Perhaps the two most significant boxes are those labelled science and spirituality. Science is science, and spirituality is spirituality. They are not to be confused, certainly not connected. Unified? Heavens no! At least this is what the dominant mindset would have us believe.
Yet, has it always been this way? Interestingly the words science and spiritual only entered the English language in the 14th and 15th centuries respectively.
It seems that previously the two were understood as being two sides of the same coin, they were ways in which our quest for understanding was undertaken.
In modern versions, science tends to ask questions about what is out there, and spirituality about what is in here. Science today asks “why is the sky blue?” or "how do black holes form?” Today, spirituality asks “who am I?” or “what is the purpose of life?”
But they are not separate. They are two aspects of our innate curiosity, and our quest for meaning and identity.
For First Nations people there is no split, nor was there for ancient forebears of western cultures. The Druids, for example, were the holders of knowledge and wisdom, whether it be knowledge of practical use or that of an esoteric nature. Furthermore, theirs was a knowledge base firmly rooted in nature. Indeed, the words Druid and tree come from the same Proto-Indo-European root word – deru.
So, why is that today we are so keen to put these two aspects of our quest into separate boxes? And why is it that, by separating them, we tend to give one greater precedence than the other? Some of us esteem science and dismiss any spiritual element. Others put spirituality at the forefront and disdain science.
That is a folly, and a dangerous one at that. The danger lies more with the offshoots of spirituality (religion) and science (technology).
However, the original folly lies in venerating one over the other.
The Time Before
Let’s return to the time before science and spirituality were split apart by western minds.
The ancient shamans, elders, and wisdom-keepers were keen observers of nature, both “outer” nature and “inner” nature. Had they not been so keen, and hence able to recognise cause and effect, there is little chance that we would have been here today.
Their inner-directed search led them to understand clearly that humans are part and parcel of that “outer” nature – that humans are not separate from nature.
These nature-based scientist/spiritualists recognised that it is a
“…human obligation to maintain the balance and health of the natural world as a solemn spiritual duty that an individual must perform daily – not simply as admirable, abstract ethical imperatives that can be ignored as one chooses.”1We see in this quote a sacredness bestowed upon scientific knowledge of the natural world, and the spiritual journey of each person.
And so, today, when the science of cause and effect is ignored and dismissed, we are making a big mistake. We make an even bigger mistake when we dismiss science in the name of religion, or even spirituality (as some New Age spiritualities are wont to do).
Similarly, we make a mistake when spirituality is dismissed because it cannot be measured and tested according to “scientific” rules.
Science and spirituality are not separate domains with nothing (or little) to offer one another.
We are creatures of nature, and as such have a part to play in nature. A part that has consequences, and hence a part we must take responsibility for.
It could be said that it is our sacred duty to be response-able participants upon this planet.
1. Peter Knutson & David Suzuki, Wisdom of the Elders, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd., North Sydney, Australia, 1992.