Thursday, January 17, 2013


"It takes a big man to cry; it takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man"
--Saying from my childhood

Only once have I seen my father cry. But more on that later.

Lately I have been reconsidering what it means to be "spiritual", and whether it requires or just leans towards belief in supernatural things. If one were to remove the supernatural aspect of spirituality, what would be left? Awe, wonder, transcendence? Maybe introspection and self-improvement? I would argue that all of these things are worthy of our time and effort, and can bring meaning to life, and none of which require a belief in anything supernatural.

The other day I told someone that they shouldn't confuse or equate spirituality with a belief in god, and proceeded to list several religions, philosophies and secular groups (Buddists, Jains, Shintos, Secular Humanists, etc)--all of which do not have an expressed belief in god--which can still have spritual ideals. Buddists, for instance, do not believe in god, and really don't have many supernatural beliefs in general. For this reason some people argue that it is not actually a religion, but a philosophy. I'm not sure if I would make such a distinction, but the point stands that Buddists find many reasons to promote morals and a spiritual mind set without divine command.

The person with whom I spoke seemed to be feeling pressure from peers and various authority figures to improve her "spirituality" by finding god--any god. My point to her was that she shouldn't feel pressured into it and that millions of people find ways of being spiritual without the supernatural.

For me, spirituality is an incredibly vague and practically useless term. If by "spiritual" a person means awe-inspired and transcendent, why not just use those words? This is similar to when people say that "god is the universe". Well, then why not just say "universe". Is it really necessary to invoke "god" or "spirituality" to describe other words?

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of performing with several of my family members along side world-renowned trumpet player Allen Vizzutti (you might recongnize him from the sound tracks of "Back to the Future", "Star Trek" and "Halo"). During the concert, Mr Vizzutti played a timeless and rather well-known trumpet concerto called "Carnival of Venice". This song has been a family favorite for my entire life. My father played it in his 7th grade orchestra audition and several of my brothers and I all learned to played it in high school. It has significant meaning for practically everyone in my family. In many ways, it is our song.

During the performance, I looked over at my father and saw that he was crying, which was very touching for me, as I had never before seen him so much as shed a tear. As I realized the significance of this song for him, I also realized how special this very moment was. Not just for him, but for me. This was as "spiritual" an experience for me as I have ever had. Nothing flashy. Nothing supernatural. Just sharing a moment with my father as we lived life.


Here is Allen Vizzutti performing "Carnival of Venice" during the concert (luckily, you can't hear any crying):

And here is my family playing with Allen Vizzutti ("Brass Machine"):

One more, author and neuroscientist Sam Harris on spirituality and transcendence:

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