These days it is more likely for someone to say that they are spiritual instead of religious. I’m not just talking about hippies who call themselves Ya-Ya and wear nose rings. Most of us no longer identity with a specific, dogmatic religion.
But what exactly does being spiritual mean? There are many common answers:
— — Being spiritual means being a good person.
— — Being spiritual means connecting to nature and those around you.
— — I’m spiritual because I believe there is some God or higher power in charge of the universe.
I think the last explanation aligns most with the definition that I follow, although I don’t use the word “God” or “higher power”. Instead my spirituality is one that places more probability on there being a PLANNED design vs a random state. Just like there is a predictable increase of 10 pounds every time I inhale a whole pecan pie, I believe there is — most likely — a predictable outcome when I die. Depending on whether I’ve been naughty or nice, of course.
Whereas I wouldn’t mind terribly if the whole universe turned out to be random — just like I wouldn’t mind being able to eat pie and not gain weight for once — I would be happier to know that there is some reason or logic behind it all. I would prefer there be a planned design and not randomness. Why? Because that would mean there would be a way to end suffering.
I assume a planned design would involve free will and hopefully a heaven-like final destination. Otherwise what would be the point of there being a design? In other words I assume there is something that my soul could do — good deeds — to help me to get to a better place once I pass on. A place with no more pain or fear. Somewhere with calorie-free dessert forever and ever! And lots of books and naps! YAY! A planned design offers an active component that let’s us control our own destinies.
(NOTE: To clear up any confusion, I do realize that many people refer to this design as “intelligent” instead of planned. I refuse to call it that. I refuse to call a design that intentionally inflicts such a magnitude of suffering on sentient beings an intelligent one. I think it’s stupid and cruel. But I refrain from childishly using “evil design” and call it “planned” instead.)
A random state would be one where our existence might be attributed to the Big Bang. In other words, we are simply an accidental product of the universe from one drunken night through a collision of gas and molecules. Our energy is a passive one, there is no consciousness or free will. Just like heat might travel from one state to the other — from the hot sun which heats up a lake of water — which warms the animal consuming it — which then dissipates back into the air during a cool night — so would our bodily energy — chemical, kinetic, or otherwise — simply move on to its next energy state when we die without any choice or contribution from our end.
I presume that most of us who use the word spiritual believe that life is NOT random. We expect there to be some kind of explanation or purpose for the mysteries of the universe. Unlike those who follow religious dogma, however, we don’t know exactly what the answer is.
Is there one parental figure looking down upon us benevolently? I doubt it since no “parent” would be able to watch the atrocities and suffering happening on earth without intervening, especially if they are merciful or compassionate. As the old argument goes, if there is a God, he cannot be omnipotent and benevolent at the same time, because if he were both, he would not let the world be as it is. So he is either one or the other, or he simply doesn’t exist.
Is there a heaven with harps and virgins and fondue fountains and an eternal party we get to attend? I wish, but I doubt this too, it sounds like a man-made attempt at describing an unknown state using earthly paradigms.
Is there such a thing as reincarnation and karma and a soul and nirvana? I can’t say for sure, but to me at least, a cosmic spreadsheet keeping us in checks and balance sounds like a somewhat logical explanation for the discrepancies of the world. It helps me to think that the plumber who overcharged me will be a cockroach in his next life.
But perhaps that too is not the real truth. I find it interesting to read and analyze the different explanations yet I acknowledge that I can never fully know whether they are true or not. So for now, I can only pray that this life, with this suffering, is not a random coincidence because that means we have no control over whether we have to endure it again. For me, being spiritual but not religious is the overall hope that we can aspire to bring ourselves to a better place. One where there is no longer sadness, anger, envy, pain, loneliness, disappointment, or diets, a place where there is complete and permanent happiness or at the very least, a cessation of suffering.
I hope that better place exists, and I hope that one day you and I will reach there!