, which can include distance Reiki, or energy-exchange/healing without physical presence. These recent experiences have, for me, been very powerful in a way I’ve never experienced, though the energies at work in this situation are not just Reiki; they contain Reiki, but there is more to it than that. There is a very deep connection I feel and am cultivating with this person. And it feels wonderful. As I’ve been saying to people when I try to describe it: for the first time in a while, my intensity in this sort of work is being reciprocated in a very familiar way. I think we just work very well together. ;-)

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