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What is spirit? – its nature and source

When we’re facing a nasty defeat at the end of the third quarter and Coach says: "Now we need to show our Team Spirit”, we all know what is meant.

Team Spirit isn’t a physical object. It isn’t some badge or certificate or special jumper or colourful drink-bottle that we’re expected to wave around when the going gets tough. Team Spirit is an invisible feeling of oneness that brings the players together and gives them all a hidden depth of energy and sense of dignity that empowers them to go beyond their ordinary limits.

Coach wants us to show Team Spirit by reaching deep, trying our hardest and giving our best, even when we’re exhausted and unlikely to win. As Mister Meagi says, pushing Daniel back into the ring at the start of the Karate Championships: ‘Make good fight!’

Spirit is familiar as the principle of Oneness that moves and connects and empowers a Team or a School or a Corporation, or anything as a whole that has many parts.

As human beings we fit that description: we are wholes made of many parts connected by spirit. We may not think of human spirit in our ordinary life, except on special occasions to explain unusual achievements of courage or resilience or creativity – the exercise of spirit is what enables people to regain or exceed the norms of behaviour. But a broader and more thoughtful notion of spirit includes the everyday functions provided by its presence.

Recalling what happens to our physical body after its demise gives insight into the role of spirit while we are alive. After death, our brain stops thinking, our heart ceases beating, our lungs finish breathing, and the atoms of our flesh and organs and bones disintegrate. Spirit, then, is what gives life and breath and thought to our physical body.

That idea is found in Creation stories from many of the world’s religions and philosophies. In the Norse saga of Creation, for example, the bodies of the first humans are formed from the wood of two trees, and the All-Father-god Odin breathes his divine spiritual life into those original ancestors to awaken them.

So, too, in the Hebrew story of Creation (Genesis 1: 7), the Biblical God makes the bodies of Adam and Eve from the dust, then breathes divine life into them. And in Plato’s philosophy, the Demiurge shapes the universe and everything in it by putting spiritual life and mind into inert physical matter.

Spirit is what supplies the power and passion and purpose to existence, life and mind. It’s always present in us – as the ceaseless energy of our body, breath and thought – and without it we physically cease to exist.

Given that human beings are spiritual souls in physical bodies, it makes sense that when we die our bodies return to the earthly dust, while our souls return to their divine Source. But for our spiritual soul to return to its divine origin hereafter, it must already be present in us here-now.

Accordingly, we don’t need to wait until we physically die to discover the experience of eternal spiritual life. Looking down below the horizon towards our feet, things seem physical and separate; looking up above the horizon towards the sky, everything seems spiritual and connected.

By calming our body and stilling our mind and quietening our heart, we can open our spiritual intelligence to engage with the infinite presence of spirit.

In the back of our mind is the infinite intelligence that contains the living universe, along with its individual parts, and unites everything as one whole. That cosmic consciousness belongs to the ultimate reality, the One without another, which is variously named Brahman, ha-Shem, Allah, the Real, the Source, the One, or the God-thing.

That one undivided Source produces the whole infinite universe and all its many finite parts, including the part we are. The spiritual journey to Oneness, then, proceeds from the finite world to infinity and beyond to the ultimate reality of the "One without a second” (Hindu Upanishads).

Of course, we can talk endlessly about the relations between the finite parts and the infinite whole and the ultimate One, but the aim of discussion is to experience the reality of those ideas; and not just that, but to directly realise in our experience the ultimate reality of the "One without a second”.

You can make a start towards that happiest of all ends right now. Just sit, still and calm and quite, and free your consciousness ... imagine your individual soul accessing the infinite spirit in the back of your mind ... allow that spiritual intelligence to unite the inner and outer dimensions ... now wait there in the Oneness, patiently... and you'll spontaneously realise the Source of spirit in the One alone, Insha'Allah.