Recently I asked my old friend and leading transpersonal psychologist Arthur Deikman to look over the draft of an article I will be submitting to the journal Subtle Energies, based on my Presidential address earlier this year for ISSSEEM (The International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine), where I advocate that we start creating an evidence-based spirituality for the twenty-first century. His brief response got right to the heart of the matter, and stimulated me to do some deep reflecting on what I am about.
Deikman asked, “Who are you going to convince? It seems to me that those who believe in a system just do so whether its materialism or acupuncture, and then go on to prove to their own satisfaction or something. I think that the materialists will remain materialists even if god came down and showed them (it would be considered a hallucination) so why bother? So then what proof would you consider incontrovertible?”
Now, your response to my paper is classic Deikman: it seems like a simple response, but actually raises very deep questions! You’re a sly devil – probably part of what makes you a good therapist! It’s good for me to think about this, thank you!
> who are you going to convince<
Let me start with the highest level of egotism and fantasy. The whole world will pick up on that paper and I’ll be feted for bringing in a whole new level of authentic and effective spirituality that will save the world! No, we can go even higher, God Herself will drop by to give me a pat on the back and tell me how well I’ve done!
OK, now back to reality….. 😉
Simple answer: readers of Subtle Energies, who are already “believers” in spiritual realities, will pick up a few interesting tidbits to reinforce their existing position. That’s probably the most realistic prediction of what will have happened from my having delivered that paper as my Presidential Address at this year’s ISSSEEM conference and it’s later publication in their journal. My hope, of course, is that it will go further with this audience and really inspire some of the younger listeners and readers to go out and work on developing Evidence-Based Spirituality. I have little idea how probable this is. It’s more probable than if I had lectured to a mainstream psychologist or psychiatrist group, of course, as they are, as you noted, already locked into materialism. But many ISSSEEM members are locked into, for largely irrational reasons, some sort of spiritual belief system and will not be interested in – indeed, may be threatened by – the idea that all spiritual beliefs are subject to test, rejection, or refinement.
More complex answer: publication in Subtle Energies is just a step in my focus for the rest of my career in promoting the idea of Evidence-Based Spirituality. So this article is mainly practice, in front of a friendly audience, for, I hope, more sophisticated presentations later, perhaps as articles, perhaps as a book. This is all iffy, of course, for, given the vagaries of aging, I don’t know if my career is going to extend for weeks or years….
I think my idea is scientifically sound. Whether it is spiritually sound, whether more spiritually evolved beings (I hope and pray they exist, but don’t really know) want to help promote the idea in whatever way they work, I don’t know. I do pray often that my work and actions will promote spiritual growth and welfare for our world. Are my prayers answered? Well not in any obvious way, God has not dropped by to give me that pat on the back or hug, but life in general has gone pretty well for me, so it’s more useful for me to assume my hopes and work are in harmony with the spiritual side of things than assume the contrary….
What might realistically happen? I don’t expect the idea of Evidence-Based Spirituality to catch on much in my lifetime, although I hope it will. But in science in general, people make specific contributions, they add their bricks to the pile available for constructing some future grand and useful building, to use an analogy. As the bricks pile up, it becomes possible to build things from them. Lots of those bricks never get used. Some are used in ways quite different from what the brick maker expected, but they are there to be used, and so contribute. So, as you’ve so nicely put it in your own writings, you do your work as well as you can simply because it’s right to do it that way, and what happens later – whether anybody appreciates that the underside of the chair is nicely finished, to use one of your analogies – is what will be…..
> It seems to me that those who believe in a system just do so whether it’s materialism or acupuncture, and then go on to prove to their own satisfaction or something. I think that the materialists will remain materialists even if god came down and showed them (it would be considered a hallucination) so why bother? So then what proof would you consider incontrovertible ? <
Right. We are attached to our belief systems with deep, often unrecognized emotions, and we don’t like people who raise questions. I don’t know what would be incontrovertible proof of anything, for as you say, our rationalization ability to twist things around is so enormous. But I think there are people out there who are conflicted, the materialist versus the spiritual, to oversimplify, and some of them could be influenced by evidence. That was what “The End of Materialism” was for, those people who cared about the spiritual but couldn’t move toward it because they thought Big Science had proven the spiritual was all nonsense and stupidity. Hopefully for some of them I’ve introduced them to the evidence that it’s reasonable to be both spiritual and scientific, and this will make a difference for them…..
I know there are people who believe deeply that they are divinely guided in what they do. Some, I’m sure, are deluded and emotionally attached to the need for certainty, others may well be divinely guided. I’d love to be (I think) divinely guided, but that’s not the person I am. So I do what I think will advance knowledge and welfare in the areas I have some knowledge in, pray that I do the right thing, try to do what I do as well as I know how (without getting obsessive about it), and try to learn from what happens, whether what happens is what I’d hoped for or not.
Thank you again for asking me such a deep question. It’s been useful to me to think about it, and I hope these thoughts are useful to you…..actually I think we are rather alike in all this, doing our best, hoping for the best….
Dear Arthur, Date Composed: September 11, 2010
An important PS to my earlier email to you today.
I sounded so rational, reasonable, and together. And it’s mostly true.
But sitting here just before bedtime this evening, listening to the sort of music that evokes faint memories and hints of the Sacred for me – I realize that if a Call came from on High, all that rationality would melt away in an instant as my heart opened to God…… I know that at times but tend to forget as I get all wrapped up in my work, in my rational and sensible approach…..
Now how to have an evidence-based spirituality when I remember that…..