Spiritual Science and the Holidays

As this year draws to a close, the holiday season is upon us. Christmas is both a materialistic celebration and a religious holiday—a convoluted intersection of opposing belief systems. But the real spirit of the season derives from a celebration of nature and the solstice’s pivot towards greater light—a celebration neither materialistic nor religious. It was spiritual.

It’s strange that religion and materialistic science—in conflict for centuries—can intersect at all, but one thing they have in common is that they are both in opposition to nature. While religion and spirituality sometimes overlap, they imply different things. Religion is generally belief-centric, dogmatic, and ideological, whereas spirituality is practice-oriented, in tune with the season, and experiential. These differences have significant ramifications.

Dr. Steve Taylor, author of Spiritual Science: Why Science Needs Spirituality to Make Sense of the World, writes, “Every culture needs a metaphysical system to make sense of the world, a belief system that answers fundamental questions about human life, the world and reality itself.” I had Dr. Taylor on Pathways Radio and Podcasts. We discussed these belief systems, as well as the growing role of spirituality.

“Spirituality wakes us up, opens us up to the aliveness and sacredness and nature, and reconnects us to the world,” Taylor wrote. Aside from dogma and morality, “[Traditional religions] encourage compassion and altruism, teach us to be co-operative rather than competitive, to be moderate rather than hedonistic, and tell us that we shouldn’t expect complete fulfillment in this life.”

Scientific materialism, on the other hand, is a reaction to religion. “Our culture is in thrall to a particular paradigm…which in its own way is just as dogmatic and irrational as a religious paradigm,” writes Taylor. “This is the belief system of materialism, which holds that matter is the primary reality…and that anything that appears to be non-physical—such as the mind, our thoughts, consciousness, or even life itself—is physical in origin, or can be explained in physical terms.”

Many people see materialism—which ultimately negates anything but the physical—as the only alternative to religion. Taylor calls this ‘scientism,’ which is dogmatic, like religion. This materialistic paradigm promotes rampant consumerism, hedonism, status-seeking, competitiveness, and environmental destruction. After all, if nature is but a biological machine whose sole function is to sustain us, then as long as we continue to survive, there is no inherent value in maintaining other species or their ecosystems. By placing God outside of Nature, religions support this attitude too.

There is a fundamental sense of meaninglessness that takes hold without spirituality, but Taylor is optimistic that we are heading into a post-materialistic phase, where there’s growing room for a spiritual worldview. This viewpoint honors the insights of philosophers, physicists, mystics, as well as spiritual traditions and indigenous cultures. “The idea that the essence of reality is a non-material, spiritual quality is one of the oldest and most common cross-cultural concepts,” writes Taylor, and he explains how modern science is converging with mysticism. Perhaps someday in the future we can move beyond a consumer holiday or celebrating the virgin birth of a savior, and return to one that honors the changing of the seasons, the return of the light, and a sense of connection with nature, each other, and all beings. Halleluiah!

Spiritual Science

Steve Taylor PhD is the author of the new book Spiritual Science: Why Science Needs Spirituality to Make Sense of the World. He is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, and the author of several best-selling books on psychology and spirituality. For the last six years he has been included in Watkins Mind, Body, Spirit magazine’s list of the ‘100 most spiritually influential living people.’

Cannabis and Spirituality

Stephen Gray is editor of, and contributor to, the book, Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer’s Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit Ally. Stephen is a teacher and writer on spiritual subjects and sacramental medicines. He has worked extensively with Tibetan Buddhism, the Native American Church, and with entheogenic medicines. The author of Returning to Sacred World: A Spiritual Toolkit for the Emerging Reality, he is also a conference and workshop organizer, leader, and speaker as well as a part-time photographer and music composer under the artist name Keary.

Making Your Life A Spiritual Adventure

Elizabeth Lesser is a bestselling author and the cofounder of Omega Institute, the renowned conference and retreat center located in Rhinebeck, New York. Elizabeth’s first book, The Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life A Spiritual Adventure, chronicles her years at Omega and distills lessons learned into a potent guide for growth and healing. Her New York Times bestselling book, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow has sold more than 300,000 copies and has been translated into 20 languages. Her latest book, Marrow: Love, Loss and What Matters Most is a memoir about Elizabeth and her younger sister, Maggie, and the process they went through when Elizabeth was the donor for Maggie’s bone marrow transplant.

Terence McKenna on The Book of Changes (1997)

Terence McKenna spent twenty-five years exploring and developing an ethno-pharmacology of spiritual transformation, in the process discovering Novelty Theory, which was based part on the sequence of hexagrams in the ancient I Ching, or Book of Changes. Terrence is author of many books, including The Invisible Landscape and Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Growers’ Guide. Another of his, Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge, is a study of the impact of psychotropic plants on human culture and evolution throughout history and before. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a distributed major in Ecology, Resource Conservation and Shamanism. McKenna died on April 3, 2000, at the age of 53.

Buddha is as Buddha Does

Lama Surya Das is the author of the book, Buddha Is As Buddha Does: The Ten Original Practices for Enlightened Living. Lama Surya Das has spent more than thirty-five years studying Zen, yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism with the great spiritual masters of Asia, including the Dalai Lama’s own teachers. He is the founder and spiritual director of the Dzogchen Foundation in Massachusetts and worked with the Dalai Lama to establish the Western Buddhist Teachers Network. He is a bestselling author of many books, including Awakening the Buddha Within and Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be.

Listening to Ayahuasca

Dr. Rachel Harris is the author of the new book, Listening to Ayahuasca: New Hope for Depression, Addiction, PTSD, and Anxiety. She received a National Institutes of Health New Investigator’s Award, has published more than forty scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals, and has worked as a psychological consultant to Fortune 500 companies and the United Nations. Her background includes careers as a research psychologist as well as a psychotherapist.

Life Lessons from the Native Way

To many of us, Native America is an unknown world shrouded in myth and misconception, but there is something fundamental in the Native way of seeing and living that has much to teach us all.

Kent Nerburn is the author of the new book, Voices in the Stones: Life Lessons from the Native Way. Kent is a two-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award, and is the author of thirteen books on spirituality and Native themes. He is widely recognized as one of the few American writers who can respectfully bridge the gap between Native and non-Native cultures.

Navigating the River of Time

Stuart Perrin is an American spiritual master of Kundalini Yoga. A combination of wisdom teachings and memoir, Navigating the River of Time shares incidents from the life of a confused but gifted young man who journeys around the world in search of enlightenment, only to find his spiritual teacher back in his hometown.

 

A Way to God

Matthew Fox is the author of the new book, A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey. Thomas Merton was an American Catholic writer and mystic, a poet, social activist, student of comparative religion, and a proponent of interfaith understanding. Merton’s marriage of mysticism and prophecy, contemplation and action closely paralleled that of Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth-century mystic. Fox creates a methodology for understanding the vast and deep contributions that Merton made to the history of spirituality. He is an internationally acclaimed theologian and spiritual maverick who has spent the past forty years revolutionizing Christian theology, taking on patriarchal religion, and advocating for a creation-centered spirituality of compassion, justice, and resacralizing of the earth.