Last week I was visiting Balliol College, Oxford. As I unpacked I discovered that the guest room had a copy of The Origin of the Species, rather than the traditional bible in the bedside drawer. This made me smile. And also reflect.
The publication of Darwin’s work and its wide acceptance as a solid explanation of our evolution, marked the beginning of the end of belief in creationism for most people. It massively increased the gap between church and education.
The Origin of the Species was published in 1859. This was 3 years after the birth of Sigmund Freud, whose work on psychoanalysis promoted a non spiritual view of human psychology. And frankly a rather hopeless one. It introduced the concepts of neurosis and brokenness as commonplace. The study of the psyche was divorced from spirituality.
By the time I came along, a little over 100 years later it seemed that agnosticism and atheism were more common than not amongst educated people. An attitude somewhere between bemusement and mild contempt towards religion was the norm where I grew up.
In my teens until my mid-20s I was in the intolerant atheist camp. The religious stories seemed to me on a par with Santa Claus, minus the generosity of spirit. Growing up in Glasgow the Catholic/Protestant enmity was indefensible. Virtually every war seemed to have some kind of religious divide at its core. To me religion looked like the root of all evil and something best avoided.
Of course secularism was no guarantee of peace and harmony. Think of the GDR, USSR or Cambodia.. Nor has the psychology which has developed since Freud led to more contentment or wellbeing. The richest countries in the world have vast numbers of people with diagnoses of mental illness. Currently around 1 in 5 Scots is on an anti depressant.
Throughout this time there were tugs in the direction of a different kind of spirituality. I noticed how many physicist found some kind of spirituality. Through karate [my university sport] I became aware of some power or capacity beyond the intellectual. At times I experienced moments of insight, where in an instant a complete solution or a fresh perspective would just pop up. Through art and creativity I experienced ‘flow’. Sometimes I felt awe in nature. Could it be that when I rejected religion, I threw away something truer and more sustaining as well?
In my mid-20s I had a kind of breakdown involving compulsive behaviour and addiction. Many wise voices pointed to a recovery movement which involved opening to some kind of higher power. It was a kind of change or die moment. This was sufficient for me to consider that there might be something beyond my intellect at work in the universe.
For the next 20 years I searched, with a genuinely open mind for what was true spiritually for me. [There is nothing quite like the ‘gift of despair’ to spur this kind of enquiry.] But I never quite found anything that entirely answered both the intellectual and the emotional questions.
Unbeknownst to me, in 1974, Sydney Banks, a Scottish man living in Canada had had a ‘Eureka’ moment in which the nature of human psychology and spirituality became clear to him. By the time I discovered his work, in 2010, his initial insight had been formulated into 3 Principles which form the basis of a new paradigm in human understanding. They do not fit neatly into the box of psychology or philosophy not are they a religion. Rather they are spiritual principles that apply to all of us. They have the same universality of the principles of gravity, physics or astronomy. These universal laws explain where our experience of life comes from.
Our capacity for Thought constantly creates our individual experience of life, from the inside out. What we see and feel is always created by what we think. Mind [or the life force] includes our innate ability for wisdom, resilience, clarity, insight and connection, in any circumstance. Consciousness is the power of awareness, including the facility to grasp these principles insightfully. It seems incredible but simply having an insightful understanding of how these invisible capacities work together leads to quantum leaps in peace and wellbeing. And has done so over the past 4 decades for groups as diverse as millionaires to lifers, sports stars to addicts and schoolchildren to burnt out physicians.
In 2010/11 stumbling across Syd Bank’s work had the same transformative effect on me, as it had had on thousands already. It was both spiritual and logical. It has stood up to the rigours that my agnostic background and legal training imbued me with.
Today I have found a spirituality that sits well with my skeptical mind. Peace of mind and contentment are the norm. Knowing that whatever might happen in my life, I will only even experience the Thought that I entertain moment to moment, has created a deep security and wellbeing I had never previously known. Wonderful insights pop up with astonishing frequency from the unlimited Wisdom within. It is encouraging too, to realise that all humans are using these same Principles to create their separate realities, whether they realise it or not. Underneath the moment to moment stream of thought no one is broken. Everyone has the possibility of waking up to their wholeness with the next Thought.
If any of this has intrigued you and you would like to discover more, please do get in touch.