One of the better new books that can help you develop both a very broad vision of the universe and at the same time develop very specific and practical skills to help make your life both more vibrant/healthy and spiritual is God and the Evolving Universe (Tarcher/Putnam, N.Y., 2002). The authors are Michael Murphy (author of The Future of the Body and cofounder of the Esalen Institute*), James Redfield (author of The Celestine Prophecy), and Sylvia Timbers. The following quotations are from their book.
It is the authors' contention that:
a. "history is not merely cyclical, but that it is going somewhere and, indeed, that it has been struggling all along toward higher ends" (p. xiii),
b. "we all have capacities for a greater life than most of us have realized" (p. 3); and
c. "we and the world are unfolding from the same transcendent source and are secretly moved to manifest more and more of our latent divinity" (p. 3).
They base these contentions upon the most modern scientific knowledge as well as the most ancient wisdom of poets, philosophers, and spiritual leaders. They help the reader understand how the wisdom of the ancients and the most modern scientists are compatible, even at times lifted from the same page of eternal wisdom. One of the quotes they provide is by Rumi, the 13th Century mystic and Sufi poet. I quote it for you as it is fascinating how much it resounds as though Rumi had just read the latest book by a modern scientific cosmologist like Stephen Hawking.
as a mineral. We emerged into plant life,
and into the animal state, and then into being human,
and always we have forgotten our former states,
except in early spring when we slightly recall
being green again.
That's how a young person turns
toward a teacher. That's how a baby leans
toward the breast, without knowing the secret
of its desire, yet turning instinctively.
Humankind is being led along an evolving course,
through this migration of intelligences,
and though we seem to be sleeping,
there is an inner wakefulness
that directs the dream,
and that will eventually startle us back
to the truth of who we are.
One of the key themes in this book is that we have been evolving---the universe, the world, all of nature is evolving inexorably. The authors are urging us to not only appreciate this vibrant progression but to encourage it through our active participation. This requires a commitment to change and the stronger the commitment the sooner and the stronger will be the evolutionary impact. Although you are not required to give 110 or even 210% of your energies to this evolutionary endeavor, obviously the more you commit the more you and the universe benefit. Another great Sufi poet (Rabia al-Adawiyya who died in 801 C.E.---this woman was credited with giving birth to Sufism's great theme of God's all-encompassing love) captured the essence of the ultimate level of commitment with the following verse:
The authors not only encourage you to love God as an essential element in your evolution, they also help you understand that to do so requires that you seek God within, that you don't have to wander the world looking for God. This is captured in the following verse by Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-73 C.E.) who wrote:
A rock fell and killed a loved one. It was a mystery. Why did this happen? We invented gods as an explanation because we did not understand the forces of gravity. Humans are answer seekers. We are continuously striving to better understand the world in which we live. In our efforts we evolve.
"In the light of increasing scientific discovery, supernatural explanations were no longer needed to understand the world and human nature…Leaders of the Enlightenment…rejected traditional wisdom, whether propounded by church or state, that impeded scientific progress and led to political persecution. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment had exerted enormous influence on European and American life…But the advent of science had its shadow side. In its ardor to free itself from the dubious beliefs and dogmas of institutional religion, it increasingly rejected the findings of contemplatives and other explorers of the inner life…This rejection has grown…giving rise to a strictly materialist view of the world and human nature. It has also contributed to the exploitation and destruction of the natural world" (pp. 52-54).
However, just as science has led us away from supernatural explanations, it also leads us toward them. As Richard Tarnas wrote, "Freud radically undermined the entire Enlightenment project by his revelation that below or beyond the rational mind existed an overwhelmingly potent repository of forces which did not readily submit either to rational analysis or to conscious manipulation" (p. 65). Jung moved beyond Freud and helped us appreciate the spiritual dimensions of therapy. "His lasting innovation in consciousness research was his insistence on exploring the spiritual realms of the unconscious and the latent creativity we all possess" (p. 66). "Otto Rank…another student of Freud, explored…the sacred dimension of human love. Modern people, Rank said, suffer because of their attempt to find cosmic meaning in human love…The effort to substitute sexual love for divine love is bound to fail and, as Becker writes, 'It produces the sense of utter despair that we see in modern man.' For Rank, one way out of modern neurosis is through creative work. By fashioning a gift to the world we can participate in a self-transcending drama that helps the world advance" (p. 66).
"In considering our many latent abilities and frequent failure to develop them, we must ask, 'What holds us back?'…social conditioning, repression of childhood trauma, avoidance of existential anxiety, and other psychological processes limit our feeling, restrict our thought, and reduce our awareness of many higher abilities" (p. 67). All of these things that hold us back can be eliminated. You can start a journal today, now, and start to understand the patterns and habits of your life that are causing you to resist your natural evolutionary desire to become a more fully developed, more loving human being. Your steps are: 1. Commitment. Give yourself a commitment to change. You deserve to be a more loving person, a person more drawn to God, a more creative human in tune with the evolutionary spirit of all God's creation. 2. Then begin to act upon that commitment. Start the journal. Dedicate some time, no matter how small, each day to enter things into your journal. And then, build from there.
"Like the cosmos itself, humankind will not stay fixed within its apparent limits. With each historic turn we have noted, its possibilities for further development have increased: All of these awakenings, we believe, point the way to another evolutionary leap and have helped prepare us for it" (p. 75).
"Of all our attributes, love points most surely toward the greater life that is latent in us" (p. 121). The great German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer asked: "How is it that a soldier can throw himself on a hand grenade to save his fellows? From whence comes his love and courage? Schopenhauer's answer cuts to the quick. That soldier, he wrote, has the sudden realization that he and his fellow soldiers are one…love can rise in groups as well as individuals and thus transform communities, cultures, and ultimately the world" (p. 122). "The philosopher Jacob Needleman cites Soren Kierkegaard in his book, A Little Book on Love: '…the power to intentionally love another human being…comes to us only as a result of our ability to open to the Higher (the eternal or God) within and above…It is a grave error, says Kierkegaard, to imagine one can love another person intentionally without at the same time---and more fundamentally---loving the Highest within oneself and above oneself'" (p. 124).
"Our experience of love takes many forms in everyday life. It may come suddenly in a glance between two people…Our challenge is to lift these moments toward their highest expression. Each moment of love is a first expression of the ever-present love waiting to be born in us…Love grows through intention and practice" (p. 127).
"Needleman…writes, "the practical teachings of wisdom point to a love…that carries both the personal intensity of subjective desire and the self-less wish for another's well-being.' The philosopher's ideal love is mutually beneficial and transcendental: 'The work of love is the work of presupposing the wish for awakening in the other'" (p. 128).
In his autobiography, The World As I See It, Albert Einstein wrote the following:
"The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive form---this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness" (p. 138).
All of the ideas about how humans are evolving provides the foundation on which we need to build our studies. The authors urge us to transform our lives and provide in their book specific transformative practices to assist the reader who wants to evolve. "Intention, perseverance, and expectation of success are crucial factors in this (skill development process). Without dedication and practice, our emergent capacities will not blossom" (p. 220). "But the same processes that facilitate our growth can also retard it. Our powers of intention, for example, can be warped by destructive impulses, our imagination can be charged with negative thoughts, our self-reflection can be fragmented by useless distractions, and our prayers can be narrowly self-centered. Moreover, it is often hard for us to change because a we are creatures of habit, which is the case in large part because we need stability in the midst of life's vicissitudes" (p. 221).
We often see the lives of the Saints and other martyrs and wonder how they ever made such sacrifices. We view St. Francis as pictured in Brother Sun, Sister Moon as he piles rocks in the snow, or Rodrigo as he painfully drags his bundle of armaments up the mountain side in The Mission, or we observe Gandhi in the movie Gandhi as he elects to fast until he is close to the edge of death, or watch as they drive the nails into Jesus' hands in The Last Temptation of Christ---and then think, I could never do this! The pain is so great; the sacrifice is monumentally huge! What we fail to understand is that these individuals already have experienced greater pain and used that greater pain as their motivator. Rodrigo was in excruciating mental pain after killing his brother and, therefore, his penance was not painful, just the opposite, it was the necessary path out of pain. The same is true for all great "sacrifices" and this is the wondrous trick these sacrifices hold. The renunciation of possessions and passions isn't really a sacrifice at all IF it results in a greater pleasure, a greater joy, even an ecstasy! Yes, it may require delayed gratification, but only initially, until we have developed our skills---then it comes as quickly and wondrously as any habit we have secured through practice. Biologically inherited and culturally conditioned to seek material pleasures, we can aspire to experience even greater pleasures of the spirit!
We may also feel that the quest for a spiritual union is so distant, so hard to realize---and in truth it does require a great deal of dedicated practice to reach the greatest heights of passionate spiritual commitment. However, at the same time, a blooming of the spirit can happen instantaneously as it did with Rodrigo when his penance was complete and tears flooded through his soul and out his eyes. As Rumi has said:
I have tried to capture some of the wisdom of this important book, God and the Evolving Universe, in the above summary. However, I don't really know how to communicate just how important the book is………The book helps you see how you are part of God's evolutionary plan, how you have been evolving throughout the ages and can elect today to be more aware of this process and to become more involved in your own personal evolution for the benefit of all humankind. "In our deepest moments we see that a higher Presence inhabits the universe, attracting and impelling it toward higher ends. And that Presence is calling us. It summons us because like the world at large each of us is matter and spirit at once, both the result and agent of evolution's advance" (p. 219).
*You may want to visit the website for Esalen. www.esalen.com About 10,000 persons each year go to Esalen's beautiful and spiritual retreat on the coast of Northern California in the Big Sur area and have been doing so since Murphy helped establish the center in 1962. It is designed to explore various aspects of the human potential and it is the model for most other such centers. I have been there and assisted in the teaching there and have found it to be one of the most valuable resources that exists anywhere.
Note: At the end of this book you will find a large annotated bibliography. Therefore, if you are ready to increase your learning you can read this book and then move on to other books in the bibliography. You will also find a summary of Murphy's other book The Future of the Body attached to my syllabus for How to live a wonderful life!