But religion is not your story
We are becoming a more and more secular society. The churches are closing as we turn our backs on formalized rituals and rigid sets of rules. Put off by an outdated patriarchal structure, an array of dogmas, we question the authority of the priests. Even in my native Poland, the interest in apostazja — an act of officially leaving the church has grown significantly. Doesn’t the modern man feel a need to experience his spiritual side like all of his ancestors did? And if he doesn’t, are we doomed?
Meditation, gratitude journals & zoom calls — old wine in new bottles
In a way we actually still continue many religious practices though in a secular or a rather universal form. Psychology has helped us reinvent many of the obsolete rituals and find their modern versions. Instead of saying gratia at a mass, we now make notes in our gratitude journals. Instead of making food offerings, we are mindful about our meals. Rather than murmuring a prayer, we sit cross-legged in meditation. Therapist’s office (or zoom calls) substituted the confessional box, modern gurus and spiritual teachers took the role of preachers, while soul-searching retreats and yoga trips to Asia replaced the tradition of pilgrimage. Old wine in new (reinvented) bottles. Things are not as bad as it would seem.
You have to come to terms with death
When Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, was asked for advice on how to approach death, he said it didn’t matter what he thought. We know from literature and documents left by the Jungians, they did a lot of research on how dreams comment death. Yet when confronted with the need for advice, Jung himself said the content of other people’s dreams and conclusions drawn from them will not help anyone. Each one of us must face this issue on his own. Each one of us must find his own myth, his own unique way of facing the termination of one’s existence. A similar process should take place when it comes to experiencing one’s spiritual side.
But is religion the answer?
A few years ago I had a very peculiar dream. In the dream I saw the Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz in my room from teenage years. She came up to me lighting a match. Pointing it at me she said decisively “I feel the energy of Christ. You don’t need it! You have your own energy!” I woke up puzzled and excited. I’d never expect a figure of such nobility to become an element of my unconscious experience. Her legacy, the books and lectures she left behind are for me little masterpieces which have shed a lot of new light on understanding of the human psyche. I can read and re-read them again and again all the time having the impression I’ve only grasped a part of the meaning, hoping, next time I’d do better.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution
It was also not immediately that I’ve understood the message embedded in her words. It seemed that Christ, one of the greatest spiritual teachers in history, was mentioned as a symbol of an outside divinity, a metaphor for the source of ultimate guidance, the place where you look for the most important answers. And it is not outside where we should cast our eyes. Everyone needs to find his own ‘energy of Christ’, in other words his own way to experience spirituality, his own answers to whatever life throws at him. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The path will be different for a catholic monk in 14th century France and different for an atheist mother of eight in pre-revolution Mexico. It will be different for a modern Hindu businessperson in post-COVID-19 Mumbai and still different for a Japanese Buddhist doctor in the 22nd century.
Are atheists doomed?
But what about the atheists? What if somebody feels no connection to the divine? What should be then his ‘energy of Christ?”. From Jungian legacy we know that dreams actually only touch upon the subject of death. As soon as a person had come to terms with the fact they might soon die (because of a terminal illness, a risky surgery etc.), the content of dreams changes immediately. They continue pushing on with individuation that is developing one’s own unique set of traits, inspiring to lead the best possible version of one’s life. As if the fact that everything can soon finish didn’t matter at all.
What if man’s most important life task was not praising God but continuing his act of creation?
Can atheists be saints then?
And so, maybe this is the best hint in our search for modern spirituality. After all, what if man’s most important life task was not praising God but continuing his act of creation? Recognizing the calling within, having the courage to develop one’s talents? Playing out one’s life as best as you can? Therefore those who fully commit their lives to scientific research, expanding our horizons and the evolution of consciousness, would be as pious as the fasting abbot. And so would be those who do their best to raise children, create art or entertain others. As well as those who do none of the above as they are busy fighting for justice or helping those below the poverty line. What if committing to finding one’s own ‘energy of Christ’ was the ultimate goal? The one that in the eyes of God turns wholehearted atheists into pious monks?