Barbara Harris Whitfield and Charles L Whitfield
Jul 16, 2021
The 1971 film Harold and Maude is a film classic that most people — if they liked it, have watched over and over again. On first view, there is much on death, depression and life –being totally alive.
Actress Ruth Gordon’s character Maude, who is turning 80 years old explains beautifully when Harold, a very young, depressed and immature man asks:
Harold: Maude, Do you pray?
Maude: No. I communicate.
Harold: With God?
Maude: With Life!
Maude brings up an excellent point about prayer. We were taught in our traditional religions that praying is talking to or asking God. The conversation is flowing from us to a Supreme Being.
Current writings on spirituality explain how to communicate with a Supreme Being or “Higher Power,” or what we naturally perceive as something greater than ourselves — our own “God of our understanding.” (Whitfield 2006).
If we pay attention to our life, as Maude suggests, we perceive an answer coming back to us. And thus, natural spirituality allows us our own interpretation. (Perry 2009).
Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant proposes that eight positive emotions: awe, love, trust/faith, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, joy and hope constitute what we mean by spirituality. He argues that spirituality is not about ideas, sacred texts and theology. Rather, spirituality is about emotion and social connection. His book, Aging Well is based on a study that prospectively charted the lives of 824 men and women for over 60 years. Dr. Vaillant concludes:
“Spirituality is virtually indistinguishable from these positive emotions and is, thus, rooted in our evolutionary biology. Because these emotions are also the same ones for which most religions strive, spirituality is a common denominator for all faiths.” (Vaillant 2008)
Spirituality is the generic umbrella term for our own intimate personal relationship with our self, others and if we choose — God. (Whitfield 2006, 2009). Individual religions are a specific brand name. Religion and spirituality can support one another. Some people within parts of some organized religions are afraid of the expansiveness expressed by some spiritual seekers or they confuse New Age terminology with spirituality.
My colleagues and I have interviewed thousands of people who had Near-Death Experiences and we witnessed living proof that religion and spirituality can harmoniously enhance each other — or spirituality can stand alone in a well balanced peaceful life. It’s our choice.
Buddhists exemplify a spiritual relationship with life almost without ever mentioning a Supreme Being (some have said that their closest word might be Shunyata, which loosely means “emptiness” or the Void). They practice compassion which extends their being to others – to all sentient beings (those who are conscious, alert, attentive, awake and responsive) and to those who still sleep or are unconscious.
Spirituality and the “New Age” long were lumped together. I propose a separation between the two. The New Age is really old spiritual philosophy reframed so that some of us can understand it better. However, over time charlatans have moved in (as they have in other movements). They capture their audiences with charismatic personalities and aren’t evolved enough to balance their ego with their new found or invented wisdom. They can sound narcissistic to many who criticize and are turned off by what they mistakenly see as “New Age.” Some even teach and preach psychic abilities as the end all when that is just a development that may happen along the way.
Somewhere in this confusion, people become psychic magnets for others painful emotions because no one is talking or writing about healthy boundaries. (See section on Spiritual Bypass in Whitfield 1995, 2006).
Lately, a few of these self-made gurus turned authors, have turned to materialism as their agenda: how to get more, more stuff, more money, and the like. The positive feelings, emotions and attitudes of true spirituality bring us into and beyond focusing on ourselves and into compassion and service for others (as described in The Law of One/ The RA Contact). So we move out of the endless maze of trying to control painful, sometimes called “negative” thinking and feeling and into an openness to learning more about ourselves, others and — a Higher Power. (Whitfield 2006)
Harold and Maude became extremely controversial to some because of the ending. If you haven’t seen it, it’s easy to find on line. I won’t ruin the ending for you but I did watch it again recently (probably my 14th time) and noticed (for the first time) that Maude for a split second showed the inside of her lower arm where numbers were tattooed. With all of her wisdom that she delights us with throughout the film, this new insight into her history is again revealed. She didn’t just experience a WWII concentration camp – she learned from it. This film shows all the wisdom she gains from each and every experience.
I would like to propose another reason why I love this film so much! Maude is giving us a first hand look not only at the wisdom gained from a lifetime – but a real up close look at Natural Spirituality. Even though at almost 80 years old, she radiates a youthful love of life, that isn’t her aim. Her “Youthfulness” is a spilling over, a side effect of embracing her age and finding every meaning she can out of every experience.
I will be turning 80, God willing, in two years and I hope and pray to continue to embrace life as Maude has taught us.