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5/9/14

Spirituality: A Tool For All Mankind


By Adam Schmuter
A child playing hide and seek understands that the thrill of the game is in its challenge as
merely counting 30 seconds to immediately recognize the other player is disappointing, however,
if the seeker instead wanders the yard, garden, playground and neighborhood for 25 minutes,
finding the other is blissfully relieving. While hide and seek is no comparison to the complexity of
real life, it can however serve as a microcosm for all that occurs in our world. Choosing to live a
good over evil life requires mindfulness, self-control and compassion. This does not always come
easy, because if it were easy then doing good would mean nothing just like finding your
easygoing friend playing hide-and-seek right away. Throughout the course of an average
lifespan, an individual may experience many highs and lows ranging from spiritual enlightenments
to depressive tragedies. Events such as beautiful weddings and community celebrations rejoice
life while wars and oppression may act to destroy life. Additionally, there are many temptations
that while on the surface seem like a good time, they actually have dreadful consequences.
Acting in the best interest of yourself and your community is a continuous practice and requires
careful balance and evaluation of familial and societal ethics to understand good and evil. While
evil is absolute it is very hard for humans to put a perfect definition on it because society is
always changing. On the surface, many paint the world to be very black and white, but in the end
all that actually leaves is a giant grey area.
Cultures around the world define evil in different ways but the most prominent recurring
theme is temptation. In Eastern Asia, Buddhism describes that all suffering in life from diseases,
to poverty, to depression arise from desires. In Christianity, the concept of evil was spawned by
the idea of Original Sin, which is the belief that man is innately imperfect and inherently evil so
they must strive to reach goodness. In Judaism, it is said that humans are born good and must
strive to resist temptation as to not corrupt the purity of their soul. Then there are atheists, who
affirm that there is no ultimate meaning to good or bad actions and that in the end, everything one
does is this life is left to their own accord and interpretation.
During the summer of 2012, several adventurous friends and I booked a tour to the State
of Israel. The country is even more beautiful than the stories I heard back home. We visited
historic memorial sites in the hazy desert and navigated to an oasis nearby. Culture is very rich in
Israel, with spirituality prominent in many world famous cities. We went to the Old City of
Jerusalem to wander the streets and to approach the Wailing Wall as was to me, mysteriously
described. The rich smells of Mediterranean food being served at market bazaar made this
occasion joyous. However, as I continued to advance through the city in efforts to reach the Wall,
I began to reflect upon my own life and my familys history. Not too long ago, the Jewish people
were subjected to the greatest tragedy and family members of my own had to suffer through it.
Suddenly, the atmosphere became very surreal. I could see Rabbis praying vigorously, with their
prayer shawls swaying back and forth like a metronome for their beating hearts. The enormous
stone slabs began to tower over me as I neared. Thousands of years of history speared into me
and in a matter of minutes I experienced an emotional rollercoaster. I gave myself the mission to
wedge a prayer note into the blocks, as is custom. At this moment, I imagined myself to be at the
center of the universe. I could almost smell the fragrance used by the ancients on the altar, and
hear the singing from the old temples festivities. I felt a supreme pleasure visiting this sight and
knew that it would impact my life forever.
Leaving Israel became very hard for me to do. Besides having to pick up a foreign
language, it would be easy for me to stay and make the land my home. However, I knew that
while in the future it could be possible, it was not the path to stay on at that moment. I had to go
off to my first year of college, in a foreign land just like the ancient Israelites were dispersed
around the world. Like them, I would need to hold onto my Jewish roots in the face of easy
assimilation. I decided that I would nurture my spirituality after the trip. I wanted to keep that
positive power alive and bring it with me into college. It was highly encouraging to be pledged
into The Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, my freshman year. I find that the college spiritual
experience is elevated when it becomes a group initiative. With my fraternity brothers, we
organize academically, socially, and spiritually. It is a great challenge to grow the fraternity, as the
number of Jewish students at URI is not very high and the time I pledged it was only beginning.
To this day, I consider myself to be a spiritual warrior. Just as a warrior is most alert on the
battlefield, I purposely surround my time with challenges because I know that with faith in G-d, my
community, and myself everything will work out the right way.
At college, the importance of practicing spirituality is often overwhelmed with mainstream
efforts to promote physical, immediate gratification. Just as a pianist must spend time each day
learning and practicing music, so to must a spiritual warrior practice his or her skills daily. To do
so in modern times can obviously be very difficult. One way in which I have adopted spirituality in
my life is to meditate each day. Ostensibly, meditation can seem like a chore or even a waste of
time. In truth, to achieve a quality sense of meditation, it must become a habit or even a
cherished ritual.
In Jewish mysticism, there is a tool to achieve higher states of spirituality. This tool has
survived for over a thousand years as Tefillin. There are two cherished, unique black boxes
containing scrolls that are supported with leather straps on the end. One Tefillin box is for the
head, resting on the forehead with the leather binds dangling downward. The other is placed
around the users weak-arm bicep with the black leather woven down the arm and between the
fingers. The scrolls inside contain psalms and quotes from the Hebrew Bible, particularly
passages from Exodus and the instructions to Teach faith to your children and practice loving G-
d with all of ones might. Performing this daily practice can take anywhere between 5 to 30
minutes depending on the intensity needed to bring positivity back into ones day. Focusing ones
mediation to have a direct dialogue with G-d is important to act upon daily, even if only allows for
5 minutes of Tefillin. The ritual is only to be used during the daytime, as once nightfall arrives the
value of the practice becomes diminished. During the day, the feasibility of good deeds, courage,
and received energy can be acted upon. On major holidays like Yom Kippur, or Day of
Atonement, as well as and the weekly Sabbath, A Jewish observer refrains from wearing Tefillin
because the purpose is to bring enlightening wisdom, understanding, and knowledge down to the
mundane world, so holidays that work to fulfill a spiritual need do not require Tefillin wearing.
A spiritual observer must strive to work with others. At the core of spirituality are the
concepts of identity, responsibility, and action. When Tefillin are donned with a group, the benefits
increase and the collective positivity is harnessed beyond what can be received independently. In
many cases, critics of religion and spirituality take aim at families who pass down traditions and
beliefs, claiming that the child should realize their own spirituality throughout their lives. There is
no difference between physically nourishing ones child and spiritually nourishing them.
Ultimately, the child will decide later in life whether to continue eating vegetables or preferring
healthy food options. So too will ones child ultimately decide whether to continue practicing
spirituality. Yet, it would be a mistake to completely deprive the child from any spiritual or esoteric
knowledge on the premise that they will have to find out on their own. Maybe the parents were
deprived themselves? With the challenges that come during daily life, it is of great significance
that parents educate their children through nurturing their spiritual identity with them. It can
become a mutual benefit between parents and children to strive together to grow and improve
their skills and inner confidence.
In college, there are many temptations. There is alcohol, sexual promiscuity, and
potentially dangerous habits that can be adopted by adolescents. While some spiritual
observations claim that these dangers should entirely be avoided to prevent spiritual damage, a
more practical approach to enjoying lifes pleasures is to maintain a sense of dignity while acting
on these desires. Elements of human enjoyment are there for a reason that either becomes
positive or negative depending on the level of spiritual sophistication and skill one can apply to
their lives. If a student feels comfortable drinking and enjoys the taste of alcohol, then it is in their
best interest to allow some leeway and freedoms to express themselves. However, this does not
mean they should be encouraged to do everything anytime, anywhere, and as often as they
would like. There is a right and a wrong way to enjoy oneself. A wrong way would be when the
individual feels dependent on substance or sexual activity as a means of escapism. However,
celebrating alcohol with light moderation within a supportive, productive community can actually
bring people together and elevate cognitive consciousness. The same holds true for sexual
activity. It is obvious why parents prefer monotonous dating in college than a free-for-all where
people are used for their bodies rather than emotional connections. Everything in moderation
holds true.
Relationships with others can take numerous directions. In order to maintain honest and
mutual connections, spirituality must remain forefront. Those who completely abhor the essence
of spirituality in their lives may find themselves consumed with greed and disgust. It is important
to deeply recognize the significance of positive, mutually beneficial relationships where the
parties involved are genuine, not utilitarian. Those that entirely use their friends for their personal
gain will find themselves as bloodthirsty as the mosquito everyone is eager to swat away.
Healthy and sustainable relationships with others are to be approached with a you-to-you mindset
rather than you-to-it. As previously stated, adapting to the methods of a parasite will not
contribute to a healthy relationship. Assuming a mutual connection between two or more
individuals can expand our society, allowing us to take leaps forward in a positive direction.
Teachings like these were taught to me personally in the context of my faith. My parents
made conscientious effort to educate me in environments where my faith could be nurtured,
tested, and ultimately strengthened. While I received formal education from public school, my
religious teachings were from the weekly Hebrew school classes that I attended. Beyond the arts
and crafts, storytelling, and Hebrew alphabet learning, I received a suprarational education.
Today, when I am faced with a challenge, I know that I can rely on my faith and community to
guide me.
Public Universities offer the option of immediate assimilation to its students. At URI, the
challenge is clear. How can one apply the joys and knowledge of spirituality into the various
elements of daily life? Like the game of Hide and Seek, the challenge of earning fulfillment comes
from taking chances, embracing the struggle, and learning from it. Unifying secularism and
religiosity is different for everyone. Some choose to embrace a connection and others choose to
disregard it entirely. To study and apply takes considerable effort in all fields of study yet one
cannot begin to appreciate the rewarding results until they commit the time to do so. Ultimately,
can one spiritual person bring positive change to an entirely secularized community? Lighting a
candle can brighten up a dark room and planting a single seed can grow into a beautiful flower.
Each day the sun rises and serves as a reminder that darkness is not permanent; with care,
appreciation, and commitment, a person devoid of spirituality can not only blossom into a luscious
rose but become the wise florist whose gifts transcend the garden and into the homes of people
everywhere.