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It was just a few months ago when I first learned about spiritual anarchism. Hearing about such an exotic thing for the first time was already interesting but knowing that the term was invented to describe our work on Ideapod and Out of the Box was quite a surprise.
It’s true that Out of the Box is quite a subversive journey of self-knowledge that will confront you with the many social mechanisms created to enslave your mind and will challenge you to think for yourself but I have never thought about it as anarchic until that moment. However, after sitting with it for a while and doing some deep research on the subject, I understood it. It’s a brilliant definition and I feel honored to be considered an anarchist.
The word anarchy is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘anarchia’, which means “having no ruler”. Before being a political movement, anarchism was a philosophy that inspired politics, arts, education, relationships, and spirituality.
Anarchism opposes hierarchy and authority while intending to give the power back to the people. But which are the authoritarian structures holding power over your spirituality? Let’s check it out, but first, we must gain a better understanding of the meaning of the word ‘spirituality’.
Apart from cryptocurrency, there’s nothing more nebulous than the realm of spirituality. It’s a place populated by religions, gurus, sects, and every sort of weird belief that can connect us with something bigger than ourselves.
In the spiritual world, we can find vindictive, jealous, and possessive gods, alongside gnomes, faeries, and every sort of improbable creature, while yogis, shamans, and sorcerers perform the most intricate and unintelligible rituals. It’s no wonder that many logical thinkers want to be steps away from this mess. Every sort of myth – the most absurd products of our imagination – live in the spiritual world, and they are all disguised as ‘universal truth’. And since everything is possible in the invisible world of spirituality, we have no parameter to distinguish between the real and the unreal.
It will be hard to talk about spirituality unless we erase all our assumptions and start over. What if we take away everything else – even the gods and gnomes – and make it only about ourselves?
According to Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health:
“Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred”
In this sense, spirituality can be distinguished from religion. While various religions dictate moral rules, behavioral codes, and pre-established answers for existential struggles, spirituality is something much more personal. Spirituality is the question burning in your gut; it’s the restless whisper of your heart looking for its purpose; the silent cry of your subconscious striving to wake. Spirituality comes from the depth of our being. Spirituality is not your spiritual path but the struggle and the fascination in the recesses of your mind, pushing you towards such a path.
The spiritual establishment
Since the early days of humankind, our spirituality has been manipulated. From the rise of the first shamans until the establishment of prominent religious institutions and the birth of the new-age gurus, our spirituality has been manipulated for good and evil. Many acknowledge that there is a source from where we come. It’s clear that we belong to something bigger than us. We can call this source God, Great Spirit, Christ, Ala, Existence, Gaia, DNA, Life, etc. We can give it a shape and assign a whole set of meanings and qualities to it. But it doesn’t matter how accurate our interpretation of this great mystery is, we can never claim it as a universal truth. It will merely be our human interpretation based on our limited perspective of a higher power that transcends comprehension.
Not only have we created static images of God’s nature, personality, and wishes, but also constructed a whole set of rules and moral and behavioral codes to plant them between us and our versions of ‘God’. We have packed it all, creating religions and sects, and we have given the power to prophets, priests, sheiks, and rabbis to interpret God’s will and to rule us in his name.
‘God’ has been used not only to control us but to justify our worst atrocities, from the tortures of The Inquisition to the murder and piling of the Holy Wars.
For thousands of years, not accepting the spiritual beliefs of your community wasn’t an option. It was considered heresy and punishable by death. Even today, there are people that are born, live, and eventually, die inside fundamentalist religious communities, those of whom have no option but to follow the spiritual path assigned to them.
By determining what we should and should not believe, religions have established the worst possible kind of tyranny, dictating not only how we must behave but also how we must feel and think. It’s true that people can find their own spirituality through religion. It may work very well for some, but not for all. Each of us has a unique set of feelings and perceptions of life; our spirituality is something quite personal.
For some people, a particular religion or spiritual path can be enlightening, for others it can be the opposite – the very stagnation of the spirit. While passively accepting a cosmovision developed by others, you may stop exercising your own perceptive tools, limiting and imprisoning yourself inside a generic box that was not made for you. But our spirituality is manipulated not only by religions, sects, shamans, and gurus.
Let’s go back to our definition of spirituality: “seek for meaning and purpose, connectedness to the self, to the others, to nature, to life”. Our spirituality can be grounded – we don’t even need to believe in God or in anything outside the concrete world in order to live our spirituality. We can find meaning, purpose and develop a beautiful connection with life just by serving our society and acting according to the natural wisdom of our heart.
Within our society, we will often discover a whole set of ideologies as manipulative and dangerous as any religion or sect. Our capitalist system, for example, posits that we measure our success by how much wealth we acquire and how many possessions we can buy. In a capitalist society, it’s not only normal that we spend our lives pursuing empty, superfluous things, but we’re also programmed to derive fulfillment from this practice. We’re constantly bombarded by advertisements and subliminal messages. If you don’t reach the standards of ‘normality’ created by the system, if you don’t make enough money and accumulate enough wealth, you will feel inferior, guilty, frustrated, and depressed.
Conversely, all the money and superficial goods you have been conditioned to chase won’t bring you happiness and fulfillment either. Consumerism is a trap intended to enslave your mind and mold you into a clog of the system. Our mind is full of beliefs that are not really ours but we rarely question them. We have been born inside this culture and conditioned to view the world through its lens.
Our society has manufactured a whole fabric of concepts about what is and isn’t normal, about what it means to be a human being, and about how we are supposed to behave. The way we experience our connection to life and even to ourselves is completely influenced by our society. Furthermore, our society has been manipulated by individuals, ideologies, political parties, religions, and corporations. Considering these conditions, finding ourselves, developing our own connection with life, and meeting our true purpose in the world is no simple task.
Being a spiritual anarchist is not such an easy thing. It must be conquered. It requires us leaving the comfort zone of our assumptions and questioning all elements of reality. Finding a religion or following a guru is much easier than embracing the challenging loneliness of an anarchic spiritual path. You can surrender to some external pseudo-truth, replacing logic for faith and resting anesthetized with the whole support of a ‘spiritual’ community, instead of having the trouble of questioning, thinking for yourself, and constructing your own cosmovision. Or you can just embrace capitalism, which offers every sort of entertainment to distract you from your internal struggles.
The spiritual anarchist won’t face any concrete institution. The enemy is not the church, the educational system, or the government. The challenge is much more subtle since the enemy is installed inside of our heads. We cannot unplug our minds from the society that envelopes us, but we can learn to think by ourselves. We can develop a spirituality based on our own interaction with life. We can learn from the voice that speaks from inside us. We can explore the mystery that we are and develop knowledge on our own.
Our culture and everything we’ve learned will always be a part of who we are but there’s something else inside of us; a wild spirit, anarchic by nature, resting in our being. The social establishment has tried to kill it by any means, to turn us into passive citizens, sheep of the system. This wild, uncivilized, and indomitable particle of our subconscious is what makes us so unique, creative, and powerful.
Spiritual anarchism and the chaos of life
Anarchism has been criticized throughout history for being utopic. A society with no rulers, without the oppressive presence of government, would lead to complete chaos and disorder. As such, anarchism is often mistaken for vandalism, violence, and chaos. When it comes to spiritual anarchism, you will find the same kind of misconception. Many may conceive this as a kind of spirituality with no gods and no rules, with nothing to differentiate between good and evil, right and wrong, vice and virtue, and sacred and profane. Such absence of order would lead to chaos, madness, and atrocities.
Spiritual anarchism is the opposite of this. It’s not the absence of order but the development of your own sense of order. It’s not the absence of God but the development of your own understanding of the Great Mystery, based on your interaction with it. It’s not the absence of rules, but the deep respect of your own nature and its laws.
Moses was a spiritual anarchist. He didn’t accept himself and his people being slaves of the Egyptians. He went against all the structures of his time. He seized his power, trusted himself, and let his passion transcend his being to connect with the Great Mystery he called Yahweh. From his anarchic, wild spirituality, he freed himself and his people. With the passage of time, Moses became just a symbol, sustaining a static, religious structure created by his disciples and the disciples of his disciples. However, this is merely a shadow of the living, passionate man he was.
Jesus was a spiritual anarchist. He didn’t sit passively listening to the rabbis of the Judaic establishment. He didn’t accept the spiritual rules of his time and culture. He broke through the invisible chains that tried to enslave his mind and developed his own relationship with God. He left the stagnation of the synagogues to become a pilgrim and develop his own philosophy. He showed the world a path of love and of divine passion. In modern society, Jesus has also been reduced to a symbol. He is not a pilgrim anymore but a statue nailed to a cross, inside churches and cathedrals. His disciples and the disciples of his disciples have created a whole religious system around his name – a system that is quite different from Jesus’ teachings and practices.
Saint Francis was a spiritual anarchist. He turned his back on all his inherited wealth to face the opulence of the Catholic Church with total detachment. He grew wild and went to the woods to worship God in nature. His life was an example of love and detachment. His disciples and the disciples of his disciples constructed an opulent church to protect his coffin in Assisi, his hometown. They created an order inside the Catholic Church, the Franciscans, which managed to dribble Saint Francis’s vow of poverty by distinguishing usufruct from possession, so they could benefit from Catholic Church wealth as it did not belong to them, but to the church and to God. They went even farther from Saint Francis’ teachings and practices, writing the Codex Casanatensis, a manual of holy torture and murder widely employed by Tuscany’s inquisitors in The Middle Ages.
Buddha was a spiritual anarchist. He renounced his title and wealth to seek spiritual understanding. He reached his enlightening through detachment and meditation. These days, Buddha is for sale in cheap markets, in the shape of a fat, golden man who is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity to your home. His disciples and the disciples of his disciples have built beautiful temples and written profound treaties about non-violence and detachment. Yet, this doesn’t stop Buddhists from being ruthless capitalists. Ten Buddhist businessmen in Asia hold corporate empires worth 162 billion dollars. In Myanmar, Buddha’s teachings about the sanctity of life seem to work well to avoid animal killing, but don’t prevent the murder of humans, as the Muslim minority in the country has been consistently exterminated by the Buddhist majority.
You can look at Moses, Jesus, Francis, Buddha, and other spiritual anarchists as leaders and try to follow their paths. You may become an expert on their words and teachings. You may succeed as a good follower and you may even find yourself there. However, it is important to remember that they spoke to a specific culture, in a specific moment of humankind. What was a dynamic, living truth at that time may not resonate with your present reality, and their words have already been corrupted by interpretations of interpretations, made by generations of devotees.
As a spiritual anarchist, you should look not at the teachings, but at the men. Be inspired by their refractoriness. Instead of following their path, you can follow their example of courage. You don’t need to lead anybody else but you can take ownership of your spirituality and assume the responsibility of being your own spiritual leader.