Bridging Science & Spirituality
In October of 2008, just a few short months after experiencing the kundalini awakening and still having no frame of reference for that experience, a link to a TED Talk crossed my path through a Burning Man chat list email. I was new to all of it. Fairly new to using the internet, to Burning Man community, and certainly to the chat list emails. I had never heard of TED and had no idea what I was watching. What piqued my curiosity to watch the TED Talk, was the person who posted it: Neil Crocodile.
Neil Crocodile was clearly very intelligent and witty from the emails he wrote on the chat list. I had only recently met him one time at a Burning Man potluck, which were regular weekly occurrences to build the local Seattle Burning Man community. Yet, I had known him through his involvement on the chat list for many months and always appreciated his contributions.
I was literally stunned after watching the TED Talk! It was Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight. A neuroscientist who experienced a stroke that completely impaired the left hemisphere of her brain, she was, in essence, able to be her own research subject as the stroke was occurring. What she experienced and described in the talk resonated with my own experience of the kundalini awakening! With my upbringing and cultural bias toward only scientific information being legitimate, I was profoundly relieved by Dr. Taylor’s Talk. Perhaps I wasn’t going crazy after all?!
Fritjof Capra was another science-based author who provided me with much comfort in the early years of my awakening process. I was given the Tao of Physics by a client to whom I was explaining the role of physics in my architectural color work. Capra’s work continues to cross my path and provides insights into the relatedness of science and spirituality:
Fritjof Capra on Science and Spirituality
by Fritjof Capra December, 2015
Sutra Journal is thrilled to publish an original essay by the legendary Fritjof Capra. Dr. Fritjof Capra is a scientist, educator, activist, and author of many international bestsellers that connect conceptual changes in science with broader changes in worldview and values in society.
A Vienna-born physicist and systems theorist, Capra first became popularly known for his book, The Tao of Physics, which explored the ways in which modern physics was changing our worldview from a mechanistic to a holistic and ecological one. Published in 1975, it is still in print in more than 40 editions worldwide and is referenced with the statue of Shiva in the courtyard of one of the world’s largest and most respected centers for scientific research: CERN, the Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva.
Over the past 30 years, Capra has been engaged in a systematic exploration of how other sciences and society are ushering in a similar shift in worldview, or paradigms, leading to a new vision of reality and a new understanding of the social implications of this cultural transformation.
His most recent book, The Systems View of Life (coauthored by Pier Luigi Luisi) (Cambridge University Press, 2014), presents a grand new synthesis of this work—integrating the biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions of life into one unified vision.
During the 1960s, there was a strong interest in Eastern spiritual traditions in Europe and North America, and many scholarly books on Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism were published by Eastern and Western authors. At that time, the parallels between these Eastern traditions and modern physics were discussed more frequently (see, e.g., LeShan, 1969), and a few years later I explored systematically in The Tao of Physics (Capra, 1975).
My main thesis in this book is that the approaches of physicists and mystics, even though they seem at first quite different, share some important characteristics. To begin with, their method is thoroughly empirical. Physicists derive their knowledge from experiments; mystics from meditative insights. Both are observations, and in both fields these observations are acknowledged as the only source of knowledge. The objects of observation are of course very different in the two cases. Mystics look within and explore their consciousness at various levels, including the physical phenomena associated with the mind’s embodiment.
Physicists, by contrast, begin their inquiry into the essential nature of things by studying the material world.
Exploring ever deeper realms of matter, they become aware of the essential unity of all natural phenomena. More than that, they also realize that they themselves and their consciousness are an integral part of this unity. Thus mystics and physicists arrive at the same conclusion; one discipline starting from the inner realm, the other from the outer world. The harmony between their views confirms the ancient Indian wisdom that brahman, the ultimate reality without, is identical to atman, the reality within.
A further important similarity between the ways of the physicist and the mystic is the fact that their observations take place in realms that are inaccessible to the ordinary senses. In modern physics, these are the realms of the atomic and subatomic world; in mysticism, they are non-ordinary states of consciousness in which the everyday sensory world is transcended.
In both cases, access to these non-ordinary levels of experience is possible only after long years of training within a rigorous discipline,and in both fields the ‘experts’ assert that their observations often defy expressions in ordinary language.