I do not have to justify my quest for spirituality in physical terms. If you ask me to do so, it means that you understand nothing of spirituality.
The way of nurturing and sustaining an ‘interior life’ (the subject of a previous essay) has been present throughout human culture and society for all time. It is not something new; rather, our forgetting of its presence and importance is the new factor that has, relatively speaking, recently entered into human affairs.
Throughout the ages various wisdom teachings have operated within humanity with the aim and intention of permanently raising a person/group/community’s consciousness to a ‘finer’ – or altered – level of perception. Temporary glimpses of these ‘altered perceptions’ have fascinated humankind for millennia, stretching as far back as when our human ancestors were cave dwellers. This lineage of what we may call the visionary path has a long history: including shamanism; spiritual practices; religious ritual; and the inculcation of ecstatic states, etc, both in pre-modern as well as modern cultures. For as long as humanity has existed, it has been experiencing glimpses of other realms, and thereby attempting, through many and various means, to recapture these experiences. In some instances people have accidentally and temporarily glimpsed these states through such events as a near-death experience, tragedy, or similar ‘shock impacts.’
Similarly, there can be ‘almost random’ contact achieved with such altered states of consciousness within ordinary life. Often these contacts have been glimpsed – in a transitory way – by the use of artificial aids, such as by means of induced intoxication. Yet these glimpses are more or less temporary, though some people attempt to continue to recapture these experiences, perhaps incorrectly thinking/believing that it will lead to a permanent state. This activity, and this way of thinking, is often more destructive than good. What this frequently shows is a lack of information/knowledge on the part of the individual. This often reveals itself when a person attempts to induce such transitory experiences when they clearly lack the knowledge of how to correctly learn from and utilize its significance. Without a correct developmental function, such experiences are more likely to confuse and misdirect a person rather than induce developmental understanding in them.
At our basic level of awareness there is no perceptible pattern to the flow of events. We do not have access to objective reality, although there can be moments and instances when glimpses occur. The phenomenon of miracles is an example of this, when the laws of a reality outside of our own intervene/operate within our subjective reality. Likewise, many ancient tales, fables, allegories, etc, are representations of what we refer to as a ‘higher dimension’ operating within our own. Such cultural impulses help us, whether we are conscious of it or not, to re-frame our perception of our current consensus of reality and its accepted truths. What we often take to be reality is in fact only a very thin slice of a much ‘bigger picture.’
The visionary path is an inward path; as such, it requires a disciplined focus. However, modern societies not only do not cater to such practices, they often actively dissuade us from approaching them. That is, the visionary path – which is a way of gnosis (i.e., direct experience) – is not encouraged or supported. The result of this is that people in general do not see – or feel – a need for such a discipline. Modern life keeps us occupied and, more or less, satisfied with other pursuits. The visionary path of gnosis thus drops away from view – there is seemingly no need for it. Unfortunately, it is often the case that ‘shock impacts’ are required in order for us to shift our attention away from the ‘straight path’ of normal living.
It may be that modern life requires a crisis point – in its material, consumptive lifestyles – for there to arise within people the need for something else. It is in such moments of deep communal and personal reflection that an inner realization may occur: the recognition that common – that is, consensus – culture and tradition whether social, political, or religious, do not provide for sufficient meaning in our lives. This awareness of the need for a meaningful life often occurs in times when there is a noticeable deterioration in social and cultural systems. Such recognition – or re-cognition – is not yet dominant among the majority of our highly industrialized, ‘civilized’ nations. We have developed our faith, our reason, our mental pursuits; we have established industry and created marvelous technologies – yet we have failed to ‘work on ourselves,’ as they say. We have been left behind from the vale of ‘soul-making,’ to quote again the Romantic poet Keats.