The nature and question of the sacred has been contemplated by humanity since the dawn of our species. Philosophers, mystics and theologians have spent countless hours in an effort to develop rituals and frameworks to establish a path towards the sublime.
This begs this question however if the notion of the sacred can be fully comprehended by the finite individual. Perhaps rather it is a feeling, emotion or instinct that can only be known by our intuitive, self outside the scope of the rational mind. One of the most explicit representations of this idea can be found in the Tao Te Ching, Daoism’s seminal text.
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal nameLao Tzu
I will explore this notion in future posts, but for now I will introduce Dante who provided his perspectives on spirituality, and introduced us to his contemplative practices in the interview below. I met Dante through Rosemary and we connected over our mutual interest in Nietzsche, particularly the notion of Amor Fati (love of Fate). I asked him some questions and he provided his responses below.
- How would you define spirituality?
It varies from individual to individual, so I will give you a definition that only applies to my perspective.
Spirituality is a sensitivity towards recognizing reality from a position independent of the ego. The ego (or subjective sense of self), is blinding towards the state of things as they are. There is a famous quote: “we don’t see things the way they are, we see them the way we are”. For one to be “spiritual” one must only have this sensitivity, a desire to see things the way they are. I don’t see it as inevitably seeking some truth or reality. Rather it is more akin to seeking the discernment to recognize reality when it is presented. I make this distinction because the truth may come, or it may not, but the ability to recognize it is where the value lays.
2. What types of spiritual practices do you engage in?
Since abandoning all the major world religions one after another through my childhood, I’ve learned to simplify my practice.
A daily meditation practice is the crux of my practice. I take my meditations from a variety of sources, and practice what I need to practice. It takes pieces out of Vedanta, Buddhism, Yoga and secular neuroscience, and blends them into an East-West hybrid that suits my needs quite well.
One can only sit in quiet meditation for so long before going broke and getting kicked out of their apartment, so I’ve adapted to apply my meditative practices into my vocation. Modern neuroscience shows states of “flow” in activity induce similar brain function as compared to states of deep meditation. So when I am doing a job I really enjoy, I find flow states very meditative. This is important to me because I like living in the city.
Finally, I think the most valuable part of my practice to me is the practice of service. To me, the real value of my practice is the ability to do good in this world. Volunteer work, mentoring, a kind word, a piece of advice, or even picking up some trash in the park, is an irreplaceable part of my spiritual practice.
3. The Canadian-American writer Saul Bellow said “Science has made a house cleaning of belief.” One of the predominant paradigms in the 21st century is that of technology and scientific progress. How do you reconcile scientific fact with spirituality?
This is an important question for me. As a scientist and an engineer, I have found many challenges in diving into spiritual practices.
As I continue to learn more about both in my practices, I have decided for now that the two need not be reconciled. To me, it is like the night sky is to the day. The two exist on different planes, have different purposes, don’t understand each other and perhaps never will. But they both have an important place in the world, and thus, with a healthy dose of skepticism, should be appreciated and admired for the value they bring.
4. As we grow older, we develop more rigid patterns of thinking, and it can become easy to fall into mundane routines of everyday life. How do you deal with these issues, and maintain a connection to your spiritual purpose?
Learning stops once the mind perceives existence as mundane.
My solution to this is to remain childlike (to recall Nietzsche’s famous allegory). The child “is innocence and forgetting…a sacred Yes”. In this state one is able to create, to will existence through the creative energy the child wields so freely. Children are capable of learning at an astonishing rate, and psychologists have linked this to their sense of wonder and play.
I make a point to always consider myself at play, to perceive this life in astonishment. We’re biological meat sacks flying through infinity on a rock. There’s a giant ball of fire in the sky that keeps us alive but can also give us cancer. Looking at the world through this childlike perspective keeps me from falling into the trap of growing up in the conventional sense.
5. It seems like spirituality and eastern contemplative practices such as meditation and yoga have become increasingly popular in recent years. How do you make sense of this trend?
I think every human has an intrinsic sensitivity to spirituality as I have described it in question one. Since the beginning of time, people have sought to understand our state of existence. We find a strange solace in seeing that is bigger than just our selves (or our egos). This is just a swing of the pendulum of human consciousness.