Evolutionary spirituality

How could spiritual experience evolve? Blake’s lines

The world in a grain of sand
and Heaven in a wild flower

refer to it. My senses feel more alive, more immediate and intense, and this changes from being a peak experience to an everyday one which I can enter or even sustain through disciplined effort. It seems worth the effort.

I was writing song lyrics seeking to evoke a standard spiritual experience, even hint at it to those who do not have it, and that led me to imagine what it was and think of early experiences of it.

I had the experience without connecting it to Blake the first time I sat in a circle with the instruction “Speak when moved”, not with Quakers. After, I would have said “I could hear a pin drop”.

Then at the Five Rhythms dance camp, the facilitator sought to induce it- we had our right hands on the shoulder of the person in front with the instruction to place your foot in the footprint just left. This is impossible and pointless. Some gave up. He led us in circles in the woods, then abruptly out into a field in bright sunshine- the perfect metaphor for spiritual experience as well as a real experience of it, doing ridiculous things in darkness then emerging into Light. My senses were alive. This delighted me.

After, I had such an experience at the Greenbelt festival: a tree impinged on my consciousness suddenly, and each leaf was separate, I saw it in such detail. Then I decided to evoke such experience, for example by paying full attention to chores like washing up, seeing the gleam of light on wet plates, enjoying the motion of wiping them.

A deer, feeding, will suddenly lift its head to scan its surroundings. So might our primate ancestors. We are suddenly moved to look around. There may be a predator, or prey. There is no predator in civilised society apart from other humans, whose threat civilisation often seeks to blind us to and deny, but basic brain processes may nevertheless take over from the monkey mind, the endless stream of words flowing through consciousness, most of them repeated many times before.

We escape words into conscious attention. Rather than stereotyping classifying and dismissing current experience through words which simplify it, I pay attention.

The words come between us and experience. Sometimes this is a good thing- I can communicate complex information, think abstractly, read a book- and sometimes bad, stopping me really seeing. As I look at the woods more, I see all the different greens. That is not just a “bird”, even a “red kite”, but a miracle of adaptation, a slight movement of one wingtip feather holding it perfectly in the thermal.

New words delight, old words stultify, even becoming the psychiatric symptom of rumination. When I enter into the moment of immediate experience I might act as needed now rather than by habit, from seeing rather than stereotyping.

Wake up!  cried Anthony di Mello. Liberation is another metaphor. I become my potential. It is an animal response, perhaps older than backbones or bilaterians.

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