The Holy is the Gateway Drug to Holiness

What do you do if you are committed Naturalist and believe that the world you live in is the product of a long process of Darwinian evolution by natural selection but feel strangely discontented with a strong “spiritual” impulse to be more connected to everything?

There are five options really: politics, therapy, prescription drugs, meditation and shamanism. Perhaps you are discontented because of the socioeconomic conditions of late capitalism and need to work towards reform or revolution. Perhaps you are discontented because of a chemical imbalance in your brain and need medical treatment. Perhaps you are discontented because of psychological blockages and traumas and need to uncover and heal them. Perhaps you are discontented because your mind is too busy and you need to find stillness and quiet to appreciate the present moment. Perhaps you are discontented because you have lost touch with your body and the natural world and need to “return to the native”.

If you are a Naturalist and feel the discontents of civilization keenly enough, you will inevitably set up a dichotomy between Culture and Nature, Delusion and Enlightenment. This is why scientifically-minded rational Westerners are drawn to Buddhism and Taoism, which offer a path of liberation from alienation and discontent (dukkha) within a Naturalist paradigm. It also explains why Westerners are drawn to shamanic traditions and to psychedelics, which promise to re-connect us to our True Nature.

Of the five options listed above, the first three are more “worldly” that the other two. Politics and psychotherapy generally move within the orbit of human culture (apart from the further reaches of Humanist-Transpersonal therapeutic modalities) and prescription drugs can’t do much more than alter your mood. You may feel better up to a point, less alienated and discontented, and enjoy “ordinary unhappiness” as Freud put it, but you won’t scratch the “spiritual” itch.

If you take meditation and shamanism seriously and practice assiduously, you will begin to get results. You will start to feel more connected, more natural and more yourself. If you persist, however, you will also start to feel something else, an ineffable and mysterious sense of “the holy”. In deep meditation, the experience of the moment is imbued with holiness. In shamanic immersion, everything begins to glow with other-worldly numinosity. The forest glade feels like a sacred place. The drumming and chanting sound like sacred music.

In the presence of the holy, you begin to have a deeply-felt, intimate sense of the holiness of all things. In those moments, you no longer feel alienated and discontented. You feel connected and whole. You feel reverence and awe. You begin to have recognizably “religious” feelings, even if intellectually you are still a committed Naturalist.

Many people stop here or pull back. The re-sacralization of the world has been adequately achieved and they can get on with their lives a little wiser and happier, with a deeper sense of the sacredness of life. Others press on to “the source of all holiness”. However, once God has put his foot in the door, religion inevitably comes flooding in. It becomes clear that the true aim of human life is holiness and that the most direct way to holiness is exposure to the holy, and that the greatest repository of the holy is religion.

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