2010-11-08

Seeking the Sacred. But Why?

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

17th century representation of the 'third eye'...
Image via Wikipedia

Listened to an interesting discussion with Stephanie Dowrick (“psychotherapist, interfaith minister, writer and commentator”) on national radio this morning — http://www.abc.net.au/rn/lifematters/stories/2010/3058168.htm — arguing for the need for us to value all life, others, etc. and that this can be achieved through a new self-awareness or identity that comes via a spiritual mindset or consciousness.

I agreed completely with the values she was expressing, but kept wondering: Why the need for “spirituality” in order to embrace them?

Is it not enough to see us all as vulnerable members of the one species? To see oneself as one with others simply on the basis that we all have the same basic needs and desires, were all born as helpless babies and someone cared for us enough to enable us to survive and be where we are now? Does not such a thought, or awareness, consciousness or whatever, humble us enough to see us all “as one”, so that when we lose our cool with a colleague, it does not take too much to calm us and forgive? And of those who are really bad, who do harm and relish in doing harm to others, we can at least maintain some sense (most times) of understanding the makeup and background of such a person, so that we do not have to lower ourselves to respond in kind.

And proactively, does not such an awareness — an awareness that is based entirely on the genetic facts that we all share — direct us to seek to alleviate, help, improve the lot (where we can) of our fellows? Some join Meals on Wheels, some Amnesty International, some Rotary, some the World Socialist Forum, some teaching and volunteer work, some risk their lives with activist subversion, and some just like to give their small change to beggars.

We do all of these things for different reasons, but I personally find it enough to know that we are all here for a short time, with the same genes, the same feelings, pains, hopes, loves, frustrations, needs.

I don’t see the least need to envision anything “spiritual” to bring all this together at all.

But if some find that image works, then I guess that’s good for them. I can understand that my “this is all there is” view has had a bad press and some may have been conditioned to find the very idea leaves them cold. But to me, the awareness that “this is all there is” makes all this more precious than ever.

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

  • mcduff
    2010-11-08 23:40:14 GMT+0000 - 23:40 | Permalink

    David Suzuki was, still may be, in Australia recently so I got out his book “Wisdom of the Elders” [written 1992] and started re-reading it.
    Lots of good stuff so far and you and your readers may consider this appropriate.

    On the topic of eco crises.

    “Some of the leading scientific thinkers who are trying to find solutions to the ecocrisis are using terms hitherto considered inappropriate in science.
    Thus, Standford University ecologist Paul Erlich believes that the answer to the global difficulties will be ‘quasi-religious’. He suggests that our main dilemma is not a lack of information or technological capability. Rather our problem is inherent in the way we perceive our relationship with the rest of Nature and our role in the grand scheme of things.
    Harvard biologist E.O.Wilson proposes that we foster ‘biophilia’ a love of life. He once told me “We must rediscover our kin, the other plants and animals with whom we share our planet ….to know our kin is to love and cherish them”.
    page xxiv

    Now I don’t entirely agree with all that I have read so far and it must be remembered that this was written when science was still in the thrall of reductionism and when specialization was the vogue, when the ‘hard’ sciences dominated in terms of prestige even more than they do now.

    But its an interesting perspective and deserves far more attention in these days when economic rationalism and free market fundamentalism still, despite the GFC, rule the political world of the West [using that cardinal point loosely].

    And re reading the book every few pages or so I get struck by something he or his co-author have written and think how bleedin’ obvious it is, how apt, how necessary it is and how neglected the perspective they bring is to the way we are forced to live.

    I’ll leave you with this:

    “Scientific expertise is so narrowly focused and specialized that it can barely comprehend the dimensions and the interconnectedness of life”.

    • 2010-11-09 04:10:34 GMT+0000 - 04:10 | Permalink

      Your E.O. Wilson quote strikes particularly close to home. (Except the biophilia word sounds too much on a continuum with necrophilia for total comfort.)

      When I had left religion and belief in God I needed to find some new anchor, some starting point from which to rebuild my sense of place in the world. Around the same time I had read a response (was it Joseph Campbell?) to the question “What is the purpose of life?” that noted that life has no more purpose than rocks or non-life; it just is. Life is essentially cells doing their thing, and that is to reproduce, grow, seek comfort or the optimum conditions for their existence. That’s all life does. But it opened up for me what I think some people call a “spirituality”.

      Just between you and me, I spent a lot of time just looking at and thinking about “life” — the plants and trees and vines in the area, the many varieties of birds with their different “life-styles”, lizards, fish in the lagoon; and then exploring the variety within human anthropology. I saw no need to call it “spirituality” — it is just a deepening awareness of what we are a part of. We are not part of God, just part of the simplicities of living things. I think it’s more “reductionism” than anything “spiritual”, but it expands ones understanding of what one is a part of, and it is natural to extend a sense of caring or compassion for what we see ourselves as part of.

      The worst thing about us is our “tribalism”, our “groupism”, caring mostly for extensions of ourselves. We know the negative side of this. But it’s also our best survival device, too, and all it takes to eliminate the negative side is to expand our “group” to include all life.

  • pearl
    2010-11-09 04:34:40 GMT+0000 - 04:34 | Permalink

    I don’t see the least need to envision anything “spiritual” to bring all this together at all.

    But if some find that image works, then I guess that’s good for them. I can understand that my “this is all there is” view has had a bad press and some may have been conditioned to find the very idea leaves them cold. But to me, the awareness that “this is all there is” makes all this more precious than ever.

    I applaud your conscious vision of humans “as one.” I also applaud religionists who have this view. My opinion is that it certainly would help our common existence if more people shared these feelings and thoughts of interconnectedness, not just giving it lip service.

    Neil, your “awareness” that “this is all there is” is, of course, a belief system as much as those who think that they have “awareness” of spirit is also a belief system. I submit that an idea of interconnectedness is very much a human vision that is simpatico with many worldviews.

    On an extreme scale, people who engage divisive aspects of any belief systems that have rigid lines of demarcation as to right and wrong beliefs and then act out by harming others in countless ways obviously do not share this vision.

    But lack of a vision of interconnectedness on some level is also a common human trait regardless of belief system. When people get involved in a very narrow focus, whether it be religion or science (as mcduff pointed out) or simple daily pursuits, it can be easy to lose sight of the overall picture.

    It might seem cold to some people to envision their lives as “this is all there is,” even though there seems to be a kind of grounding in terms of an existent life. Then again, it might seem superfluous and irrational to others to envision some kind of conscious afterlife in heaven or other types of spiritual afterlife after death, even though many share this view.

    Another type of belief embraces, or at least recognizes, and then bypasses personal gods as well as naturalism and other belief systems to believe in, what some might call an extreme or even unnecessary view, an ultimate mystery that is entirely unknown to us, at least in our present state. We cannot automatically assign to ‘it’ purposefulness or limits or even what we perceive to be existence or being, natural or spiritual.

    That can be not only cold, but also unnerving and unhinging. Yet it can also serve to place responsibility for our lives right back in our laps, as well as let us wonder if and how we could be interconnected with or part of this mystery, as well as with each other, or,… on the other hand, whether such a concept is viable, even if we are capable of such a notion.

    And so, going full circle, we’re back to theories. And perhaps some have some genuineness.

    Life and learning aren’t a perfect garden party. However, I prefer a journey that involves learning by sharing our commonality and constructively comparing rather than outright abusing our differences.

  • mikelioso
    2010-11-09 04:42:24 GMT+0000 - 04:42 | Permalink

    I agree with you on the hesitancy to ascribe any thing I do as “spiritual” since it seems to imply a belief in that mysterious form of matter, spirit, for which there is no evidence. Effectively though the word can also mean “symbolically”, which while non material outside our brains, is a powerful influence on us. Maybe “spiritual” sounds more noble than “self deluded” which would be how an Epicurean might describe someone who does things for others without hope of reward.

  • 2010-11-09 06:53:16 GMT+0000 - 06:53 | Permalink

    Indeed, it should not take spirituality, but it does help to have cultured such attitudes in ones mind. The trick is how to do that.

  • mcduff
    2010-11-09 14:17:52 GMT+0000 - 14:17 | Permalink

    Yeah, the ‘philia’ part of ‘biophilia’ jarred with me a bit when I first read it. Which is a shame cos it simply means ‘love’ and look what we have done to the word and concept. Sad ain’t it?

    I [well actually we] live on a property in Australia which has been inhabited for at least 12,000 years.
    Thats the date that known archeological material at my place has been given.
    Its pretty certain that deeper investigations would push that date backwards by a lot.

    Among other ancient artifacts at my place 8 bodies have been identified and dated to around said 12,000 years and I have been allowed the honour of touching some. They are buried under shifting sands and various bits get exposed from time to time.

    Now it gives you a strange emotion to stand on land that you ‘own’ in a white fella sense, that you have a paper deed of ‘ownership’ for, and hold in your hand the remnant of the body of a person who walked and lived at ‘your’ place so many years ago much like, in essence, you are doing now.

    There is a connection.

    Now I’m not eloquent enough to convey that emotion, well actually a range of emotions, to you, I’ll have to let your imagination help out.

    At the end of the first day that I was involved in a proper archeological survey [preliminary in nature] of ‘my’ place, I was on my cliff that night looking at the site which is about 500 metres away and having a quiet think.
    Up walked the archeologist, who is an indigenous person, and we had a talk.

    She said something along the line that this was obviously a spiritual thing for me, that I was affected.
    She used the word ‘spiritual’.
    I said I was not religious but yes I was affected.
    She said I didn’t need to be religious to feel affinity with the place, the physical place, nor with the people who were my predeccessors at ‘our’ place which therefore ‘we’ share over a time frame of many millenia.
    So we agreed to share the emotion, the connections, without necessarily sharing some of the other meanings of the words [spiritual, religious] and the overtones they carry in this society.
    Actually I reckon its a shame some of the meanings of those emotions/words have been co-opted to include religion at the expense of connection as if those elements are incompatible.
    I can feel spirituality [very very loosely defined, I don’t want to see a dictionary here] without religion.

    Hopefully we can stretch this sharing into the future.
    Assuming, and its a big assumption, the willingness and the ability to associate oneself with place and people without all the materialist overtones of exclusive ownership that western fuedalism/capitalism/christianity brings to the issue of land ownership can be overcome.
    And I’m not optimistic about that in our larger world.

  • 2010-11-09 15:33:31 GMT+0000 - 15:33 | Permalink

    How to do that (as per Silvio’s comment)? I envy those who seem to have grown up encultured in those attitudes.

    Time and space to reflect are basic. One of the “cult mind control” techniques is to keep members busy. Not that it’s restricted to cults, obviously. One of the most ironical things to observe is the busy-ness of some of us in trying to “balance” their lives. Been there, done that.

    McDuff, your experience of seeing and touching those from the distant past whose travels you share today brought to mind my INability to touch physically or emotionally the bones and teeth exposed in one of the crude graves in one of Cambodia’s killing fields. The strongest feeling I had was awareness that I was not moved as I felt was my duty to be moved. The exposed bones had become a cordoned off exhibit pointed out by a guide repeating the story as he had no doubt scores of times before, and with a sign warning visitors not to step too close.

    There’s no subsititute for experiencing without all the mediating trappings.

    Pearl, to draw on the Vardis Fisher influence in me, I wonder if the mystery idea is another way of seeking the all-wise parent in our lives. Does that mean a part of us never matures? I know you speak of accepting responsibility, though.

    To speak of alternative meanings to “spiritual”, such as “symbolical” (mikelioso), probably comes closest to how I have interpreted the word. I used to prefer the word “poetry” or the “poetic” experience.

    The meanings of words can be diluted to the point of losing all special significance, as has already been said here. We can even speak of crowds at a football match sharing a religious experience. It may be harder to think of them sharing a poetic one, though?

    • pearl
      2010-11-10 01:04:29 GMT+0000 - 01:04 | Permalink

      Neil:

      Pearl, to draw on the Vardis Fisher influence in me, I wonder if the mystery idea is another way of seeking the all-wise parent in our lives. Does that mean a part of us never matures? I know you speak of accepting responsibility, though.

      I suppose “mystery” can mean many different things to people. It could mean mysteries of nature, mysteries of spirit, and so on. “All-wise parent” was not what I meant by that. I was trying to convey, probably not effectively, that unknown means just that, “unknown.” In other words, as I said:

      an ultimate mystery that is entirely unknown to us, at least in our present state. We cannot automatically assign to ‘it’ purposefulness or limits or even what we perceive to be existence or being, natural or spiritual.

      I probably should have specifically added that we cannot automatically assign anthropomorphic qualities. It’s not that these aren’t possibilities, but being an ultimate mystery, we really don’t know. That does not mean we cannot discover some or even great understanding, but that some kind of ultimate knowledge of “unknown” still eludes us. Of course, this would not apply to those who believe they have figured everything out.

      Relating this to your post, relationships seem inevitable in our world. To me, the maturing you mention would recognize the value of developing healthy relationships, not the idea that we can outgrow them altogether. People can speak in terms of naturalistic interconnectedness or some kind of spiritual connectedness to a god and humans, etc. I was trying to look at an overall picture that didn’t necessarily rely on an ultimate mystery with anthropomorphic qualities and also did not necessitate only a naturalistic worldview, but that could consider the possibility of ‘relationship’ for its own sake, encompassing many views.

      If there is an ultimate unknown, then eventually we just might end up looking to ourselves for answers regarding relationship and consider what we do know without either abandoning or forcing qualities onto an “unknown”.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.