News from the East

Spirituality in Shiram

Shiram – is a community in Russia, united by the idea of deep self-exploration. 'Shi', which means in Russian “Game Master’s School”, reflects its focus on using Games for transcendence of human beings. 'Ram' comes from 'ashram'. The community has existed since 1990, with places in the urban areas of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. From 2007, they have been building an eco-village in Tverskaya oblast on a piece of land near a river and wild forest. This article is about Shiram´s understanding of spirituality, by Tatiana Ginzburg.

I decided to write about spirituality when I got a letter from the editor of 'Community' magazine, with several questions about spirituality in our community. It made me think about the subject from different points, which I am going to share here.

At first in thinking about spirituality, I began with the assumption that spirituality is religion. In mainstream society, a religious person is seen as spiritual. In the Russian language there is even a noun, духовник (spiriter), which means priest.

And at the same time, I understood that traditional religions are exhausted, and even attempts to reanimate them, which has been done by many people, for example, Ken Wilber in his idea of Integral Christianity, does not move me.

Today it is difficult to believe that God is sitting in the sky, or that he created Eve from Adam's rib. Attempts to reform one or another religion is usually just an adaptation of old rituals to recent times, rather than a real diving to the essence.

What is spirituality in Shiram?

For many years I have been exploring my self through the field of transpersonal psychology, such as breathing (in holotropic breathwork), studying the work of Stan Grof, using Buddhist Vipassana meditation, seeking for koan secrets, and so on. All this I see as a spiritual path. Also, I am using the expression of «spiritual practice». It is clear to me that these practices lead to wider states of consiousness; the changing of attention from the question of survival to the question of the meaning of life are spiritual practices. So, maybe it will be right to say that spiritual practice is one that helps human beings to explore their deep essence.

So, this way of thinking leads me to the understanding that spirituality is the same as spiritual development; it is development, which we can represent as vertical movement from Earth to the Sky; from survival to the essence; from simple to complicated; and from the form to the core.

After coming to this clarity by myself, I went to my friends and community members to find our common point of view.

Asking them about what is spirituality I got the following answers:

- Progressing upwards on Maslow's hierarchy of needs;
- Transferring from lower needs to upper levels;
- Nurturing the spirit inside;
- Altruism.

In the deepest sense, these responses fully coincide with my own answers.

Finally, we decided together that spirituality is the development of qualities that are potentially inherent in each human being, and developing these qualities leads to perfection. So, if in the beginning, a human being is a spiritual being just in his or her own potential, then, as a result of spiritual development he or she can become a perfected spiritual being, where all potentially existing qualities are developed and enhanced.

So we call call ourselves a spiritual community because we are busy with such spiritual development.

The Editor of «Communities», a US magazine, asked a series of questions. In seeking answers on these questions, we discovered that:

In order to develop ourselves in this sense we had a number of common principles; for example
- to say YES to the World. If you follow this principle you will attentively try to accept any signal, impulse, or idea which is coming from the outside world. You will do that not in a mechanical way, but understand and accept it in essence.
- Pay attention to higher levels. If you want to interrupt somebody, for example, first you should understand – what for?
If it is for your personal survival needs, but he is busy with playing chess, it’s better to wait until he finishes. So it’s important to pay attention to the quality of the process which is happening.
- We also have a common model of development; and individual, couple, and group systems of practice, which are realized by each individual at their own speed and level of concentration. For example, we created the following practices:

Prozig: People look at an open fire, hold their breath, and feel that everything is burning.
Parnaya praktika: couples practice for clearing relationships.
Fu-sin: from the Chinese tradition – to physically work in the way of not getting attached to the result.
Beseda: which is a talk at dinner-time about real developmental questions affecting individuals,
and more.

Each of us do these practices at our own individual rate and speed, but spirituality is a uniting force for all of us.

Even though we are a spiritually oriented group, from time to time we can irritate each other. Sometimes we find understanding easily, but sometimes it takes time and experience. One of our values is openness and participation in each moment, and even if it is painful to be open, we support that. It may lead to personal and group reflection, or other things. But in the long run we are a group, anyway.

As for our relationships with other traditions: although individuals may have individual beliefs, our group itself has no special preference towards any particular spiritual tradition, path or school. We try to create relationships with different traditions or schools. We try to ensure these relationships are authentic and so sometimes these relationships are friendly, and other times they may come into conflict. But our concept, our path, implies integration with other people, and with all spiritual and religious traditions that tend to foster spiritual development. For more than 10 years, each Sunday, we have organized an «intellectual club» in Saint-Petersburg, Moscow and Shiram, where we have invited people from different traditions to come and share what is true for them and within those that come.

The themes of our clubs are:

1.Methods of self-exploration
2.The Game in the Game about the Game
3.Integration and differentiation as stages of psyche development
4.Perfect human being – who is he (she)?
5.Koans and quantum physics

And more.

We think about questions such as: does community living make it easier to follow your individual spiritual practice? Or does it make it more difficult? A Russian general, Alexander Suvorov said «Learning is difficult, but after that, it is easy to apply it in fighting». – So, our practices initially make our life more complicated, but it becames easier when we apply this learning to our experience and our qualities to real life situations. As a result of our lifestyle, those who join our community and intensively practice, experience in each moment of life more difficulties than the person who is just existing.

For example, someone needs to pass an exam to become a member of our community. Some of our last «exams» were to juggle 5 balls for a minute; to learn circular breathing to play a didgeridoo; to create a special internet shop; to buy a tractor and to build an idol as high as possible. But this is not all.
We chose 12 qualities, and created a system of developing these qualities.

Some of them are:
1.intellect, health, enthusiasm
2.initiative, flexibility, strength
3.openness, purposefulness, self-stability
4.kindness, awareness, creativity

And after someone becomes a part of our community he or she also begins to develop some personal qualities. Of course, this is very much connected with his or her style of being, so usually she or he begins to change the way of life they lived before.

For example, one of my friends, who I had known for more than 20 years, was living in Saint-Petersburg, where she had worked as pediatrician. She lived a mainstream ordinary life, but at some moment she began to come to our workshops, to participate in our activities, and slowly she became a member of our community. As a result, she changed her lifestyle: She quit her job (which was difficult), she sold her flat, she divorced her husband, and she is now trying to organize her new life in our community, building a rabbit farm, producing and selling puzzles in St Petersburg, and learning archery. In this example, her life style became much more complex than it was before.

And as a result of overcoming these complexities, one’s comfort zone will quickly expand. As a result, at the boundaries of this zone there may be some difficulties, but within this wider field, their comfort becomes greater.

For example, if at the beginning of practice somebody can sleep only in a soft bed, now he may also be able to sleep in sleeping bag, on a hard floor, in a hot room, in the cold, or in any climate condition. But this process of the development of adaptive capacity takes some time and goes through some difficulties.

Thinking on the question about "Do you find that living or working in an intentional community or other cooperative group is itself a spiritual practice?”
We decide that we don't think that life in community itself is a spiritual practice. But we distinguish communities of two types:

1. Refuge place. Many Communities are a place of refuge for their members, where people can escape the complexity of regular life.
2. Development place. Other Communities (a small group), which intend this spiritual development as described above, see their members finding themselves in areas of more complexity, when compared to regular, everyday social life. If someone developed him/her self to some point in this community and then stopped developing, he would still live in community, but he would live in conditions that are more complicated than outside social environment. It may not evolve him/her, but, because conditions are more complex it would not be correct to call that "just" living in community".

Some other aspect of spirituality of our community you may come to understand through our answers on the following questions:

How important is ritual in bringing you together as a group and ensuring community cohesion? What kinds of ritual (whether daily or occasional) are especially powerful or important for you?

Our group is not religious society, so there are no rituals which we are creating, or cultivating, or using. Our group, as we see it, is a spiritual community, so our group unifies not by rituals, but through life style, similar life style, close life style, and this resonates between close life styles, common values, providing the sustanability of our group.

Sometimes, for outside people, some of our practices could be seen as rituals, for example, we build several doors, and work with them, e.g., as doors which lead to unknown. David Lukoff, president of the American Transpersonal Association, who had been our guest last summer, claims that this is one of our unique rituals.

What challenges does spirituality, and/or lack of it, pose to a group?

It's looks to us that whole world is a challenge for human beings, which creates emotions, affects, feelings. It manifests problems of human beingness, who gets affective reactions, and affect is the sign that the problem is complicated for him, so far this is the edge.

In much the same way, we tend to look at problems we meet, at some difficulties in the world, to all of that, but each one of us, on some individual level, on each individual stage of spiritual development, so far a lot of experiences appear in each of us.

Our group sees itself as new wave of spiritual seekers. Possibly we could be described as a vangard New Age group, or holistic movement. So far, out world picture include isomorphism, high tolerance level, multiple possibilities of spiritual growth, so each may solve the task of transendence in an infinite number of ways.

In our community we are eager to create new worldview, and we call this worldview – DA-Dzin. DA means – YES in Russian, which is concentration on integration with World and Dzin (sounds like ring), which shows that irrational part of human beings is also really important.

As an examples of our actual projects:
Producing, collecting and selling of puzzles –
Building community on the land  –
EnlightenNext (Andrew Cohen) in Russian –
MAPS in Russia -
Transformational Game in Russia –
and many other things....

Tatjana Ginzburg is one of the leaders of this community, has a PhD in transpersonal psychology, is a Game Master, the first Russian Accredited Facilitator of Transformational Game from Findhorn, and a professional breathworker (Rebirthing, Vivation, Holotropic Breathwork).


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