Dr Kaye Gersch PhD
Spiritual community in a digital age: May 2014
There was a time in Western culture, not long passed, where the existence of and needs for spiritual community were satisfied by being a member of a local church and attending services and gatherings regularly, if not religiously! My own childhood was centred in the Lutheran Church in Melbourne and its activities were the hub of my world. I was about 13 when, to my discomfort and consternation, I discovered that an innate need for deep enquiry, open discussion and meaningful friendship was not provided under the umbrella of the Church. Consequently, I began a search of my own, emboldened by the energy and optimism of youth, and a certainly that I would eventually find that for which I was searching.
This is a familiar story for many people, and is not so much about the Church failing in the roles I had hoped it would fulfil, but its reliance on doctrine rather than spiritual experience. Jung said that truths need to be discovered anew and reframed in every era. But according to Jung there are two levels of “truth”. Jung speaks of “the spirit of the time”, a Zeitgeist, that forms our rational minds, morals and values. The spirit of the time forms our ego-personality and does not concern itself with the deep spiritual inquiry. However, there in another level of truth, and that is “the way of what is to come”.
Jung then speaks of the spirit of the depths that has begun to stir in him, and is most likely to stir in us - at least some of us - in any era. A spirit that “from time immemorial and for all the future possesses a greater power than the spirit if this time” (Jung, C. G. (2009). The Red Book. New York, Norton and Company, p.229.) It was this spirit that motivated the personal inquiry that Jung undertook for 15 years, which ultimately became the Red Book. Here Jung refers to the spirit of the greater archetypal psyche that is more or less independent of the spirit of the times, but nevertheless needs to be expressed through it.
The spirit of the depths is the source of all visions, inspiration and divine bliss that humanity can hope for, that is, the Self in Jungian terms. Those who have accessed this depth, through the ages and in difference cultures, have a great deal in common. What is accessed is (mostly) independent of the Church, and characterized by the risk of personal and direct experience. This is often framed as gnosis.
June Singer confirms that gnosis in our present time corresponds with personal experience, rather than acquired knowledge or the structures of doctrine. She says: “Gnosis, as first enunciated two millennia ago by heretical sects who refused to be bound by institutionalized ‘truths’, was understood by Jung as a spirit of inquiry that is independent of dogma and that requires confirmation through personal experience and reflection” (Singer, J. (1990). Seeing Through the Visible World: Jung, Gnosis and Chaos New York, Harper and Rowe, p 48.)
In our digital age, the possibility of gathering together as a spiritual community is greatly accelerated, through communication internationally with others who are seeking the spirit of depth, being inspired and motivated by it. Andrew Cohen speaks of this, in a discussion of “The Holy Life”:
“There is something so incredibly life-affirming about the kind of joy and fellowship that emerges when many human beings, inspired by spiritual values and a higher sense of purpose, come together. The Buddha, when asked if association with like-minded people was a part of the holy life, is reported to have declared: "Association with like-minded people is not a part of the holy life, it is the whole of the holy life." The longer I have been teaching, the more obvious it has become to me that the Buddha was right—association with like-minded people is the whole of the holy life. And that is simply because the holy life, the spiritually enlivened and awakened life—if it's to have any real impact on the world—is about creating and sharing higher values with other human beings. When insight and revelation are being experienced as part of a shared higher state, something truly sacred begins to occur. The potential of a new, more enlightened world emerges here and now.” Andrew Cohen. http://andrewcohen.org
It is in the spirit of depth, the spiritually enlivened and awakened life, that I engage in this conversation.
What do you think?
© Kaye Gersch 2014. You are welcome to quote from or use sections of this writing, as long as you attribute it to Dr. Kaye Gersch PhD, and, where relevant, provide a link to my website.
April 2014: Virginity - a psychological and spiritual re-reading for contemporary women.
May 2014: On Spiritual Community in the Digital Age