I'm convinced that a nondual approach to spirituality values BOTH traditional organized AND non-traditional religious systems. Because of our all-too-human habit of resorting to black-and-white thinking, we tend to take an either/or approach. In our present spiritual milieu, this is especially true with those who've been hurt by organized religion and then end up swinging to the other extreme and embracing only non-traditional approaches.
Many people reject traditional or organized religion either because they believe all spiritual labels are unnecessarily confining, or because they are convinced that institutional traditions are unredeemably oppressive. However, like a salad in which I can savor each unique type of vegetable, I find distinctions and labels - terms like "Buddhist," "Lakota," "Christian," "Hindu," "Navajo" or "Sufi" - to be liberating and enriching.
These labels are liberating because they bring humility when, especially in dialogue with others, we realize that we have only a PERSPECTIVE on the Absolute, and not the Absolute Itself. This in turn empowers others to decide whether or not they want to adopt our particular filter on the Absolute or choose a different one. There is nothing more dangerous than a person who claims he or she has no perspective or filter on the Truth. Once the filters are made conscious, however, it is amazing to see how each tradition actually contributes something fresh to all of the others, and vice versa.
Something I've never quite understood is the fact that many people despise traditional organized religion because they've been exposed to its shadow side. To me, this seems like picking up an orange, seeing only rind, and then throwing the whole thing away. It would be much smarter to actually peel off the rind and eat the sweet fruit. But for some reason, many people never even get to the fruit. Our fundamentalistic culture often seems to lack the ability to sift through a tradition's spiritual teachings, retaining some while simultaneously laying aside others.
On the other hand, I very much appreciate - and actually prefer - a non-institutional approach to spirituality. Here, the traditional labels don't quite work because the various insights of each tradition have a habit of shapeshifting into one another when we least expect. Thus, for example, the spaciousness of Buddhism, the warmth of Christianity and the groundedness of Indigenous spirituality all combine together in an utterly unique fashion that cannot be circumscribed in words but which CAN be experienced in meditation.
My calling to develop a Wilderness Mysticism is one such non-traditional approach that I value very highly. Here, wild spaces are something like a scripture in which new and revolutionary insights can come to birth. Accordingly, I've developed a whole set of wilderness meditation practices that elicit a sense of awe and wonder at the mystery, magic and magnificence of the cosmos. In this regard, only a non-institutional approach can offer us the freedom to help co-create our own unique spiritual journey and practices, without worrying about whether or not we are conforming to an accepted and pre-existing model. Here, clothing and bumper stickers proclaiming that "Nature is My Religion, and the Earth is My Church" are quite apropos.
As usual, I'm a both/and kind of person, enjoying the advantages of both traditional and non-traditional spiritual paths.
Photo: Rosy Paintbrush, Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness, CO
For Spiritual Direction or Workshops, please visit: http://www.resourcesforspiritualgrowth.com/
Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.