Welcome Spiritual Knowing



Many people take their spirituality for granted. By spirituality, I am referring to an individual’s experience of the sacred, spiritual or transcendent that expands their sense of self into a more unified state of awareness. It’s usually associated with a search for deeper life meaning, with questioning identity, and having a willingness to change through personal transformation.

Whether pursued within a structured religious expression or a more informal, personalized context, spirituality is viewed by spiritually aware people as a core aspect of identity. They have a “spiritual knowing” that grounds them to something greater than their mortal lives, a knowing that helps them deal with life’s challenges. It’s not that they never experience doubt; it’s just that they hold that experience within the comforting embrace of a faith or deep knowing.

Others, however, experience the gnawing discomfort of sitting on the fence, doubting the idea of a spiritual reality. They are not atheists who reject a spiritual basis to life. These doubters, perhaps a large proportion of agnostics, hope for some continuation beyond death. They may have experienced spiritual and/or psychic experiences at times but feel uncertain about the validity of materialist and spiritual perspectives.

Healthy doubt provides the motivation for individuation, for exploring and dealing with existential uncertainty. Feeling unsettled by doubt offers us the psychological fuel for lighting the dark night that spiritual doubt all too often inhabits.

Each perspective — that there is just this meaningless, happenstance physical world or that there are non-physical dimensions and beings beyond our perceptions — can feel too fantastic to hold comfortably in doubters’ incredulous minds. Compared to our normal, mundane lives, both the void and the infinite possibilities of spirit worlds feel fantastic, in the sense of unbelievable.

Can you relate to this doubt or feeling of uncertainty? The seemingly fantastical explanations? Do you feel overwhelmed by the materiality and lack of connectedness? Do you feel a lack of deeper life meaning? If you answered yes to any of these, you may not just be experiencing spiritual doubt but feeling what I term a quiet despair, a private angst.

Having been a chronic doubter with a scientific, secular background I understand the effects of living with chronic spiritual doubt. It can be unsettling to drift upon the seas of uncertainty, wanting to know, rather than believe, that we are spiritual beings on a “physical” adventure. I, like many others, meandered through life half believing, always wanting to know “for sure”, wanting to consolidate my spiritual desiring but never quite being able or willing to jump off the fence of existential doubt.

Questions around spirituality often arise when we reflect on life meaning and our mortality. Desire to engage with these questions is a fundamental quality of a spiritual doubter who is seeking change, leading to an identity in which spirituality is the core of his/her sense of self. This article discusses spiritual doubt and how you can live harmoniously with it and move into a stable sense of knowing.

What is spiritual doubt?

The term “doubt” refers to a sense of uncertainty or indecisiveness between often valid but competing or contradictory ideas, motives, actions or decisions. It stems from the Latin dubitare, “to question, hesitate and waver in opinion”. The “du” part, meaning two, refers to being in two minds between two (or more) things. Spiritual doubt thus refers very broadly to being in two minds between being materialist-oriented and possessing a spiritual understanding about reality and our places in it.

Spiritual doubt can express in healthy and unhealthy ways. Healthy doubt may be felt as a sense of uncertainty, possibly angst about the nature of reality. While healthy, it can nevertheless be uncomfortable. This doubt is part and parcel of the human condition. A healthy approach to doubt of all kinds is to acknowledge the seemingly unsolvable mysteries of our existence. A quote by Winston Churchill in 1939, in relation to Russia, perhaps best captures this fundamental mystery: “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

By openly and honestly exploring spiritual doubt we may grow into a deeper, more meaningful knowing that not just alleviates our doubts but helps us to live with humility and acceptance of the unknowable.

To acknowledge and accept your spiritual doubt is to know that uncertainty about the true nature of reality is normal. A person with healthy doubt is less likely to be arrogant, overly skeptical and cynical, and more likely to be open and humble about their perspectives. Questioning our identity is part of the process of individuation, of realizing deeper aspects of our beings and potential. Healthy doubt provides the motivation for individuation, for exploring and dealing with existential uncertainty. Feeling unsettled by doubt offers us the psychological fuel for lighting the dark night that spiritual doubt all too often inhabits.

The unhealthy forms of doubt begin as healthy doubt that, over time, leads to a closing and numbing of the mind and heart. It’s like any negative emotion or feeling, such as anger. Anger is perfectly appropriate if expressed suitably and without malice. It only becomes destructive if uncontrolled, withheld, or hurtful. Doubt of a chronic and disturbing nature can lead to skepticism and cynicism, even anxiety and depression. These states of mind tend to close down opportunities for interpreting meanings that could transform and transcend these mental states.


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