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+9 votes
So, I think that spirituality can be pretty cool, and is maybe really important.

The ideas of connection, patience, irrationality, being small, knowing that *everything* is big, the manipulation of the mind and body, ritual, celebration, magic.... It seems like these things could have an anarchistic power to them that appeals to me when they are not organized, capitalized, or recuperated, and that rejecting spirituality along with god is too easy of a solution.

That said, the "peaceful transcendence, man" route is very gross as is the religious dogmatism / utopianism of many anarchist texts.

Embodied spiritual nihilism anyone?

*edited to include tags*
by (1.5k points)
edited by
Can I just comment that I really appreciate the questions you've posted on this site? Like, a lot?
i really like this question, all of the answers, and the discussions following them....and i hope to add something to the conversation (other than this) soon... :)


i wonder what waters shark.heart swims in these days...i see some good stuff (meaning i like it... :)  ) on here from them, and would enjoy some more. edited again: thanks, dot for the reply (which i don't see now, but nevertheless....)
“. . .spirituality can be pretty cool, and is maybe really important.           The ideas of connection”

I was once a Christian and was very active in the church, but I slowly over time, very slowly embraced doubt and I am now an atheist/agnostic, whatever. I like/love anarchist thought/philosophy, but I am not an anarchist except in a “I wish that world existed” way, and maybe one day it will.

But on the thought of spirituality. What comes to mind is what happens when I really connect with another. Like I have two older sons with families and when we all get together and everyone is getting along so well—laughing and carrying on—I sense an awe more than as some others describe as they feel when alone with nature—which I also feel, as the example was given, when I am alone watching a slow moving herd of elk.

But to be in a place where everything seems to have worked out—in the chaos of life. I mean, I don't think I have ever really know what I was doing as a family man, but I get to experience a “connectedness” which is so awesome—as a really lucky guy! Too, the same can be said when being in the right spot at the right time to see some rare thing in nature which blows you away.

Maybe there is something out there. And whatever it is gets some kind of weird entertainment watching us. But I really “don't believe” there is. But to be alive and experience the awesomeness of connectedness with family or nature or the universe, to me, inspires thankfulness or a great gratitude for being a participant, and that thankfulness coming from experiencing it is the “spirituality” I feel.

7 Answers

+4 votes
Some anarchists would agree. In particular a lot of anarcho-primitivists hold some sort of land-based spirituality as integral to their understanding of wildness. Not going to speak for them, though I hope they (and others with spiritual beliefs) will speak up.

I am not spiritual. There is no "something more" than my physical self, and the reactions of electricity water and carbon working in whatever way they work. That said, I have taken some things from Buddhist thought that I find really resonant with my particular perspective on anarchism - the idea that everything is passing, the idea of attachment and striving as a root (they would say the root) of suffering. I don't believe however in an ability to transcend this, and in terms of the idea of eliminating suffering, take a much more literal approach.

As far as rituals and magic, I know a lot of anarchists who like that stuff. I can't even pretend to get it, and find no use in it, but as long as they don't make me do it or get their spirit all over me (or try to insist that I have a some sort of spirituality/spirit/soul/whatever) I don't give a shit what they think.

Don't know if this amounts to a real answer, I might covert it to a comment in a bit.
by (22.1k points)
+2 votes
I have friends who are into astrology, tarot cards, and witchcraft. Though I have no interest in these things, I admit that I am jealous of their ability to be spiritual, to have the capacity and drive to see the world in a way that isn’t dominated by cold, scientific rationality. I think this inability for many people stems from being in a position of detached observation of the natural world, where ones’ relationship with it is of judgment and analysis. The drive to understand the mechanics of how everything works, an unnecessary phenomenon that is only very recent in human history, comes from a position 'above' it all. Being in that space kills any wonder one has for it. Also in my case I think it has something to do with me consuming lots of television, movies, and video games as a kid, which probably killed my imagination.

To answer your question: I don’t have any spirituality of my own. But I yearn for one, and see the system around me as facilitating that inability.
by (4.0k points)
"The drive to understand the mechanics of how everything works, an unnecessary phenomenon that is only very recent in human history, comes from a position 'above' it all. Being in that space kills any wonder one has for it."
It's a common misconception. My experience is that the more people are interested in understanding what's going on around them the more wonder they find whereas people who talk about how mysterious the world is and that you cannot understand anything tend to take most things they encounter for granted - yeah, they're baffled by the big things and enchanted by the trivial, but they mostly miss the beauty of the clouds, a flower, trees, a prism, their own chaotic desk, a shattered concrete slab, an idea, a paradox...
Basically they miss almost everything besides what shoved into their faces.
+2 votes
I have to echo the previous answers in that I don't really have rituals or magic or what have you, and the few times I have tried I have found the practice weird and awkward.

That said, I do think a lot these days about how vast and incomprehensible space, time, and other stuff is. I realize that nothing I do or think or feel matters, and that also in some way nothing I oppose matters either. which makes me feel much better about everything. now, to be an anarchist from a place of feeling better and unimportant!

Both previous answers mentioned science in their different ways. I wonder if knowing that there is nothing outside ourselves or that it is possible to be a detached observer or whatever is a way of avoiding the idea that there are unknowable things outside of ourselves, but not the kind that notices our feelings or endorses monarchy or offers redemption.

also back to the spiritual practice thing - doing weird and cheesy and intentional shit eventually loses its ingenuity if people i like, or at least appreciate, are around.

I have some contradictory feelings here. Or maybe i can sum it up this way; it is very fun to pretend that things are important, but not very much fun to believe yourself.
by (1.5k points)
"doing weird and cheesy and intentional shit eventually loses its ingenuity if people i like, or at least appreciate, are around."

I feel like this is either worded strangely or I'm just interpreting it wrong. Are you saying that having people you appreciate be around makes the shit /less/ interesting? It's the word "ingenuity" that I'm tripping over - I feel like you were intending to imply that it loses its sense of, say, disingenuousness, or insincerity, or contrivance. As in, the opposite of genuine.
Sorry for the lack of clarity, in person I rely heavily on hand gestures and the over use of "dya know what i mean?".

I was saying that ritual and ceremony feel awkward for me, but if I do them with people I know well and value, then it becomes less awkward.

Why I said it....I guess my point was that while there is no other world to *reciprocally* exchange connection with in a meaningful way, there are other people, and while spiritual concepts might be useful for the individual, spiritual practice is maybe more of a group actiivity?
That's totally what I thought you were saying, it was just the wording threw me off because it led to the opposite interpretation.

And I think I agree. I can only understand individual spiritual practice to a certain extent: it can be a mythology and lend a sense of importance to your individual activities (I feel like CrimethInc has experimented with this concept a bit), and/or it can be an excuse for what might be called meditation or reflection in secular terms.

Social practices are always a huge deal and spirituality is a big example of that. For all the completely fucked ideologies that propagate thanks to churches, it seems like they know how to create a sense of commonality and connectedness in their parishioners.

Maybe that is an important point? I'm not sure.
+3 votes
to roughly paraphrase and gently modify some content from 'how to destroy this world' (which i think offers some interesting thoughts about the relationship between magic and negation) is said sometimes that "magic is the knowledge of true names,” but perhaps instead magic is the 'true knowledge of naming,' that is, recognizing the violence and failure inherent to signification, and "if naming produces our named selves, then magic is an undoing of those selves."
I think a universal gooey sentimental woo-ness is to be avoided, and to honor the body as a place of wisdom without falling into psuedo-science and anthropology, basically to maintain an anti-science but also to think critically about that which we would make sacred.
In place of a judeo-christian morality play about the forces of good and evil sparring on the terrestrial theater, we can perhaps take a look at which powers and people align themselves with order, and which align themselves with chaos, and choose chaos!
by (180 points)
where do you find this book you were talking about, "how to destroy this world?"

i bumped this answer because i'd also like to know about the book/essay/zine that puddles mentioned, "how to destroy this world"....anyone out there know of it, or where to find it?  

i also still like the question.
+4 votes

First, like Rice Boy, I like this question, although I'd frame it differently perhaps. When I comtemplate spirituality there has long ceased to be a 'what' to find. I don't sense 'spirit' as an object, a noun, and most definitely not a reified 'who' (i.e. Yahweh) or any pantheon of 'whos'. For me, this may be better asked in terms of 'where,' 'when' and 'how,' senses of relation and movement, rather than destinations, states, particular beings.

There were times in my life I rejected the word 'spirit' altogether precisely due to the manner in which people speak. And yet, living got the better of me. Etymologically speaking, 'spirit' means breath. But, do you sense, with this meaning, a normalizing sleight of hand taking over? There's no such thing as breath. We breathe. To me, this became important. I'll do this in a couple of parts.
I breathe in sharply (gasp if you will) in those places and moments where I'm moved by the world, by that which I do not, and really can not, control.  I speak. I sob in sadness. Laugh heartily. I pant when running. I blow quiet words of gratitude upon gusts of smoke when I sense that urge welling up. I shout angrily and gaily depending on how, when and where I may be. Once in a great while I snore, at least I'm told I do.
Another view:  as a living body the world is imbued in sense. It cannot be otherwise. As a body I'm in con-texture, conditioned and contoured with that which we call 'world.' I'd even say as that which we call 'world' since I cannot separate from 'world.' And some of you may have noticed that 'I' tend to use the word 'sense' rather than 'meaning.' This reflects my refusal to conceptually separate my self and world, a human, all-too-human practice in the dismal. I realize, however, I differ from every other unique instance (my way of undermining 'thing' lingo) in-the-world.

Some of those instances are not places and moments I desire to live. They may demand that I live and sense their way. They may demand I fall into parameters for a 'how' of living which foils my particular 'wave' or 'bandwidth,' so to speak, and thus immiserates me in a way of living not at all my own. I find these places, their demands, already miserable: hating their own conditions and too fearful to move on. And there are places, from where I can see presently, that I do wish to go, and 'hows' I'd like to experiment and experience. And this place of which 'I am' feels better than ever!
This shortish, more poetic answer (perhaps 'bad' poetry even) cannot convey that which I sense or how I 'breathe,' but I simply desire to share some of this place and the senses herein with others as best I may. :)

by (7.5k points)
from your writings, rs666, i wouldn't describe you as bland. :)

i also think we probably all come off different in cyberspace, or through writing, than we do when we talk face to face, or if we just sat around together, or any other context....
rs666: oh, ok. i really couldn't read the joke.

i don't perceive you as bland either. this topic is difficult precisely because it isn't suited to logic or straightforwardness. many folks write such queries off altogether because of this.

there have been times in my life i've approached these questions in a far more straightforward, logical way, and times i've written them off. but, i found i was crazier, increasingly atomized, angrier and very hard on myself. i came to permit myself to feel those aspects of living i'd put off, partly because, like funky@ and i talked about, the very cynical commodification preying upon those who feel there's more to life than 'things' (junk, concepts, and junk-concepts). also, the straight line is how we're taught to wrestle through with all that which contradicts, opposes and potentially undermines that model line.
ba@, actually you sang it well and i definitely resonate with the song. perhaps i'm overly cautious in that once 'spiritual' topics arise there's often that shift between thingification and utter spook-qua-spook. i do see sense as meaningful, yet in a pre-cognitive way, whereas what most people indicate in using 'meaning' ceases to be participation, relation and play and becomes a conceptual something out-there or in our so-called heart-of-hearts; complete immersion in fantasizing.

I suppose i take things too literally. Actually, I know I do, and probably why I'm stuck on the breathe thing, even though I'm pretty sure you don't literally mean breathe. This stuff is outta my league and goes right over my head, I guess. :)

thanks, AmorFati.
+1 vote
I consider a spirituality to mean finding what I can only describe at this time as an intangible a weight in a moment, or an entity. This could mean playing in the bathtub with water and exploring the beautiful absurdity of the intricacies of my perceived existence. This extends to encouraging myself to see character (essence might be an ultimate goal however, is so far removed from my perception at the moment) in other living non human beings. Sometimes I attempt "rituals" with close friends which often ends up being cheesy and akward,  we make it up ourselves and have no fucking clue how to go about it.  But I think self definition often is awkward, and ultimately when I am looking at my bud in the forest on solstice slipping into a pond I think to myself that I wouldn't rather be anywhere else but there.

I am thinking about taking on meditation, maybe not just as a response for a spiritualism but also alleviating depression and to facilitate a being present in the moment thing.

That being said these are just things that I have created for my own being, and when I have spent time being around witches or people who are into the occult I tend to find it contrived and disingenuous.  It appears to be more of a scene or a subculture to me than a meaningful creativity.
by (790 points)

'and when I have spent time being around witches or people who are into the occult I tend to find it contrived and disingenuous.'

as a former member now long (self-) removed from a (SF Bay based) occult organization, i can vouch for that. i always felt somehow...inauthentic?...during ritual. the priesthood found it all even more empty.

then again, years later i found out ritual ain't where i needed to go anyway, and it definitely wasn't occulted by way of anything mystical in the first place.

+3 votes

i guess for me, the word "spirituality" carries so much baggage that i have no interest in using it. between the religious connotations and the new age shallowness that i associate with the term (with good reason), it just kind of rubs me the wrong way. (yeah, i know, i should "make it my own"...)

but if i let all that go...

the only concept of "spirituality" that interests me is the unexplainable, indescribable connectedness (that's the best term i can come up with) that i can feel with various things i come across in my life.

sometimes, i feel that with another human being. more often, i feel it when there are no other humans around. when i am, to use a cliche, "communing with nature".

sitting among the old growth redwoods. camped out at black sands beach (or any of numerous other rugged coastal places along the lost coast and north). sitting in the massive arroyo near where i live, under an old juniper tree. watching a herd (?) of elk walk by a hundred yards away, in a blowing snowstorm. bonding with the (once feral) dogs that live with me. etc etc etc...

the question of whether what i think of as "spirituality" implies some "sprit" or "soul" or other non-physical entity of sorts, is irrelevant to me. i simply don't care. does my being - that which i experience as me/i - include anything that is not purely of the physical/material world? maybe. maybe not. it seems like a false dichotomy anyway. 

are feelings/intuitions of the physical/material world? does it fucking matter?

edit: i purposely avoided talking about rituals, which for many are a huge part of their "spirituality". but don't mind if i do. 

i hate rituals, for the most part. at least to the extent that they tend to be repetitive and predictable. i realize that term can span quite a range of activities, so i'm trying not to broad-brush.  so many people i have known that call themselves "spiritual" are so completely bound to their spiritual rituals that to me it seems way anti-liberatory. but that's me. 

by (13.4k points)
edited by

"so many people i have known that call themselves "spiritual" are so completely bound to their spiritual rituals that to me it seems way anti-liberatory."

not too mention many self-proclaimed spiritual people are boorish, boring and all too ready to answer the demands of the Holy Pocket Book. very pleasing answer, btw.

thx, af.

and yes, you bring up a hugely relevant point about the monetary aspects of "spirituality" (and related rituals).  i live in one of those areas where new age spirituality is a predominant presence, and making money from it is one of the primary sources of income for many in this area. white male shamans are a dime a dozen around here (but $1500 for a weekend). which is interesting, because there are more than enough indian shamans to saturate the market. ;-)