“We are not all born at once, but by bits. The body first, and the spirit later… Our mothers are racked with the pains of our physical birth; we ourselves suffer the longer pains of our spiritual growth.”
― Mary Austin
Spirituality is an outcome of the evolutionary drive that infuses our universe. In this, it is no different from everything else that surrounds us and the evolutionary forces that have propelled the universe forward have formed and continue to form our spirituality. Therefore, if we want to understand spirituality and practice it consciously, we can look to the unfolding of evolution as our guide. Evolution expresses itself through spirituality in the following ways:
- Greater complexity. The universe has moved from an initial plasma after the big bang to simple hydrogen, through complex elements, then compounds, stars, planetary systems and life. Spirituality itself is an enormously complex human experience and endeavour that utilizes symbolism, ritual, values and ideology and it seeks to open us to the complexity of being and meaning. While many agree that our spiritual journeys can begin with the search for a simplicity of approach to life, as many would attest that our spiritual growth is caught up in an exploration of its depth and complexity.
- Greater purpose. With the evolution of life came the emergence of purpose. Living things seek to reproduce, gather nourishment and avoid pain, expressing purpose in ways which inanimate objects cannot. This expression of purpose reaches another level with advent of human beings as we can develop purposes which can take a lifetime (or more) and repress our instincts in the pursuit of those purposes in a way other animals cannot. Spirituality naturally focuses our purpose and gives it transcendent drive, whether that be directed towards this life in the form of sacrificial love or to the next in the form of heaven.
- Greater co-operation. Evolution advanced greatly when single-celled organisms gave up their individuality and became part of a multi-celled organism such as us. Spirituality feeds off this evolutionary desire for co-operation in it’s calls for compassion and love.
- Greater consciousness. The emergence of consciousness was a giant step in evolution. Therefore when we become more conscious of our lives and those around us we evolve. The spirituality of enlightenment or of wisdom is about the attempt to become conscious of reality as it is.
- Adaption. Perhaps one of the best known aspects of evolution is natural selection whereby the organisms that are better adapted to their changing environment thrive and evolve. Whether it be the Christina church, the Buddhist sangha or the Hindu ashram spiritual traditions are always creating social environments within which follows find new ways of adapting their lives.
- Seeking new forms. Living things need to have a mechanism to experiment with new forms which are then tested for adaption. Overall spirituality evolves through the exploration of new ideas and ways of living. This is not a straight forward process because having made an adaptive advance religions generally seek to conserve this and become dogmatic. This is one of the major differences between a religious stance and an open spiritual approach.
- Investment in the next generation. Species evolve by investing in the next generation. Through ritual and education most spiritualities invest in passing on the experiences, values and beliefs to their young people.
- Including and transcending. Every evolutionary step builds on previous ones. We contain the fruits of previous evolutions of matter and life – every molecule and biological function we use is the product of eons of evolution before us. A healthy spirituality does not need revolutionaries nor conversatives but those who include the past gains and transcend them.
- Sense of the sacred. The unique offering of spirituality is the evolution of an experience of the sacredness. This feeling sense helps us to experience wonder and awe in the face of the universes immensity and beauty. If in our consciousness the universe is aware of itself then in the sense of the holy it celebrates it.
We now have the possibility to participate in our own evolution and the evolution of all life. If we are to help progress spirituality consciously we have to understand how it works and then become conscious co-creators in our own spiritual and evolutionary development. We begin with the archetypes.