Finding a spiritual home

Last modified: 1/28/2015 7:02:04 PM

A year following the publication of “A Religion of One’s Own,” Thomas Moore says the book has garnered a lot of response, much like his New York Times-bestseller “Care of the Soul,” which came out 22 years ago. But not everyone likes the word “religion.”

“It’s been really remarkable,” Moore said Tuesday about the interest in his latest book, now in paperback. There have been many more books of his published since “Care of the Soul,” Moore said, but “A Religion of One’s Own” is the first since then to capture so much attention.

The word “religion” has been a sore point with some, though, Moore noted, as he’s traveled around the world talking about the book. “Knowing what I know now, I might have done it differently,” he said, referring to the title.

Moore’s meaning in his use of the word religion is that of mystery and connection to the natural world, he said. It was something he thought about a long time. Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own” called for the creation of a new world for women. “That’s what I mean by this,” Moore said, adding that we’ve had a religion owned and controlled by others for centuries. “It’s time we owned it,” he said, and worked it out for ourselves.

Some people prefer to explore religion or spirituality in large communities, but that isn’t Moore’s path. It works for some people, he said, but it can be problematic. Some of that has to do with the leadership and with people giving away their authority to unworthy leaders. At the same time, he said, there’s much we can learn from the traditions, drawing wisdom and strength from the best each has to offer. We don’t have to choose one path, Moore said. “They can be the guide to help you.”

Chinese Taoism, for example, can teach you about, as Moore put it, “living your ordinary life with a certain degree of appreciation for the mystery of life.”

A life of seeking

Moore, formerly of Peterborough and now a Jaffrey resident, sees many people endlessly seeking for the path or religion that will satisfy, but somehow they never arrive at their spiritual home. And that endless seeking can be painful, he said. “Seeking is ultimately frustrating.”

Moore said he used to be a seeker, too. “It can be a necessary step,” he said. “I stopped seeking years ago. I gave it up.... I’m not looking for anything, really.”

“A Religion of One’s Own” is about finding that spiritual home in one’s everyday life.

When he thinks of people who have done that, Moore said Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson come to mind. They were all seekers who developed their own ways of connecting with spirituality, then went on to write about it.

“Emerson became a minister, studied at Harvard, and then gave it up,” Moore said. “He created with his writing and with his speaking, he created a kind of church — a nomadic sort of church.”

Empowerment is a lifelong process, but Moore said it is achievable. “You have to have your own authority,” he said, but be open to discussion, knowing some people may challenge your position.

Empowerment can come from appreciating imperfection — something the Japanese world view “wabi-sabi” teaches, Moore said. “You can really feel secure and OK with imperfection.” Then, he said, self-improvement is no longer a race and no longer done out of anxiety.

The importance of mystery

The mystics all say that maintaining mystery is a sacred duty. “A Religion of One’s Own” explores the mystery of personal spirituality and yet never solves it. That’s what sacred writings do, Moore said, simply point us in the right direction. There are things about life that are unknowable, unspeakable, unnameable, he said; for example, you don’t know why you have this life, you don’t know all there is to know about death. “Human beings don’t have those answers.”

It’s when we try to pin those things down, and declare we know definitively that we come into conflict. Much of our deep anxiety comes from fears about death and the meaning of life, Moore said, and when that’s threatened often intolerance and violence follows. We’re better off, he said, having as a foundation the mysterious, rather than what we think are the answers. “I think that’s the way to go.”

Moore will discuss his book at The Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough on Saturday at 11 a.m.


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