"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.” (29)
- Carl Sagan The Demon-Haunted World (1996)
“Days and nights, seasons and tides cycles of fertility, rest and activity: all are reflections of the rhythms imposed upon us by celestial motions. They have influenced where, and how, people may live; the elements that they must overcome; the shelter and dress they must construct, and the stories that they tell about it all.” (114)
- John D. Barrow The Artful Universe (1995)
“The practice of observing the natural world – of getting down on one’s hands and knees before a tide pool, a lichen, a quail, a silent stone, learning from such wild things all one can about their place, their life, their needs, and doing this over and over again, over days and years – is humility’s medium. In such moments, our vision is renewed, our sense of proper place in the world is both strengthened and deepened.” (110)
- Lyanda Lynn Haupt Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent (2006)
Life is an adventure; spiritually understood. While there will be quiet times as well as stormy ones, and though we are sometimes more at home and at ease with ourselves and our path than at others, living is always a matter of negotiating the choices and maneuvering around or through the obstacles that come to be ‘in our way,’ whether by accident or intent. We make plans, and think we know where we are going, but we don’t usually end up exactly where we intended. This is the adventure_ to path consciously; not to be drawn along by the crowd; to be awake in the flux and flow—not to be a pawn of circumstances, if we can help it.
This is what spirituality is all about, from one vantage point; awakening, living intentionally, staying in the moment while remaining open to possibilities and nurturing an awareness of the ‘big picture’ as it unfolds and a it is ‘disclosed’ to us as we live. Given who we are, any genuine spiritual adventuring today is also going to be characterized by an attention to Nature; for we are manifestations of the Earth & Cosmos. Like every other human being, and every other living thing on this planet, we are each an end result of the processes of evolution that have brought us into existence.
That we are of the earth makes us ‘earthen;’ to acknowledge this inspires us to live life close to the Earth; to experience being in the Earth (not merely “on” it); to express our being as of the Earth. As the Earth is tilted on its axis, our planet is characterized by seasons that are different at different latitudes, so to be spiritually awake to where we are, we must experience ourselves and moving through the seasons. As the seasons are different at different latitudes, a naturalistic spirituality will not be some monolithic thing; it will not be the same for everyone everywhere. It is specific to your location in the Earth; what latitude you live at, and thus what kind of seasons you live through each year in the turning of the wheel. I have always lived in a temperate zone; where there are four seasons. Thus, for me, life is characterized by an awareness of my movement through the cycle Winter—Spring—Summer—Autumn.
As a spiritual adventurer, I strive to experience each season as deeply and vividly as possible; to go through each year with anticipations of what is coming as well as with an acceptance of what-is. When it's winter, it's winter—and I allow myself to experience that. When it's summer; it's summer—and I likewise allow myself to experience that. To live awake within the Earth & Cosmos is to seek to always be in-touch with what's going on in the natural world and to live-out-of that experience, not in denial of it. There is beauty and sublimity in each season that we can experience; if we allow ourselves to be awake to it. There may also be something about each season that frustrates us; something we would rather avoid or 'wish' weren't part of what is 'given' to us in that season. In response to this, I find it healthy to accept what cannot be changed, to try and learn to live with it; embracing as I am able as part of what it means to be dwelling in the Earth where I am.
However we live and whatever path we are on, we are always in the Earth; we are creatures who have evolved on this planet – in these particular bio-systems – and have specific life histories, going all the way back to the Archean Period (2.5 – 4.6 billion years ago). Any genuine spirituality – not to mention any religion – must take account of this deep history of our being-in-becoming, or else be engulfed in illusion. As the quest for truth is a part of any genuine spirituality, to persist in believing things that have been proven untrue, is to be spiritually self-deceived; or even worse – deluded by spiritual mentors and teachers who teach these falsehoods. Creationism is one of the worst lies being perpetrated by so-called spiritual leaders today—it alienates people from how the Earth & Cosmos have actually come into being, and – if you believe that a Divine Being ‘created’ the universe, this lie blinds you to that Divine Creator’s actual creativity.
To understand the Earth & Cosmos, we must have at least a basic comprehension of the ‘Big Story’ implied by the revelations of the various sciences. About this story, Eric Chaisson once commented, in Cosmic Evolution (2001) that:
“The evolutionary epic … is as ennobling as any religion—enlightening, majestic, awesome, providing a sense of the “ultimate.” Material reality, when scientifically analyzed in both depth and breadth, brings to mind not only elegant grandeur and a sacred narrative comparable to any religious tradition, but also enriching empiricism and a genuine connection to the cosmos extending into deep history much older than most religions.’ (221)“Put bluntly yet magnanimously, the scenario of cosmic evolution grants us unparalleled “big thinking,” from which may well emerge the global ethics and planetary citizenship likely needed if our species is to remain part of that same cosmic-evolutionary scenario.” (224)
Beyond this, an earthen spirituality must also embrace our aesthetic and personal experiences of Nature, as well as the stories that emerge from our own wanderings, engagement with natural phenomena and our enjoyment of particular places in Nature. Coming to consciousness of our place in Nature requires both (1) experiencing Nature for ourselves and (2) a devotion to studying the Earth & Cosmos from a scientific vantage point. An aesthetic appreciation of Nature and ourselves as manifestations of Nature complements these two elements, and enables us to move from understanding to felt significance; that is, ‘meaning.’
Being open to Nature from an aesthetic and experiential standpoint brings our emotions into play. This is spiritually rewarding and beneficial, as we are emotional as well as rational beings. To live spiritually, you must incorporate all that you are; everything that would make you a healthy human being—from physical to emotional to mental health—into your vision of what it is possible to become in this life. Spiritualities that deny part of human nature usually end in distorting the human soul and killing the spirit; they may have the a traditional ‘form’ of spirituality, yet they neglect the ‘power’ that is possible, because their understanding of human nature is truncated or distorted. A spirituality grounded in our experience and understanding of Nature and in what science has revealed to us about ourselves has the potential to avoid such distortions.
Adventuring though the seasons ultimately leads – almost inevitably – to depth experience and epiphanies; i.e., those moments when the extraordinary emerges from the ordinary. Those who dwell deeply in their earthen condition; open to Nature and all of its nuances—become able to 'see' more than those who just go through life at the surfaces of things. Depth experience is the result of immersion in Nature over many years; it leads one on toward wisdom’s henges. For those who live awake to beauty and mystery of Earth & Cosmos, what can be called 'extraordinary' experiences periodically emerge out of the ordinary background in which we immerse ourselves as naturalists.
As you path through each season where you live, experiencing the ordinary things that are characteristic of it, you sensitize yourself to be ready for 'unique' or 'epiphanic' experiences when they happen. Standing out from the ordinary daily rounds and experiences with which you have become intensely intimate; these experiences – these sudden moments of brighter awakening or ‘self transcendence’ in which an insight or a sensed meaning may be couched – are vivid surprises, and they may only last a few moments, perhaps minutes, before fading. You cannot make them happen, but if you are adventuring through the seasons in a spiritually open way, you will be more likely to be ‘present’ to them when they do happen.
Another fruit of adventuring though the seasons is the tendency to gather up symbols, natural ‘icons’ and themes along the way that characterize each season for you. As you get below the surface experience of your surroundings and begin to gather touchstones of depth, certain things will come to be closely identified with each season. Over the last couple of years I have discussed in these blogs various symbols and imagery that have come to characterize each season for me, as an earthen adventurer. I have my “Hut of Dwelling” to which I go in meditation during the Winter, as well as the “Dolmen on the Heath” that I visit in the Summer. There are places out in the woods that I associate with each season, as well as themes – such as “Emergence” in the Spring and “Harvest” in the Autumn. By ‘collecting’ these symbols, themes and places, we can intensify our experience of Nature and distill meaning from it.
Eventually, an earthen seeker of wisdom will have a cache of experiences, symbols, memories, themes and imagined scenarios to draw upon for spiritual succor and sustenance. Adventuring through the seasons becomes the ‘nourishment’ that one needs to keep going; to continue living life and discovering ever more touchstones of meaning and self-understanding in the truths of Nature—of which we are manifestations. Meditation on Nature – in general brush strokes as well as in its particulars – becomes the praxis that sustains, keeps one alert and generates new insight and understanding. A return to the woods or a walk along a familiar trail becomes the desired re-creation that is needed to refresh the senses, re-enliven the soul and help engender flourishment; one of the primary goals of any genuine and life-affirming spirituality. Ultimately, an earthen spiritual adventurer will have their entire self-understanding transformed by their experiences, studies and meditations—they will see themselves as they truly are, and therein find the key to wisdom’s henges. So mote it be.
“In nature we never see anything isolated; everything is in connection with something.”
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe