I think we often look too far away for gods and miracles, and ignore the ones all around us. We want to think that we, as a species, are different, that somehow we are endowed by god(s) to do whatever the hell we please with this world. But the world was not created for us (if it was 'created' at all). It exists FOR ITS OWN SAKE, not as a proving ground for future gods or a stage for a cosmic struggle between good or evil, or a playground that one species is meant to use as its personal possession. It is vaster by far, and wilder, and more beautiful than that. There is an elegance in the life cycle of salamanders, of diatoms, of trees, of beetles. In a growing embryo there is more complexity and beauty and holiness than in ten thousand thousand hymns of praise or prayers for sanctification. If you listen, every organism, every species, every cell has its own song, a hymn of praise and holiness more deep and fierce and beautiful than we can even comprehend. And, here is the clincher, the priceless gift of the cosmos. WE ARE PART OF IT! We BELONG here....we are not strangers or sojourners, or even "spiritual beings having an earthly experience." We belong HERE, with our siblings, our relatives, our parents -- the birds of the air and the fish of the sea and the plants of the earth. We are they, and they are us. Each atom in our body is on loan to us from the world, and each atom has been part of innumerable organisms, and will be again. We have been the diatoms. We have been the tulips and the polar bears and the lemurs and the ants and the grass. And we will be the deer and the tiger and the wheat and the E. coli and the penguin. We belong to the system, tangled beyond extrication with every other living thing. Isn't this enough holiness and beauty for all of us? The gods of this earth live in the mitochondria, genes, synaptic gaps of our body. And they live in the grasslands, the deserts, the rivers, the mountains. We are they, and they are us. You are god and gods and parts of gods. We are descended from gods and give birth to gods. They are us, and we are they. We live in a world filled to brimming with gods, and yet we still look beyond the clouds, beyond the stars, beyond ourselves, for a cosmic Easter Bunny who can make all our little dreams come true, when, in reality, we carry the kingdom of heaven within us every moment. It is there, peopled with enzymes and nucleic acids and glycolipids and ionophores. And, although it is within us, we are part of it as well. Heaven is here. The gods are among us.
Although naturalism may at first seem an unlikely basis for spirituality, a naturalistic vision of ourselves and the world can inspire and inform spiritual experience. Naturalism understands such experience as psychological states constituted by the activity of our brains, but this doesn't lessen the appeal of such experience, or render it less profound. Appreciating the fact of our complete inclusion in nature can generate feelings of connection and meaning that rival those offered by traditional religions, and those feelings reflect the empirical reality of our being at home in the cosmos.
Can an atheist be a spiritual person, and if so, in what sense? Is it meaningful to talk of atheist spirituality, or should the term be reserved for religious believers? This post may end up generating more questions than answers, but that seems fitting for a discussion of spirituality.
One can admire and feel reverent toward the awesome powers of nature, the amazing way in which life reproduces itself, the sheer immensity of time and space, without necessarily imagining that there is "somebody" running it all. It is amazing. It is immense. It is almost beyond human comprehension - although little by little we humans are beginning to understand something about how it works (thanks to science, by the way, and not to religion!).
I live on a large piece of land. We have our own forests, hills, meadows, trails and roads, located in an area of Oregon where the climate is very mild. We raise cattle and timber. We are right now in the middle of the spring calving season, during which we will have about 30 calves. We should be used to it, nonchalant about it, by now. But every new calf is a thrill, an excitement, to see it emerge, find its legs, and find the milk. What a miracle! Every element of it is a miracle, and awe-inspiring.
For some people, [spirituality] involves a variety of very personal things like self-realization, philosophical searching, etc. For many others, it is something like a very deep and strong emotional reaction to "wonders" of life — for example, gazing out at the universe on a clear night, seeing a newborn child, etc.
All of these and similar senses of "spirituality" are entirely compatible with atheism. There is nothing about atheism which prevents a person from have such experiences or quests. Indeed, for many atheists their atheism is a direct result of such philosophical searching and religious questioning — thus, one might argue that their atheism is an integral component of their "spirituality" and their ongoing search for meaning in life.
Our lives are such small things. Sometimes we think we need something grand to make them worthwhile -- like eternal life in paradise, or great success, or intense experiences. Or we feel we need a grand philosophy or religion to give our lives meaning. But that’s just not true.
It’s the little happinesses of life that give it meaning. Some laughter, some conversation, good food and a little sex, satisfaction at a job well done, a walk on the beach, making a difference, even if its a small difference, seeing your children become happy, healthy, productive adults, washing your car, a game of cards, a good movie, a beer.... God (if you’ll pardon the expression) is in the details.
I believe quite the opposite: that prayer is a type of moral philosophy, an active process in which the individual interacts, not with God, who does not exist, but with what Plato would have called the good or the just. At its most untroubled, that interaction is barely contentious: to walk in the world and feel connected to its people, to feel at peace, to feel that one has prudent detachment and good judgment, is a prayer so happy and uncontroversial that it barely registers with its unsuffering source. But a prayer it is, because it involves a moment of self-awareness and world-awareness, the both together.
We are more used to thinking of prayer in moments of quandary – and yet even here, surely the process can be a morally philosophical one, not just (as I grant it may be in certain life-and-death situations) a last-minute plea for succour. Everyone has experienced a time when they have been torn between right and wrong on the one hand and their own desires, yearnings, pleasures and joys on the other. Everyone has experienced the desire to go for a walk, to contemplate, to clear their head, to think things through and listen to their inner guide. What is that, really, but a kind of prayer? And what is that but a moral process?
The Center for Naturalism promotes science-based naturalism as a comprehensive worldview - a rational and fulfilling alternative to faith-based religions and other varieties of supernaturalism. The under-standing that we are fully natural beings is the foundation for an effective approach to personal and social concerns, and highlights our intimate connection to the awe-inspiring universe described by science. Through its educational activities and initiatives, the Center develops constructive applications of naturalism, supports progressive social policy, and in collaboration with other secular groups, helps to build a community of naturalists.
I consider the turning to prayer, the disposition toward prayer, a responsibility.
But it is a responsibility gladly and almost effortlessly borne.
Praying is, then, like having good manners, like being civil with the universe; like knowing how to receive a gift graciously.
In order to receive our birthright, our blessing and our gift, we must fulfill the gentle obligation of prayer.
On the other hand, you are quite free to take it or leave it. People have gone through life and will continue to go through life without the slightest notion of what I am talking about. It would be presumptuous to judge them.
The haiku is a Japanese form of poetry which evolved out of the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Traditional Japanese haiku have 17 syllables, but it has been suggested that English haiku should have more syllables, because English is a more long-winded language than Japanese, and you can pack a lot more concepts into 17 Japanese syllables than you can into 17 English syllables.
However, I tend to stick to the 17 syllable structure, divided into 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. Haiku also traditionally include a kireji, a ‘cutting word’. The cutting word divides the poem into two contrasting sections with imagery that adds a surprising twist or contrast to each other. It’s difficult to find ‘cutting words’ in English, so haiku writers in English use a dash to separate the two sections of the poem.
Haiku are essentially poems about Nature, so Japanese haiku also have a season word, to indicate in what season the action of the poem takes place. The season word does not have to be the name of the season; it can be something that is obviously associated with that season – for example, plum blossom would indicate that the poem was describing spring. The imagery of a haiku is simple and unpretentious, and generally does not use similes to achieve its effects. The natural phenomena described may very well be metaphors for something else, but the haiku may also be enjoyed for the images of natural beauty, and the human response to it, that it conjures up.
Haiku poets would often gather together to compose haiku on the spot. One poet would begin, and then another poet would respond with a haiku of their own, and in this way a series of linked haiku (known as haikai-renga) would be composed by the group.
Sometimes haiku would be combined with travel writing or other prose. The most famous example of this form is The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho, which describes Basho’s travels to the far north of Japan. The combined haiku and prose form is known as haibun.
Writing haiku teaches one to strip things back to the bare essentials, to distil experience into its pure form, and to observe Nature closely. It is a very satisfying process, because haiku are so short, and so complete in themselves.
The day after completing a 9 day Vipassana retreat, Dave turns up for work at Taronga Zoo. Seeing how chilled out Dave is, the head keeper puts him in charge of the tortoise enclosure. Dave slow walks over to the cages. At lunch time, the head keeper checks on Dave only to see the cage door wide open and all the tortoises gone! “What happened?”
“Well”, said Dave very slowly, “I opened the tortoise cage door and it was, like, Whoosh!”