Who or What is Spirit?

A relief depicting the Buddha in prayer, connected with his spirit and the spirits of Nature. Borobudur Temple, Central Java. ©Angela Jelita

You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe.

–Eckhart Tolle, author and spiritual teacher

When I was about 10 years old, a voice inside of me spoke to me: “This is just a body you’re in,” it said.

This memory has never left me. I believe it was my spirit’s voice that I heard, completely unsolicited, that day in my pre-adolescent bedroom.

The Holy Ghost, the oversoul, the higher self, the deeper mind, the soul – these are all words we hear when talking about the spirit. When you take your first steps on your spiritual journey and begin walking down the path of living with a deeper connection to your spirit and the spirits of nature, the word itself can actually be quite overwhelming. For some the word ‘spirit’ can even create anxiety, as images of ghostly encounters or apparitions come to mind. But I can assure you there’s nothing to fear. Quite the contrary, you have everything to gain.

A shaman’s view

Let’s take a look at a shaman’s point of view of this word. A shaman is someone who has the ability to “see in the darkness”, referring to local leaders who can be found in every indigenous culture around the world from the Native American Navajo to the Javanese Kejawen, the latter of which I am proud to have in my bloodline.

Shamans believe that everything is alive and has a spirit; that all animals and even the land and its rocks and minerals has a consciousness and carries with it information that can be called upon to gain knowledge and to heal. Shamans see and understand the fundamental nature of the universe and the web of life, grasping that everything is deeply interconnected through the ‘Web of Spirit’.

In all monotheistic religions there is reference to spirit. Muslims and Christians believe that after you die your soul will be judged for its actions here on Earth, earning an eternal place in either heaven or hell. Jesus, who many researchers believe was actually a Galilean shaman, said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), which I decipher as Jesus having embodied the spirit of the world, of the universe. Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), which of course would mean that each and every one of us has this light within us too, we just haven’t unlocked its potential yet.

Echoing on the spirit being the light inside us, teachers of shamanic practices, Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman, in their epic book titled Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation believe that our challenge as a species is to embody this light, to practice daily to become one with the universal sprit, carrying it with us more and more throughout the day:

This light, flowing within and through us, creates a vibration that ripples throughout the entire web of life, ultimately healing us, those close to us, the rest of society, and even the planet itself.

The spirit of karma

Buddhists, Hindus and Jains believe in a karmic cycle, the spiritual principle of cause and effect, where intent and actions influence the future of that individual. Being born as a human means we are at the top of this karmic cycle, and how we live in this life as a human being will determine whether we come back as another human being or go back down the food chain and return as an animal or maybe even an insect. The final goal of Buddhism is to escape this cycle of death and rebirth and attain Nirvana, the realisation of non-self and emptiness, freedom from the ego.

The Buddha in mediation at the Mendut Buddhist Monastery, Central Java. ©Angela Jelita

Growing up, I spent a lot of time on the ‘Island of the Gods’, in Bali, Indonesia. Polytheistic Hindus in Bali leave elaborate offerings made of leaves and flowers on a daily basis to the nature spirits like the tree or the river. They also throw vibrant ceremonies with offerings to the spirits of their ancestors, who they believe visit them on certain holy days. Much of their time is spent appeasing the spirits to ensure they are looked after in this lifetime.

Finding our way back home

As is with many kids, my 10-year-old self was still connected to her true self and knew that the body I was – and still am in – is just a vessel for this particular life. She understood that behind the ego and the body lays my true and highest self: my spirit, my consciousness.

But as is so often the case, when we grow up this connection is not nurtured, and the modern realities of materialism and consumerism take us further and further away from this inert understanding. We end up spending the majority of our adult lives trying to find our way back home, where we are aware of and connected to our consciousness and the spirits of everything around us, in harmony with and with great respect for Mother Nature.

I am not a religious person, but I am deeply spiritual. I have prayed and made offerings in Buddhist temples, in mosques, in churches, in Hindu temples, in nature and at my altar at home. I have entered shamanic journey to meet with my spirit animals and spirit guides, and I meditate daily to become one with my oversoul self. And one thing is clear – the feeling is the same no matter where I pray from or journey to.

Spirit lives in me wherever I am, as it lives in you wherever you are.

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