Just recently, I read an English copy of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, a passage of which I had read from another book, Indra’s Pearls. What struck me was its pervasive spirituality, a feel not unlike that of the writings of Carl Sagan, of Ann Druyan, the musings of Einstein, and some interviews I’ve seen with Richard Feynman.
I’m cautious about casual use of the term “spiritual,” in that by using it, I do not necessarily imply the existence of any sort of nonmaterial beings or forces at work in the Cosmos.
Spirituality, to me, is the sense of awe and respect, the feeling of grandeur at being connected to something much bigger than myself, and if others require that that something also be of a nonmaterial dimension of reality or substance, something more than ‘mere’ nature, that’s okay.
But that is not for me.
I’m not denying that there is any else out there — far from it — just being careful about what I can really say we know. I think that to claim to know something as certain without evidence to show it strikes me as pretentious, a claim to know what one does not really know.
I do not believe that spirituality and science need be in walled-off realms of human activity. I do not believe that religious and spiritual traditions, however venerable and influential, have a monopoly on the concept, that this sort of experience is necessarily off-limits to non-believers.
Far from it.
One may have an entirely secular view of life, an entirely naturalistic perspective on reality, and still have such experiences. I do so frequently, and am a nonbeliever in all traditional concepts of God, and these experiences are far from illusory, far from delusory, despite my entirely secular take on things.
I’m human, after all, with a brain that for all its quirks and limitations works much the same as those of other human beings.
Those experiences don’t last forever, of course, but then nothing does.
All is impermanent, and even the universe will die. But long before that happens, I’ll be dead and gone, my body’s matter recycled back into the cosmos from whence I rose on this tiny world, the only home I’ve ever known, and likely ever will. I hope I cannot say the same for those who come after, those lucky ones who find themselves spread across the stars in new and distant homes on other worlds.
Worlds may die, the stars will fade and grow cold, the universe may perish with a whimper rather than go out with a bang. But that’s okay, as I expect nothing of the universe not actually knowable or demonstrable, and I don’t expect more than this one life on a tiny world on the outskirts of a backward spiral arm of this nondescript, ordinary galaxy.
I don’t want immortality. I don’t want eternal bliss in union with the Divine. I’ve given some real thought to eternal life and decided that it’s not to my liking. This life, this one life I have, however short or long, is all I’ll need or want.
The carrot and stick approach to belief — hope of heavenly reward, or fear of eternal torment, or perhaps even escape from an endless cycle of lives — just doesn’t appeal to me. Far better to enjoy what I have in the here-and-now, and live in the moment, one citizen of the universe among perhaps countless sextillions more across all of spacetime, living like a mayfly for a tiny instant of the cosmic timetable, then flickering out, but for that instant immersed in what it means to be alive as a conscious part of an otherwise impersonal and stark universe that gives not a rodent’s posterior what I do, want, think, or believe.
It’s not the universe’s job to care, but ours, and for the moment, ours alone as living extensions of it.
As far as we know.
Thanks to the inquisitiveness of human beings, and the tools of science, I have seen the universe, heard its music, in my own tiny, parochial, myopic and nigh-deaf way…
…and it is grand.