Weaving the Inner Light: Cultivating Individual and Societal Spirituality

Individuals and society are very similar in some ways. Both have beliefs and expectations that guide how we think, feel and act. Examples of these could be laws, religion, spirituality and secularism.

These examples provide sanctions (rewards and punishments) to reinforce and/or deter certain behaviors. They serve a purpose to give us structure. Structures create patterns and we fucking love patterns. Our love of patterns is an evolutionary mechanism to help keep us feeling safe. We like what we can predict. We even automate what we can predict in our minds through biases and heuristics. It reduces the mental gymnastics caused by experiencing the unknown.

Change brings on the unknown. Change is a disruption of a pattern. Our biggest fear as humans is change. We, individuals and society, are so afraid of the unknown that we cling on to familiarity and patterns, even when they hurt us, as a way to stay safe.

We would rather endure what we know is bad because we can expect it instead of going through the cognitive and emotional labor of consciously thinking about the unknown.

We then work hard to maintain those familiar patterns through cognitive fallacies. We create blind spots that uphold or validate our patterns of thinking. We work especially hard to protect what serves us, even when that comes at the cost of others.

This attachment of patterns is also the cause of pain and unhappiness. No wait, it isn’t so much the attachment to the pattern. It is the resistance to let it go. To allow ourselves to move into the unknown. It is the failure to adapt.

Change is inevitable since nothing is permanent. Adaptation is vital here. Adaptation is a key life process. Evolution will leave behind those who fail to adapt. This is at the individual and societal level as well.

When society evolves, beliefs that govern how we think, feel and act all need to evolve and adapt to the current stage it has reached.

The same can be said about individuals. We go through life with our “operating systems” on what we believe and what information we have been exposed to.

Would you use keep using Windows X on a 2024 Dell computer? No, because it will bog down the computer. Sure, Windows X served a purpose and worked on computers built then, but the hardware has evolved. The need for new features evolved. We no longer use it today because it doesn’t work. The new computer has a capacity for a more robust operating system, more features and more effective ways of doing things.

This is what happens when we hold on to old patterns that are outdated and no longer serve us or are aligned with the version of us that exists today. We bog down ourselves. Society bogs itself down. This is where we see all kinds of conflict occur.

We often think of conflict as between individuals and between groups. This happens when we try to cram present day society that has evolved into old and outdated laws and beliefs (like Arizona standing up an anti-abortion law from 1864). The conflict being the outdated belief that women’s reproductive rights can be regulated and the incredibly popular belief that women have a right to govern their own bodies.

There is also interpersonal conflict: the conflict we have with ourselves. This happens when we hold on to old beliefs even in the face of new information that no longer aligns with our beliefs. This can be the internal conflict a mother who is a devout Christian has with her child being gay. Old beliefs versus current state.

Beliefs should grow with us. They should reach the current state of our being, both individual and social. They should help expand our minds and also include new concepts and experiences that were previously unknown or not understood.

The United States passing Marriage Equality in 2015, which struck down same-sex marriage bans and legalized same-sex marriage, was an example of the law and beliefs catching up with society at the time. Roe vs Wade in 1973 was another example of a law that caught up with present day society.

It is a sad reality that religion keeps many people in the same place. Many (but certainly not all) religiously people are bound to old books and beliefs that were passed on to them. This is why we see a society with so much discourse and conflict. This group’s inability to bring their beliefs to the present is the equivalent of Windows X in a 2024 society. Those in power add a whole new level of severity in the issues plaguing us today and why saw the Roe vs Wade overturned and constant legislation against the LGBTQ+ community being proposed or passed.

Spirituality is different. It is ever expanding and not bound to strict dogma and using fear, guilt and shame to keep people in line. It is the journey inward. Spirituality provides tools like ethics and ideologies conducive to self-reflection and self-determination.

It is worth noting that religion does have elements of spirituality baked into it and health psychology shows that religiosity can be beneficial for those who practice.

Spirituality is questioning everything, including ourselves, without fear. It is waking up to something much bigger than us. It is realizing and acting like we are all children of Earth and the universe. This can be scary but the work is worth it.

Spirituality is becoming responsible for how we think, feel, and react. This applies both as individuals and as a collective society. No one else is responsible for that. We have more power than we realize. It is become aware of the old patterns that no longer serve us and each other and learning to let go so of those patterns so that we can adapt and grow.

The best part of spirituality is that it is unique to each of us. We get to choose what this looks like for us. Here are some ways you can incorporate spirituality into your lives.

There is discomfort in growth and have to lean into that discomfort together. It is hard to learn/relearn/unlearn everything that we have been conditioned to believe.

I just had a fascinating conversation with my therapist regarding this topic.

I was seeking knowledge and spirituality during the pandemic and that is why I went to school and leaned into Stoic spirituality.

I realized that I have reached the “What’s next for me? How do I keep growing?” stage of my life now.

I recently realized that Stoic spirituality got me through the pandemic because that was what I needed at the time. The current state of the world and who I want to be require a different philosophy/spirituality.

I am starting my masters program in a couple of weeks and have found myself moving deeper into Zen Buddhism as my primary philosophy. 

Both are the next level of the foundation I have set in place. I am not the same person I was when I started my journey. So it stands to reason that I now seek a new belief system that better aligns with my own growth as a person.

You are not the same person you were yesterday. Society is not the same as it was 10, 20, 30 etc years ago. That is a beautiful thing. You are free to update revisit your operating system for updates or be trapped in a bogged down system.

We are all connected as global citizens and yet we function as though our neighbor is the enemy. We’ve been led to believe that it’s “us versus” them. It’s not. But we’re so wrapped up in old patterns dictating our thinking that we can’t see we’re diving ourselves. Those who are dividing us are protecting the power that the old patterns give them.

We need to take a moment to pause and reflect on how we are showing up for ourselves and each other. We are empowered to take control of our thinking patterns and change in a way where we move toward peace instead of conflict, happiness instead of strife, and belonging instead of silos.

Love and light will drive out the hate and dark that plague how we experience life and the society that we love in. Those who spread hate and darkness will never have a chance against a society that radiates love brightly.

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