“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein
“Spirituality” as a term has a broad spectrum of applications. It can be applied either for the purpose of rejecting rational inquiry or broadening and deepening it.
Its lexicon can be associated with woo-woo platitudes, or processes that help the conscious mind “step out of the way” and open us up to larger experiences of being alive.
The terms we use to describe “spirituality” are necessarily amorphous, because we’re discussing phenomena that might be seen as non-physical, or as electrochemical interactions in the dark space between our ears. But either way, nobody has seen an “ego.” We just have a sense of what it is.
How, specifically, can spirituality widen our circles of compassion?
The “ego” or conscious mind sets boundaries on a sense of self based in our ideas of identity and our beliefs about what is “good” within us.
In moments of meditation or presence – these boundaries are transcended.
“We,” the parts of ourself that our “ego” perceives as “self,” are found to be a somewhat arbitrary boundary. We experience more than this.
The “ego” may then expand.
Through this process, over time, the “ego” eventually learns to find a self-ness within a larger boundary. While the “ego” and the inherent limitations of conscious awareness persist, they are no longer as tightly bound by the older, smaller set of conceptualizations.
We gain the experience of a “self” that exists beyond our conceptualizations. The experience cannot be denied, and returns during moments of “presence” or various practices of meditation.
When the conscious mind remembers these experiences that do not “fit” its conceptualizations, this allows the “ego” to become more flexible – and perhaps learn not to take itself so seriously.
Our ideas about the universe are no longer mistaken for the universe. We’ve experienced our conceptualizations, however grand, to be inadequate. They cannot even contain the whole “self,” let alone the totality of what truly exists.
So the ideas held by our “ego” about what is self-like are expanded, because we have experienced self beyond ideas. While these ideas continue to show up again and again, they are recognized for the arbitrary boundary they were to begin with.
More varied forms of self-ness can then be recognized in other people. The circle widens. It can be expanded to include all humanity. Or all living beings. Or grown further to include all things.
We continue to ask these questions:
“What is best for my loved ones?” Whatever belief system the experiences of our life happen to support will continue to show up in our minds. We may eventually learn to consider these beliefs “one illusion” or even playfully nickname their occurrence “the game of being me.” We no longer confuse the mind’s conscious activity for “The One and Only True Reality.”
“Who are my loved ones?” This becomes a larger and more flexible conception of “self.” It is clear that “we” extend beyond the reach of our fingertips, and beyond the reach of our ideas. Our “loved ones” are expanded beyond the “ego” and those related by blood or belief.
Our loved ones can be expanded to include the whole of nature in its beauty.