Practical Steps to Fully Awaken your Spirituality

Wonder why spirituality feels elusive? Explore brain functions for spiritual growth. Uncover how to bridge knowledge with practice.

Have you ever wondered why you're not really finding traction with your spirituality? Why it seems so difficult and elusive? You may have read many scriptures and spiritual teachings and, while you have a good mental grasp of these philosophies, you simply don't seem to walk the spiritual talk. What's going on and how can you change this? For you to get a better understanding of what it is to be spiritual, it's important to know a little about the basic functions of your brain to realise the relevance of how you can use it advantageously to cultivate true spiritual presence.


Thomas Budge asks the awkward questions you would like to ask, he pokes holes in rigid belief systems, and challenges the way the world taught us to think. His aim is to stimulate debate and encourage lateral thinking, so it's okay if this podcast occasionally makes you feel a little uncomfortable.

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Most vertebrates have some form of neural network, a spine and a primitive brain, the functions of which are to protect the animal from harm, to enhance its chances of survival and to urge it to procreate to ensure continuity of the species. One of the many tasks performed by these primitive brains is the excellent job of pattern recognition. Pattern recognition is fundamental to survival and reproduction. Patterns come into the brain through the sense organs, like eyes, ears and a tactile skin. It takes only a fraction of a second for the brain to recognise a threat and to action a survival strategy. It must be like this because any slower processing and decision-making could cost the animal its life. Most animals are therefore, reactive beings. Their primitive, hardwired brains drive them to do the things they do. They have no choice, no conscience, no aspirations and no sense of self. We humans evolved differently and can hold spiritual context. You are no longer a reactive being but a proactive one. You explore, create and manipulate the world around you, even to your detriment. To rise spiritually, your brain had to expand to accommodate a sense of self, to grasp your purpose and place in this vast universe. Strangely enough, during human brain evolution, we don't find radical redesigns of the primitive brain, instead, we find wrappers of new functionality around it. What do I mean by this? You, like other vertebrates, have a network of nerves running into a spinal cord which connects to very primitive structures inside the back of your skull. Neurologists still refer to this as the 'primitive brain,' the functions of which are almost identical to those of lesser animals. However, you are also smart and emotional. These character traits don't emanate from your primitive brain. They come from two other layers wrapped around your primitive brain. These are the limbic system which drives your emotions, and your cortex, the crinkly outer layer of your brain, that gives you the ability to be strategic, rational and academic. It's your highly-developed cortex that differentiates you from all other creatures on this planet. With the added benefit of a cortex, you can grasp abstract concepts, like time, mathematics, art and spirituality. It gives you the ability to perform strategically, to plan your future and to look back at your past to learn from it. All layers of your brain work together to give you character.

Your primitive brain fires quickly, habitually and impulsively but your cortex works slowly and methodically. Your primitive brain processes forty million neurological inputs per second but the frontal lobes of your cortex struggle to hold onto more than nine chunks of information processing at any moment in time. You wouldn't have enough time and processing capacity in your strategic brain to evaluate the pros and cons of every action you need to take. Swamped and overwhelmed by decision after decision, you wouldn't function at all. Thankfully, your cortex slowly surrenders control of repeated decisions with predictable outcomes to your primitive brain and limbic system that take over the responsibility of running these non-strategic tasks, where they become habits and conditioned responses. Psychology uses the fancy word, heuristics, to categorise these reflexive responses. Kendra Cherry writes about heuristics. She says, "A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. These rule-of-thumb strategies shorten decision-making time and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action." Repeated decisions with predictable outcomes don't need repetitive solving. Once you've rehearsed your response, you store it away in your brain for later, instant retrieval. Running mental shortcuts are beneficial to your survival but not all of them are helpful. Heuristics can lead to narrowmindedness, otherwise called cognitive bias. You may have repeatedly performed certain actions that have improper or detrimental outcomes until they became hard-to-break habits. You'll know how difficult it is to change a bad habit of yours.

Mental shortcuts and habits are not the only heuristics, there are also memes. But, what is a meme? Paul Gil says that memes are, "virally-transmitted cultural symbols or social ideas." Millennials, the young adults who were born during or soon after the year 2000, are hyperconnected and enamoured with social media and proliferate most of today's memes. Captioned photos on Facebook bearing uplifting or humorous one-liners, are good examples of memes. Richard Dawkins described them as a being a form of cultural propagation. You were bombarded with memes as a very young child. They set the foundations for your beliefs and character traits long before you went to school. These thought-viruses still bombard you from all angles today. Some come from ancestral factors, others from your family's cultural values and you receive loads of them from friends, mentors, religious leaders, politicians and from one of the biggest meme factories, tactical commercial marketing. Religions, commercial marketers and politicians go to great lengths to create and plant memes in your head, hoping that you will turn them into heuristic shortcuts and habits, designed to influence you to behave the way they hope you will. It's dreadfully sinister. Since the only place for you to perform strategic thinking is in the frontal lobes of your cortex, most memes, habits and shortcuts hang about unchallenged. When last did you rigorously contest what church, marketing or politics taught you? How often do you take time to confirm the advertising claims made by suppliers about their goods and services? How often have you challenged the dogma preached from the pulpit? I bet you, like most of us, you seldom test and revalidate your memes, habits and shortcuts. Like most of us, you simply allow heuristics to lead you impulsively into doing what seems so natural for you to do, and to think what seems so comfortable to believe.

You'll remember the questions I posed at the beginning of this show? Here they are again: Have you ever wondered why you're not really finding traction with your spirituality? Why it seems so difficult and elusive? You may have read many scriptures and spiritual teachings and, while you have a good mental grasp of these philosophies, you simply don't walk the spiritual talk. What's going on and how can you change this? To rise into your spirituality, understand that it is not because you know a lot, it's not because you have blind faith or dogmatically adhere to the practice of religious rituals. Spiritual awakening occurs when you find your place in this universe, when you meet God and only after you've transformed your knowledge about your spirituality into being your spirituality. Only then do you finally learn to walk the spiritual talk.

Unwanted habits, redundant and erroneous beliefs and entrenched habitual ways of thinking cause negative cognitive bias. They lead you to live a life you acquired from others, rather than the one you should design for yourself. Most of us believe that we've made our own decisions about life and charted our own course but this is rarely the case. Most people who were born Christian will still be Christian many decades later, and this is true for people in other religions too. They will pass their traditions on to the next generation. People's devotion may spark or wane over time but most folk stay right where they always were. When beginning your spiritual journey, it's a promising start to begin testing the things you already know. Take time to question your beliefs, to poke holes in them and to seek other's views to challenge your cognitive bias as to how you thought things fitted together. Find irrefutable evidence to underpin new beliefs and to validate old ones.

Here's a little history lesson to show you how a few memes influenced a lot of people: Jehovah's Witnesses, like many other religions, proclaim that their beliefs and interpretations are the only true and inspired views on Biblical teachings. The Mormon's have made similar claims, as do certain Islamic faiths. But, it's a fair question to ask, "On what basis do they make these claims?"

The Witnesses' claim of being the only appointed representatives of God on earth comes from some curious memes that have led to lots of biased thinking. Shortcuts, now endemic to the culture of the organisation, shape the beliefs of millions of followers who never take time (nor dare they) to challenge the validity of these assertions. The summarised history goes like this: Pastor Charles Taze Russell, the founding father of the Jehovah's Witnesses, grew up in a strict Presbyterian home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the second half of the nineteenth century. One can have no doubt about the memes this young boy received about religion as he grew up. His official website says that his mother expressed her hope to him, when he was but seven-years-old, that he would one day become a missionary in God's service. His unique interpretation of scripture led to the formation of the Watchtower Society which then became the legal entity for Jehovah's Witnesses in the early part of the twentieth century. It took one meme, the coupling of what the Bible refers to as the 'faithful and discrete slave' as if it referred to Pastor Russell himself. Suddenly, Russell became God's only true representative on earth. That's a big leap to make and one shouldn't take it at face value. There is an expression that goes like this, "The title Guru is not one that you should ever bestow upon yourself." After Russell's death, the title cascaded down to the committee of leaders who jointly head the organisation. They believe that they have become God's only chosen representatives. But how does one make such gigantic leaps without a shred of evidence? You propagate the idea as a meme, which when repeated to the society's members over decades, becomes a shortcut belief to the undisputed assertion that the Witnesses are God's chosen people. Faith is belief without proof and that's all it takes to accept and adopt these kinds of unprovable claims. I must tell you, that having grown up in this religion, I had great difficulty unravelling these memes before I could advance spiritually.

I encourage you to study the concepts of God from all angles. Learn about other religious views. Stay away from myopic and biased dogma because it often leads you into the trappings of cults and sects. Don't give in to herd instinct, that human needy trait to be part of a group or following. Know that you always have direct access to that which you call God. Your religious leaders are no greater than you are, they are not elevated beings but should be your guides, mentors and shepherds, leading you lovingly and gently into your own spiritual awakening. They are not the custodians of your spirituality, in the same sense that your doctor is not the custodian of your health. They are not agents under your mandate, acting as intermediaries between you and God. You have your unique, personal connection to the universe and through it to the ultimate Godhead. You'll find a lot of good, well-formulated spiritual philosophies out there but to get to them, you'll have to examine, debunk and shed a lot of bad ones too. After a while, and it took me about twenty years, you will have formulated your own brand of ideas and philosophies. Individuality and autonomy of thought are prized virtues in this modern world. Be ready to defend your views and to challenge others so that they might likewise find inspiration to investigate deeper into their belief structures.

However, knowledge and conviction is still not enough to set your spirituality alight. Your cortex processes all strategic thought. To walk the spiritual talk, you'll have to translate your knowledge into something more than academic knowhow. You'll have to feel your spirituality and become it. I'm acquainted with many people who think they know everything there is to know about spirituality. There's one friend that instantly springs to mind, she has a corridor lined with certificates of all kinds. She's a Shaman, a Sangoma, a Reiki Master, she's attended every sacred ceremony, performed every spiritual practice and she has read every spiritual manual she can lay her hands on. Yet, one can easily sense that there's still a phoniness to her holiness. It's all talk and no walk. That's the danger of holding onto knowledge as the only basis for your spirituality. It's nice to know these things and I have already encouraged you to look beyond what you already know but relying on knowledge alone to steer your spiritual course is pointless. You must let it change who you are.

So how do you go about doing this? What catalyst transforms knowledge into spiritual presence? And, how do you know when are you truly spiritually present, what does it really mean? They're immensely tough questions with hard-to-find answers. It means that you should take conceptualisations about your spirituality and turn them into concrete memes, habits and shortcuts which will drive you reflexively. You must learn to move spiritual concepts out of your cortex and into the limbic and primitive parts of your brain. There, you will feel them with your emotions and where they'll become foundational pillars that drive you automatically. Knowing about your spirituality is very different from being spiritual. Designed to help you through the process of spiritual awakening, knowledge, through repetition becomes habits, shortcuts and memes. Practices like prayer, mantras, meditations and other devotional actions, don't, of themselves make you spiritual, they, like knowledge, are tools that lead you towards your awakened realisation of self.

It is popular nowadays to participate in ancient sacred ceremonies that are easy to find across the globe. It's not hard to find somebody who'll conduct a ceremony for you in exchange for a few bucks. You and I live in a consumer-driven world whose aim it is to cultivate and satisfy our consumptive needs. I have a sneaky feeling that many people who attend these modern replicas of ancient sacred practices do so in a very consumeristic way. They seem compelled to participate because others are doing it and they don't want to be left out. These ceremonies became a spiritual fad in my part of the world. People participate not because they're spiritually ready for it but because it's part of their bucket-list of must-dos, ticked off like an exotic holiday abroad or the acquisition of a new car. I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't perform these ceremonies but I am recommending that these religious practices, when done humbly, without consumptive neediness and with pure intent, will always awaken spiritual realisations that will never be unlocked in other ways. If you do participate in these practises, let your highest, noblest-self lead you. Don't be led by your ego's neediness.

Also, watch your use of language. Listen to the way you construct your sentences and take notice of the words you choose to use to express yourself. Language patterns quickly betray the way you think. They put the spotlight on the memes, shortcuts and generalisations that drives your communication with others. Sometimes language reveals one's sense of lack instead of one's sense of abundance. Listen out for phrases like, 'I must…' 'I want…' and 'I need…' Replace them with words that celebrate what you already have, like: life, heath, solid relationships, financial independence, kids, etc. By making tiny changes to the way you speak, you'll train your brain to think differently. Also, eradicate possessive pronouns, like, 'my' and 'mine' because they promote ideas of possessiveness instead of generosity and universal oneness. Use words like: 'the' and 'a' in place of those more possessive alternatives. If you woke up sick one morning, instead of saying, "I'm so sick, I feel miserable" say something like, "the body is ill but the highest spiritual self is perfectly unaffected." Notice how these tiny modifications change your spiritual perspective.

In Soul Searching Episode 26, "The Esoteric Meaning of Solomon's Temple" we explored the metaphoric symbolisms of Solomon's Temple, in Jerusalem, and how they profoundly describe all the different layers of your being. It's worth listening to the show again after you've listened to this one. The intriguing conclusion that we can draw from this symbolism, is the real possibility that your contact point with God is not somewhere out there beyond the clouds but right here within you. If you're seeking God, begin by first finding and fully exploring your inner divinity, the God within you. All the scriptures I've studied, across multiple religions, can apply equally well to the inner God, as well as to the external, universal God. When you make the mistake of comparing your frail humanness against the awesomeness of an external God, you soon erode your self-belief and once disillusioned in this way, you could sink into states of hopeless suffering, seeing yourself as nothing more than a worthless sinner. Religions seem to thrive on holding their devotees captive in this way. However, when you awaken to the realisation that there is an inner God, one that symbolises the fullest possibility of who you can be as a person, it's easier to embrace and work at this divine level. I imagine my highest self to be the capstone at the apex of the largest pyramid in Gisa. That single, capping block of sandstone proudly completes the pyramid's structural design. That's how I see my highest self, as the capstone that proudly completes the spiritual design of who I am. This is the part of us that God says is 'in the likeness and image of Him.' It's a part of you that you cannot tarnish. In Soul Searching Episode 38, "Let me Remember that there is no Sin" we looked at the evidence suggesting that sin is a mistaken conceptualisation that does not actually exist. You have the capacity to kill the body but you don't have a way to snuff out your highest self. It is the proud pinnacle of who you can be, the capstone of the pyramid that brings the four edges of the pyramid together to one point of singularity. Jesus taught that one should perform all one's actions as if performed solely for God's benefit. But, what if the God you were performing these things for, wasn't some external God, but an Inner One? There's then a sudden change of perspective: Reaching your highest configuration isn't an unattainable dream but a very realistic opportunity.

To be fully present means the comfortable consolidation of everything that makes you who you are, from the shape of your body, to the sound of your voice. It includes what you do, your cultural background and your ancestral genes and memes. It is the foundation of your beliefs. Unlike knowledge, it's a knowing. Even though it might be similar to the beliefs of others, it's your truth and not theirs. All facets of your being, like the layers of hewn rock that forms the pyramid, tilt harmoniously upwards until they meet the perfect capstone. Here at the apex, these lines converge perfectly, symbolising the point of oneness. It is here at this single point where symbolically, heaven meets earth; the junction between self and everything else.

Vigilantly and frequently test where you are on your spiritual journey. How high have you gotten in climbing the layers of rock on your quest to reach the top. Every time you catch yourself in the act of thinking, saying or doing something, ask just one question, "Will this action bring me closer to my highest self?" If it doesn't, then don't do it — if it does, do it wholeheartedly as if doing it in devotion to your inner godhead.

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