home mind evolving home

  being of winds
gary e. davis
June 22, 2017

Humans have always been mystified by the mystery of being. The gods are to humans as breezes are to tall grasses: Being with flows of Time serves our nature.

Well, more accurately: Always, some humans have been mystified, and all have been potentially open to being mystified, in principle. Some live well with mysteries better than others.

By now, though, the truly mystifying mysteries are very abstract. That is, the mysteries that mystify minds most able to live well with mysteries are very abstract to them (us, whatever).

So, we can look back to what’s been regarded as “spiritual” and readily appreciate how ‘spiritual’ has been a placeholder for intangibles in lives striving largely to live materially, but easily struck by the mystery of how things go.

Material meaning of life has always been about health, family, neighborhood, economy, organization, etc.—tangible. What’s “spiritual” is everything else (for which there is so little time—but which is so vitally important somehow that special times are set aside to remember and appreciate the mysteries).

What was spiritual about nature to tribalists is now readily accountable with biosciences. What’s “spiritual” about healing minds is now readily accountable with clinical psychology (or maybe through archetypal philology, in the manner of C. G. Jung, Joseph Campbell, or Northrop Frye; by cultural anthropologists, such as Melvin Donald; or by contemporary Analytical Psychology).

Classically, spirit is “the breath of life” (M-W Unabridged), “the animating or vital principle giving life to physical organisms.” But, for those who yielded to spiritual notions, there was no conception of physical organisms as we know them biologically.

“Breath of life,” though, is just the beginning. Webster tracks 24 definitions of ‘spirit’ (not including sub-definitions: a, b,...). I’ll spare you the tedium of recounting it all. But I want to share the most salient.

English use goes back to the 13th century, but obviously early conceptions of spirit go back to the cultural beginnings of human evolution.

After “the breath of life” comes—Ta Dah!—“a supernatural being” (uncapitalized); then capitalized: “Spirit: the active essence of the Deity serving as an invisible and life-giving or inspiring power in motion.” That presumes, of course, a given sense of deity—“the Deity”—or not: “one manifestation of the divine nature...,” not just of divine nature (whatever that is), but “the divine nature: one of the persons of the Trinity.” The Holy Spirit is allegedly a “person,” i.e., we mere mortals, as persons, are essentially intangible, like the Holy Spirit.

The boundary between spirit and embodiment becomes more integrated in the cultural development of Christianity (whose special aim is a fusion—which, by the way, happens to be post-Judaically demophilic or catholic, in the generic sense). The notion of spirit becomes more psychologized, as it was for classical Greeks centuries prior to Christianity: “4 a: soul.” But the psychologization becomes more overt in modernity: “5 a: temper or disposition of mind.” That begets “9: life or consciousness having an independent type of existence.” Independent of what—or I should say: independent of whom?

Positing spirit as a soul originally pertained to intuition of onself as being more than one appears to others or to oneself inasmuch as others may also witness “me.” A sense of self that is one’s own, distinct from oneself shared, is integral to the development of notions of privacy, dignity, and human rights.

The simple point here is that “spirit” has always been and remains intimate with notions that are transpersonal. That transpersonalness may be internal (self distinct from “face” or persona); or it may be external: sociality that is beyond “me” or beyond “us”: “a special attitude or frame of mind charactertizing an individual or group.” The “or” is also an “and” in social thinking. Distinct from the spirited child or inspired character (creator) is outerworldly team “spirit,” community spirit, ethnic spirit, spirit of the times.

What is all that?15 a: a lively or brisk quality in something.” Quality? team, community, ethnicity, or the times as something? “23: enthusiastic loyalty.”

My favorite is Webster’s regarding the following as a singular definition of ‘spirit’: “20 a: the essential character of something : characteristic quality especially as derived from individual genius or personal character : the pervading principle of something.” Is that altogether an essential quality derived at best from genius?

Then “spirituality” would be living relative to some of what spirit is posited to be (or all of it?). However, the dictionary of English roots ‘spirituality’ in Christian background. That’s historically fair, but it’s unfair to the conceptuality of spirited spirituality itself, which is about growing intimacy between nature and self or an essentialism about one’s alive, potentiated nature.

The latest definition of ‘spirituality’ indicated by Webster is “6 a: the quality or state of being spiritual | b: something having a spiritual as distinguished from a worldly or material character | c: existence purely in a spiritual state : quality or state of being incorporeal.” That eytmographically-late definition of ‘spiritual’ is actually more in touch with the history of the notion of spirit than doxological English about spirituality. Perhaps we should thank the anthropology of 19th century colonial leisure for enlightening us about the ‘spiritual’ in spirituality which preceded Christian pretense.

However, the early definition of ‘spiritual’ (as basis for “spirituality”) is fairer to the notion of spirit than is ‘spirituality’ as such: ‘spiritual’: “1: of, relating to, or consisting of spirit : of the nature of spirit rather than material : incorporeal — contrasted with earthy.” Pretty simple: trans-material, trans-personal.

Then the definition becomes religious (premised on worshipful faith), but then non-religiously “moral” (without implicating religious ancestry), but also continues as religious. The resonance, the nebulousness, of being “spiritual” remains kindred with being religious.

But it’s important to appreciate that being spiritual historically precedes being religious, historically accompanies being religious, and historically antedates being religious. A profound importance of this is that we now live with all manner of contemporary “spirituality,” apart from religions, while the interminable conflict in the world now between religiously-based “rights” (between conflicting religious mandates) and between religiosity (worshipful faith) and public reason (validity claims of understanding) “begs” for senses of valid spirituality that transcend them all. We are much in need of ways to appreciate them all, perhaps appropriating all faiths and validities in some sense of Our humanity of which we all belong, of which all authentic faiths and genuine advocacies may be understood to belong.

Beginnings can be found in contemporary spiritualities, which commonly associate themselves with mindfulness, meditation (gaining and sustaining holistic balance, along with stress reduction, etc.), creativity, and aesthetics.

Anyway, we’re occupied enough by dailiness of things and what needs to get done, such that intangibility of importances and appealing aspirations get concealed (which is eventually self defeating). Mindfulness is a matter keeping life worth living well. All faiths and validities can find kindredness here.

Aristotle called happiness “eudaimonia,” eu- (good) -daimon- (spirit) -ia (ness)—good spiritness. But his concept is commonly translated “flourishing.” We see it in spirited children and inspired adults, expressed in aspiring lives, as if there’s an en-spiriting that arrives from the horizons or in the wind, which is really emergent from so much time furthering humanity.


< previous -|- Next: opening again