Taking Spirituality Seriously: "Too tweetable to tweet" - RSA

Taking Spirituality Seriously: "Too tweetable to tweet"

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  • Social brain
  • Spirituality

I will update this post soon with some thoughts and reactions, but for those who missed it, I wanted to share the unedited replay of last night's packed event about rethinking spirituality, with myself, Madeleine Bunting, Elizabeth Oldfield, Robert Rowland Smith and very informed audience, which can be found here.

In the meantime, two recent posts to make sense of the background context for the event: The Brains behind Spirituality and Taking Spirituality Seriously.

The best line of the night, for me, came from our joint Head of Events, Mairi Ryan, who found herself feeling too engaged and absorbed to draw her attention away and live tweet while the discussion was underway.

As she put it just after it was all over: "It was too tweetable to tweet."

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  • I agree and I've been much engaged in mindfulness and compassion training for the past couple of years. Advocacy however seems like another tyupe of challenge altogether! This project feels like a great step forward, well done. And if you need any extra help/support...

  • Hi Stewart,

    I think Ken Wilber makes a good point that if we’re going have any kind of conceptual discussion about ‘spirituality’ we’ve *got* to be clear which meaning of the word we’re using when we say ‘spirituality’ – or else the discussion ‘goes nowhere fast’!

    Wilber writes: “If you analyze the way that people use the world ‘‘spiritual’’—both scholars and laypeople alike—you will find at least 4 major meanings given to that word. Although individuals themselves do not use these technical terms, it is apparent that ‘‘spiritual’’ is being used to mean: (1) the highest levels in any of the lines [or domains of human development]; (2) a separate line itself; (3) an extraordinary peak experience or state; (4) a particular attitude. My point is all of those are legitimate uses (and I think all of them point to actual realities), but we absolutely MUST identify which of those we mean, or the conversation goes nowhere fast, with the added burden that one thinks ground has actually been covered. In my entire life, I personally have never heard more people utter more words with less meaning.” (Ken Wilber, ‘Integral Spirituality’).

    Jonathan tried to get some clarity on usages of the word but wasn’t really able to achieve this. (I’m not saying we need to refer specifically to Wilber’s 4 meanings of ‘spirituality’ – but it would at least be a start. Wilber even gathered 9 different usages of the word ‘religion’ in his book ‘A Sociable God’!).

    You write:

    “Would a more productive way forward be to ask what 'taking it seriously' might look like?”

    I’m very interested in this avenue too.

    For example, Lynne Sedgemore CBE FRSA would be great person to hear from at one of the upcoming 5 events, I feel
    – as she’s a real spiritual ‘practitioner’ but right in the midst of the public sector!

    When I interviewed her for the new report ‘Anti Hero – the Hidden Revolution in Leadership & Change’, it was fantastic to hear how someone can so successfully translate their ‘spiritual’ practice and interests into successfully running a very progressive organisation. (It hit snags as the ‘cultural gap’ between the openness and passion of her org and the more traditional civil servants they needed to liaise with became huge. They didn’t fully take to heart the need to flex, to compromise. These are the insights I’d love to hear about. How to make this
    real in our organisations.)

    Her Centre for Excellence in Leadership received an International Spirituality in the Workplace Award.

    Here’s some more blurb about her:

    “Lynne is an ordained Interfaith Minister, a trained Spiritual Coach and a Benedictine Oblate. She has attended and led spiritual retreats and developmental workshops for over 25 years. She was a member of the UK World Conference for Religions and Peace (WCRP) and the UK Interfaith Network. She attended the United Nations Summit for Religious and Spiritual Leaders in New York in 2000 and the UN Women’s Spiritual Leaders’ Summit in Geneva in 2002. She chaired the UK Interfaith Foundation for four years and is currently an Elder of the One Spirit Interfaith Foundation.”

    You can download the AntiHero report here: http://osca.co/news/anti-hero/ (Lynne Sedgemore case study is on page 98-100).

    I find people like Prof Bill Torbert fascinating too – as he developed a new approach to doing social science and to transforming organisations – based strongly on his decades involved in the Gurdjieff spiritual movement (he had a great article on the stages of leadership maturity in Harvard Business Review a few years back). I think he’s found that at more mature stages of leadership development, ‘spirituality’ etc seems to become increasingly prevalent in leaders lives – even if there might not be so many Lynnes out there who are happy to talk about it in public.

    The Gurdjieff lot have been practicising Mindfulness
    meditation for a century or more – but what I find particularly interesting is their focus on the never-ending Sisyphean struggle to reduce our automaticity. When we all presume we’re free to do what we want, as we rarely try to challenge our
    habitual thinking! (Funny to hear Robert Rowland Smith say something about spirituality being dead ‘easy’ – just put some aromatherapy oil in your bath…

    Jonathan challenged him on that assertion, which had made me wonder what Robert actually knows about spiritual practice – beyond the usual media caricatures etc.)

    I personally would also really like to learn from the people who have been doing this stuff for decades, centuries, millennia – rather than only looking at ‘new’ movements like Mindfulness.

    One thing that came up during the evening was the separation of therapy and spirituality. However, I’d argue that the most powerful approaches seem to be those that integrate the two – eg AH Almaas’ ‘Diamond Approach’. I could learn more about spirituality from people like that I feel, in a way I’m not sure I can from someone like Robert – who I’m not sure has experience in any spiritual approach, or would even *want* such experience. Not that ‘spiritual’ approaches need to be ‘Spiritual’ – but then we’re back to all the competing meanings again… ;-)

    That said, much of this is probably not really on the agenda as yet. Improving the ‘menu’ so that more people realise there’s a ‘meal’ is enough of a task in itself, Jonathan explains… (I tend to feel that people like Wilber might have done almost enough of that ‘improving’ already – in Wilber’s case it was enough to get everyone from Geoff Mulgan to Bill Clinton to the Bishop of London interested in the menu, and the meal. Clinton even talked about Wiber and all this at the World Economic Forum in Davos once!)

    I’d still rather like to hear from a Zen Master somewhere down the line, or suchlike… ;-)


  • Many thanks for the comment Stewart, and I agree with what you say - "almost irresistible bu could easily become deflective" (and I also felt a bit frustrated at times...).
    I like the Sternin quote a lot, and I would say the question is the right one to be asking.

    I don't want to confuse the menu with the meal, but at the same time I feel part of the purpose of this work is that by trying to improve the menu, you highlight - to many who were unaware - that there is a meal to be had...

    That's just the beginning of the process though.

    There are things to *do*- striving through your own practice and advocacy to make meditation as normal as exercise might be a good place to start.

  • The event felt fascinating and frustrating in equal measure,
    often at the same time! It’s thrilling that the issue has got onto the agenda - but that energy could so easily dissipate in semantic or philosophical disputation. The compulsion to explore questions such as 'what are the right words' or 'what does spirituality actually mean' feels almost irresistible but could so easily become deflective. Would a more productive way forward be to ask what 'taking it seriously' might look like? Adherence to traditional faiths continues to decline even as we see clear signs of declining compassion and moral traction in our societies. Surely we don't need reminding that 'spiritual materialism' offers no route to solutions. Jerry Sternin perceptively observed that “it's easier to act our way into a new way of thinking, than think our way into a new way of acting.” So I find myself asking what can we (or I!) actually do to support our moral or spiritual renaissance?