Opus 100: My View of Spiritual Naturalism

This article is my 100th for SNS. Taken together, these articles present a fairly complete picture of my ideas about spiritual naturalism (as well as many other things.) 

In the past, I’ve tried to put these ideas into a unified form, like a book. I’ve never made much progress. My inability to do this used to bother me, but I’ve come to realize that the fragmented form in which I have presented my ideas on SNS is actually integral to what I have to say. 

I can’t put my ideas into a unified form because such a unity would be false to my experiences and thoughts. There always are, it seems to me, many ways of seeing things. How we understand something is enhanced by seeing it from multiple viewpoints. 

A scientist, an artist, a philosopher, a mystic each understand the same thing in a different way. I’ve always wanted to understand in all these different ways and others. In the articles I’ve written, I often come back to the same theme, but present it from a different viewpoint. 

More directly, though, I just can’t seem to package my living experience into well contained thoughts. The experience tends to overflow the thoughts. There is always something left unsaid. But I’ve tried to express my thoughts, and these 100 articles are the result. 

With this 100th post, I’ll point out some of the main themes explored in these articles and list some of my favorite past articles related to each theme. Taken together, these themes summarize my particular view on spiritual naturalism.

Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the alpha and omega of my spirituality; it is both the means and the end. I practice several forms of mindfulness, both formal and informal. Among the formal are Zen meditation, hatha yoga in the Iyengar tradition, and philosophical contemplation in the tradition of Aristotle. Among the informal is birding, which has a wonderful way of focusing and sharpening ones senses. I’ve written more than a dozen articles addressing aspects of this theme. The following are the ones I am most happy with:

Mindfulness and the Environment  This article explores mindfulness of the world starting at the most sensory level and working outwards toward more abstract levels. I think it is one of the best pieces I’ve written for SNS.
Bicycle Meditation  This short article is one of my favorites. It puts forth some of the most profound concepts of spirituality in a down-to-earth, understated manner.
Something Special May Happen  With this article, originally published in the World Pantheist Movement’s online magazine, I have received more favorable feedback than anything else I’ve written.
Heroic Mindfulness  This article is about entering that labyrinth that is the complexity of our inner being and facing some of the dark aspects of the self that we find there.
Contemplation and Meditation  This article explores the differences and similarities between two types of mindfulness.
Adventure, Contemplation and Creation  This article, like “Mindfulness and the Environment,” is about bringing mindfulness out into the world; it sketches, I’d like to think, a somewhat original approach to mindfulness.
The Perfect View  Like “Bicycle Meditation,” this article, in an understated manner, is about the highest pitch of mindfulness, what in Sanskrit is called samadhi.

The Big Story
Mindfulness brings me to the center of my subjective being, but I also have an endless curiosity and love for the world about me. Toward satisfying that curiosity, I have been a lifelong student of natural history and the various sciences. Through that study, I have gained a fairly broad understanding of the grand story that some call Big History. 

This is history that starts the merest fraction of a second after the so-called Big Bang, after T=0, and follows the universe as it self-organizes into galaxies, stars and planets and the amazing history of one of those planets, the Earth. There, Big History takes up the story of its rocks and waters, geology; its life, biology; and the story of the one creature who is able to tell this story, anthropology and history.

Big History is the record of the great process that is Nature. Nature is both the creator and creation, it is all that exists. It is the naturalistic equivalent of what theists call God. Some of my articles on this topic are:

The All Inclusive (What Naturalism Means to Me)  Western culture tends to make a distinction between the natural and the human. This article explores the world beyond that false dualism, to see humans and everything about humans, as part of the same one process that is responsible for the rest of the world.
The Naturalistic Equivalent of God  This article explores how to translate the word “God,” and other religious absolutes, into a naturalistic equivalent, which I call “the source and ultimate context” of things.
Creational Nature  As Big History indicates, the world started out utterly simply and over time has gotten increasingly more organized and complex. This article explores this “creational” aspect of Nature, working from the self organization of physics, through biological organization, to how our own creativity is an extension of Nature’s creativity.
Defined by Something Larger  This article explores the spiritual value of seeing ourselves as part of something larger, in this case Nature.
The Enormity of It All and its companion piece, Getting Comfortable with the Vastness of Time, explores getting beyond that cognitive dissonance that results from thinking about how small and ephemeral we are compared to the time and space that Big History has revealed.

Mystery
Big History tells the story of what happens a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. But as to what can be said of T=0, or T=<0, that remains the realm of metaphysical speculation. Like Big History, the ultimate mystery of things can be humbling. Somehow or other this all came into being. Not just matter and energy, but what we call the “laws of nature.” The presence of these “laws” are the reason the Big Bang led to Big History and not a big heat that quickly faded into an eternally undetected background radiation. While we understand a lot about how these laws operate, we really know nothing about how it is that such unlikely laws should exist in the first place.

I believe that if we add two things to the naturalistic cosmology that I have here called Big History, it becomes a true spiritual cosmology. These two things are viewing it from the inside, as a part of Nature, rather than something apart from Nature, and viewing it under the aspect of mystery. Some of my articles exploring this topic, include:

1-1=The Great Mystery  This article looks at what I call the “three nested mysteries.”
Of the Earth  It is something of a naturalistic dogma that the fact that beings like humans exists is just an accident; this article ventures an alternative possibility.
Stroke of Luck  Starting with a quote from Bill Bryson, this article explores the mystery of being in a somewhat lighthearted way.
Caring About Indifference  Despite the fact that Nature doesn’t care about us, we can and do care about Nature. This article explores this fact.

Communion
The final theme that I’ll refer to here is communion. Communion, as I understand it, is a part of every spirituality. It is the experience in which our small, ephemeral, desirous self finds itself merged in something unfathomably greater than that self. For the theists, this is usually called God. For me it is Nature. The experience of communion merges the inner experience of mindfulness with the outer experience and knowledge of the cosmos.

Communion promotes a qualitative transformation of consciousness. To the extent that there is any goal of spirituality, it is such a transformation. A few articles in which I explore this theme are:

Communion  Contains a general statement of what I mean here by communion.
Transubstantiation  A rather personal piece in which I draw a comparison between my mothers joy in receiving the Catholic communion and my joy in mindfulness.
Naturalism and the Idea of One Mind  Explores the relation of communion and self knowledge among other things.

Taken together, these articles are about as close as I can come to putting together a book that details my ideas about and experience with spiritual naturalism. 

I’d like to thank the Spiritual Naturalist Society for the opportunity to publish these articles. Writing is always a kind of education and writing these articles over the last ten years has helped me greatly deepen my understanding of just how deep naturalistic spirituality can be.

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Learn about Membership in the Spiritual Naturalist Society

The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.

SNS strives to include diverse voices within the spectrum of naturalistic spirituality. Authors will vary in their opinions, terms, and outlook. The views of no single author therefore necessarily reflect those of all Spiritual Naturalists or of SNS.
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4 thoughts on “Opus 100: My View of Spiritual Naturalism”

  1. Thomas,
    Thank you for writing these insightful, reflective thinking articles. After having read a number of your articles and by others on the SNS website, I do have a question:
    fI you don’t mind answering, would you agree or disagree that at least some of what separates your statements for Nature and Naturalism versus Deists/non-revealed-religion theists’ statements about the Ultimate Nature of Reality are semantic?
    At least after having read many articles, I notice that many of the articles personify Nature (as if it had intention), even speak of “potentialities” in reality before nature came into being on earth, often emphasize that caring about indifferent Nature and the environment is good, think that compassion, mindfulness, kindness, etc. are better than cruelty, dominance, oppression, etc.
    All of that sounds like what very liberal theists such as Paul Tillich, Marcus Borg, UU leaders, etc. often state.

    Furthermore, in none of the articles have I read what I often read in non-religious articles–that humans are “worthless,” that the cosmos and nature are “meaningless,” that humans have no creative choice, that human actions are pointless.

    Indeed, in many ways, the articles are very similar to how I thought for years as a liberal Quaker.

    Reply
    • Daniel,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and think about my articles.

      As to your first question, I am much more interested in what my views have in common with others than how they are different. Although Deism is now a bit dated, it seems to me a very enlightened view in the 17th and 18th centuries. So I am quite happy if my views have some things in common with theirs.

      As to your second comment, I see no problem in speaking of Nature having potentialities, and don’t understand how that is “personifying” Nature. Further, that humans care and think some things good and others bad sounds a lot to me like what every thinker of every stripe of all times has stated.

      Your third comment is more interesting. Worth is a relative term, as is worthless. On what basis could we judge humans worthless? Similarly, on what basis would we judge things meaningless or pointless? Nature may not care or attribute meaning, but we humans do. And, we are a part of Nature.

      I like to think that we are that part of Nature that does care and that does give meaning. I think that is rather wonderful and I embrace my ability to do so.

      Also, as I’ve stated in a few different articles, the idea that life is pointless seems to me based on a kind of dualism. That dualism has become rather foreign to how I experience the world.

      The Spiritual Naturalist Society is not trying to carve out yet another niche in the vast ecosystem of religious belief. We are trying to find commonalities amongst all those who find that spirituality does not require supernaturalistic belief. We embraces many different approaches and viewpoints. Note that my ideas are only one person’s approach – they are in no way the official position of SNS.

      Reply

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