The inscription over the Temple of New Science Religion reads:
"Everything is composed of a subatomic flux of wavelets and particles, chaos and pattern. Boundaries are fluid. Possibilities are endless. Unrelated separateness is an illusion. Interconnectedness is reality. Process is all. Revise your perceptions, concepts and life accordingly. Any questions?"
I have one. How can I relate this new vision to my life? I understand the inscription to be the slogan of what is termed "postmodern" thinking. The modern age began with Copernicus, when we won our freedom from the Church to think and make inquiry but lost our illusion of living in the center of the universe. Modern became postmodern with the advent of atomic energy. Quantum mechanics brought the realization that atoms are but constructs of the mind and that all "things" are but temporary patternings of energy interacting with particular perspectives in consciousness. The insight cost us the comforting illusion that there exists an objective reality composed of solid, separate things and stole from us our firm, if illusory foundation for finding meaning in life. Atomic energy also gave us profound respect for the high cost of "value-free" technology. Welcome to the postmodern world.
I can try to go with the flow, but find it stressful rather than relaxing much of the time. I'm suspicious of trusting in the unfolding of consciousness within creation. I'm not always willing or able to accept my appointment as a volunteer co-creator of the universe. They may be the new realities but they tax my ability to actually experience life in this manner.
I know I'm not alone. Einstein himself recoiled at the implications of his theories. He took comfort in believing that his hypothetical, paradoxical experiment concerning instantaneous action at a distance could never be proven true in practice. Fortunately for him, it wasn't proven until after he died, when the supposedly impossible demonstrated its existence. If Einstein couldn't live in the world he discovered, how are we ordinary folks to do so? How can I make the quantum leap between the new vision of reality and how I actually experience my life? That's my question.
Someone who has anticipated my predicament offers a rather intriguing prescription: Back to basics! That's how I read the directive spelled out in Charlene Spretnak's latest book, States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age (Harper Collins). An independent scholar who has written extensively in the field of feminism, spirituality and ecology, Spretnak appreciates the mystic vision of postmodern science. "When we experience consciousness of the unity in which we are embedded," she writes, "the sacred whole that is in and around us, we exist in a state of grace." To receive this grace, to actually have this experience and not just to think about it, Spretnak believes we need to participate in the sacraments taught by the wisdom traditions. She's not referring to the institutions and "isms" that promote debate and wars, but the practical handles on living spiritually that the founders of these traditions taught. They can provide a way to bridge the gap between knowledge and experience.
Ms. Spretnak is concerned that our bodies, our minds, our sensibilities and our interpersonal skills are insufficiently prepared to live in the postmodern world. We need an appreciation for paradox, a taste for myth, a sensitivity to invisible energies, as well as experiences in cooperation and sharing, all things we've had trained out of us by our modern schooling and rationalistic culture. Without these sorts of experiential skills we can marvel at the postmodern vision, but we are left helpless to apply it in our lives, just where we need it most if we are to avert the disasters the modern world has bequeathed us.
Spretnak chooses four wisdom areas for discussion. She turns to Buddhism to learn how the mind can overcome its penchant for creating suffering. Meditation breaks the mind's conditioned reflexes of fear and anger and prepares a place for peace to appear that's beyond mental understanding. For practices that help develop a felt sense of connection with the earth and the natural world, she turns to Native American spirituality. There she finds "green and juicy" spiritual practices that help people experience the earth as a sentient being with whom we can establish a living relationship. To experience the body in healthy relationship to life she turns to Goddess spirituality where she finds as an alternative to a preoccupation with death meaningful rituals celebrating the endless cycles of creative rebirths. For social ethics as an expression of divine oneness, she turns to the Semitic traditions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) where rituals of communion create a feeling for community that extends beyond, when institutionalism doesn't interfere, the boundaries of one's own social neighborhood. In each case, the spiritual practices of each wisdom tradition instructs and connects the consciousness of the practitioner with a unitive world beyond the reach of the senses and intellect.
I find evidence in my own work that validates Spratnak's reminder that when it comes to self-transcendence, experience is a better teacher than theory. When my students first approach the development of psychic sensitivity they are fluent in the theory of the oneness of mind, but nevertheless operate in a world of separate minds. Thus they assume I'll be teaching them how to "read minds," or how to peer, untouched and unnoticed, into the secret thoughts of others. What they actually learn instead is how to experience being the other person, something actually felt in the body which becomes a channel of psychic information. It does require learning to respect the objective aspects of subjective experience and to use "pretending" to make valid discoveries, both apparent paradoxes to modern (but not postmodern) thought. It also creates an intimacy usually avoided in our culture, requiring new forms of social interaction. Rather than learning to play parlor games the participants learn vulnerability to compassion and want to become a healing influence on others. It's one thing to affirm that we are our brothers' keeper, but another to actually experience, through psychic perception, our interelatedness. It cuts through the rationalizations and equivocations. Experience is the great teacher.