Andy Schmookler: Contact with “the realm of the sacred? | Every day

An integrated – and honored – human capacity

It is a factual reality: in almost all human societies, even the smallest ones, there will be individuals who will experience what they describe as breakthroughs into a deeper, larger, more illumined dimension of reality, in contact with a domain felt to be sacred.

From such experiences, people can come back feeling “spiritually transformed” and carrying what they consider to be “spiritual truths.”

From its widespread presence, we can infer that the capacity for such groundbreaking experiments has been selected for inclusion in the human gene pool. And this, in turn, implies that the messages that people bring back from these experiences have been, on the whole, in the service of life.

Another factual reality is that throughout history and across cultures, human groups have accorded an important place in their culture to the experiences of these people.

This fact suggests that the power and direction of the “spiritual truths” brought back from such experiences must have been – as a whole – at the service of the life of these communities, enabling these groups to survive in the human future.

Civilization is such a recent thing that – for this ability to be part of the human gene pool – it would have had to be advantageous not only in the last 10,000 years of civilization, but also in the much longer era of our hunter- ancestors together.

And anthropological evidence suggests that such an ability predated civilization. Among the hunter-gatherers are people like the shamans Siberian hunters, and magicians from the Amazon jungle – helping their group navigate their way, using the “messages” they had received from a “sacred” realm.

And of course, among civilized societies we find – operating at the heart of most cultures – “sacred texts” that relate to the experiences of these individuals.

These sacred texts – from diverse cultures – provide stories, value systems, guidance for individual and collective life, texts presented with the rhetorical power reflecting the depth of experience of this “sacred” realm, in which things are experienced not only as “of value”, but also valuable to a particular degree.

The messages we need to heed

If the “messages” – born from the particular experiences of individuals and then consecrated by societies – had not been globally in the service of life, these observable factual realities about the human world would never have arisen.

And indeed, just as our nature is designed so that we tend to find the “good” and accomplish that which has been ancestrally associated with the preservation of Life and its transmission, so too the “messages” brought back from the realm spiritual tend to be good. parts of a recipe for human flourishing.

(Although the picture is mixed – which is not surprising given how broken the human world and the people who inhabit it are, and considering how the corrupting influence of power seeps into all dimensions of the human world – the typical sacred message seems much more likely to push towards wholeness than rupture.)

Across different cultural traditions, “spiritual truths” address – mostly constructively – issues of the family (with marriage and children), society (cohesion, justice), the natural world (beauty, stewardship), the world as a whole (peace on earth, benevolence towards men).

Revolutionary spiritual experiences seem likely to deliver a message that will make the human world more whole:

• “Love your neighbor as yourself” to heal a world damaged by excessive selfishness.

• “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” to redress a world where lies are used as a weapon.

• “Let anger be overcome by non-anger” to stop cycles of violence.

It is in this context that I have recently thought about how several American astronauts have reported that seeing Earth from space was a spiritually transforming experience for them. They found it revealing to see how precious and fragile our planet is.

As for the “spiritual truth” that accompanies this experience, the retained “message” was that it is imperative that humanity be better stewards of our “one home”. (And for a few of those astronauts, that truth had a life-changing impact.)

As with many other spiritually transforming experiences, the message the individual received was transmitted to the whole world. It was conveyed through the famous “Blue Marble” photo of what astronauts saw for early humans. Transformed into a poster, this image of the Earth was soon everywhere. Many people were moved by this image to feel that there is something sacred on Earth, and we need to take care of it.

However, we should consider this notion of “messages from the sacred realm”, it seems clear that this spiritually transforming vision of the “blue marble” entered human consciousness at a time when it was urgently needed.

With a kind of synchrony, at the same time that it became clear that human activity was becoming a bigger and bigger bull in the earth’s ecological china shop, the first human beings were propelled into space where some were “spiritually transformed” by their vision of our planet.

The spiritual truth on our blue marble did not automatically transform the ways of humanity. But then, “Love your neighbor as yourself” also did not cure the human world of enmity overnight.

But we seem to be getting the messages we need to heed.

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