Selflessness and Spirituality: Constructs that Go Together

Many relate spirituality with being filled with an immaterial spirit, and others associate selflessness with the absence of a self, a soul. I think both these parochial schools of thought miss the mark…and here’s why.

From my own work, HnH:

Self-awareness is a difficult crown to bear, for with it comes self-doubt, and self-sacrifice. Ego is a far easier mental construct. It is easy for one to be proud of one’s accomplishments, wealth, and any station in life arrived at, and to express this in any number of outward ways. But looking inward, and evaluating one’s thought and conduct in relation to one’s hopes and aspirations for intellectual and spiritual growth, self-doubt inevitably rises within.

• • •

Ancients arrived at answers to these questions, and clarity in such aspects of human life, a very long time ago. They rendered their findings in wonderful stories and song, in poetic verses, in scared books of knowledge, and in ways of life advocated. They made it easy for us all…or did they?

But that does not sit well with me. Memorizing innumerable verses, poems, stories, and admonishments did little good for me. I had to learn the hard way, and do so through the only means available: the school of hard knocks of life. Only such learning can stick, and become part of my self.

And there indeed is such a self, that can be enlightenment in its truest sense, that learns, integrates, and enlightens others. I must know, for I did write about this too, albeit briefly.

I’ll make this short; I can only provide food for thought here.

As in the passage from HnH above, the self grows in the developing mind as recognition of one as distinct from another, from all others, and into an identity. As it grows, fueled by wonderful capabilities of our amazing brains, and our experiences, we question what we become, what we develop into, and begin to override instinctual drives. We recognize ego, and addictive aspects of pride and self-love, and work toward dissolving these aspects. We sacrifice our own desires, drives, and comforts; we empty our selves…selflessness, or caring for the benefit of others above our own, grows, from innate seeds, into commonplace habit. Meanwhile, other qualities come in to fill this emptiness that is the form, the vessel, of our selves. Humility accelerates this process.

Empathy and compassion advance this transformation of our selves, filling our depleted selves with comprehension and consonance with others around us, with all of nature. Love for all of life grows within, and fills out our transformed selves. We become…one with the essence of nature, spirits among all that is spiritual.

Spirituality is not being imbued with an immaterial spirit, or, for that matter, imbibing disorienting spirits and other such substances. Spirituality comprises humility, empathy, and compassion. Love, true love, completes it.

Do I sound too poetic, too abstract? Perhaps…but research into neural networks, and our own neurological complexity, convinces me that this is a plausible explanation. For instance, empathy – a distinct capacity of many lifeforms to know and feel what other lifeforms do – is said to be tied to mirror neurons in biological brains. The Parietal Region of the brain, known to interpret touch, temperature, and pain, among other sensations, in the brain, is said to be the seat of spiritual thought. Ever wonder why skull caps are regularly worn by strict adherents to religion?

So – construct a self, by all means…and, if you so choose, take the difficult but rewarding journey of transforming your self through your own life experiences.

Let me close with an enlightening TED presentation, “What is so special about the Human Brain,” by a neuroscientist, Suzana Herculano-Houzel:

Thoughts, comments?


About Rian Nejar

Rian Nejar is an Indian-American author. He trained and worked as an engineer in India, lived briefly in the Middle East, and arrived in America in the early 90's. After a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in America, he worked as an academic instructor, engineer, entrepreneur, and technical writer over the two decades since. Humbling and Humility ( is his first mainstream nonfiction. He lives and writes in the Southwest United States.
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