The skeptical spiritualist
When I was a kid and we were in vacation in southern Europe, I loved coming into one of those really old catholic churches and savoring the stillness, the cool air, and the weird echoy acoustics there. I loved the feeling of all of the critical life moments that had taken place in those buildings over the centuries - baptisms, weddings, burials, confessionals, power struggles, and abuse of choir boys. Okay, that last one only came later. But still.
Whether it's a trick my subconscious mind was playing on me, or whether it's something real that I could sense, I can't know for sure. But it felt pretty real. It wasn't something I willed into existence, it was something that came to me, and then I enjoyed, like the coolness of the air.
Fast forward to last year in February where I attended the Wisdom 2.0 conference in Silicon Valley (it's coming up again next month, by the way). There I met a bunch of people who talked about the Institute of Noetic Sciences, founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who became the sixth person to set foot on the moon in February 1971.
I hadn't heard about this institute before, but it turned out Edgar Mitchell had a spiritual awakening on his way back to earth, and founded the institute with a charter to do scientific research in consciousness (noetic means "of or relating to mental activity or the intellect").
When I went to their web site to learn more about it, I found this video where Edgar Mitchell talks to a group of high school students. 7 minutes and 10 seconds in, he talks about exactly this phenomenon of what you feel or sense when you walk into an old church. Turns out there's a meaning to it after all.
I've always been a skeptical spiritualist. I know that there's more to life than just surviving and then dying. Where does life come from? What is consciousness? What is this thing called love? How de we explain the collective unconscious? How about synchronicities and serendipity, intuition and clairvoyance? What about placebo and the body-mind connection (or unity)? Science doesn't have great answers, other than "don't know" or "doesn't exist", or "random mutation" or "it just is", or things like that. Not really great answers.
I know in my heart that there's more to reality than that. I also know that organized religion isn't it. They're mostly elaborate structures built up around what was once a true spiritual experience. But today they're just dead power structures, designed to suck wealth and life out of the general populace.
In my life, I've gone back and forth between my spirituality and my rational mind. On the one hand, the "mainstream" answers aren't satisfactory. On the other hand, there's a lot of nutcases and snakeoil and wishful thinking in that area, too. And a lot of people trying to convince you of things. So what's a man to believe?
I think where I land is that there are a lot of phenomenons that ring true to me, intuitively, and which seem to be generally confirmed by my life experiences. Things like how inner work and healing work and past-life regressions can cause deep transformations within me. LIke how those transformations can be perceived by and have an effect on other people over vast distances. Like how the universe seems to respond to my unconscious desires and fears and other feelings.
I can't explain them. I can't give any science-based reason why they should be true. And one of the things I bristle at is when people try too hard to give plausible-sounding, scientific-sounding explanations for something without knowing their science. Just don't go there. "We don't know yet, but it seems like it might be something along the lines of …" will suffice. Or even "I have no idea why, but my experience is that …".
So I remain a skeptical spiritualist. Spiritualist in the sense that I know in my heart that there's a lot more to life than meets the eye. Like Edgar Mitchell says in the video linked above, what we call our sixth sense should really be called our first sense (6:20), because it's rooted in our quantum reality which was around long before our solar system and planet and all of our other sense organs were around.
And skeptical in the sense that I don't buy most of the explanations I hear. Again, in that interview, Edgar Mitchell talks about the things "we're quite sure of", and the things where "we don't have any definitive experimental evidence in science" but "lots of lore". We need to know which is which. Lore is clearly not scientific evidence, but when there's lots of lore, spread across multiple ancient cultures, that is a signal in the practical judgment we need to make, in the same sense as Google uses signals in their searches. It's a signal that there may be something here that we should do scientific research in as a society, but also on an individual level, check with our own heart and intuition and experience and see if there might be something that rings true to us here.
Science is always developing, and our collective world view is always developing, and a lot is riding on being able to control what that collective world view is, so we each need to make up our own minds using the totality of signals available to us.