[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e are in our month of spiritual preparation. What is spirituality?
The best definition for me is for a person to have meaning and purpose in life, and to attach ourselves to something more enduring than the self.
Meaning is created when we believe our actions have significance in the world. When we do something that we believe has intrinsic significance we are creating meaning. My personal two favorites are lessening suffering and creating knowledge. I believe these to be ultimately meaningful actions. But you likely have others.
Purpose is to have a direction for our future actions that will create meaning.
Attaching ourselves to something greater than ourselves conquers our sense of mortality and insignificance, that something of ourselves will live beyond the body’s mortality.
All sages that I know of agree that to attain spirituality we must diminish the importance of our sense of self. God has given us several methods to accomplish creating an environment in which the self declines in prominence. These methods are cross cultural and not dependent upon a specific religion.
The greatest of them is pure love. This is not the American version of romantic love, an emotion, but the total devotion of one self to another, improving that beloved’s existence becomes the goal of the self, without regard to the outcome for the person doing the loving. In sum, it’s entirely putting the other person first.
The second method is altruism. I know there is much debate over whether there is any such thing as pure altruism, but for me there certainly is. By altruism I mean actions of the self that accomplish for others something that may even be to the detriment to the self. The result is an internal sense of satisfaction for the giver, which is a reward, which is why some people will claim there is no such thing as altruism. Altruism does result in emotional satisfaction. But there’s a huge moral difference in the satisfaction received from giving and from taking. Altruism enables a person to achieve meaning by giving unselfishly. That may well result in an ennobling feeling, but it is also the basis of building a society.
God gave us other intrinsically meaningful activities, like building something larger than ourselves. The more ultimate those things are, the more satisfaction and spirituality we derive from them. The ultimate connection in life for those who find a religious meaning is to connect with the source of all meaning, and that is God. When we find our place in God’s existence we never die, and our actions have ultimate significance.
Many of my friends moved decades ago to Israel because they wanted to participate in the enterprise of building the Jewish people, without regard to their own material wealth. They have given their lives to a cause. Others accomplish the same goal by raising children to be productive adults. In all of these cases, we hope that the enterprise lives beyond our mortality and thereby we continue to make a contribution to the world even when our mortal bodies have worn out and been buried.
In all of these activities, reconciling with those we love and clearing the refuse that gets in the way of relationship is essential. Therefore Jews have the month of Elul before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to repent and confess to those we love and ask for their forgiveness. This enables us to move forward toward more spiritual lives.