“From sweeping to archery, any activity can become an opportunity for spirituality”

A practitioner of kyudo, a Zen-inspired form of archery, at a dojo in Yudanaka, Japan.

Normalien and graduate of letters, former professor of French at Yale University (United States), writer and creator of the collection “The color of ideas” at the editions of Seuil, Jean-Luc Giribone publishes Beyond wisdom. How to live ? (Threshold, 160 pages, 19.50 euros). A stimulating and scholarly work that questions spirituality while avoiding two pitfalls, those of intellectualism and personal development. But what spirituality are we talking about? In an interview at Worldthe author erts that “any activity can become spiritual”.

Spiritual research, you explain, does not involve great mystical ecstasy. It can be deployed, to cite an example present in the book, through the practice of archery. How would you define spirituality then?

Spirituality extends to everything. It’s not a particular domain, but a way of looking at and living…all domains. I compare spirituality to poetry. Everything is poetic, everything is spiritual, for those who have an awakened gaze. It is basically the name of a potential quality of things, acts and words.

Spirituality is a practice of the self which leads to perception, to grasping the being of things, the essence of activities. It is therefore deeply rooted in everyday life, and at the same time borders on the absolute; its home is the present moment, and its scope infinite. This is why it can lead, if one chooses, to metaphysics.

It is also why any activity – be it archery, martial arts, work, or other daily practices – can become, to use an expression of the editor Elsa Rosenberger, “an opportunity for spirituality”. A very illuminating book by German philosopher Eugen Herrigel [1884-1955] (Zen in the chivalrous art of archery1948, published in French in 2016 by Dervy editions) shows this with regard to archery: this practice can only reach perfection if we “forget ourselves” in the gesture that we perform.

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Dance is also a good example. But any physical activity, manual, technical, artistic, artisanal, or other, can play this role – you just have to ign it to it. The Buddhist monk Shide, friend of the great Chinese poet Hanshan [VIIe siècle], always represented with his broom, symbolizes this idea well. A mundane act, like sweeping the courtyard of a temple, can be a spiritual act. It’s very deep. This even has social consequences: all professions, even those that some devalue, can have a spiritual dimension.

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