Won't somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won't somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?
Blind Willie Johnson
People have believed in a spiritual aspect to life for millennia. Either they were all crazy and over attached to mythical stories or there is a genuine core to experience that might be called "spiritual". This core is about conscious experience itself rather than about events in the world beyond the body (the term "spiritual" means incorporeal).
The term "spiritual" can be defined in an empirical manner by examining what a spiritual feeling is like. The most primitive form of spiritual feeling is the "oneness" that can occur where we do not just feel like observers of the content of our minds but become one with them. William James investigated this experience and recorded his findings in his lectures called "The Varieties of Religious Experience". The following excerpt is typical of the various reports:
"I have on a number of occasions felt that I had enjoyed a period of intimate communion with the divine. These meetings came unasked and unexpected, and seemed to consist merely in the temporary obliteration of the conventionalities which usually surround and cover my life.... Once it was when from the summit of a high mountain I looked over a gashed and corrugated landscape extending to a long convex of ocean that ascended to the horizon, and again from the same point when I could see nothing beneath me but a boundless expanse of white cloud, on the blown surface of which a few high peaks, including the one I was on, seemed plunging about as if they were dragging their anchors.
What I felt on these occasions was a temporary loss of my own identity, accompanied by an illumination which revealed to me a deeper significance than I had been wont to attach to life. It is in this that I find my justification for saying that I have enjoyed communication with God. Of course the absence of such a being as this would be chaos. I cannot conceive of life without its presence."(James 1902).
Many readers will have had experiences of this sort. These experiences can also happen in meditative states and are what are known by practitioners of yoga and Buddhist meditation as states of "rapture" or "ecstacy".
I would contend that the poetic and ecstatic are both what are known as "spiritual" experiences. In common to both of these is the presence of meaningfulness within the mind. It is a state of being extended in space and time without being filled with the mechanical analysis of this state.
The time extension in these experiences is also important because, if time exists, then the past is still existent with all that that implies..
It is also likely that the Buddhists are right about rapture. Rapture itself is a delusion being the physiological state induced by the spiritual experience, but the non-physiological part of the state itself is a spiritual form (see Gunaratana 1988).
Henepola Gunaratana. (1988) The Jhanas In Theravada Buddhist Meditation. The Wheel Publication No. 351/353 ISBN 955-24-0035-X. 1988 Buddhist Publication Society. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/bps/index.html
William James (1902). "The Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature".