One thing I (Cami) have been thinking about lately is spirituality. It might seem a little basic, but because in the past my spirituality was so defined by dogma and theology, I still find it a little baffling when I experience spiritual “feelings” without any specific doctrine to attach them to. As Susan and I (and some of the other Beyond Belief authors) traveled to book stores reading from the anthology, we frequently got the question, “Where do you stand now?” For some of our authors, the answer was easy. “I’m an atheist,” Pam Helberg said at one reading. I envied her.
As for me, while I avoided the dreaded “I’m spiritual but not religious” cliche, I never had a great answer for this question. I’ve lately been reading Sam Keen’s book, In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred, in which he states, “Our experience of absence rests firmly upon an ancient memory of presence.” My memory of “presence” isn’t so awfully ancient, actually. I can still remember magical moments between the layers of heavily heaped on doctrinal burden—those flitting feelings of the mystical. In fact, those moments kept me coming back for more—for years. And for that reason, I’m a little wary of such feelings now. Sometime now, though, when I’m out for a run on a warm and slightly breezy day, the trail I’m running on feels about as sacred as any church I’ve ever been in. In fact, out on a good, long run I can be certain I’ve made contact with something numinous, something transcendent. But it IS only a feeling, after all.
My question for readers (and our authors, for that matter) is this: How do you experience/practice/engage in spirituality after you’ve left an extreme religion? Even for those of you who are atheists now: How do you make sense of “spirituality” as a concept and as an experience? Does spirituality, by definition, have to be connected to a God in some way, or can it be/is it a human emotion (as in I feel excited/sad/worried/spiritual)? What are your thoughts?