When we ask the question “What is Spirit,” the answer that all the wisdom traditions have in common is known as the perennial philosophy, which as three basic threads of commonality. First, there’s a deeper reality that underlies the world of ordinary physical and mental reality. Second, that within each of us there exist a quality that is a part of this greater reality. And that the purpose of life is to realize, or awaken to, this larger reality.
The deeper reality that underlies the world of ordinary physical and mental reality is, according to the great traditions, a Spiritual or Divine reality that really exists, known to some as God or Holy Spirit, for others its described as the ground of being. Other language used to describe this deeper reality is, Tao, essential nature, emptiness of Self. Whatever language that is used to describe this sacred reality, it’s the reason, meaning and purpose of life.
We are the connected to and a part of this Divine reality. Once again there the language differs but the meaning is the same. Known to the Hindus as Atman, to the Buddhist as Buddha nature, to the Christians as Soul and to Jews as the Divine spark within. While the words used to describe it differ, all the traditions agree that there is something that connects us all to the greater reality.
The purpose of life is to realize, or awaken to, this larger reality. Millions of us acknowledge our connection to Spirit in church, temple or synagogue and many of us yearn, like the Buddhist monk, to awaken it. However we choose to acknowledge it, whether we are Christian and seek to embody the Holy Spirit or like the Sufi mystic long to unite with it, there is a natural and deep desire to realize this deeper reality.
No matter how you describe it all the wisdom traditions agree that the reason we suffer, and the primary difficulty that we need to resolve is the feeling of separation, the loss of connection to the deeper reality; we feel isolated, cut off from our own essential nature.
Why do we feel separated from Spirit?
Deepak Chopra addresses this question on his blog, giving his answer to what Spirit is.
“Asking “What is spirit?” is another way of asking “Who am I?” Your true Self is pure, infinite spirit. Spirit isn’t something outside you, but is intertwined in everything you feel, think and do. Looking for spirit, the Vedic sages observed, is like a thirsty fish looking for water.
Even when you know that your essential nature is spirit, you can easily be deluded by the incessant activity of your mind and ego . . . the continuous cascade of thoughts, sensations and emotions. The mind can get mired in a conditioned pattern of thinking, returning again and again to thoughts of anxiety, stress, depression and limitation.”
Some of the traditions define the ego as self-image, personality or pride, and it’s the inner turbulence created by this self-centered preoccupation that keeps us feeling separate and from realizing true self-awareness.
These ego patterns can be buried deep within us and can require years of meditative practice to unravel. At a deeper level of awareness there is no, and never has been, a separation from Spirit.
The Benefits of Meditation, Expanding Your Spiritual Awareness
Deepak explains it this way:
“In truth, you are always free. You can go beyond mental conditioning by using the timeless tool of meditation to expand your consciousness and access the field of pure potentiality. Meditation allows the mind to become quiet and experience the silence and peace of pure awareness. Numerous studies also show the many health benefits of meditation, including lowered blood pressure, stress reduction and increased immune function.
With a regular practice, the expansive awareness you enter during meditation begins to permeate your life outside of your meditation sessions. You might experience flashes of elation and notice feelings of well-being sweeping over you at unexpected moments. You will begin to walk with more buoyancy and feel a warmth and peace in your heart. These are all signs that you are opening to spirit.” Continue reading
The way Ramana Maharshi said it The only thing that separates you from the Self (Spirit) is the belief that you are separate.”
Ultimately the question, “What is Spirit” can only truly be known and understood by asking the question, “who am I?”