An Evolving Faith
Something is happening. On Christmas Day in Whistler this year, the church service was paltry and fell short of inspirational. We even left early. Last year, at an impressive Cathedral on the riverbank in Saskatoon, only eight people made it to mass on that formerly auspicious day. At risk of being cliché, it seems that one of the most sacred of moments in the Christian calendar is mostly about shopping these days. The priest this year even preached that one way to "have Christmas everyday" is to continue to shop and give gifts as a way to show your love. Paradoxically, I heard one of the most profound teachings on the Christmas story this year, not in a church or Cathedral, but in a yoga studio!
All this has me pausing to contemplate what is going on. Something is radically changed about how we worship. The Divine has not changed, but we certainly have, and with us, our perspectives on spirituality have too. This season particularly has me pausing to wonder...
Statistics Canada reports, "Over the last 50 years in Canada, the percentage of the adult population attending religious services has declined dramatically. In 1946, a Gallup poll reported that 67% of adults attended religious services during a typical week; in 1998, only 22% did." Some other reports suggest this is actually as low as 11%.
That we are attending formal church services less, doesn't mean that we as human beings have lost our spirituality. The spiritual dimension of every human being exists. With his teachings on the four quadrants , Ken Wilber points out a tendency in modern societies to preference exterior realities (behaviour and systems) over interior realities (consciousness and culture), and makes the point that a marriage of sense and soul is not only our birthright, but an essential part of humanity's evolution on the whole.
Wilber points out that just because one quadrant is ignored, such as the UL quadrant, does not mean that it goes away. In other words, because humans are no longer participating in religious life in this modernized, secular society does not mean that people don't still yearn to fill that spiritual dimension that nevertheless exists. It's that we fill it in other ways, such as consumerism and recreational diversions, depression and illness, meditation and yoga, some more effective than others.
James Fowler called our sense of the spiritual our sense of "ultimate concern", and his research showed how what humans have been ultimately concerned about actually develops over one's life. In other words, faith evolves. We can self-reflect on our own evolving faith and we can also see this evolution in faith in the built environments around us, as our sense of ultimate concern became reflected in our infrastructure through history. In Peru, for example, a Pre-Inkan animistic sacred site became assimilated under the chiefdom rule of the Inkas and converted into their own Temple of the Sun. During the spread of colonialism and arrival of mythic monotheistic religion, the temple was replaced with the San Isidro Cathedral. And today it remains partially operative as a church, possibly also a site for archeological research, but primarily a tourist site for visitors to Cusco, as the ultimate concern shifts again, this time towards a secular expression. All those built expressions reflect a changing sense of ultimate concern—from faith in magical animism, to faith in power gods, to faith in a theistic God, to faith in secularism.
In my home country of Canada we can also see a shift in faith in the built structures around us. Though there exists the stalwart array of churches across the city of Vancouver, even as congregation numbers decline, there are simultaneously more and more yoga studios becoming established. A quick Internet search finds approximately 70 yoga studios in Vancouver alone, with likely dozens more smaller studios and gym-based programs available. Not only that, but also each studio has multiple practice rooms, classes run all day long, and most are full and getting more full every day.
Evident questions arise. (And you may notice that you already hold assumptions about their answers!) Are the people going to these yoga studios thinking of yoga as primarily a physical or spiritual activity? Is this rising interest in yoga truly a way for people to fill their spiritual cup, even when they might only be consciously intending to attain a firmer bum? Or is the clarity of mind and sense of peace and wellbeing as much (or even more) of a draw as the promise of greater flexibility and burned calories? Do unpresuming yoga students get drenched into the deep-end of their own Spirit, without necessarily even having a framework to make sense of what is occurring?
I'll touch on some of those questions later into the article. Though, to be clear, "the state of Yoga in the West" is really a much larger treatise far beyond the scope of this short essay. It's not my intention to tackle it here. Generally I find the current media and discourse on Yoga in the West to be quite grim—it has become almost as trendy to mock yoga as it is to go to yoga classes—and it would be a tangled beast to address this topic in a mere 10 pages. Rather, in this article, with an appreciative eye to what yoga might be actually providing people, I explore how we, as a society, could be shifting towards a post-secular spirituality. That is, how might we be practicing in ways that include and transcend both the essential values and social-organizing principles of organized religion and the secular truths of our government and society, into a post-secular spiritual orientation. In other words, are we leaving religious institutions, but filling our spiritual longing in other ways, as part and parcel of the secular-selves that modern and postmodern life requires? And, if so, does that explain why yoga is so cool these days?
"I'm Spiritual, Not Religious"
That phrase, "I'm spiritual, not religious" is bantered around so frequently in everyday parlance that it risks meaninglessness. Though, I think it alone does say a lot about the issue at hand.
As I begin this section, I should say that I do recognize how religion has had, and continues to have, value in our society, and it is from a place of deep respect that I write this article. Chris Dierkes made the point in an earlier article about how actually one can't even be spiritual without also being religious, considering how as soon as we engage with more than ourselves in a spiritual practice, we create 'religion.' Also, most if not all the esoteric mystical practices we enjoy today were carried over thousands of years through their exoteric institutional vehicles, namely: religions. Added to that, most of the population in the developing world is religious, making up some ¾ of our human population. If I care about our planet, I have to care about the state of religions since the vast majority of humans are "people of faith." For that same reason, here in Canada (along with Western Europe and to a lesser degree perhaps the United States), a society on a fast-track to complete secularization, I care about how and why religions are no longer serving people as they once did. Pretending that everything is okay with religion is simply avoiding the issue at hand, which is that congregations in secular societies are declining, and rapidly.
In an article entitled, "Who's religious?" Warren Clark and Grant Schellenberg explore this issue of declining congregations in greater granularity.
"There has been much debate about whether Canada is becoming increasingly secularized. Many argue that institutional religion has a reduced influence on Canadian society. Certainly, religious attendance rates between the late 1940s and late 1990s have declined significantly while the percentage of people reporting no religious affiliation has increased. But does this imply that there is an erosion of individual faith, based on the supposition that attendance rates decrease because people lack the belief that motivates attendance? Well-known social researcher Reginald Bibby asserts that others have been wrong in predicting the demise of religion in Canada because people continue to have spiritual needs.
So, while we may be leaving institutionalized spaces of worship, people a) are still to some extent spiritual, and b) are still somehow meeting their spiritual needs.
Ken Wilber writes in Up From Eden how our effort to connect and unify with Spirit takes different forms, and often we settle for substitutes rather than the real thing. Having left religion as such, people have gone to other things to fill that space within, such as scientism, atheism, their own private practices, and consumerism, not all of which actually deliver on that promise. Taking the latter as an example, and following Wilber's line of thinking, consumerism can be characterized as a substitute—an effort to connect with Spirit and a way to become fulfilled. Beyond a brief alleviation of desire, a brief achievement of one's seeking, I don't believe it delivers spiritual fulfillment in a lasting way for its adherents.
"The secular world depends upon the things it needs to divert itself and escape from its own nothingness. It depends on the creation and multiplication of artificial needs, which it then pretends to 'satisfy'. Hence the secular world is a world that pretends to exalt man's liberty, but in which man is in fact enslaved by the things on which he depends.... In secular society man is subject to his ever-increasing needs, to his restlessness, his dissatisfaction, his anxiety, and his fear, but above all to the guilt which reproaches him for infidelity to his own inner truth. To escape this guilt, he plunges further into falsity."
In this somewhat bleak situation, nevertheless people still seek to fill spiritual needs. In the hyper-individualist flavour of both modern and postmodern society, it makes sense that private and personal ways we engage spiritually have increased alongside the decline in participation in organized religion. Says Clark and Shcellenberg:
"To get a more complete picture, private religious behaviour such as prayer, meditation, worship and reading of sacred texts on one's own is examined. Although some Canadians have little or no connection with religious organizations, the 2002 EDS shows that they do engage in such private religious behaviour either at home or in other locations....Perhaps most striking is the many Canadians who infrequently or never attend services yet regularly engage in personal religious practices. Of those who infrequently attended religious services over the previous year, 37% engaged in religious practices on their own on a weekly basis."
As worship in a traditional-mythic religious context becomes less and less congruent with our modern mindsets—and as it becomes almost 'taboo' in a secular society—then to fulfill this part of ourselves, we do take it into a private space. Wilber explains in Integral Spirituality how a large percentage of college students in the US pray in the closet, as the religion that is presented to them is too mythic to be integrated with their modern mental models becoming established through their courses of study. (These are some of the very folks you'll hear parroting, "Oh, I am spiritual, not religious.") On the one hand, taking your spirituality into your own hands can be a positive thing in that it increases personal responsibility and commitment to practice. On the other hand, you can't really get too far in spiritual practice on your own, as the ego too quickly and easily co-opts the whole endeavor. And, there is a sense of repressive or even oppressive energy around having to do this in private. Says Wilber, today, the only appropriate modern response to someone catching you praying is embarrassment.
More and more, however, there are socially condoned ways to engage our spiritual needs in a secular context. Buddhism has long been the place to which disillusioned congregations of monotheistic religions have turned. Today, yoga is on the rise in Canada, with an extraordinary numbers of practitioners. And this is what I will touch on in the remainder of this piece, particularly on how might yoga be contributing to enacting this post-secular spiritual endeavor.
Jeffrey Armstrong, Vedic scholar and yoga philosophy teacher, Vancouver suggests, "By 2006, 10% of people in Canada and the USA were practicing some form of yoga. That's over 40 million people." That's a lot of people. The population of Canada is 33.7 million!
I've personally experienced this rising trend in yoga popularity, having practiced yoga intensively since 1997. The first few years of practice, I tried several yoga forms, eventually settling into one very traditional lineage that I spent over a decade practicing and now practicing anusara yoga informed by Tantra philosophy. Having studied in India with the Guru, learning the depth of yoga, and experiencing an unbroken lineage that stretched back hundreds of years, I was at one point very disappointed to see what yoga had become in the West.
My disappointment was specific, and likely shared by many of you reading this, so perhaps it is worth a brief explanation. I was disappointed because I felt we had sacrificed depth for span. For example, the yoga Guru I studied with in India was 94 when he died and had taught yoga for over 70 years! He was among literally less than 10 peers—a precious group of Swamis and Gurus that are in their 80s and 90s today. He was so steeped in the practice of yoga and had so imbibed the wisdom in the yoga texts that his presence alone had an impact on one's consciousness. He stayed true to a very traditional form of practice, and though he taught as many students who came to him, obviously he on his own could not reach a group as large as 40 million people. So, he and his teaching were an example of more depth, less span. Following from this same example, today, to meet the 40-million person demand, there are tons of yoga teachers. An educated guess (based on teacher bios) would say that an average yoga teacher today may have 5-7 years of practice and fewer years of teaching, and certainly not all or even most have deeply studied the yoga texts and meditative practices. So: less depth, more span. 40 million yoga practitioners, multitudes of studios, and tons of teachers, the span of yoga is surely evident. But had it expanded so quickly that we lost the connection to what yoga deeply means?
As time has passed and my own awareness shifted, I have softened on this point, surrendered my preferences of how I wanted yoga in the west to look, and realized that, simply put: for hours, all day long, in studios all across the nation, people are going to yoga. Yoga. Not to the gym, or aerobics, or to the bar, or to the movies. Maybe they are also doing those things, but still there are only 24 hours in a day, so yoga is finding its way into people's lives. I started to wonder if, in amongst the span that yoga had become in the west, the depth wasn't also present too... That is, people are moving towards yoga for a reason, and I intuit that reason has as much to do with depth (meaning, inspiration, and insight) as span (availability, accessibility, and popularity).
Which brought me to the question: What actually is drawing people to yoga, in a context in which, at the same time, people are leaving in droves from churches?
Three Potential Draws of Yoga
Critics have said (and with good reason) that yoga can focus people on the body and physical achievement, and less on the spiritual dimension of the practice. That most yoga students are there for physical reasons is the most common assumption about yoga today. Some have said wryly that it is understandable that the current modern consumerist culture would take well to such a body-oriented spirituality. In many cases, that is true. Let's face it: some are practicing because they are concerned with their body and yoga is trendy. But, consider this: even with body-focused intentions for practice, the yoga tradition and practice radically includes the gross body, as well as the subtle and causal bodies. Called 'bodies' or 'sheaths' (koshas), the philosophy describes how a yoga practice awakens you to your multiple layers of being. These include: the physical, vital, mental, discernful, and blissful layers of being. So, even if people are going to yoga for physical achievement, nevertheless through simply showing up they are being drenched in these layers of their being, from their physicality right through to their deepest layer of the self, satchitananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss).
So, perhaps a first reason for why yoga is on the rise may simply be: it feels good. It feels good on a physical level to stretch and build strength, it feels good to enliven your vital energy by syncing your movements with breath, it feels good to sharpen your mind and discernment through drawing awareness inward in introspection, and it feels good to be able to rest as who you truly Are.
How great is that?! Especially when institutionalized religion just doesn't fly for you anymore and your secular culture that doesn't give you too many valid substitutes.
This does raise some intriguing questions though.... For example, one of the Beams and Struts editors asked,
"So, if someone comes to yoga purely out of a desire for a better body (and let's say this desire is purely egoic, not out of legitimate health concerns, but just because they want to look hot or because it's fashionable), are they likely to inadvertently get a spiritual benefit from the experience?"
There are couple ways I would go about answering that. I can definitely relate with the question, and the trendy materialism of yoga for a long time caused me much heartache. Though not anymore, and in reading the question posed by the editor above, my first response (from both a non-dual Yoga perspective and from an Integral Theory perspective) was: what is 'not spiritual' about wanting to look hot or be fashionable? What is 'more spiritual' about doing yoga for 'legitimate health concerns'? Yoga teaches us that Spirit is already and fully present in all that is arising, and the extent to which we split half of reality into "not spiritual", we limit ourselves into a dualistic state of constant seeking. This will ring familiar to anyone who has read Wilber's Integral Spirituality. To echo this, in a yoga class recently the teacher closed with a Vedic mantra on wholeness that is often sung as a closing prayer. Om Purna Madah Purna Midam Purnat Purnamudacyate Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnam-Eva-Vasisyate Om Shantih Shantih Shantih, which is one of the most luminous mantras that affirms 'All is Spirit'. It translates as: This is the whole; The whole becomes manifest; Taking away the whole From the whole, The whole remains.
Getting back to the question posed above, the second way I would answer would be to say, ...well, yeah, maybe! As teacher Christine Price-Clark said in class one day recently, “Regardless of your intention, the highest teachings of yoga will meet you.” Maybe people who are coming to yoga for completely egoic reasons are actually inadvertently drenching themselves in their True nature—their entire being stretched open, their heart filled and surrendered. Imagine it. It isn't too far a stretch of the imagination since that is what yoga was designed for. Yoga practice sort of assumes that for the majority the path of awakening will begin with the egoic physical layer of the self, and it is designed to gradually bring wakefulness through into the vital, intellectual, discernful, and blissful layers of being (described above as the koshas). This can and does occur in a single class, but usually takes a longer time practicing to become stabilized. Having a strong body is only a by-product of the main point, as most long-time practitioners deeply know. But, a beginning student may experience a moment of awakening in all these layers of being, without even having a framework to understand what's going on! And that's okay. And perhaps as they leave the class, they shift from the experience of satchitananda back into their small-minded concern for their firm body, for their new clothes, or whatever. That is completely possible, since the state that a person experiences in yoga (or any spiritual practice for that matter) will still be interpreted in the context of their current worldview, or stage. This is not occurring just in yoga, it is true in any spiritual practice. For example, I am certain that Christians and Muslims throughout the decades and centuries who had profound experiences in churches and mosques, later acted in ways that seemed incongruent with the profundity of that experience (think: Christian Crusades of the past and Islamic terrorism today). If yoga students have a profound experience in class and then leave the studio thinking about new clothes or a firm body, that's fine on the whole because a) they nevertheless they experienced something that is not-just-physical and certainly different than what they feel in the gym, in aerobics, in the mall, at movies, even at church, (or else they wouldn't be there), and b) what they are feeling into is something that will help unfold their awakening, since that is what yoga was designed for.
And, as for their worldview...well, we can only hope, at this point, that yoga may assist in evolving beyond a mere physical, egoic, materialistic orientation. Traditional practices East and West were designed to deepen states of consciousness primarily, and thus foster a greater compassionate way of being in the world, but they weren't initially intentionally designed to evolve worldviews. The insights of developmental psychological arose in a modern society, far later than when the traditions became established. An integral spiritual practice calls for a way to also directly engage the evolution of worldviews, along with the deepening of states of consciousness. But, I am curious how well we are doing on that front and will speak to this briefly below.
A possible second reason why people are being drawn to yoga relates to the fact that, being a tradition of 'direct-realization', yoga doesn't require students to act in blind faith. Rather, students are asked to take up a set of practices that have been proven, through a history of thousands of years, to evoke awakening or self-realization (deeper states of consciousness) and may also assist in one's evolution (higher stages of development). But, no one is asked to take that on blind faith! Rather, what is asked is that you practice. And through that practice—perhaps over months, years, decades—students directly realize what the texts and teachers are talking about. This first-person perspective is refreshing after (often) a childhood in the church, synagogue or mosque, where you were told what was right to believe and what the truth was (third-person perspective) or you were required to hand-over your salvation to an unseen Other by whatever name (second-person perspective). There is surely a place for faith in yoga (called shradda in Sanskrit) and for some it eventually may become the very foundation of practice, but a second-person relationship with an external God is not the entry point. This surely assists our modern, secularized selves to take up yoga practice.
This could be a second reason for why yoga is on the rise. As Wilber says, spirituality and religion in a modern and postmodern world is unlikely to survive if it cannot respond to modernity's requirement for empirical evidence and post-modernity's requirement for awareness of social and inter-subjective context. So far, on these two points, yoga is doing fairly well—though of course there is room for improvement—particularly by focusing on the injunctions of the practice, rather that the dogma of the tradition. As a yogi, your task is to take up those practices, through which insight emerges; you are not asked to believe blindly in dogma. "Practice, and all is coming," my Guru used to say. Wilber (2006) describes how, "the meaning of a statement is the injunction of its enactment," and so in this case: the meaning of Yoga is found in the injunction (the actual practices of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi) of its enactment. Not in blind faith, not in being told it is so, not in prescribing to a dogma that you recite on Holy days. To put it simply: being a path of direct realization, yoga is experienced by the post/modern individual as verifiable, empowering, and trust-worthy.
As the Christmas season dawned this year in Vancouver, as lights went up on houses, as stores put out their Christmas decorations to entice shoppers, as churches organized their seasons' services for the holy days of Advent and Christmas, a third reason as to why yoga is drawing so many students occurred to me.
As usual, I went to yoga one afternoon, to a class of about 40 students. Being a small room, our mats were placed "India-style"; that is, with only a couple inches between them. The room was one unified movement of breath, each person's awareness drawing inward and deepening. The teacher began to teach, surprisingly, on the Christmas story! She spoke eloquently about how the story is actually an age-old story of how we as humans have followed the Light. Followed the Light unwaveringly, until we found it as Spirit incarnate. She spoke of how that had occurred on Christmas night some 2000 years ago when the wise men searched for and found baby Jesus, and that it also occurs in other different spiritual religions worldwide, in different names and forms. Comparing our use of mantra invocation to the Word becoming flesh, she reminded us that it occurs again and again in us, moment to moment, as we practice: we follow the Light and realize it as our Self.
Completely congruent with both yoga and Christianity as I know it, I was simultaneously moved by what she said, and also very saddened. Saddened that in all my time spent in church, I've never heard that teaching conveyed as crystal clearly as that. Saddened that this insight and beauty of the Christmas story was being given in a yoga class and not in church, the very religious institution where it should be shared. And yet, I was deeply moved too. Moved, first and foremost by the insight of this Christmas story, which in first-person mystical terms is truly astounding. And, secondly, moved that it would be shared come hell or high-water, even in this secularizing society, in a context in which 'we're leaving the fold', in a context where 'the only appropriate modern response to being caught praying is embarrassment.' That it would be shared, despite the encroaching secular attributes of our society, in such a way that numerous students upon completion of the class pulled the teacher aside to quietly say how inspiring it was.
This makes up a possible third reason that yoga is on the rise: it's fulfilling a spiritual dimension that isn't being met elsewhere. Wilber describes how we'll naturally find ourselves gravitating to practices that resonate for two aspects of ourselves (and as we become able to, we can consciously track and engage them in our practice). They are: our stage of spiritual growth, which is our stage of faith or stage of ultimate concern. And our state of consciousness, or our realization that deepens through practice from gross to subtler and subtler forms of insight (eventually to 'samadhi' in Yoga, 'enlightenment' in Buddhism, 'unification' in Christianity). So, stage and state are important.
All too often, the messaging of religion is put forth for a traditional, mythic stage relating mostly to a gross state (which is why so much of the Christmas story remains literal) maybe with some very preliminary subtleties (such as, the occasional metaphorical explanation offered in Mass). Infrequently a priest will teach in such a way to evoke deep state of unification in a church service, and much more rarely anything beyond that. Proponents of religion explain that this is so, because the majority of the congregation is at a traditional and literal stage. True. But, better put: that is where the remaining members of a declining congregation are at, and begs the question, where are the ones that left at?
People will invariably go to where they are met in their stage and state of consciousness, whether one practices privately or whether one seeks out alternative forms of spirituality, such as yoga. And usually that is not because we 'feel the best there'; on the contrary, usually that is where we are in fact most challenged and stretched. A true spiritual aspirant will go to where his or her realization is deepening, not to where he or she are under-challenged and coddled. Even in yoga, as mature practitioners progress through the practice, some reach a point in their realization where they actually need sophisticated support in deepening their meditative states. Since, while you can find such advanced yoga teachers, they are simply fewer around (more depth, less span), at this point of their practice, some yogis have turned to other spiritual teachers wherever they find them (Buddhism, Christianity, Tantra, etc.) as a complement to their yoga practice.
Of course, a critic might say that to contextualize spiritual practice as this evolution of realization through stages and states would promote individualism, turn religion into a series of "meeting needs," and therefore basically become infected with consumerism. Good point. Perhaps. Though, the risk of not meeting the stages and states manifest in your congregation or group of followers means that you are literally not serving them in the very reason they are coming to you. They are coming to be inspired and challenged, fulfilled and awakened, devoted and delivered.
Wilber has coined the phrase 'conveyor belt' in describing the unique potential that religion has to become a pathway of evolution for its adherents. In Integral Spirituality, he describes very comprehensively why religion isn't actually fulfilling that potential and how it is stuck at a mythic, traditional and literal interpretation. He challenges religion and spirituality to find a way to navigate from traditional towards a modern and postmodern expression. Looking at the expression of yoga in the West today, note some of the things it focuses on: it affirms our individuality and unique sense of self, it focuses on empowerment, self-improvement, and performance, it is held as a universal practice for anyone rather than being exclusively for those in the tradition, it emphasizes opening the heart and heart-connection with others... all of which arises at modern, universalistic and postmodern, pluralistic worldviews! Right before our very eyes yoga may be making this very transition that Wilber calls for, becoming a conveyor belt from traditional to modern and postmodern! If this is true, why have we missed it? Well, perhaps we are more entrenched than we realize in what Wilber calls the Level Line Fallacy—seeing spirituality as synonymous with the traditional stage—so that we hardly even have a sense of what 'modern spirituality' might be. Perhaps some of the assumptions about how yoga has lost its depth by becoming so popular and physically oriented is actually part of our inherent sense that spirituality should be traditional, and shouldn't be framed and practiced in this 'modern' way. Interesting to consider. I am truly not sure about whether I am right on this, but I am willing to consider it more deeply.
In the same way, I wonder if the church congregations are increasing in the churches where the ministers and priests are evolving their messages, still aligned with the tenets of the religion but interpreted in modern, postmodern, and integral ways, and evoking deeper states of illumination and unification? The United Memorial Church on W. 16th and Burrard, in Vancouver, comes to mind, with Reverend Bruce Sanguin at the helm. And, the integral inquiry on post-postmodernity here at Beams and Struts is being promoted, stimulated, and lead by Chris Dierkes, a recently ordained Anglican priest; how he'll engage his congregations is something for us all to look forward to in the coming years and decades. By whatever routes, we'll seek to be met and we'll naturally gravitate to that which most resonates and inspires. My experience in yoga during the Christmas season speaks directly to the ways in which we are seeking to be met spiritually, in both our stages and states, and, in unseemly places, we are continuing to find the Light in the Christmas story.
Towards a Post-Secular Spirituality
So, on the eve of 2011, my inquiry is, what could a post-secular spirituality look and feel like in Canada? How might we integrate the truths of spirituality and religion with our secular values into a post-secular worldspace?
In the natural flow of development, we have moved from a predominantly traditional and mythic faith into a modern and universal ultimate concern which spawned many of the secular beliefs our lives are guided by. For some, this has progressed to a post-modern, pluralist ultimate concern with spiritual materialism, inter-faith dialogues, 'yoga for the people', and the like. Yet, how well are we navigating this evolving faith, this evolution of our ultimate concern, and are we able to integrate truths from all these waves of consciousness in an integral spiritual practice? That is the question that both inspired this paper and that I continue to reflect on.
The term "post-secular spirituality" asks us to first include and integrate secular truths with spiritual truths. This could become a requirement for religions today, as Wilber reminds again and again in Integral Spirituality, that religions more likely to survive the post/modern turn will be ones that can answer to modernity's call for objective evidence and postmodernity's call for inter-subjective contexts. Which basically means, religion needs to include secular truths. Some may ask, eyebrows raised: religion include secular truths? That is a tall order, precisely because it re-defines both religion and secularism in a new light, an integral light.
While we are a long way from that, I treasure its potential. I feel hope, even as I watch the congregations' numbers decline and our society rest in the freedom and vacuity of no organized spiritual engagement and insufficient modern substitutes. Even in that vacuum, to recognize and fulfill their spiritual dimension, people nevertheless are turning to spiritual practices that can and do enact a post-secular space. This holiday season, I am humbled and moved to see that yoga just might be one of them.
“My gratitude to Sjanie McInnis for an inspiring teaching on the Christmas story and to all teachers today—in Yoga, Christianity, or any tradition—that unwaveringly provide conduits for our awakening.
Gail Hochachka works in international development and humanitarian aid in Africa and Latin America using integral principles with two Canadian non-profit organizations. Having witnessed first-hand how a comprehensive philosophy like Integral theory is achingly needed to address global issues, as well as having felt the compassionate impact of its application in the world, she is simply and deeply committed to integral practice for the planet. She is adjunct faculty at JFKU in the online Master of Arts in Integral Theory.
To read Gail's full bio, please go here.
This is Gail's first guest contribution at Beams & Struts.
Wilber, K. 1984, Up From Eden. Boston: Shambhala
Wilber, K. 2006. Integral Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala