We have come to think that “spirit” is unmeasurable and therefore not scientific, not worth thinking about. Perhaps because we think spirit is religion, and so outside the realm of science that deals only with matter – another form of energy as Einstein formulated. The only rational something to pay attention to.
But to me the word “spirit” does not mean religion. Religion is the package, what we create around spirit. Religion is a form we give spirit and we can make hundreds, thousands of forms.
It is hard to talk about – or define – “spirit” in a culture that accepts only matter as real. To me spirit is more real than matter. It is the awe that is at the core of life. Spirit is in what we call love, compassion. Spirit is the indomitable something of the people who struggled to reach the poles despite inhuman odds, climbed the highest mountains of the Himalayas. Spirit is what makes children surviving a cyclone in Burma take care of each other, when in the confusion no adults are around. Spirit is what makes people all over the world make sometimes great efforts to raise baby animals orphaned by hunters or poachers who killed the nursing mother tiger, or elephant. Spirit is the mysterious something we feel on a lonely beach when happening upon an unusual, almost unreal, sunrise on a far horizon. Spirit, I imagine, is what the first space traveler felt when he saw the earth, the whole earth and understood the miracle of this ball of matter that is alive, held in a trajectory around the sun by invisible forces.
I’m not sure that only humans have spirit. I wonder what animals feel at sunset: usually no wind, fading light, birds who chatter loudly in a tree suddenly silent. Even the roosters here stop crowing. I remember a time when a friend and I were at a rocky beach. Her dog could not stop bounding from one rock to another sniffing and playing with the waves. Until it began to get dark. When a blood-red sun lit up the sky at the far horizon the dog sat frozen at our feet, as enraptured as we were.
Maybe you think spirit is as illusionary as money because it does not buy anything. Oh, but it does! It does not buy material things, but spirit makes us human. Spirit is what gives compassion. Com-passion: with-feeling. Not doing to others what we do not want others to do to us.
by Robert Wolff