Coded gray.

Wednesday 30 May 2001


Pic of the day: Is it kind of counter-intuitive that spiritual work is so often expressed physically? (Here a screenshot from the game Black & White, in which the villagers dance at the worship site to create spiritual energy.)

Spiritual exercise

I was reading the surviving Norwegian popular science magazine Illustrert Vitenskap on the bus to work. There was an article about the Chinese sect Falun Gong. It combines various eastern spritiual practices, from various religions and other traditions. This reminded me of something that has been generally overlooked (or suppressed) in the West: That there is a spiritual science.

Religions come and go, and even if they don't go they change beyond recognition. But the basic mystic experiences do not change except for their clothing. Their inner nature remains the same from thousands of years ago and across cultures and "races". The capacity for these experiences seems to be hardwired into the human brain in the same way that the capacity for song or dance is it: Some people just don't get it, but most can learn it, and for some it is a vital part of life.

(This is not to say that all religions are equally valid or invalid. Of course the religion that I subscribe to is the only true religion and all others are just heresy. That goes without saying. Contact me for recruitment info.)


Unlike faith, the so-called spiritual practices are about experience. The interpretation, however, will differ according to where you come from. Indeed, it is not even necessary to believe in anything supernatural at all; you can still experience some of the same. Some nuances will presumably be lost, though.

I have in the past written a small introduction to meditation, where I outline a beginner technique that does not require any religion or absence of religion. His supposed Holyness the Dalai Lama has also written some great introduction to Buddhist spiritual practices. As you may know, Buddhism is by default agnostic - it does not concern itself with the existence of gods - but most Buddhists believe in godlike beings that may help them, and saviorlike beings, including the Dalai Lama. You may want to be warned about this, but his writing is still lucid and balanced. Certainly better than some secterian and diffuse New Age books.

An important tenet of spirituality is that the spirit shall suffuse all of ordinary life, starting with some select part. For instance many eastern practices of martial arts are highly spiritual. Meditation and concentration set the mind to focus at the task at hand. Once the mind is calm, a certain task is performed with maximum awareness. This could be a simple movement, such as the drawing of a bow. You perform this very slowly, carefully, and fluidly. Lose yourself in the movement. Repeat it again, slowly, unnaturally slowly. A strike, a dodge, any movement can be transformed into such an act. Your serious martial arts trainer will no doubt give you the details. Not that this is my way.

You don't actually need to do something warlike. You could, for instance, lift an imaginary weight. I sometimes do that. Basically, I empty my mind to a reasonable degree, and imagine a not too heavy weight on the floor of my apartment where I stand. It is important that it not be heavy. Then I squat down to pick it up, and slowly lift it. The art is in the slowness. If done slowly enough, the imaginary weight will be quite heavy. After lifting the imaginary weight over my head as high as I can, I set it down in a more natural tempo. (Obviously I don't do this a lot, or I would be much more muscular. Yes, it is hard work if you want it to be, but you can at least warm up easily ...)


It is no coincidence that "spirit" meant "breath" originally. Breathing techniques are important in spiritual practices. I had severe difficulties in using this originally, because of my childhood asthma memories. Anything unusual concerning my breath scared me, and I have been all too quick to hyperventilate. But over time I found it natural to synchronize my counting with my breath.

Generally it is recommended that for spiritual purposes one shall breathe slowly but deeply, breathing with the guts rather than the shoulders. Or you could think of it as expanding the lungs downward. Breathing with the shoulders and upper torso is something that stressed people often do without thinking. Learning to breathe properly is good for your health. But it is supposedly also good for your spirit. Some people go so far as to say that if you breathe properly in fresh air, you will absorb mystic energy from the air and build it up in your body. Both the Hindu "prana" and the more eastern "chi" can supposedly be captured this way, though you will have to train your spirit in other ways to increase your storage capacity.


It is entirely possible that these effects are in fact all natural and part of the body, not supernatural and connected to some invisible spirit. I fail to see how we would ever be able to prove either of the views. Some people report supernatural experiences, like auras, levitiation, or precognition. But these tend to happen infrequently and spontaneously, and can not be reliably recreated in the laboratory.

On the other hand, as long as we all supposedly have a spirit, it does not really matter where the body ends and the spirit begins, does it? As long as it makes us a healthier, happier, more complete person.

Religion is optional, sort of. But strengthening the human spirit is likely to make it easier for you to connect to other spirits, good or evil. Whether these really exist in a spirit world or only in your subconscious, no electrodes will ever reveal. I guess this is where faith comes in. But your experience will be quite real. Be warned - or encouraged, depending on your intentions.

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