AN UNQUESTIONED assumption lies at the heart of much modern thinking: it is that all spiritual experience lies within the head, private, subjective, and ultimately not an aspect of the real world, but merely a transient product of brain activity. The word spiritual itself has had something of a renaissance recently, perhaps owing to the decline of traditional religion and the influence of New Age beliefs. But its meaning is vague and unfocused, and sometimes even irritating in its usage.
Rupert Sheldrake puts paid to all that. Science and Spiritual Practices has an autobiographical thread that runs through a forceful apology for the deep reality of the spiritual dimension of our world. He takes issue with the new atheism of many scientists, which arises out of a mechanical and materialist view of the universe. The mind, according to this view, is merely an epiphenomenon of matter with no more significance than a shadow.
Sheldrake argues the contrary: that consciousness and the Spirit are the true fundamental realities of everything from the Big Bang, through planet-building and evolution, to the emergence of the human mind. Consciousness is even latent (or awake?) in the elector-magnetic fields of the sun; it is active in the flower-seeking senses of the insect (are they aware of beauty?). Through the practice of meditation and the regular expression of gratitude, we can begin to open ourselves to this transcendent reality that lies around and beyond us.
For readers wishing to follow his path, Sheldrake offers advice on seven ways in which we can begin to appreciate the transcendent world of the Spirit. A useful and very clear introduction to the practice of meditation, based on his own experience, comes first. This is followed by paying attention to the healing and happiness-creating power of gratitude. We learn how to connect with the more-than-human world of nature; to respect plants and explore the benefits of small orchards; to value rituals and experience pilgrimages; to enjoy the power of music through chanting. All these practices can deepen the meaning of our lives and open our minds to a universe flooded with consciousness.
The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.
Science and Spiritual Practices
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