Looking back now at my Methodist Sunday school years in rural Indiana, USA, I have come to believe that interest in spirituality for most Christians is narrowly focused on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, according to Christian doctrine, is God’s power in action. The Christian God is actually Yahweh, the name of the state God of the ancient Kingdom of Israel. Spirituality means many things to many people. If you wonder why I never quite got the picture or a lasting impression in Sunday school, just Google the definition of ‘spirituality.’
After I had been wandering for nearly 25 years in the wilderness without a personal spirituality, Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics piqued my interest in the relationship between science and spirituality. Subsequently, I attended a week’s seminar with Fritjof at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. This experience was the beginning of a gradual awakening and led me to a whole new world of thought and experience through the doorway of his next book, The Turning Point. I can still feel shockwaves of the “Aha!” as I turned a page and first read about the Gaia Hypothesis. Yes, yes; a living planet became the hub of so many connecting spokes. Of course, this explained why I had always felt so fascinated when standing near and looking at massive stone formations and clouds, listening to bird song, talking to trees and especially my childhood farm experience.
On the Farm
When I was eight years old, my grandparents bought a 60 acre farm in Indiana 50 miles from where we lived. We visited them on Sunday every other week. A couple of years later, my stepfather was called back to active duty in the US Navy. For that whole summer school break, (3 1/2 months) we moved in with my grandparents on the farm. Oh, how I loved helping out my grandfather with farm chores. The bottom fields bordered a river and a smaller creek that poured within the property into the river. Somewhat like Henry David Thoreau, I spent hours investigating and enjoying the other-than-human life in the creek, meadows, apple orchard, corn fields, vegetable gardens and large barn etc. on the farm. The six milk cows and two huge dray horses all had names and there was water to hand pump into the trough, cleaning of the milking parlour, a wagons of oats to shovel into the oats bin, corn to shuck for the cows to eat during the milking, apples to pick up from the orchard, eggs to gather from the hen house and yet time for me to go fishing and explore the pastures, river bank and woodland. I found that the beautiful garter snake could rear up and present a serious defensive posture when I ventured too near. At dusk, the night shift came alive: the insect orchestra of katydids, crickets, nightjars, owls and bats. Then there were the fireflies and the large worms we called night crawlers who came out to lie on the grass hoping for a mating partner. I was surrounded night and day in a shared existence and came to know intimately who lived where! I believe this experience helped me to gain a visceral knowing of the living Earth. Our Sunday visits continued until I left home at 18. There is a saying that goes something like this: you can take the boy out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.
The Turning Point
Having looked back, I now realize that my turning point occurred soon after reading Capra’s book when I attended a group session at Esalen with Elizabeth Stratton, a psychic healer. Elizabeth asked us all to close our eyes and meditate while she went around the room opening our heart chakras. Well, I didn’t know a chakra from an adjustable spanner. When it was my turn, I felt her presence in front of me and sneaked a half-second peek, observing that she held her hands a bare inch from my chest. It felt as though I had done an immense exhalation and subsequently I felt lighter and more at ease. Thereafter, the events in my life took on a pattern of discovery, openness and a radical aliveness. My new pattern of discovery came to me more like a gradual awakening, certainly not a sudden flash of deep insight. Soon to follow were key events which seemed to occur at mind-blowing speed. A casual friend sent me a copy of a magazine that contained an ad for seminars at Esalen. I saw where Rupert Sheldrake was offering a weekend seminar. Not only was Rupert outstanding, but at that seminar I met the woman (Marian), who was eventually to become my wife.
Whilst looking through Marian’s fascinating book collection, I happened upon a book by Ken Wilber and discovered non-dualism. I felt a strong desire to understand the subject but try as I might, I couldn’t grasp the concepts. Specifically, I just couldn’t understand sentences like; to think that there is a me in here looking out on a world out there is an illusion. There is just the seeing. I thought: ‘Of course there is a me in here, how could it be otherwise?’ But knowing somehow that I needed to understand and couldn’t, bothered me intensely.
It was also through Marian that I became interested in an elderly Swiss spiritual teacher, Jean Klein, who spoke from the heart about the non-duality aspects of Advaita Vedanta. After reading some of his dialogues with seekers I became hooked and bought several more of his books plus that of other non-duality teachers such as Nisargatta, Alan Watts and Ramana Maharshi. After attending several group sessions with Jean I became an unofficial student and serious follower. Towards the end of each of these sessions, he would ask, “Are there any questions?” One night, when he did this I held up my hand and as our eyes locked, I became aware of the feeling that I was looking through eternity. I was so shaken by the experience that I can’t remember my question nor his answer. What I do remember is a strong feeling of love and peacefulness and the knowing that I was completely free of any obligations. I knew that I could rest completely in the joy of life just as I was. Perhaps I received what Hindus refer to as shaktipat, i.e. the awakening of spiritual awareness. Meanwhile, my Advaita Vedanta studies helped me to feel comfortable not only with the content of Ken Wilber’s book, but also the teachings of Advaita Vedanta.
The following quote summarises how Jean Klein saw reality according to his non-duality belief. “We are in essence one with all existence; when we truly observe ourselves there is ultimately no observer, only observation–awareness.” (Klein, J, Who Am I?: The Sacred Quest.)
So if that which is being aware is consciousness and there is nobody “doing” the observing – and yet there is observing – then what must surely follow is that our essence must be consciousness.
My next step was questioning the non duality = one consciousness claim and I figured that each Earthen entity expresses consciousness according to its evolutionary development, especially the numbers of neurotransmitters and receivers that it possesses.
Exploring the Science / Spirituality Relationship
I concluded that science can be complementary in furthering the understanding of living beings and how they thrive, and that Systems Theory, especially the concept of holarchy, is a good place to start for the lay person and for those who love the Earth. But we must also remember to ask ourselves; does the Earth love us back? My answer to this question led me to my belief that it is the oneness of Earth energy that influenced the ancient Advaitists. We are first and foremost Earthlings and in the context of wholeness, we are being lived by Gaia within that wholeness.
Looking back at my early experience of religion I realized that the Enlightenment scientists and philosophers’ reaction to the overwhelming power of the Catholic Church caused them to throw out the baby with the bath water on the matter of spirituality. For many of them, science took the place of religion. (The divisive consequences of this substitution seem to have everlasting life!) Whereas both logical thinking and the intuitive messages or hunches we sometimes receive have their honoured place in the closet of the wise. However, they must be kept in balance.
Where I Am Now
I believe that love is Earthen energy. We don’t have love or get love, we are love. There are no separate beings competing for the many pleasures of Earthly existence. As a part of the outer skin, so to speak, of Gaia, we cooperate to the tune of a higher power.
As a result of my experience on the farm, hiking and camping in beautiful places coupled with my awakened awareness of what it is to be an Earthling, I believe that my feelings of being cared for, the emotional effect of natural beauty and the love of life come from the living, lovable spirit of Gaia.