In winter days when darkness, isolation, and loneliness seem at an all-time high, many are turning towards spirituality to get a spiritual fix in the moment.
Certainly spirituality — the universal desire to connect with the deep self or divine — offers a path to stability, peace of mind, and wellbeing. But so much of our modern spiritual consciousness is wrapped in western individualism: we end up chasing personal spiritual highs, seeking individual enlightenment, or personal salvation.
Spirituality has become about “me” and making my “me” feel good.
But we need a more universal and collective way forward. Simply said, our spiritual traditions, institutions, and practices need to guide us from a personal “me” to a universal “we” consciousness — a more collective way of being and understanding of identity.
Luckily, this can be done without us losing our individual self in the whole. The great metaphor of the ocean and the wave, shared by many religious traditions, suggests that we are at the same time collectively the great Ocean of Being as well as the individual, sacred waves of the Ocean. We are personal and we are parts of a greater collective.
Can we embody both?
And what does a more collective spirituality look like?
For one, it helps to have some basic understanding of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.”
“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in the sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are…”
Being “inter-are” means that the reality of my being is interdependent on the reality of many beings other than myself. I do not exist without the eggs I had for breakfast, which would not exist without the chicken that created them and the farmer who gathered them.
If we “inter-are” as Thich Hhat Hanh describes, then there is a sense of a shared being that pre-exists our awareness of it. We can call our shared being a shared Self- capital S. This shared Self is the shared “I am-ness” out of which our being emerges. It is the simple sense of presence and being that is below the mind, beneath our emotions, and even beyond our Enneagram Type.
This bare naked I amness is shared by all, making it the shared Self of our collective identity. I am-ness is the great Ocean of Being out of which our individual waves of identity emerge.
In the same way the sheet of paper can not exist without the cloud, so too we can not exist without the matrix of humanity and the earth that sustains us. Our being-ness is wrapped up and enfolded into the being-ness of all living things.
This is experienced directly when the smile of your friend momentarily warms your heart, or when the tears of your lover breaks it.
We already inter-are.
The collective spirituality already is.
Our job, in a world still reeling from COVID-19, is to wake up to our pre-existing collective connection.
And when we can’t be together collectively, I suggest spending some time with your own sense of bare naked being — the I am-ness underneath everything that makes you uniquely you — connecting to a spirituality beyond your self to a greater Self.
In doing so, you are touching the shared am-ness of All—the Great Ocean of Being— and in this act of solitude, you may find you are not so alone.
Pray, meditate, write, practice small individual acts of “spirituality,” but do so with the collective in mind and heart- it’s already there, underneath and within yourself.
We already inter-are. Let’s embody a spirituality that expresses it, living a more authentically compassionate life in the recognition that my spiritual wellness is wrapped up in yours.