Roger Housden’s post about “Secular Spirituality: An Oxymoron?”, on his blog and on Huffington Post, is a rich description of the common perception that one is participating in, and yet is separated from, a wholeness that is greater than oneself. A “fullness of life” that seems “just out of reach,” Housden writes. “A dimension beyond the separate sense of self, one in which we are one body, one mind, with everything that lives and breathes.” Among the catalysts that trigger such a mood are “a walk in the woods, or being in love.” The cycle of the flow from “longing into an awareness of belonging and back into longing again” may be the original religious impulse, Housden writes. And he allows for the possibility that, even though it may feel cosmic, the impulse may be happening only within the confines of our brain.
Granted that the belonging-separateness experience may be only an illusion, but look nonetheless at how closely it fits reality. We are indeed part of the huge mass of living beings that includes bacteria, plants, insects, and fish whose number is almost beyond measure. Every one of us shares DNA. We—all gazillion of us—are the current crest of the wave of life that began more than three billion years ago. Certainly, we humans are both part of this mass of continuous life and at the same time are painfully separate from it, for we are self-aware and we know we will die. It makes some sense that a walk in the woods as well as being in love might trigger such a mood, for both experiences involve close connection to other living beings along with the inevitable separateness.
I think that looking to the basic information that science provides can clarify and intensify our spiritual experiences. Of course we don’t usually think of science as a spiritual resource, and scientists themselves have no interest in seeing their discipline viewed as a source of religious mumbo-jumbo. Yet the story that science tells about the history and nature of life is a description of my aliveness. As I said, it clarifies and intensifies my sense of how I got here and who I am.