The harmonius balance between Materiallsm and Spirituality
We are looking at how we create successful spiritually inspired community projects. Spirituality is the inspiration behind all such ventures, but they need to be created within the facilities and practices of the present materialistic paradigm. The key to success is to hold a balance between these conflicting scenarios and the next stage in our journey is to look at this paradox.
Over the last 200 years, the development of the sciences, and their remarkable achievements, has created an emphasis on materialism. The basis of this is the empirical method whereby a new theory is produced by an individual scientist, tested by others and, if the same result is achieved, accepted as a valid finding. It will be taken as a law if further experiments consistently show the same result. This approach has resulted in a wealth of new discoveries including those in communication, travel and allopathic medicine.
With the invention of the steam engine came the ability to harness power. With the understanding of electricity came the ability to transmit this power for use at a distance from its source. For the first time in the history of humankind, abundant power could be supplied anywhere, whereas before the only sources were localised water, wind and animal or human labour. This new source of power enabled factories to be established resulting in the mass migration from the countryside to the towns.
These two new avenues of development, science and accessible energy, generated a rising standard of living, with its labour saving device. With the rapid increase in scientific knowledge came a substantial improvement in health. People live longer and cures are available for a host of previously fatal diseases. This phenomenon is most marked in the West, but the rest of the world is catching up.
Material progress has a negative side. Starting with Newton and Descartes, nature came to be seen as a mechanical device, understandable by the application of mechanics and mathematics. This approach left little room for the divine or any form of spiritual influence.
All natural resources - the trees, creatures in the sea, beasts in the field, minerals – are seen as being freely available for harvest by humans to meet their material needs. The result is a finite supply of ores hungrily excavated from the earth and turned into physical products, often of an ephemeral nature. After a short life, these artefacts end up in landfill sites generating methane gas. This destructive action transforms limited useful resources into useless and dangerous rubbish.
This process is going on at an accelerating rate with almost complete disregard for its impact on the health of the planet. The pollution of the atmosphere and seas, caused by dirty methods of generating power, is leading to a man-made contribution to climate change, global warming, disturbance of weather patterns and the destruction of animal species. The concept of our world having a powerful and sensitive spiritual presence has been lost.
This situation has arisen with the growing dominance of a simplistic scientific outlook. Successes are achieved through the use of empirical and practical methods, based upon the ability to measure the movements and effects of material objects.
‘If it cannot be seen, felt, heard or measured, then it does not exist’
The Newtonian concept of nature being comparable to a machine, with separate individual components meshing with each other, led to the idea that pieces of the mechanism could be studied individually without taking into account their relationship to the whole. Previously the study of Natural Philosophy embraced all aspects of the organic and inorganic cosmos. Now narrow specialization arose producing an abundance of knowledge but with the loss of the idea of the universe as integrated, complete and alive.
Contemporary science does not include the realm of the mind as a valid subject for research and, in consequence, no concept of a ‘Universal Intelligence’, embracing and guiding the cosmos, is acceptable. Examining the physical brain and its various electrical functions is allowed, as this is measurable by suitable apparatus, but how ideas form is not a matter that can be investigated scientifically. The assumption is made that thoughts originate solely within the brain and not from an external source.
The world of the spirit may only be realized through subjective personal experience and is not measurable by objective observation. If this inner life cannot be recorded scientifically, then from a material point of view it does not exist and there can be no acceptable concept of an intelligent compassionate and wise universal consciousness. In consequence there is no understanding of the ability of the individual to raise his level of spiritual awareness. The only purpose in life must be to concentrate upon physical comfort, the acquisition of factual knowledge and worldly goods – and having fun.
We earlier looked at the world of the spirit. Despite the prevailing materialistic view, some progress is being made in accepting the possibility of a non-physical component to reality. The ‘depth psychologists’, including Jung, Assagioli and Maslow, all recognise a ‘lower’ unconscious and a ‘higher’ super-conscious. Awareness is growing of a form of intelligence and unity pervading the whole cosmos. In astronomy, discoveries are made almost daily, and it becomes ever more difficult to accept the chance creation of the astonishing array of gas clouds, galaxies, pulsars and red giants.
This new understanding is appearing in publications such as ‘The Scientific and Medical Network,’ ‘Resurgence’ and ‘Meditation Monthly’, and in a range of books endeavouring to explore the ways science and spirituality are compatible. Still only a minority of scientists share this awakening and the overriding paradigm is one of materialism and denial of the spiritual.
Achieving balance is the essence of the spiritual life. We are confronted on all sides with passionately held views, often diametrically opposed. This dichotomy or paradox occurs everywhere be it socialists versus conservatives, fracking enthusiasts versus anti-frackers, global warming enthusiasts or global warming deniers. The list is endless. Individuals believe their views are correct and those who disagree are not only wrong but may be a danger to society.
The task of the spiritually aware is to remain firmly centred and to listen with an open mind to all views. A more balanced understanding can only be reached when all views have been heard.
The task of the spiritually aware is to remain firmly centred and to listen with an open mind to all views.
Can these two differing outlooks be reconciled ? There are encouraging signs that this may be so.
Scientists have difficulty in accepting the concept of spirituality and many spiritually aware people are alarmed at the negative side of pure materialism. The root cause of the schism is the idea that physical proof is needed for a theory to be valid. This requires an external objective view to be the starting point from which measurements and further experiments can be made. In contrast, all spiritual experience is personal and subjective and not measurable in scientific terms and hence often dismissed as nebulous mysticism and superstition.
This conflict between materialism and spirituality leads to endless misunderstandings, and may well be one of the strongest influences inhibiting the realisation of peace and harmony throughout the world. At present, many are struggling to increase their material standard of living, often with disregard for the impact they are having on the world’s ecology. Others are endeavouring to promote their own particular view of religion, sometimes by violent means, with no concern for the effect on non-nonbelievers.
Superficially, these seem to be two different approaches. In fact they are not alternatives but both are essential for harmonious living. Science without spiritual understanding tends to misuse of the earth's resources, threatening our very existence. Spirituality lacking practicality leads to ineffectual projects. Only, by accepting the validity and necessity of both these paths, can we reach a wholesome balance. Sadly, this is not what we see today, where the rational-scientific view is dominating, whilst the intuitive, spiritual approach is seen by many as an illusion.
Despite the apparent differences between these two schools of thought, encouraging signs are appearing of a ‘reaching out’. Academia is exploring contemporary spirituality and Business is embracing the concept of mindfulness. Real progress is being made even though not always apparent.
There is a slow but growing awareness of the validity of both these poles. With spiritually inspiring community projects we cannot afford to wait for full harmony to be achieved but must work with our own concept of balance.
Glastonbury, as a pilgrimage town, needs ‘alternative’ people committed to serving the spiritual ‘energies’ of the place. Projects established will be in harmony with guidance and inspiration but also need to be managed and run in a practical manner. Essential to the efficient running of the town are the services of doctors, lawyers, street cleaners, food shops, cafes and accommodation. Ideally, for success of the whole, the providers of these facilities will understand the work of the spiritual centres.
Both aspects, working in harmony, are necessary if the town is to reach its full potential.
Awareness of the Whole and the need to work with materialism and spirituality is the essence of the projects at which we are looking. This is easily said but not as readily achieved. How we set about this we will discuss next.