In Part I, I examined the problem of navigating chaos at the dawn of a new era in human consciousness by describing two broad and antithetical paradigms at play: The technological path, which aims to relegate the individual to an abstraction embedded in a monoculture, and the spiritual path, which aspires to elevate individuality to its highest form of awareness, as co-creator of reality. It seems that a reexamination of our relationship to spirituality will become a fundamental issue the further our culture and society becomes fragmented.
I chose the word spirituality deliberately, to emphasize that the less of ourselves we can experience within objective reality, the more the need arises for centering oneself in the inner reality of individual experience. [I use the word ‘spiritual’ without any religious connotations, but as that which denotes the spirit: the unseen part of a human being, the unknown dimension within oneself.]
Spirituality is a much maligned and misunderstood concept; it is understood often as opposing rationality, with the implication being that it constitutes an inferior orientation to living one’s life. It is equated with religiosity and therefore treated as a relic of a cultural past we have outgrown, and very rarely given any serious consideration as a valid and vital component for the present or the future.
Another common misunderstanding stems from the attempt to define the spiritual experience within a rational system or structure, by applying a filter of scientific reductionism and portraying it as merely a property of the human mind —neurons firing parsed as a biological system— rather than a layer in the fabric of reality itself, which represents the whole and therefore remains fundamentally inscrutable. In either case, for most people today spirituality represents an abstract concept rather than a lived experience; perhaps of interest as a philosophical idea but devoid of any practical use, personal relevance, or meaning. It seems we are still reeling from the damage inflicted on our collective consciousness post-Enlightenment.
What was a justifiably violent reaction to an equally violent absolutism of religious and moral authority has over the course of a few centuries morphed into a dogma of its own, an authoritarian rationality which prefers the comfort of dismissing the unprovable as impossible and the immaterial as unimportant. This inevitably leads to a self-referential crisis, the consequences of which we are presently witnessing in our cultural and political discourse, and which have laid the groundwork for entering this new period of enlightenment. At the tail end of the Rational Age we are starved of what spirituality truly signifies: an awareness of the totality of our nature, its relationship to reality, and the evolution and fostering of that relationship. The technological path cannot address this desire as it does not even allow for the implications of this dimension’s existence.
Man as a Machine
The negation of something as unquantifiable as “spirit” forms the basis for its hyper-rationalistic, man-as-machine ideology; the individual must always identify as some construct, defined, and ratified by a collective consensus. Transcendent notions of personal identity pose the highest risk to such a system, as they form the only unassailable means to liberate oneself from an imposed narrative — a “matrix”. You may live in the pod, eat the bugs, own nothing and be “happy”, but your self-awareness remains a property accessible only to yourself.
The pernicious aspect of rationalism is that in refusing spirituality it robs one of the means for self-transcendence, of the required humility embedded in all religious belief: that man must be aware of his limitations and therefore seek to serve a principle higher than himself. Indeed, cognitive development itself requires the same realization to step out of the egoic phase. It is no coincidence, then, that the experience is often described in terms of surrendering to God, since it represents a voluntary release from whatever known one is holding onto, into the unknown entirety of the emerging self, come what may. This represents a moment of personal spirituality, and I posit that we will prove unable to navigate the chaos and upheaval of the next two decades without some form of it.
Without the deep sense of trust that this sense of the spiritual engenders we are at a severe disadvantage in the two crucial aspects we depend on to flourish: the ability to form authentic, mutually beneficial relationships and communities, and the ability to adapt and respond to an exponentially-and-ever-changing reality. The operating word —as always— and the marker of authentic spiritual growth, is trust. It cannot be faked; it can only be earned when one drops all resistance and realizes they were perfectly capable of floating in the vast ocean of existence without holding onto the driftwood of ego for fear of drowning.
In any situation, when pushed hard enough, when left no other recourse, man must always abandon his mind and resort to his spirit. A course correction, as a rebalancing of the opposites becomes inevitable when the scales tip too much to one side. This is a natural rhythm owing to the duality of existence, a cycle that repeats infinitely and ensures the health, stability, and evolution of any organism. Each new iteration presents a different, unpredictable set of variables only known by immersion in a process. In that sense, existing knowledge can only serve as a point of reference for general principles; the particulars will always require a re-adaptation, a re-learning.
Balance and Sovereignty
If we view history from this lens then the valid response of yesterday will be inadequate tomorrow. We cannot fall back on tradition; we cannot depend solely on knowledge passed down to us. One must always know for oneself, and in that endeavor one begins and ends alone, with only courage and faith to guide them. If you have experienced any degree of personal transformation in your life, you will know this to be true.
As the Buddha pointed out, his teaching was so insistent on spiritual asceticism because it was in reaction to humanity’s enslavement to its material nature. A proper understanding of Buddhism (or any spiritual teaching) is not as literal prescription, a fixed dogma, or a final truth, but as an expression of an abiding principle of human existence manifested through the awareness of a particular individual in a particular point in time.
The laughing Buddha, the Orthodox monk, the Sufi and the mystic all attempt to penetrate the same unseen inner essence within us all; it is their individual lives and minds that differ. It is this essence which endures and which we are pulled towards, and it can only be discovered through one’s own experience and means, regardless of what those happen to be. In other words, spirituality is an inevitable dimension of life—even the hardcore rationalist gets to experience it despite his mind’s misgivings.
Spirituality is a personal phenomenon, a spontaneous manifestation of a pre-existing condition we all partake in, to varying degrees of awareness. The experience is always for the individual, by the individual. Decades of deepening spiritual ignorance has left room for charlatans of all kinds to take advantage of this collective need for personal profit. Gurus and cults abound, and will no doubt grow in number still. Times of chaos and instability are golden opportunities for the advancement of consciousness but also for its exploitation.
Spirituality is an area where one is better off being selfish, even arrogant, because all gurus and cults fundamentally distort the individual’s spiritual and moral nature for the sake of control and group identity. Those most susceptible always fall within the agreeable spectrum, ready to adopt an irrational and self-negating attitude in the name of what is best for an agenda. The refusal to honestly examine themselves and assume the burden of the individual path is their undoing. They wish the world to reflect their spirituality back at them without having undergone the inner transformation that warrants it. If you are a buyer, you will always find a seller willing to exchange your soul for a simulacrum.
We have seen a similar generational phenomenon manifest in the hippie culture of the 1960s (and the Beat generation prior), with its resurgent interest in Eastern philosophy and psychedelic experience. That still took place, however, within the context of a social narrative playing out on the global stage. The more we split into micro-tribes and sovereign entities, the more our narratives become a localized, individual affair, so the definitions and points of reference must be adapted to suit a particular context.
If we are to understand a renewed collective interest in spirituality as an equal and opposite reaction to the threat of technological self-annihilation, it is plain to see that the existing associations from our past are limited and will not suffice. A synthesis of disparate elements is necessary and moving forward that synthesis can only be produced by individuals and no longer passed down by a centralized authority.
It is likely that we will witness such phenomena take the form of localized discourses, within small groups at first, aided by the increased bandwidth of digital communication, with each person representing a node that contributes their unique set of information to the collective. Through this iterative process new ideas develop and gain influence organically. It is survival of the fittest, but in the domain of information, of ideas, and of perspectives. Anyone willing to get in and participate gets a fair shot. If you are reading this, you are already part of it.