Science and Religion by Starlight and Streetlight

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Science doesn’t hate religion, just as religion doesn’t hate science. This I am confident in stating.

The sharp, irreconcilable contrast between science and religion are only as sharp and irreconcilable as we believe them to be. These two schools of thought, which we sometimes spend inordinate amounts of time and energy separating from each other, are nothing more than two natural facets of human intellect derived to bring sense, order, and purpose to existence, and they complement each other harmoniously–just as the steel and glass and concrete of our cities can blend with natural horizon and hues to enhance the beauty laced throughout an environment.

I love science but dislike how we sometimes use it with hostility, looking for every possible way that a theory or formula or function related to our material existence may disprove the reality of creation–creation as defined as a function of a thinking entity, an intelligent designer, such as God. I love religion and spirituality, but can also say I dislike when we use religious, spiritual, God-related thought to discredit scientific thought. Why do we place so much precious energy into fighting over concepts we can often neither prove nor disprove; information that stays happily dancing in the outer layers of logic and reality beyond our intellectual reach? We’ve got to admit it at some point–we just aren’t sure what in the world the world is, where it came from, where we and all other interesting creatures came from, where exactly all of our thoughts and ideas originate, what a thought is, why coffee is so divine or why bell bottoms never really go out of style. Instead of depleting our energies over trivialities, what about a more compassionate, concerted effort between us to simply drop our defenses and stop protecting the sense of superiority our personal biases and beliefs confine us to, so that we instead can enjoy and investigate the brilliant mystery of existence together? It’s just a thought, it’s just a slightly frustrated statement I feel compelled to make after reading article after article from each side of the great debate, finding few that honor the fundamental crux of the mystery–that it is, in great measure, mystery and allows for varied, imaginative, free-flowing thought and theory.

The world outside this middle of the night, this almost 2AM in summertime, is wonderful. Loosely flowing clouds, stars framed with poignant light, low rumble from a military plane drifting toward the nearby base, smell of the earlier evening’s rain still infused in soil, grass, and voluminous tree leaves. I sit on a balcony created through the art of architecture, shaped and nailed into place by human workers. I drink a warm mug (man made) of hot chocolate with ingredients made in part from cocoa beans that once grew from the earth. I see both airplanes and stars in the sky, the quiet neighborhood is lit with both streetlights and celestial light. It’s too beautiful a night to skip sitting outside and feeling the undeniable magnitude of beauty the senses were designed to pick up, the mind was designed to interpret, and something somewhat unexplainable within us is able to connect with, finding love and purpose there. I, like everyone else, am both intellectual machine and emotional being; the basic dual-purpose human design.

As a long-term student and practitioner of psychology, I am familiar with neuroscience, anatomy, and chemical theories of behavior. As a lifelong seeker and practitioner of the spiritual elements of existence, I also know of neuroscience, anatomy, and chemical theories of behavior–the ways these affect and are affected by spiritual thoughts and actions–as well as intuition, emotional energy, and faith. What I personally have found, what I have concluded in my own way, of my own accord and path, unaffected by and not wishing to affect the paths of others, is that both sets of traits assigned to these two different schools of thought exist merged at points, blended in ways, inseparable in certain concepts. The more I study science, the more I understand creation. The more I consider creation the more easily I see it in the methodic, formulaic arrangement of earth, solar system, universe, each earthly terrain or plant or bird, and each further placed planet or galaxy. When Rene Dubos, microbiologist, experimental pathologist, environmentalist, and humanitarian, said that “each human being is unique, unprecedented, unrepeatable,” I believe it is a statement that belies intelligent design. And in the Dalai Lama’s statement, “What we do and think in our own lives, then, becomes of extreme importance as it effects everything we’re connected to,” is the reminder that we live in an interconnected, systematic world that scientific thought can help us understand.

As a usually peaceful kind of person—I admit to having my moments—I find the greater mystery of living is why we fight with such diligence to show each other how wrong it is to believe certain things, bringing significant ways of thought such as science and religion into the fight to apply as weapons instead of unifying forces of humanity. We were brought into this world without any say, and here we are, moving right along with the universe–all we really need do is enjoy and honor the fact that we are here, witnessing existence and being given a vast amount of information to explore. How each of us understands our being here is personal and should be safe from the judgments of others.

What an unusual fact it is to have wound up in this complex world of mystery upon mystery, beauty after beauty, and how any of this truly came to be is still not information we are privy to.

On perfect nights that expose the artistry of existence, including the way nature and technology coexist in incredibly harmonious fashion, it seems so crystally, star-lighty, refreshingly clear that understanding the mystery should be included among things best not to bicker about. Grab a drink, warm or cold, and a friend to talk with under the sky instead.

*******
My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit
who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive
with our frail and feeble minds.
That deeply emotional conviction of the presence
of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible Universe,
forms my idea of God.

–Albert Einstein
*******

*What if we asked each other more instead, and then listened, closely, to the answers?
*In what small ways will you share more with others and let others share with you in order to understand more?

science-v-religion

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Let It Drift Onward, Like Smoke

“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” – Cherokee Saying

During my time in the early 2000s working in a recovery center for substance abuse and addiction, I learned about Native American smudging rituals from, Goodteacher, a colleague of mine who was of Lakota descent and very attuned to practices of his Native spirituality. Smudging is also known as the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing, and is when certain herbs and grasses considered to have sacred properties are burned to cleanse an area or person of negative energy. In the belief system behind this cleansing ritual, smoke is said to attach itself to negative energy and as the smoke floats away, the negativity is carried with it.

At the suggestion of Goodteacher, I took the opportunity to sit in with a group during a summer evening and experience a smudging ceremony. We were outside in a public park, but smudging of the self need not be outdoors. There are different ways to perform the ceremony of smudging, as based on variations in beliefs between groups or on personal preference.

The method I learned began with an invokation to the ancestors; we called upon the wisdom of those who have taken care of this earth and learned the ways of this life before ourselves, and we thanked them for their wisdom. We then called upon the four basic elements of our existence, earth, air, fire, water. We thanked the elements for all that they give to us. We also turned to face North, East, South, and West to be sure gratitude was sent out through our world in all directions. And then we sat, and our ceremony leader, Sheila Quiet Dove, a woman of European and Cherokee bloodline, walked to each of us and wafted smoke from a small bundle of herbs lightly over our bodies.

“Picture the negative thoughts, ideas and actions you want to rid yourself of now,” Quiet Dove told us. “Focus on these negative energies that are interfering with your ability to live each moment fully.” Similar to Kundalini yoga, relaxation, and meditation techniques, we closed our eyes and focused on our breathing while the smoke danced over us, wrapped us in itself briefly before spiraling its way to the evening sky.

While the smoke raced away on breezes, we opened our eyes and cupped our hands, given this last instruction in the ceremony: “Any negativity left in you now, picture it falling like dust into your hands. Now blow into it, let it blow away. Let it follow the smoke onward and away from yourself. You have made the choice to let it go, and the Great Spirit takes it away because this is your choice.”

And that was that, and it was refreshing. The sage and other dried herbs were fragrant and peaceful; everyone was smiling; the birds settling into their trees as the sun dropped further to let night move in were singing their evening, nesting songs; there was the general sense that there was a positive aura of energy that each of us, and all else in the perimeter of nature we were occupying, was basking in. There was a zero amount of negativity for the time being; we had decided that this is what we wanted, and knowing that it can’t exist at all times made us appreciate it more.

My understanding of prayer and other spiritual/religious rituals: when we perform these rituals, it is not necessarily about whether or not there is the God many of us believe in to listen to our needs. It is about how performing these rituals produces positive thought and energy within us. Our rituals bring us comfort and optimism, they allow us to expand our minds into greater possibilities about existence and into greater capacity to feel connected to everyone and everything we share our world with. I don’t mind when others lack belief in religion or God; not everyone needs or wants the belief. We are who we are and we understand our reality in the way that is best suited to us. I do not believe there is a right way or a wrong way to believe in regard to religion and God.

To believe does not mean to injure others–mentally or physically–for not, just as not believing brings no right to injure those who do. Atheism and deism can live in the same space and not interfere with each other; we don’t need to fear those who pray or burn herbs or leave offerings in temples, and we don’t need to fear those who give thanks for having a life without believing in a creator to thank. We are who we are, and we all need our own thoughts, rituals, and belief systems to find our connections to and optimism in this world.

For me, it was the study of science, of how this world is composed in materials and systems and structure, that brought me back to a connection to the single concept given a name by many groups of people throughout history: God; Wakan Tanka, or Great Spirit, or Great Mystery; Yaweh; Allah; Brahman.

This is me, it may not be you. What seems important in spiritual practices, is simply that we find optimism–a reason to be thankful, a reason to live, a reason to love others, a reason to enjoy our time here.

This is why, no matter who you are and what you believe or do not believe, you might find some type of spiritual or religious practice that works in your life on your terms.

Among spiritual practices of my chosen faith and from the many other faiths I’ve had the honor to learn from, smudging is one I like to keep in regular practice. To be honest, I rarely use the herbs, I simply sit, focus on what I need to release in order to make myself a little heathier in mental and physical capacity, and when I’m ready to make the choice to give these negative energies away so that I’m not slowed down by the weight and doubt they clutter my mind with, I cup my hands and blow into them, imagining I can see particles of negative energy drifting onward, like smoke.