The most challenging hurdle that I face as a Secular Humanist, is just how different my worldview is from those that I interact with on a daily basis. The majority find my views threatening to their experience of life. It goes beyond people of a religious persuasion, to friends who are “spiritual.” We might all share the English language, but our meanings are not the same.
Twelve years ago, the metaphysical was my last stop before becoming an Atheist. My friends were shamans, reiki practitioners, wiccans, and various energy workers. I performed as a belly dancer with a percussion group, and wrote odd little melodies on the mandolin paired with my poetry. A perfect day was spent at artist Alex Gray’s Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, where my friends and I hob-knobbed while people at our feet were stoned out on LSD. I viewed life in such a romantic sense; surrounded by people who should only exist in literature.
Often, the spirit world seemed more prevalent than the real world. Much later, I came to understand that the spirit world does not exist—it is simply the strength of the mind. If a person believes something to be true, their mind does whatever it takes to prove that thing to be true. This is enhanced in group experiences, where everyone becomes caught up in a performance of certainty and the exclusion of outsiders. Some people gain power through building on charisma or paranoia. Their position is heightened through supernatural terms where the imagination has no limits.
When people feel that they are having a spiritual experience, they sense a breakdown of physical form, while feeling expansive and united with others. As this occurs, the anterior of the brain—the part which gives us spatial awareness—slows its function. The temporal lobe increases in activity—the part which breaks down space, allowing us to connect, or in some circumstances, hallucinate. This experience is not supernatural, or even spiritual at all. It is what we actually are—physical forms understanding our connection with other physical forms. Rather than the spiritual, I believe in what exists—space, energy, form.
One of my closest friends has a difficult time understanding my views. We first met at the height of my metaphysical phase, and our shared history is a strong bond. She is very intelligent with an intimidating personality that comes from being passionate about a cause. A few months ago, she stayed with us for a week so that she could take a class in the city. She began to get to know the more recent parts of me that we hadn’t fully explored in the brief visits we’ve shared in the past ten long-distance years. My views really upset her, and one night, she and my husband debated me for hours. She has a scientific point of view, and sees the metaphysical as an essential part of that. My husband believes in an uninvolved god and the idea of spirit, but he had never debated against my atheism before. On other issues, yes, but not on this. It really threw me. My two closest allies were no longer my allies. This produced an extreme sense of being alone that lasted for some time after. It is one thing when this sense occurs indirectly with acquaintances. It is entirely another thing, when this occurs in a safe space with those that are closest.
After that, there was a shift. Everywhere I went, it became much more obvious how people express superstitions that are layered within language, culture, and experience. It is embedded in our consciousness, so much so that most people don’t even realize that they are doing it. In reaction, I dodge comments that are so outside of my own philosophy. I develop new forms of language in order to subtract the supernatural, religious, mythical, and mystical.
I go to yoga once a week, which centers me both mentally and physically. I approach it from an energetic rather than a spiritual approach, but of course, highly “spiritual” people practice yoga. I often hear how the Universe does this or that for us, as though it is personified and singling us out from the rest of life—Universe as deity. I smile and say nothing, respecting that I am on someone else’s turf.
A couple weeks ago, one of my instructors said that the “negative” is not a part of us. I found this problematic. Thoughts are not a “dark energy” outside of the self. My thoughts are my own work to deal with and get through. It is the difficulties in life that make us stronger, and I fully embrace that as an essential task. Furthermore, negativity is an opinion. I see pain, struggle, and obstacles to be surmounted as the key to growth. All of life is built on conflict—it is healthy, and how we grow.
At yoga, I also hear the word, “serendipity” which is similar to the more recent term, “synchronicity.” Carl Jung first introduced this concept, and felt that unexplainable events of chance determined a paranormal aspect. My opinion is that synchronicity has yet to be fully explored, but can be explained through science and math, such as quantum physics and probability. For example, subatomic particles connect instantaneously with other particles no matter the distance between them. We don’t fully know the extent to which this occurs on a macro level. Also, in highly populated areas, chance events are more likely to occur due to the increase of possibilities. I personally experienced chance events the most when I lived in the New York City area, and had an extensive social network. Much less so in a smaller network.
Mathematician, Steven Strogatz, said, “Sync is perhaps the most pervasive drive in all of nature.” My cats synchronize as they clean their faces at two opposite ends of the room. Flocks of birds, schools of fish, herds of animals all flow in a synced-up state. Within these actions there is a magnetic quality of bonded forms.
Sync also directs the flow of my work as a writer and an artist. Thoughts magnetize to experience. These connections happen constantly as film, literature, music, art, and conversation both filter through and become my own experience. As I absorb these forms, they direct me to the next things that I will absorb, and all of it begins to overlap in a complicated weave that grows through time and creates the brain that is thinking and producing and creating. Associations develop through comparisons, developments, unities. A magnetism of sync, and an expression of energy.
People often think of the Atheist’s experience as a flat, meaningless, existential dilemma. For example, Christian writer, Francis Schaeffer sums up his view of people without a god as thinking, “man is nothing, the world is nothing, nothing is nothing.” I remember having this same exact opinion as a young Christian. But another thing I wondered back then was, “Why doesn’t anyone else seem to notice how amazing earth is? Why are we looking beyond the stars?” There is a rich experience to be had by scaling one’s vision back from the imaginary to the uncharted territory of life itself. To be fully embodied and present in this existence.