We are living in unique and challenging times. If we look at the great number of complex and interconnected problems the human race is facing, we see that they have never been as difficult to solve as they are today. We are in a stage of history where new models of spirituality, intelligence, and higher states of consciousness may no longer optional, but necessary. Today spirituality is seen as a luxury or indulgence when pitted against our need to survive. Yet, the awareness to be gained from Wisdom-Intelligence is what may enable us to successfully navigate our way through the everyday difficulties of life. These new models are necessary and go to the core of what it is to be human.
Humanity needs an evolutionary leap that goes beyond the old paradigm where spirituality and living in the world were divided into separate concerns and were pursued just as separately. Higher states of awareness are exactly what we need today, not just as the concern of the spiritual seeker residing in a monastery, but to be applied to all of the problems the human race is facing. A connection between the two worlds must be achieved, at least by as many people as possible, if we are to survive the challenges of the next fifty years.
A Look at the History of Living a Spiritual Path
I was 8 years old when I was first confronted with an attitude that was later to become one of the most important issues of my personal life and which may be one of the most significant philosophical issues in modern spirituality today. I was in my second year of Hebrew school when I asked my teacher to tell me about the Kabbalah. I don’t know how I heard about it, but I knew that somehow it was important for me to know about and understand. The teacher’s response, delivered in the stern tone that was warning me away from an unknown danger, was that I was not to study it until I was 40, if then. He didn’t explain this, but I still remember the dismissive tone of his voice. Now, I know that behind both his words and his tone was a very long history.
That history not only exists in Judaism, but in many of the world’s religions and traditions. In many of the Eastern traditions as well, it was necessary that a person complete their obligations to family and their society first, and then perhaps in their later years, one would have the time to devote to one’s spiritual practices. So, why has this split between ‘normal’ life and the spiritual life been so prevalent? The answers do seem legitimate. In addition to the necessity of taking care of one’s family and community responsibilities, the fact is that the pursuit of a spiritual path is a serious and time-consuming matter, requiring a deep level of devotion and commitment. Further this type of work demands a psychological maturity and understanding that usually comes with age and experience. Thus it does seem valid that there be a split between living an ordinary life of fulfilling one’s dharma and the seeking of spiritual transformation and developing a mystical connection with the Divine. Yet, the times in which we live demand that we ask if there is a way to safely bridge the gulf between this divide. I think it goes even further as the new demand is that we unite this age-old split.
The development of the so-called New Age is important to consider here for it has prepared the way for what is to come. Its beginning actually occurred around 1880 with the formation of the Theosophical Society created by Helena Blavatsky and her followers. Later, many magical societies seeking higher levels of consciousness and a connection with one’s Divine essence began to crop up in parts of Europe, such as the Golden Dawn, O.T.O., etc. At the same time there was a number of teachers bringing sacred wisdom into the West which had been quietly held in monasteries of the Middle East and the Orient. Thus, we see that the movement of Wisdom into the main culture has been developing for the past 100 years. However, in many cases, the fundamental split between normal life and the pursuit of enlightenment, the awakened state or higher awareness was not challenged and did not change.
In the latter half of the last century this assumption has begun to change. Perhaps this is due simply to the fact that more people were living in a way that allowed them the time and freedom to explore the spiritual aspects of life. Many more people than ever were able to live both a normal life and also be free to pursue a spiritual path. Many new spiritual paths began to emerge that did not require the leaving of a regular life, but urged that one actually ‘use’ that life as a means for one’s growth. And yet, for the most part, these teachings were completely marginalized by mainstream religion and society and so could not, except in rare cases, have an actual effect on the way of life of the average person.
The Effects of the Split Between “Normal” Life and the Spiritual Path
While it seems that in the past, the world has not been ready for the split between spirituality and normal life to be eliminated, there has been an undeniable downside to the existence of this split: the most spiritual among us have had to leave the world to its own devices, restricting the breadth of vision and depth of understanding to only a few disciples and adherents. The chief asset of what can be called ‘mystical understanding’ is that a person KNOWS that one’s own life is never separate from other people and the world as a whole. An individual’s thoughts and actions send many ripples out from oneself into the world at large. If the majority of people on this planet understood this one fact clearly, the world would be a vastly different one from what we see today. Humanity would have begun to tackle the interconnected environmental, ecological, and economic problems long ago. There would have been no dispute about the necessity of this and therefore no delay in confronting the nature of the required changes humanity must make if we are to survive on this incredibly beautiful planet.
In Part 2 we will look at the fundamental causes of this split and begin to examine what we will need to do to create the bridges that can bring this split to an end.