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Spirituality & Happiness
Posted: 06 June 2008 07:22 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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What is Spirituality & How do we become Happy?

I was interested to read Harris’ ideas about spirituality and happiness in the End of Faith. However, I think there is more to be said. While having experiences which divest one of the ‘self’ and take one to different levels of consciousness/unconsciousness is well and good, I think there are more important things (for me, at least).

For example, I concieve of spirituality as a group of emotional and intellectual needs that people have. They include the need to find meaning in life, to develop one’s ethical self, to discover sources of wonder and awe, and to discover activities that one loves…

These are some important sources of my own happiness:

My discovery of philosophy has awoken the love of learning that I previously thought dead, and provided me with a quest of intellectual and ethical self-improvement.

The quest to become a more compassionate, more reasonable and thus more ethical person through study, reflection and practice is a source of pride and happiness to me. The possibility of making the world a better place for others to live in is daunting task (sometimes I feel despair and powerlessness), but it also fills me with inspiration, excitement and a sense of great potential.

Meanwhile, activities such as reading, socialising and painting seem to provide much of my happiness and contentment.

I don’t understand why losing the self through drugs or meditation is so significant. I hope that others on this forum can either explain to me why they think losing the self is especially important for happiness, or alternatively confirm that they, like me, are more interested in sources of happines such as I have described.

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Posted: 06 June 2008 07:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Acknowledging and understanding the natural worldview is as exciting and inspirational as any spirituality. I have zero spirituality and am happier than I have ever been, at now 51 years old.

IMO it is a total myth that humans need spirituality to achieve happiness.

There is so much to learn and do in our physical material world, I have a hard time understanding how anybody could be unhappy or unfullfilled. I think ignorance must play a role here with those type of people. They simply do not yet understand ‘Wonderful Life’ as Steven Jay Gould so eloquently called it.

So much to learn, so little time. Why concern ourselves with things not real or possible.

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‘Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity’

‘If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature destroys them’

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Posted: 06 June 2008 09:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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I think that whether spirituality exists or is relevant depends on how you define it.

I rather feel that religion has hijacked the word and packed it full of supernatural connotations.

But I define spirituality (for the naturalist) as a group of emotional and intellectual needs and pursuits. It centers around things like:
finding meaning in your life, developing quality relationships, discovering what it means to be a good person, finding awe and wonder in the world and universe, deciding what is really important to your life… and much more, of course.

So under my definition spirituality could hardly be less important. But you may have a diferent word for such pursuits.

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Posted: 06 June 2008 10:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Elise - 07 June 2008 01:11 AM

But I define spirituality (for the naturalist) as a group of emotional and intellectual needs and pursuits. It centers around things like:
finding meaning in your life, developing quality relationships, discovering what it means to be a good person, finding awe and wonder in the world and universe, deciding what is really important to your life… and much more, of course.

So under my definition spirituality could hardly be less important. But you may have a diferent word for such pursuits.

All of those pursuits are wonderful and noble, but I personally see no reason to amalgamate them into one word like “spirituality”, which seems to somehow detract from the power of each pursuit’s individual thrust.

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Posted: 06 June 2008 10:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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The reason is that other people have challenged me for my committment to logic and reason, saying things like “but reason can’t answer questions of spirituality” or “reason doesn’t allow for spirituality” or other similarly silly things.

I realised that when people say “spirituality”, much of the time they don’t actually know what they mean, or mean anything at all. They just have some vague idea that there’s some aspect of life (possibly involving religion or meditation or tea ceremonies) which reason can’t access.

Saying “spirituality doesn’t refer to anything” is a surefire way to alienate people who use the word. Instead, I thought if I offer a definition, they can agree or disagree with me, and at least we’ll be talking about something, rather than nothing. So I can have useful conversation and convince people that logic is not ‘spiritually’ bankrupt.

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Posted: 06 June 2008 10:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Then I say sure, go ahead and use it with those people. But if they say, “that’s not spirituality!” then you need to quote them my signature line. Tell them that “internal harmony” is your term of choice.

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Posted: 06 June 2008 11:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Oh, they don’t usually say “that’s not spirituality”.
Usually they just nod in agreement, further confirming my suspicions that they have never before bothered to ask themselves what spirituality means to them.

I might just define my pursuits as ‘philosophy’. Good old Bertie. No tree can be both a beech and not a beech. That about sums it up, really.

So, did you find Harris’ chapter on spirituality satisfying? Incomplete? Relevant or irrelevant to your happiness?

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Posted: 07 June 2008 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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I have struggled to find a concept for “spirituality” in a way that fully respects naturalism, reason, and rationality. The problem is that the word is so vague. The only concept that seems to fit is the Zen principle of mindful acceptance combined with Einstein’s wonder at the universe.

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Posted: 07 June 2008 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Elise - 07 June 2008 03:00 AM

So, did you find Harris’ chapter on spirituality satisfying? Incomplete? Relevant or irrelevant to your happiness?

I must confess, it’s been so long now since I’ve read the book, I’d need a refresher, and am kind of immersed in all kinds of other projects right now.

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Posted: 07 June 2008 07:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Defining spirituality-based on the word ‘spirit’ of which a skeptic would say has never been proven to exist.

Therefore spirituality to me is gobbly gook and meaningless.

I suppose one can do yoga (I do) or meditate to clear ones mind or to release endorphins, but that has nothing to do with the metaphysical IMO.

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‘If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature destroys them’

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Posted: 07 June 2008 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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McCreason - 07 June 2008 11:59 AM

Defining spirituality-based on the word ‘spirit’ of which a skeptic would say has never been proven to exist.

Therefore spirituality to me is gobbly gook and meaningless.

I suppose one can do yoga (I do) or meditate to clear ones mind or to release endorphins, but that has nothing to do with the metaphysical IMO.

Yeah, I agree. I honestly think “spirit” only sounds legit as:

In the spirit of the times. (zeitgeist).
A spirited conversation or horse.
Drinking spirits (archaic?)

Even here, I wonder . . .

When “wondrous” becomes “spiritual” faith takes over.  And we know where that leads.

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Posted: 07 June 2008 09:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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McCreason - 07 June 2008 11:59 AM

Defining spirituality-based on the word ‘spirit’ of which a skeptic would say has never been proven to exist.

Therefore spirituality to me is gobbly gook and meaningless.

I suppose one can do yoga (I do) or meditate to clear ones mind or to release endorphins, but that has nothing to do with the metaphysical IMO.

The concept I wish to develop for a naturalistic “spirituality” would have nothing to do with spirits or the metaphysical. The concept would probably resemble a philosophical one. I wish to take back from religions and from metaphysical “spirituality” all the intangible/subjective/amorphous aspects of the human experience, such ideas as love, beauty, and happiness. I wish to disconnect those aspects from purely scientific questions such as the origin of life. Not that science wouldn’t play a role in explaining why we feel love.

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Posted: 07 June 2008 10:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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... “spirit” only sounds legit as:

In the spirit of the times. (zeitgeist).
A spirited conversation or horse.
Drinking spirits (archaic?)

Or perhaps the human spirit ?

I understand that the supernatural and religious connotations scare some people off. That’s a pity, because we should be able to use whatever words we want. I’m taking “spirituality” back and commandeering it for philosophers and atheists everywhere!

Hopefully it will lose those magical connotations and come to be associated with the most profound and noble human endeavours.

[ Edited: 07 June 2008 10:25 PM by Elise]
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Posted: 07 June 2008 10:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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But what I really wanted to know is this: what are the most important elements of happiness?

Is losing one’s sense of self through meditation or drugs or unusual experiences necessary for happiness? How important is it compared to other ingredients of the good life?

(It’s just that Harris devotes an entire chapter to it, without really talking about other ways of being happy, so I gather he thinks it’s pretty important)

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Posted: 08 June 2008 12:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Elise - 08 June 2008 02:37 AM

But what I really wanted to know is this: what are the most important elements of happiness?

Is losing one’s sense of self through meditation or drugs or unusual experiences necessary for happiness?

Perhaps give Bertrand Russell’s “The Conquest of Happiness” a read.  It’s a quick book, written in 1930, quite sexist, but very right-on in so many ways.

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Posted: 08 June 2008 02:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Elise - 08 June 2008 02:37 AM

But what I really wanted to know is this: what are the most important elements of happiness?

Is losing one’s sense of self through meditation or drugs or unusual experiences necessary for happiness? How important is it compared to other ingredients of the good life?

(It’s just that Harris devotes an entire chapter to it, without really talking about other ways of being happy, so I gather he thinks it’s pretty important)

Some would say that the self, the seeker of all the attributes or worthy pursuits you feel are worthy of the term ‘spirituality’, can never be happy.  There are reasons why the self can never be happy.  For one thing, the self is a spectrum of all of our experiences, remembered or unconscious, and many of those experiences are unpleasant.  We may aspire to be good, to live a good life, to be happy, to help others do the same, but that aspiration is an activity of the self which can never be anything but a two-sided coin.  We may ‘keep our sunny side up’, we may think positively, but to do those things invariably implies the opposite.  There are some who may insist that both sides of their coin (their self) is sunny, but then they find that others are watching them to ‘trip up’, to manifest anger, fear, jealousy or some other indication that the ‘sunny’ person is human like everyone else.  Think of all the TV preachers, politicians, assorted sports role models who ‘topple’ and end up in the tabloids - disgraced - the sailors who fall from grace with the sea.

Zen Master Mazu comments:

“The Way does not require cultivation - just don’t pollute it. 

What is pollution?  As long as you have a fluctuating mind fabricating artificialities and contrivances, (for example, trying to snare happiness and make it your own) all of this is pollution.

If you want to understand the Way directly, the normal mind is the Way.

What I mean by the normal mind is the mind without artificiality, without subjective judgments, without grasping or rejection.

The founders of Zen said that one’s own essence is inherently complete.  Just don’t linger over good or bad things - that is called practice of the Way.  To grasp the good and reject the bad, to contemplate emptiness and enter concentration, is all in the province of contrivance - and if you go on seeking externals (for example, somewhere out there is happiness, I will do this or that and capture it) . . . if you go on seeking externals, you get further and further estranged.”

(Mazu quoted in the book ‘Zen Essence - The Science of Freedom’ - Translated and Edited by Thomas Cleary

“Like a tiger in the jungle, like a wild bird in the forest.”

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“It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved.” - Sam Harris

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