Amidst the palaver in the US right now about faith and government and the unbelievable spectacle of treating women like voiceless vessels, I’ve been involved in a little group having a conversation about the spiritual practice aspect of the communication theory I work in.
Even naming this work as “spiritual practice” is a bit of an itchy thing for me. D pointed out that this is more of an American frame than a Canadian one, and I think he’s right. Yes, of course, some Canadians use this word, but it’s a more private thing, mostly. Talking about your “spirituality,” unless you’re an evangelical, is generally akin to asking someone if they pray or have conversations with people who are no longer living. We might talk about it with an intimate, or in a group if we follow some organized religion, but it’s not really part of the “public sphere.” The current political drama in the US does nothing to ease my squeamishness.
So I find myself in the odd space of writing papers about “CMM as a spiritual practice,” and dwelling on compassion, and how it’s made, while finding the whole conversation about spirituality a bit… jarring. I prefer a different way of naming it — “personal and social evolution,” maybe — but even that doesn’t quite capture some element of … emotion, or mystery, to me.
Someone asked me recently what it is that I believe. (In America, of course). I fumbled a bit, then came up with something like this, and it came up again today. So I thought I should write it down, since I never articulate it.
I was a devout Catholic growing up, but left the church for good when I was about 20. The role of that institution continues to enrage and outrage me in ways that little else does, and please don’t wind me up on that topic. I now consider myself an atheist and find the notion of an interventionist god preposterous — at the same time, I credit my steeped-in-Catholicism upbringing with my strong sense of social justice. I grew up believing that if you had privilege, it was your responsibility as a human being to be aware of that, self-reflective about that, and to share it and to try to create a more just world.
That is still my most profound sense of spirituality and the role of what we are “supposed” to do on this earth. And… if I had to express my sense of “mystery,” of what moves us beyond words and thought, it’s about human connection, about finding the profoundly human in the Other, about finding ways to soften myself to be open to the other. Call it compassion, call it dialogue, call it love. That’s what we are “supposed to do.”