What is Spiritual?

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

In today’s media age of memes and rage posts, I have seen a theme of people considering what is or isn’t “spiritual.” Some will encourage you to let go, be peaceful, find a tribe with your vibes, or otherwise conjure the image of your “best life.” Others—outraged by the conditions of the world—will respond that spiritual people can be angry, ridicule those who have crossed a line, curse when they desire, throw shade, drink “tea,” and behave in a manner that is contrary to most stereotypes we have of being spiritual. Those who are Christian will be at the extremes of “turn the other cheek” and “whip the money lenders in the Temple” as an answer to WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). Both are right, and both are wrong. Witches don’t quite have the same phrases, so perhaps we are somewhere between Glinda and Elphaba—the good and the wicked, the “harm none” camp and those happy to curse to cure—without really understanding the deeper significance to each polarity.

Appropriate spiritual behaviors are not static; they occur contextually within culture and, more importantly, universally with consciousness evolution. What is right action at one time is wrong action at a different stage of development. While we seek comfort and familiarity, we often cling to behaviors, stereotypes, and the behaviors of those around us rather than venture into new and uncharted territory of consciousness because surrounding ourselves with what we know is easier.

So in one stage of our life, it can be appropriate, healthy, and helpful to be really angry and express it. But as we change, to be stuck in anger as a default reaction harms and stunts our evolution. We usually progress naturally on a path, but we can be stubborn, and despite a desire to be a mountain-climbing individualistic goat, we tend to align ourselves according to the reactions of our family, friends, and fellows around us. The image of the disruptor as spiritual is appropriate in one context, just as the guru alone on the mountain is appropriate in another context. In the wrong context, it is escapism and delusion no matter what paradigm we have bought into.

Various models and maps outline stages of consciousness. While often described as linear, a practitioner knows they are anything but. You can use the Qabalistic Tree of Life, chakras, astrology, alchemical operations, or Gates to the Underworld as a pattern. I had two students in Sweden studying Hermetic Qabalah with me. They are channelers and “received” their own system of “ramps” describing consciousness. Without prior conscious knowledge of the Qabalah, we continually found parallels and insights reflecting and comparing their unique system to Qabalah, and with the language difference, I could tell the Qabalistic concepts were new to them, but the essence transmitted was the same. To me this shows a certain universal nature to human experiences of consciousness.

Qabalah expresses it as ten visions, each level a virtue embodied when you “get” it and a vice demonstrated when you are lacking that level of consciousness. Each level has an obligation, a focus, to bring you to embodiment.

A more linear Western understanding of the chakra system of India in New Age healing practices shows stages of life akin to the hierarchy of needs by Abraham Maslow, adopted and adapted from the Blackfoot Confederacy. When people fixate on “destroying” the ego, most likely a misunderstanding for transcending, and do not yet have a healthy, fully formed sense of ego self, they self-destruct trying to live up to a spiritual ideal. One must energize the solar plexus to open the gate of the heart. Part of building a healthy ego, particularly if you had an unhealthy growing-up environment where healthy self-esteem was not fostered, is exploring identity. Part of being spiritual at that stage can be becoming very egotistical. It’s like the cocoon of the caterpillar, not pretty but necessary. When we look at such person and think they are not being spiritual, we are wrong, for that is appropriate for the spiritual work before them. If they get stuck, there is a problem, and many people get stuck as many cocoon but never hatch. Hopefully most are just late bloomers, in this life or the next.

Along with ego, we can find expressions of anger, sexuality, voice, silence, empathy, leadership, service, and withdrawal, all with appropriate expressions and even explorations into imbalance as appropriate for a time. When entered into at the wrong time, they are toxic and illusionary. When remaining in them too long, when our soul wants to move to the next step and our personality resists, we create a trap, often with the illusion of previous attainments equaling full illumination or enlightenment. Those in a different stage can look “lower” than us but might actually be “higher” as there really is no comparison between people. Lower and higher can be illusions too. The goal is to be in the right spiritual “place” at the right “time” doing the right “thing” for your own soul, no one else’s. As my Eastern philosophy teacher said, “Far better to do your own dharma imperfectly then someone else’s dharma perfectly.” That won’t do you or the world any good.

So the answer is that everything is spiritual. Everything can serve. One consciously on the “path” seeks to be as conscious as possible about the circumstances, actions, and responses taken, moving towards a personal level of enlightenment. I find myself using the Thelemic technique of asking “What is thy Will? And to what end?” and then following each answer with the second question until I exhaust myself and have hopefully become clearer of my motives or decided to change course to align my actions with my deeper purpose. Your method of introspection will be different, but question everything, most importantly your own decisions, actions, motivations, and responses, and you will find what is spiritual for you at this current point of your own evolution.